Banff Alberta – Endless Mountains and Hot Springs
Our first big stop en route to Alaska is Banff Alberta and we kicked this trip off with a BANG! Banff is world famous for mountains, wildlife, pristine lakes and hot springs.
Two things we noticed immediately while rolling into town:
- This place looks like an upscale mountain ski town, it’s almost too pretty.
- Banff is super RV friendly…and it’s a good thing because we’ve just arrived and there must be 30+ rental RVs cruising through town.
Banff did not disappoint us, not even a little bit, the town totally stands up to its reputation. However, one thing that was a little odd: as you’re about to enter town from the east there’s a big sign that says “you must purchase a National Parks Pass to enter.” We’ve never had to purchase a parks pass to visit a city before, but once we arrived we realized that the town is inside the National Park and our next several days would be spent all over the park so buying a pass was totally fine.
Here’s the scoop on our experience in Banff:
Food, Drink & WiFi
Banff Visitor Center – There’s free WiFi near the visitor center which is always a nice “welcome” for us out of country travelers that don’t have a Canadian cell phone or internet plan. Inside the visitor center is a “one stop shop,” on one side is the town information and the other side is the national park information. It’s nice not to have to visit two separate places to get info on the area, the hikes and everything in between.
Toque Canadian Pub – We ate here because they claimed “fast WiFi” and it looked pretty cool. They served up a mean Fish and Chips made from local Canadian whitefish, however the WiFi was only decent because it’s shared with the hotel that’s above this swanky basement eatery.
Bear Street Tavern – Thin, perfectly crispy crust pizza served with chili oil and honey! Yep, sounds weird but it’s tasty…and no we didn’t feel guilty chowing down. No WiFi here but the outdoor patio makes up for it on a sunny day.
Tours & Tourist Stuff
Cave and Basin National Historic Site – This is where the National Parks began for Canada and it’s worth a visit. We spent an hour walking the trails, visiting the displays and hanging out in the cave. The smell is ripe of sulfur but if you bring a small tripod and a wide angle lens you can capture a pretty cool photo for a keepsake.
Banff Gondola – A nice ride up with spectacular views the entire way. Use the gondola round trip if you’re limited on time, but you can save money and get some exercise by riding up and hiking back down. If you have all day there’s a trail that begins at Cave and Basin that will lead you to the top of the peak, then you can ride the gondola down, or hike down, and take the city bus back to Cave and Basin.
Banff Upper Hot Spring – It’s not romantic like we prefer when visiting a hot spring, it’s just a pool that holds 200 people. Granted it’s only a few bucks to relax in the warm waters, so it’s not expensive (maybe that’s why it’s popular?). When we visited we guessed there were about 70 people or so, and that was enough. If you don’t like crowding into a small area I’d ask how many people are currently in the pool? before you pay the entrance fee.
Lake (Banff) Minnewanka Boat Tour – We enjoyed the tour and getting out on the lake. Was it worth $50 per person? We don’t think so. The boat was loud, it was so crowded that Nikki and I didn’t get to sit together and to top it off neither one of us got a window seat. Take your time to visit the lake, it’s beautiful, but bring your own boat, kayak or SUP if you have one. If you don’t have a vessel to explore the water there are boat rentals and plenty of hiking trails surrounding the lake so you see it by foot for free!
Banff Canoe Club – We rented a canoe for a short hour and we had a nice paddle. The scenery is simply breathtaking and next time we’ll bust out our iSUP and paddle (for free) at our own pace. Make sure and pack a lunch so you can relax and enjoy the views from shore too.
RVing and Camping
Banff is extremely RV friendly with something like 1500 campsites within a 20 minute drive of downtown. There’s “RV only” parking all over town so you can bring your rig in to explore the area if you don’t have a tow car. We stayed at the Tunnel Mountain Village I because it was close to town and it was the least expensive since there are no RV hook-ups. If you need full hook-ups there’s Tunnel Mountain Village II and the Trailer Court that can accommodate large rigs with greater levels of hook-ups. If we had more time we’d have picked nearby Two Jack Lakeside because it borders Lake Minnewanka and it’s only a few minutes further away from town.
