Canada—owing to its sheer geographical size— plays host to thousands of hidden gems from sea to shining sea. Take a trip across the country and you’ll find yourself marveling at the sheer number of national parks, historic sites and quaint little towns. If you’re looking for a destination offering all of these things and more, then the picturesque town of Banff is a must-visit. Nestled inside of Banff National Park and alongside the majestic Rockies, Banff has a little something for everyone. Summer or winter activities, arts & culture, history, and local food and drink are all prevalent in Banff, ensuring it’s a place you can’t miss and a highlight of any trip to Western Canada.
The First 24 Hours
VISIT: One of the benefits of visiting Banff in winter is undoubtedly the Rockies. Skiers and snowboarders flock from all over the world each year to hit the slopes at one of Banff’s three world-renowned resorts. Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mt Norquay all boast world-class ski hills—with options for everyone from beginners to experts. In my opinion — your first stop in Banff has to be at one of these three mountains.
Banff during the summer months. Photo courtesy Leonardo Tamburri.
If you find yourself in Banff during the summer then don’t fret, there are dozens of options for adventure. Because the town of Banff is situated inside of Banff National park, everything from canoeing and fishing to cycling and kayaking is there for you to enjoy. Too many options to choose from? Kayaking is a local and traveller favourite, with rentals and lessons available in town. If you’re a beginner then the waters of Lake Louise offer a postcard-worthy view, with rapids of all levels available for the more experienced kayaker.
EAT: Odds are that if you’ve spent the better part of your first day exploring Banff (whether it be on foot, bike, kayak or by snow), you’ve worked up a decent appetite. Well luckily for you, Banff is the perfect place to satisfy that well-earned hunger. Alberta is known across Canada as being the home of some of Canada’s finest meat, so be prepared for a feast. If you’re looking for something classic, then Alberta steak is the way to go. From rib-eyes to tenderloins, you can’t go wrong with a good cut of Alberta beef.
Banff steak. Photo courtesy Brittany Thompson.
But for those of you who are in the mood for something a little more adventurous, Banff’s steakhouses are famous for offering up venison, ostrich, alligator, kangaroo and pretty much any type of game meat you can think of. The only problem? Too many options!
LOCAL: Your first day out in Banff would not be complete without an evening stroll down Banff Avenue. If you’re here in the wintertime then pick up a local hot chocolate or tea and then head over to the local skating rink and grab a pair of skates to lace up. If you’re visiting during the summer, you’ll find that there’s always an outdoor event or concert happening in the evening. Since Banff is such a small town, you won’t be able to miss them!
Amazing views from Banff’s main street. Photo courtesy Evan Leeson.
The Next 24 Hours
VISIT: Whether you’re arriving in Banff during winter or summer, one thing is clear—Banff is home to an incredible set of views that can rival any in the world. No visit to Banff would be complete without a ride on the famous Banff Gondola. Situated on the outskirts of town, but only a 5-minute bus ride from the centre of town, the Banff Gondola takes you all the way up to Sulphur Mountain.
The views are incredible. Photo courtesy Pat O’Malley.
Once you’re off the Gondola, the choices are fantastic. You can choose to hang out at one of the observation decks and soak in the view or you can choose to experience the view first hand a there are several different hiking trails that lead you away from the summit and across the mountain.
LOCAL: Once you’ve finished exploring and have headed back down the Gondola, you have one more local treasure to check out before heading back into the heart of town. A quick stroll across from the Gondola is Banff’s world famous hot springs. The Banff hot springs, the highest springs in Canada offer travellers and locals a chance to swim and relax in refreshing mineral waters.
Banff hot springs. Photo courtesy Jerry Bowley.
The hot springs are a year round attraction as they are the perfect activity due to the combination of cool mountain air and daily physical activities in and around Banff. All necessary clothing is available at the springs, meaning that all you have to do is sit back, relax and feel rejuvenated as you as the Rockies surround you.
DRINK: After your refreshing dip in the Banff hot springs, head back in to town and make sure to stop by Banff’s local brewery, the Bear Hill Brewing Company. Home to a robust selection of locally crafted beers, this is a must visit location for any beer aficionado. The team is also very proud of the work that they do (as you’ll be able to tell), so make sure to take some time to chat with them and you’ll get an inside glimpse as to what makes their beer so special.
Banff eats. Photo courtesy Stephan Popescu.
EAT: Your last meal in Banff has to be a good one, which is why you need to try one of Banff’s underrated specialties, fondue. Banff is home to all different kinds of fondues any many restaurants offer fondue for every course. If you’re feeling up to it, then the best experience is to have cheese fondue as an appetizer, meat fondue as your main course and chocolate fondue for dessert. It’s a lot of food, but it’s the best way to experience fondue in Banff. Just make sure to bring some friends, because it’s going to be a lot of food!
Have you ever been to Alberta? Have I missed something? What else would you suggest?
Alberta’s grandeur and beauty are obvious from the moment you arrive. Rolling foothills, intimidating mountains and prehistoric hoodoos are a few of Alberta’s more distinct natural landmarks. Most impressive are Alberta’s Rockies, which nestle the world famous resort towns of Banff, Jasper, Canmore, Kananaskis, Lake Louise and Waterton in their arms. Has this post awoken your inner explorer? Start you search here.