5 Essential Experiences in Canada’s Most Charming Mountain Town
Known the world over as the crown jewel of Canada’s national parks, Banff offers so much more than invigorating mountain air and some of the most stunning scenery in the Canadian Rockies. Here are 8 often-overlooked Banff attractions that make one of the highest towns in Canada one of the country’s most charming as well.
1. Be a Cowboy (or Cowgirl) for a Day.
If you grew up watching Gunsmoke or The Big Valley, chances are you dreamed of saddling up and having your own adventures in the Wild West. Banff Trail Riders makes those dreams a reality, offering everything from one-hour trail rides to a full-on cowboy cookout dinner, in which you’ll learn how to lasso before tucking in to a delicious steak on the banks of the Bow River. Not much of a rider? Not a problem! You can also book a private, horse-drawn carriage tour of Banff, which takes you along the Bow River and past the world-famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel .
2. Sample the Sippers at Park Distillery.
The only Canadian distillery located inside a national park , this trendy spot on Banff Avenue makes “Glacier to Glass” rye, vodka, and gin using fresh water drawn from six local ice fields.
3. Explore Cave and Basin.
Now a National Historic Site and recognized as a key factor in Banff’s designation as Canada’s first national park, Cave and Basin is actually a cluster of underground hot springs at Sulphur Mountain. Three Canadian Pacific railway workers discovered the atmospheric caverns purely by chance in 1883, later using the springs as their private retreat, making their way in and out via a felled tree. You can still pop inside for a peek, but taking a soak in the natural pools is strictly prohibited—not to mention somewhat slimy, as it’s the protected habitat of a snail that’s on the endangered species list.
4. Cruise Lake Minnewanka.
Known to local First Nations as the “water of the spirits,” this 21-kilometre lake—the longest in all of the Rocky Mountain parks—is lined with picturesque peaks. Sit back and enjoy the views from the comfort of a boat cruise, or charter a fishing boat and try your luck at reeling in a prized lake trout.
5. Rediscover Your Youth.
When’s the last time you went bowling? Combining pins, pints, and pizza, High Rollers is the perfect place to tap the nostalgia of old-school Saturday nights. The Banff hotspot boasts six bowling lanes, 48 beers on tap, and New York slices “as big as your head.”
6. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway.
Connecting Banff and Lake Louise, this 51-kilometre wildlife corridor features 13 interpretive stops and some of the finest scenery in the Rockies. Among the highlights is Castle Mountain (above)—a rugged peak that’s inspired artists from around the world to render its likeness in charcoal, watercolours, and oils.
7. Relax and Recharge.
Many visitors find there’s something about the crisp Rocky Mountain air that sparks a renewed interest in health and well-being. Inspired by its stunning surroundings and local First Nations culture, Cedar & Sage caters to this need with a “holistic health lounge” that offers a full menu of traditional spa treatments plus yoga, reflexology, an infrared sauna, and a juice bar.
8. Keep an Eye on the Skies.
Head to the outskirts of Banff for inky-black evening skies—and spectacularly bright stars. Viewpoints at places like Castle Mountain and the Vermillion Lakes provide dramatic stargazing opportunities.