Updated: Mar 28, 2021
Right in the heart of Canada’s oldest national park, you’ll find a quaint little resort town called Banff. While the community mostly caters to outdoor enthusiasts, there’s also plenty to do downtown.
Set amidst the majestic mountains and lush forests of Banff National Park, the town of Banff is bustling year-round. In winter, people flock to this cozy community to take advantage of world-class skiing. In the summer months, skiers trade their skis for hiking boots and scale the mountain trails. But if you’re like me, you prefer to keep your feet on flat ground. Fret not. There’s plenty for you to do in beautiful Banff.
On my most recent visit to this far-from-sleepy town, I parked my RV in the nearby Tunnel Mountain Campground, which also has cabins and lodges close by. But there are plenty of places in the heart of downtown where you can lay your head for the night. The historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is the epitome of luxury and has the price tag to prove it.
There’s also the option of staying in one of the hotels on the fringes of the downtown area, like Brewster’s Mountain Lodge or Banff Caribou Lodge. You can even stay right in the heart of the action on Banff Avenue in the Mount Royal or King Edward Hotels, for example. Of course, there’s always the option of a hostel or bed and breakfast, too. Banff caters to every level of luxury and taste.
We started our morning with a homemade breakfast of eggs, toast, and turkey bacon. If you’re looking to have someone else do the cooking for you, check out Eveline’s Coffee Bar or Wild Flour Bakery for a lovely selection of baked goods and breakfast foods. Take your time and relax. Banff is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. There’s plenty of free parking on the side streets or in specially designated locations around town. Just look for the big, green, circular signs with a large black “P.”
After breakfast, try a quick stroll along the Tunnel Mountain Trail. If you’re staying in the campground, you can reach it right from your site. For people with accommodations in town, it’s just a short drive away. Simply follow the signs. At the start of the trail, there are some red chairs where you can sit to take in the beautiful surroundings. And if you feel like you’re up for a bit more, you can take the groomed pathway for an easy walk. You can even climb the entire mountain in only an hour or two.
Taking it to the Streets
After a short hike, I like to hit the downtown area to take in the shops along Banff Avenue and the surrounding streets. The stores are small and can become quite congested later in the day when the crowds of tourists arrive. Banff is a major Canadian attraction, so you can guarantee that no matter the season, tour groups will be making a stop here.
But downtown Banff is a must-see stop. Here, you’ll find countless souvenir shops carrying traditional Canadian fare, such as smoked salmon, maple syrup and candies, moccasins, and plaid shirts. I usually pop into a few of these shops to check out the goods, but you’ll find a similar selection in most, so there’s no need to go into every one of them if you don’t have a lot of time. I always go into the one with the mechanical “fortune teller” in the doorway. He’s been in Banff since the dawn of time, and you simply must feed him a quarter to see what he has to say about your future.
Aside from souvenir shops, you’ll find some cute boutiques. Spirit of Christmas is one of my personal favorites. It’s got an incredible mix of every kind of Christmas ornament or display you can imagine. Another favorite, Cabin 108, is an adorable boutique that carries a variety of designer brands, both local and international. Gentle Fawn, Chaser, Toms, and Jackson Rowe are just a few of the names lining the racks in this shop. I find it nearly impossible to leave here empty-handed.
Banff Avenue is also home to classic Canadian stores, such as Roots and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Roots is infamous for its logo sweatpants and shirts, as well as simple, classic-yet-contemporary t-shirts, handbags, and shoes. On the other hand, The Bay, as it’s known locally, is, quite literally, at the foundation of Canada’s development as a nation.
Early European settlers established trading posts where they would exchange goods for furs caught by indigenous trappers. Over time, more and more Europeans began coming to Canada in search of furs. Communities formed around the posts, and eventually, a nation grew out of the settlements.
