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Banff

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Banff Avenue

Banff [1] is a town in the Alberta Rockies province of Alberta. It is the larger of the two towns in Banff National Park, nestled in the mountains, and is located about a hour and half drive west of Calgary and four hours south of Jasper. The park is easily accessible for International travellers via Calgary International Airport, which has international scheduled and charter flights. Banff is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Understand

Banff is a tourist town full of seasonal workers from across Canada and around the world. It is a convenient place to see some spectacular scenery with minimal effort. However, with convenience come crowds. This is not the place to come for solitude or a true back-country experience. That being said, it is a great place to stay for any length of time. There are a wide variety of restaurants and clubs and plenty of tours and activities to keep you busy. Staying in Banff during the winter gives easy access to nearby ski areas of Norquay, Sunshine, Nakiska and Lake Louise.

Get in

From Calgary, take the Trans Canada Highway (Route 1) West. The first exit to Banff is about an hour and a half from the airport.

There are several airport shuttle providers from the Calgary Airport to Banff and Lake Louise.

  • Banff Airporter Inc. [2] offers 10 daily scheduled transfers between the Calgary International Airport, Banff and Canmore. They also offer private sedan transfers.
  • Take the Valley Connector [3] between Canmore and Banff.
  • Brewster Airporter & Resort Connector [4] offers shuttle service from both the Calgary and Edmonton Airports.

Regular passenger trains no longer stop at Banff's historic train station, but Rocky Mountaineer Vacations [5] visits regularly in the summer and fall, with some winter trips available if you are interested. You can take VIA Rail train service [6] to Edmonton, and then either bus, or rent a car and drive to Banff.

Greyhound services Banff with regular buses to and from nearby towns and cities.

Get around

The Banff townsite is small, and you can walk just about anywhere you want to go. Walking is quick, easy and allows for random adventures down to the river, through the forests, up the mountains. And all of these activities are within a 5 - 10 minute walking distance. Banff has an extensive public transit bus system [7] that runs through town for $2 a ride ($1 for kids and seniors). It connects up with all the area hotels and attractions. Taxi cabs are also available, which is handy if you are doing a grocery run.

Biking around town is popular too. There are several shops to rent bicycles if you are interested in either mountain biking, quick travel downtown or trail riding to the historical Hot Springs. Banff is filled with trails that take you through forested areas, along streams and waterfalls, and ultimately lead to incredible lake and mountain views.

See

The Canadian Rockies offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. It may seem a daunting task to try and see it all in a limited amount of time.

Fortunately there are a host of companies available that eliminate the hassle, giving you the opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the view. The friendly guides offer fun and informative sightseeing tours in and around the Banff area in comfortable vehicles.

Do

Like many mountain towns, Banff has a very different character in winter and summer. There is a decent selection of bars and restaurants but predictably a few too many souvenir shops and boutiques. European travellers especially will welcome the sidewalks allowing exploration of the town on foot. Parking can be tricky, but there is a free multilevel parkade near the center if you can find it.

Film Festival

The Banff Mountain Film Festival is an annual international film festival which occurs over two weeks in late October to early November. It features a collection of international films on outdoor adventure and mountain culture. It is a very popular event that is well attended by a diverse mix of backcountry enthusiasts, weekend warriors and average Joes.

