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Current Search Destination:Banff National Park, Alberta
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Overview
Overview
Essentials
Attractions
Restaurants
Insider Information
Recreation
Places in the Vicinity
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Introduction
Banff, Canada's first national park, also is one of its most spectacular. Blessed with an abundance of incredibly turquoise lakes, mountaintops draped in snow and glaciers that glisten and sparkle in the sunlight, Banff is a wonder to explore in all seasons.
iStockphoto.com / wwing
The park, in fact, owes its existence to a chance 1883 discovery. When the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Alberta's Bow Valley on its way to the west coast, three railroad employees looking for gold on a day off from work came across a cave containing thermal springs. The CPR and the Canadian government immediately recognized the tourist potential of the hot springs and their scenic mountain setting. A scant 2 years later Canada's national park system was born, followed in 1888 by the Banff Springs Hotel, a luxurious retreat built by the railroad to promote travel to this western outpost.
iStockphoto.com / Spondylolithesis
Over a century later the main street in the charming village of Banff is lined with welcoming lodgings, restaurants, boutiques and gift shops. The cave and springs are now the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, and the hotel, rebuilt in an even more lavish style following a 1926 fire, is The Fairmont Banff Springs, the “castle in the Rockies” that has been captured in countless souvenir photos.
iStockphoto.com / Ron Thomas
After highways made the Canadian Rockies more accessible, Banff soon became a year-round destination. And it's easy to understand why. There simply aren't enough superlatives to describe this park. Breathtaking, pristine and majestic are perfectly good adjectives but seem inadequate when you first see the incandescent green-gray color of the glacier-fed Bow River and pale when viewing mirror images of mountain peaks reflected in iridescent blue lakes.
iStockphoto.com / ultramarinfotoe
Visitors come to Banff to hike through mountain meadows in summer, ski through the wintry wilderness or just be awestruck by the grandeur before them.

In Depth
Banff National Park sprawls across the jagged backs of the Rocky Mountains, offering some of the most beautiful alpine scenery in the world. It is a land of breathtaking vistas no photo can do justice to—no matter how gifted the photographer. Craggy, snow-capped peaks encircle forested valleys and glacier-fed lakes. Sheltered meadows wear a glorious mantle of wildflowers, vibrant with fireweed, Indian paintbrush, columbine and anemone. Rushing streams sparkle in the crisp mountain air, flowing through forests of lodgepole pine and Douglas fir.
Banff was established in 1885, 2 years after railway workers discovered a misty cave containing thermal springs, a find that led to a legal battle over who would develop the springs as a bathing resort. The conflict was resolved when the Canadian government set aside the rugged land for the benefit of all its citizens, creating what would become the country's first national park. Although bathing in these mineral springs is no longer permitted, you can still see the natural grotto where it all began at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
To attract wealthy tourists, the Canadian Pacific Railway built the luxurious Banff Springs Hotel in 1888. The castle-like stone-and-concrete building you see today replaced the original wooden hotel after it burned in 1926, but the idea of providing guests with opulent accommodations while they enjoy the area's scenic beauty remains unchanged. The image of the hotel's stately, high-peaked roofline rising above the surrounding evergreens is a fixture on postcards.
Known today as The Fairmont Banff Springs, the hotel stands on the outskirts of the charming resort town of Banff, where most development within the park is focused and where you'll find the largest number of hotels. Rustic mountain lodge-style buildings house boutiques, sporting goods stores, gift shops and restaurants. In spring and summer the sidewalks—radiant with colorful annuals planted in window boxes and hanging baskets—are crowded with visitors; in winter the streets in the town center can be just as packed as in warm-weather months with the difference being roof racks now carry skis and winter gear instead of canoes and kayaks.
The village of Lake Louise is the park's second most developed area, where you'll find a small shopping center, cafes, hotels and a ski resort. The community takes its name from the beautiful lake nearby, which is fed by meltwater from Victoria Glacier. The runoff carries finely ground rock flour that gives the lake a striking milky turquoise color you'll see in the area's other glacially fed lakes. Facing the glacier on the opposite shore is The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a grand hotel with more than 500 rooms. The hotel, lake and glacier together create one of the most photographed settings in the park.
Another highlight of Banff National Park is Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic roadway that parallels Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy. 1), connecting the towns of Banff and Lake Louise. Nestled in Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake dazzles visitors with its sparkling blue waters, earning it the nickname, “Jewel of the Rockies.”
Other sights for which the park is famous: Johnston Canyon, Crow Foot Glacier, the sawtooth profile of Mount Rundle reflected in the clear waters of Vermilion Lakes and, in winter, the frozen waterfall known as Weeping Wall. And while you make your way among these scenic points, you'll likely encounter Banff's abundant wildlife. Elk, deer and bighorn sheep are most common, and if you have binoculars you may catch sight of mountain goats and moose in the distance. If you should spot them, you may want to steer clear of the area's predators: bears, wolves, coyotes and lynx, but odds are they'll want to keep their distance from you, too.

