See the best things to see and do in one of the ultimate, all-season outdoor mountain destinations.
Imagine yourself approaching the summit of Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Alberta, Canada. It’s a sparkling summer day in the Rocky Mountains, and the air is rich with the scent of evergreen. A crisp breeze off the glacier keeps you refreshed while the warmth of the earth pushes you to reach the top of the mountain.
Now picture yourself riding the Banff Gondola, mid-winter, a seemingly endless snow-dusted forest below you. The sweeping vistas of the Bow Valley surround you, leaving you breathless. It’s the postcard-perfect ideal of a mountain oasis. This is the Banff effect.
The Great Outdoors
Banff National Park has seemingly everything for the outdoor enthusiast. You can canoe down the crystal-clear waters of the Bow River, which flows from the Bow Glacier and spans through the Rocky Mountains, Banff and the city of Calgary, and eventually forms the South Saskatchewan River. You can channel your inner cave explorer when you visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. Discovered in 1883, this cave filled with mineral hot spring waters was the founding point for designating Banff a national park.
Hiking in to the panoramic waterfall views at Johnston Canyon is a must while in the Rockies. One of the busiest hiking trails in Canada, it attracts hundreds of visitors every day who traipse down this three-mile-long patch. Once at the top of your trek, you’ll finally get to behold the striking Upper Falls that drop some 130 feet to a deep pool below. You can warm up post-hike at the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a heritage destination situated some 5,200 feet up the mountain.
The Banff Legacy Trail is a bucket-list item for cyclists of any age or skill level. The trail spans 12.6 miles from the town of Banff to the nearby town of Canmore, giving you a spectacular panoramic ride through the Rocky Mountains. The trip typically takes about two to three hours. If you stop in Canmore for a bite to eat and find yourself too fatigued to make the trip back, you can also opt to take the Bow Valley’s ROAM bus service, which has bike racks for easy return transportation, back to Banff.
Getting Away from It All
While nearby Lake Louise is a bonafide tourist hot spot prone to overcrowding, Banff’s Moraine Lake is just as beautiful, but much less busy. Set in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the gorgeous glacially-fed lake is a sparkling turquoise blue that intensifies in color throughout the summer, but is a sight to behold all year round. Driving up to Moraine will take you about 45 to 60 minutes. Once there, you can choose among hiking, cross-country skiing and canoeing. In the autumn, visitors flock to the area to see the larches light up in beautiful shades of gold, creating a striking contrast with the shimmering colors of the lake.
A taste of arts and culture is within reach as you traverse the Bow Valley region. Tunnel Mountain, nestled just above the town center, is home to the iconic Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, a world-class arts and learning organization where artists, performers and musicians from all over the world come to study. This is a great opportunity to take in exhibitions at the Walter Phillips Gallery, which features both Canadian and international contemporary artists, as well as visit artist studios. The Banff Centre is also a great place to check out live performances in the concert hall or outdoor amphitheater and is home to Three Ravens, one of Banff’s top-rated restaurants. The menu changes seasonally to reflect available ingredients.
For an even more local experience, head down to Park Distillery Restaurant + Bar in Banff. Using water originating from six Rocky Mountain glaciers and grains sourced from family farms in the Alberta foothills, the distillery produces vodka, gin and rye spirits that are true products of Alberta. You can take a tour of the distillery and sample its restaurant’s “campfire-inspired” cuisine, including game, fish and vegan options.
While Banff Avenue is the bonafide main street of this quaint mountain village, it pays to divert off the beaten path. In recent years, Banff has introduced the “woonerf” concept (aka a shared or living street) to neighboring Bear Street, which now bustles with cafes, restaurants and local boutiques. The Bison Courtyard offers a curated blend of businesses — you can enjoy a coffee and a flaky almond croissant from Wild Flour Bakery, have pizza or tacos at the casual-dining hot spot, The Bear Street Tavern or savor a farm-to-table meal at The Bison.
For a bucket-list experience filled with adventure and beauty, Banff, Alberta is one of the ultimate all-season mountain destinations.
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