Year Round

  • Cave and Basin National Historic site [8]. See the birthplace of Canada's National Park system. Where hot sulphur springs were found and the original bathhouse was built in 1887. There are also a couple of short nature trails.
  • Banff Park Museum National Historic site [9]. Come and see all the animals you missed on your trip to Banff. Guaranteed bear sightings.
  • Banff Upper Hot Springs [10]. All the amenities of a modern facility are featured in this splendid, historic spa and bathhouse – against a backdrop of spectacular alpine scenery. You will luxuriate in the comfort of soothing hot water where travellers have come to "take the waters" for more than a century. For an extra Apres ski laugh, guys wishing to amuse can ask for a hilarious 'traditional style' bathing costume.
  • The Banff Centre[11] is a globally respected arts and cultural centre featuring performances and events with dance, music, theatre, opera, film, books, new media and visual arts.
  • Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies[12] offers something for the whole family... art, culture and the human and natural history of the Canadian Rockies. Visit the heritage homes or take a guided walk.
  • Banff Gondola, [13]. The Banff Sightseeing Gondola provides visitors with the most spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies and the town of Banff. The views become more and more grand in the gondola ride as you climb 698m (2,292 ft) to an elevation of 2,281m (7,486 ft). Alternatively, you can take the 2 hour trail up Sulphur Mountain and catch the gondola down (highly recommended). The trail is steep but manage-able for those with a reasonable level of fitness. Guests will find a restaurant, gift shop, boardwalk, observation deck and unsurpassed photo opportunities at the summit of Sulphur Mountain.
  • Caving Discover the Rat's Nest Cave, a wild, undeveloped cave with no artificial lights, boardwalks or handrails under Grotto Mountain. No experience necessary.

Indoor activities

Banff does offer some indoor activities besides museums and galleries.

  • Waterslides[14] at the Douglas Fir Resort & Chalets
  • Bowling [15] at The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel offers 5 pin bowling, glow in the dark bowling and an arcade.
  • Movie Theatre [16] shows current movie listings and matinees
  • Recreation Centre in the Sally Borden [17] building at The Banff Centre offers a 25m pool, hot tub, steam room, climbing wall, squash courts, and various other programs.

Winter

Banff national park is home to three outstanding ski resorts [18], all within easy drive of the Banff townsite. Driving to the hill is not strictly required, as most hotels offer a ski bus to take you from the hotel to the mountain of your choice and back again.

  • Lake Louise Mountain Resort [19]. Likely the most well known, and hosts Men's and Women's world cup ski events every winter. As such, it is also the busiest and most touristy. It is located close to the Lake Louise townsite. The scenery is fantastic as is the terrain when there is fresh snow. Excellent all you can eat buffet breakfast served in the Whiskey Jack Lodge (CAD$10). If you're on the Club Snowboard/Ski program get the early bus!
  • Sunshine Village [20]. Located a few kilometers west of the Banff townsite. In recent years, this hill has improved greatly, with more expert terrain and better lifts, it is a personal favorite. It also receives more snow than the other two resorts and benefits from a higher elevation and a generally longer ski season. Also fantastic scenery. It is the only resort of the three to have on-hill accommodation. Again buffet breakfast served in the lodge at the bottom of the gondola - not much else until lunchtime once you get to the top. New Standish quad opens up some good terrain.
  • Ski Norquay [21]. The closest mountain to the Banff townsite, and it is much used by the locals. The ski season is a little shorter at Norquay, because it is at a lower altitude than Sunshine and Lake Louise, and snowfall is less consistent. The trails here lean more towards steep and difficult, although there is still plenty of easy terrain. The Lodge is not much good for breakfast - lunch and beer on the deck can't be beat however! Worth noting that Excaliber is North America's steepest groomed piste.

All the ski hills are busier on the weekends. Lake Louise tends to get icy if it hasn't snowed in a while, but with fresh snow is hard to beat. Sunshine Village has been giving them some competition with their new terrain and improvements however. Especially in the early season, pay attention to how many runs are open and how much recent snow has been received in the snow reports - they are better indications of the conditions than the generic conditions ratings given by the hills (the conditions are always at least 'good' according to their ratings). If you only have a few hours and want to ski where the locals ski check out Ski Norquay, it has nice long open runs with great views of the town.

If you arrive before December 31 and you intend to ski at least 3 days at Sunshine Village, or a combination of three days at Sunshine and at Marmot Basin in Jasper, consider buying a Sunshine-Marmot card. The card costs about the same price as one lift ticket. The first, fourth and seventh times you use the card you get a free lift ticket, all other times you get $10 off (you are ahead quite a bit by the third day). These cards can be purchased on the hill (either Sunshine or Marmot Basin), or also at Safeway stores in Edmonton and Calgary, and are valid at Sunshine Village in Banff and Marmot Basin ski resort in Jasper. The Sunshine-Marmot cards are available for purchase until December 31st but can be used all season. Or you can purchase a Tri-Area Pass [22] for Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Mountain Resort and Norquay. This ticket includes the bus transportation and can be used at any of the three hills at any time.