General Information
The park, which is open all year, has about 354 kilometres (219 mi.) of scenic roads. Hwy. 1 to Vancouver and Calgary and Hwy. 93S (Banff-Windermere Hwy.) are open year-round, as is the northern end of Hwy. 93N (Icefields Parkway) from Lake Louise to Jasper; check locally for road conditions. One- or multiple-day bus tours of the park's major points of interest also are available.
More than 1,500 kilometres (932 mi.) of trails traverse the park. All activities involving an overnight stay in the backcountry require a wilderness permit that is available for purchase at visitor centers in the Banff and Lake Louise townsites. Some public campgrounds in the park are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but most are available by reservation; phone (877) 737-3783.
Lake Louise's waters, about 4 C (39 F), are too cold for swimming but are ideal for canoeing or kayaking. Motorboats may be used only on Lake Minnewanka. Cruises on Lake Minnewanka are offered during the summer. Skating, skiing, curling and hockey are available in the park in winter.
Park naturalists conduct interpretive programs at major campgrounds most evenings and at key attractions daily throughout the summer. Bankhead, a once-booming mining town 4.8 kilometres (3 mi.) northeast of Banff, has a self-guiding trail with explanatory signs and a mining exhibit.
Special events include the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival , held late October through early November. From May through August, The Banff Centre, a performing arts venue off Tunnel Mountain Drive in the town of Banff, hosts the Banff Summer Arts Festival .
Throughout the summer guides and outfitters offer fishing, hiking and float trips. Saddle horses are available for treks through the mountains to glacier-fed lakes. White-water rafting trips and helicopter tours can be arranged outside the park boundaries in Canmore and in Golden, British Columbia.
Information, interpretive program schedules and backcountry trail tips are available at Banff Visitor Information Centre, (403) 762-1550, 224 Banff Ave., and Lake Louise Visitor Information Centre, (403) 522-3833, 201 Village Rd.; topographical maps and trail guides are sold at both locations. Visitor center hours vary throughout the year; phone ahead for current schedules.
A free public shuttle runs to the viewpoint at Lake Louise July through early September and to Moraine Lake on weekends September 10-25 during larch season. Both shuttles run from Lake Louise Overflow Camping, 5.5 km (3.5 mi.) east of Lake Louise.
Fishing is permitted; national park fishing permits are sold at park visitor centers as well as at some boat concessionaires and tackle shops. Check at the visitor centers in Banff or Lake Louise for a summary of park fishing regulations.
Note: Hunting is strictly prohibited; visitors entering the area must have firearms dismantled. Motorists driving at dusk, dawn and during the nighttime should be attentive for wildlife on roadways. It is not only dangerous but also against national park regulations to feed, approach or harass any wildlife in a national park.

ADMISSION
ADMISSION to the park is free in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Otherwise admission is $9.33; $7.90 (ages 65+); $4.67 (ages 6-16); $18.67 (up to seven people arriving in a single vehicle). An annual pass, valid at most Canadian national parks, marine areas and historic sites, is available.

PETS
PETS are allowed in the park but must be leashed or physically contained at all times. Pets are restricted in some areas during winter months; phone ahead for more information.

ADDRESS
ADDRESS inquiries to the Banff Visitor Centre, 224 Banff Ave., Town of Banff, AB, Canada T1L 1K2; phone (403) 762-1550.
GEM Description
This awe-inspiring wildlife refuge is spectacular in autumn when four-footed residents seem to be reveling in the riotous display of color.
AAA. Photo by AAA associate Frank Swanson for AAA

Essentials
Get settled in your hotel, then head down Banff Avenue, the main street in this delightful village, to the chalet-like building housing the Banff Information Centre. Inside—in addition to the requisite racks of brochures—are friendly, informative folks ready to listen to your plans, answer your questions, offer advice about trail conditions and make suggestions about what to see and do in the town and park. (There's also a really nifty gift shop.)
Glide over treetops to mountain summits for panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies. The Banff Gondola lifts passengers to the top of Sulphur Mountain for vistas of the town and the mountains surrounding it. The Lake Louise Summer Gondola and Wildlife Interpretive Centre affords a similar experience for the emerald-hued lake and the Continental Divide.
Courtesy of Leonardo Worldwide Corporation / NA
Check out The Fairmont Banff Springs , even though you might not be checking in. Elegant but not in the least stuffy, this baronial castle-like hotel is a local landmark with an enviable location along the Bow River away from the downtown Banff scene.
Get out of town and take a drive along the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy. 1A) , the leisurely alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy. 1) between Banff and Lake Louise. This scenic route winds through spectacular mountain scenery and offers a better chance of wildlife sightings.
