Relaxing In The Rockies

Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.
Text by Rika Wolf Dockery

There are few places in this world as majestic as the Canadian Rockies. Visitors flock to Banff National Park (Canada’s first) and summertime brings scores of RVs and international guests in search of wildlife and mountain landscapes. I’ve been to Banff, Lake Louise and north to Jasper National Park (Canada’s largest) twice before—as a child and young adult.

This time, my goal was to seek refuge in nature and experience the area, not as a frenetic tourist checking off boxes on a travel bucket list, but as a local—escaping to lesser known scenic spots and local’s hideaways.

When I saw the listing for “Relaxing in the Rockies” (VRBO #1030982), I was sold. This two-bedroom, 1 bathroom first floor condo has a fireplace, equipped kitchen, washer/dryer and access to underground parking, hot tub, barbeque grill and exercise room.

Just as I hoped, I was able to sit outside on the patio and sip my coffee while looking out at the Three Sisters mountain range. And it’s only a two minute walk to the Bow River. Owners Kelly and Cathy Scott had relaxing in mind when they bought the property in 2007 (SIDEBAR: check out their listings in Maui, Hawaii @thegemofmaui @aloha_seashore).

They love the mountains but wanted a place close enough to everything (this home is 15 min from Canmore and 20 min from Banff Park) but in a quieter location where they could spend time with their (now grown) four children. Dogs are welcome here too!

Cathy offered to give me the insider’s scoop by driving me to some of her favorite restaurants and scenic wildlife viewing areas. Our first stop was Red Rock Pizza (@redrock_pizza) in Canmore. Located in a more locals’ residential area, their red card chef conjures up creative blends of flavors for standards and rotating weekly special pizza like the “Beetza” (pesto base, goat cheese, beets with lemon/ dill).

We tried the Fresco (pesto base, chicken, mozzarella, marinated tomato, onion and garlic) and the margherita (red sauce, marinated tomatoes, Bocconcini, mozzarella, balsamic glaze & basil pesto). The crust was crisp, and just the right thickness. Red Rocks also serves pasta dishes, and has take-out & delivery.

Inside, artwork from internationally acclaimed tattoo artist, Derek Turcotte Fills the walls. The outside dining area provides views of the surrounding mountains. In a word the pizza, view, and day’s temperatures were…Perfect.

Just across the parking lot is another hidden gem, Fergie’s Bakery. Owner danielle, originally from Quebec, took over this convenience store in the know) come from all over the globe for her apple fritters. These fried dough pastries with apple fillings are rich but easy to pull apart and share.

A little summer rain steered us indoors to the Canmore Museum & Geoscience Center. Sam Wackerle, Program Director, gave us a tour of this attraction that has been around since 1983. Most of the collection is related to coal mining. Kids are free and for a $7 regular admission it was an interesting diversion.

The museum also runs the North-West Mounted Police Barracks, just down the street (free admission). Our dinner spot was a local Canadian chain, Green Chili. Though they deliver to my vacation rental, we decided to sit down, relax, and enjoy our meal.

The waiter was very friendly and explained all the different Indian cuisine. We settled on the Tandoori Chicken and Palak Paneer (spinach dish)—delicious Northern Indian dishes. A couple mugs of Chai complemented the meal.

Next stop was another “locals” bar, The Drake Pub (@drakepub). This is the place where other restaurant workers flock after their shifts. David Atkinson, General Manager of the Pub and adjacent Inn, said that only in summer do tourists outnumber the locals here.

Mondays are Karaoke nights, Wednesdays feature jam sessions and, on some Thursdays, and weekends you’ll find live music and the only dance bar in the area (Club Drake). Their fireplace lounge has a pool table and dart boards. For happy hours between 4-7, try a typical pub beer or one of the local beers on tap and if you’re hungry, feast on the famous Drake burger or fish n chips.

Another of the local’s favorites for over 29 years, Chez Francois was our choice for breakfast on Day Two. We met with owner Sylvie, manager and the wife of the namesake chef. The restaurant’s reputation initially grew around their gourmet French dinners (still served Thursday-Sundays) and many feel this is one of the best restaurants in Alberta.

Sylvie thinks the “new generation” knows the restaurant for their breakfasts and specialties like Eggs Benedict, omelets, and French toast. I wasn’t feeling up for the traditional Canadian dish called Poutine: French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy.

I was more in the mood for Eggs Benedict with mushrooms, tomatoes, and Canadian bacon soaked in maple syrup. I also had a crepe with apple, ham and brie. What a wonderful combination of crunch and creamy. Magnifique!

