Nestled in the flat-bottomed Bow River Valley amid majestic folded grey craggy peaks, the buzzing resort town of Banff is the unofficial capital of the Canadian Rockies.
Like many capitals it’s a place you’ll probably feel you have to have seen and though it’s likeable enough, it’s touristy. In summer, think columns of motor-homes and herds of tour buses, so you may end up preferring other Rocky Mountain bases.
For all its fame, Banff’s attractions are a bit thin on the ground too: a few modest museums, a gondola, a ritzy hotel and a main street – Banff Avenue – lined with souvenir shops, toffee emporiums, outdoor clothing shops and the like.
That said, there are some pretty hiking and mountain biking trails that begin almost downtown and the town also has two ski areas – Norquay and Sunshine – on its doorstep. Then there’s the huge selection of comfortable hotels, some hundred-plus quality restaurants – particularly Japanese and Korean, thanks to the popularity of Banff with East Asian visitors – and, in summer at least, the best nightlife in the Rockies.
Banff is a ninety-minute drive from Calgary and served by Greyhound buses (greyhound.ca) and the shuttles of Banff Airporter (banffairporter.com); Brewster Transportation (brewster.ca).
In Banff it’s easy to get around on foot, while so-called Roam (banff.ca) public buses link more outlying areas including the Tunnel Mountain campgrounds and gondola. In winter shuttle buses link Banff with Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. Kicking Horse provides a shuttle in a package with a lift pass.
Banff Taxi (403-762-4444), Legion Taxi (403-762-3353), Mountain (403-762-3351) and Taxi-Taxi (403-762-2244).