We admit it. We are biased. For decades we have been playing in Banff National Park, a 90 minute drive from our home in Calgary. We have skied, skated, hiked, tubed, rafted and climbed through this wilderness wonderland of over 6600 square kilometers of Canada’s Rocky Mountains.
Banff National Park holds the special memories of our honeymoon over 30 years ago and the wedding of our son and daughter in law. Our love for this country’s first national park gushes out of our mouths like a proud parents going on and on about their gifted child.
We are often asked for travel recommendations for destinations around the world. Those that cause some pause are the queries that go something like, “Where can we take three generations of family and ensure that everyone has a good time? Oh and we are thinking of a summer holiday, but maybe Christmas, or possibly Spring Break.”
Well that certainly narrows it down.
Finding activities to keep toddlers, teens and grandmas happy on vacation can be compared to juggling flaming sticks. Besides the fact that Banff is almost in our backyard, which in itself seems like an excellent reason to plan your next holiday to this UNESCO World Heritage site, we believe the combination of modern amenities and pristine wilderness will make this mountain escape a thrill for everyone from solo adventurers to a multi-generation family.
Having explored these Rockies in all seasons, with weather ranging from hot sun to steady snowfall, we can assure you Canada’s premiere park as a vacation destination will be a winner. Below you will find our reasons for encouraging you to head to Alberta. We have included special tips collected over the years and links to assist you in trip planning.
Be prepared to get packing!
Classic Experiences in Banff National Park
Have you caught snowflakes on your tongue while sitting in natural hot springs or cruised over a ghost town submerged in the depths of a lake? How about a gondola ride where you can gaze over endless peaks and valleys of the Canadian Rockies?
Special tips – Arrive early in the day to avoid long lines at the Sulphur Mountain gondola in Banff. When going to the Upper Hot Springs bring your own towel or rent one there. Lockers require a loonie (one Canadian dollar) so bring your own or the staff can add the cost of a locker to your admission and hand you a coin.
Hiking in Banff National Park
From short flat strolls around the town of Banff to scrambling mountain peaks, over 1000 kilometers of walking and hiking trails provide the ability to explore Banff National Park no matter one ‘s abilities.
Special tip – For any hiking in Banff National Park dress appropriately for the weather with hiking shoes or boots. Bring adequate food and water. Obey all wildlife warning signs. Feeding wild animals is illegal in the park, not to mention dangerous for you and the wildlife.
The hike up Sulphur Mountain runs under the Banff gondola and is a sustained uphill effort. The day we did the hike the gondola ride back down was free. Some people will do anything to save some money. * The gondola will be closed in the winter of 2015 for renovations.
Banff’s World Class Hotels
Special tip – If you plan to visit Lake Louise to capture photos the best time is early morning. Again this is a world renowned destination. You won’t be the only one looking for that postcard image. We have always found the shoulder seasons of spring and fall to be quieter.
For the history buffs in your family or as a rainy day activity head to the Whyte Museum, Banff Park Museum, Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum or the Cave and Basin National Historic site, birthplace of Canada’s National Parks.
Special tips – Be sure to check times for the museums as provided in the links above. The rotten egg smell of the sulphur pools at the Cave and Basin is sure to have your kids making some snide remarks. All part of the exploring and learning. Those of us with grown children find such shenanigans most amusing.
Adventure in Banff
Looking for a dose of adrenaline for the adventure junkies? No shortage of opportunity with Banff’s only Via Ferrata and some of the world’s best mountain climbing available in the park. For those wanting to stay closer to the ground water activities such as rafting, canoeing, kayaking and fishing are available.
Special tip – To ensure participation these activities must be booked in advance. I will admit the three wire suspension bridge on the Via Ferrata still makes my hands sweat at the memory. A must-do for thrill seekers.
Shopping and Dining in Banff
For those not quite so keen on outdoor adventure, the shops and galleries of downtown Banff and the Fairmont hotels provide everything from souvenirs to art galleries. Whether you worked up your hunger in the store aisles or the hiking trails perhaps we can interest you in a table with a view?
Special Tip – Some of our favourite restaurants with a view in Banff National Park are Juniper Hotel Bistro, The Cliffhouse Bistro and the Lakeview Lounge at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Be sure top check the links provided for hours of operation.
Banff National Park has aptly been referred to as visiting the inside of a ‘snowglobe’. Winter wonderland activities of ice skating, snow tubing, snowshoeing and downhill and cross country skiing await.
Special tip – Dress for the weather! Canadian winter does not mean pack a sweater. These activities are only fun if you stay warm. A cold and cranky child, not to mention their parent, can put a damper on the magic in a hurry. To be clear if you are planning a winter holiday, fun will need to include a winter clothing ensemble.
Final Tips for your Visit to Banff
You will require a park pass for entrance into the national park. You can avoid possible line ups at the gate by purchasing your pass on line prior to arrival here. When approaching the gates of Banff National Park, stay in the right hand lanes and watch for signs to bypass the gates.
Banff National Park is a world renowned destination and sees more than three million visitors a year. Accommodation from camping to high end hotels are available but should be booked in advance, especially in high season.
Our recent weekend in Banff National Park was hosted by Banff Lake Louise Tourism. However our opinions reflect our experiences through a lifetime in a park we consider our home. Still finding new views that leave us open mouthed with each visit, we are in love with the place, pure and simple.
We may be biased toward our baby of Banff however with our depth and diversity of experiences, (Dave began skiing these Canadian Rockies at the age of 7), we claim to be trusted authorities, albeit proud and gushing ones.
Now when can we expect your arrival?