AAA. Photo by AAA associate Frank Swanson for AAA
Head north from Lake Louise toward Jasper National Park on the equally scenic Icefields Parkway (Hwy. 93) . Each curve in this road brings yet another stunning image of rugged mountains, lakes and ice fields.
Frank Swanson / AAA
Pull off the Bow Valley Parkway at Johnston Canyon and take a short hike along a walkway that hugs the canyon wall as it winds past rushing waters to the first of two waterfalls. A longer hike leads to the upper falls and additional scenic viewpoints.
Frank Swanson / AAA
Gather the makings for a picnic and stop at any of the picturesque lakes just off the parkway for the most scenic lunch you've ever had.
Elizabeth Stewart / AAA
Don't forget your camera. Stand in awe as you gaze out over impossibly blue-green Lake Louise , with Victoria Glacier perfectly framed between two peaks in the background. This is the perfect souvenir snapshot of your Banff National Park vacation.
Frank Swanson / AAA
Take a hike—literally—or a walk or stroll to truly experience the Canadian Rockies. Dozens of trails lead to dramatic mountain vistas, secluded lakes, valleys and glaciers. In winter explore some of the same terrain on cross-country skis or snowshoes, or head to a nearby ski resort for downhill fun. It's a good idea to dress in layers since temperatures can vary, even in summer.
iStockphoto.com / LUGO
Be on the lookout for wildlife. You might just spot an elk, deer, bear or moose ambling along a highway or out for a stroll in the villages of Banff or Lake Louise, or have a chance encounter with a group of bighorn sheep on the road to Lake Minnewanka.

Attractions
In a national park with dozens of points of interest, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
While most visitors travel to Banff National Park to experience the glorious mountain wilderness and the great outdoors, the town of Banff, within the national park itself, has its share of attractions as well. Since the compact size of the village makes most of these sites accessible by foot, park your car and walk whenever possible. (Also, finding a parking spot in peak season can be difficult.)
Even if you've carefully planned your trip to the national park, a stop at the Banff Information Centre in the heart of the village on Banff Avenue is a must. The center is staffed with representatives from the Banff/Lake Louise Tourism Bureau, Parks Canada and Friends of Banff. These local experts are eager to share their knowledge of the area, provide information about hiking trails and suggest sightseeing options. In addition there's a comprehensive selection of maps and brochures and a gift shop.
Clustered together downtown near the Bow River are three museums worth a visit. The cultural heritage of Banff and the Canadian Rockies is depicted through the lives of 20th-century artists Peter and Catharine Whyte, an unlikely couple who met while attending art school in Boston. Peter, the son of a Banff merchant, spent his youth hiking and skiing in the rugged environs of Banff. Catharine, the daughter of a Boston executive, was a debutante who summered in Maine. The couple traveled the world, but always returned to their log home in Banff, where they hiked extensively, captured amazing mountain landscapes on their canvases and welcomed artist friends to their home. The museum they established, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies , houses their works as well as historical artifacts and rotating photography exhibits.
Banff Park Museum National Historic Site , in a rustic, 1903 two-story wood building reminiscent of early 20th-century park architecture, is one of the country's oldest natural history museums. Many of the exhibit cases and much of the museum's intricate woodwork and detailing are original, adding to the ambiance. The museum's extensive collection of mounted wildlife includes bears, mountain goats, wolves, deer and birds. The specimens, which date to the 1860s, are interpreted in keeping with the approach then in vogue. Central Park, behind the museum, provides access to the Bow River Trail and is a relaxing spot to enjoy river views.
To see what life was like in this part of the Canadian Rockies prior to European settlement, cross over the Bow River Bridge to the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum . The museum, inside a building resembling a stockade fort, is named for Norman Luxton, a local entrepreneur and great friend of the Plains people. Dioramas and exhibits, including clothing, quillwork, hunting implements and a tepee, depict the culture and way of life of the First Nations.
Virtually across the street from the museum are the imposing Banff National Park Administration Building and Cascade Gardens. The terraced gardens include rock ledges accented with colorful flowers, streams, a pavilion and winding paths that beautifully complement the stone exterior of the office building.
West on Cave Avenue is Cave and Basin National Historic Site , the birthplace of not only Banff National Park but Canada's national park system. Three Canadian Pacific Railway employees stumbled upon a cave and thermal springs at this site in 1883. The railway and the federal government understood the springs' potential to draw tourists to the area, and Banff, Canada's first national park, was established in 1885. Visitors today can see the cave, sulfurous mineral springs and exhibits. Two short interpretive boardwalk trails—the Discovery Trail and the Marsh Loop—lead to a hillside spring and a marsh area, respectively; wildlife can sometimes be seen.
If you actually want to soak in the hot springs, you'll have to head further up Sulphur Mountain to Banff Upper Hot Springs , where an outdoor pool is filled with natural hot springs water that averages 40 C (104 F). The pool's mountain setting provides superb views of Mount Rundle and the surrounding area, and a day spa offers pampering massages.
