WHY GO TO BANFF?
If you’re itching to experience the lifestyle of a Swiss skiing village, but don’t want to fork over the cash for a trans-Atlantic flight, consider Banff. Thanks to its location in the heart of the Canadian Rockies near the southeastern border of Banff National Park – Canada’s first national park – taking trips here will decrease not only your flight time from the U.S. but also your expenses (although only marginally). Banff caters to intrepid explorers who prefer to end the day in a nice hotel rather than roughing it at the campgrounds (though, there are plenty of those, too). Opportunities for adventure abound, so pick your sport: Ski down Mount Norquay, hike to the massive, free-standing limestone pillars known as the Hoodoos, “scramble” up the face of the Stoney Squaw Mountain or bike along Healy Creek. When you are exhausted, retreat to your cozy (and warm) resort, and replenish yourself with a hefty helping of bison meat.
Best Things To Do in Banff
Seasons dictate the popular activities of Banff. In the winter, skiing is king. In the summer, hiking, biking, scrambling (a mix of hiking and rock climbing) and fishing rule.
If you make the trek to Banff, you probably have an outdoor sport in mind. Take advantage of the rugged terrain in whatever manner you see fit.
On your day off, leave your posh resort to explore the stores and restaurants in downtown Banff, which encompasses just 1 ½ square miles and sits at an elevation of 4,537 feet, making it the highest town in Canada.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best times to visit Banff are June to August and December to March. Nature lovers will want to get to the park when the weather is warm and welcoming (and while the hotel rates in town are at a reasonable level).
The skiers, however, will want to vacation in the height of winter. Depending on what you want to do, Banff can be seen as an almost year-round destination (although fall can be a bit of a gamble). Temperatures fluctuate dramatically throughout the year; average winter temperatures range from the single digits to the low 30s.
During the summer, average temperatures range from 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. No matter when you choose to visit, plan to wear sunglasses, a hat and plenty of sunscreen to protect against UV exposure: The sun at these alpine altitudes is strong.
THINGS TO EAT
Vegetarians should be aware that Banff restaurants specialize in meat. Expensive and moderately priced restaurants alike serve up healthy portions of Canadian specialties, such as elk, bison, venison and trout (the bedrock of Canadian Rocky Mountain cuisine).
But even if you’re not a carnivore, you’ll still be able to find some vegetarian-friendly restaurants, including Nourish Bistro, which diners describe as a “hidden gem.”
Some of the major safety issues facing intrepid explorers of Banff National Park include altitude sickness, weather-related ailments and animal encounters.
Those who are not used to mountain climates may find themselves experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness, the most common being dizziness, headache, nausea and fatigue. Give your body time to adjust: Don’t overexert yourself physically for the first day. Instead of an intense hike, plan on a leisurely stroll. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water, and remember that changes in altitude will cause your body to react differently to alcohol.
Because of its location, Banff Town and Banff National Park experience cold, snowy winters. Dress in layers if you head into the park. It’s always a good idea to bring an extra set of clothing in case you get wet. Also, make sure you bring a hat, scarf and mittens to avoid getting frostbite on your ears, nose and fingers.
The park is home to many large animals, including bears. If you’re hiking on your own, make plenty of noise (talking, shuffling branches) to warn animals of your presence. Avoid getting too close to wild animals, no matter how docile they may seem. Parks Canada says that bear attacks are extremely uncommon. However, if you do encounter a bear on the trails, you should not run. Instead, avoid eye contact and back away slowly while making noise and, most of the time, the bear will lose interest. Parks Canada also recommends carrying bear spray, a form of pepper spray used to forfend aggressive bears.