When to visit
- Very Favourable
What to do
- Worth the detour
- Must see
Banff is the name of a legendary national park, and the name of a charming alpine town in the heart of the majestic Rockies at an altitude of 1,380 metres.
Look around you: with its backdrop of mountains, glaciers, forests, rivers and alpine meadows, you will quickly understand why Banff is considered a "must-see" destination to add to any Canadian Rockies road trip.
Banff National Park
Season: Open year-round, 24 hours a day.
The Banff Visitor Centre (224 Banff Avenue, Banff)is open from mid-May to the end of September, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the rest of the year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed on December 25).
The Banff Visitor Information Kiosk (327 Railway Avenue, Banff) is open from early October to the end of March, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed on December 25).
Admission fee: $10/day/adult and free for youth 17 and under.
The Town of Banff
The town's main thoroughfare, Banff Avenue, is teeming with boutiques and restaurants. With the impressive Cascade Mountain looming in the background, you will feel like you have stepped into a picture postcard.
Highway 1A (Banff to Lake Louise)
Along the way to Lake Louise you have a good chance of seeing wildlife beside the road, such as black bears, elk and grizzly bears. For the best chance of sightings, try to travel early in the morning or at the end of the day, when the animals come closer to the road to feed.
Distance (round-trip): 2.2 km
Time (round-trip): 1 hour
Elevation gain: 30 m
Johnston Canyon, one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park, is 30 minutes from the Town of Banff. Its easily accessible location close to Highway 1A, as well as the beauty of Johnston Creek and its waterfalls, makes it a choice destination for visitors and hiking enthusiasts. You will be able to appreciate the power of the water as it rushes and plunges through the canyon. This 2.2-km round-trip hike to the lower falls is considered easy (elevation gain of 30 metres) and takes about 1 hour (round trip).
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Cave and Basin is the birthplace of Canada's National Park system, created in the early 1900s after three railway workers stumbled upon a cave full of "liquid gold" in 1883.
Pay a visit to this fascinating site with more than 13,000 years of history, where you will have the chance to walk through a magnificent underground cave and admire its natural beauty. Experience nature, culture and history and learn about the origins of the region's hot springs. You can even dip your hands in the steamy mineral waters.
The site offers free discovery tours led by naturalist guides (daily at 1:30 p.m.). You can also take a guided lantern tour after dark (Saturday nights from June to September).
Open daily from mid-May to late-September, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. In low season, open Wednesday-Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until late October) and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year.
Gondola to Sulphur Mountain
The Banff Gondola will whisk you up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, an elevation of 2,281 metres, in just 8 minutes, where you will experience jaw-dropping mountain views. Take in the 360o panoramas from the observation deck or take a stroll along the Ridgetop Boardwalk where the views get better with every step. To avoid the crowds in high season, it is best to take the Gondola before 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. from mid-April to mid-May, 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. from mid-May to late June and 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. from late June to early September. Reduced schedule in low season.
Hiking on Sulphur Mountain
Distance (round-trip): 11 km
Time (round-trip): 4 hours
Elevation gain: 655 m
Hiking enthusiasts may prefer to take the 5.5-kilometre trail (one way) with an elevation gain of 655 metres (a 4 hour round trip). The trail starts from Upper Hot Springs, 1 Mountain Avenue, Banff.
Upper Hot Springs
Soak in the steamy hot mineral waters where travelers have come to “take the waters” for more than a century. Upper Hot Springs is a public pool filled with natural hot springs water. Located just outside of Banff on the slopes of Sulphur Mountain, the springs offer spectacular views of the Bow Valley, from an elevation of 1,585 metres. Early in the morning is the best time for a truly relaxing experience!
Open Friday-Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hours may vary. Visit the website for more information.
GETTING AROUND BANFF
For the sake of the environment and to avoid parking problems, take advantage of Banff's public transit options:
1. Roam Public Transit services the Town of Banff and popular Banff Attractions (roamtransit.com). The hybrid Roam buses cover several routes including:
2. A Parks Canada shuttle service operates daily from mid-May to early October between the Town of Banff, Lake Louise (Samson Mall) and Moraine Lake. You must reserve : reservation.pc.gc.ca
For more information about these different services, visit the website: pc.gc.ca/banff-transport
Where to eat
- $ Inexpensive
- $$ Moderate
- $$$ Upscale
- $$$$ Fine dining
Wild Flour Banff’s Artisan Bakery Café ($-$$)
This bustling bakery is a favourite gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. Open for breakfast and lunch, it offers excellent value for money. Customers come for the artisan bread, freshly-baked pastries and organic, local, healthy, and nourishing food. For breakfast, try the breakfast frittata sandwich or the housemade granola with a great cup of coffee. At lunch, a tantalizing array of fresh soups, salads and sandwiches will make your mouth water.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Bear Street Tavern ($$-$$$)
The Bear Street Tavern may not offer the best service, but it certainly has the best pizza in town. Also serves soups, salads and sandwiches: there's something for everyone!
Open daily from 11:30 a.m.
The Juniper Bistro ($$$)
The Juniper Hotel restaurant has one of the best views in Banff. Ask for a table near a window or on the patio for the best possible vistas. The menu offers handcrafted cuisine prepared with fresh local ingredients and features smoked duck breast, beef, lamb and fish dishes. Vegetarian and gluten-free options at every meal. Ranked one of the Top 100 Best Restaurants in Canada by Open Table.
Open for brunch every day from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for dinner, Sunday-Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reopening scheduled for 2022.
Located within Rimrock Resort Hotel, Eden is one of only five 5-diamond restaurants in Canada. Enjoy one of Banff's finest dining experiences featuring delicately crafted French cuisine influenced by fresh local ingredients. Expect to spend 3 hours over dinner. Reservations required.
Open daily from June-October, 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and October-May, Wednesday-Sunday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
*** Hours may vary ***
Where to sleep ?
Banff Yoga Festival
Dates: late May 2022
Three-day wellness festival with more than 90 yoga workshops for every level and the best yoga instructors in the Bow Valley. Happiness guaranteed!
Craft Beer Festival
Dates: early December 2022
Alberta craft beer festival showcasing more than 40 breweries from across the province. Held at the Cave and Basin Historic Site.
- Very Favourable
Full of Tourists, Ugh!
Banff was a bit of an unpleasant surprise. The sheer numbers of people wandering the streets was a sharp contrast to the first part of our trip.
We stopped at Lake Louise and Moraine lake but they were "full". The fact that there is overflow parking because of the numbers of tourists was extremely disappointing. We skipped the crowds and did not visit these sights.
Our trip to Jasper and then on to Banff provided more than enough beautiful pictures of mountains, glaciers and aquamarine lakes (and wildlife).
Many MTB Trails in the Area
We loved using our bikes to explore the area.
MTB Trails are for intermediates and you might have the 1 or 2 stairs to carry your bike.
Take mosquito spray !
A gem inside the Rockies
Very nice town, perfect for renting a canoe or if you want to go hiking. Great trails! We went up to the Cascade peak (3006 mt)!