Further up Mountain Avenue from the hot springs is a great way to get an overview of the townsite and the surrounding mountains (in more than one sense of the word). The Banff Gondola climbs 701 metres (2,300 ft.) from the base station to the top of Sulphur Mountain. The 8-minute trip, made in a four-person enclosed gondola, skims over treetops to a wraparound observation deck at the mountain's 2,451-metre (8,040-ft.) summit and spectacular 360-degree views. A 1-kilometre (.6-mi.) boardwalk leads (weather permitting) uphill to a former weather observatory. Be aware that the weather at the top of the mountain can be quite chilly and windy. Hikers can opt for a steep trail up the mountain, if they prefer.
Not far from the gondola, in a beautiful setting at the junction of the Bow and Spray rivers, is The Fairmont Banff Springs . Built to house wealthy guests traveling to western Canada on the new transcontinental railroad, the hotel welcomed its first lodgers in 1888. That wooden structure, destroyed by a fire in 1926, was replaced by an elegant, rambling stone hotel that resembles a Scottish castle, earning it the nickname “castle in the Rockies.” The grand hotel, a Banff landmark, is especially picturesque after a winter snowfall. Visitors are welcome and are frequently greeted by a doorman clad in a traditional kilt. It's easy to get lost while exploring the hotel's grand lobby, maze of public spaces and baronial halls. Be sure, though, to wander out to the terraces overlooking the river, the Bow Valley and Mount Rundle. If you're up for a splurge, consider making reservations (well in advance) at the hotel's spa or for a meal in one of its restaurants.
In a location where scenic vistas seem to be de rigueur, two fine viewpoints are easily accessible near Banff village. Off Bow Falls Drive, just before the confluence of the Bow and Spray rivers, near The Fairmont Banff Springs, the Bow River plunges over sloping limestone ledges, creating Bow Falls. A footpath along the river provides excellent perspectives of the crashing gray-green water, and benches create ideal spots for contemplation. On the opposite side of the river, at the curve in the road where Buffalo Street bends into Tunnel Mountain Drive is Surprise Corner, a vantage point with a picture-perfect photo op proving why The Fairmont Banff Springs deserves its “castle in the Rockies” designation.
A wonderful way to experience the national park from a different angle is a float trip on the Bow River. Among the companies offering these rides is Rocky Mountain Raft Tours . A knowledgeable guide provides the oar power and also information about the natural history of the Bow Valley as the raft drifts calmly down the river between Tunnel Mountain and Mount Rundle. You'll have plenty of time to get some great shots of the hoodoos, fancifully shaped eroded limestone spires perched along the hillside, and, if you're lucky, a bear, deer, coyote or other manner of wildlife. (The hoodoos can also be seen from Tunnel Mountain Road.)
For another water-based means of sightseeing, head north to the Lake Minnewanka Loop and Banff Lake Cruise . Along the way you'll pass turn-offs for Cascade Falls; Bankhead, an old mining operation; and Two Jack and Johnson lakes. All are worth exploring if you have the time and offer scenic sites for a picnic lunch. Watch out for bighorn sheep; they tend to stubbornly congregate in and along the road. Passengers board a glass-enclosed boat for a 90-minute tour around the lake during which the captain provides a narrative about area history, folklore and geology. Towering mountains rim the turquoise lake, and Devil's Gap can be seen in the background. Wildlife are frequently spotted along the water's edge.
Although there's much to see in and around the village of Banff, many of the national park's most memorable sights require some driving. You can easily spend several days exploring all there is to see between the towns of Banff and Lake Louise and Jasper National Park to the north. Two parallel routes connect Banff with Lake Louise—the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy. 1) with a speed limit of 90 kph (56 mph) and the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy. 1A) with a speed limit of 60 kph (37 mph). The former provides a faster, more direct approach, while the latter is a leisurely, more scenic route with more sightseeing options. Take your time and the Bow Valley Parkway. You'll be rewarded with unbelievably beautiful vistas at each turn of the road. Be on the lookout for elks, deer, bears, coyotes and bighorn sheep. Stop along the way at interpretive displays and viewpoints and take a few of the trails leading to picnic areas, crystalline lakes and incredible views of glaciers and ice fields.
One of the highlights of the parkway is Johnston Canyon . Although this day-use area is extremely popular and consequently can be quite crowded, it's worth the effort to find a parking spot. A short hike through the canyon begins along the woodsy edge of Johnston Creek; viewing platforms along the way are perfect spots for souvenir snapshots of the rushing water. As you continue upward, the curving walkway virtually hangs from the canyon walls. The Lower Falls is at roughly 1.1 kilometres (.7-mi.); a moist cave leads to a misty, close-up view. If you choose to continue, another 1.7 kilometres (1 mi.) or so will take you to the Upper Falls.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has what must surely be the most impressive setting a lodging could have. Immediately behind the hotel is the brilliantly aqua Lake Louise , perfectly balanced between two mountains and set in front of snow-clad Mount Victoria with icy Victoria Glacier at the mountain's base. Absolutely breathtaking. Stroll along the shore of the world-famous lake or duck into the hotel if the crowds are too heavy. The mountain and glacier are named for England's revered queen and the lake for one of her daughters.
