Traveler: Danielle Gervalis and Mike Ramsden
When: September 2017
Overall Experience: In the previous post on Banff National Park, we talked about the natural beauty, the incredible hikes and pristine outdoor environment. In this post, we’ll talk about downtown Banff, where to stay, how to get around and most importantly where you can find great food!
Getting there and around:
Banff is located an easy one and a half hour drive from the Calgary International Airport (YYC). We rented a regular sedan via Costco Travel for $125 for four days. Be prepared to wait in line for your rental car and expect to wait even longer if you reserved an SUV. Fortunately, we packed lite and were able to get a sweet upgrade to a Mustang Convertible. It was incredibly warm during our travels to Banff so we had a ball driving around with the top down.
However, if you don’t want to rent a car, Banff National Park can be navigated via shuttle, public transportation, or site seeing tours. There are a variety of companies you can check out to get a ride from the airport. Once you get to town, parking is free and there is excellent public transportation (ROAM buses) where you can get a day pass for $5. The downtown area is off the charts on the walkability scale, everything you could need is within a few blocks. If you are walking around, make sure to pay attention to the pedestrian signs. We noticed that no one jay walks here. Literally everyone waits at the corner for the traffic signal before the cross the street.
The downtown area is quaint and well maintained, filled with both modern, well-known stores, as well as local shops. There’s a free Visitors Center that is worth checking out as it has clean bathrooms, water fountains, tons of informational brochures and a small gift shop. There are countless restaurants, bars and coffee shops for all budgets and cuisines. Also, you can stop by the local grocery store, the IGA, to pick up snacks for your hiking adventures.
Normally, it’s about $10 per day per adult for park passes. However, in 2017 Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary so admission fees were waived. This was an incredible money saver, so thank you Canada! There are a variety of fees for permits for camping hook ups, fishing and back country camping. You can get the full listing here.
We stayed at the Fox Hotel and Suites on Banff Avenue, which is a charming hotel with a mountain lodge feel just a short walk from downtown. The hotel itself is great and plays up the adorable fox theme! They offer free garage parking, free ROAM passes and breakfast buffet, which is clutch when you are waking up with the sun and just want to grab a quick piece of toast and a hard-boiled egg.
One of my favorite parts of the Fox Hotel was their luxurious grotto hot tub. It’s huge with an open air sky light and is the perfect way to end a long day of hiking. The rooms themselves varied. The suites are spacious and have refrigerators and microwaves, but the non-suites can be tight on space and do not have those kitchenette essentials, so it may be uncomfortable for more than two people. All in all, we had a pleasant, comfortable stay and were thrilled with the proximity to the main strip in Banff.
Food and Drink
A casual gourmet burger joint with local beers and boozy milkshakes in downtown Banff, this place hits the spot! It’s a friendly atmosphere with TVs playing a variety of sporting events and serving big portions. I had the Rocky Mountain Burger which was an elk patty with blueberry chutney, sounds odd but it really works. Best of all, they serve the scrumptious version of the world-renowned Canadian dish, poutine, of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. YUM!
This restaurant has a bustling casual pizzeria downstairs and a fancier dining area upstairs, with a lovely outdoor patio. We ate at the upstairs restaurant for dinner and were blown away by the excellent service and all of the tasty dishes! The menu features a map of the locally sourced food and beverages. We sampled some local brews and wine over the delicious cast iron bread for the table. As you can see below, we tried the Bison Carpaccio appetizer, which is perfect for sharing, the rainbow trout and the short ribs. It was all done to perfection, our plates were licked clean. Everything on the menu is delectable, you will love your dinner!
Just walking into this well-known, exquisite restaurant is a treat! The interior is decorated in ultra Canadian outdoors, it overlooks the busiest intersection in town and it has views of the Rocky Mountains, it’s delightful. The food surpasses the decor! The menu has a variety of options and highlights a few of their signature dishes. I highly recommend the scallops and porkbelly appetizer and the salmon and prawns. The mustard syrup topping this dish was delectable. You can’t go wrong having a meal here.
