Banff is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies with some of the finest mountain scenery you’ll find on the planet. Throw in outstanding chances to see wildlife (bears and elk in particular), and loads of activities to keep you busy during the day, followed by everything from budget to gourmet dining at night and you have a potent reason to visit.
You can tour the town of Banff in a day or two but you could easily spend a month in the general area. Here are what I think are some of the great things to do.
Ease your body into the 37-40C water found at the historic Banff Upper Hot Springs while you enjoy views of Mount Rundle. Open year round, it’s an especially soothing place to hang out on those cold, blustery days.
If you want a view from a height, ride the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. The eight-minute ride takes you up 2300 feet. It’s open daily in the summer from 8:30 am until 8 or 9 pm depending on the month. Once on top, take a one-kilometer interpretive walk along the Banff Skywalk while keeping an eye out for wildlife.
Take a boat tour of Lake Minnewanka, the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies.
Head to the Whyte Museum. They feature extensive archives and library, visual art with a Canadian Rockies theme and a collection of historical relics used for skiing, mountaineering, guiding, packing and more.
Go hiking and biking in Banff. There are so many trails to choose from that it’s worthwhile to have a chat with a Park Ranger and see what they recommend based on your ability and time frame. Their office is on Banff Avenue in the heart of downtown. Recently a bike and hike shuttle has started up that will drop you off and pick you up from some of the nearby trailheads. You can rent a bike in town from Bactrax.
Best Areas to Explore. I highly recommend a trip to Johnstone Canyon, about 25 minutes away – any time of the year. It’s an easy 1.1 or 2.7 kilometer hike one way, depending on if you want to see the lower or upper falls. In winter I’d recommend wearing crampons or Yactrax for grip on the ice.