  • Ski rentals Ski and board rentals can be booked ahead of time to ensure you get the equipment you want at The Banff Springs Ski & Mtn Sports [23] Apart from the regular three categories of equipment they also carry an Elite Fleet of top end demo skis that will help you ski like a pro. They also offer professional custom boot-fitting services to create a truly bespoke ski boot. Guests staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs can splurge on the Gold Class ski package and avoid line-up's all together by being fitted in the privacy of their hotel room.
  • More Ski rentals There are a number of great places in the Town of Banff that will rent high quality ski, snowboards, boots, along with clothing and accessories. Try Ultimate Ski & ride [24], 206 Banff Av., (403) 760-7583. If you are not staying close to this location they will pay your taxi for ease. There is also the Inns of Banff Ski Shop [25] 600 Banff Av., (403) 760-8521, which offers a large rental fleet as well.
  • Club Snowboard/Ski, 119 Banff Av., 762-4754, [26]. An top notch Snowboard/Ski school with small groups of 4-6. Snowboard methods do vary from European, they tend to teach you to "surf" on snow rather than carve as you would on ski's. Craig Gaunce has the patience of a saint and will get you smoothly linking turns on blacks - concentration is adaptability to terrain rather than speed - if you can adapt then nothing's going to faze you!

Apres Ski

  • Red Earth Spa [27] is a full service spa with six treatment rooms including one dedicated to hydrotherapy. The Spa also features an aesthetics room with a manicure station and two pedicure chairs (great for those mother and daughter spa days). Spa clients also have full access to the hot pool, steam room and exercise room at the Banff Caribou Lodge. The spa has a number of areas for clients to relax before, in-between or after a treatment. Come join us at Banff's only full service Spa on Banff Avenue.
  • Evening Icewalk & Campfire. A chance to go for an evening moonlit walk around the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka, warm up afterwards with hot chocolate round the roaring campfire.
  • Snowshoeing. Strap on snowshoes and walk through pristine snow like the trappers did in days gone by, a true winter experience.
  • Icewalks. Get out to see the stunning winter wonderland of frozen waterfalls and rivers. Make sure you wrap up warm. It can be chilly.

Summer

Summer in Banff, just like winter, is stunning. There are plenty of hiking trails accessible from the main town, as well as tours for horseback riding, white water rafting, mountain biking and more. Be warned though - some smaller tour companies are not as professional as the larger tour companies. If they are overbooked, they may pass your credit card details along to a third party without your knowledge and book another tour on your behalf (not always at the same price, and not always the same tour!).

  • Canoeing [28]. 3 minutes walk from the centre of Banff you can find the Blue Canoe docks, where you can take a tranquil canoe journey on the Bow river. There is also canoeing available of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
  • Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience, [29]. Climb aboard a massive Ice Explorer and journey across a glacier over 350 metres thick. The Columbia Icefield is the largest sub-polar body of ice in North America.
  • Hiking, Banff has the most beautiful trails surrounding it, you can pick-up a free trail map at the Visitor centre, please check the trail reports with the Parks Canada desk before you go. Another option is to go with a hiking guide and group, different locations are available.
  • Wildlife Viewing, While in the area always keep your eyes peeled as there are so many animals to spot in the summer in Banff, but please keep your distance as wildlife is wild and they should be kept that way, they can be dangerous too! Learn more and have someone show you around can be a great way to see wildlife too.
  • Banff Rafting Association, [30]. Excitement for all ages, loads of fun with 4 rivers to choose from, makes whitewater rafting a must do when you're in Banff.

