“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

With the Toronto Raptors’ first NBA Championship in the books, Canada has been somewhat of a buzzword in the sports world recently. Though any mention of our neighbors to the North may still trigger Philadelphians thanks to the quadruple doink heard round the league earlier this spring, I was excited to see the Raptors win it all this year. Better yet, I was excited to be in Canada when they did so.

Last week, I traveled to Banff National Park outside of Canmore in Alberta, Canada for the most outdoorsy five days of my life. If you know me at all, you know that my ideal vacation includes laying on a beach, plugged into a book or playlist, and enjoying a happy hour or two. So when I planned a trip solely based around nature and hiking trails, people were shocked to say the least. For example, my dad likes to say that I have a “Case of the Too’s”: It’s too hot, too windy, too rainy, too buggy, too sunny – you get the point.

Custom dish cloth from Stonewaters Home Elements in Canmore. Photo by Courtney Hain.

You might ask then – why Banff? Long story short, my friend saw Lake Louise on Instagram (seriously though, just Google it!) and convinced my sister and me to book a ticket. Though I was excited to see the extraordinary views in person, I was equally excited to experience Canada as a whole firsthand. I was a bit wary of how my “Case of the Too’s” habits would hold out during this nature-filled vacation and how this city-living, beach-loving girl could compare five days in sweats, no makeup, very little cell phone service, and hiking (a lot of hiking) to the urban life I call home.

You Be the Judge

People: Eh? vs. Yous

Anyone actually from Philadelphia knows that the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection) isn’t always the kindest. We’re buried in our cell phones, bulldozing down the city streets with our Air Pods on full volume and no concept of anyone around us. It’s how we’re trained. Throughout my entire trip in Canmore/Banff, I can honestly say that I saw maybe one person wearing headphones, which was shocking. Locals were friendly, outgoing, and willing to share the favorite parts of their hometown. “Where have you been so far?” and “What’s been your favorite?” were common questions from many we encountered. The only thing I typically encounter in Philly is a dirty look or a passing nudge on the subway.

Winner: Canadians get the thumbs up emoji here.

Food: Cheesesteak vs. Poutine

To be honest, I completely forgot about poutine in my prep for this trip. But stopping for lunch after a long morning of travel, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an entire section of the Tavern 1883 menu dedicated to this Canadian delicacy. The waiter said his favorite poutine was the Montreal Smoked Meat & Truffle Oil (shocker). For research purposes, I went with the Classic because when in Canada, right? Salty, savory, cheesy deliciousness, and paired with a Moosehead Lager – what’s not to love? Poutine definitely hits all the right notes. I was a bit surprised, maybe disappointed, that the cheese didn’t melt into the gravy and fries. (I finished the whole bowl, so I couldn’t have been that disappointed.) Overall, excellent dish and a great way to kick off the trip.

Classic Poutine from Tavern 1883 in Canmore. Photo by Courtney Hain.

Winner: Though poutine is delicious, Cheez Whiz trumps cheese curds every time.

Scenery: Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers vs. Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake

The province of Alberta is sprinkled with glaciers, lakes, hiking trails, caves, waterfalls, etc. The area as a whole is divided into a few national parks (Banff, Yoho, Jasper, and others). Our group’s travels focused on Banff National Park, though we had recommendations in Jasper as well. Driving the scenic two-lane highway through the park with the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains against the greenery of the surrounding forests and the blues of the various glacial waters is a postcard brought to life. When the sun hits the water, the glacial waters look like a watercolor painting, the mountains look like a green screen, and the trees and rocks look as though they’ve been specifically placed there for the perfect shot. I never knew such beauty existed. Hiking 2, 3, and sometimes 5 miles has never been so satisfying.

Winner: The murky waters surrounding “Filthadelphia” will never, ever compare to the inconceivable blues of Canadian lakes. You keep doing you, Banff.

Side note. I know these photos look fake, but let me tell you: they’re real and they’re spectacular.

Final Round: Rocky Balboa vs. the Rocky Mountains

The home of the Italian Stallion will always have my heart, but if given the opportunity to travel the Land of Maple Syrup, Banff is the clear cut winner for this destination vacation. The natural beauty, the people, the weather (did I mention the lack of humidity??) – It’s all stunning. I’ve considered myself a city girl for many years, but there is something so breathtakingly peaceful about mountain life. At first glimpse, the Rockies just blend in with the clouds. Once you truly see them, there’s not much else you can do but stare. For the week away, it was everything I never knew I needed.