Maybe looking for grizzlies in Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Canada’s first national park, was already on your Banff bucket list. But when exploring this mountain town, you’ll definitely discover more unexpected items to add to your dream itinerary, like paddling an emerald-hued lake, indulging in authentic Canadian cuisine, soaking in natural hot springs, and even climbing a mountain. You’ll be tempted to share this sublime slice of mountain culture with Instagram-worthy shots — #nofilter required.
Be an armchair adventurer
Who knows if you’ll ever “mush” a sled dog, mountain bike through a fragrant forest, climb a frozen waterfall, or know what it’s like to coexist with massive elk and grizzly bears in Alberta’s pristine Bow Valley. But every fall, the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival provides adventurers — from armchair to expert — with a stunning showcase of film and literature from around the world celebrating the spirit of mountain culture. Hosted by Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, this nine-day event also gives visitors a chance meet the creative and inspirational artists whose work is featured during the festival. And after all that inspiration, maybe you’ll even want to try these activities for yourself!
Sip handcrafted glacier-to-glass spirits
Is there something in the water? Yes! In fact, Park Distillery Restaurant + Bar sources pure water from six glaciers in the Rocky Mountains that give its spirits their internationally award-winning quality and taste. High-altitude grain grown on Alberta farms is the foundation of the Banff distillery’s small-batch spirits, such as its Park Alpine Dry Gin (it includes botanicals such as hand-picked Canadian spruce tips), Park Glacier Rye, and a range of vodkas. Take a free tour of the distillery to learn how the spirits are crafted. Then sample another Canadian first: Park Distilleries’ ‘Distiller Series’ signature barrel-aged cocktails (think Glacier Manhattan and Alpine Martinez), which are pre-bottled so you can bring a taste of Alberta home. And be sure to make a pitstop in the restaurant and bar for hearty campfire-inspired cooking and deeply Canadian cocktails, such as the Backcountry Tea, made with the distillery’s Park Glacier Rye (distilled with 100% Alberta rye), lemon juice, mint, ice tea, simple syrup, and bitters.
Climb Mount Norquay’s iron road
There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of taking in jaw-dropping panoramas from a mountain peak you’ve reached on your own steam. No climbing experience? No problem. Vista-seekers can ascend Mount Norquay on the Via Ferrata. Italian for “iron road,” the Via Ferrata is a system of iron ladders, cables, and a suspension bridge secured to the mountain. Just gear up with a helmet, boots, and harness and get your guided vertical alpine adventure underway. Then reward your efforts with a meal at 7,000 feet. Perched on the peak of Mount Norquay, the Cliffhouse Bistro serves up hearty fare such as flat bread topped with air-dried buffalo and venison salami.
Fill your belly with poutine and pastries
You’re bound to work up an appetite in Banff’s rarefied mountain air, whether keeping your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, canoeing Moraine Lake’s impossibly turquoise water or spending a chilled-out afternoon poking around in the shops on Banff Avenue. Satisfy your grumbling tummy by chowing down like a local. Start by sharing an authentic Canadian indulgence — poutine — at the Rose and Crown neighborhood pub. The classic bowl of French fries topped with gravy is elevated by the crowning glory: Canadian cheese curds. Leave some room to indulge your sweet tooth with a BeaverTails pastry from one of the two Banff Avenue locations. The fried-dough confection is shaped like — you guessed it — a beaver tail, and traditionally topped with cinnamon and sugar.
Explore a cave and soak in natural hot springs
Banff is alive and there’s no better place to witness the wonder of Mother Nature than at Cave and Basin National Historic Site. During the day, stroll a network of boardwalks that traverse miles of lush forest trails and skirt bubbling springs and mineral pools that are shimmering kaleidoscopes of natural colors. When you’re ready for full immersion in those mineral waters, take the winding trail to Banff Upper Hot Springs, Canada’s highest-elevation hot springs, peaking at 5,200 feet. Slip into the pool and warm up those weary bones with a soothing soak. As you rejuvenate in this natural Rocky Mountain oasis, marvel at how the area’s Indigenous people have being using these hot springs — considered sacred places — long before the 1880s. Once the sun dips below the horizon, head back to Cave and Basin to explore the accessible cavern at night on a guided lantern tour. During this sensory experience you’ll learn about the site’s captivating history (a trio of railway workers discovered the springs in 1883) while surrounded by the meditative sound of dripping water.
For more ideas to knock off your bucket list, head to the Travel Alberta website.