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Exploring the Spooky Side of Banff This Halloween

by Melinda Falgoust

Banff National Park enjoys a reputation for being one of the most spectacularly scenic vacation destinations in the Canadian Rockies—but it also has a spooky side. If you plan on visiting Banff this Halloween season and want to explore some of the more mysterious attractions in the area, we’ve gathered a host of ghoulies, ghost towns, and creepy Canadian cryptids to tickle your fancy. Take a hike through an abandoned ghost town. Find out what really happened in Room 837 at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Carve a jack-o-lantern and take part in the Great Pumpkin Walk and Community Fire Event. From tiny tots to thrill-seekers, the spooky side of Banff has plenty to make you shiver and smile this Halloween!

The Curse of Bankhead Ghost Town

Looking for a kid-friendly, but slightly spooky activity to do with the family in Banff this Halloween season? How about an interpretive hike through a historic ghost town that may, or may not, harbor a curse? Look no further than Bankhead Ghost Town.


The town of Bankhead began when the Canadian Pacific Railway established the Bankhead Mine in the early 1900s. The town grew quickly with stores, a school, and around a hundred homesteads joining the mining facilities already on site. Labor disputes eventually closed down mining operations and, consequently, the townsfolk drifted away leaving many buildings and structures behind—a ghost town.

In its heyday, Bankhead was a melting pot of cultures from across the globe. British, Italian, Russian, Czech, American, Polish, Chinese, and more. Though varied, many of these cultures shared remarkably similar beliefs—like curses.

The Curse

When Bankhead still boomed, the mine churned out close to 200,000 tons of coal per year. Miners toiled hard, often digging tunnels and shafts beneath the town—difficult and dangerous work that sometimes resulted in fatalities. But before Bankhead established a cemetery of its own, any poor departed souls had to be buried in Banff. Eventually, Bankhead got its own burial ground. There was only one problem—no one wanted to be buried there because of a curse.   

Several of the cultures that called Bankhead home held a shared belief that the first person interred in a new cemetery invited a curse upon their entire family. They believed they would unwillingly follow the deceased and soon be buried alongside them.

If one curse wasn’t enough for the people of Bankhead, another tall tale circles the ghost town. One of the town’s resident’s, Yee Chow, met his end in a deadly avalanche while looking for herbs on the hillside. However, instead of blaming nature, the townsfolk chose to suspect local merchant Sam Sing, who had recently fought with Chow, and ran him out of town. Shortly after, the town began to mysteriously fold, leading residents to believe Sing had cursed the town.

Bankside Hike

Difficulty: Easy

Length: 0.96km/0.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 22.86 meters/75 feet

Duration: 16 minutes

The spirits of Bankhead are alive and well in the structures and rail cars its inhabitants left behind. You can feel the spooky vibe and immerse yourself in the history of the town on the Bankside Interpretive Hike. 

Getting There

Bankhead lies less than fifteen minutes from Banff townsite. Starting from Bear Street, continue through to Norquay Road and take the ramp onto Trans Canada Hwy/Hwy 1E toward Calgary. In just over two miles, take the Banff Avenue exit and turn left. Follow signage for the Minnewanka Loop. Follow the road for two miles to Bankhead Ghost Town. Free parking is available in a mid-sized lot, but this family-friendly attraction is popular, especially on holidays and weekends. To ensure you get a spot, plan ahead and arrive early.

The Enchanted Hoodoos of Drumheller Valley

Banff enjoys a reputation for scenic vistas, jewel-toned lakes, and…wizards? No one can argue that Banff National Park is an enchanting place, but some Canadian legends suggest there may be more to the magic, especially in Drumheller Valley

Drumheller Valley lies about 2.5 hours to the east of Banff. There you will find oddly shaped rock formations rising nearly twenty feet into the air. Composed of soft sandstone and often capped by harder rock, some cultures believe there’s more to these hoodoos than meets the eye.

The Blackfoot and Cree believe these massive rock formations are guardians of the land, petrified giants who come alive to hurl giant stones at trespassers. The Paiute believe the hoodoos were once people, turned to rock as punishment for wrongdoings. 

More Canadian legends claim the tall stones have a more benevolent purpose. Over the years, lost travelers have spun tales of witnessing these “fairy chimneys” transform into helpful wizards, kindly pointing out the proper path.

Drumheller Hoodoos Hike

Difficulty: Easy

Length: 16km/0.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 4.87 meters/16 feet

Duration: 2 minutes

If you want to get up close and personal with the Enchanted Hoodoos of Drumheller Valley, consider the brief, but memorable, Drumheller Hoodoos Hike. Open year-round, this is a very popular trail.

