There is so much to see in Banff National Park, it can get overwhelming!
Each hiking spot, each day trip seems more interesting and beautiful than the next, and there are endless options.
For our trip to Banff National Park, Chris and I had a lot of trouble deciding how to narrow it all down.
But having returned from our trip, I’m sure of one thing: a day spent in the town of Banff is very worthwhile!
Here are the four top sites I’d recommend, in terms of where to go and what to see, for one day in the town of Banff:
1.) Banff Avenue
The downtown shopping district of Banff, located along Banff Avenue, has got to be one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever seen.
The shops and restaurants lining the main road were lovely.
Many were old-World Swiss chalet style, built of natural rock, stone, and wood.
The streets were dotted with green pines and flowering plants, and the avenue seemed to lead right into the jagged, rocky peaks of Mt. Rundle and Mt. Cascade.
Chris and I enjoyed wandering the shops, looking for mementos of our trip and checking out the restaurants. It was a nice change of pace from all of the hiking and outdoor activity!
2.) Cascade Gardens
Cascade Gardens seems to be a lesser-known spot, and the gardens are quite small. Chris and I almost missed the sign for this public garden, and we were the only visitors when we stopped by.
We found it at the southern end of Banff Avenue. The Cascade Gardens were just past the bridge over Bow River (which I snapped a photo of above, just another stunningly beautiful spot in the town of Banff!)
But here’s why I mention this beautiful garden: it’s all about the photographs!
If you want just one over-the-top beautiful photograph of your time in Banff, this is your dream location!
There were lots of stunningly beautiful panoramas to capture the vivid flowers, all with the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies in the background. Since I love taking photographs, this little garden was one of my favorite “hidden gems” of our entire trip to Canada!
3.) Fairmont Banff Springs
Only a 10-minute drive from Banff Avenue, the Fairmont Banff Springs was really something worth seeing.
This luxury hotel, opened in the late 1800’s, looked to me like an old-world castle amidst endless green trees, jagged mountain peaks, and turquoise glacial rapids.
It looked absolutely stunning from Surprise Corner, a lookout that’s just a 5-minute drive from the hotel (where I captured the shot above).
The vista from Surprise Corner included glacial rapids rushing along jagged rocks, mountain peaks stretching toward the sky, and a clear, unobstructed view of Banff Springs. For me, it was a fascinating view. Because, while I admired that the Fairmont Banff Springs was stunningly immense and castle-like, still it was dwarfed by Mother Nature here, and endless miles of towering green trees.
And the hotel and grounds were gorgeous and absolutely memorable too.
I loved strolling through the palatial lobby.
And then wandering the back patios (pictured above) to take in jaw-dropping views over the mountains and Spray River valley.
Chris and I stayed at Banff Springs for a few nights. Our room offered the same view as the back patio, looking out over Spray River valley.
The photo above shows the view at sunrise, which happened at about 7am during our stay in September.
I was blown away by the stunning natural beauty of this area. Mother Nature really outdid herself here!
From the hotel, Chris and I did the short walk down the well-marked trails to check out Spray River valley, which again, offered the most picturesque views of the crystal glacial waterways and snow-capped mountain peaks.
During warm months, this is a great spot for a picnic lunch.
4.) Banff Gondola
Banff Gondola was just a 10 minute drive from Banff Avenue and, for Chris and I, it was so worth a visit.
First, we rode the gondola up to the very summit of Sulpher Mountain. The ride was a bit of a heart-pounding experience. We watched from floor-to-ceiling, 360 degree windows as we soared higher and higher above the treetops – rocking with the wind on cable wires – to an elevation of about 7,500 feet!
Once we reached the peak, there was a “mountain boardwalk” to stroll along, offering sweeping views of the Canadian Rockies from every direction.
The weather was chilly at that elevation, and I was happy to have a hat, scarf, fleece jacket, and windbreaker. We visited Banff in September and there was already a dusting of snow on the boardwalk!
The views were spectacular. It was amazing to see the entire town of Banff reduced to something that looked like a child’s miniature village from that towering vantage point above it all!
There was also an indoor facility at the summit, offering a short film, some interactive displays, and a quick service cafe.
Although expensive, there was also a formal dining room, Sky Bistro, with sunset dinner reservations and panoramic views.