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Banff, Alberta, Canada, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Rocky Mountains. With close access to an international airport, stunning views, and lots to do, Banff makes an excellent option for people who want to escape to the mountains. As I said before, Banff is a trendy tourist destination, so it can get quite busy. Make sure to plan your trip ahead of time to ensure you can get the most out of your adventure. Keep reading to find out how to get there, where to stay, what to do, and where to eat!
Banff is only an hour and a half drive from Calgary International Airport, making it the closest city to the park. If you are driving, the most direct route is taking the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) directly from Calgary through the National Park to the townsite. Since it is a part of Canada’s National Park system, make sure to stop at the gates to obtain your park pass for the length of time you are there to avoid being ticketed.
There are also regular shuttle bus connections from the airport that will take you to the townsite. Banff is not an excessively big town, so it is easily walkable if you do not have a car, but it makes it more difficult to enjoy some of the sites around the town like Johnston Canyon.
There are bus and rail services as well, which I am not familiar with, so I have attached some website resources for you to check out here
Where to Stay
Like many of the National Parks in Canada, Banff has plenty of options to suit everyone’s needs. There are many hotels, places to camp, cabins, hostels, and Airbnb is also an option. I will break down some of the different options for you.
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Usually, when I am off to the mountains, I opt for camping instead of staying in a hotel, so I have not had much experience with Banff’s hotels. Rather than listing off some random hotels, I will link Trip Advisor’s list of top-rated hotels in Banff. I have heard good things about the Rimrock Hotel and, of course, the Fairmount Banff Springs for those wanting an authentic Banff experience. I did stay at the Banff Park Lodge Resort Hotel for a conference once and had an enjoyable experience there!
Nothing beats that rustic feeling of being in the mountains, then having your own cozy, woodsy cabin to retreat to at the end of the day. The official Banff and Lake Louise website gives you the best options broken down into frontcountry cabins and backcountry cabins. View the link here
Banff attracts people from all over the world and many age groups seeking different types of adventures. If you are looking for a cost-effective option, consider staying in a hostel
Banff International Hostel
There are so many places to camp around Banff! Bring your tent or your camper and set up in the beautiful country! Book through the Parks Canada website to view all your options and what is best suited for your camping needs.
One of my favorite campgrounds to tent in was Johnston Canyon. It is a little way out of town, but you are within walking distance of the famous Johnston Canyon hike, which I highly recommend.
Two Jack campsite is also another option that we have enjoyed and is a little closer to the townsite!
If you are having trouble finding camping options within Banff National Park, broaden your search to look at staying near Canmore! This also works for Hotels and Airbnb. It can also be a little cheaper, but it is farther from the townsite.
Where to Eat
Banff has a lot of great options for places to eat! I always suggest checking out local restaurants instead of opting for chain restaurants.
Tooloulous – There is almost always a line-up to get into this cute little restaurant, so make sure to get here early! Try their breakfast poutine, and you will not be disappointed
Evelyn’s Coffee shop – A great café to get a delicious cup of coffee, especially for those cold winter days! You can also get some light bites for a day when you are on the go.
Coyotes Southwestern Grill – An excellent spot for both breakfast and lunch. It has great options for vegetarians and offers gluten-free options
Park Distillery – This bar has good food and makes their own spirits! A great place if you are looking for an afternoon drink or looking for a full meal!
The Bear Street Tavern – I was recommended this restaurant by a friend, who said they had the best pizza. I was not disappointed when I went here. They genuinely do serve great pizza, but what makes them so unique is that they serve their pizza with honey and chili oil! I thought they were crazy at first, but it is actually so good!
Melissa’s MisSteak – a no-frills steakhouse a little off the main path; we also stumbled upon this place by accident but had a fantastic meal. They are well priced and have a friendly little atmosphere
The Grizzly House – One place people often associate eating local flair is at The Grizzly House. I have yet to eat here, but they specialize in fondue with wild meats. Somewhere definitely on my list to try one day
Beaver Tails – A truly Canadian snack. Do not worry; they do not actually serve beaver tails. It is deep-fried dough in the shape of a beaver tail with loads of toppings
The Fudgery – looking for some in house-made fudge? Look no further than the Fudgery. It is hard to walk by this place and not stop as they are often making something that looks absolutely delicious that you can see from the street. I recommend stopping in for a treat
What to Do
There is so much to do in Banff in both the summer and winter! Since it is more commercialized, it offers more to people who do not enjoy outdoor activities. I will break down this list based on what there is to do indoors and outdoors
- Take a walk around the town. There are so many shops for you to stop in. Most are souvenir shops if that is what you are looking for. Banff is on Treaty 7 land, and I would suggest checking out the Banff Indian Trading Post to help support local indigenous artists and to possibly learn about the local history of those First Nations peoples
- Night clubs
- Cave and Basin Historical Site
- Check out one of the museums!
- Take a look at the historic Banff Springs Hotel
- Banff Upper Hot Springs
- Take the gondola up the mountainside
- Hiking. There are different hikes for all activity levels. One of my favorites is the Johnston Canyon hike. A good portion of it is paved where you can see waterfalls, and then you can continue on to the ink pods! I highly recommend doing the whole hike as you get to see some fantastic views. Make sure to bring lots of water and some food if you plan on doing the whole hike
For a full list of activities, check out the official guide to Banff and Lake Louise here