Known for its stunning scenery, Banff is a must-visit destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. The town boasts a rich history dating back to the late 1800s, with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway leading to the establishment of the town. Banff is known for its hot springs, which were discovered in 1883, and have since become a popular attraction for tourists. Banff’s location in the heart of the Canadian Rockies offers easy access to other nearby attractions, such as Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway. With so much to see and do, Banff is a truly unique and unforgettable destination that should be on every traveler’s list. Read our Banff travel guide to find out more about this spectacular, unique area.
Banff is a small town situated in the heart of Banff National Park. Originally named “Siding 29” when the Canadian Pacific Railway built tracks in the area in the late 1800s, the name was changed to Banff in 1884. This is derived from Banffshire in Scotland, which was the birthplace of two of the original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Banff National Park was established in 1885, making it the first national park in Canada and the third in the world.
Throughout the early 1900s the town continued to grow, and the Canadian Pacific Railway built the Banff Park Museum and the Banff School of Fine Arts. The town also hosted the 1933 British Empire Games and the 1972 Winter Olympics. In the 1980s and 1990s, Banff became a year-round destination, with activities such as skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. However, the town faced some challenges in the 2000s with over-tourism and the decline of the forestry industry.
The Banff area has a rich history of Indigenous peoples, including the Stoney Nakoda, Blackfoot, and Tsuut’ina nations. Archaeological evidence suggests that Indigenous peoples have been living in the area for at least 10,000 years. The traditional territories of these nations extend beyond the boundaries of Banff National Park, encompassing much of the surrounding region.
Today, Banff is known for its stunning natural beauty, including glaciers, mountains, and lakes, as well as its outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. The town is also known for its hot springs, which were discovered in the 1880s and are now a popular attraction. The area is home to a variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, and bighorn sheep.
- Ride the Banff Gondola: The Banff Gondola is a scenic cable car ride that takes visitors up to the top of Sulphur Mountain for stunning views of Banff and the surrounding mountains. Once at the top, visitors can explore the boardwalk and observation deck for 360-degree views, grab a bite to eat at the restaurant, and visit the interpretive center to learn more about the area’s history and wildlife.
- Visit Banff Upper Hot Springs: Banff is known for its natural hot springs, and the Banff Upper Hot Springs are a popular place to relax and take in the stunning mountain views. The water is naturally heated and contains minerals that are said to have healing properties. The facility also has a historic bathhouse that dates back to the 1930s.
- Go on a wildlife tour: Banff is home to a variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, and bighorn sheep. Going on a wildlife tour is a great way to see these animals in their natural habitat while learning about their behaviors and habits. Some tours are done by vehicle, while others involve hiking or horseback riding.
- Stroll through Banff Avenue: Banff Avenue is the main street in the town of Banff and is lined with shops, restaurants, and historic buildings. Strolling down Banff Avenue is a great way to take in the charming mountain town atmosphere and check out local boutiques and galleries. Visitors can also stop by the Banff Visitor Centre to get information on activities and attractions in the area.
- Visit Banff Park Museum: The Banff Park Museum is a National Historic Site of Canada and was established in 1895 as a way to preserve and display specimens of the flora and fauna of the Canadian Rockies. The museum is home to over 5,000 specimens, including animals, birds, insects, and plants, and offers a unique insight into the natural history of the area. Visitors can also learn about the history of the museum and its important role in the development of Canada’s national parks.
- Banff is Canada’s highest town at an elevation of 4,537 feet (1384 meters) above sea level.
- The Bow River, which runs through Banff, is named after the reeds that grow along its banks and were traditionally used by Indigenous peoples to make bows.
- The town of Banff has its own microclimate, with temperatures often being several degrees cooler than nearby cities such as Calgary.
- Bring appropriate clothing: The weather in Banff can be unpredictable, so it’s important to bring layers and be prepared for all types of weather.
- Respect wildlife: Banff is home to a variety of wildlife, including bears and elk. Keep a safe distance and never feed them.
- Stay on marked trails: To protect the delicate ecosystem of Banff, it’s important to stay on marked trails and avoid damaging the surrounding flora and fauna.
- Stay hydrated: The high altitude and dry air in Banff can be dehydrating, so be sure to drink plenty of water and bring a refillable water bottle.
- Pack sunscreen: Even on cloudy days, the altitude means that UV rays in Banff can be strong. Protect your skin by packing and wearing sunscreen.