Enough of the history lesson. Today, the Hudson’s Bay Company is a massive department store chain, anchoring many major Canadian malls. Selling everything from silverware to kitchen utensils and footwear, many Canadians head to The Bay for the basics. Banff is home to a modestly sized store that carries some fashions, beauty products, and jewelry. But perhaps the most outstanding items are branded with The Bay’s infamous ivory, yellow, green, red, and blue striped pattern. You can find mugs, blankets, dresses, and more. I bought a dog coat to go with my crewneck sweater. Don’t judge.
Alberta is known for its western heritage. It’s not uncommon to see cowboys donning wranglers and Stetsons walking down city streets. And Banff is no exception. If you’re looking to get into the spirit of the west, stop by Banff Trail Riders to pick up a pair of boots or a snap-front shirt. In addition to local boutiques and brands, you’ll find major chain stores, such as Lolë, Lululemon, The North Face, and Fjallraven, to name a few.
Trying on clothes always builds my appetite. For your perfect day in Banff, be sure to break for lunch at one of the many ultra-delicious eateries along Banff Avenue or in the vicinity. Some favorites include Seed N Salt, Eddie Burger & Bar, The Bison, and Nourish Bistro. Seed N Salt has the best avocado toast this side of the Rocky Mountains. For vegetarians, Nourish has a garden variety of options, while The Bison caters to carnivores.
For dessert, Banff has no shortage of options. At Beavertails, you can try one of the region's most decadent desserts. It's a special Canadian twist on the classic funnel cake. Starting with a cake the shape of a beaver tail, you can choose from several toppings to add extra flavor. I got two flavors on one cake: cheesecake Skor on one half and triple trip (Nutella and Reese’s Pieces) on the other half. I have no words to express the goodness of this experience.
After a day of shopping and eating downtown, it’s a great time to head back to your accommodations for a rest. A quick nap or dip in the pool is a great way to unwind for an hour or two before dinner. When you’re ready to eat…again…Banff’s bountiful establishments will not disappoint. Whether you’re looking for a casual place like Boston Pizza where you can to grab a slice of pepperoni at a reasonable price or a formal option for a steak dinner, like Salt Lik, there’s something for everyone.
After dinner, head over to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Before taking a dip in the springs, consider a ride up Sulphur Mountain in the Banff Gondola. located right next door to the springs. The eight-minute ride affords you unparalleled views of the majestic mountain landscape. After your feet are back on solid ground, relax in the healing minerals waters that come straight from the Rocky Mountains. Naturally heated to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they’re said to bring relief to achy muscles and bones.
Admission is less than $10 per person. And don’t worry if you don’t have a swimsuit or towel, you can rent them there for a couple of bucks. I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to be “that person.” But don’t worry, lots of people do it. I spent about 40 minutes wading in the water, and when I left, I felt like I was walking on clouds.
On your way back from hot springs, why not make a quick stop on Banff Avenue for a tasty treat? Mary’s Popcorn Shop is a personal favorite. You can choose from four sweet or savory flavors.
Pro Tip: When they ask if you want the bag open or closed, always leave it open. You get way more popcorn.
I’m a sucker for fudge. I have a hard time passing it up anyplace I travel, but especially in Banff. The Fudgery has at least a dozen flavors to choose from, along with a variety of other chocolate treats. And the best part? Each one is made fresh on site.
Can’t find anything at either of these places to appease your taste buds? There’s always Banff's Mountain Chocolates, Cows Ice Cream, or Banff Sweet Shoppe. They’re sure to have something to sate your sweet tooth.
By now, you’ve already had a long day. I like to cap off an evening of camping with a nice little bonfire. I thoroughly enjoy the act of toasting marshmallows…almost as much as I enjoy eating s’mores. But if you’ve still got the energy, I recommend taking in some of the nightlife around town. There are numerous local pubs that stay open late, such as Rose & Crown.
Banff has so much to offer, from outdoor adventures to shopping, food, museums, and more. This is just one way to spend a relaxing day off the slopes. Have more ideas for fun ways to spend a day in Banff? Head over to Facebook or Twitter to share them.