Banff is beautiful. Like really beautiful. And practically everybody who we have met so far has told us to go to Banff. They have all been to Banff and it was great. So, of course, we went to Banff.
Banff is a small town of about just over 7500 people in the stunning Canadian Rockies. It is about twenty minutes down the highway from the entrance to Banff National Park, the reason for the town’s existence in the first place. Even just the drive there surrounds your ride with spectacular mountaintops and lush pine forests. The town itself has streets named after wild animals and a picturesque downtown with startlingly steep mountain backdrops. It is very pretty.
But: everybody goes to Banff. The quaint downtown is soaked in daunting commercialism. Bars, shops, restaurants, even dance clubs that burst music after dark. And a popcorn shop. A little hipster, a little alpine. And a lot of tourists, from all nations of the rainbow. Banff is a reputable resort town, famous in winter for skiing and other snow sports, and famous in summer for hiking, canoeing, and the like. And it definitely fills up in mid-July, especially on the weekend.
But, what were we expecting? Like any resort town or any town that has a primary function as a hub for seeing the natural scenery, the beauty tends to be overcast by the tourists that crowd the streets. And of course, it does not make you feel better to know that you are one of them, just the same. It reminded me of places like San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, minus the deserts, or Bali, minus the ocean.
Banff definitely offers a lot, just unfortunately not for us. Two ingredients make the town a great place for a holiday: money, and time. Alone the entrance fee into the park is nearly 10 Canadian Dollars per person per day (unless you stay more than seven). There is no free camping and no way around the park without some serious backtracking. Any of the things that one would like to do – drink a cool beer like that dude over there or eat whatever it is that smells so good, or even take a really awesome sounding rafting tour, or hell, rent a canoe – costs more than a bit of money. Long hikes are also an option, but to really get away from the crowds, you need to take a nice long one that is not so appealing to the majority of crowds, or bring all sorts of good sporting gear and the corresponding knowledge with you. Sadly outside our capacity.
Banff is still cool though. We get pretty excited about a town with free parking, open wifi, and public bathrooms. It has excellent parks, very exact recycling systems, and places where you can grill your own food. They even put out free firewood, and as we left the town, a concert was playing that you could hear from anywhere as the sound collects between the mountains. For chilling around and taking small hikes where you don’t expect to get away from tourists like yourself, it is a pretty nice place to be.
So we say: go to Banff, and find out how you like it for yourself. And bring more money than we did.