Getting There

You don’t need a wizard to find your way to the Drumheller Hoodoos Hike. Just take the ramp onto Trans Canada Hwy/Hwy 1 E toward Calgary. Take Exit 177 toward Stoney Trail then Exit 60 onto Hwy 2/Queen Elizabeth II Hwy. Look for Exit 275 onto Hwy 566 W until you reach Badlands Trail where you’ll turn left. Follow through to 5 St E, then Riverside Dr E. 

Turn left onto 3 Ave E to Drumheller Hoodoos. Still not had your fill of spooky sights? Well, wait until you visit Banff’s “boo-tiful” haunted hotel, the Fairmont Banff Springs. 

A Historic Haunted Hotel: The Fairmont Banff Springs

When the Canadian Pacific Railroad built the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in 1888, it quickly became known as “finest hotel on the North American continent.” Its steep, pointed dormers resembled turrets. Dappled sunshine streaming into the pine and fir lobby through the glass octagonal rotunda. It included a plunge pool fed with the rejuvenating spring waters from nearby Sulphur Mountain. But even as the hotel earned the nickname “the Castle of the Rockies,” it also earned its fair share of spooky stories over the years. When questioned, most staff members won’t acknowledge their alleged ghostly guests, dismissing them as nothing more than rumor and gossip. But even the best fiction contains an element of fact. One such story is that of the Ghost Bride. 

The Bride

Perhaps the most infamous of the Fairmont Banff Springs haunted hosts is that of the Ghost Bride. The story goes that sometimes in the 1920s, a beautiful young bride met her tragic end when flickering sconces caught her wedding veil alight as she descended the hotel’s marble stairs. Her resulting panic caused a deadly fall. While the hotel demolished the staircase, leaving its rod iron railings to rust in the elements behind the hotel, subsequent visitors claim to have seen the bride’s spectre wisping through the halls and dancing in the ballroom.

While many couples celebrated their nuptials and honeymoons at the Fairmont Banff Springs, no corroborating record has been found regarding this tragic tale, though there are accounts of a young woman falling down stairs elsewhere in Banff. Some think the story derives from a tall tale spun by a national parks tour guide dubbed “Nifty,” who created the yarn to entertain visitors to the park. Believe what you will, but in 2018, the railing from the fated staircase were donated to the Royal Alberta Museum.

Casper, the Friendly Bellman?

The Ghost Bride does not inhabit the mythology of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel alone. Some are even downright friendly! While not named Casper, the ghost of Sam McCauley purportedly haunts the hotel as well, and is rumored to frequently assist visitors and staff of the hotel. 

Sam McCauley worked at the Fairmont Banff Springs in the position of head bellman for nearly two decades. Always quick with a smile and a helping hand, it appears Sam has continued his friendly service beyond his passing in 1975. A popular rendition of this helpful haunt involves a duo of older adult women who inadvertently got locked out of their room. They rang the front desk for assistance, but nearly a quarter of an hour passed before a staff member could attend to their needs. Much to the surprise of the staff member, when he arrived, the women had already gained access to their room—helped, it seems, by a cheerful older man in a checked jacket—Sam McCauley’s uniform du jour. But not all of the Fairmont’s spooks are as dapper and chipper as the spirited Sam. 

Room 873

“Heeeeeeerrre’s Johnny!” Fans of Kubrick’s rendition of Stephen King’s horror classic will undoubtedly recognize the blood-chilling line from The Shining. And while Oregon’s Timberline Lodge stood in for the exterior shots of the movie’s Overlook Lodge, the Fairmont Banff Springs has its own version of Room 217—Room 873.

Visitors searching for Room 873 at the Fairmont Banff Springs will search in vain. The room simply does not exist—even though every other floor in the hotel has a room ending in 73. Curious visitors can stand in the stretch of hallway where it should be, but will only see a strange expanse of empty wall. So, what happened to Room 873? 

Most staff members are, at best, elusive when asked about the missing room. Still, rumors circulate about horrible happenings in Room 873. In the aftermath, guests supposedly reported hearing spectral screaming and scarlet handprints that cleaning staff could not eradicate. Some people believe the hotel boarded up the room. However, the hotel simply explains that the room was combined with another during renovations to create a larger suite. Still curious? You can hear more about it on the National Parks After Dark Podcast and make up your own mind.  

Less Spooky…More Spa

The Fairmont Banff Springs has much more to offer visitors than spooks and spectres, however. Visitors can explore the curated galleries and museums on-site, or enjoy a day of pampering and relaxation at the Fairmont Banff Springs Spa. If you choose to stay at the hotel, you can sign up for enriching cultural activities, starlit twilight walks led by informative guides, or panoramic natural views around a roaring campfire. Book any of these activities with the Fairmont Banff Springs.

