The Banff Insider

Home » Canadian Rockies Blogs » The Banff Insider

The Banff InsiderRead feature articles of his experiences, reviews and exploits in the Canadian Rockies - Banff National Park.

Getting from Calgary Airport to Banff National Park

Getting from Calgary Airport to Banff National Park

Banff National Park, Alberta

Considering Calgary is only a 90 minute drive to Banff (when you don’t get lost), it really seems like a thousand miles away. They are very, very different places. If you are going to be visiting Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise to get away from the rat race and the big cities then what you will want to do is get the first bus from the airport to these gorgeous towns. Really, it couldn’t be easier. There are a few companies that do this service. You will find their desks at the exit of the airport but if you want to book beforehand, which you should in peak season, here is all the info.

The feeling as you enter Banff is one of immense excitement and serenity.

Jasper Vacations and Banff Airporter

Many a time I have travelled on both of these buses. Price wise they are similar – around the $50 mark. The drivers were always professional and fun. You just tell them the hotel you are going to be staying in and within an hour and a half you will be dropped to the door of your hotel ready to start your vacation.

It is a truly great feeling when you see the mountains for the first time as you come towards Kananaskis Country and when the Banff exit sign pops up, no matter how many times you have been, you get excited. Banff National Park and Lake Louise are two of the most beautiful places in the world and there is no time to waste in getting there from the big cities!

See Banff Live and book your Banff Airporter.

Bear Safety and Awareness in Banff National Park

Bear Safety and Awareness in Banff National Park

Banff National Park, Alberta

There are all kinds of rhyming advice that I can never remember about bears. I always fear that when I do eventually come across a real live wild bear, I will still be trying to sort out the rhymes as he nibbles on my shins…’If’s it Brown, hit the ground, if it’s black fight back’. Nothing in this rhyme does anything to quell my fears. I don’t want to play dead with a monstrous bear – he is not a 3 year old child looking for a laugh. Nor do I want to get the boxing gloves on and do a few rounds with Mr. Black Bear. Instead, here is the coward’s way to simply avoid unwanted bears in Banff National Park.

If you see a Grizzly, bear right.

Be noisy. North Americans usually have this one covered anyway. If you are feeling nervous, just start clapping or shouting. It is a well known fact that bears can’t stand Madonna’s music so a bit of Vogue may save your life.

Pets: This is one of the most common ways to get in trouble with a bear. Whereas humans go out of their way to avoid Grizzlies, dogs do the opposite. The animals can smell each other and will seek each other out. Two choices: Sacrifice the dog or leave him at home.

Be Careful with your food: It wouldn’t be nice to start cooking a beautiful meal at an obesity convention. Along the same vein, it’s best not to tempt bears by leaving food around the campsite. There are many stories about people who have enjoyed a good meal over the fire followed by 42 beers and woke up with a looming shadow over the tent. Clean the place before the 42 beers.

Common sense: Bears may be big, strong, intelligent, fast and furry but they are generally not looking for trouble. Like an ex girlfriend, you will both try and avoid each other and the best way to go about it is to keep your eyes open and use a bit of common sense. Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world and you are guaranteed to have a great time especially if you can avoid that ex-girlfriend!

Renting Bikes in Banff

Renting Bikes in Banff

Banff National Park

When it comes to rentals in Banff whether it is for skis, hiking gear or bikes, my advice is always the same – shop around. Take advantage of the competition in town and don’t just run into the first shop that advertises bikes for rent. The prices and quality of the equipment can vary greatly from shop to shop. To make your choices easier, here are a few options for you to rent bikes in Banff.

Banff is an ideal place to bike.

Banff Travel – 211 Bear Street

Banff Travel can organise all tours and activities for you as well as just providing the bikes.

Snowtips / BackTrax – 225 Bear Street

The staff in here and extremely helpful and friendly and they have one of the biggest selections of bikes in Banff.

Showcase – Cascade Mall

Probably the cheapest option in town though the selection of bikes isn’t quite as vast as Backtrax.

Cycling the Canadian Rockies is one of the best things you can do in summer around Banff National Park. Whether it is just a spin around town or some heavy mountain biking, your choices are endless.

Bike Rentals

Summer in Banff – Where to have Coffee

Summer in Banff – Where to have Coffee

Banff National Park, Alberta

I really can’t tell if it is because it seems like it has been the longest winter in Banff or whether it really is sweltering but simply put the weather is stunning right now in Banff and the Rockies. There isn’t a trace of snow around town. Though this may be bad news for the ski lovers, the plus side is that when you are skiing, it will be under cobalt skies in nothing bud a hoody (and probably trousers). Better again, you can now sit around town and enjoy a beer or a coffee with the heat of the sun on your back and the stunning views of the Canadian Rockies all around you. The word ‘heaven’ comes to mind. So where are the best places to catch the sun with a coffee in Banff?

Who doesn't love to bask in the sun?!

