Banff, Alberta: Canada’s Base Camp for Adventure
Wednesday May 26th, 2021
Arguably one of Canada’s most popular travel destinations, Banff is home to approximately 7851 citizens with nearly four million tourists arriving each year to visit Banff National Park. The town offers breathtaking scenery, including sights of towering mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and acres of untamed forests, while delivering visitors and residents countless opportunities to explore the outdoors, encounter wildlife, and soak in a natural hot spring.
Banff is located on the Bow River and is surrounded by the Cascade Mountains, Mount Norquay, Mount Rundle, and Sulphur Mountain. Calgary is a pleasant 127-kilometer drive to the east, with Alberta’s capital, Edmonton, being a longer four-hour drive to the north. And for what’s dubbed the most scenic drive in the world, take a tour along the Icefields Parkway to Banff’s sister city, Jasper.
Banff offers the best of Canada in one small town—from summertime fun in the sun, to alpine recreation in the winter, to picture-perfect adventures all year ‘round. It’s home to a thriving arts and culture scene, plenty of museums, great shopping, and mouthwatering cuisine that will have you coming back for seconds (and thirds). Take part in family-friendly events, enjoy a weekend of luxury at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, or reconnect with nature in the magnificent backcountry.
Did you know Fairmont Banff Springs is considered one of the most haunted dwellings in Canada? Legend has it a ghost bride walks the halls and greets guests upon arrival.
Whatever you choose to do and wherever you decide to stay, Banff is a mountain town that never disappoints. Let’s explore all it has to offer to help you plan your next adventure; if you want to call the town home, get in touch with a local REALTOR® to make the search for your perfect dream home easier.
Five facts about Banff, Alberta
- As an iconic mountain town, Banff is well-known as a phenomenal skiing destination, but what’s less known is the sport was first introduced to the area by Swiss and Austrian mountain guides in 1909. And at 4,573 feet in elevation, Banff not only stands as a prime destination for alpine adventure, it’s also considered the highest town in Canada.
- The town’s name stems from Banffshire in Scotland, which was the home of former Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) president, George Stephen. With that said, the expansion of the railway is what brought about the establishment of Banff in 1883, while it wasn’t incorporated as a town until 1990.
- As the transcontinental railway was established in Bow Valley in the early 1880’s, CPR employees stumbled upon hot springs in the Sulphur Mountains. This led to the promotion of the area as an international resort and spa, which eventually resulted in the creation of Canada’s first national park, Banff National park.
- Banff National Park is indeed a historic place with the mountains in the region estimated to be between 45 to 120 million years old. Plus, there are more than 1000 glaciers within the park, and it’s said their origins date back centuries—or even millenniums.
- Banff is a wilderness retreat with a diverse ecosystem and an abundance of wildlife. In fact, the region is home to Alberta’s southernmost herd of the endangered woodland caribou. There are a number of reasons for the decline of woodland caribou in the region, which is why the Alberta Wilderness Association continues to advocate for and develop initiatives to help protect these majestic animals.
What to do in Banff
It goes without saying Banff is a winter wonderland for skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. One of the most notable destinations to hit the slopes is Banff Sunshine Village, which is a short 15-minute drive from the town. Known for having “the best snow in Canada,” Sunshine Village is located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, while offering guests three different mountains to choose from during the seven-month ski season (early November to late May).
Of course, exploring Banff National Park is a must when visiting the town. Regardless of the time of year, the park is an outdoor adventurer’s dream where you can hike the mountains, paddle the lakes, and indulge in the hot springs—the springs in Cave and Basin National Historic Site are a favourite of many, while the Upper Hot Springs near the top of Sulphur Mountain offers relaxation with unparalleled views.
For the avid cyclist, the Banff Legacy Trail provides a pathway more than 22-kilometers long stretching from the Banff Park East Gate all the way to the Bow Valley Parkway. Take in the panoramic views, stop for lunch at one of the covered picnic areas, and enjoy the landscape as you test your stamina on two wheels—or take it slow and steady with frequent breaks at one of the many scenic resting spots.
From gondola rides and fat biking in the mountains to exploring Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway nearby, there’s no shortage of things to do outdoors in Banff. But what about indoor activities and places to eat?
Don’t worry, this resort town is more than just a one-trick pony. Banff is also considered a centre for arts and creativity, with culinary and culture served up throughout the region. Here are a few destinations to check out:
- The Banff Centre—founded in 1933, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity has become a global leader for arts and performance, while it’s home to a number of events including the Mountain Film & Book Festival.
- Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies—Banff is located on the traditional lands of many Indigenous nations, including Stoney Nakoda, Blackfoot, Tsuut’ina, Kutenai, Secwépemc, Dene, Mountain Cree, and Métis. The Whyte Museum is dedicated to honouring the history of the region and maintaining the relationship established between the nations who call Treaty 7 territory home.
- Banff Farmers’ Market—nothing brings together local makers, growers, and producers like a farmers’ market, and from the beginning of June until the end of September, Banff Central Park hosts a number of vendors selling fruits and veggies, while artisans offer unique jewelry, clothing, and a variety of handcrafted gifts.
- Three Ravens Restaurant & Wine Bar—arguably the best fine dining experience in Banff, Three Ravens is located on campus at the Banff Centre, treating guests to exceptional views of the mountains and delicious dishes paired with delightful wines.
- Bear Street Tavern—a feature on the popular show You Gotta Eat Here, Bear Street Tavern plates the best pizza in the Rockies, while delivering a relaxing atmosphere to help you unwind after an adventurous day in the mountains.
For a complete list of places to eat in Banff, check out this handy guide of the nine best Banff restaurants you need to try.
Housing market stats and where to live
Similar to Jasper, Alberta, living in Banff means living within a national park. And with that, comes the need for eligibility. The reason for this is to ensure there’s enough housing available to those with the desire to live and work in the community full time—temporary residents such as cottagers or real estate investors are not eligible. To learn how to receive eligibility, follow this link.
If you’re eligible, there are currently several listings on REALTOR.ca. Condos, apartments, and townhomes are the most common housing options in Banff, with lavish estates and multi-million dollar properties available to those with deeper pockets.
While real estate in Banff is monitored by Banff National Park’s Realty and Municipal Services Office, the region falls within the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB®). And according to CREB® chief economist, Ann-Marie Lurie, exceptionally low mortgage rates continue to support strong sales activity, which in turn, has resulted in higher prices across all home types.
As such, hiring a REALTOR® is highly recommended to help you find the best option based on your specific needs.
If you’re moving to Banff, the town’s website has plenty of resources for new residences to help you get settled in—this includes information on getting around Banff as well as employment information. And for those with kids, there are a few schools in the area, including Banff Elementary, Banff Community Highschool, and Bow Valley College.
If you’re thinking about visiting Banff, the peak season for tourism is considered to be in July and August. But the town is a four-season destination with loads of adventures to be enjoyed all year. So if you want to avoid the crowds, Banff is ready whenever you are*.