It is a rare thing to have a town in the center of a national park, but such is the case for Banff. And for being such a small town it is packed with things to do and sites of interest to visit. We spent most of a day walking through town and seeing what makes it such a unique place to be.
The beginning and end to any visit to Banff is the train station. This train station is the meeting place for any tour of the national park and the main point for public transportation. It is also the only place that offers free parking for visitors and then from there you can walk through the rest of town.
This train station still welcomes trains running on the Royal Canadian Pacific Rail and before that the Rocky Mountaineer Rail. And in 1991 it joined the list of Heritage Railway Stations for the important part it has played in bringing visitors to experience Banff National Park- the first of Canada’s national parks.
While the building has been updated, they still have all the original wooden train seats. In the winter they offer ice skating right outside the front entrance.
Banff is a very walkable city with everything close to each other and an array of beautiful building to see along the way. The city is full of château style buildings that seem perfectly fitting with the mountains surrounding it.
Because the city is within the national park, there are specific requirements that all buildings must adhere to such as restrictions of height, style, and services offered. In order to live there you must complete paperwork specifying that you have a need to reside in the city. You can’t have a vacation home or rental home here but you must actually live and work here and have been approved by the committee that you have a need to reside here.
The downtown area is full of boutique shops and restaurants and it is fun to just walk through and see what is there. In the winter they have chairs around fires throughout the city with stacks of logs that anyone can use to stoke the fire.
Banff Park Museum National Historic Site
Banff has two national historic sites within the city. The first is the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site right in the center of downtown. This museum is one of the oldest natural history museums in Canada. The museum is full of nearly 5,000 biological and zoological specimens that have been found within the park.
The museum was built in 1903 and is the oldest surviving federal building in all of Canada’s national parks. It is open on a limited basis of weekends and holidays only. So if you want to visit, be sure to plan ahead.
By the Bow River
Through Banff flows the Bow River and it provides a lovely place to walk. With multiple pedestrian bridges that cross the water and walking paths on both sides of the water, it is a place to recharge from the busy of the day.
The most beautiful building in the city is the Canada Place that sits at the top of the hill. This impressive building is home to the park administration offices. The gardens behind it are open to the public and in the spring and summer are full of beautiful colors and variety of flowers.
Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum
Close to the Canada Place is the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum which gives an understanding of the First Nation tribes that lived in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plain areas. This museum looks at the history of the people and the influences of the changing times.
With a large display of art, clothing, and other articles visitors come to really understand the people who first called this area home. According to the museum, it is a “cultural display that celebrates the richness, diversity, continuity and, above all, the resilience of the native peoples of this area”.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
The other historic site is the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. In 1883 three railway workers came upon a hot spring here and saw an opportunity to bring people to the area. They opened a hotel so people could come and soak in the thermal waters. This was the first of a series of events that led this area becoming Canada’s first national park.
We walked along the boardwalk that surround the hot springs with the smell of Sulphur in the air. This makes up the basin of the name of the site. Below visitors can go into the cave to see the springs at its source, however this part is closed off in the winter.
These days, visitors can enjoy the warm water of the pool next to the site. From the visitor center at the bottom of the hill you first come to the swimming area. You have to walk up the stairs on the outside of the pool to get to the historic site itself. The pool is outdoors and the lovely brick building surrounding it has terraces that look out to the mountains as well as down to the swimming area.
But my favorite part of visiting this site was finally getting to see the Canada Parks red chairs. My blogging friend The Wandering Canadians have a series of posts highlighting the national parks of Canada and have featured these red chairs set out by view points of the parks. After seeing their beautiful pictures including the red chairs, I was so excited to see them for myself.
There are over 200 red chairs throughout the parks. Some are easy to find while others require a little more searching. But all of the locations are listed at Parks Canada Red Chairs.
After a day exploring the town of Banff, we stopped for dinner at The Maple Leaf in downtown. The food was excellent and it was a perfect ending to the day. We fell in love with this town and definitely will be making plans to come back here.
If you enjoyed this tour of Banff, then you may be interested in these other cities:
Thanks for coming along to the town of Banff in Banff National Park. May you enjoy a moment of peace from the comfort of a red chair.