Canmore is home to two craft breweries and a distillery. We visited Grizzly Paw Pub and Brewing Company’s newest (and second) restaurant: Tank 310 @theGrizzlyBrewery (opened June 2018) and site for their beer and soda production. We met with Executive Chef,Locals (and tourists in

Ross Hanson who oversees both restaurants and he explained that with Tank 310, he’s trying to fill a “restaurant gap” for moderately priced menu and upscale casual setting. This is undoubtedly a great “date spot” with plenty of leather loungers and of course, good food and drink. One of the menu features is hand crafted pizza with IPA pizza dough. The facility has an industrial feel with extra tall picture windows and is open for tours.

After our tour, we went to The Pub to try Ross’ suggested menu items. Famous for their burgers and Granny B’s salad (with pickled beets and eggs), we opted for the Korean Cauliflower – perfectly spicy. If you want to take home a souvenir, both locations have a gift shop and their beers are sold in Alberta and neighboring provinces while their sodas are sold throughout Canada.

Cathy drove the Three Sisters Parkway (back road to Canmore) then up a dirt road (Canadians say “in the bush”) to Spray Valley Provincial Park. Our search for wildlife was successful! We saw some mountain sheep just as we were heading back down the mountain road. We stopped at the Nordic Center, built for the 1988 Olympics in cross country skiing and biathlon. This year-round training facility is open to the public and has plenty of Activities in summer time like mountain biking and hiking.

Our next stop was in Banff. The Canadian #1 Highway goes through the park and if you are not planning to stop in the park, you don’t have to purchase a pass. However, it’s worth the pass fee to explore the town of Banff. Since I passed on the poutine earlier in the day, Cathy insisted I try another Canadian treat called “Beaver Tails” – a flattened wheat dough that is shaped in an oval (like a beaver’s tail) then fried and topped with sweets.

These famous deserts can be found throughout Canada and even President Obama tried one while in Canada. We met with franchise owner Dale Sarna who, with his wife Ashley, purchased the two Banff Beaver Tails stores. There are nine varieties of beaver tails available and we tried one with chocolate and banana and another with Reese’s Pieces.

We were surprised how light and airy the pasty was, with just the right amount of topping swirled above. We drove through town and up toward the Banff Springs Hotel, built in the late 1880s as a railroad hotel. The road to the golf course afforded amazing views – away from the crowds. We stopped at Bow Falls, just along the road with a parking spot and front row view of the falls.

Once up at the resort, we walked around the many shops and stopped for a drink. The hotel against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains makes for a beautiful picture too.

For dinner we kept with Grizzly theme and ate at Grizzly House. This 50-year-old locals’ favorite stays frozen in time (circa late 60s/early 70s) letting patrons have a glimpse into its heyday when it drew “hedonists and lovers”. The private dining room still seats two-four guests who

utilize flag service for total privacy during their meal. Other patrons shouldn’t feel left out as each table has a phone and a table map so that diners may call others they’d like to get to know better. Whether patrons seek romance or something different, the three-course fondue dinnerw won’t disappoint.

First course was a smooth rich Emmental and Gruyere cheese fonduewith bread. For the second course, we had the choice of traditional oil fondue pot, or hot stone, our pick. Cathy had the “exotic” including alligator, buffalo, ostrich, kangaroo, frog and shark.

Feeling more conservative, I picked the scallops and steak. We were given five different sauces, including honey garlic, Dijon mustard with horseradish, and teriyaki. We were already full by the time the 3rd course chocolate fondue was served. But who can resist melted Toblerone with fruit & cookies? Our waiter really helped make this a dining experience to remember.

On our last day we stopped in Banff again before heading out of town. By pure coincidence, we found ourselves at the Banff area “locals” coffee shop, Whitebark, and enjoyed delicious and artfully decorated lattes. Sometimes its nice to find places that aren’t overrun by other tourists and I’m glad I not only found the perfect lodging, but many restaurants, bars and scenic vistas that helped me have the relaxing vacation I was seeking.

Insiders and tourists in the know go to www.taximike.com for dining tips and more.

Rika Wolf Dockery

Rika Wolf Dockery was bitten by the travel bug at an early age. Her passion is still travel and she’s visited all fifty United States and forty-two countries on four continents. With a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Indiana University, Rika works part-time for the Franciscan Spirituality Center; consults with an executive search firm & manages her three vacation rental properties in the greater St. Louis area. Connect with Rika at www.timberwolfvacationrentals.com or on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest @TimberwolfVacationRentals.

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