Morning:

Evelyn’s Cafe (2 on Banff Avenue – soon to be 3)

There aren’t many tables but if you manage to make it out of your hotel before noon, you can sit here in the fresh morning mountain air, read the newspaper and enjoy a late in what surely must be one of the finest surrounds in the world.

Afternoon:

Nester’s Market – 122 Bear Street

It may not be the best coffee in town but it is one of the cheapest and more importantly it has lots of outdoor seats. The sun hits here about 1pm and the wall also traps any breezes so you are in a little sun bath. Better again; you could have a mini picnic right outside the supermarket.

Evening:

Wild Bill’s or Legion – Banff Avenue

Due to its massive balcony, Wild Bill’s catches the sun almost to its death. Having dinner out here at about 6pm is one of the nicest things to do in Banff. The views down on Banff Avenue are the best in town as well.

The Legion has hands down the best beer deck in the evening in town. Cheap jugs of beer, located right by the water with wildlife always popping around, lots of tables and seats for friends – perfect. The legion is the perfect way to wind down your day in Banff after a day of hiking or biking.

Eating on a Budget in Banff – Wild Bill’s

Eating on a Budget in Banff – Wild Bill’s

Banff National Park, Alberta

Sometimes while thinking about dining in Banff, I feel sorry for Alberta cows. As a man who always eats on a budget, I have found every single lunch special in Banff and I am beginning to detect a trend. Steak sandwiches are always on offer. Every day in Tommy’s and the Balkan, you can get a steak for less than $10 for example. However, price wise at least on a Monday, you may not find a cheaper meal in all the Rockies, let alone Banff, than in Wild Bill’s on Banff Avenue.

Wild Bill's is more than just a fun place to party at night.

Even those who work at the ridiculous minimum wage in Canadian cafes can afford the $6 asking price for the steak sandwich and fries and you could do a hell of a lot worse location wise too. If you get a table by the window, you can look down on the crowds on Banff Avenue while tucking into your secretly cheap lunch. Well…it probably isn’t that much of a secret considering there is a massive blackboard outside the restaurant telling you about it.

If you are looking for real quality in food, you have probably stopped reading this blog by now. However, there are tons of options in Banff such as the Maple Leaf adjacent to Wild Bill’s but as far as budget eating goes, Mondays in Wild Bill’s Restaurant can’t be beaten. It would be a big mis-steak to miss it. Sorry.

201 Banff Avenue

Banff, AB T1L 1C4

(403) 762-0333

Where to go for an Indoor Swim in Banff

Where to go for an Indoor Swim in Banff

Banff National Park, Alberta

Swimming is cool. Or at least it is in Banff where nearly all of the rivers and lakes are glacially fed meaning that the water is cold enough to cause organs to retreat back into the body. Furthermore, it is cold a lot here anyway. Summer is gorgeous but it is only 4 short months long. So if you want to go for a swim in Banff without catching pneumonia, here are the best options:

Swimming is a great way to unwind after a day of hiking or skiing.

Banff Springs:

Pro’s – It is luxurious, there is a choice of mineral pool, indoor and outdoor pool with a thousand other options to spoil yourself. Did I mention it is very luxurious?!

Con’s – A few trips here if you aren’t staying would be enough to buy your own swimming pool!

Banff Centre – Sally Borden Gym

Pro’s – Beautiful location overlooking the Bow Valley and with mountain views everywhere. Only $10 drop in charge or $4 between 5 and 7pm. Friendly staff, nice cafeteria with view of swimming pool and mountains and a gentle, scenic walk back down to Banff.

There are a lot of activities to do in the towns of the Rockies like Banff and Lake Louise but having a swim is a great way to unwind after a day of hiking or skiing.

For more info:

Banff Fairmont Springs – 405 Spray Avenue

403 762 2211

Banff Sally Borden Gym

107 Tunnel Mountain Drive

403.762.6450

Accommodations of Banff – The Homestead Inn

Hotels of Banff – The Homestead Inn

Banff National Park, Alberta

The popularity of Banff over the years has only grown. Places like Lake Louise and Jasper haven’t changed too dramatically but as a hub of activities and accommodations, Banff is huge. The question arises then – based on budget, location, reputation and specials, where should one stay when they come to this gorgeous National Park?

If you don't fancy sleeping outside in Banff National Park, the Homestead Inn is a superb option.

Well the Homestead Inn is one good option. Located right across the road from the Banff Park Lodge, it offers a more intimate and relaxed setting. It has 27 spacious guest rooms located on 3 floors with lots of parking including a nearby heated underground car park. The first thing that grabs you about the Homestead is the greenery that surrounds it. There is an abundance of green space and mature trees like you might expect to see by a house in the Lord of the Rings…but slightly bigger.

Each room contains a Queen bed or 2 double beds and wireless internet is available throughout the whole hotel so you can read certain Banff Insider’s informative and hilarious blogs from the comfort of your own room. If you can throw a stone a decent distance, it is within a stone’s throw of all Banff’s activities, restaurants, pubs and shops.

