I arrived in Banff on a Friday night.
The next morning I set out to explore spectacular Banff National Park – it was Canada's first national park. – as well as Lake Louise, or the less popular but equally beautiful Lake Moraine.
Unfortunately, it was next to impossible! With the crowds and the traffic, there was no pleasure in it. Now, I must admit that on this occasion I was not looking to go off the beaten path. It's been decades since I had been in the area and I wanted to see the major site. But it was not to be. I turned around and went back to town.
So, if you find yourself in Banff, on a weekend during the high season, this is what I suggest. Stay close to town.
Every year more than 4 million people visit Banff National Park. The majority go in the summer. If you visit Banff from April to October it is going to be busy. That's a given. But, if it's crazy busy, save your park exploration for a weekday and stay in town. It has lots to offer.
Top 7 Things to Do in the Town of Banff, Alberta
Everything below is within walking distance from town.
- Walk the Bow River Trail. This easy walk along the Bow River is right in the town of Banff yet you'll see rapids and a small waterfall. As you can see above, it's quite beautiful.
- Go for brunch at the Banff Springs Hotel. From the Bow Falls Trail, it's a 20-minute walk to the Banff Springs Hotel, one of Canada's iconic railway hotels. It's well worth the visit even if the price for staying is prohibitive. Why not go for brunch which is served every weekend. A reservation is recommended.
- Hike Tunnel Mountain. If you want to get out of the city without getting in your car, take the 2.3 km hike up Tunnel Mountain for a bit of fresh air and great views of the city. Here's a map. It will take an hour or two depending on how often you stop for the views. The elevation gain is 300 m. See all the major hikes near the town here.
- Lounge in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The Upper Hot Springs are about 4.5 km from the center of town or about an hour walking. It's located at 1 Mountain Avenue. Soak in the view and the water.
- Go to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. The Cave and Basin is the birthplace of Canada’s national parks. It focuses on the natural and cultural history of the mountains. Again, it's a short walk from town.
- Walk the main street. The main street of Banff is, not surprisingly, Banff Avenue. It's a typical tourist street lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants but it's certainly worth an hour or two. Drop by the Visitor Information for more tips in the park.
- Go up Sulphur Mountain and have dinner. The Gondola and visitor center at the top of Sulphur Mountain are open until 9:30 pm in the summer and 8:30 pm in the shoulder season. Going later in the day I found no crowds whatsoever. In fact, I was alone in the Gondola on the way up and it had me a bit freaked. I made sure I joined others on the way down.