Banff National Park, Canada's oldest, was established in 1885, and for many it's the gateway to the Canadian Rockies. The town of Banff and its many hotels serve as an ideal base from which to explore the park and its national park neighbours, Kootenary, Yoho and Jasper, with all wonderful sites and vistas. But take the time and you'll find that Banff has a lot more to offer than just a hotel room. Here are just a few examples to tempt you to spend a little more time exploring the town , its many attractions and rich history.

 

 

Banff and the Bow valley ( from the Sulphur Mountain gondola )

  

Banff , a Brief History

 

      The Bow valley has been home to Indigenous tribes , who used the area to trade , camp and hunt for nearly 8,000 years. However the story of the Town of Banff and the Nation Park of the same name only began with the arrival of the railway in the 1880's. In 1871 the Canadian prime minister John McDonald promised the newly formed province of Britsh Columbia a direct railroad link to the east coast if the province joined the Canadian Confederation. It wasn't until the summer of 1883 that the construction of the railway line reached the Bow valley at siding 29 , later to become Banff station. On a day off three Canadian Pacific Railroad ( CPR ) workers Tom McCardell , William McCardell and Frank McCabe decided to go hunting for gold. They crossed the bow river and at the base of Sulpher mountain found a cave , but instead of gold they discovered a hot spring. Word soon got out about the hot spring's and it was soon attracting wealthy visitor's from all over the world , encouraged by the government and creating a source of revenue to help pay for the new railway.

      In 1885 a 2,500 hectare reserve was created by the government to protect the hot spings , which was expanded two years later and renamed the Rocky Mountain Park , at this time the parks main function was still to raise funds from wealthy tourists to repay the debt incured in building the railway. In 1986 surveyor George Stewart was commissioned by the government to lay out a town site between the railway line and the Bow river and the town of Banff was born. Meanwhile the general manager of the CPR , William Cornelius Van Horne was tasked with creating a hotel business to take advantage of the growing tourist trade . he commissioned architect Bruce Price to design a Mountain resort hotel and in 1888 the Banff Springs hotel opened it's doors for the very first time. Enterprising local's in the town of Banff soon started to open shops , restaurants and began to offer boat and hunting trips to take advantage of the growing numbers of tourist's attracted to the new park , hotel and hot springs.

      The park boundry was expaned again in 1902 to include 11,400 square kilometres and this together with the lifting of the restriction of the use of automobiles in 1915 attracted even more visitor's. More commercial facilities , restuarants , shops , hotels and tour companies opened . In 1929 the Stanley Thompson designed golf course opened at the Banff Springs hotel , and around the same time Mt Norqauy ski hill began to be developed turning Banff into a year round destination.

      The town has alway's been a service centre for the tourist trade and controlled by what is now known as Parks Canada. In 1990 ( after a vote in 1988 ) Banff became an incorparated town .Today Banff is a modern self contained mountain community with a population of around 9,000 people offering the ideal base to explore Banff National Park .

 

 

Banff's Top Attractions

 

