This post may contain affiliate links. This just means that if you choose to click one of the links or ads, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your continued support. To learn more about this, feel free to read the affiliate dislaimer here.
The town of Banff
The small town of Banff (population of about 8,000) has just a few streets which are all riddled with shops, restaurants, and cafes. Boutique storefronts and high-quality outdoor attire shops line the main street for shopping and food options are abundant. You can find many gear rental shops and tour agencies here as well. As you stroll, keep your eye open for plaques discussing the history of the buildings and surrounding area. In case you miss them, here’s a quick rundown:
History of Banff:
Banff National Park is actually Canada’s first national park, and the third in the world! Back in the 1880s, when mining towns were popping up all over the place, settlers began to recognize the special beauty that surrounded the area and thought it might be an intriguing place for visitors. Boy were they right! Within the following 10 years, people were drawn in by the Mountains, lakes and natural hot springs and hotels began construction. Today, more than 4 million visitors flock to the park every year, most of them stopping by the town.
Best time to visit
Banff National Park has two peak seasons due to its opposing seasonal activities. July & August are the busiest times of the summer, bringing in hikers and nature lovers from all over the world, and December & January are the busiest months in the winter. Snow bunnies, skiers and mountaineers show up in the height of winter for the freshest snow. School breaks also often coincide with these times, and what better thing to do when you aren’t in school than explore nature?!
I visited in September and this was a great time to be there. Less crowds than the previous two months, but the weather was still fantastic for exploring and camping! Spring (April & May) is also a good shoulder season, but bring a rain jacket and be prepared to bundle up in the chilly evenings.
Where to eat in Banff
There are so many food options, which can be easily found by simply roaming the few streets that make up the town of Banff. Everything from McDonalds to gourmet dining, sandwich shops to exotic meats, and many types of international food stops. If you don’t have a specific craving, a fun way to get a taste of everything is to stroll along the restaurants, stopping in for an appetizer, side, drink or dessert at several. This can get expensive though and if you are wanting a one stop meal, I have a few recommendations for you:
- Una for delcious house-made, wood fired pizza.
- Masala for a scrumptious all-you-can-eat Indian buffet. (You will smell it when you roll into town & it lures you in, in the best way!)
3. Grizzly House for different types of fondue and exotic meats like rattlesnake, ostrich & buffallo.
4. Ice cream. Because who doesn’t love an ice cream cone on vacation?! Stop into one of the two Beaver Tails locations or COWS for a scoop or two.
Things to do in and around the town of Banff:
- Rent bikes. Although the town is small enough to explore on foot (all in a leisurely afternoon at that) but renting bikes can open your options even more. There are many trails just outside of town that are easily accessible by bike plus it’s fun to use your body in a different way sometimes!
- Stroll a market. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Wednesday, swing by the Banff Farmers Market for some fresh produce or goods handmade by local artists.
- Hike. There are so many hikes of all skill levels to choose from here (It’s kind of what Banff is known for). Most of the hikes near town are peaceful, walkable and geared toward families. More strenuous treks are a bit further out of town. Stop by the info center or the tourist info booth set up on the Main street to get a map and some detailed descriptions. Keep reading for a few of my recommended hikes.
- Explore the downtown. Like I mentioned before the entire town is walkable and is perfect for window shopping (or buying souvenirs) and snacking your way through the day. Remember to look up from the shops every once in a while, the mountain views from town are stunning!
- Relax in nearby hot springs. Banff Upper Hot Springs provides some amazing views to aid in your relaxation.
Note: Cave & Basin no longer allows swimming in the pools, but is still a great historic location to visit or take an educational tour.
- Photo op at the Banff sign. This seems to be a right of passage when visiting the park. Be ready to stand in line to wait for your turn to snap the pic-every visitor has the same idea.
- Enjoy being in Banff. Grab a bottle of wine from one of the liquor stores in town & enjoy it back at your resort room or campervan. Whatever your accommodation is, take some time to truly appreciate where in the world you are. Look out the window at the beautiful view & soak in the energy of the mountains surrounding you.
- Fenland Loop trail is an easy 2km walking trail taking you through old growth trees, marshland and along a few small lakes. It’s located walking distance from downtown and just across the street from the free parking lot entrance. Keep your eyes open for wildlife on this trail!
2. Hoodoos loop trail starts and ends right in town. At 10kms, it’s moderately challenging and takes about 3 hours to complete but the views and river access points are stunning. Don’t forget your bug spray because the mosquitos like to hang out along the trail.
3. Lake Louise/Moraine Lake. These two lakes are very popular, and for good reason. You have probably seen them on Instagram at some point (if you haven’t, go check them out on mine). They are so stunning and unique that I felt they deserved their own blog post (slash photo gallery 😉 ) Coming soon!
Check out the government parks page for an extensive list of hikes and their descriptions here:
All of this fun stuff, but what about logistical errands?
Banff has you covered for those too!
There are several grocery stores and mini marts, 7 liquor stores, gas stations with unleaded and diesel, and all types of accommodation options for every budget all within walking distance.
If you have your own car or RV, there is a free parking lot about a 5 minute walk from downtown. Street parking in town is limited, so it’s worth finding a spot in the lot and stretching your legs to walk in. Follow signs for free parking.
Overall, Banff is an adorable little town that is worth stopping in, if even just for a lunch or dinner on your way through. I recommend spending at least enough time here to take a few trails, roam the streets, and load up on coffee and gas before exploring the rest of the park! The next part of your adventure through the park will likely take you to Jasper & the drive is absolutely not to be missed!
Related posts you might like:
I did this trip with my amazing parents who are on thier own adventure, driving a converted school bus the entireity of the Pan-American Hwy (North, central & South America)! Follow their journey here!
If you will be in Canada for a while, be sure to stop by Vancouver, BC for an amazing city experience! (Bonus points if you are flying in/out of YVR). Check out my guide to get the most out of your time there!
Jasper National Park and the town in it will likely be your next destination as it is so close and definitely not to be missed! Check out my Beginner’s Guide to the town of Jasper to get your travel plans rolling!