Lake Louise Summer Gondola and Wildlife Interpretive Centre is at the Lake Louise Ski Resort . In summer, when the slopes are not covered with skiers, the gondola transports visitors up the side of Whitehorn Mountain. Prior to the gondola ride, information is provided to orient visitors to the site. Passengers can choose between enclosed gondolas or an open chair for the 14-minute ride up the mountain. At the top, the Continental Divide is in the distance and the photogenic lake can be seen from a different perspective. Be sure and check out some of the presentations offered in the interpretive center; many focus on the grizzly bears common to the area. If you're interested in a guided walk, it's a good idea to sign up for one soon after arriving at the top of the mountain; they're available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Only a short distance from Lake Louise and, some say, equally as beautiful, is Moraine Lake . Often called “the jewel of the Rockies,” Moraine is smaller than Lake Louise, but is in the same blue-green spectrum so typical of bodies of water in the national park. Its location in the Valley of the Ten Peaks provides the lake with its signature geographical feature—the ten serrated snow-draped mountains that rise dramatically from the lakeshore; the Continental Divide runs along the ridges of the rugged peaks. Canoes can be rented, and the lake serves as the trailhead for several popular hiking trails.
In a national park known for spectacular scenery, arguably the most impressive feature is the Icefields Parkway (Hwy. 93) , a AAA GEM attraction. The north-south highway, which connects Lake Louise and Jasper National Park, is meant to be driven leisurely and with frequent stops, keeping a constant lookout for resident bears, elks, caribou, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Towering mountains extend down both sides of the parkway, bare and rocky above the tree line except for a heavy dusting of snow. Ice fields, true to the parkway's name, are easily visible from car windows, seemingly spilling down the sides of craggy mountains. But to truly appreciate the majesty and beauty of the parkway and the national park, take advantage of the pull-offs and stop for up-close views of Hector, Bow and Peyto lakes, Crowfoot and Bow glaciers, Mount Chephren, the Weeping Wall and Bridal Veil Falls before reaching Sunwapta Pass, the boundary between Banff and Jasper national parks.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Inspector 450
The majority of the restaurants in the town of Banff can be found either on or just off Banff Avenue, the village's main street.
The spacious dining room of The Evergreen , just off the lobby of the Delta Banff Royal Canadian Lodge , does not offer stunning mountain or valley views. The focus, rather, is on the gleaming stainless steel open-concept-style kitchen in the back. Diners can relax in a comfortable atmosphere while watching the chefs prepare contemporary dishes featuring fresh and locally sourced ingredients. The servers, who hail from all parts of the globe, are attentive and courteous.
With its doors opening onto the international flair of Banff's main street, The Maple Leaf Grille & Spirits is true to its name and showcases the best that Canada has to offer. Rough-hewn logs and local rundlestone rock provide the decor in the upscale dining rooms, which also feature Canadian art, a canoe on the ceiling and snowshoes on the walls. While the restaurant offers an extensive wine list and a range of entrees to suit almost every palate, the kitchen specializes in beef and seafood as well as game dishes, which might include elk, bison and venison creations. Artistic presentations feature organic and locally produced ingredients.
You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the wrong country when you enter St. James's Gate Olde Irish Pub , which was built as a replica of the original pub at Ireland's Guinness brewery. Fortunately, with more than 20 beers on draught, a decent selection of whiskey and Scotch, excellent pub food including fish and chips, shepherd's pie, bangers and mash and Irish stew flavored with Guinness, you'll feel Irish in no time. A roaring fire in the fireplace, alcove seating and friendly Irish-style service make you feel right at home. Like many pubs, it can be somewhat lively and loud at times, especially at dinner.
Looking for some local color? Tommy's Neighbourhood Pub is the place most locals won't tell you about because they want to keep it to themselves. Noisy and boisterous and perhaps a little worn around the edges, this quaint pub is a great spot for simple but well-prepared bar food such as burgers, fries, soups and sandwiches while taking in a game. The servers are happy to make recommendations from the pub's extensive beer list, which includes draughts and a number of area microbrews.
For fine dining in the town of Banff, two restaurants stand out. Dancing flames from a lobby fireplace warm guests as they take in stunning mountain views from windows just outside Eden at The Rimrock Resort Hotel . Those same spectacular views are mirrored inside the restaurant, itself an elegant interpretation of an old Canadian Pacific Railway dining car that once traveled through the Rockies. The kitchen specializes in serving the finest local and seasonal items as well as truly luxurious global ingredients on its degustation menus. Each dish, which changes to suit the season, is as stunning to look at as the mountain scenery. And, as expected in a restaurant of this caliber, the service is polished, attentive and world-class.