Getting There

The Fairmont Banff Springs is located at 405 Spray Avenue, Banff. From Calgary Airport, take a left on Barlow Trail and another left on Airport Road. Take the ramp to Trans-Canada Highway/Hwy 1 to the Banff National Park entrance gates. You will need a Parks Pass to enter. You can purchase a pass for up to seven people in one vehicle for $145.25 CAD ($106.40 USD). Continue driving west toward the first Banff exit. Take the exit and turn left.

Canada’s Creepy Cryptid

Visitors to the Canadian Rockies expect to see snow-capped mountains, thundering waterfalls, and vast, slow-moving glaciers. But what about a merman?

The Myth

If you’re shopping for mementos of your Banff visit at the Banff Trading Post near the base of the Banff Avenue Bridge, you might see more than mukluks and moccasins. Secured in a glass case near the rear of the store, an odd, mummified creature resides, drawing curious stares from passersby—Banff’s own creepy cryptid—the infamous Merman.

The Merman supposedly rose up from the waters of Lake Superior in 1782. He was spotted by several travelers, including Venant St. Germain and a First Nations woman. When St. Germain raised his rifle toward the creature, the First Nations woman warned he was provoking the anger of the water god. And whether St. Germain intended any harm or not, the account of the incident, reported some years later in The Canadian Magazine and Literary Repository, details a violent and fierce storm that besieged the travelers for three days afterward. 

Some say Norman Luxton, the founder of the Banff Trading Post in 1903, created the story (and the Merman) as a curiosity to draw customers into his store. Fact or fiction, the odd-looking mummified merman, with its gray tufts of hair, prominent rib cage, and fish-like tail, still brings curious folks into the Trading Post 118 years later. 

Getting There

Want to muse upon the merman yourself? The Banff Trading Post can be found at 101 Cave Avenue in the heart of Banff. Don’t have a car? Don’t worry. ROAM Transit Route 3 has a stop nearby. The ROAM #3 operates year-round. Single-ride fares cost $6 CAD for adults and $3 Using the Token Transit app, at ROAM Customer Service at 224 Banff Ave, at a ticket vending machine located at Banff High School, Banff Elk West, Canmore Shoppers Drug Mart, the Canmore Benchlands Trail Overpass, Lake Louise Lakeshore, Banff Town Hall, Rundle Gift Shop, Canmore Civic Centre, Rusticana Grocery, and more.

You can also purchase tickets on the bus with both U.S and Canadian currency. No change is given, and the fare boxes do not accept pennies or bills over $20.  

The Sunken Town of Devil’s Lake

What ever happened to Minnewanka Landing? The thriving resort town was once the “pride of the Rockies.”  Now, it lies cold and ghostly beneath the placid waters of Lake Minnewanka or, as some came to call it, Devil’s Lake.

It was a dam, not a devil, that sank the popular resort destination in 1941. The Transalta dam sent the water level surging by nearly one hundred feet, completely flooding the valley and submerging the sidewalks, cabins, and wharfs of the much-visited resort. 

Now, you can only visit Minnewanka Landing via scuba diving. Certified divers can explore the remains of the resort beneath the surface, the cold, glacial waters preserving many interesting aspects of the town. One can almost imagine the ghostly inhabitants still gliding along the promenade.

There are sixteen total dive sites at Minnewanka where you can explore some ghosts of Canada’s past. October offers one of the best times to dive, just before winter’s freeze.  Depths at various sites reach around 18 meters (60 feet) at this time. Northwest Scuba in Edmonton offers equipment rental to certified divers. View the Parks Canada scuba diving page for more information on this eerie attraction.

Getting There

Lake Minnewanka lies approximately sixteen minutes northeast of Banff. You can get to Lake Minnewanka from Banff on the ROAM Transit #6 bus Single ride fares cost $2 CAD ($1.47 USD) for adults and $1 CAD ($.73 USD) for children and older adults.

The Mountain That Moves

The snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies may be one of the iconic sights of Banff National Park, but did you know that some of the mountains actually move? Don’t believe us? Well, neither did the unfortunate residents of the town of Frank. 

Built in the shadow of Turtle Mountain, inhabitants of the outskirts of town were completely buried within ninety seconds by eighty-two tons of limestone in the midst of night, April 29, 1903. Only a few survived, including fifteen-month-old Marion Leitch, later dubbed “Boulder Baby”, who was thrown from her home by the sheer force of air only to land half a mile away. 

Today, Frank still exists. However, the mountain can still move, so the southern portion is intentionally left vacant while the mountain is kept under careful watch of the Turtle Mountain Monitoring Project & Field Laboratory. 

Frank Slide Interpretive Center

For a great day trip from Banff,consider immersing yourself in the history of the area at the Frank Slide Interpretive Center. Watch engaging live shows, hear gripping tales, and interact with informative displays to really find out what happened the night of Canada’s worst rock slide on record. Admission is $15 CAD ($10.99 USD) for adults ages 18-64, $11 CAD ($8.06 USD) for adults 65 and over, $9 CAD ($6.59 USD) for youths ages 7-17, and children 0-6 are free. Family passes are also available (including two adults and up to six youths) for $40 CAD ($29.30 USD). The Center remains open from 10:AM-5:PM, seven days a week until October 9, 2023. From October 10, 2023-May 15, 2024, the Center will close on Mondays.