Buy

Enjoy strolling alongside locals and world-travellers as you discover a cosmopolitan collection of galleries, boutiques and cafés. Shops range from internationally recognized clothiers or independently-owned establishments to Canada's oldest department store. A recommended way to experience the highlights is to start on Banff Avenue at the Cascade Plaza mall, do a quick circuit of the shops there, then head down Banff Avenue towards the Bow River. This is the retail, cafe, and restaurant heart of Banff. Once you get near the river, turn around and head back on the other side of Banff Avenue to complete the Banff shopping loop.


Eat

Banff is an exciting place to visit on all fronts, and the palate is not excluded. There are pubs, fast-food, fine dining, steakhouses (It is Alberta!!), traditional fare from around the world, candy shops and more.

Banff can be an expensive place to dine as tourism is always high.


  • Balkan Restaurant, [31]. 120 Banff Avenue, tel: +1403 762-3454. The Balkan restaurant first fired up its grill on Banff Avenue in 1982. The restaurant was the creation of Greek families out of their element in the cold Canadian Rockies who wished to bring the authentic flavors and warm festive atmosphere of the Mediterranean to this high mountain town. 25 years later they're still at it with authentic Greek cuisine. Be sure to check out their Tuesday and Thursday night "Greek Night" with live belly dancing, Greek dancing and plate smashing.
  • The Keg Steakhouse and Lounge, [32] two locations; 521 Banff Av. at the Banff Caribou Lodge and 117 Banff Av, tel+1 403 762-4442, or +1 403 760-3030. Great steaks, a casual ambiance and friendly, very knowledgeable staff are the proud and reliable trademarks of the Keg Steakhouse and Lounge.
  • The Meatball Pizza & Pasta, [33] 337 Banff Av., tel: +1 403 762-3667. Located at the Banff Ptarmigan Inn, The Meatball offers a menu featuring delicious Italian influences.
  • Wildfire Grill, [34] 600 Banff Av., tel: +1 403 762-4581. Great food, reasonable prices, attentive staff, and fantastic mountain views.
  • The Maple Leaf, [35]. A four-diamond restaurant, caters to an elite crowd with impressive wine selections and pricey entrees.
  • 'Saltlik Steakhouse. Features unique cocktails and a varied wine menu downstairs and a full on steakhouse upstairs.
  • Magpie and Stump, [36]. A Mexican restaurant that specializes in Margaritas and typical Mexican dishes. There is usually at least one night per week where Margarita’s are half-price and if you go in early you are almost guaranteed to leave late.
  • Grizzly House, [37]. A must-see, this was once a swinger's bar this unique shaped restaurant right downtown has telephones at every table with placemats that serve as a map so you can call tables to chat through your dinner. It is a laid-back, fun atmosphere and the food does not disappoint. A typical meal may consist of a Caesar salad to start, then a cheese fondue served with freshly steamed veggies and mouth-watering bread for dipping. The second course is where things get exciting; opt for the 'hot-rock' style of fondue. Rocks are brought to the table and heated to a whopping 300 degrees. Each rock gets its own pot of garlic butter smeared on, first by your server and then by you; each person receives a customized plate of raw fish, chicken, bison, frog legs, AAA-beef, SHARK, SNAKE...whatever you wish, or dare, to try. Accompanying the exotic mix of possibilities are dipping sauces like chipotle and teriyaki.
  • Seoul Korean Restaurant. This Korean BBQ restaurant smells fantastic as you enter. Value for money. CAD 20..
  • Nesters Market, Bear Street. 8AM - 11PM. For those that need a supermarket instead of a restaurant, Nesters has a great range of organic products.
  • Barpa Bill's Souvlaki, 223 Bear St., (403) 762-0377, [38]. The best Greek food this side of Greece. If you can find this legendary hole-in-the-wall, you can enjoy one of the best and cheapest meals in Banff.

Drink

Banff has a large variety of places to sit and enjoy a drink whether it is après ski or a patio.

Most of the pubs have live music, both open mike and hired bands. Dancing is definitely encouraged!

