Banff is a legendary small town inside of Banff National Park with a global tourist story. It’s existence is based on visitors, in fact, it is illegal to live in Banff if you don’t work there so tourism is their singular focus. Below are the top 10 reasons to go to Banff:
1 – People – Staff
Because Banff is singularly focused on visitors, they really care. To get hired in most businesses staff need to speak English and at least one other language so if you speak Japanese, German, Chinese, French, or Spanish you will not have a problem with most hotels and restaurants. Like all tourist towns, good service is not universal but it is a hallmark of Banff.
2 – Cows – Ice Cream & Souvenirs
If you are going to Banff and want to spend $8 on fantastic ice cream cone or $20 on a funny t-shirt, Cows is a must. They always have a line up for ice-cream on warm days but the line moves and there is so much fun souvenir stuff (funny mugs, hats, shirts and other kitsch), you and your kids will not mind. Cows has only a small number of stores and the one in Banff is the only one in Alberta. They explain their quality better than I can:
COWS ice cream is SUPER PREMIUM, because we use cream with a very high butterfat content of approximately 16%. Our ice cream is mixed slowly so that it contains very little air – just enough to prevent the ice cream from freezing into a solid block of ice! The result is our creamy, high-density COWS ice cream that melts slowly in your mouth, allowing you to truly savour the taste. Some other ice cream producers mix their ice cream at a high speed and inject air to increase volume. Finally, we use the finest ingredients available to make our ice cream. All of our ice creams contain fresh cream, real eggs, and sugar. Today, we make 32 + flavors to delight the taste buds of true ice cream lovers!
3 – Banff Springs Hotel
The Banff Springs is one of the oldest hotels in Canada. It was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888 so rail travellers had a place to stay on long journeys. It has been renovated many times and during the 1926 renovation the balance of the original hotel burned to the ground. It caters to high end foreign visitors but locals can still find a deal on prices especially in the off seasons of spring and fall to have a great staycation. They even offer deals on Groupon. The hotel has a world class visitors center, hiking trails, a bowling alley and restaurants but most people want to visit the ‘haunted’ top floor before they leave. If the Banff springs is not for you or you find they are booked up, there are MANY other fine hotels for you to rest at.
4 – Street Redesign
The main drag in Banff is cleaver named Banff Avenue (which is actually a VERY nice boulevard)and it was redesigned in 2014 to allow some of the restaurants to pour out onto the street. These businesses set up patio’s right in the street parking stalls and that provides wonderful places for visitors to people watch as they eat and drink the afternoon and night away.
5 – Shopping
You won’t be surprised to find that a high end tourist town offers much in the way of shopping. From exclusive clothing stores to fancy eateries, Banff has it all. It is a great place to buy high end jewelry and art. That being said, it is not so exclusive that the average person would not feel comfortable in nearly all of the stores. The staff know that there is a select crowd of high end shoppers but most people are just window shopping or looking for fun inexpensive souvenirs, and they are just fine with that.
6 – Golfing, Mountain Biking and Hiking
There are many stellar golf courses within 1 hour of Banff. The most notable is the Banff Springs Golf Course, right in town. It will cost about CDN $200 per 18 hole round or you can pay $100 for a 9 hole experience at the Banff Springs Tunnel Mountain course. The scenery is truly breathtaking and the odd bear or moose keeping the round interesting. Hiking and mountain biking in the Rocky Mountains is a very popular pastime. Most people get up early to hit the trails and then spend their afternoon with beer or a nice chardonnay on a downtown patio. Trails range from lines that push Olympian’s (yes there are MANY Olympians training in the area) to those that allow you to push a stroller. One of most popular hikes in the area (that definitely requires a car to get to) is Johnson Canyon. At the bottom there is a proper restaurant and cabins along with an ice cream hut and tones of parking. This trail is nearly paved on the lower segments up to the two waterfalls and then turns into a dirt trail for the more adventurous who want to visit the bubbling paint pots about 1.5K’s beyond the ‘upper falls’. In other words, there is something for everyone and you can turn back at any point and still feel like you had a great day.
7 – Gondola
One of the more popular attractions is the Banff Gondola. It provides a scenic trip up to the top of Banff’s famous Sulfur Mountain for about $40 for adults and half that for kids (children under 5 are free!). Once at the top there is a great lookout providing panoramic views of the valley and the Banff Town site.
8 – Skiing and Summer Stuff on Ski Hills
Banff has three world class ski hills within 30 minutes of downtown, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, Norquay, and just a little further out is Nakiska (1988 Olympic venue). All of these provide truly fantastic Rocky Mountain Skiing experiences. All of these Banff ski resorts have awesome summer hiking and/or biking you should look into. Lift tickets are often in the $90 range but you can usually get passes at Costco that provide serious discounts. I have skiing in Quebec, Vermont, BC and many places in Alberta and without doubt my favourite place to ski with my family is Sunshine located just a few minutes west of the Banff Town Site. After you park your car (or get out of a shuttle bus) at Sunshine you will take a 4.5 kilometer long gondola ride that has TWO 90 degree turns in it to move you up to the ski resort. The skiing looks like it is not for beginners but there are many runs on the larger lifts that are VERY easy. There are also many staggering runs that will challenge even the most seasoned skier. If you want to cross country ski there are many many well groomed trails.
9 – Proximity To Calgary
Banff is about 90 minutes from Calgary and that is far enough to make it feel like the different world it is. Calgary’s is a region of about 1.5M people and is “the heart of the new west”. If you want to take in a Broadway play, whoop it up at the Calgary Stampede, take a paddle board or motor boat out in Chestermere Lake, or have a day of endless shopping in clean new giant malls like Chinook Center or Cross Iron Mills, the Calgary region has much to offer.
10 – The Banff Centre
This famous retreat was just rebranded as The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The facility is a favourite for mid-size conventions and corporate strategy sessions. It has a focus on music and art but many “regular folks” decide to stay in one of it’s two hotels. Their quick pitch really does sum it up:
Impeccable service, exceptional views and amenities in a peaceful, natural setting. Designed with the visitor in mind, with quick access to all Banff has to offer.