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.