The weather started getting cloudier, but we lucked out on our gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. We then went back to Cave and Basin for a rematch with the mosquitoes, after which we walked around the Banff Springs Hotel area. That was enough for the day.
When you stay in hostels, you tend to run into three kinds of people who stay at them, ones who don't engage with others, those who do when others initiate (we tend to be like that), and those who try talking to almost everyone. We ran into one of the latter in the kitchen when we were getting our breakfast together. Ends up he's from Bellevue, so that was a coincidence. He had some plans, but was eyeing the weather (it was supposed to rain) and was looking for shorter things to do. We recommended the Marsh Trail at Cave and Basin to him.
After we ate and gathered our things, we were off to the Sulphur Mountain.
Banff Gondola at Sulphur Mountain
We didn't really check the weather when we purchased our gondola tickets while in Calgary, since we figured we would want to go up anyway (we went up Grouse Mountain when it was so socked in that we couldn't see more than 20 or 30 feet) so while there were some clouds and overcast, we figured we should still be able to see quite a bit. After trying to figure out the best way to get to the gondola, we settled for driving, hoping that parking wouldn't be a problem.
Parking wasn't a problem. We were, however, pretty early, but since there didn't seem to be huge lines, and there was no problem with us going straight up.
As we were waiting for our gondola, we noticed a woman spraying and cleaning the front and back windows of every car that went by. Unfortunately, she seemed done about a car or two before the one we boarded. We got on with another couple from Toronto, and they said they were on a tour. We all enjoyed the view on the ride up.
At the top we prioritized going out onto the boardwalk along the summit ridge to the peak of Sulphur Mountain. Because the mountains were still visible, we even bypassed all the interpretive signs, first going down and then climbing to the top where there was an old weather station. The view was commanding, especially of the town of Banff. There were a few prime selfie spots (that was true all along the boardwalk) but people were patient, waiting for their turn. Come to think of it, this was the first time on this trip I've seen people using selfie sticks.
We worked our way back to the gondola building, this time taking a look at all the signs and vista points. When we got inside, we went to the roof to look around. Many of the views were similar (but a bit lower in elevation), but it was a great view of the summit we were on. And wouldn't you know, the sun started coming out.
A quick pass through the exhibits, then we were ready to go down the hill. There were few people in line, and we knew we wouldn't have trouble descending before the time on our tickets.
Cave and Basin
It was still morning, so we went back to Cave and Basin to quickly do the boardwalk over the marsh. The time of day and cooler temperature seems to help reduce the mosquitoes, since we weren't swarmed like the previous day.
The signs along the boardwalk talk about the plants and animals (including fish) which adapted to the higher temperature and acidity of the spring water flowing into the marsh, as well as the fact that the flowing spring water doesn't freeze during the winter.
One spur off the boardwalk takes you to a bird blind and a fish viewing area. We didn't see any birds, but did hear quite a few. Fish, however, we saw a lot of. They were all very small, and were swimming among the algae floating in the marsh.
As we were finishing up the boardwalk, we went past where the spring flows into the marsh. It was a good amount of water, which makes you think about how the same amount of water is flowing out of the marsh, either as small rivulets or going into groundwater.
Nearing our car, we bumped into the Bellevue man from the hostel. He had done the Marsh Loop Trail (which we did the day before), but he wasn't prepared for the amount of mosquitoes. Apparently he had run out, and got quite a few bites. He asked about the exhibits, and we encouraged him to go through them, since we enjoyed them.
It was getting nearer to lunchtime, but there was still more to do.
Banff Springs Hotel
Our plan was to find some lunch in the Banff Springs Hotel (now run by Fairmont), so we started driving towards it. There were cars parked a long way down the road leading to the hotel, but we lucked out and were able to park within a half dozen cars away.
We decided to first go down to see the Bow Falls, so we found the trail and took the short walk. Since we were walking with the flow of the river, we first saw the falls from the top, then it got more dramatic as we got towards the viewpoint parking lot. There were lots of people there, so it was a good thing that we didn't try to drive down.
Finding the path up the hill, we started up the steps and went around to the front lobby of the hotel. There was a café next to the registration desk, so we placed our order and took a seat. While ordering, we were eying the desserts (remember that we were in a Fairmont hotel) so went back and got some sweets, too.
Fed, we wandered around the hotel a bit. While the building looks huge from the outside, the hallways were short and we didn't see many high ceilings other than the lobby and one room in one of the new wings.
We then went outside to have a better look at the architecture, and it started to sprinkle, but only for a few minutes.
It had been a full day, and we were ready to go back.
Rest of the day
We were pretty tired, and proceeded to nap once we got back to the room. While catching up with things online, it started to rain. Rain quite a bit. Then hail, about 1cm. We then saw very bright flashes of lightning followed closely with very loud claps of thunder which echoed off the mountains all around us. It was very impressive.
The weather started to calm, so we started thinking about dinner. Since there was a small grocery store (and laundromat) across the street, we took a quick look, but didn't see anything that would interest us for dinner. We took the easy route and had dinner at the hostel's restaurant. It didn't take us long to wind down for the evening, which was good since we were going to get up earlier in the morning.