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Visit Banff, Canada

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Visit Banff, Canada

Hiking, horse riding and mountain biking through forests and mountains, museum visits, and white-water rafting in Banff

Cradled among the soaring, snowy-peaked mountains of Banff National Park, the town of Banff has always been a gateway to the Canadian Rockies. It was here that Canada’s national park system first began, when railway workers discovered the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in 1883. You can visit this geothermal site, along with the park’s forested hiking and biking trails and emerald lakes. You can also browse museums and galleries celebrating the area’s wildlife, landscapes and culture.

Your time in Banff is likely to revolve around exploring the great outdoors. Banff National Park has around 1,500 km (932 miles) of hiking trails leading to lakes, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls and summits. They range from short, gentle strolls to steep ascents.

Several trailheads are close to town. The Fenland Loop Trail, a 2 km (1.2 mile) route, takes you through spruce woodland along the banks of Forty Mile Creek. Look for beavers, bald eagles and osprey as you walk.

You can also take a steep 2.3 km (1.4 mile) hike to the top of Tunnel Mountain for panoramic views over Banff, the Bow and Spray River valleys, and surrounding peaks.

View of Banff from Sulphur MountainFor the best elevated views, take the Banff Gondola or follow a 11.4 km (7.1 mile) zig-zagging path to summit Sulphur Mountain. From its crown you can gaze over the town below, which seems dwarfed by the adjacent mountains. A visitor centre with interactive exhibits tells you about the park’s ecosystem and history.

For cyclists, there’s the Banff Legacy Trail, which runs parallel to the TransCanada Highway between Banff and Canmore. The 4.5 km (2.8 mile) pathway is dotted with interpretive signs detailing the national park’s history and wildlife.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, you can join a guided horse ride. You set off in a line through forestland, mountains slipping by as your guide talks about Banff and its wider national park.

Banff’s many outdoor pursuits companies offer canoes for rent. You can paddle along the calm Bow River or follow Forty Mile Creek to the Vermillion Lakes. There are also gentle float trips which lend themselves to spotting wildlife, including beavers, elk and birds of prey.

Meanwhile, white-water rafting trips depart from Horseshoe Canyon, on the Lower Bow River.

Museums in Banff

Banff National Park first bubbled into being when the McCardell brothers and Frank McCabe discovered an underground hot spring. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is now a museum narrating the find. You can visit the site where the men first noticed steam rising from the ground, and enter the cave to see (and smell) the natural thermal spring.

The museum tells the story of the spring’s reincarnation as a public swimming pool during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Boardwalks lead through the encircling trees to nearby marshland. Meanwhile, a separate building documents the site’s role as an internment camp in World War I.

Then there’s the Banff Park Museum, Canada’s oldest natural history museum (it first opened in 1903). The log-built structure houses over 5,000 botanical and zoological specimens. Think stuffed bears, bald eagles and moose, plus minerals collected within the national park.

The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum showcases the history of First Nations people in the Canadian Rockies and Northern Plains. Traditional costumes, decorated tipi, hunting equipment and native arts are among the museum’s displays. There are often art classes and workshops, from feather painting to beading.

Best time to visit Banff

For the warmest, driest conditions, visit between mid-May and mid-September. Some of the region’s lakes remain frozen into mid-June, and some of the higher-altitude trails could be closed if it’s still snowy, though there’ll be fewer crowds. It’s also possible to visit Banff during Canada’s winter months when you can enjoy a range of wintry outdoor activities.

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Audley Travel specialist Maddy

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Banff by calling one of our Canada specialists on 1 800 992 198

Suggested itineraries featuring Banff

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Banff, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

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