First time to Banff? Wondering how to get yourself organized? Trying to find the right accommodations or choose the right activities? Well, you have come to the right place! Below is a virtual Banff townsite tour to integrate you as quickly as possible into the beauty of Banff.
Table of Contents
Banff Information Centre
224 Banff Ave.
The best place to start your tour of Banff Townsite is at the Information Centre at 224 Banff Ave. Parking is available at the side of the building and in the public lot next to the firehall off Beaver Street. Enter through the alley one half block east of the Banff Ave and Wolf Street corner.
Parks Canada, the Friends of Banff and the Banff Tourism Bureau operate the Information Centre and provide all the information you need to enjoy your visit to the town and park. The Friends of Banff also operate a gift shop and sell guidebooks and topographic maps. Information is also available through information kiosks inside and outside the building.
National Historic Site
93 Banff Ave.
Proceed south on Banff Ave. to just before the Bow River Bridge. If you are driving it is best to turn left on Buffalo Street and park in the public parking lot along Central Park. If you are looking for a good coffee try Jump Start on Buffalo Street near the Post Office.
Built in 1903, this is the oldest natural history museum in western Canada! It was rededicated in 1985 and declared a national historic site. It is now considered a “museum of a museum”. You will enjoy the beautiful “pagoda style” architecture and the handcrafted woodwork of this unique building. Norman Bethune Sanson was the museum curator for 34 years and collected specimens throughout western Canada. See the fantastic assortment of wildlife, minerals and other artifacts. Bill Peyto’s famous fossil fish is here! Sit and relax in the quiet and informal atmosphere of the museums reading room. A variety of contemporary literature will help you learn more about Banff’s natural and cultural heritage. There is also a hands on Discovery Room for children of all ages to explore…
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
111 Bear Street
From the Park Museum it is just a short walk to the Whyte Museum. The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies offers visitors to Banff an opportunity to experience and explore the rich cultural history of this area. Through dynamic fine art exhibits, historical displays, interpretive programs and historical tours, and the rich documentary resources of its Archives, the Museum celebrates the unique wilderness experience of the Canadian Rockies.
The Whyte Museum contains four art galleries, a heritage gallery dedicated to the human history of this area, and an archives research library. The four acre wooded grounds surrounding the Museum includes two historic log homes and four log cabins.
The four art galleries in the Museum exhibit works by local, regional, national and international artists on a regularly changing schedule. The fine art collection of the Whyte Museum was started by the Museum’s founders, Peter and Catharine Whyte. Since their initial donation, the collection has steadily grown through purchase and donation. All aspects of art in the mountains of western Canada are represented, from the early Canadian Pacific Railway artists through contemporary works by new Canadian artists.
The Heritage Collection’s strengths are in the recreational areas: skiing, climbing, hiking, photography, and other outdoor pursuits. The collection includes the two large, furnished historic homes and four log cabins situated on the Museum grounds. The houses were owned, and lived in, by Peter and Catharine Whyte and Philip and Pearl Moore.
The Archives places special emphasis on public access to its extensive collection of photographs, manuscripts, and unpublished papers. It houses the renowned Alpine Club of Canada library which contains a large collection of mountaineering and mountain exploration books, journals, and records from all over the world.
The Cave and Basin
National Historic Site
From Banff Ave. proceed south over the Bow River bridge and turn right onto Cave Ave. If you are walking or cycling there is a good trail that parallels the road. You may encounter some horses or elk on the trail. Remember both horses and elk have the right-of-way. The Cave and Basin is located at the end of Cave Ave. a couple of kilometres from the bridge.
The Cave and Basin was reopened in 1985 to commemorate the first 100 years of the national park system. You will learn the story of the discovery of the hot springs that led to the establishment, in 1885, of Canada’s first national reserve. You can walk into the cave that one of the first discoverers described as “like some fantastic dream from a tale of the Arabian nights”. You will also learn about national parks all across Canada and about the natural and cultural history of the area.
There are trails and boardwalks that will lead you into the forest and down to the marsh. Keep your eyes open along the trail to the marsh for Garter Snakes – the only snake in the Banff area. The marsh loop trail will take you down to the Bow River and back to the Cave and Basin. It is worth taking the time to explore.
Sulphur Mountain Gondola
From the Cave and Basin proceed back towards the Bow River bridge on Cave Ave. and proceed passed the bridge. Cave Ave. becomes Spray Ave. Turn right at the first light onto Mountain Boulevard and continue up Mountain passed the Rimrock Hotel. Turn left into the Sulphur Mountain Gondola parking lot.
To get an “eagle’s eye view” of Banff and area take the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. At the top look for bighorn sheep. Don’t forget your camera and film! The views from Sulphur Mountain are spectacular. Be sure to take some warm clothes as mountain weather may change abruptly and the winds can be strong at the top. From the observation deck of the restaurant you can see (on a clear day) a fantastic panorama of the mountains in the Banff vicinity. Information panels on the deck will help you identify various peaks and mountain ranges. There is a boardwalk and trail out to the old cosmic ray station and Norman Sanson’s old weather observatory. Remember that you are in a national park – please do not feed the wildlife.
The Upper Hot Springs
At the end of Mountain Ave.
The Upper Hot Springs is the place to come and soak in hot mineral water. The hot pools were renovated and improved in the Winter and Spring of 1996. A children’s wading pool is now available. Water temperature varies year round from 36 to 42 degrees C. It is usually warmest in winter when outside temperatures dip to -10 to -40.
The view from the pool deck overlooking Mt. Rundle and the Spray and Bow Valleys is superb. Spa and massage services are also available. Towels, swim suits and lockers are available in addition to the entrance fee. A gift shop and cafeteria operate from within the main building. The cafeteria on the second floor offers a great deal on a mozza burger – and it is really good! Be sure to try their cinnamon buns, too.
From the Bow River bridge continue east on Spray Ave. and turn left onto Rundle Ave. Proceed down Rundle and turn left into the Bow falls parking lot.
The rapids and falls of this stretch of the Bow River attest to the incredible erosive force of water. To the north, the Bow River has cut a gap through solid limestone, dolomite and shale sedimentary rocks between Tunnel and Rundle mountains. The existing falls are the remnant of what probably was a much larger and more impressive cascade of water. Although relatively quiet in the winter months, the falls roar with the coming of Spring as freshly melted snow and rain water pours over the falls.
Banff Springs Hotel
At the end of Spray Avenue
The Banff Springs Hotel offers you an opportunity to experience the elegance and grandeur of the Victorian era. This world class hotel features convention facilities, spa, gourmet restaurants, bars, shops and a golf course. Relax in replica period furniture and gaze at the spectacular view of the Bow Valley. Shop for souvenirs, enjoy a cappuccino or a meal in one of the many restaurants.