WTF is Brewster?
As we researched what to do in Banff we kept getting directed to this tourism site called Brewster, it was extremely frustrating for us as we were looking for unbiased information, not a sales pitch. Come to find out Brewster is the last name of the brothers that “found” Cave and Basin…and what do you do after discovering something cool? You exploit it for financial gain! Quickly after discovering the cave they began a tourism company and now over 100 years later this company pretty much owns all the tourist stuff in the Banff area. So if you want to do anything touristy you’ll likely be giving your money to this company, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way it is.
One thing that can’t be denied after our brief visit; there are ridiculously friendly people everywhere! The town feels like an upscale ski town, similar to a Jackson Hole or Telluride, yet it has a totally different vibe at the same time. Truly, we were sad we had to play super-tourist with our short stay, if there was more time we’d have stayed for a week or more to hit the endless biking trails, peak a few mountains and just relax at our campground. Alaska is calling and there will be plenty more to see along the way.
Have you been to Banff? I’m sure we missed some major gems in our warp speed tour of town so please share in the comments below, there’s a good chance we’ll be going back for a longer visit. See and keep up with the entire trip on our Alaska Page and use #AlaskaBound on social media to see what we’re up to.
Disclaimer – Thanks to Banff Lake Louise Tourism for helping to plan and host some of our adventures in the Canadian Rockies.
Four of us and 2 rigs will be making a trip to Alaska next summer. Our rigs are large, a 42 foot motorhome towing a Jeep and a 38 foot 5th wheel. Will we be able to find places to park that can accommodate us?
Yes, there is so much camping in Alaska for rigs of all kinds big, small, wild, full service and everything in between.
I’ve been searching online for some time now…. but can’t seem to find the right key words to search for! Maybe you could help.
Are there any places to RV camp for free in or near Banff? We don’t need hook-ups, just a few freebie nights to help off-set our travel costs. Thanks for any tips or pushes in the right direction!
oooh, that’s a tough one. If you’re early in the season or late in the season you can likely camp at any of the day use areas as long as you arrive late and depart early. This was fairly common among the locals and we did it a few times as well.
Oh, good to know! Thank you. Unfortunately, we will be traveling at prime tourist season in June. Looks like I will have to start reserving some official sites 🙂
I adore your blog! As part of our family summer camping trip we will be visiting Vancouver, BC. I know you mentioned you love it there but I can’t find any info in your archives about where to stay in that area? We would prefer hookups but are open to other awesome suggestions too. We have a 28ft airstream. I wish you offered a “wynns plan your rv trip” option, that is something I’d totally pay for!
We’ve only stayed with friends in the area, no campground experience besides the one near the Ferry we stayed at in this article: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/alaska-canada-rv-finale
Hi Wynns! I love watching and reading all about your travels! I worked up in Alaska the summer of 2015 and will be going again this summer! The thing about this time is that I will be driving my car there from Michigan, unlike last time where I flown. I was wondering what the dates were when you two were in Banff? Thanks so much, keep the travels going.
You were on my stomping grounds yaaaayyyy!!!
To get your feet a little more wet in the Banff area try seeing the many water falls. They have amazing hiking trails around them. http://www.discoverbanff.com/SightsAttractions/Waterfalls/
Everyone that goes to Banff has to walk through The Banff Springs Hotel http://www.fairmont.com/banff-springs/ it is beautiful and the Bow Falls are right down a walking trail behind it. You need to see the HooDoo’s and the Icefields.
