This past week hubby and I arrived in Banff, Canada to take in the area sights. I had always wanted to visit the Canadian Rockies, including Banff and my namesake body of water- LAKE LOUISE! This blog will focus on the attractions and parks within Banff – including the Sulphur Summit, the Cave and Basin, the downtown region, and the Bow River waterfalls and trails.
Before you venture out – check out the Park Pass requirements for Banff and all parks within Canada.
Downtown Banff has a feel to it similar to Lake Placid, New York or Park City, Utah. It is a small town that caters to the needs of tourists. From their very efficient transportation system (ROAM) to the helpful visitor center. Museums, parks, stores, and lots of restaurants help to create Banff’s amazing vibe. Plus, it is bordered by magnificent mountain ranges. However, the true “secret” to Banff is its wonderfully kind and generous residents.
Below I listed my favorite places that we visited in Banff. While they are in no particular order – I will say that the gondola ride was indeed a huge highlight of our trip!
Bow River Falls
The Bow River Falls can be easily accessed from the downtown main street – Banff Avenue. There are also entrances near some of the hotels on the perimeter of the park. It is a lovely place for a walk and to get acclimated to the elevation of Banff before venturing to even higher elevations – such as at the Sulphur Summit. This attraction is FREE! A little preview video I created is below.
Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola and Hot Springs
The Banff Sulphur Mountain is home to a spectacular gondola, viewing platform, small educational center, theater, and restaurants. Nextdoor you will find the Sulphur Mountain Hot Springs. Both are worth taking the ROAM #1 bus to visit and spend quality time relaxing, learning about the Banff National Park, and enjoying the vistas!
The Hot Springs was a ton of fun and thankfully not much of that “rotten eggy smell” – common among natural springs. Phew! Instead we found a very pleasant place to relax and meet people from all over the globe! The hot springs has bathing suits and towels for rent along with lockers and showers.
A few things to know about this area: 1) When you go to the Hot Springs bring sandals as it is a communal locker room and is a bit slippery 2) The ticket to the Hot Springs has an add-on option that is worth the few extra dollars – entry to the Cave and Basin (across town). 3) When riding the gondola know that it is steep and if you are afraid of heights you may wish to reconsider. However, I felt totally safe and never scared. It was an exhilarating ride up and down the mountain. If you wish to take the Sulphur Mountain trails know that bear spray is required and for obvious reasons- bears are the owners of the mountain and people are simply guests!
Once atop the summit, you will find paths to go even higher! But, these paths require walking up and down wooden steps and on ground that can be uneven. Thus, not conducive for a person with special mobility needs – such as a wheelchair.
Note: We did not eat at any of the restaurants at the summit. But, people do say that the Sky Bistro is extra special and the buffet at the Northern Lights offers a wide selection of food.
Banff Cave and Basin
The Cave and Basin truly was the biggest surprise of our trip. I was expecting a rather drippy, dark, and damp cave. It was not at all! And we went on a rainy day! Instead, we found a super accessible and inclusive attraction that was very interesting and great for all ages! I want to give a shoutout to the gift shop buyer- the items at their store were very unique and reasonably priced!
To get to the cave take the ROAM #4 bus from the Banff downtown main hub.
Recommendations & Tips
Banff restaurants represent cuisine from around the world. While we sampled many of the local establishments – one made our “we would come back” list!
This eatery is fabulous! And, I must not be the only person who thinks so – because there was a long wait if you didn’t have a reservation. Hubby and I circumvented the line by eating at the bar. Here we met bartender, Derek G. He is a prime example of the nice, kind, and helpful Banff residents! I saw many traditional Greek dishes being served and each looked AMAZING. We opted for the Greek Bowl. It was exceptional and if I had more time in Banff, I would have returned – again and again!
Check out the local Rundle United Thrift Shop!
This place was filled with great finds. I scored three wool scarves (new!) for only $5 each. Books, home goods, and much more filled this store located at the end of Banff Avenue (and close to the trail for the Bow Water Falls).
I feel compelled to give a few random travel tips.
- The busy season starts in late May/ early June. Plan accordingly as there are only so many buses and hotels in this area.
- Check out Lake Louise and other main attractions EARLY in the day – before the hordes of people arrive. We arrived by 7 am and it was very busy by 11 am.
- Bring Canadian money if traveling from outside of Canada. There were some places that did not take credit cards or non-Canadian money.
- Dress in layers. The weather seemed to change every hour! The morning in late May was quite chilly only to be 40 degrees warmer by lunchtime! Rain was on and off throughout our week in the Alberta province.
- If you are flying WESTJET know that the international terminal for this airline is not the same as the national gates. We spent an hour online to check in bags only to find out we were at the wrong part of the airport. A 15-minute walk got us to the right place – but all could have been avoided if there was better signage from the rental car return building.
- Visit other places en route to Banff- such as Canmore ( a charming town about 20 minutes away) and of course, Calgary. In this city, you will find the home of the 1988 Olympics. Also, the Calgary Stampede happens every summer in this little city- so plan your trip with care if you don’t want to be in the thick of huge crowds!