Search no more for your quick and easy Banff, Canada, travel guide. Banff is one of the very best tourism destinations in Canada, not to mention the world (sorry, I’m biased), so let me tell you where Banff is; what you should do there and why you should visit. (Because it’s wonderful!)
Why is Wandering Carol biased about Banff, Canada?
Does she live there? No. Is she from there? No. She (meaning me) is biased because of all the mountain towns sitting idyllically amidst snowy peaks, this is her favourite. So far.
Mind you, she hasn’t been to Zermatt in Switzerland yet, and St Moritz is pretty amazing now that she thinks about it. But let’s get to back to Banff, because when it comes to pine-fresh air, hulking mountain vistas and high end accommodation, this four season mountain destination can rival just about anywhere.
Where is the town Banff, Canada?
Obviously it’s in Canada, but to be more precise it’s located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in the oil-rich province of Alberta in Western Canada. (No provincial sales tax! Hurrah.) Banff is 138 km (85 miles) west of Calgary, just an hour and a half drive.
At an elevation of 1,383 metres (4,537 feet), it’s the highest town in the country. But not high enough to give you altitude sickness, which, if you’ve ever been to Lake Titicaca in Peru, you will know feels like having a machete in your head.
Is Banff a town or a national park? I’m confused. Oh, please Wandering Carol, help clear up this mystery
It’s both. The town of Banff, population about 8824, is located inside Banff National Park. Banff National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Let’s hear it for UNESCO World Heritage Sites! Because they rock. Just like Banff rocks the Rockies.
How do I get from the Calgary Airport to Banff?
Rent a car at the airport, it’s about a 90 minute drive. Or, if you’re like me and once got caught in a snow-blinding whiteout driving from the Calgary Airport to Banff, and swore never to drive in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in winter again, you can take the Banff Airporter shuttle from the airport right to your hotel. Prices are about $54-$60 one way.
Another getting-to-Banff option is to take the luxury Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver. You’ll find plenty about that on this blog.
Things to do in Banff, Canada in summer
Summer is my favourite time of year to be in Banff. Though, to be honest, I could do without the mosquitoes or aggressive elk. (Just a note, no elk has ever actually threatened me, but I can see the repressed anger in their narrowed who-do-you-think-you-are eyes.)
Another note: Just because I am not best friends with the elk does NOT mean I don’t like animals. I love Bambi and all the little look-alike fawns who frolic through Banff National Park, I’m awed by grizzlies (from a distance) and adore mountain goats, squirrels and butterflies.
I’m more neutral about mountain sheep, but am highly in favour of marmots, eagles and all the other animals in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (except worms, because they eat dead people).
Back to things to do in Banff during the summer – Get outside
Banff was created for people who love the outdoors. Hike up (or down) Sulphur Mountain. Or take the Banff Gondola up and back. I won’t judge you, even though I recently hiked down Sulphur Mountain. Aren’t you impressed? Unless, of course, you recently climbed up Sulphur Mountain, then you are no doubt sniggering behind my back.
What to do on Sulphur Mountain? Sulphur Mountain has a fabulous walkway up top, with all the requisite gorgeous vistas and a panoramic restaurant, which, coincidentally is called the Panorama Restaurant.
What else to do in Banff in the summer
Hike up Tunnel Mountain. It’s not as high as Sulphur and everyone who’s anyone in Banff does it daily. They even do it before breakfast. They run up. It’s a sickness.
Get your adrenaline going with adventure travel
Try Banff’s newest attraction the Via Ferrata, an assisted mountain climb on Mount Norquay that even inexperienced hikers can do. (Except I didn’t because I had a sore hip, but will do it in future. Probably twice. Before breakfast. In fact I’ll run up.)
Things to do in Banff in the winter – this one’s a no brainer
Ski, ski, ski, ski, ski. Three of Canada’s best ski resorts are near Banff townsite: Sunshine, Norquay and Lake Louise. They’re all great ski resorts, but I’m partial to Lake Louise because my favourite ski moment of all time was doing a looong green run there, surrounded by pines, fresh air and tranquility. Bliss, I say, bliss. (People who ski well will likely have other top ski moments of all time.)
