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Pockets of purple fireweed and yellow glacier lilies spill across the lake-studded plateau, causing hikers to stop regularly to scan the views. Golden eagles swirl overhead, suddenly diving at tiny ground squirrels that are hiding in the grass. All around, grey-blue mountain peaks poke up through the clouds, surveying their surroundings like curious giants. Banff became Canada's first national park in 1885, and it's not hard to see why.

Colours that seem impossible in nature entice many to hit the trails to Banff's ethereal lakes. The iridescent, emeraldgreen Lake Louise is best viewed from the heights of the challenging Lake Agnes trail - from this vantage point it glows like a neon paint slick among the trees. Moraine Lake, a short drive away, is even more striking. Shadowed by peaks resembling the man-made towers of ancient civilisations, it has a mesmerising clearblue brilliance. (The surreal colours of the lakes are triggered by sunlight reflecting off glacial minerals suspended in the water.)

'Fall is always my favourite time of year to walk here,' says Tamara. 'People come for the changing leaves in the trees and you can still see some great alpine flora, but the wildlife-watching - especially during rutting - is much more dramatic. The colours and views are always changing, depending on the season.'

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Where to eat
The Bison Restaurant, a slick joint in Banff town, would be at home in a big city. Its walls are lined with artwork and a tempting menu combines top-grade Alberta beef dishes with creative seasonal salmon and venison mains. Book during peak season, and try to get a table on the upstairs patio for mountain views (mains from £13;

Where to stay
In a tranquil setting on Tunnel Mountain at the edge of Banff, the Hidden Ridge Resort is made up of self-contained apartments each have their own patio, log fireplace and kitchen. A grocery shop and restaurants are a short walk away. While there's a free shuttle into town, most guests prefer to spend time in the large outdoor hot pool area (from £120;

Calgary: Best for a night out
Fast-footed dudes in white Stetsons whirl their partners around the dance floor. Across the neon-lit room, wild hollers encourage a one-armed rider on a bucking mechanical bull. And near a photo display of legends past, champion rodeo rider Scott Schiffner chats with fellow regulars. It's Friday night at Ranchman's, Calgary's top introduction to Western good times.

'This is the best bar in Canada for cowboys,' says Scott. 'They let us get away with a lot here, that's for sure.' Wildly popular every summer during the Calgary Stampede - an annual rodeo and festival celebrating all things Western - Ranchman's has been luring cowboy-curious out-oftowners for years. Initially they watch shyly from corner tables, but they're up and linedancing with the locals after a beer or three.

While the region's cowboys may have chowed down on beans and grits back in the day, the city's dining scene has advanced in recent years.'We've moved beyond the typical Alberta steakhouse,' says Jean François Beeroo, co-owner of downtown's new Char Cut, a restaurant with a contemporary lounge-club feel. The joint beckons meat-lovers with homemade charcuterie, fire-roasted prime rib and rotisserie chicken. Added to this is a secret dish that seems to satisfy both modern and old-school cowboys. 'At around 10pm on most Fridays and Saturdays, we put up a sign around the back of the restaurant advertising our $5 gourmet alley burgers,' says Jean François. Among the selection are burgers made with pork and lamb, and dressed with cheese curds and egg. 'We never know how many we're going to have ready, but the word quickly spreads,' adds Jean François. 'There's a queue within minutes and they always sell out.'

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Where else to eat
The Ranche Restaurant is a century-old renovated farmhouse offering a candlelit take on Western fine dining and ale-marinated elk steaks from its own Alberta ranch (mains from £22;

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