Banff is Canada’s first and oldest national park – established in 1885 – and its 2,500-plus square miles of mountainous terrain yield many glaciers, icefields, coniferous forests, lakes and alpine landscapes; it is undoubtedly the flagship national park. While you need more than just a day to explore this beautiful place, here’s how to pack as much as you can in to a full 24 hours.
If you’re waking up in one of Banff’s fabulous hotels – and there are so many to choose from, from the famous castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs which sits majestically above the town, to the newer, trendy Elk and Avenue centrally located downtown on Banff Avenue – as befits your surroundings, some early morning exercise is one of the best ways to start the day. Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in Banff National Park and the upper and lower falls are an easy hike and are fabulous early on a summer morning. Or if you would rather take to the water, why not take an early morning paddleboard on Herbert Lake to watch the sunrise?
A well-earned breakfast can be had at Tooloulou’s, a favourite with Banff locals, where you can choose from Canadian staples like pancakes or Eggs Benedict – available in so many ways! – or spice things up with a Cajun twist. Let your breakfast go down with a stroll on Banff Avenue and a look in some of the quirky shops and boutiques or if it happens to be a Wednesday, visit Banff Mountain Market to pick up some local delicacies to nibble on during the day. If you want to learn a bit more about the history of Banff, pop in to the renowned Whyte Museum and don’t forget to take a selfie with Cascade Mountain in the background.
No day in Banff is complete without a scenic drive and no road in the park is anything less than stunning! One of the best though is the Bow Valley Parkway which leads to Lake Louise; it is less busy than the main Trans Canada Highway and there is a very good chance of seeing wildlife enjoying the views too. Aside from seeing Lake Louise itself – which can be busy in the summer months – get those walking shoes on and head on to the Fairview Lookout Trail which starts from the boathouse on Lake Louise; this short, uphill hike offers a unique look at both the lake and the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Driving back from Lake Louise, be sure to enjoy the goodies purchased earlier at one of the many scenic spots in the park for a nice picnic lunch or maybe head above the town of Banff for some more spectacular aerial views. A visit to the Cave and Basin National Historic site and the hotsprings is a perfect afternoon activity, as is taking a trip on the Banff Gondola from where you can the whole of Banff in its glory, and perhaps enjoy a glass of wine and an early evening snack in the Sky Bistro.
Dinner in Banff can range from 5-star haute cuisine to a steak at the Keg, or sitting on the patio atop the Elk and Oarsmen pub enjoying a local beer and The Oarsmen elk burger.
The long summer nights are also perfect for a sunset canoe; even if you already took to the water earlier in the day, perhaps enjoying the Lake Minnewanka cruise or even white water rafting on the Kananaskis river, Vermilion Lakes are the place to head – just a short drive from town – with your rented canoe to watch the night sky change colour.
If you’ve energy left to spare, High Rollers Bowling Alley is open till midnight, Thursday to Saturday, Wild Bill’s is open till 2am for some legendary western hospitality or you could dance the night away at the Dancing Sasquatch.
As you climb back in to your comfortable bed in the hotel of your choice, you might be thinking of a trail ride on horseback, a cycle ride, or a hike up at Sunshine Meadows, or maybe sipping a cold beer at the Banff Brewing Company or trying something stronger at the Park Distillery, perhaps perfecting your golf swing at the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf course – one of the most scenic in the world – or even the adrenaline thrill of the ladders and suspension bridges of Mt. Norquay’s Via Ferrata. It is then you might remember that you didn’t quite fit all that in. You will just have to stay another day or two….