Nestled in the heart of Banff National Park, the communities of Banff and Lake Louise have been welcoming international visitors for more than a century. At 1,384 m (4,540 ft) above sea level, Banff is “Canada’s Highest Town”.
In 1883, when the transcontinental railway reached the formidable Rocky Mountains, the attempts of 3 CPR railway workers to stake a claim to the natural hot springs they had discovered bubbling from the base of Sulphur Mountain led to the establishment of Canada’s first national park, Rocky Mountain Park.
Today, Banff National Park is one of four adjoining mountain parks comprising more than 5,200 square miles of spectacular Canadian Rocky Mountain landscape. For current visitors, bathing in the same hot springs is one of many activities offered in Canada’s foremost National Park. If you visit the Banff/Lake Louise area you will see why each year more than 3.5 million visitors come to enjoy the unique feeling of the Canadian Rockies, and to experience why the United Nations in 1985 declared the Banff area a “World Heritage Site”.
Banff is a unique place to visit, let alone live. A train whistle blows in the distance as a reminder of the area’s railway roots while designer shops dot the streetscapes. From a sleepy summer resort town that used to close its doors in the winter months, Banff has now grown to be a year-round attraction. Lured by the wilderness and the variety of outdoor activities, people from all over the world are drawn to Banff National Park each year.
They venture into the area looking for their slice of the Banff experience, whether it’s in the restaurants, shops, museums, cultural activities, or adventures in the wilderness. On Banff’s bustling main avenue, virtually every language from German and Japanese to French and Spanish can be heard. Yet only minutes away from all the action, a quiet walk along the banks of the Bow River reminds you that the town is located inside Canada’s premier national park and a United Nations World Heritage Site!
Combining wild alpine beauty with first-class amenities, few places in the world have such stunning scenery, and fewer still offer the warm hospitality and excellent service you can enjoy in Banff and Lake Louise.
Location: Banff townsite is 75 miles (120 km) west of Calgary city limits and 10 miles (16 km) west of Banff Park gate. To reach Banff, follow the all-weather, four lane Trans-Canada Highway 1 from Calgary to Banff. Lake Louise is 35 miles (58 km) west of Banff.
Scheduled van and motorcoach service connects Banff and Lake Louise with Calgary Airport and downtown Calgary throughout the day.
View map of the area
- Map of Banff/Jasper/Lake Louise
Banff National Park offers rugged mountains, glaciers, icefields, alpine meadows, beautiful blue cold-water lakes, mineral hot springs, deep canyons and hoodoos compose the natural landscape and habitat for a great variety of mammals.
The Banff Park Museum houses a taxidermy collection of animals indigenous to Banff National Park, from birds to grizzly bears. Built in 1903, this is the oldest natural history museum in Canada, and the building, an unusual type of architecture known as “railroad pagoda”, is a National Historic Site.
Visit the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. Enjoy the exhibits honouring the heritage of the natives of the Northern Plains and Canadian Rockies. Displays include costumes, hunting equipment, and dioramas of native and pioneer life. The building that houses the museum is an old fort-like structure overlooking the Bow River. The museum is operated by the Buffalo Nations Cultural Society, representing Stoney, Blackfoot, Blood, Sarcee, and Peigan tribes.
Canada Place is a centre where visitors of all ages can discover interactive displays which explore Canada’s natural and historical heritage, as well as the events and people who shaped them. Kids will love the hands-on displays; learn how to use a sextant for mapmaking, or press anywhere on a 3-D globe to see Canad’s influences all over the world. And you’ll be surprised by the wall of Canadian inventions, from basketball to the disposable baby bottle.
Visit the birthplace of Banff National Park at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. See the cave, with the subterranean spring which was discovered in 1883, and the basin, a natural pool replicating the original bathhouse built in 1886. The film Steam, Schemes and National Dreams was screened at this site. Also at the Cave and Basin, find interactive exhibits or walk the scenic boardwalks onto the marsh where you can observe an ecosystem of unusual plants, animals, birds and fish.
The Natural History Museum traces the geological evolution of the Rockies. There are displays of rocks and minerals, fossils and dinosaur bones, flowers and plants, a film on the eruption of Mount St. Helens, and a lifesized model of “Big Foot,” the legendary giant ape said to live in remote mountain regions.
