There’s a timeless quality that makes Banff unlike any other place on Earth.
From mountain views unchanged by thousands of years to the maintained charm of the townsite, the past comes to life within the gates of Canada’s original national park.
Here are a few ways you can capture Banff’s retro vibe.
What better place to take in Banff’s history than where it all began? Located just beyond the townsite, Cave and Basin was known to Indigenous People for thousands of years. But, in 1883 when three railway workers spotted steam emerging out of the mountain-side rocks they effectively spurred the creation of the park. Upon investigating, the workers found a cavern of natural hot springs and with the discovery, saw dollar signs.
The entrepreneurs set up shop at the springs, charging visitors to take a dip in the warm waters. However, in 1885 the Canadian Government stepped in, denying a land title and establishing a protected reserve for the site and the surrounding area. Cave and Basin would go on to become the foundation of Canada’s National Park system, with the protected area expanding and evolving into Banff National Park.
You can now traverse the historic site atop a network of boardwalks and trails, exploring the natural wonders from which Banff was born. Cave and Basin is also home to historic exhibits and an immersive four-screen HD movie set-up that is sure to take your history lesson to the next level. Those still looking to soak in a hot spring can also do so nearby — the Banff Upper Hot Springs are located right on the other side of Sulpher Mountain.
The Whyte Museum tells the story of Banff through art, artifacts, programs and historic homes. First opened in 1968 by artists, philanthropists and Banff-locals Peter and Catharine Robb Whyte, the museum carries on the founders’ vision of sharing Banff’s story through a collection inspired by the mountain landscape.
See art from throughout the 20th century along with Indigenous creations and historical items that far predate the National Park’s creation. Take a Heritage Homes Tour to see the museum’s unique collection of preserved early-Banff homes. The Whyte Museum also regularly hosts new exhibitions, programming and events, so be sure to see what’s on during your visit.
These may be the only tours where the cool factor of your vehicle rivals the sights you’ll see — which is no small feat in one of the world’s most beautiful locations. The Open Top Touring custom-built buses beckon back to similar vehicles of the 1930s, most notably Jim Brewster’s 1938 Banff-icon known as “Old White.”
Today, the removable-top buses modelled in Old White’s likeness transport visitors to a variety of Banff’s picturesque views, including the banks of the Bow River, winding roads of Tunnel Mountain Drive, the sky-high Mt. Norquay Lookout and Surprise Corner — a spot offering a perfect outlook on another Banff icon, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. All the while, guides in period costumes will immerse you in the stories of Banff’s past.
No location is quite as synonymous with Banff’s timeless luxury as the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The “Castle in the Rockies” has played host to royals, celebrities and visitors from around the globe since it first opened as a railway hotel in 1888. While the original wooden structure burned down in 1926, the hotel was rebuilt to its current stone-fortress stature just two years later.
The sight of the hotel peeking above the trees just southeast of downtown Banff remains an iconic image for first-time visitors and regulars alike today. Head to the Surprise Corner lookout for a perfect photo-op that captures the natural and man-made majesty of Banff all in one frame.
Find even more to do in Banff, from the traditional to the latest adventures, on Park's Canada's website.