  • St. James Gate, 207 Wolf Street, tel: +1 403 762-9355, [39]. Irish pub.
  • Wild Bill's Legendary Saloon, 201 Banff Ave, tel: +1 403 762-0333, [40]. Wild Bill's offers bands, a dance hall, line dancing & two stepping. Can accommodate groups of all sizes.
  • Rose and Crown, 202 Banff Av. upstairs, tel: +1 403 762-2121, [41]. English pub.
  • Elk and Oarsman, 1119 Banff Av. 2nd floor, tel: +1 403 762-4616, [42]. Canadian style pubs.
  • Aurora Nightclub and Hoodoo Lounge, tel: +1 403 760-8636, [43].
  • The Beaver, tel: +1 403 762-4499, [44]. Banff's liveliest and most central Backpacker bar. Nightly drink specials, $3 cocktails, $3.25 pints until 7pm every night. Open Mic, Trivia, live music and theme parties.
  • Pump and Tap Tavern, 215 Banff Av., tel: +1 403 760-6610. Looking to watch the footie game or cricket match?
  • Bear's Den Pub at the Inns of Banff, 600 Banff Av. 5PM-midnight. [45] Features a wide selection of locally brewed beers and pub fare food.
  • Dancing Sasquatch, 120 Banff Avenue, +1 403 762-4002, [46]. 9PM-2:30AM daily. Banff's newest nightclub.

Sleep

Being a national park, Banff has plenty of accommodation. However book early, because places fill up quickly both in winter and summer. Note that in order to live in Banff, as opposed to being a perpetual tourist, residents must have a business in town. If you have access to a car another, and often cheaper, alternative is to stay in Canmore and drive to the ski resorts or in to Banff.

Most hotels are located along Banff Avenue or on Tunnel Mountain Road.

Budget

  • Arrow Motel, 337 Banff Avenue, +1 403-762-2207 (toll free: +1-800-661-8310). This is a budget motel for the price conscious traveler looking for private accommodation. Located only a block from downtown, it offers a great location.


  • Banff International Hostel, 449 Banff Ave, +1 403-985-7744 (toll free: +1-855-5hostel, , fax: +1-403-985-7745), [47]. checkin: 4PM; checkout: 11AM. The Banff International Hostel was fully renovated and reopened in July of 2012. It offers bunks in dorm rooms or private bedrooms all with lockers and with private bathrooms. Located only 2 blocks from downtown on a bus route it connects guests with most sights in town. It offers free WiFi as well as 3 internet work stations. For updates please check the hostel's blog as it keeps adding new services! $25-160.


  • Banff Y Mountain Lodge, 102 Spray Avenue, +1 403-762-3560 (toll free: +1-800-813-4138), [48]. The Banff Y has a fully licensed Bistro with an outdoor patio and a variety of meeting space. Internet ($1 for 10 minutes on a computer or $12 for 24 hours of wifi), laundry, common kitchen (be warned, it is not sparkling clean), and quiet sitting room all on the premises. Private and semi-private rooms starting at $46 Canadian dollars, dormitory rooms starting at $22, group rates available.
  • HI-Banff Alpine Centre, 801 Coyote Dr (on Tunnel Mountain Road), 1-866-762-4122, [49]. With private rooms, 2 spacious kitchens and lounge areas, 2 fireplaces and restaurant Cougar Pete's Lookout & Kitchen. 20 minute walk to downtown Banff. New to HI-Banff "The Storm Cellar, Banff's Pub and Game house" features drink specials, games (pool, darts, foosball) and an eclectic bunch of servers.


  • King Edward Hotel, 137 Banff Ave, +1 403-985-3734 (toll free: +1-888-762-2607, , fax: +1-403-985-3735), [50]. checkin: 4PM; checkout: 11AM. The King Eddie, how the locals like to call it, is at the most central point in Banff. The hotel offers private rooms with all major amenities, like free wireless internet, in-room coffee and tea, private bathrooms, 32" flat screen cable TV etc. and concierge service is available at the front desk. $55-199.


