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Banff is a wonderful place to visit with children. Families can stay busy any time of the year.
Banff Gondola:Take the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Dress for the weather, keeping in mind that it is often very windy at the top. Be sure to bring your camera! (Although there is a hiking trail to the top of Sulphur Mountain, and the promise of a reduced-fare gondola ride down, it is quite a strenuous hike. And though it might seem like a good idea, don't take the gondola to the top and then walk down; the trail is quite steep, especially for people new to the mountains, and hiking boots or trail shoes with thick soles and some ankle support should be worn, especially by kids.) Note that in early January, the gondola is closed for nearly two weeks for annual maintenance; if you're planning to visit then, check their website for the exact dates.
Cave Tours: Wild Cave Tours in Canmore offer guided tours of the Rat's Nest Cave. Active children generally 10+ are welcome. It is a constant 5°C (41°F) so no matter what the outside weather, it's always cool in summer, mild in winter. (These are wild, undeveloped caves with no artificial lights, boardwalks or handrails).
Public Swimming Pool: The Sally Borden Fitness Centre at The Banff Centre offers a 25m indoor pool, wading pool, whirlpool and mens and ladies steamrooms.
Stargazing: Because of light pollution, a visit to Banff may be the first opportunity some kids have to see the stars or the Milky Way. You'll want to get away from the lights in the townsite by going to locations like Tunnel Mountain Meadows (summer only), Lake Minnewanka, the Upper Bankhead picnic area on the Lake Minnewanka road (summer only), Vermilion Lakes, or the Banff Recreation Grounds. For an introduction to stargazing, the following websites may be useful: The Sky Tonight (H. R. Macmillan Planetarium in Vancouver) gives a grand overview of the whole sky as visible at Banff's latitude, while Earthsky.org has some easy-to-follow introductions to favorite star patterns and the brightest stars in the sky. If you're stargazing in winter, you may also see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). And you also have a chance to hear owls hoot, wolves howl, and elk bugle at night.
Dogsledding: Available from a number of local outfitters.
Iceskating: Rentals are available from Snowtips on Bear St (near the Lux Theatre). Popular spots for locals to skate on (when the ice is frozen to a safe level) are Vermilion Lakes, Johnson Lake and on the Bow River just downstream from the Blue Canoe docks. There is a rink at the High School, which is near Safeway on Banff Avenue. The Fairmont Banff Springs often has an outdoor ice rink and ice hockey nets set up behind the Waldhaus Restaurant (near Bow Falls). It is lit at night and they offer hot chocolate and firepits to warm up. The views from all these areas are gorgeous.
Tobogganing: There is a great tobogganing hill in this same area (near the Waldhaus Restaurant below the Fairmont Banff Springs -- parking near Bow Falls). You can buy a toboggan cheaply at the Home Hardware store on Bear St in Banff.
Ice Climbing: There are many ACMG certified guides available to hire. Many offer customized days to suit your needs and level of fitness. They offer introductory days as well as more advanced routes. Be sure you understand the objective hazards inherent in ice-climbing before deciding to do this with your children.
Hiking: There are a few easy trails around Banff and Lake Louise under an hour long with minimal elevation change. Take the trail to Sundance Canyon and enjoy a picnic. Definitely visit Johnston Canyon (on Hwy 1A, aka Bow Valley Trail), but go early in the morning to avoid the crowds. The lower portion of the Johnston's Canyon walk is handicapped/stroller accessible.Take the short hike to the lower and upper falls, or extend the hike for a few hours and head up to the inkpots. A circuit of Johnson Lake (on the Lake Minnewanka road) takes 30-45 minutes, and there is a picnic area at one point along the north shore. Fenland Trail near the Banff townsite also has a nice picnic area and takes less than half an hour to walk; this trail is often closed during spring to protect people from over-protective female elk. Tunnel Mountain is slightly more challenging, requiring up to one hour with an elevation gain of about 800 ft (240 m), and requires closer supervision, since there are significant natural risks close to the top (cliffs); however, your 9- or 10-year old will be able to say that they have climbed all the way to the top of a mountain upon completing this hike!