Things to do in Banff, Canada, year round
Soak. Go to the Banff Upper Hot Springs on Sulphur Mountain. It’s an all natural, inexpensive way to soak in minerals, fresh air and the great outdoors. Bonus: You can warm up after skiing and soothe your aching muscles.
Eat gooey fudge-y things. The main street in downtown Banff is prime candy and fudge store territory. Do not miss Naked Bear Claws, which are caramel and cashews or, if you insist on a well-balanced meal, opt for a caramel apple covered in peanuts because then you can get protein and pectin along with your million grams of sugar.
Spa. The Willow Stream Spa in the Fairmont Banff Springs is one of Canada’s top spas, with a centrepiece soaking pool infused with mineral salts from Europe, an outdoor whirlpool and stellar views of the Bow Valley.
Exercise your mind. Take a workshop, see a film, play or concert at the Banff Centre, a hub for musicians, writers, artists and creative brainiacs from around the world. You can walk up from town, it takes about 15 minutes, but be warned, it’s an uphill climb.
Get cultured. I’m partial to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, but that may be because in my early days as a painter (yes, I was so), they sponsored me to go to the Columbia Icefields and paint along with a group of other artists and then they exhibited our work. If you like mountain culture and want to learn more about it, the Whyte Museum is your place.
Visit Lake Minnewanka – Just a 15-minute drive from Banff, Canada, Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park.
Where to stay in Banff, Canada
Let me indulge in a little luxury-travel-in-Banff reminiscing here. The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a ‘Castle in the Rockies,’ a perennial favourite if you want to bring back the good old days of genteel train travel.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge
The lovely Buffalo Mountain Lodge on Tunnel Mountain, away from the hustle of downtown Banff, was my most recent and peaceful stay.
Where to eat in Banff
Aside from the fudge stores? While the Grizzly House is a picturesque stop, my all time favourite restaurant in Banff is the Samurai Sushi Bar and Restaurant in the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. I always sit at the bar, and I always find interesting people to talk to and I’m sorry I’m telling you about it, because last time I was there a local begged me not to as it’s too popular already. Too bad! Secret’s out!
For fine French dining check out Le Beaujolais at 212 Buffalo Street.
But don’t take my word for how wonderful Banff is (because I’m biased). Visit Banff, Canada and fall in love with it for yourself.
Banff, Canada, travel guide: helpful addresses, websites and tips
Getting to Banff from the Calgary Airport: For info and/or to book visit BanffAirporter.com
Getting around Banff: Banff is a great walkable town, but there is also a bus system, Roam Bus, that makes it easy to get around. You can see route maps on the website.
Sulphur Mountain: To get up Sulphur Mountain in Banff you can either hike or take the Banff Gondola: Tickets from $42. The gondola base is slightly out of town, just past Banff Upper Hot Springs. To get to the gondola from downtown Banff take the Route 1 Roam Bus direction Sulphur Mountain.
Banff Upper Hot Springs: is cheap, crowded and kind of a must-do-at-least-once. Beat the crowds by going early in the morning or later in the evening. Hours vary depending on season, but are generally 9 a.m. until at least 10 p.m. It’s a steal at $7.30 for adults. You can rent a swimsuit for a bargain $1.90, as well as a towel ($1.90) and a locker for $1. Again, take the Route 1 Roam Bus towards Sulphur Mountain.
Where to stay in Banff: Banff gets very crowded during high season, so you’re best to book in advance. My top hotel choices are the Fairmont Banff Springs for luxury; the Rimrock, which is across from the Banff Upper Hot Springs, or, if you’re thinking of staying on Tunnel Mountain, the Buffalo Mountain Lodge. If you want to stay directly in town check out the Banff Park Lodge.
Check out Banff hotel prices or make reservations:
Where to go after Banff: Many travellers start in Calgary then visit Banff, and from there go through the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. The mountain scenery is sensational. Read my Icefields Parkway blog post to learn more.
For more information on Banff visit Banff Lake Louise Tourism
Read more about Banff: Channeling Marilyn Monroe on Mt Norquay
For more about travel to Canada: visit Things to do in Canada