  • The Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Cave Avenue, Banff. This National Historic Site has now reopened after a re-vamp that has taken a couple of years to complete. Interactive displays and guides tell the story of how the hot springs were discovered in 1883 by workers on the new Canadian Pacific Railway and how this lead to the creation of Canada's first national park. Check with Parks Canada for opening times. www.pc.gc.ca
  • Upper Hot Springs, Mountain Ave, Banff. Enjoy a swim outdoors in the world-famous Banff hot springs. Don't expect a luxury experience; it's a standard outdoor swimming pool, but still, it's great fun, especially in winter. You can rent 1920s bathing costume. Watch as your hair turns frosty and enjoy the mountain views. From downtown Banff, take the number 1 bus route. Whilst you're there, check out the
  • Banff Gondola,
  • The Banff Gondola start life as a small Tea Room operated by John Jaeggi in 1940. Guest's would have to make the long hard hike up to the tea rooms . By the early 1950's John had made plans to build a cable gondola and recieved finacial backing to start the building work. Sulpher Mountain Gondola was officially opened on the 18th July 1959 , Canada's first gondola. With increasing visitor numbers the the summit complex was rebuilt and expanded in 1981.  A stunning ride takes visitors  up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, for the great views of Banff and the Bow Valley. At the top, make the effort to walk across the broadwalk  to Sanson's Peak named after Norman Sanson and check out the old weather station and the site of the Sulpher Mountain Cosmic Ray station ( only the foundations remain )  and more great views. Rest rooms are available at the base station and summit. Spectacular views from a peak restaurant.
  • Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel National Historic Site, 405Spray Avenue, Banff.
  • The original Banff Springs Hotel was designed by architect Bruce Price and opened its doors to the public for the first time in 1888. designed to be the grandest and most opulent mountain resort hotel the " Spring's " was at that time one of the largest hotels in the world with over 250 hotel rooms. The hotel was extended with the of a new wing in 1903 and a year later the addition of two towers which more than doubled the number of guest room's. In 1911 the hotel was completely rebuilt by architect Walter Painter , the new Spring's hotel , a Baronial design with an eleven story tower linking two wings remained unchanged until 1999 when the hotel started a major program of extention and renovations. Today you can take a heritage walking tour through the hotel , or wander at your own pace through the hotels many plublic areas or enjoy one of the hotels many restaurants.
  • Banff Park Museum National Historic Site, Banff Avenue, Banff. First opened in 1895 and moved to this location in 1903.
  • Visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, on Bear Street to view paintings and artifacts from Banff's pioneers and thier collection of historic buildings including the original home of Bill 9 wild ) Payto. Purchase a Banffheritage passport and you will also gain admission to the Banff Park Museum.
  • Banff Canoe Club. New for this season is the Banff Canoe Club , at the Canoe dock on the corner of Wolf street and Bow avenue. Hire a canoe or take a tour from $ 15.00 per hour, and paddle up the Bow river or 40 mile creek, from which you can paddle into Vermillion Lakes ( depending on the amount of water in the lakes )
  • Banff Norquay, Again new for this season. The Norquay ski area is now open in the summer. Ask in your hotel about the free shuttle bus from Banff or check the web site for details. ( www.banffnorquay.com ) When you arrive at the Ski resort you have a choice , take one of the many trails and enjoy a day hiking , for example Stoney Squaw ( see local trail section above ) or head up the American Chair Lift to the Clifthouse Bristo for great views of Banff and the Bow valley. If you have a head for height's you can join one of the new Via Ferrata Tours , Banff's top attraction for frill seekers. ( 4 hour fixed rope climbing tour )

 

Restaurants and Bars 

 

If you have a full day's sightseeing or a trip hiking the hills ahead of you , or you've spent all day on the slopes,  Banff has a great choice of restaurant's to suit all tastes and budgets. Most hotels offer a breakfast, or you could try one of the local  favorites such as Melissa's , Bruno's , Tooloulou's or Ricky's All Day Grill. If you're still hungry after breakfast, Banff also offers lots of choice during the day, from fast food to casual dining or takeaway food from one of the local supermarkets. In the evening, you'll be spoilt for choice with a menu to suite every taste. Here is a small selection of the restaurants and eateries available in Banff. Tipping - most servers rely on customer tips to top up thier basic wage. It's Canadian custom to tip the following amounts for good service: drinks in a bar, a few dollars; breakfast and lunch between 10 & 15%; an evening meal, between 15 & 20%.   

Price Guide for main course - $$$ typically over $30.00 - $$ typically over $15.00 - $ under $15.00           

Alberta is world famous for its AAA beef, and Banff has a great choice of steak restaurants. 

 

  • The Keg ( $$$ )  has two locations in Banff, at the Banff Caribou Keg , in the Caribou Lodge hotel , 521 Banff avenue ( 403-762-4442 ) and the Downtown Keg , 117 Banff avenue ( 403-760-3030 ) Both offer a full evening menu with a good choice of steak cuts, rib's and sea food as well as burger's and bar snack's , coupled with great service.Grab a booth in the bar, relax and take your time.  www.kegsteakhouse.com
  • The Saltlik Steak house and Bar ( $$$ ) at 221 Bear street , downtown Banff ( 403-762-2467 ) has just finished a re-vamp of it's restaurant and bar. . Offering the same great menu of prime cut steaks and seafood in both the downstairs lounge and first floor dining room. www.saltlik.com
  • Melissa's ( $$$ ) at 218 Lynx Street, another old favorite that's been serving up dinner ( and breakfast ) since 1979. www.melissasmissteak.com
  • Grizzly House ( $$$ ) steak and fondue restaurant  at 207 Banff Avenue. Another of Banff's long-standing restaurants open since 1962 with a choice of meat cuts and fondue. www.banffgrizzlyhouse.com
  • Bumpers Beef House ( $$$ ) A Banff institution since 1975, now in it's new location inside the Rundlestone Lodge, 537 Banff Avenue. A new, bright modern bar and dining room serving the same great menu of steaks and its famous salad bar. Open for breakfast and dinner daily. www.bumpersthebeefhouse.com

If steak isn't your thing, don't worry - Banff has lots of other options--fine dining, Canadian game and fish , international cusine, casual dining and a wide choice of great bars, most of which serve food all day. Here is a small selection, 

