BANFF, ALBERTA, CANADA
The town of Banff, located 65 miles west of Calgary, shares its name with the surrounding Banff National Park, and many visitors use the town as their base while exploring the park. As a result, it can be crowded during summer. But for many, braving the crowds is worthwhile in exchange for dazzling mountain views and a seemingly endless array of outdoor activities.
People began settling in the Banff area in the 1880s, when a railway was built through the Bow Valley. A few years later, workers discovered a series of natural hot springs on Sulphur Mountain. The Canadian government created a reserve around this area, which later became Banff National Park. In 1984, Banff became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Since then, Banff has become a place that attracts both rugged outdoorsmen and those seeking a relaxing holiday against a mountain backdrop. Visitors can sip lattes as they peruse the local shops, soak in the hot spring, grab a bite of sushi or check out live music or theater. Because of the town's increasing popularity, Banff doesn't really have an off-season anymore. And since there are limits to development in the park, accommodations book up fast
Banff is a major tourist destination, primarily for its stunning beauty and recreation opportunities. But it is also home to a thriving arts and culture scene, with several museums and parks that are worth exploring while you're taking a break from hiking or golfing.
Located in the middle of Banff National Park, it's unsurprising that the city of Banff is known for its abundance of recreational activities and breathtaking beauty. Skiing and snowboarding dominate the winter, whereas hiking and trailblazing are the fun of the summer. Hot springs are appreciated year-round.
The area has a large elk population. If you come upon one unexpectedly, try to keep your distance. Elk can be aggressive, especially during mating and birthing seasons.
The hub of Banff's arts scene is the prestigious Banff Centre. Each year, more than 8,000 artists, leaders and researchers participate in programs at the center. Many are writers, musicians, visual artists, and dancers, who go to hone their skills or share their talents. All year long, the center hosts public performances and exhibitions, but its largest is the Banff Summer Arts Festival, showcasing homegrown talent.
In November, the town hosts its annual Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, featuring film screenings, book readings, seminars and more. When the mercury dips in January, artists from around the world sharpen their chisels for the Ice Magic International Ice Sculpture Competition and Exhibition.
You'll find good shopping in Banff, especially if you're in the market for furs, ski and snowboard equipment, mountain bikes, Canadian arts and crafts, and Native jewelry. Banff boasts a good number of gem and jewelry stores. Look for jewelry made from local minerals, as well as indigenous arts and crafts.
You will find excellent outdoor-gear stores in Banff. There are also plenty of specialty shops with unique offerings.
Alberta has trendy cafes and authentic ethnic restaurants, but don't forget you're in cowboy country: At some point you should try the province's world-famous beef (barley-fed Porterhouse steaks and filet mignon are particularly tasty) and chow down on a mound of flapjacks with maple syrup for breakfast. Game, from buffalo and caribou to wild boar and elk, is increasingly popular. The restaurant at Banff's Buffalo Mountain Lodge is an especially good choice for game dishes.
The biggest revolution in Alberta's restaurant scene in recent years has been the advent of chefs who like to feature the province's bounty on their menus—look for local corn and other produce, berries, meat, poultry and cheese. The restaurant scene in Banff reflects these trends, with locally sourced menus and a wide variety of dining options, from vegetarian to ethnic.
Don't forget the local beers. The province's climate precludes growing grapes for wine, but there's plenty of top-quality barley around, and the province is home to several excellent breweries and brew pubs. Big Rock Brewery is the province's largest craft brewer, with a variety of ales, wheat beers and seasonal beers. Also check out the offerings from smaller, local craft brewers such as Edmonton's Yellowhead Brewery.
DO'S AND DON'TS
Do keep your plans flexible when traveling in the Rockies so that you can plan outdoor activities when the weather is fine.
Do find a campsite by early afternoon if you're camping in the national parks.
Don't approach wildlife, no matter how tame an animal may seem. Bear and moose, in particular, are very powerful, unpredictable creatures. Any wildlife can be aggressive, especially during mating and birthing seasons, so keep your distance. Consult with park rangers about the best methods of avoiding encounters and the best actions to take if you do run across an aggressive animal.
Do book reservations at all of the properties in Banff well in advance, as it is a popular resort area.
Do take insect repellent and sunscreen in summer: The mosquitoes and sunshine can be murderous.
Passport/Visa Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air to or from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Mexico.
Citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda also must have a passport or other designated secure document to enter the U.S.
Passports are required for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. and for cruise passengers returning to the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda.
Reconfirm travel-document requirements with your carrier prior to departure.
Predominant Religions: Christian, though other major religions are represented.
Time Zone: 7 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-7 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from mid-March until early November.
Voltage Requirements: 110 volts.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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