The Post Hotel & Spa in the hamlet of Lake Louise is near the fabled turquoise lake. Tucked away in the back of the mountain inn is the Post Hotel Dining Room , which claims to have one of the finest wine cellars and wine lists in the world. True to its refined European heritage, the dining room has a comfortable, inviting ambiance, and, while neither trendy nor cutting edge, the kitchen is renowned for its carefully executed classic dishes. Many of the servers are European co-op students.
The city of Canmore , just outside the park's eastern entrance, offers additional dining choices for park visitors. Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company , a little out-of-the way spot at the very end of Canmore's downtown core, may be the last place you would expect to find the largest wood-fired clay oven in Canada. Nevertheless, the eatery specializes in creating hand-crafted flatbreads, which are similar to pizzas. The restaurant offers a traditional or gluten-free crust and a variety of fresh and organic ingredients as toppings, such as fresh herbs, organic tomatoes and goat cheese, then bakes the flatbread in the oven for just a few minutes. The results speak for themselves. The laid-back, colorful atmosphere is reflected by the staff, who are eager to suggest new and flavorful topping combinations.
Crazyweed Kitchen is about the size of a postage stamp, the tables are close together and the decor has a decidedly unfinished look. So, why do people come? The reason is, without a doubt, the food. This is the favorite place of foodies from Calgary to Vancouver, who don't mind trekking to Canmore for the restaurant's eclectic Asian/French/Thai/Canadian fusion fare. It's a sure thing that whatever the kitchen is serving, it's worth the drive. Reservations are a must.
Sage Bistro , in a big, old log cabin in a mountain setting, is on the same road as many of Canmore's lodgings. The restaurant has a very casual Canadian atmosphere, complete with log walls, local artwork and a charming outdoor patio. A self-described bistro, its creative edge is shown by integrating fresh and local ingredients into dishes that would not be out of place in the center of Paris. Like the restaurant itself, service is friendly and casual but full of surprises, especially when it comes to crafting a memorable meal.
Early hours and two Canmore locations make Beamer's Coffee Bar one of the most popular spots in towns for both locals and skiers alike. The restaurant roasts its own brand of coffee and offers a variety of morning pastries and sandwiches.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
Frank Swanson / AAA

Those Incredible Lakes
Although most national park lakes are serenely scenic, those in Banff National Park are particularly camera-friendly. To be sure, their photogenic nature is due, in part, to the grandeur of their surroundings. But there's something more that sets these bodies of water apart. Regardless of their location, size, shape or depth, all of the glacial lakes in the park share one thing in common—an extraordinary, off-the-chart blue-green hue.
Frank Swanson / AAA
The reason for this amazing color is rock flour, a term familiar mainly to geologists. Rock flour is the inevitable result of glacial activity, and Banff certainly has its share of glaciers. When glaciers move, particles of rock mixed in with the ice are ground to a fine debris-like consistency. As the glacier melts, its icy water flows into the lake, taking with it this powdery “rock flour,” which remains suspended in the lake's water. As sunlight hits the water, only the blue-green part of the color spectrum is reflected off the sediment, giving the lakes their brilliant color.
The emerald-blue color of the water varies from lake to lake and with the season. In spring, before the glacial flow begins, the water appears bluer. As rock flour flows into the lake with the glacial melt, the color takes on a range of blue-green shades that vary from a light aqua to an intense teal, depending on the amount of particles in the water.
Published with permission from AAA associate Elizabeth Stewart / NA
Four of the most well-known glacial lakes in the national park— Lake Louise and Moraine, Peyto and Bow lakes—are prime examples of this phenomenon. Lake Louise, the most visited of this quartet, was known as the “lake of little fishes” by the Stoney people. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and its handsomely manicured gardens are at one end of the lake; Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier provide the backdrop on the opposite side.
AAA. Photo by AAA associate Frank Swanson for AAA
Half the size but still rivaling Lake Louise in beauty is nearby Moraine Lake , rimmed by the glaciated Valley of the Ten Peaks. In fact, a famous photo of the lake was on the back of Canada's $20 bill for many years. The accuracy of the lake's name, though, is the subject of a long-standing debate; many scientists believe that a rockslide, not a moraine, contains the lake's water.
Frank Swanson / AAA
Just north of Crowfoot Glacier is Bow Lake, which can be seen from the Icefields Parkway (Hwy. 93) . The lake is the headwaters of the milky green Bow River, which runs through the village of Banff east to Calgary, merges with other rivers and eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean.
Just off the Icefields Parkway, at the top of Bow Pass, a short paved trail leads to an overlook with breathtaking views of Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier in the distance; interpretive signs along the way identify the trees that grow at this elevation. The lake is named for colorful Ebenezer William “Bill” Peyto, a late 19th-century trail guide, trapper, outfitter and early park warden.

