Heading into the mountains to go skiing and snowboarding has long since been on the bucket list of people all over the world. However, not everyone has the budget to shell out thousands of dollars to make it to the Swiss Alps. Luckily, there’s a more than suitable alternative and it’s found in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
Banff is known to have some of the most breathtaking views in the world, especially when you visit during the winter. Catering to not just the adventurists, Banff offers stunning hotels and shops that suit everyone’s needs. If you are the exploring type, there is skiing down Mount Norquay, hike to the Hoodoos, biking on the paths next to Healy Creek, and climbing up Stoney Squaw Mountain. The natural hot springs are just a way to soothe your muscles after a long and tiring day.
What You Can Expect
Banff is known to be a tourist attraction, so because of this, locals are used to providing helpful information and directions. If you have questions or aren’t sure about something, feel free to ask.
Hiking, skiing, and park exploration take up the majority of activities in Banff, so it’s not uncommon that you’d see someone in hiking or skiing gear in a café or a restaurant. Even though Banff has some of the most beautiful scenery, the dress code remains relatively casual during the day. Dinner attire tends to be dressier as many of the steakhouses tend to be higher end, so you should always have extra dress clothes. Keep in mind that if you’re visiting during the winter, warm clothing is a must. During the summer, Alberta weather is known to fluctuate so you should consider layers.
For Americans traveling to Banff, the Canadian dollar exchanges around the same rate as the American dollar. There are multiple banks in Banff that can exchange your money for you, and the majority of restaurants, stores, and hotels accept major credit cards. It’s customary to provide a ten to 20 percent tip.
What You Can Do
For a place that’s relatively small (but stunning) you wouldn’t realize just how much there is to do outside of relaxing, and eating. When you plan a trip to Banff, make sure you include some of the below on your travel itinerary. You won’t regret it.
- Banff National Park: As the world’s third oldest, and Canada’s first, National Park, there is plenty to see. The park gives you what seems like endless mountains and valleys in the sky while making it possible for you to get in touch with nature. You can watch wildlife, hike, climb, boat, or just have a picnic; there’s nothing that the park can’t provide you. It was created in 1885 and ranges nearly 7000 square kilometers.
- Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies: Catherine and Peter Whyte founded the beautiful museum over a hundred years ago. The art displays consistently change, and showcase art from the present to as far back as the 1800’s. You can find a permanent collection that shows the story of Banff, along with work from the Algonquin School, Canadian and international artists.
- Upper Hot Springs Pool: One of the most significant tourist attractions in Banff is the Upper Hot Springs Pool. Initially, there were two hotels where the hot springs pool resides, but both burnt down. The water’s temperature runs between 32 and 46 degrees Celsius and remains one of Banff’s busiest attractions. If you don’t like crowds, it’s good to take a swim later at night or hire the place out for yourself at nearly $300 per hour.
- Banff Gondola: Located just 4km to the south of Banff’s center, the Gondola gives a ride up to the top of Sulphur Mountain in an enclosed car that seats four. The mountain got named after the springs that run beneath it, and the peak is the main attraction in Banff. Alternatively, you can hike to the top of the mountain and use the gondola as your way down.
- Cave & Basin National Historic Site: The site that was discovered by three CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) staff on their days off in 1883 became infamous. It quickly became a bidding war over businesses who wanted to set up shop for tourists bathing in the springs. The government stepped in, declared it a national park, and there’s no swimming at the springs now. You can see the original cave, bathing house, and old springs by visiting the newly restored museum.
What You Can Eat
The majority of Banff restaurants specialize in meat, and not just because Alberta is known for its beef. The cuisine of the Canadian Rocky Mountains typically consists of trout, venison, elk, bison, deer, and more. While you can find vegetarian options, it’s important to remember that the bulk of the restaurants serve meat and wild game.
- Saltlik: One of the most talked about restaurants in Banff is Saltlik. It has a vast menu of steaks that blow most menus out of the water. It also offers brunch on Sunday and has received recognition for being Banff’s top steakhouse.
- Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon: With Calgary being known for its Cowboys and Calgary Stampede, it only makes sense that Banff would have a saloon. The food is what you’d expect from a saloon, and comes with line-dancing, karaoke, live music, and cowboys.
- Nourish: Banff is full of restaurants that give you a good helping of meat. However, Nourish gives you stuffed mushrooms glazed with bourbon and other delicious vegetarian meals. It even has a massive papier-mache tree at the front door.
Where You Can Sleep
From stunning hotels to campgrounds, there are plenty of places for you to sleep when vacationing in Banff. Whether you’re on a romantic trip, or you’ve got the entire family with you, there is something to suit every tourist’s needs.
- Fairmont Banff Springs: The original structure of the Fairmont Banff Springs was built in 1888, and remodeled in 1928. The design resembles a Scottish castle and a European chateau you might find in the Swiss Alps. There are ballrooms, lounges, dining rooms, grand staircases, exceptional views, and a hot springs spa. It mostly gets recommended in the winter where its nearly 1000 lights bounce off of the snow.
- Moose Hotels and Suites: Listed as the top spa hotel in Banff, the hotel comes with many amenities, and prices range from $195 to $650 for a suite. There is a restaurant, fitness center, spa, hot tub, heated pools, and laundry service. The grounds of the beautiful hotel make it a relaxing addition to your trip.
You can make the most of the outdoors, and Canada, by visiting Banff. The scenery it has is going to take your breath away, and when you look around, there are always great deals and additions to make your package that much better. Pack your snow gear into your suitcase and make your way north; the views alone are more than worth the travel.
Have you visited Banff, Alberta? What did you think about its lodging and activities?