The town of Banff was established in 1883 when the trans-continental railway was built through the Bow River valley. The town is the centre of recreation, tourism, and dining in the Canadian Rockies and Banff National Park. Banff has an elevation of 1,395 m (4,580 ft), but is nestled by mountains that tower a mile above:
- Old Squaw Mountain & Mount Norquay with its ski hill to the north
- Cascade Mountain to the Northeast, welcoming you before the Banff highway exits
- the unique table-top formation of Mount Rundle, shown below (and the small Tunnel Mountain) to the southeast
- Sulphur Mountain with its hot springs and gondola to the southwest.
Here is Banff’s Mount Rundle, viewed from scenic viewpoint on Mount Norquay Road. You can hike to and up any of the mountains around Banff, with Tunnel, Norquay, and Sulphur the most accessible, and Cascade the most challenging.
Tourists are always surprised by the variety and proximity of wild animals around town. Please be careful…these wild animals may be frightened of humans, especially if you try to sneak up on them for a picture. You should not feed them (EVER!) and should throw out your garbage only into special bear-proof waste containers around the town.
Banff is the tourist centre of the Canadian Rockies. It not only has the
largest number of hotels and beds & breakfasts, but also has an abundance of manmande
and natural attractions. There are plenty of scenic wonders on the roads around
Banff>. The town’s attractions are clustered in three main areas:
- In the Town centre, between the Bow River and the Trans-Canada Highway (#1)
- On Tunnel Mountain, overlooking the town
- On Sulphur Mountain on the opposite bank of the Bow River
Visitors to Banff enjoy exploring and shopping on Banff Avenue. It has shops, boutiques, sporting goods stores, and restaurants to cater to every taste. Banff also many affordable motels and hotels, mostly along Banff Avenue, plus the internationally renowned Banff Springs Hotel overlooking the Bow River.
Here are some of the attractions in and around Banff (* denotes admission charge may apply). From the downtown, moving southwest from Banff Avenue:
- Walter Phillips Gallery*
- At the Banff Center for the Arts, this gallery showcases contemporary art and media.
- Whyte Museum of the Rocky Mountains*
- This museum, on Lynx Street, has numerous displays and photographs of the early exploration and development of the Rockies.
Natural Attractions around the Banff town include:
- Luxton Museum*
- This museum, near the Park Administration Building and across the Bow from downtown, features exhibits about the Plains Indians and life before the Europeans.
- Natural History Museum*
- In the Clock Tower Mall, this museum portrays the evolution of the Rockies, along with information about plants, animals, dinosaurs and a video about the Mt. St Helens volcano.
- Banff Park Museum*
- This museum, where Banff Ave. meets the Bow River, is Western Canada’s oldest natural history museum. It has many stuffed animal specimens, including a buffalo and moose. Some of the animals date back to the 1860s.
- Cave & Basin *
- This is the original hot springs found by the first explorers of the Banff area, and the cause of the creation of the national parks in Canada (they precede Yellowstone in the USA by several years). There is a visitor and interpretative centre. You can also rent a 1920’s style bathing suit.
- Bow Falls
- These falls allow the waters of the Bow River to drop about 30 feet, near the confluence with the Spray River. They’re a short walk from the Banff Springs Hotel or from the Banff Centre off Tunnel Mountain.
- Banff Springs Hotel
- Even if you’re not staying here, its worth a peek inside. (Either park on the street, or tip one of valets so you can have a quick look inside). This 1928 hotel looks like a castle overlooking the Spray River, Bow Falls, and a stunning golf course. It has since been expanded, and a conference centre added.
- Sulphur Mountain Gondola*
- A summertime ride to the top of the mountain overlooking the Bow Valley and Banff. Be sure to bring a sweater: you’re up high and there are usually strong winds.
- Upper Hots Springs *
- This hot springs is located above the Rimrock Hotel, about a mile uphill from the Banff Springs. This springs and pool is open year round, unlike the Cave & Basin, and is a popular stop for skiers before hitting Banff’s nightlife.
- Sulphur Mountain
- Named for the numerous sulphur hot springs that come from it.
From the downtown moving southeast toward Tunnel Mountain:
- Banff Centre for the Arts
- Built in 1933 to provide creative artists a new venue for experimentation and expression, the Centre hosts the Banff Television Festival (world famous) and the Banff Festival of Mountain Films
- These pillars of eroded sandstone are located about a mile north of Bow Falls where the Bow River has eroded into Tunnel Mountain, across from the Banff Springs Golf Course. Accessible by a small hike.