General Information
The park, which is open all year, has about 354 kilometres (219 mi.) of scenic roads. Hwy. 1 to Vancouver and Calgary and Hwy. 93S (Banff-Windermere Hwy.) are open year-round, as is the northern end of Hwy. 93N (Icefields Parkway) from Lake Louise to Jasper; check locally for road conditions. One- or multiple-day bus tours of the park's major points of interest also are available.
More than 1,500 kilometres (932 mi.) of trails traverse the park. All activities involving an overnight stay in the backcountry require a wilderness permit that is available for purchase at visitor centers in the Banff and Lake Louise townsites. Some public campgrounds in the park are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but most are available by reservation; phone (877) 737-3783.
Lake Louise's waters, about 4 C (39 F), are too cold for swimming but are ideal for canoeing or kayaking. Motorboats may be used only on Lake Minnewanka. Cruises on Lake Minnewanka are offered during the summer. Skating, skiing, curling and hockey are available in the park in winter.
Park naturalists conduct interpretive programs at major campgrounds most evenings and at key attractions daily throughout the summer. Bankhead, a once-booming mining town 4.8 kilometres (3 mi.) northeast of Banff, has a self-guiding trail with explanatory signs and a mining exhibit.
Special events include the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival , held late October through early November. From May through August, The Banff Centre, a performing arts venue off Tunnel Mountain Drive in the town of Banff, hosts the Banff Summer Arts Festival .
Throughout the summer guides and outfitters offer fishing, hiking and float trips. Saddle horses are available for treks through the mountains to glacier-fed lakes. White-water rafting trips and helicopter tours can be arranged outside the park boundaries in Canmore and in Golden, British Columbia.
Information, interpretive program schedules and backcountry trail tips are available at Banff Visitor Information Centre, (403) 762-1550, 224 Banff Ave., and Lake Louise Visitor Information Centre, (403) 522-3833, 201 Village Rd.; topographical maps and trail guides are sold at both locations. Visitor center hours vary throughout the year; phone ahead for current schedules.
A free public shuttle runs to the viewpoint at Lake Louise July through early September and to Moraine Lake on weekends September 10-25 during larch season. Both shuttles run from Lake Louise Overflow Camping, 5.5 km (3.5 mi.) east of Lake Louise.
Fishing is permitted; national park fishing permits are sold at park visitor centers as well as at some boat concessionaires and tackle shops. Check at the visitor centers in Banff or Lake Louise for a summary of park fishing regulations.
Note: Hunting is strictly prohibited; visitors entering the area must have firearms dismantled. Motorists driving at dusk, dawn and during the nighttime should be attentive for wildlife on roadways. It is not only dangerous but also against national park regulations to feed, approach or harass any wildlife in a national park.

ADMISSION
ADMISSION to the park is free in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Otherwise admission is $9.33; $7.90 (ages 65+); $4.67 (ages 6-16); $18.67 (up to seven people arriving in a single vehicle). An annual pass, valid at most Canadian national parks, marine areas and historic sites, is available.

PETS
PETS are allowed in the park but must be leashed or physically contained at all times. Pets are restricted in some areas during winter months; phone ahead for more information.

ADDRESS
ADDRESS inquiries to the Banff Visitor Centre, 224 Banff Ave., Town of Banff, AB, Canada T1L 1K2; phone (403) 762-1550.
iStockphoto.com / ersler

Recreation
Biking, swimming, backpacking, fishing, hiking—whatever your interest, make sure you experience these recreational highlights, as chosen by AAA editors.
Banff National Park is an outdoorsman's delight, with abundant recreational options to choose from year-round. Hiking, the most popular way to commune with nature (and the main reason visitors come to the park), can be enjoyed from June through October. From a short interpretive stroll in the town of Banff to an all-out, full-day trek through the Canadian Rockies, the national park's 1,609 kilometres (1,000 mi.) of trails can accommodate all endurance levels.
Your first stop should be at the Banff or Lake Louise information center, where Parks Canada personnel will help you choose hikes in the national park that are right for you. They can also give you up-to-the-minute information about trail conditions, wildlife sightings and the weather.
iStockphoto.com / AAA
Hiking the Bow River Trail is a perfect introduction to the quintessential village of Banff. The easy 7.1-kilometre (4.4-mi.) loop follows the beautiful Bow River as it winds through town, providing scenic views of Bow Falls, The Fairmont Banff Springs , hoodoos and assorted mountains. You can access the trail from several points, including Central Park and Surprise Corner.
If you'd like to be able to boast, “I climbed a mountain in the Canadian Rockies,” then consider the Tunnel Mountain Trail. Beginning on St. Julien Road near The Banff Centre, the trail, a 4.5-kilometre (2.8-mi.) round-trip, affords views of the townsite, Vermilion Lakes and other nearby peaks.