If you go to the Icefields you should check out Jasper, it is like Banff but a lot less people and a slower pace. We like to go through Banff and Jasper in the fall, you get the majestic beauty of the mountains plus the changing colors of the leafs. When we are in Jasper we usually rent a bike for a day and ride the many trails through the mountains(they are all clearly marked) and you get to see a lot less people and a lot more wilderness. A nice trail is from the town of Jasper to The Jasper Park Lodge http://www.fairmont.com/jasper/ there is beautiful hiking or biking trails all around the lake. If you are really adventurous you can hike or bike up to Pyramid Lake http://hikejasper.com/Hiking-Pyramid-Lake-Athabasca-Overlook-in-Jasper.html this site also shows you about Athabasca Falls that are beautiful. There is a beautiful and extremely safe walkway that takes you from the top to the bottom of the falls(depending on time of year, spring run off the bottom is closed) if you do go at the right time(again the only time we go is the fall and the bottom lake is pure turquoise blue it is just amazing)not sure what color the lake is early in the summer sorry. A great website to check out for traveling/RVing in any of our National Parks is http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/jasper/index.aspx . As you can see I can go on and on about this area, so if you would like to know anything else just let me know. It is the least I can do for all the valuable info I have received from your travels. We just moved from St Albert, Alberta to Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia so if you want any tips on traveling here also just let me know.
One final note I was glad to hear we are still “ridiculously friendly people” !
Banff is an upscale ski mountain town; its like Whistler, I assume, as I have never been to Banff (nor have I gone to Jasper, which is not far from where my parents live north of Kamloops, BC). If you want a nice mountain ski town that isn’t upscale, come to Sun Peaks Resort. And yes there are camping facilities available.
I believe the transmission on the 2016 Bounder is a 6 speed and a 5 speed on the earlier ones. Not sure if this helps with the constant downshifting on hilly terrain while towing.
Great pictures and beautiful country for sure. We also have a 2015 bounder 34t. The chassis on the 2016 and 2015 bounder are identical from Ford. Actually the chassis are 2015 and 2014 because it takes time to build the coach. We have always owned a class A gas and are used to the downshifting on hills when towing. The interior has vastly improved on the new class A bounders from fleetwood over the years. Just take a look @ a 7 year old coach and you will be shocked. I like your simple approach but there also needs to be some pop to any design. Keep the videos coming we love them and that cat is wonderful.
Thanks for the info. We’ll have to hit Banff on the way home. We just came from Chena Hot Springs. Be sure to hike Angel Rocks trail on the way. Do the ice museum tour at 7pm then hit the hot springs afterwards. I’m in Barrow now. It’s cool to see the Arctic Ocean & ice cap. Prudhoe Bay is an industrial outpost. I was there yesterday. It’s like being in a very big, very cold factory.
Thanks for the tips! We keep trying to decide if we should make the drive to Prudhoe Bay or just splurge and take a plane that direction. We haven’t heard anything great about it, so we may opt for the float plane.
In Fairbanks be sure to visit Museum of the North (at University Alaska Fbx) and leave time to see the movies (one on the aurora, one on bowhead whales). Also, DO NOT MISS Lance Mackey’s Comeback Kennels. Lance is the greatest dogsled musher to ever compete. He is the only one to win both the Iditarod & Yukon Quest in the same year (he did that two yrs in a row). Each race is 1,000+ miles and the races are only 2 wks apart. And he did it after surviving stage 4 throat cancer. Lance gives the tour and be sure to go on a cart ride w/ him & the dogs. It is a truly special life experience to meet Lance & hear his story.
FYI we stayed at the Tanana Fairgrounds Campground in Fairbanks. $26/night, quiet, & great wifi. Don’t bother w/ River’s Edge RV Park. It was expensive, noisy & bad (no) wifi.
Your pictures are unbelievable! I am so glad that I found your website because your pictures and commentaries are top notch. We are “ear marking” places that you are visiting as places we want to see. Keep up the great work.
Gorgeous! Banff is definitely on our to-do list!
