The Main Street in Banff

Banff is a quiet little town that is known in winter for it's tremendous skiing at three of the largest resorts in Canada close by but also in the summer for the amazing scenery, hiking trails and other outdoor activities (often leading to huge crowds). The town itself is a year-long attraction with a wide assortment of small shops and nice places to eat as well as a large amount of accommodation. This is the largest town in the national park where development is highly regulated so the town is a huge draw for visitors.

The Town

The main street has many small shops catering mostly to tourists. Many people visit from Asian counties which explains the high proportion of Japanese and Korean restaurants. Though not that cheap, there are many restaurants worthy of a visit (see my page of restaurant reviews here).

Banff Avenue with Sulphur Mountain in Distance

As you might expect, much of the town's income comes from tourism so there are a good deal of souvenir shops as well as more up-market boutiques. There are some familiar multi-national names but also a number of smaller local shops that are worth a look-in.

Hudson's Bay Company

Accommodations are available at the many local hotels though the HI-Banff Alpine Centre (hostel) is very good providing extremely clean and tidy accommodation though a bit of a hike up the side of a mountain, a good distance from the town. For those with extra money, the Farmount Banff Springs is a step right out of the past in luxurious accommodation (though now crowded largely by tourists; (see here for further information).

In the summer (when there are less people about) it is not uncommon to see elk walking down the streets (the locals are quite upset about this – they elk eat their gardens). In the winter things are a bit more lively with as the skiers arrive likely chasing the elk away…

Sign Post

Sulphur Mountain

In addition to skiing, Banff is also known for it's hot springs located on Sulphur Mountain. At the Banff Upper Hot Springs there is a pool and health spa located at the based of the mountain where, for a nominal charge, you can bathe in truly astounding heat even with the snow falling around you. Bathing suits are even available for rent. The smell can be a bit overwhelming but can be relatively ignored after a time.

There is also a gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, the top of which has a small restaurant and SPECTACULAR views. You can also walk to the top (or down) but this is a SERIOUS hike and should only be considered by those in moderately good shape (legs grow extremely sore even walking down since the path is extremely steep – lord knows how the bikes do it!).

Banff From Sulphur Mountain (Banff Springs Hotel is to the right beside the river)

There is a large parking lot near the base of the gondola and a short walk from the hot springs.


There are three main ski areas in the area known as Ski Big Three:

  • Banff Mount Norquay - A smaller low-altitude resort that offers smaller slopes and night skiing located basically just across the Trans-Canada Highway from Banff. Really did not enjoy this resort (compared with the others) since the slopes were so much shorter and not, generally, in as good a condition though there are some nasty, incredibly steep runs on the side closer to the village.
  • Lake Louise Ski Resort - Just off the highway near the town of Lake Louise 60 km to the north west of Banff, this lower resort is quite popular as it is easy to get to and quite low with many slopes on two separate mountains. Quite a number of difficult pistes including “Men's Downhill” on the front that is incredibly steep and the “back bowls” which are as you might expect though careful with the long, shallow, run off areas that sometimes mean walking quite a distance to the nearest lift…
  • Sunshine Village Ski Resort - The largest ski resort in Canada with 100% natural snow. VERY good. Temperatures can get fairly cool as the resort is located high up in the mountains (you have to take a cable car up to the base of the main ski areas though you can ski all the way down when leaving). If you want to avoid the crowds go to the “Goat's Eye” section of the resort with it's wonderfully wide pistes and shorter lift lines.

Skiing at Sunshine Village

Ski equipment can be rented in the town or at the slope (rent in the town if you want to save a bit of money). There are passes available that allow skiing in all three of the ski areas at relatively modest prices (the one I recently obtained was good for three days and included one night of skiing at Norquay). All resorts have on-site parking but if you are staying in the area it is probably easier to catch the regular ski shuttle buses who will drop you right at the main entrance instead of having to walk in your ski equipment long distances across a parking lot…

A quick note about food in the resorts: It is not that great. Be prepared for over-priced fast food at best though I am told Lake Louise has a nice dining room in the day lodge (at the resort entrance) with a very good breakfast buffet (open before the lifts).

Getting Around

Many people simply drive and there is a good number of car parks (many free) as well as street parking. There are also local buses and, if you are skiing, there is a bus shuttle that runs throughout the day to all of the major nearby resorts which is free with a lift pass.

Further Information