Western Canada: The Town of Banff

Continued from Johnston Canyon

Note: Our trip to Western Canada was taken in May 2008.

Taking the gentle, narrow 1A out of Banff National Park, we headed to Banff, the biggest town in these parts (shy of sprawling Calgary).

Banff itself is preternaturally clean, touristy, and watched over by a few incredible peaks that rivaled any we’d seen before.  

Downtown is full of horse-drawn carriages and shopping arcades that seem assembled out of kits.  You’ll find old-timey candy stores, ticky-tacky souvenirs made out of rocks and resin, and mountaineering stores; I got some wonderful, light Patagonia socks that nipped my threatening blisters in the bud.

We found a lot of Greek restaurants, but didn’t partake of any of them.  Ironically, the best thing we had for lunch at the Salt Lik steak restaurant was the Greek salad.

The town is full of hotels, but we didn’t think it would be an ideal place to stay if your vacation goal is to get away from it all. Most lodgings are stacked one after the other, and while street parking is available, even before high season begins it may take a spin or two around town to find a space.

Even the biggest draw here, the Fairmont Banff Springs, doesn’t offer much peace and quiet.  For all its palatial presence, its facade feels like the location for a  Stephen King novel.

Inside, the decor is a Disney-fied version of an old Scottish baronial castle.  Head straight to the back for the two-tier observation deck, cafe patio, and an emerald view of the Bow River Valley that’ll stop you in your tracks. This valley is the site of the Fairmont’s golf course, a fitting feature for a Scottish-themed hotel.

Down below the hotel, the entrance to this golf course is right near a small parking lot beside the wide, powerful, short Bow River Falls, where scores of couples were having their photos taken.

In the small woods before this entrance road, two huge elk were sitting down, surrounded by photographers — Banff’s version of Brangelina.

Alongside downtown Banff is a long, charming park with a gazebo and riverside walking paths, full of happy dogs and picnicking families; bright and sparkling, this was undoubtedly the cleanest park we’d ever seen.

Across an old stone bridge from the park stands the stalwart Parks Administration Building, home of the (not-yet-blooming-in-late-May) Cascade Gardens, which despite the dozen or so jewelry stores in town, are rumored to be Banff’s real gem.

After visiting the local outpost of Canadian chocolatier Bernard Callebaut, though, we were inclined to feel differently.  We’ve missed marzipan every day since.

* For more photos on this leg of our Canadian journey, click here.

Continued in One Night in Calgary


  1. Thanks for the great and honest information. Tourist areas can get pretty crowded nowadays. I love that 2 elk were just hanging out getting their photos taken. Beautiful.


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