Loved your review. Learned a lot always thought Brewster was just a bus company. Glad u liked the food. We like jasper during the off season. No crowds. And the lodge has a nice pool and fireplaces in the rooms.
We find it top of the market for prices!! On food and lodging. The only place in Canada more expensive would be whistler. Enjoy Canada
Wow,,, gorgeous country up there. Thanks for sharing. I am a single lady in my later 60s and looking to get in to a smaller coach this summer after my house sells. I am just not comfortable with the ones 30′ and longer. Just too much bulk and I am concerned about hitting other objects; both animate and inanimate! Probably looking at a B+ or C around 25′. Something with a drop down bed from the ceiling or a murphy bed. Any way… want I want to know is how much hands-on driving, parking, leveling, and hooking up etc. that Nikki does, or feels capable doing. With no guy around to do those things I want to be sure I am dang capable of handling them myself. Any thoughts on the matter? How long does it take to become proficient with the mechanics and physical chores that have to be done with an RV. Much grateful and please keep sending those reviews and pictures. Love you guys…. Nancy from Vancouver Washington. By the way… you should drive the Columbia River Gorge sometime… and the Olympic Peninsula… and see Mts Rainier and St Helens (our old girl who lost her cool a while back) 🙂
Nancy, I am 55 and about to do a little of the same. I’m heading to Alaska in June 2016 with my 11 year old granddaughter. After that I will be traveling in my RV for work. So, in November I am going to a RV Boot Camp that Escapees does. You may want to check into something like that in your area. Also, like you, I am following the Wynn’s and taking EVERYTHING they recommend to heart.
Good Luck!! So excited for you!! I think this is a great time for us to get out, do all the things we were never able to do when we were younger!! Have a blast!!
Nancy A, Vancouver WA
Thanks for the tip. I will look them up. What are you driving?
You are welcome. I will be pulling my 31′ Forest River Salem Cruise with a 3/4 ton diesel pickup.
I too would like to know the details of how your new motorhome performs.
Try this great website for Alberta camping:
Try Johnston Canyon Campground. Its only about half an hour drive from Banff and you will find great RV camping. (No hook ups) Also you can hike up to the falls. Heading out this weekend with my family as well.
I’m new at following you guys and want to say thanks for sharing your travels. Photography is a hobby for me and I really like your work… I know it’s your profession but am wondering if you would mind sharing camera settings every now and then.
The cave image is one I’d like to study…you said a tripod and wide lens. Can I ask how wide.
I understand if you do not want to share this.
Thanks for allowing me to tag along.
I am SO enjoying following your BLOG. As someone who likes to travel, and design, you’ve hit some great subjects with me. The stunning pictures of Canada are incredible, I want to leave now! Also, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the recent tour of the coaches. From an interior designers stand point you’ve hit a homeroom with your new “home”, I only wish that motor home companies would retain an interior designer to possible give each new buyer several total design options that might be appropriate for their age group and design preferences. Example: Option 1 – Trendy and Loft Like Option 2 – Bright Colors for an Energetic Feeling – 3. Subtle Earth Toned Colors and Textures . . . . Just a thought.
Wayne & J Knocke
Ok Jason, you need to tell us how the Bounder drives compared to the diesel pusher! I had a 2004 gasser and it was terrible! I hear your coach has a new chassie whats the veridic .
I’d like to know, too. I drove a 22.000 lb 8.1 liter 2005 Workhorse chassis up to Jasper in 2013. There was a killer hill that put me in first gear to get up. I think it was the hill before the Athabaska Glacier South of Jasper.
My wife and I love your website and all of the great YouTube videos. We’re newbies to RVing and your media has been informative and inspiring! Banff is definitely on our bucket list (your photography is beautiful). Thanks for sharing all of your adventures!
We went to the hot springs several times when I was a kid. It looks exactly the same!
