The natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies is never more obvious than when you’re standing in the middle of magnificent Banff National Park. No wonder it’s one of Canada’s most visited attractions. This national park – the oldest in the country – and the scenery that surrounds it are nothing short of breathtaking. Each year, as many as five million visitors go holidaying in Banff, looking forward to the trip of a lifetime amidst snow-capped mountains, amazing wildlife, crystal clear lakes, and some of the most charming towns in Canada.
Facts about Banff National Park
Established in 1885, Banff National Park covers 6,641 square kilometers (2,564 square miles) in Alberta Province. The park is made up of mostly mountainous terrain and because of its northern location visitors can enjoy ice fields and glaciers along with beautiful alpine forest.
The area was largely developed by the Canadian Pacific Railway to entice people to ride the train. The railroad erected the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise as part of the attraction and the visitors began coming.
Winter tourism began in Banff nearly 100 years ago with the establishment of the Banff Winter Carnival. By the 1930s, it was already become a top Canadian ski destination, thanks to the building of Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay ski resorts.
Things to Do in Banff
Holidaying in Banff can mean any number of things. For some, it’s simply a chance to relax and enjoy the stunning scenery. For others, a trip to Banff and the surrounding areas means adventure and non-stop action, enjoying extreme activities meant for the daring. Of course, there are plenty of moderate activities in between as well – offering pleasant sightseeing opportunities and other fun things to do appropriate for all ages. And the nice thing about vacationing in Banff is that there’s just as much to do in the summer as there is in the winter.
Rafting/Canoeing – White water aficionados in-the-know can tell you that rafting in the Banff/Canmore area is terrific. Try a run on the nearby Kicking Horse River and in Yoho National Park for the rush of a lifetime. For a more docile trip, check out a multi-day guided canoe trip, which will allow you to explore not only Banff but other portions of Alberta as well.
Biking - Grab a bicycle! It’s a great way to see the town of Banff and also an ideal way to explore Lake Louise and other picturesque areas. Mountain biking enthusiasts can take more adventurous rides through places like Sundance Canyon, past myriad mountain lakes, and even to a ghost town or town. The ski slopes are ideal for summer biking excursions!
Hiking – Hiking and trekking in the Canadian Rockies is truly breathtaking – in more ways than one! Some hikes can be quite strenuous and are meant for the experienced hiker or backpacker while others are good for all ages and ability levels. Many outfitters offer multi-day hikes combined with excellent camping experiences. Also try heli-hiking, where you can explore with a guide above the tree line.
Cave tours – For something truly unique, take advantage of the many caves in the Banff area and go spelunking! Usually, no experience is necessary and guides are always present, but caving does require some amount of physical prowess. If you’re able, exploring these 2-million-year-old wonders – like Rat’s Nest Cave - is fascinating!
Zip Line tours – Designed for visitors of all ages and ability levels, these tours, which consist of short nature hikes and exciting zip line rides, are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The zip line system descends down the mountainside and across the Kicking Horse River and is offered during the non-skiing season.
Skiing and other winter sports – Skiers heading to Banff for a winter holiday can ski three areas all on one ticket – Sunshine Village, Mt. Norquay, and Lake Louise Mountain Resort. Ski season in these resorts stretches from late November often into late May and prices are very reasonable in the less busy months. Snow schools and children’s programs are available and plenty of outfitters offer equipment rentals. There’s lots of room for snowboarders, cross country aficionados, and sledders, and even non-skiers can find enough to keep them busy all day.
Things to See in Banff
If you’re looking to do a little sightseeing while holidaying in Banff, there are a few must-sees that are appropriate for all ages.
- Banff Park Museum Natural Historic Site – Originally built in 1903, this is the oldest natural history museum in western Canada, boasting a number of interesting displays and artifacts, including an assortment of wildlife and minerals. There’s also a hands-on discovery area for the kids and a reading room.
- Whyte Museum – This is actually two museums in one. The first part is an art gallery that features interesting works by local and regional artists. The second is the “heritage collection”, which consists of two large furnished historic homes and four log cabins that visitors can explore.
- Cave and Basin National Historic Site – The interpretive center here educates visitors as to how and why Banff became the first national park. Trails and boardwalks lead into the forest and down to pretty Bow River and back.
- The Banff Springs Hotel – Even if you’re not lodging here, you’ll want to visit this historic Victorian beauty, which boasts gourmet restaurants, upscale shops, a golf course, and amazing views of the Bow Valley.
- The Icefields Parkway – There is no more breathtaking sight in the Banff area than the scenery along Route 93, nicknamed the Icefields Parkway. This scenic ride takes motorists through mountains and glaciers towards the town of Jasper and back. It’s about a 3-hour drive to the Columbia Icefields area and back; 6 hours if you want to go all the way to Jasper. You’ll want to allow for stops and side trips.
- Hot Springs – For a relaxing soak, check out one of the hot springs resorts in the area. The Banff Upper Hot Springs Pool is located inside Banff National Park or you can take a side trip to Radium Hot Springs in nearby Kootenay National Park. Most are open year-round and a warm soak amidst the snow is a breathtaking experience!