217 Lynx Street

1-403-762-4471

Renting Skis and Snowboards in Banff, Alberta

Renting Skis and Snowboards in Banff, Alberta

Banff National Park, Alberta

Spring is officially here. The days are stretching longer every evening and shorts are beginning to make an appearance on formerly thermalled legs. It is already possible to tackle some of the easier hikes without spikes. However, despite all of this, there is still some great skiing and snowboarding to be had. The Lake Louise ski area for example still has some superb snow and there is no better feeling than donning the sunglasses wearing only a hoody and storming down the slopes. So, if you are coming up to Banff or Lake Louise for a ski week, where to rent all the equipment?

Banff is full of shops that rent out gear for skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing and hiking.

As I have been too lazy to buy my own skis all season, I have pretty much rented in every single shop there is in town. I have cut the options down to the two best taking price, quality and friendliness of staff into account.

ShowCase – Cascade Mall

The staff in here is one of the main reasons I keep coming back. They actually care that you have the right fitting boots, skis and boards. They want you to have a good time out on the slopes even if they are bitter that they are working during a big dump of snow. Better again; their prices are cheap compared to the competition with full packages for as little as $25 a day.

Abominable Sports – 229 Banff Avenue

Second prize goes to Abominable Sports. Again the staff is super friendly and they have a very comprehensive ski and snowboard rental selection to choose from. Though a little more on the pricey side of things, there are some great deals to be found in here. Now all that’s left to do is book Banff Accommodation and start skiing!

More on Ski Rentals

St. Patrick’s Day in St. James’ Gate, Banff

St. Patrick’s Day in St. James’ Gate, Banff

Banff National Park, Alberta

Once upon a time a Welsh man with a funny hat went to Ireland and got rid of a bunch of snakes which never existed. Since that day, every year the world goes green (not environmentally) on March 17th and drinks until it is no longer possible to drink. Banff is no exception. The towns of the Rockies and especially Banff have a reputation as places that have a great nightlife. St. Patrick’s Day didn’t disappoint. The whole town donned something green and headed to a bar to celebrate to the sound of fiddles. Unsurprisingly, the only Irish bar in town – St. James’ Gate was the focal point for celebrations.

Banff goes green every St. Patrick's Day!

The St. James’ Gate was brought brick by brick from good old Ireland and you can actually tell. It has quite an authentic feel and the Guinness is far from the worst I have had the pleasure to taste. The Gate, as it is known locally, is always packed on big days. Christmas Day, Australia Day and St. Patrick’s Day were all huge days in this big pub. It’s the perfect location if you wanted to have a company celebration or even a very casual après wedding celebration. The food is excellent and there are plenty of seats and tables.

There was a great live band that kept the crowd dancing until we were literally pushed out the door at the end back into the cool spring air of Banff. For atmosphere in great surroundings, good food and a great pint – St. James’ Gate in Banff is one of the best options around.

207 Wolf Street

Banff, AB

(403) 762-9355

Things to do in Banff – the Banff Gondola

Things to do in Banff – the Banff Gondola

Banff National Park, Alberta

Coming to a town like Banff is not the same as going to a big city. You don’t have to waste much time on transport and almost everything is walkable from your hotel. The sightseeing is generally all natural. It is not about architecture and thousand year old pavements. It is about wildlife, tall trees, surrounding mountains and drinking in as much beauty as possible while breathing in the freshest air in the world. One great way to this with a difference is the Banff Gondola.

You get some of the best sights of the Rockies from the Banff Gondola.

This is a “must do” while in Banff National Park. You can walk to the top of Sulphur Mountain to see these views but the Gondola is a really fun and unique way of seeing the Rockies comfortably from a hundred different viewpoints. At the top, you can jump out and treat yourself to a coffee before going out onto the roof where there are 360 degree views and a viewing platform. You will see a bird’s eye view of Banff town, the Fairmont Banff Springs and golf course. You will see miles of trees standing to attention of the slopes of Sulphur. There are signs at the top that tell you exactly how far away most major cities in the world are from where you are standing and on a clear day you really believe you could see them!

The ride itself takes eight minutes and takes you to the summit of Sulphur Mountain in a superb, fully-enclosed four passenger gondola. As you climb the 2,292 feet, the views just keep getting better. At the very top you will be standing at 7,486ft above sea level (depending on your height!). As far as Banff activities go, this really is a “must do”. Wait for a clear day and get the camera ready, the Canadian Rockies do not disappoint.

For more information – Phone: (403) 762-2523

The Banff - Jasper Photography Blog

The Banff - Jasper Photography Blog

Banff and Jasper photography tips, locations and stories from professional wildlife and nature photographer John E. Marriott.

Rockies Real Deals

Last Minute Specials

All the best travel deals, including deals on airfare, hotels, and tour deals in the Canadian Rockies and more.