Sunshine Meadows: White Mountain Adventures offer a shuttle bus from the base of the Sunshine Ski Resort up to the Sunshine Meadows, where you can find guided hikes or self guided boardwalks and trails above the treeline with stunning views of mountain tops, lakes and wildflowers.
Upper Hot Springs: Soak in the hot springs and enjoy the views. The springs have locker and towel rentals, as well as a full service spa.
Banff Summer Arts Festival: From June to August, enjoy the live outdoor theatre, music, and art at The Banff Centre, on the side of Tunnel Mountain. Check out the calendar online at www.banffcentre.ca/events
Bow Valley Parkway: Take a drive on the parkway at dusk or dawn to see the wildlife. Be very careful to not approach the animals. This is their home and they are wild. At best, you will scare them away from the areas where they were resting or feeding; at worst, you could be charged or bitten.
Bow Falls: Enjoy a picnic here. Located behind the Banff Springs Hotel, and connected to it by a very long stairway through the forest--great for tiring out over-energetic kids.
Biking: Mountain or cruiser bikes can be rented from a number of rental stores in Banff. Most have trail maps that can show you where easy rides are. The flat ride along the Bow River, over the railway tracks, through Fenland Trail (past trees that have been chewed on by beaver) and out to the Vermilion Lakes dock is a favourite easy ride for families.
Rock Climbing: There are numerous areas in the Banff area for rock climbing. Hire an ACMG guide for the whole family for an introduction to the sport.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel: Visit this historic hotel and (on sunny days) tour the beautiful grounds. Older children (9 and up) may be interested in a tour, as the hotel has many unusual quirks and features; phone to inquire about tour availability. There is also a 5 pin bowling alley - call to make a reservation ahead of time.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site: Interpretive displays talk about the history of Banff, Canada's first national park, and ultimately take you to the Cave and Basin where it all began.
Banff Park Museum: A natural history museum with all sorts of stuffed birds and mammals of the park. The kids will enjoy the discovery room.
Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum: Focuses on the history of Natives in Banff and southern Alberta (1 Birch Ave).
Shopping: There are some shops in Banff that kids love. Cows (134 Banff Ave.) features ice cream and comical cow-themed t-shirts. Welch's Chocolate Shop (126 Banff Ave.) has a truly mind-boggling array of candy and chocolates, some made by Welch's but most imported from all over the world. Sign of the Goat Indian Trading Post (100 Birch Ave.) features a wide variety of Native-made crafts, in all price ranges. Rocks and Gems Canada (137 Banff Ave.) is filled with tumbled stones to choose from, as well as pretty agate slabs, intriguing fossils, geodes, gems, and a huge range of inexpensive jewellery (as well as pricier items for Mom to admire). There are two stores in town ( Mountain Chocolates (119 Banff Ave) and the Fudgery (Sundance Mall--215 Banff Ave)) which make fudge and candy in a front window of their shops for your viewing pleasure--and perhaps a taste test would be fun, to find out who makes the best fudge or the best bear paws. If your child must have their sports card or trading card game fix, there is a small store tucked in the lower level of the Sundance Mall which can help. Nintendo or Playstation games can be bought and rented at Avalanche Movies on Bear St.
Baby equipment rentals (car seats, strollers / push chairs, high chairs, cribs, playpens, and more) are available from Canmore-based SnuggleBug Baby Gear, and Calgary's Baby on the Move, Little Traveller and One Tiny Suitcase, which deliver to Banff accommodations as well as to Calgary (delivery fee may be charged, check websites for details).
A poster on the Banff Forum had a great idea for older children. If your child is 6 or older, consider giving them an inexpensive digital camera as part of their kit for the trip. This will help them capture their memories, might start a lifelong hobby, and will ensure that they are more engaged in the sightseeing parts of the trip than they might otherwise be.