Destination Banff and Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

Boy, Did We Luck Out

Banff, Alberta is located 1.5 hour’s drive from Calgary, Alberta and nestled in the Canadian Rockies.  It is an easy day trip to drive into Banff from Calgary.  Let’s be honest, since house sits in Banff don’t turn up very often, and we were chuffed that we found one and were successful in getting it.  But, if you get a house sitting gig in Calgary…. ROAD TRIP!!

Banff house sitting
Banff is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Rocky Mountains

Banff is a outdoors persons’ dream location.  In the summer months, you can enjoy activities such as canoeing, kayaking, hiking, camping, exploring, cycling, back country hiking and camping, while enjoying the fabulous weather and gorgeous vistas that are abundant in Banff.  When considering camping anywhere in Banff National Park (or any National Park) you will need to plan and book early.  The campsites fill up fast and you need to book ahead of time.  More detailed information can be found here.

Banff has the added bonus of winter sports as well, considering it is surrounded by mountains, and the three main ski areas are Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, and Norquay.   Here you can ski, snowshoe, back country winter hike, take dog sled tours, and other festivities that the tourism board puts on.

Banff National Park was the first named National Park in Canada’s history.  Now, there are 39 (and growing) National Parks.  These are areas that have been designated as major natural reserves and representations of Canada’s natural environment.  The parks form a network (and at times contiguous) system of reserve and areas that are protected by the federal government.  Be aware of driving speed limits in all the parks – fines are huge if you are stopped.

To stay overnight in the parks, you must purchase a park pass.  The cost is prorated over how many days you are staying.  If you are staying beyond seven days, it is cheaper to buy an annual pass for $136.  This gives you access to all of Canada’s National Parks for a one year period, with no restrictions on how long you stay.  Did I mention ROAD TRIP!

Banff – The Town/Village

Banff Town
Banff Town

Banff Village was initially founded by the railroad workers in 1883 when they discovered the hot springs and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The ‘village’ itself is full of quaint stores, heritage buildings, restaurants, hotels, Airbnb, historical museums and is the home of the Banff Centre for Arts which is a world-famous venue for artists and performers.  Accommodation is not cheap in Banff, and you might have to look around to plan your trip on the ‘shoulder season’ to get a decent room rate.  They do, however, have lots of specials during the ski season so you just have to plan ahead.

Banff vista and gondola
View of Banff Town from Sulphur Mountain

Another cool plus is the gondola up Sulpher Mountain which gives you amazing views from the top.  Also, it hosts the Sulpher Mountain mineral pools which are natural hot springs.  Open all year round, they can be a welcome respite after a long day of hiking or skiing.  It truly is breathtaking and well worth the trip up the mountain.  This shot shows the gondola and the village below nestled amongst the Canadian Rockies.

The iconic Banff Springs Hotel

One cannot talk about Banff without mentioning the iconic Banff Springs Hotel.  Originally constructed in 1887 by the General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It has had a storied past and is well worth the visit.   The views are amazing, the architecture from another era, and has a grandeur left over from the early years of the 20th century.  One quirky fun thing to do is to find all the public washrooms… sounds funny, but each one is different.  Great thing to do on a rainy day! (free)

The Locals

Banff has a variety of wildlife to experience

The wildlife.  You cannot talk about Canadian national parks without considering the wildlife.  Banff is rich in that sense.  Elk and deer walk the town freely and are treated with the greatest respect.  There are also black bears, brown bears, and grizzly bears to be aware of when you are hiking.  Best to carry bear spray and make noise when in the bush.  Moose are also frequent visitors and should also be viewed with respect and do not approach them!  They are big as or bigger than most horses and have a bad attitude.  This is thought to be due to their poor eyesight and inability to distinguish friend from foe.  They will attack dogs, as it is thought they resemble wolves.

Speaking of wolves, yep, they got ‘em too!  Wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, oh my!  Yes there is a lot that can and will hunt you in Banff, but you just need to be aware and always on alert.  Keep looking around and scanning the bush, listening for sounds out of the ordinary and most of all.. the smell.  If you smell something gnarly, it could be a wild animal near you.

There are also gorgeous raptors in the park – Eagles, Hawks, Vultures, and may other birds of prey or other species.  There is an active bird watching opportunity here.  On our first day here, we saw a Woodland Blue Bird for the first time.. it was beautiful!  We didn’t know what it was at the time, but ran into a couple of bird watchers and described it to them.  They assured us that was what we saw. Oh, and the local humans are generally friendly, open, and nice.

Dog Walking

Canmore Dog Park
Canmore Dog Park

Because of local wildlife, dogs must be walked on leashes at all times in and around the village – it is best for the dogs and best for the wildlife.  There is a fabulous off-leash park in neighbouring Canmore.  It is a 15 min drive from Banff and is a large area of open fields and wooded areas.

You can walk dogs on many different pathways and trails in Banff and the use of long lines is widespread to allow the dogs to be able to hunt and have a good walk.

There is another great place called the Fenlands just outside the town by the BANFF sign.  It is a lovely woodland walk with bridges, boardwalks, and trails to walk on.  Dogs must be leashed here too.

The Food

The cool thing about Banff is they serve a lot of wild game.  You can even get alligator at Tooloulous! (good food and great value). That, and ditch chicken – the colloquial term for frogs legs. 

Not to mention Elk, Bison, fresh fish, and if you aren’t adventurous, even beef and chicken. 😊  It is a great way to try out new proteins!

There are so many restaurants here.  They cater to all palates from Western to Asian to Eastern to Italian and Greek.  You can find just about anything.  Oh, and you MUST try Beaver Tails. They are a local treat and, depending on which part of the country you are in, they can be known as Whales Tails too.

Our favs for having a great beer (lots of craft beer available) and a snack are The Elk and the Oarsman, The Banff Ave. Brewing Company, and Tommy’s.  All are pubs and are fav hangouts for the locals.  They are moderately priced and serve good burgers.  (The best veggie burger of the three is the Elk and the Oarsman)

Most of the restaurants have vegetarian or vegan options and there are a couple of vegan restaurants to be found. Nourish Bistro is probably the top vegan restaurant as it is only veggie and vegan.  Another popular one is the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company

Things to do for Free or Inexpensively

Hiking the trails = free

Whyte Museum ==  $10

Banff Springs Hotel == free to roam – lots to see and enjoy

Art Galleries == free to roam

Take the gondola ride up Mt. Norquay = free

Visit Canmore = free

Visit the many lakes in the area = free

Banff Mountain Market = Every Wednesday starting in May

Catch a movie at the Lux Theatre

Cascade Gardens = free

Cave and Basin Historical Site

Wildlife viewing = free if you have a car but also they have wildlife evening tours $56/person (fyi, you will see wildlife in town and on the trails too)

Banff Park Museum = $4 admission

Hop on the bus = day pass $5 plus lots of alternatives

Sit on a patio and people watch = free

If you have a car and the ability to do other day trips = Lake Louise, Columbia Icefields, Icefields Parkway, Kananaskis (we do not advocate walking on the glaciers as they have become extremely fragile. They are melting fast!)

Check out the local calendar of events = lots of info and free stuff

Here is a great resource on wildlife safety and awareness and what to do when you do encounter wildlife in the parks.