The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is home to three art galleries, a cultural history collection, and a renowned research archive. Contemporary and historic art exhibitions change monthly with works by local, regional and national artists. Also located on the pleasant wooded museum grounds are several historic homes and cabins, authentically furnished as fascinating examples of pioneer life in the mountains. Guided and private tours are available. Summer programs for children and families are frequently offered.
The cultural heart of the village of Banff and the Canadian Rockies, the Banff Centre for the Arts presents year-round performances, exhibitions, concerts, and events in the visual and performing arts. The Banff Centre for the Arts has been a major training centre for musicians, artists and writers for over 60 years.
In summer, the Banff Arts Festival is presented annually from May to August. The Festival is a celebration of talent featuring performances and exhibitions by the Centre for the Arts participants and guest artists in music, opera, drama, dance, jazz, vocal, writing and visual arts programs. During the winter months, The Banff Centre offers top-notch music concerts, music theatre performances and inter-arts events. The popular Playbill Series features a variety of entertainment by well-known touring performers. Other Banff Centre events include the Banff Festival of Mountain Films (November), and the Banff Mountain Book Festival (November). The Walter Phillips Gallery holds exhibitions of contemporary art, with works by guest artists, participants of the Centre for the Arts, and touring shows.
The highest point along the Icefields Parkway is Bow Summit at 2,069 metres (6,787 feet) above sea level, while the elevation at the Village of Lake Louise is 1,534 metres (5,033 feet above sea level).
Hot Springs: Whether it’s after a hard day of skiing or an afternoon of browsing the shops along Banff Avenue, there’s nothing like sinking into the natural hot mineral water outdoor pool. A soak in Banff’s famous hot springs affords panoramic views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains.
You can hardly walk down the street in Banff without stumbling on some fine mountain cuisine. Menus play up the word Canadian and often feature caribou, buffalo and Alberta beef, served up with blueberries, wild game sauce and Canadian cheese or fireweed honey-glazed salmon with almond crust, and wild rice quiche. After dinner, it’s a distinct Banff pleasure to forego dessert and instead stroll down Banff Avenue until you reach The Fudgery. From vanilla maraschino cherry fudge to the chocolate Bear Claws, the hardest part is making a choice.
The best way to appreciate the breathtaking scenery in our area is to be amongst the mountains that surround you. There are sightseeing gondolas in Banff (open year-round and situated a short distance from the townsite) and Lake Louise (summer only), where you can enjoy panoramic views, short hiking trails, interpretive exhibits and restaurants to relax in.
The Sulphur Mountain Gondola is one of Banff’s best-known attractions; its four-person cars rise 2,270 metres in eight minutes. For a more personal experience, try hiking up the side of Sulphur Mountain – its about 90 minutes worth of morning mountain air and staggering views. At the top, treat yourself to breakfast at one of two restaurants, both featuring panoramic views of the town of Banff, the Bow Valley and surrounding mountains. Stroll around the viewing platforms, check out the new interpretive trails, and then take the gondola back down.
Take time for a tour onto the icy slopes of the Athabasca Glacier, located at the Columbia Icefields. You will travel in a specially designed coach to the middle of the glacier, on a 5-km round trip journey. Your driver will point out interesting geological features as you travel in safety and comfort. At the icefall below the glacier headwall, you will have the option of stepping out onto ice formed from snow falling as long as 400 years ago.
The 3 ski areas of Banff Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise provide more than 7,558 acres and over 200 trails offering skiers and snowboarders of any ability countless challenges. From wide-open bowls and tree-lined glades covered with fresh dry champagne powder, to meticulous groomed slopes and state-of-the-art snowmaking, visitors enjoy unspoiled scenery, short lift lines, and guaranteed friendly hospitality.
Cross-country skiing in the Canadian Rockies can be anything and everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Every trail, every hill and every corner offers a new incredible view of the mountains. The Banff National Park and the surrounding areas offer a vast network of cross-country skiing trails. Try the smooth tracks of the nearby Canmore Nordic Centre, or gentle touring trails throughout the park. Advanced skiers can enjoy high-alpine glacier traverse that rival the “haute-routes”of the Alps.
