Beautiful Banff is nestled at the foot of Cascade Mountain in the Canadian Rockies and is a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts. I visited for the first, and definitely not the last, time in May 2016.
1. Visit the birthplace of Canada’s first national park
The Cave & Basin natural thermal mineral springs were discovered by Canadian Pacific Railway workers in 1883, though indigenous people had been visiting the site for thousands of years.
In order to preserve the area the Canadian government stepped in, building a reserve around the hot springs in 1885. In 1887, the area became Canada’s first national park – Banff National Park – and a bathhouse was built to take advantage of the warm water.
While there is no swimming today, you are able to visit the hot springs and enjoy a display that outlines Cave & Basin’s history and includes fantastic photographs of vintage bathers. There is also a very emotive video display about Parks Canada, which recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of Canada’s national historic sites.
2. Take a walk down Banff Avenue
The eponymous Banff Avenue is Banff’s main road, with brilliantly-named streets running parallel, such as Bear, Wolf and Caribou. Banff Avenue is home to multiple shops, restaurants and bars, with everything from souvenirs to skiwear, big name stores to independents.
I fell in love with the Rocks & Gems store, a family-run business with a huge collection of gemstones and fossils. I only bought a handful of keepsakes from my trip to Canada, and a beautiful turquoise ring from Rocks & Gems was one of them.
I also enjoyed lunch at Nourish, a laidback vegan and vegetarian restaurant on nearby Bear Street, and a delicious dinner with hot cider at one of the several hotels on Banff Avenue.
3. Visit the town’s heritage homes
The Whyte Museum looks after some of Banff’s oldest buildings, such as Peter and Catharine Whyte’s home and the Moore Residence (pictured), which was built on Banff Avenue in 1907 by Pearl Moore, nee Brewster, one of the first children born in Banff, and her husband, Philip.
There are eight historic homes, some of which have been carefully moved from their original locations to Lynx Street, which is part of the Whyte Museum’s grounds. It is fantastic that these houses have been preserved and that you are able to step inside and learn the history of their famous residents.
4. Catch the Banff Gondola
A very popular tourist attraction is the Banff Gondola, which takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain. The four-seater carriage is a little bumpy as it takes you on your short ride up the mountain, but it is well worth it.
On a clear day the view is stunning, with views across the Banff townsite and the Canadian Rockies. The combination of the view, cool air and bright sun will undoubtedly take your breath away, and if you are feeling adventurous and well-prepared there is a trail down the mountain and back into the townsite.
5. Hike Tunnel Mountain
In the 1880s, surveyors from the Canadian Pacific Railway wanted to tunnel through the mountain to make way for a rail road. Strangely enough, that decision was quickly withdrawn after an alternative route was found around the mountain that was shorter and would take less time to build. However, the name, Tunnel Mountain, stuck.
There is a flat but steep trail up Tunnel Mountain that takes 2-3 hours to complete. Once at the top you are rewarded with a pair of Parks Canada’s red chairs and stunning views across the townsite and over to Sulphur Mountain.