Fresh mountain air, glacial lakes, and the Rocky Mountains. If that sounds good to you, then you’ll want to check out Banff, Alberta, Canada.
Banff is the only town situated within a Canadian National Park–meaning not only do you get the beautiful Canadian wilderness, but you also get the opportunities to partake in activities, enjoy local shops and restaurants, and stay in the middle of it all.
Thinking about checking it out? Here are some of the major things to know about Banff.
The Infamous Hot Springs
It all started with the transcontinental railway. Banff was along the railway’s route, and in the early 1880’s, a few Canadian Pacific Railway employees came across a series of natural hot springs.
Only a few years later, the area around the hot springs was designated as a federal reserve. It was then promoted as a resort and spa area, which in turn, helped promote the railway. The federal reserve area gradually expanded to a 260 square mile area, which was called “Rocky Mountain Park”. The town as it is today was developed to support the resort area. The hot springs remain a popular tourist destination to this day, although its offerings extend a little farther…
The three mountains surrounding Banff (Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise) offer a combined 8,000 acres of skiable terrain. A “tri-area” lift ticket allows skiers and snowboarders to try their hand at each of the mountains in a single trip. Banff is renowned for having one of the longest ski seasons in North America. For backcountry enthusiasts, Banff National Park offers endless terrain to explore.
The Columbia Icefield
Located along the boundary of Banff and Jasper National Parks, the Columbia Icefield is a 53,000 acre field of snow and ice, reaching depths of 1,000 feet in some places. Meltwater from the icefield flows into stream and rivers that eventually lead to each of the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, making it a “hydrological apex”.
In the summertime, visitors can explore the icefield by way of a “snowcoach” or on a guided scenic tour. Ski mountaineers will prefer to visit in the winter months. An exhibit centre with a theatre, displays and activities is currently under renovation, set to be reopened later this year.
All Aboard the Banff Gondola
Just five minutes from the Town of Banff lies Sulphur Mountain, home of the Banff Gondola. In only eight minutes—just enough time to take in the incredible scenery–the gondola takes its passengers 2,292 feet into the air to Sulphur’s summit (which is nearly 7,500 feet above sea level).
Once at the top, visitors can explore the trails, seek out the wildlife (like Hoary marmots and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep), take in the views from the interpretive boardwalk and view-decks, or indulge in meal at one of the restaurants. Views from the top vary greatly depending on the season—luckily, all views are equally impressive, so you really cannot go wrong. If you’re heading up in the summer, you can choose to hike your way up instead of taking the gondola. It’s about a two hour hike one-way.
Head to the Water
The Banff area is home to some beautiful lakes, like Lake Minnewanka, the largest waterway in the Banff National Park. Explore the shoreline by foot, or hop on a cruise for a tour from the water. In the wintertime, the lake freezes over—but that doesn’t stop scuba divers from exploring the depths of the lake beneath the ice.
Fun in the Sun
Banff shines as a summer destination, too. Between mountain biking, hiking, trail running, golf courses, and—of course—the hot springs, there is no shortage of outdoor activities to enjoy. The trail network is extensive and well-maintained, and by the time the summer months roll around, they’re finally clear of snow!
Convinced that Banff is the place for you? The town is located roughly an hour and twenty minutes away from Calgary, so book your flight to Calgary and start planning the trip!