  • The Maple Leaf ( $$$ )  on the corner of Banff Avenue and Caribou Street is a great place to celebrate that special occasion. Offering a choice of local game meats and fish with a Canadian twist in a relaxed dining room.
  • The Bear Street Tavern ( $$ )  is a great place to go if you like really good pizza; check out their special offer nights for $10 pizzas and steins of beer.
  • The Magpie and Stump ( $ ) , on Caribou Street is a Mexican-themed bar serving drinks and food all day. Head to the bar, pull up a stool and overdose on the free peanuts and mingle with the locals. A great place to spend a lazy afternoon or better still a lively night out.
  • St  James Gate ( $ ), on Wolf Street is Banff's only Irish bar, and has a real feel of a typical Dublin pub. The menu is full of traditional hearty dishes and the bar probably has Banff's biggest selection of beers on tap.
  • Tommy's Neighbourhood Pub on Banff Avenue is another favorite with the locals for good value food; check out their daily special offers.
  • Upstairs at Melissa's, on Lynx Street, is not just great for steaks and breakfast but also a great place to grab a beer and watch your favorite sports.
  • The Rose and Crown, on the corner of Banff Avenue and Caribou Street, offers traditional British pub grub with a Canadian twist.
  • The Banff Avenue Brew Co.( $$ ), located upstairs in the Clock Tower Mall on Banff Avenue, has good food in a modern contemporary bar and a great choice of local beers brewed on site.
  • The Elk and Oarsman, also on Banff Avenue (opposite McDonalds) serves great value food, with a good selection of beers available, and is a great place to enjoy your favorite sports.  
  • Wild Bill's. Now under new management, the live music venue has just completed a major make-over. There's a new menu and the nachos are a must try when in Banff.
  • The Balkan ( $$ ) , a family owned Greek restaurant located in Cascade Hall, Banff Avenue. Traditional Greek menu with good sized portions and a great downtown location. Booking advisable!
  • Tooloulou's , 204 Caribou Street. A taste of Louisiana in the heart of downtown Banff. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try the Vic & Dic for breakfast (eggs benny)  
  • Nourish Vegetarian Bistro , Bison Court , Bear street. Tapas style service and a relaxed dining experience . Open for lunch and diner daily. Voted one of Banff's best restaurants on Tripadvisor www.nourishbistro.com

Local trails and hikes

 

Offering some of the world's most spectacular mountain landscapes, Banff National Park is a hiker's dream with hundreds of miles of trails suitable for all levels of experience and fitness, with space to explore stunning scenery and quiet backwaters far from the well-worn tourist paths. And if you're staying in Banff, some of the very  best are right on your doorstep! It's always a good idea to check with the Parks Canada trail office before you set out (or the online trail report), and carry water, additional warm clothes and a rain jacket . Always carry bear spray, whatever the season, and know how to use it. Remember to give all wildlife plenty of space, especially the elk in early spring and fall. Obey all trail closures and remember all you need to take from your hike are fantastic memories and photo's. Here is a small selection of local hikes you can take right from downtown Banff without the need for a car :

  • Fenland Trail. Easy walk , distance 1.3 miles round trip, no elevation gain  
  •       To find the Fenland Trail, a short walk and quiet escape from busy downtown Banff, head out of town on the Mt. Norquay road or follw the river  path from Central Park. The trail starts just past the railway crossing on the left hand side ... if driving, carry on out of town on Mt Norquay road to  the Forty Mile Picnic area car-park on the left hand side. It's a short but interesting  trail, 2 kilometres in total, but well worth the effort. You can extend this walk by taking the bridge over Forty Mile Creek, then turning left for fantastic views of the Vermillion Lakes.  
  • Spray River . Short Hike , distance 8 miles round trip , Elevation gain 75m
  • For great views of theBow Valley and Bow River, cross the new pedestrian bridge (access on Bow River Trail, a block south of the vehicle bridge), turn left onto the trail and head down to the Bow Falls. If driving, follow the signs for the Banff Springs Golf Course. From the car park, it's possible to continue across the bridge and follow the Spray River trail, an easy hike that will take you back to the Banff Springs Hotel for more fantastic views of the Bow Valley.
  • Sundance Canyon. Short hike, distance 6.2 miles round trip, elevation gain 145m                         
  • For a longer hike from downtown Banff, try the Sundance Canyon Trail. To get there, follow the signs from downtown Banff across the Bow Bridge, turn right and head towards the Cave and Basin. From here take the Marsh Loop down to the Bow River. This then rejoins the paved path which leads to Sundance Canyon itself.
  • Tunnel Mountain. Short hike, distance 2.8 miles round trip, elevation gain  300m    
  • The Tunnel Mountain trail takes you from downtown Banff via switchback path to the top of Tunnel Mountain for stunning views of the Bow Valley, the Bow River and the Banff Springs Golf Course. Follow the signs from Caribou Corner (intersection of Banff Avenue and Caribou Street). Continue into St Julien Rd where you will find the information board at the start of the trail.
  • Stoney Squaw.  Short hike, distance 2.6 miles round trip       elevation gain 238m                                                                                                                                                               The trail starts next to the infomation board in the lower car park at Mt Norquay Ski Resort. Mt Norquay Road. A pleasent walk on a steady uphill trail through a forest of spruce and lodgepole pine. As you reach the top of the ridge, take the left-hand turn downhill to get to the summit. Great views of Cascade Mountain and the Bow Valley from the top. A great choice for a short hike on a hot day due to the dense tree coverage. (During the summer months, ask you hotel about the free shuttle bus from downtown Banff to the ski resort carpark.)
  • Sulphur Mountain. Steep uphill hike, distance 6.8 miles round trip, elevation gain 700m                           A slightly longer, unrelenting climb  takes you up the trail to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Follow the signs from the Banff Gondola car park. When you reach the top, follow the broad walk to Sanson's Peak for more great views. If the walk up was too much effort, you can ride the gondola back down for a small charge. ( www.banffgondola.com )
  • Hoodoos. Short hike, distance 6.4 miles round trip, elevation gain 60m                                                    The trail starts from the car park at Suprise Corner viewpoint and decends down through the forest to the Bow River, past the base of Tunnel Mountain before climbing again to offer views of the Bow Valley, Banff Springs Hotel and the Bow River. It ends at the Tunnel Mountain campground, where you can catch a bus back downtown, walk down Tunnel Mountain Road, or return the way you came.

