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.

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  1. Sounds like it would be better to drive a little farther into the park and stop someplace else for a hike or swim. I’ve only been there during the winter tho and liked the hot springs.

  2. Love reading about your adventures! Banff looks very cool. I remember the first nationwide tent camping trip Dad & I took, 35 years ago, we could barely afford gas–but I wouldn’t trade those lean times for anything. Love you.

  3. If you stay in BC you could explore the Columbia valley, Radium to Golden is full of the same mountains (Hello Bugaboos!) without any of the people.. The park is a huge tourist/$$ place – there are a ton of nice spots where us locals go instead.

    If you haven’t planned yet please do not leave BC without going through the West Kootenays.. It’s easy – turn south at Revelstopke and work your way down.. It’s westy heaven – we honeymooned there in our 86.

    • Thanks for the tips Mike! Our blog is always a little behind, so we have already left the area, but for the next visit, we’ll keep it in mind! 🙂

  4. I used to work and live in Banff as a tour guide on horseback. I still love and adore the place and will always consider it home, but it is way too congested. Even when I worked there (I guess it’s coming 7 years ago), many tourists would say, “Banff is commercialized. We preferred Jasper.” Banff is a very much a party town (oh goodness, is it ever! Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…) and commercialized, due to the fact, I believe, that it is so close to Calgary.

    Regardless, it’s beautiful and has a lot to offer, but have you kids ever tried out Jasper? It’s A LOT quieter (just don’t go this year, 2017, due to the free park passes. I always go down there, but am afraid to this year) and the hikes are more private. I’d recommend, next time you’re in Canada and plan to hang out quite a bit, to purchase Park Passes (they’re roughly around $80? and are valid for a year and it allows you free access to all National Parks across the country). Alas, I can’t say anything about the camping. I know it’s terrible.

    Love your blog and your stories!

    • Hello Madeline, its so great to read your comment! For sure we will go to Jaspar next time, and we generally learned that one of the key factors in not spending loads of money in Banff is to bring more time. I think it will be a while though until we make it back up that way! Thanks for all the tips and I’m glad you like the blog!

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