  • SameSun Backpacker Lodge, 433 Banff Ave, +1 403-762-4499, [51]. A 100 bed hostel with a private room. Each room has an ensuite bathroom. Lockers, laundry, common lounge and kitchen, Free Wireless Internet and Internet Kiosks, video games, nightly activities, BBQs, local tours, patio. Breakfast (self serve pancakes, toast,porridge, fruit, juice, coffee, tea) included. Daily activities including, Open Mic, Trivia, Ice Skating, Bands, Theme Parties. Ski and Stay for $155 or rooms starting at $31/night.

Mid-range

  • 333 Guest House, 333 Muskrat St, +1 403-985-1986, [52]. A small bed and breakfast with one large suite, private entrance and ensuite bathroom.
  • Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa, 561 Banff Ave, +1 403-762 5887 (toll free: +1 800-561-8764), [53]. This mountain themed lodge offers; luxury bedding, large jetted hotpool, underground parking, The Keg Steakhouse & Lounge, and The Red Earth Spa.
  • Banff Inn, 501 Banff Ave, +1 403-762 8844 (toll free: +1 800-667-1464), [54]. The Banff Inn features standard guest rooms as well as rooms with jacuzzi tubs, loft units, king rooms and honeymoon suites.
  • Banff Rocky Mountain Resort, 1029 Banff Ave, +1 403-762 2638 (toll free: +1 800-563-8764), [55]. This resort features suite style accommodation with kitchens and fireplaces. The resort also offers an indoor pool, tennis courts, wifi, and complimentary shuttle downtown shuttle.
  • Best Western, 453 Marten Street, 403-762-5575, [56]. Breakfast included, heated indoor pool, balconies with mountain views, jacuzzi suites, heated parking and pet friendly. (51.182888,-115.565452)
  • Fox Hotel & Suites, 461 Banff Ave, +1 403-760 8500 (toll free: 1-800-661-8310), [57]. The Fox offers one and two bedroom suites and hotel rooms. The hotel's centerpiece is the hot pool inspired by the original Cave and Basin Site.
  • Hidden Ridge Resort, 901 Hidden Ridge Way, +1 403-762 3544 (toll free: +1 800-661-1372), [58]. This resort features condo style accommodation with full kitchens and wood burning fireplaces. The resort also offers two outdoor hot pools, BBQ and picnic areas, wifi, and located on the Banff transit route.
  • Inns of Banff, 600 Banff Ave, +1 403-762 4581 (toll free: +1 866-704-3693), [59]. This hotel has an indoor pool, outdoor hotpool, 2 restaurants and lounge, ski shop, underground parking and on the Banff transit route.

Splurge

  • The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, 405 Spray Ave, [60]. One of the grand old hotels, few hotels can compare to the majesty of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Nestled in the trees overlooking the rest of the town and valley it is a magnificent location for a magnificent building. Multiple restaurants, a heated outdoor pool and a wide range of accommodation in a fantastic building. All this comes at a price though, and the Banff Springs is an expensive hotel. Also booking very early is required. Among the luxurious amenities, you can indulge in their three waterfall treatments whirlpools and indoor Hungarian mineral pool (that actually has music underwater to soothe you as you float into complete relaxation) or enjoy treatments at the onsite Willow Stream Spa. Bike and ski rentals are available at the hotel and can be booked in advance.

Contact

All phone numbers must be preceded by the area code, which is 403 for Banff & Lake Louise and most of Southern Alberta.

Stay safe

Banff has a lot of wildlife roaming in and around the city. Be careful of deer when driving. Bears used to be quite common within the city but conservation efforts have largely fixed this problem. Garbage within the city is still kept in "Bear-Proof" containers. Respect the wildlife. Never feed or approach a bear.


Get out

  • If you are staying in the Banff and Lake Louise area and don't mind the slightly longer drive, you may also consider the newly opened Kicking Horse Ski resort just over the border in Golden, British Columbia located just west of Yoho National Park, Banff's sister park and Canada's second protected area.
  • Drive along highway 1A west of Banff.
  • Johnston Canyon hiking.
  • Bow Falls is located close to the Banff townsite.


Routes through Banff
KamloopsLake Louise / Jasper (via AB-93.png) ←  W noframe E  CanmoreCalgary



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