 

Banff, the perfect base to explore the Bow Valley and Park.

 

  • Bow Valley Parkway (full day) 
  •  By car. Leave Banff and head weston Highway 1,  the Trans-Canada Highway. Take the first exit onto the Parkway, slow down and take your time!  Look out for rest areas / stops on your left hand side including Back Swamp and Mule Shoe Lake, Sawback, and Hillsdale Meadow as you make your way towards Johnston Canyon. Here you can take the easy walk up to the lower falls. If you have the time, carry on to the upper falls and then on further to the Ink Pots (2 hour round trip to the upper falls). Leaving Johnston Canyon, turn right heading north on the Bow Valley Parkway. As you pass Moose Meadows on your right side, keep an eye out for wildlife. At Castle Junction, continue on the Parkway towards Lake Louise. Another good stop is Morant's Curve, great views of the Bow River and railway line. When you reach the end of the Parkway you could turn left towards Lake Louise village and Highway 1, but instead turn right. Head to the Lake Louise ski hill day lodge and book the Gondola Sightseeing trip for the best chance of seeing a bear in the wild. (Tip: book the inclusive meal package, great value.) It's then up to you - you can return to Banff via the Parkway for more chances to view wildlife or take the Highway 1 back to Banff.
  • Lake Lousie.
  • Johnston Canyon. ( upper falls 3.4 miles return trip ) Elevation gain 135m
  • One of the Bow valley's most popular short walks . The trail starts at the Johnston Canyon Resort , about 10 miles along the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff. The trail follows the canyon up to the lower falls when you cross a small bridge a through a tunnel for the best views., and then on up to the upper falls. This is as far as most tourists venture but you can continue on to the Ink Pots. a futher 2 miles on. Be warned the trail does get very busy in the peak summer months , so if you can visit early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.
  • Sunshine Meadows.
  • It is possible to walk to Sunshine Meadows for the Sunshine Village parking lot , but at 4 miles most visitors use the shuttle service provided by White Mountain Adventures .( see useful info for more details ) The bus service takes you up the mountain to Sunshine Village where there are rest rooms, a shop and restaurant. Several trails lead from here but most people take the 1 mile hike to Rock Isle Lake. From here you can join the Grizzly-Larix lake loop , a 3 mile trail that drops down into a mixed forest , to Grizzly and Larix lakes.

 

 

Useful Information

 

Airport Transfer

Dentist

Emergency Contacts

  • Ambulance             tel  - 403-762-2222 or 911
  • Banff Fire station     tel  - 403-762-1250 or 911
  • RCMP                     tel  - 403-762-2226 or 911
  • Banff Hospital         tel  - 403-762-2222 ( Banff Mineral Springs Hospital )
  • Warden Office         tel  - 403-762-1470

Public Transport

Taxi

Tour Operators

 

Visitor Information Centre

  • Banff Visitor Centre   tel 403-762-1550      224 Banff avenue , Banff .
  • Lake Louise               tel 403-522-3833     Samson Mall , Lake Louise.
  • Parks Canada            www.pc.gc.ca
  • Town of Banff            tel 403-672-1200     www.banff.ca
  • Travel Alberta            tel 780-427-4321    www.travelalberta.com