Heli-Skiing: Experience mountain skiing via helicopter! The helicopter can deliver you to the top of a remote mountain and pick you up at the bottom after an exhilarating run down untouched powder. Enjoy extraordinary heli-skiing and incredible views for one day, two days, or a week, the choice is yours!
Fly over magnificent mountain landscapes on a helicopter sightseeing tour of Banff National Park offered year round. Enjoy the snow-covered peaks of Mount Rundle, Mount Assiniboine or the highest peaks of the Canadian Rockies along the Continental Divide. In winter enjoy an afternoon sightseeing tours in Panorama, British Columbia.
Heli-Hiking – experience the back country via helicopter! The helicopter can deliver you to a remote site for an half-day stroll up to a week long adventure. Sightseeing from the air is the best way to really gain perspective on the grandeur of the Rockies. Short tours can range from 20 minutes to an hour, more extensive trips between 1-5 days.
Winter Activities: Explore the magnificent natural world of the Rockies in a truly Canadian way, on snowshoes! Join a guided tour for an outdoor experience following the tracks of wolves and wolverines, learning how owls hunt, and how life adapts to the cold. How about spending the afternoon skating on crystal-clear lake ice, surrounded by majestic peaks? There are several natural outdoor skating areas, and you can rent skates at many of the sports shops in town.
Dog-sledding – the warmest and most comfortable way to enjoy and photograph the Canadian Rocky Mountains in their spectacular winter setting is to do it from a sled pulled through the forest by a team of huskies. “Mush” your own team of sled dogs through the pristine Spray Lakes area adjacent to Banff National Park. Tours can last between 2 and 10 hours, including traditional mountain snacks and refreshments to re-fuel you for the ride ahead.
Weather permitting, horse-drawn carriage rides are available for tours around the Banff townsite. In winter months, enjoy a sleigh ride (approximately 45 to 60 minutes) excursion to the end of majestic Lake Louise. In Banff, sleigh rides along (or on!) the Bow River are available seven days a week, weather and snow conditions permitting.
Golf: The 27-hole Banff Springs Hotel Golf Course offers a challenging golf course with great fairways and a spectacular scenic layout where moose and elk roam. The feature hole, the Devil’s Cauldron, is an elevated tee above a glacial lake. Teeing-off amongst the backdrop of dramatic mountain ranges with local wildlife as your gallery is an unequalled golfing experience available at several courses in the area, including Silver Tip Golf Course and Stewart Creek Golf Club in Canmore, Kananaskis Country Lorette Golf Course, and Kananaskis Country Kidd Golf Course. Golf Vacations in Alberta and British Columbia.
Air tour companies offer year-round guided air tours of the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains. The companies offer a unique view of the magnificent sights of the Canadian Rockies.
Your cruise on beautiful Lake Minnewanka to the famed Devil’s Gap will be the highlight of your trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies. You will be welcomed aboard for a 1-1/2 hour fully narrated tour of some of the most spectacular scenery found anywhere. Relax aboard glass-enclosed boats as you travel through the Minnewanka Valley to Devil’s Gap.
Fishing: The famed Bow River (open year round) and numerous lakes and streams in and around Banff National Park are home to an abundance of fish species that attract Fly and Spin fisherman from all over the world. A number of guides can lead you to the spots only a local would know about. Winter fishing is also very popular, with guides offering the comfort of heated huts and hot drinks to offset the colder conditions. Summertime also offers the opportunity to rent small motorised boats on Lake Minnewanka, with or without a guide.
Over 1,000 kilometres of hiking trails, rated from novice to expert await you in the park. Guided tours are available for all levels. They provide transportation, experience and sometimes a lunch. If you wish to explore the mountains on your own, please contact Parks Canada for trail reports.
Training programs are offered for beginners, intermediates and experts in the disciplines of rock and ice climbing, mountaineering, outdoor leadership, avalanche awareness and ski mountaineering. For those preferring a more relaxed and slower-paced alpine experience, enjoy one of the many backpacking or mountaineering adventures offered.
Expect to get wet! That’s part of the fun of river rafting. It also makes this sport perfect for a rainy day. Trips offered by rafting and kayaking companies vary, from float trips down the Bow River to the white water rapids of the Kicking Horse, Kananaskis or Kootenay Rivers. Find the one that’s right for you!