The Fenland Trail (a fen is a type of wetland) is an easy, flat 2.1-kilometre (1.3-mi.) loop that begins just outside the village of Banff. Take Mount Norquay Road north from town to the Forty Mile Creek picnic area. Hikers can gain insights into area ecology as they follow the trail through a spruce forest and along Echo and Forty Mile creeks. Wildlife commonly spotted include elks, beavers and Canada geese. (Mama elks are partial to the site, and the trail may be closed late May to early June during calving season.)
Sunshine Meadows' alpine setting atop the Continental Divide affords spectacular views of surrounding mountain peaks. The meadows, known for their explosion of wildflowers in July and August, can only be reached by shuttle (or a long hike) from Sunshine Village Ski Resort . Although several hike options are available, the rolling terrain makes for a fairly easy 2.5-kilometre (1.6-mi.) one-way hike to Rock Isle Lake on the British Columbia side of the divide.
Frank Swanson / AAA
After reveling in the majesty of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, escape the crowds and take a hike to more fully explore their beauty. Head out on the level Louise Lakeshore Trail, one of the park's most popular, for 3 kilometres (1.8 mi.) for better views of the mountains that surround the lake. At the back of the lake by Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier, you can pick up the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail and continue upward for views of a rocky creek flowing below, moraines, fields of gravel and the promised six glaciers. Your reward at the 5.5-kilometre (3.4-mi.) point from the trailhead is a teahouse, built in the 1920s by the Canadian Pacific Railway, where you can stop in summer for a breather and refreshments.
Frank Swanson / AAA
Amazingly enough, you can get one of the best views of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks by a short .8-kilometre (.5-mi.) round-trip hike to the top of a rockpile; the trail begins at the parking lot for the lake. The Moraine Lakeshore Trail, which also begins at the parking lot, is an easy 2.4-kilometre (1.5-mi.) round-trip walk along the lake's western edge, culminating at a viewpoint for yet more spectacular photos of the serene lake.
Frank Swanson / AAA
For awesome mountain panoramas and breathtaking views of the Saskatchewan Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield, take the pull-off from the Icefields Parkway (Hwy. 93) just 4 kilometres (2.5 mi.) before Banff National Park transitions into Jasper National Park. Be sure to take a windbreaker with you for the moderately difficult 4.8-kilometre (3-mi.) round-trip hike up the Parker Ridge Trail. This hike takes you from a spare subalpine forest to rocky alpine slopes.
Frank Swanson / AAA
Don't even consider swimming in any of these icy cold mountain lakes. As an example, on the warmest day of the year, Lake Louise is no more than 4 C (39 F). You can, however, canoe, kayak or row to your hearts content on all park lakes; motorized boats, however, are only permitted on Lake Minnewanka. Easily accessible lakes include Two Jack and Johnson, both near the village of Banff; Lake Louise ; Moraine Lake; and Herbert, Hector and Bow lakes, reachable from the Icefields Parkway. Canoes can be rented in the town of Banff and at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
iStockphoto.com / AAA
Although guided float trips on the Bow River are offered by several companies in the town of Banff, those seeking the thrills of white-water rafting will have to venture outside the park boundaries. In nearby Canmore , about 24 kilometres (16 mi.) east of the town of Banff, Inside Out Experience runs half-day trips on the Kananaskis River and through Horseshoe Canyon on the Lower Bow River. They also offers full-day trips on the Kicking Horse River, with pick-ups available in Banff; phone (403) 949-3305.
iStockphoto.com / woraput
Guided horseback-riding trips, available from several operators in the town of Banff and the village of Lake Louise, include morning breakfast rides, trips along the Bow River and Bow Valley, around Lake Louise and to the Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glaciers teahouses. Fishing is permitted in the park, though cold lake temperatures severely limit fish populations. Whitefish and several species of trout, including brown, brook, lake and rainbow, can be found in lakes Minnewanka, Ghost, Johnson, Two Jack and Vermilion, and fly-fishing in the Bow River can be productive. Fishing permits are required and can be obtained at the Banff and Lake Louise visitor centers as well as at campgrounds and some retail outlets.
Martin Diebel / age fotostock
When the weather turns cold, the national park turns into a winter wonderland. The mountains, which are beautiful in summer, become idyllic when enrobed in snow. Outdoor enthusiasts' flock to the park's three ski resorts between November and May for skiing and snowboarding. Lake Louise Ski Resort , the area's largest, has 139 runs for skiers of all abilities. Sunshine Village Ski Resort has three mountains where the snowfall averages 9 metres (30 ft.), and Ski Norquay is the only area resort to offer night skiing. Cross-country skiing trails, from beginner level to more difficult, are concentrated around the Banff village and Lake Louise areas.
Places in Vicinity

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Current Location: Banff National Park, Alberta
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