Banff

Banff from Sulphur mountain

The town of Banff is located in Banff National Park, in the Canadian Rockies. It is the larger of the two populated areas in Banff National Park, and is located about an hour and a half drive west of Calgary and four hours south of Jasper. Banff is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. 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 will especially welcome the sidewalks that facilitate exploration of the town on foot.

Understand

Banff is a tourist town full of visitors and seasonal workers from across Canada and around the world. It is a convenient base for seeing some spectacular scenery with little effort. However, with convenience comes crowds. Banff Avenue can be very busy on summer afternoons and evenings. 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 the nearby ski areas of Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) -3.1 -0.2 5.2 9.7 14.7 18.6 21.6 21.6 16.4 10.0 0.1 -5.2
Nightly lows (°C) -12.2 -11.1 -6.6 -2.1 1.9 5.5 7.3 6.9 2.6 -1.3 -8.1 -13.3
Precipitation (mm) 20.4 17.0 20.8 33.6 62.4 68.3 68.0 61.7 38.6 31.9 25.9 21.4
Snowfall (cm) 24.2 20.5 23.6 21.6 15.0 1.0 0.1 0.3 6.5 20.2 30.8 27.4

From w:Banff#Climate

At an elevation of 1400m above sea level and surrounded by mountains, the climate is subarctic. Banff has experienced snowfall even during the summer months. With daily mean temperatures of +15°C in the summer and -8°C in the winter, the climate is very similar to northern Scandinavia.

Get in

By plane

The park is easily accessible for international travellers via Calgary International Airport, which has international scheduled and charter flights.

By car

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

The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) is a scenic drive from Jasper.

Parking can be tricky, but the five-storey Bear Street Parkade near downtown is free. Look for it in the 100 block of Bear Street, one block west of Banff Avenue. The Bear Street Parkade also has an EV charging station. The Town of Banff website has parking maps.

By bus

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

By train

Regularly scheduled passenger trains no longer stop at Banff's historic train station, but luxury Rocky Mountaineer sightseeing trains operated by Rocky Mountaineer Vacations visit regularly from spring through to fall. (Reservations required.) You can take VIA Rail train service to Edmonton or Jasper, and then either take a bus or rent a car and drive to Banff.

Park Entry Fees

All visitors stopping in Banff park (even just for gas or in the town) require a park permit. If you are driving through non-stop, the pass is not required. Day passes and annual passes are available; see Banff National Park#Fees/Permits for details.

Get around

Roam bus

By foot

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, and up the mountains. All of these activities are within a 5-15 minute walking distance.

By bus

Banff's Roam public transit bus system covers most of the town's hotels and attractions. Roam transit fares are $2 (one-way) for adults, $1 for kids and seniors; an unlimited day pass costs $5. Bus service runs from 6:15AM to 11:30PM daily.

By taxi

Taxi cabs are also available, which is handy if you are doing a grocery run or staying out late.

By bike

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 historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. You can also combine cycling with public transit, as buses are equipped with bike racks. 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 offer some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. It may seem a daunting task to try to 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.

Banff Park Museum
Bow Falls
Cave and Basin

Do

Mountain town activities are characteristically different in summer and winter.

Year Round

A comfortable ride up the mountain

Indoor activities

Banff does offer some indoor activities besides museums and galleries.

Spas

The Banff Upper Hot Springs

Banff National Park was established to protect and promote the natural hot springs at the Cave & Basin (now Cave & Basin National Historic Site). So there is a century-long tradition of visitors coming to take the waters in a spa-type setting. Today, visitors have many spas to choose from, but only the Upper Hot Springs Pool and Pleiades Spa allows visitors the opportunity to bathe in water from a hot spring.

Winter

Skiing and Snowboarding

Sunshine Village

Banff National Park is home to three ski areas, all within easy drive of the Banff townsite. Driving to the hill is not strictly required, as ski shuttles have stops convenient to most hotels. They will take you to the mountain of your choice and back again. Shuttle buses are included in the price of some ski passes, or you may have to pay a fare ($15).

Of the three Banff National Park ski areas, only Sunshine Village has ski-in ski-out accommodations. However, access to Sunshine is solely through their gondola. The gondola stops running at 4PM Saturday through Thursday, and 10PM on Friday. Sunshine is a village in name only; there are very few activities there after the ski lifts shut down for the day. Most skiers stay in the town of Banff or the village of Lake Louise.

The ski season in Banff runs from early November to mid-April. The final day of skiing at Sunshine Village is always on Victoria Day, in late May.

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.

Lift passes

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 31 but can be used all season.

Louise Plus cards are very similar to Sunshine Marmot Cards. In addition to Lake Louise, they are also honored at four other ski areas: Castle (near Pincher Creek, Alberta); Revelstoke (Revelstoke, BC); Panorama (Panorama, BC), and Schweitzer (Sandpoint, Idaho, USA).

You can purchase a Tri-Area Pass 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 and Snowboard Rentals

Nearby Lake Louise is another popular ski resort

There are a number of great places in the Town of Banff that will rent high quality skis, snowboards, and boots. Some will also rent winter coats and pants. Note that all Banff National Park ski areas require skiers & snowboarders under age 18 to wear helmets. Adults will find that not only do helmets protect your head when you fall, but they do a great job of keeping your head warm in cold and windy weather.