Left Atlanta yesterday in our 2012 bounder 33c, on our way cross country through Denver, to California up to Whistler, Banff and back towards home hitting Yellowstone. Newbies. Question if you have time: what speed do you drive at? Thanks. Love your blogs!
Karen Schindel Johnson
GORGEOUS pics. I spent the summer of 1984 working at a country resort outside of Banff/Lake Louise on the road that leads back to Radium Hot Springs in BC. We cycled the mtn hwys there into town, always marveling at Castle Rock and Mt Rundle (my favourite). We would come into town and see herds of elk wandering the streets, seemingly unperturbed by all the people. Bear, mtn goats and moose were plentiful. The beauty there is magically unlimited; every direction you go there is more and more beauty to see. I don’t mean this snobbishly as a Canadian, but….this part of the Rockies spoiled me for when I traveled the Rockies south of the border. Nothing seems to have measured up (yet) to the majesty of those Canadian Rockies.
I don’t know if you found this, but when we went back to Banff in 2007 we were disappointed by how Asian it had become. Money flooded in in the late 1990’s from Hong Kong, or that’s what I was told. And it seemed to change the quaintness of the Banff I had known. (I’m certainly not meaning to sound prejudiced; gosh, my best friends in childhood were Chinese and Japanese, then Philippino and Pakistani ) But no matter what, tourism or not….you can’t improve on this beautiful gem!
Jeff & Deb Spencer
Stunning! Can’t wait to make the trip ourselves. Can you please keep us posted on whether or not you had to make prior reservations at your stops? “Unplanner” minds would like to know. ?
So far, no reservations!
Holy crap it’s beautiful there! Thanks so much for sharing the photos and experiences. Keep it up cause we are all interested. How’s the Bounder holding up in the mountains? It’s so nice to see it isn’t raining everywhere. We are getting SOAKED here in Texas.
Awesome pics and blog post again as usual.
I was thinking of ways you can earn more money to fund your adventures and I thought, what about offering pics you have taken to be sold by you and you order them from a canvas printing place and they are drop shipped to your fans….. Your pics are amazing and I am sure that people would love to buy them……
Keep on Rolling!
Thank you both for sharing your travel experiences and technical observations in such a friendly, clear and detailed way, both in the videos and your blog writings. My wife and I were full timers for 2 years in a travel trailer, which we sold. We are now actively shopping for a Class A coach to go back on the road with. So, we are VERY interested in any specifics about the handling, performance, power, and fuel economy of your Ford V-10 and F53 chassis setup, especially as compared to the diesel you had before.
Ditto. I think your “wild camping” equipped Bounder is DA BOMB for adventuring around the country. But I wonder how you will rate the chassis of this MH.
Exciting! We are buying the Fleetwood Bounder in July. What floor plan did you buy?
I, too, have been to Banff a few times. Like you, we didn’t have enough time to spend there. I sure hope to go back and stay longer in the future. I agree with Brenda. I think that Lake Louise is the most beautiful place out there!
It’s really to bad that you had to rush a bit, but the nice thing about the Rockies, they’ll be there the next time you wonder back to Canada.
Excellent photos. Especially liked the 360 degree photos. More please.
So glad you enjoyed your visit to Banff, Alberta. I certainly hope you had a chance to visit beautiful Lake Louise while you were there. On your next visit, I would suggest you make the time to go a little farther west, into British Columbia, to visit Yoho National Park. Some of the highlights in this park are Emerald Lake, Lake O’Hara and the awesome Takakkaw falls. This is Canada at its finest with some of the best hiking spots in the country. Enjoy the rest of your journey to Alaska and I look forward to reading your blog along the way.
Cheers from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta.
Awesome photo of the cave Jason! You’re being humble about what you need for a shot like that.
Was the sulphur smell as bad as those natural baths we went to in Colorado in summer 2007?
See you in Alaska!
Beautiful Banff! It’s been so many years since I was there, and I’d love to take the rig there one day. Great roundup of everything there is to do there. You guys certainly packed it in!