Ah, Banff. It’s what dreams of Canadian Rocky Mountain holidays are made of. As a Calgarian who visits the mountains sometimes as often as bi-weekly, I can often take this majestic place for granted. But the more I travel, and the more I meet people from around the world, the more I realize just how magical of a place Banff really is.
There are a few obvious draws of Banff National Park. Famous attractions such as Lake Louise, the Fairmont Banff Springs, Moraine Lake, the Banff Hot Springs and Johnston Canyon draw in thousands of tourists from around the world every year. They are beautiful, and by all means, don’t miss them, but these often extremely crowded spots aren’t all that Banff has to offer.
Here are 10 of my personal favourite things to do in Banff that are off the beaten path:
1. Wander the Shops at Banff Avenue
This is the most obvious thing to do when you visit Banff, as you will notice right away that Banff Avenue is where all of the action is. Yes, the majority of the shops are helplessly touristy and filled with the same ridiculous stuff as the next, but it can still be fun to browse around. There are some beautiful art galleries and some really unique crafted items to be found. My personal favourite shops are Rocks & Gems Canada and their sister store, Rock Paper Silver, and The Banff Tea Company. Also, don’t forget to pop into the Banff Sweet Shoppe for a sugary fix, and The Spirit of Christmas for festive shopping, no matter the time of year. (More Info)
2. Wake Up Slowly at TooLouLou’s
I have been to TooLouLou’s Bistro & Bar a handful of times for breakfast, and I have yet to be disappointed. In the morning, they serve traditional breakfasts with a cajun/creole twist. If you like shrimp, the Seafood Benny is spectacular. You can find them just tucked away on Caribou Street. (More Info)
3. Stroll the Bow River Trail
Whether you spend 5 minutes or two hours meandering along the Bow River Trail, you’ll be captivated by the incredible beauty surrounding the paved pathway. A great place for moms with strollers, joggers with dogs, cyclists, cute elderly couples, and everything in between. (More Info)
4. Relax at Evelyn’s Coffee Bar
Evelyn’s Coffee Bar has 3 locations (the other two are called ‘Evelyn’s Too’ and ‘Evelyn’s Again’) and they all serve as popular meeting places for locals and tourists alike. Evelyn’s serves exceptional coffee and delicious baked goods, and provides a cool, relaxed atmosphere if you’re looking to get off of your feet for a while. (More Info)
5. Grab a Slice at Bear Street Tavern
A cozy atmosphere, friendly service and ridiculously good food are a few things that can be found at Bear Street Tavern, namely located at 211 Bear Street in Banff. Awesome drinks, a unique beer selection, phenomenal pizza and downright delectable food. This place does not mess around, and you will not be disappointed. (More Info)
6. Take a Nature Walk around Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake is just a short drive from downtown, and, in my opinion, it is one of the best easy nature walks in Banff. The views are unbelievable, and it’s busy enough that you won’t feel totally isolated, but it’s not overly crowded. A mostly flat 3km trail surrounds the lake itself, but in the middle of winter, the lake freezes over and you can walk right out onto it. Some people even skate on it!
7. Hike Tunnel Mountain
Tunnel mountain is a moderate hike right in the town of Banff that will reward you with stunning panoramic views of the Banff Springs Hotel, Downtown Banff, and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. The trailhead can be accessed near The Banff Centre, and the hike takes between 2-3 hours to complete altogether. Read more here.
8. Picnic at Lake Minnewanka
It may have a funny name, but Lake Minnewanka is not to be missed. There are plenty of places to have a picnic in Banff, but this one is my favourite. The stunning blue water and rocky shores make for a perfect setting in the warmer months. Venture away from the main picnic area and find your own little slice of paradise.
9. Get Blissfully Lost
If you’ve got wheels (either two or four), get going. Exploring Banff National Park by bicycle or by car is one of the greatest pleasures that Canada has to offer. There’s the Bow Valley Parkway, the road to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, The Legacy Trail (bicycles only) and plenty of winding little side roads to keep you occupied. You never know what may lie around the next corner.
10. Take a Day Trip to Canmore
When you get tired of the crowds, head to Banff’s Little-Big-Sister Town, Canmore. Only 20 minutes East of Banff, Canmore has just as much – if not more – to offer. There are plenty of shopping and dining options, but the real draw of Canmore is the hiking. Not for the faint of heart, Ha Ling Peak, Mount Yamnuska and Mount Lady MacDonald promise to leave you with memories (and photos!) that you’ll treasure for a lifetime. If you’re looking for something a little easier, hike up to Grassi Lakes. The easy two-hour round trip will reward you with two emerald-green pools tucked into the side of the mountain.
Traveling in the Winter? Check out 6 Epic Winter Hikes in the Alberta Rocky Mountains.
Have you ever been to Banff? What are some of your favourite things to do in and around town?