A local favorite recommended by quite a few people, Melissa’s is a go to breakfast place. It’s been around since 1930 when it was built as an addition to the adjacent Homestead Inn. Architecturally, it’s a massive log cabin with a Tudor exterior. You can’t miss it! Obviously, you aren’t here just for the aesthetic, you came for the food! Don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed. The sweet apple pancakes with authentic maple syrup are incredible and the eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon are also something to celebrate. Starting a day of hiking in the Rockies with breakfast at Melissa’s is a must when you are in Banff!
Banff Ave Brewing
While it can be a little tricky trying to find the entrance (it’s on the second floor of what looks like a strip mall on the main street), once you do you should settle in for a few good beers! The brewing co has a balcony overlooking the town and has outdoor heat lamps so you can be cozy all winter long! The menu has bar food staples, with the star being the poutine! Finally, they have a huge selection of board games to keep you entertained as you watch the sun go down and sip on your local beer.
Park Distillery + Restaurant
Park is a swanky, ultra cool distillery in downtown Banff. It pays homage to its rustic heritage in how it makes its spirits, “Glacier to Glass” and shares them with Banff themed cocktails. We tried the Beehive and the Cascade and give them both a thumbs up! It’s not only a distillery, but also a bar, full restaurant and liquor store. They make vodka, gin, rye and my personal favorite, a Park Maple Rye, with excellent retro scenic labels on the bottles. You can join a tour every day at 3:30pm (recommend making a reservation) and find your favorite blend to bring home.
Good Earth Coffeehouse
Banff is not lacking in hip coffee shops, but Good Earth Coffee was my favorite. A chain throughout Canada, this place has french press coffee, free wifi, and outdoor seating where you can enjoy the views around town while sipping your fresh bean brew!
In the Park:
Tucked within the Lake Louise Inn, this large restaurant is a great stop for a sit down lunch in the village between hikes. While the menu itself is limited, they are experts at what they have available. The fish and chips were out of this world and the spinach salad was incredibly fresh. The prices are reasonable and the food was delicious, what’s not to like?
Johnston Canyon Bistro
After you’re done hiking to the Upper and Lower Falls, then head to the Bistro for a well-earned sandwich and a local beer! Their menu is classic lunch fare and they have a large outdoor patio which they reserve only for those eating at the restaurant. If you don’t feel like hauling your lunch around all day, this place is excellent. I had the Ahi Tuna Club Sandwich and was impressed with how tasty it was! Additionally the salad it came with must have had the vegetables just picked, everything was ridiculously crisp and fresh.
Alpine Social at the Fairmount Chateau, Lake Louise
We had to stop in this bar for a cocktail. The ostentatious hotel calls to you once you are done with the mountain! It is a stunning building and it will be in the background of most of your Lake Louise photos, so you might as well see what all the fuss is about. While it is a fancy locale, they are used to dusty hikers coming in for a drink and a snack so don’t be shy about moseying up to the bar. However, it will cost you! Cocktails run about $16 so make sure you pick something you like, then enjoy and recharge!
One last hike…
While the name can be a little misleading, (there is no tunnel) this hike offers sprawling views of the town and Bow River. The hike starts from St. Julien Rd in downtown and leads to a well-marked forested trail. There are plenty of switchbacks as you hike up the steep mountain trail. There isn’t a peak per se, but there will be two bright red Adirondack chairs waiting for you when you get to the wide, rocky summit area. It’s a great last day hike as it gives you a different perspective of the beautiful mountain town. Goodbye Banff, thanks for the memories!
Good to Know:
- I can not express how friendly and generous all the people of Banff were to us. All of the waitstaff we met were very kind and excited to talk to us about their favorite trails and watering holes. THANK YOU! Also funny to note, quite a few told a similar life story “I came here 20 years ago to ski and just never left.” So if you visit you might become the newest citizen of Banff!
- Looking for a parking spot? Check banffparking.ca
- Credit Cards are accepted pretty much everywhere, no need to exchange a lot of currency.