Ski and Snowboard Lessons

In addition to the skiing & snowboarding schools at Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise, there are some independent ski / board schools.

Other Winter Activities


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!).

Hummingbird sitting on a spoke of a bike wheel in Banff

Hiking and wildlife viewing

Bighorn sheep

Banff has the most beautiful trails surrounding it. You can pick up a free trail map at the Visitor Centre, or find many trail maps online, as downloadable pdf files. Please check the trail reports online or with the Parks Canada desk before you go, as high-elevation snow, bear activity, or other factors may close trails or create hazards. Another option is to go with a hiking guide and group, different locations are available.

While in the area, always keep your eyes peeled as there are so many animals to spot in the summer in Banff. It is important to keep your distance, though, as wildlife is wild and they should be kept that way, they can be dangerous too! In the spring, female elk are very protective of their calves, who may lie hidden out of sight; in fall, bull elk are extremely aggressive during the rut. For this reason, you will need a telephoto lens to get good photos of wildlife while staying safe.

How can you tell that you are getting too close to wildlife? If the animal stares at you, moves away from you (even just a few steps), or behaves aggressively toward you, then you should back away until that behavior stops. Also, it is illegal to feed wildlife in a national park.

Visitors often confuse bighorn sheep with mountain goats. Goats are white with black noses and short black horns, and are usually seen high up on rocky ledges. Bighorn sheep are brown, with white rump patches and brown horns. They are usually seen by roadsides and grazing on grasses close to rocky outcrops. You'll never forget the difference after you watch this Parks Canada music video, GOat Sheep GOat.

The Bow River trail
Hoodoos in the winter

Events and Festivals

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 Avenue

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

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

A note about alcoholic beverages: Visitors to Banff can sometimes be perplexed by Alberta's liquor laws. The legal drinking age in Alberta is 18. A restaurant that does not serve alcohol can admit diners of all ages. However, some restaurants that serve alcohol may be required to bar anyone under 18 from entering--even if they are just going to use the toilet. A second type of liquor license allows both adults and minors to enter. To further confuse things, the same restaurant may be allowed to accept diners of all ages at certain times, but be open only to ages 18+ at other times of the day (usually evenings). All establishments that serve alcoholic beverages are legally required to have a food menu as well.

In a hotel, guests cannot take their unfinished alcoholic drinks from the hotel restaurant to their hotel room.

These are not rules imposed by management; they are legal requirements, and the business could forfeit their liquor license if they are caught breaking them. Similarly, younger drinkers may have to show proof of age before they are served. Again, the business could lose their liquor license if they are found serving under-aged patrons, so they need to be very careful.

Budget

Mid-range

Meal with a view, on the top of Sulphur Mountain

Splurge

Desserts & Sweet Treats

Every tourist destination has stores that specialize in tempting visitors with sweet delights.

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!

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 often cheaper alternative is to stay in Canmore and drive to the ski resorts or into Banff.

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

Budget

Northern lights over Banff

Mid-range

Splurge

Banff Springs Hotel

Connect

All phone numbers must be preceded by a local area code. The area codes 403 and 587 are used for Banff & Lake Louise and most of Southern Alberta. If you see a Banff phone number without an area code, use the older area code, 403.

Stay safe

You may encounter bears, although the risk is much smaller than it used to be

Banff has a lot of wildlife roaming in and around the town. Be careful of elk and deer when driving in the town. The most dangerous wildlife in Banff National Park are not bears or cougars, but elk. In spring, female (cow) elk are very protective of their offspring and will charge anyone who they consider a threat. In the fall, male (bull) elk are rutting and very aggressive. Cow elk weigh roughly 230 kg (507 lb), while bull elk weigh about 320 kg (705 lbs). Both sexes are capable of seriously injuring a person, and rutting males have also damaged cars.

Thirty years ago, bears used to be quite common within the town but conservation efforts have largely fixed this problem. Garbage and litter within the town must be discarded into bear-proof containers. In Banff National Park it is illegal to feed any wildlife, and both stupid and illegal to feed bears. "A fed bear is a dead bear": bears who learn to associate humans with food engage in behaviours that are threatening to humans and ultimately fatal to the bear.

Avalanches are a risk in winter. This risk is not limited to people engaging in activities like cross-country (Nordic) skiing, skiing off piste, ice climbing, or snowmobiling. The winter of 2013-2014 was particularly tragic in Banff National Park because four people were killed by an avalanche when snowshoeing and two people were killed by an avalanche when sledding. None of them had any avalanche gear with them.

Learn to identify avalanche hazards. An avalanche slope has enough of a slope to it that you can ski or sled down, but is not so steep that it won't hold snow. If you're not familiar with how to spot avalanche risks and you want to engage in outdoor activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or even sledding, check with Parks Canada staff or the Canadian Avalanche Centre for more information.

Be alert to your surroundings. Not all cliffs or other unsafe areas are marked with signs or blocked off by railings. Some travellers disregard railings and warning signs of unsafe terrain, when they exist, because they are keen on getting a closer look or taking photographs. Even if the risk is not obvious to you, it's best to assume that someone put up the barriers and safety messages for a good reason.

Emergency contacts

Go next

Routes through Banff

Kamloops Lake Louise  W  E  Canmore Calgary


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 12, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.