Banff is one of the world's great ski resorts, but you don't have to like skiing to have a wonderful time here with your kids. This is a picture-postcard town, with elk roaming the main street and log buildings contrasting quite nicely with some spectacularly elegant spots. In summer this Banff has wonderful hikes and bike riding too.
Banff Springs Hotel - Built as part of the Canadian Pacific railways spectacular chain of chateau-style grand hotels, kids will love the "medieval" corridors, fairy-tale turrets, tapestries and mysterious chests around every turn. Tip: In the main lobby you'll see pricey jewelry shops, but hidden away in the basement are a cluster of shops better suited to small pockets - polished stones, local crafts and books.
Ride up to the sky
-This is one gondola you'll want to take, it's a knockout view from the platform at the top. The mountains seem much grander, the sky seems endless. Best time to go is sunset for a one-of-a-kind experience. Click here for the Banff Sulpher Mountain Gondola
Soak in the springs - Banff was originally made famous as a health spa, complete with natural "healing hot springs." There are lots of ways to have the experience. Most economical: in-town the Banff UpperHot Springs Pool and outside town the Radium Hot Springs both offer family passes to enjoy 105/40 degree hot outdoor pool and steam rooms.
Rent a bike - There are several places in town where you can rent bikes, helmets, trailers (traffic is slow here, so no worries) or ask for a biking map at the rental shop and head out along the Spray River, cruise Lake Minnewanka, or Sundance Canyon. If you're feeling really adventurous and have the time, there are a few bike tours available for longer, guided trips.
Walks and hikes - Stop by the Banff Information Centre and sign up for one of the "Friends of Banff" guided walks. Volunteers give various free walking tours of the area (both town walks and nature hikes). You'll get all the local lore on both the history and the wildlife in the Bow Valley (and the chance to ask a local for some insider tips.)
If you want to hike on your own, at the Centre, ask for the "Day Hikes in Banff National Park" brochure for info on marked trails. There are lots to chose from - some short and easy, some quite challenging, a few even have interpretive signs about local plants and animals. A short hike from town will take you past dramatic Bow Falls, and along the scenic Bow River on easy-to-follow trails.
Horseback riding - Half a dozen outfits in the Banff area have horses you can ride for an hour or spend a week riding and camping in the mountains. Combine camping, fishing, hiking with horses to make it just right for your family.
You don't even have to saddle up to enjoy the ranches here - check out local barn dances complete with local bands and BBQ! Click here for the biggest outfit in town: Horseback
Take a carriage ride - If you're not the saddle and stirrup type, try cruising around the countryside behind a two-horsepower "engine." Check local sites for the picture-book sled ride in the snow or a more rowdy hay-ride any time of year.
Start at the Banff Park Museum
, oldest natural history museum in Canada (the building itself is a National Historic Site), and its display of local animals.
At the Cave & Basin National Historic Site
you squeeze through a tunnel to "discover" the cave where the hot springs were first seen by pioneers. Videos and exhibits tell the story, then walk along the boardwalk above the Centre to the Marsh Trail, with wild vegetation warmed by the hot springs.
Check out the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum
display of Stoney, Blackfoot, Blood, Sarcee, and Peigan tribes peoples with dioramas of both First Nations and "pioneer" life styles.
Head for the Natural History Museum
for the geological history of Banff with its displays of gemstones and fossils (oh - and a model of Sasquatch: the Bigfoot of local legend).
Let it snow - Banff is a world-class ski resort, and the wintertime options are endless: down hill, cross country, snowshoe, toboggans, whatever you like, you can do it here in spectacular scenery
- You can virtually ski in town at Norquay with it's great runs and beautiful lodge, then there's the big one - Sunshine just north of Banff is state-of-the-art, huge, the fastest lifts, stunning runs. Try the smaller Nakiska and Fortress Mountain about 45 minutes south of Banff if inexpensive and low key is your choice. Click here
for details on lift tickets, etc.
- Take horse drawn family sleigh rides across the meadows in Banff. Sleigh rides are December to April.
- Go sledding or tobogganing on Spray Meadows Hill (Banff Springs Hotel) or Casacade Ponds (good for little kids). Pick up inexpensive sleds in town.
- Experience the snowy wilderness on a dog sled! Two hour rides through the forest are perfect for kids, offered by Howling Dogs
Fun food -
Like most international ski resorts, Banff offers lots of choices: Tex-Mex, sushi, BBQ, but for something uniquely Banff, try buffalo, venison, or rattlesnake fondue, or maple sugar candy and cookies.
The town is a wonderful place to stroll, window shop and pick up treasures. Explore little passages off main streets that may lead to home-made sweets shops or artisan displays.