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Banff Sightseeing

As Vancouverites we are gifted with the ability to enjoy something so majestic as the Rockies, a monumental mountain range that we share with Alberta. And one of the best places to take them in at, is in Banff, Alberta’s famous ski town. Here are a few ways to best take them all in.

Walking Tour

In Banff there are no bad views or ugly sides with 360 degree mountains to admire, some of the freshest alpine air to breathe in, and sparkling glacier waters to drink. When walking through the heart of the town you go towards mountains on either ends. Majority of the main streets have been closed off during the pandemic to accommodate more patio seating, and it now allows for groups to linger in the middle of the road for the perfect photo up.

The walk from the heart of downtown to picturesque waters and expansive mountains is less than 2 minutes. The trek includes a bridge over pebbled river water, a rainbow walkway, and a dirt path lined with pines.

It is an easy trek that can eventually lead to a waterfall in under 30 minutes. You cut through the park and take a brisk hike up several carved-out stairs to reach this city side waterfall, with views of the iconic Fairmont Banff in the distance. But save your time and phone battery for a better view and photographic moment of the historic building, below.

You can also walk in the opposite direction of the waterfall to reach one of Banff’s historic tourist attractions: Cave & Basin. A natural hot spring rifle with Sulphur and the scent of raw eggs as a result.

From the outside you get an upper deck view of the basin, hailed for its natural healing abilities by the First Nations; which was quickly monetized by explorers who believe they to be the founders of this natural resource, that they marketed as hot water baths.

With the government at the time catching word of this windfall attraction, they closed it off to the public and made it protected land within Banff Park, where it still stands protected as a local tourist attraction, with information centre and museum.

Within the building you can explore the “Cave”, an under ground cavern with its own basin of warm, Sulphur rich blue waters. A unique sight, you wish you could pay to soak in. But alas this is not an option.


Electric Bike ride

Another way to explore Banff is via electric bike. This way you can cover a lot more distance in a shorter amount of time, reaching many spots that don’t allow cars to stop at, or ones where the walk seems too daunting.

You can rent an electric bike for the afternoon or for a day. At Black Diamond Bike and Supplies they have two or three wheel models that take the work out of pedalling. Choose your modes and the amount of propulsion you wish, and steep hills and huffing and puffing are a thing of the past. Or you can dial the automatic propulsion mode down and get by with the power of your own two rotating feet.


We pedalling around Bow River, taking in the changing leaves and the ever so still waters. There are many docks you can step on to, to walk out towards the water, and many more wedding photo shoots being done.

When we passed it, we made sure to get our cliche photo in front of the highly photographed Banff sign.

One of the most memorable viewpoints was called the “Surprise Lookout”. This was most easily accessible via bicycle, as the walk up is too steep and too far, and there are no places to pause your vehicle at, should you attempt to drive there.

Here, you get your perfect Fairmont Banff view. A dark castle-like building amongst the lush pine forests of Banff. It overlooks a chasm with quickly flowing glacier waters running through it.

Beyond this is Tunnel mountain, and a bird’s eye view of the Banff Hoodoos. These are naturally created rock formations caused by erosion. They look like a thin spire of rock consisting of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone. This is what gives the Hoodoo its unique capped shape and protects each column from the elements.


Top Down Tour

And if you want to take all the work out of sightseeing, sign up for the Top Down Tour.

This is a pre-designated, chauffeured tour that you can book at the Mount Royal Hotel’s lobby desk. This is a guided tour done in a stretch bus dressed up 20’s style. The vehicle comes with removable glass ceiling panels that you can stick your head out of, should the weather permit. In our case, it was a cold and cloudy day with a chance of sprinkling. So, we stayed warm within our royal blue and white walled rim ride. Comfortable and cozy with blankets.

Our driver and tour guide was dressed in the same era with a dapper vests, raised pants, and bowler hat. As she operates this 12 seater bus, she points out local landmarks and offers interesting tidbits for visiting travelers, all to a soundtrack from the roaring 20’s.

For the littlest tourists there is a bingo game. It comes with a score card sheet you can check off, for prizes at the end of the tour. And for those young at heart, they even have a viewfinder for those interested in historic photographs of Banff of years long past.

On this tour we had 3 major stops. Where our bus was parked, and guests were able to climb out to take in the scenery and/or pose for photos. If travelling alone, your guide is more than happy to help film and capture your best moments.

My favourite viewpoint was the one that gave us the clearest bird’s eye view of the city down below, high above.


Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise

From the mountains to the water, Banff is just as well known for their fresh glacier lakes.

And you can take a guided boat cruise across one of Alberta’s largest. Go end to end with Lake Minnewanka’s beer voyage. Where the waterfront dock is easily accessible via your local transit system.

Here, you board your group vessel and sip on local brews. Our tour included a not publicly available charcuterie board with meat, cheeses, pickles, spreads, and crackers to graze on.

You can either enjoy the fresh air and the wind blowing through your hair by riding at the back of the boat. As the vessel slaps against the water, you are caught in the spray, and there is no better way to experience the otherwise below freezing glacier lake.

But if you decide to stay warm and shield within, there are windows that you can open the get a modified version of the experience above. Here your guide gives you a brief history lesson and the captain continues to drive towards the middle of the lake.

You learn of the natives that once took care of the land and how the topography of it came to be the way it is today. With the highlight being the “Devil’s Gap”. This is a landmark described as the corridor where the prairies meet the mountains.

And after everyone gets their photos, the boat is turned around and you are brought back ashore.

In closing, however you look at it, Banff is stunning. Hoping this guide was helpful in allowing you to see if from all its beautiful angles.

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