The publishers of National Geographic Traveller magazine say that Banff in Canada is one of their 21 must-see places in 2017. This remote town was built around the thermal springs, discovered by railroad workers putting in the TransCanada line. Banff lies nine-hours drive to the west of Vancouver and is one of Canada’s most popular resorts.
“It’s like an island of beautiful wilderness in a world that is becoming busier and louder,” says Christie Pashby, a Banff resident who has written the Frommer’s Guide – Banff and the Canadian Rockies Day by Day. “Banff represents that kind of solitude and peace that you can only find in the mountains,” she says.
Christie believes that Banff’s popularity has grown because it’s now a four-seasons destination. “When you visit in September you can hike amongst the golden larch trees. You come in the spring for the run-off and the fly fishing and in the summer and autumn you can get out on the water.” Christie says Banff’s setting is stunning. “There’s not a more beautiful lake than Lake Louise, anywhere. It is really easy to find canoes to go out for a paddle or on the rivers if you’re more experienced at kayaking and canoeing.”
The area also offers excellent walking. “I think the main summer draw is hiking,” says Christie. “And I say that as somebody who has hiked all over the world. The hiking trails around Banff National Park are first class because of the effort the park makes to maintain them. There’s excellent signage and some of the trails are over 100 years old. They are well trodden but exceptionally beautiful.”
Of course Banff built its reputation on winter sports. “The winter is really great here because we have sunny skies. It’s notoriously cold in the Rockies but you can go out and play on fresh snow in sunshine here. In the west of Canada, the ski towns can get fogged in and have cloudy skies,” says Christie.
And locals certainly make use of that snow. “We ski a lot,” she says. “Alpine skiing, cross-country, backcountry ski tours and skating all the time. We don’t sit inside in the winter,” Christie laughs. “Snowshoeing is both fun and good exercise. It gives you a taste of adventure and it is not hard to do. Once you get comfortable moving around on your snowshoes the possibilities are endless. You can take your shoes and go exploring.”
So is it an energy-exerting form of hiking, I ask? “Yes,” says Christie. “If you’re not a skier you can snowshoe anywhere across the snow covered lake. A number of lodges have walking programs where you can take a gondola to the top of the hill and then use your snowshoes to hike down.”
“So how do you know that you’re walking in a safe area and you won’t stand on what looks like firm snow but end up falling down a crevice?” I asked in a very British health and safety-obsessed way. “First of all, most of the tours recommend that you use the gondola to go up and down. You snowshoe around the hill at the top. Most of the time you should go with a guide. If you have tried a few sessions with a guide and want to go out on your own then you should get information from Parks Canada on where is safe.” There’s year round wildlife to be enjoyed around Banff. “In the winter you’ll see elk and deer wandering around. In the summer you could see both black bears and grizzly bears.”
Après ski or hiking, Banff offers a range of food options that you might not expect given its isolated location. “In the town you’ll find superb restaurants,” says Christie. “Beef is good. Alpine food, like fondue, is also popular and there are many international menus including Korean.”
Banff is also a haven for cultural activities. “There’s so much to do here beside the outdoors,” says Christie. “Banff Centre is one of the world’s premier arts and culture destinations with live music, opera and ballet. There are constant concerts. You might find a reading from a world-renowned writer. We also have the Banff Mountain Film Festival each year.”
And finally the town offers activities for fans of retail therapy. “Anybody who likes to shop can spend at least an entire day poking in and out of cool boutiques on Banff Avenue,” says Christie.
Christie Pashby’s book, Frommer’s Guide – Banff and the Canadian Rockies Day by Day is available from bookstores and online at retailers such as Amazon.