Frank Slide Hike

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 1.44 kilometers/.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 59.74 meters/196 feet

Duration: 29-30 minutes

Walk across history as this short, loop trail takes you through the broken trail of limestone that covered part of the town. The majority of the path is paved with benches scattered along the length. Dogs are welcome on the trail if leashed, but cannot enter the building of the Center unless they are registered service animals.

Getting There

The Frank Slide Interpretive Center is located approximately three hours from Banff. It’s a day trip excursion, but worth the visit. Start on Trans-Canada Hwy/Hwy 1 toward Calgary. Take Exit 161A onto Hwy 22. Turn left on 354 Ave W. Turn right on Government Road. In about eighty miles, turn right on Crowsnest Highway.

The Mythical Northern Lights

October begins the prime season to spot Canada’s famed Northern Lights. The dark skies above Banff National Park provide an excellent backdrop to view the dancing hues of blues, greens, and sometimes red. Visitors to the park have a variety of fantastic spots where you might see the lights. You can better your chances of seeing nature’s spectacular light show with some helpful aurora hints. While today’s science explains where the lights come from, ancient peoples had their own ideas.


The aurora borealis has rendered folks starstruck for ages. But for early civilizations, like the indigenous peoples of the northern hemisphere, it was more than just a beautiful light show. Many myths and legends have incorporated explanations of the borealis’ existence, appearing in the folklore of cultures like the Cree, the Algonquins, and even the Makah. The stories aren’t just limited to North America, however.

An Ancient Goddess

The aurora borealis and aurora australis are both generally better viewed from spots within the aurora oval. Throughout time, however, it has occasionally been spotted further afield than the traditional belt around the earth’s magnetic poles. Stories of the borealis are woven into the myths and legends of places as far from the poles as Greece and Rome! The name “aurora borealis” even finds its roots in the Greek language. The Greek word for sunrise is “aurora,’ and the Greek word for wind is “borealis.” Both Greek and Roman mythology connect the northern lights with the goddess Aurora and the dawn of a new day.

Lost Souls and Stickball

Closer to the poles, the Inuit believe the lights are caused by a ball game involving their ancestors and a walrus—though, depending on where you hear it, it’s either the ancestors playing stickball with a walrus skull, or the other way around! Other indigenous people believe the lights are caused by their ancestors as well, but with fewer skulls involved. The Cree people believe the northern lights are loved ones that have passed on but are trying to communicate with those they left behind. The Algonquin people hold fast to the belief the lights emanate from the fire of their creator, Nanahbozho. They take the light as a sign that he continues to watch over them. The Makah in Washington believe the lights to be from a fire as well, though in their folklore, blubber-boiling dwarves are responsible for the dancing lights across the night sky. 

The Bifrost or Bad Omen?

Norsemen explained the lights as everything from reflections off Valkyrie armor to the bifrost, though no one’s ever mentioned spotting Chris Hemsworth or Tom Hiddleston. It’s not all heroes and heaven. Some northern people, like the Finno-Ugric Sámi, viewed the appearance of the lights as a portent of evil—a bad omen made infinitely worse by daring to whistle, sing, or wave beneath them. Doing so invited the souls of the dead to spirit you away with them, or worse, hack off your head! Yikes! 

As you can see, over the years there have been as many explanations and beliefs about the northern lights as there are varied people. One thing has remained the same. The northern lights have always held the fascination of stargazers, no matter what spot on the globe they call home. 

Special Seasonal Events

The Great Pumpkin Walk

For a definitively family-oriented event, don’t miss the free Great Pumpkin Walk on Friday, October 27, 2023 at the Banff Recreation Grounds. Starting at 6:PM, grab a pumpkin to carve and return it to be lit along the flickering pumpkin path that stretches from Central Park to the Recreation Grounds at sunset. Then stay for the live music from great local bands and warm up by the community fires with some delicious hot chocolate.

Echoes of the Forest Halloween

Another wonderful family event takes place on Sunday, October 29, 2023. Starting at 1:PM at the Banff Recreation Grounds, sip on some cider and be regaled with tall tales and singalongs. Your little ones can also join in the Halloween games as well as make some great take-away crafts. This free event lasts until 4:PM. 

While you can always find something exciting and interesting to do in Banff National Park, if you’re visiting in the spooky season, you can certainly find something on this list to make your knees knock and your pulse pound just a little faster. With something for the young ones to those searching for something a little scarier, Banff is ready with a host of haunts, historic hikes, moving mountains, and creepy cryptids. 

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