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Are you looking for tips on what to do in Banff, Canada?
As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Leigh McAdam’s who has visited Banff in fits and spurts over the last thirty years.
Leigh shares with us her insider Banff travel tips and knowledge on what to do in Banff for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.
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.
I highly recommend a trip to Johnstone Canyon, about 25 minutes away – anytime 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.
Check out: 50 walks and hikes in Banff National Park
Loads of dinner choices. Probably the most upmarket choice would be Saltlik Restaurant, a place that specializes in beef though there are plenty of other choices.
Alberta beef and buffalo.
For something a little quieter head to the Banff Springs Hotel and nab a table with a view. It’s a place that takes you back in time but the drinks are good and so is the bar food.
If you come into Banff along Banff Avenue you’ll pass 13 hotels in just six blocks. There ‘s plenty of choice across the full budget spectrum. Plus there is nearby camping at Tunnel Mountain once the snow disappears.
Most of the shopping in Banff takes place on Banff Avenue. Unfortunately I see it primarily as shops catering to tourists, though there are a few exceptions.
Patagonia has a store and there are a few galleries worth poking about in – Canada House and Willock and Sax Gallery. There are lots of opportunities to pick up a T-shirt and perhaps a chocolate moose.
They do have ongoing events throughout the year but it’s best to check their website for what’s coming. The main festival draws an international crowd of writers, movie makers and adventurers.
It’s easy to get around Banff on foot or by bike – should you have one.
But there is a transit system in place and for $2 you can move around the entire town – from the gondola on Sulphur Mountain to the Tunnel Lake Campground. Buses start running at 6:15 am and the last pickup is at 11:30pm.
Head to Starbucks on Banff Avenue for free internet.
Banff is actually a year round destination though my personal opinion is that it’s at its prettiest in July, August and September. Ski season lasts from late November until May.
You only actually need a few days for Banff. The beauty of Banff lies in its’ location. It’s extremely easy to explore the surrounding mountains and lakes by day and return to Banff by night.
Picking a favourite side trip is near impossible but if you’ve never been to the area then I think you should drive the thirty minutes to Moraine Lake near Lake Louise and walk to the far end of the lake – phenomenal scenery and fantastic lake colour.
The drive from the airport to Banff takes about 1¾ hours. Banff really isn’t close to any other major city. It would be close to a 5 hour drive from Edmonton or a 9 hour drive from Vancouver.
Wander down to the Bow River; I like the trail heading off from behind the Banff Springs Hotel. Go park yourself down on a rock by the river and enjoy the peace and serenity of the place. You may even spot an elk.
If I’m in Banff, I’m on holidays and unplugged from my computer. I never get tired of the views and I love the variety of activities available out of one small town. It’s all about savouring the day outside and then rewarding myself with a great meal at the end.
Leigh lives in Calgary, Alberta just over an hour’s drive from the mountains. She’s happiest outdoors in nature, whether it is on a hike, a bike ride or paddling her sea kayak.
This summer she’s checking out the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede and exploring the mountains in her own backyard.
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