Town of Banff
Many visitors to the national park don’t realize that the town of Banff is a bustling commercial center with 8,000 permanent residents. The town’s location is magnificent. It is spread out along the Bow River, extending to the lower slopes of Sulphur Mountain to the south and Tunnel Mountain to the east. In one direction is the towering face of Mount Rundle, and in the other, framed by the buildings along Banff Avenue, is Cascade Mountain.
Hotels and motels line the north end of Banff Avenue, and a profusion of shops, boutiques, cafés, and restaurants hugs the south end. Also at the south end, just over the Bow River, is the Park Administration Building. Here the road forks—to the right is the historic Cave and Basin Hot Springs, to the left The Fairmont Banff Springs and Banff Gondola.
Some people are happy walking along the crowded streets or shopping in a truly unique setting, but visitors who are more interested in some peace and quiet can easily slip into pristine wilderness just a five-minute walk from town.
The best place to make your first stop upon arrival in town is the Banff Visitor Centre (224 Banff Ave., daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m. mid-June–Aug., daily 8 a.m.–6 p.m. mid-May–mid-June and Sept., daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m. the rest of the year). On the right-hand side is a desk staffed by Parks Canada employees. They will answer all of your queries regarding Banff’s natural wonders and advise you of trail closures.
Across the floor is a desk for Banff Lake Louise Tourism Bureau (403/762-8421, www.banfflakelouise.com), representing businesses and commercial establishments in the park. Here you can find out about accommodations and restaurants and have any other questions answered. To answer the most frequently asked question, the restrooms are downstairs.
Getting to Banff
Calgary International Airport, 128 kilometers (80 miles) east, is the closest airport to Banff National Park. Brewster (403/762-6767 or 800/661-1152, www.brewster.ca) is one of many companies offering shuttles between the airport and Banff National Park. Its service leaves the airport twice daily, stopping at Banff then continuing to Lake Louise. Calgary to Banff is adult $52, child $26.
This shuttle delivers guests to all major Banff hotels as well as the park’s main bus terminal, the Brewster Tour and Transportation Centre, a five-minute walk from downtown Banff at 100 Gopher Street. Offering door-to-door service for around the same price is Banff Airporter (403/762-3330 or 888/449-2901, www.banffairporter.com); adjacent desks at the airport’s Arrivals level take bookings, but reserve a seat by booking over the phone or online in advance.
Greyhound (403/762-1092 or 800/661-8747, www.greyhound.ca) offers scheduled service from the Calgary bus depot at 877 Greyhound Way SW, five times daily to the Banff Railway Station and Samson Mall, Lake Louise. Greyhound buses leave Vancouver from the depot at 1150 Station Street, three times daily for the scenic 14-hour ride to the park.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition