Banff Neighborhoods & Towns
If you're looking to spend your Banff vacation in style (and convenience), travel writers recommend booking your hotel in Banff Town, which is filled with restaurants, shops and other attractions. If you're looking to save a few bucks, you might want to drop your bags in nearby Canmore, known for its affordability.
The town of Banff is small and snuggled in a small mountain valley in Banff National Park in western Canada's Alberta Province. Banff Town is bisected by the Bow River with the majority of restaurants and shops clustered on the north side of the river. Most of the hotels, including the renowned Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, sit on the southern side of the river. Also south of the river are some of Banff Town's popular attractions such as the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.
Like most small towns, Banff features one main street, Banff Avenue, on which most of the town's local businesses can be found. Banff Avenue divides the town and runs south from the Trans-Canada Highway across the Bow River. Travel writers say that views of the mountains are excellent from Banff Avenue. However, it's often densely packed with tourists.
Because Banff is often overcrowded, experts recommend driving outside of the park to Canmore -- just 20 minutes southwest of Banff -- for a bit of small-town charm. Canmore is home to numerous hotels and restaurants, which offer much lower rates than those found in Banff. But don't underestimate this small town for its size. It was once the site for the Nordic Skiing events of the 1988 Winter Olympics, and serves as a frequent backdrop for several Hollywood films.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park occupies more than 2,500 square miles of southwest Alberta. Most of the tourists who visit Banff do so to ski, hike or camp in the park, which many travel writers refer to as one of the most scenic places on earth.
The Vermilion Lakes, which sit just east of the town along the Trans-Canada Highway, and Lake Minnewanka are popular hiking spots. However, experts say the lakes should be avoided during the winter because of frequent ice falls.
Ski slopes surround Banff, the closest being Mount Norquay, which is only 10 minutes from town, and the Sunshine Village Ski Resort, which is a 20-minute drive to the southeast. Another popular skiing spot is the Lake Louise Ski Area, located approximately 40 miles north of town.
Some of the major safety issues facing intrepid explorers of Banff National Park include altitude sickness, weather-related ailments and animal encounters.
Those who are not used to mountain climates may find themselves experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness, the most common being dizziness, headache, nausea and fatigue. Give your body time to adjust: Don't over-exert yourself physically for the first day or so. Instead of an intense hike, plan on a leisurely stroll. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water, and remember that changes in altitude will cause your body to react differently to alcohol.
Because of its location, Banff Town and Banff National Park experience cold, snowy winters. Dress in layers if you head into the park, and it's always a good idea to bring an extra set of clothing in case you get wet. Also, make sure you bring a hat, scarf and mittens to avoid getting frostbite on your ears, nose and fingers.
The park is home to many larger animals, including bears. Trynot to wander off on your own if you can help it. Make plenty of noise (talking, shuffling branches) when hiking to warn animals of your presence. Avoid getting too close to wild animals, no matter how docile they may seem. Parks Canada says that bear attacks are extremely uncommon. However, if you do encounter a bear on the trails, you should not run. Instead, avoid eye contact and back away slowly while making noise, and most of the time, the bear will lose interest. Do not fight back if you are attacked; the best way to fend off a bear is to drop face down to the ground, cover the back of your neck with your hands, tuck your knees to your stomach and play dead. The bear will more than likely lose interest.