Banff, the first town to develop within a Canadian National Park, is one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations. Known for its world-class resorts, mountainous surroundings, hot springs and extensive opportunities for outdoor sports, such as hiking, biking, scrambling and skiing, we had just one full day to spend in Banff and somehow we managed to have a spectacular time without spending a dime. Here’s how:
1. Enjoy a Rocky Mountain moment on top of Tunnel Mountain, one of Banff National Park’s most visited mountains.
A leisurely 3-hour, 2.7 mile hike from the bottom to her modest, yet magnificent, 5,500-foot summit, Tunnel Mountain offers spectacular views while still leaving you with enough time to enjoy all the other gems this town has to offer.
But where’s the tunnel? Funny enough, there isn’t one! The mountain earned its name from a proposed route for the Canadian Pacific Railway back in 1882. The plan was quickly discarded because of cost and an alternative route was found around the mountain which, incidentally, shortened the rail line by a mile and avoided two long hills.
2. After making our way down, we walked around town, eventually finding a quiet spot to enjoy a delicious picnic lunch overlooking powerful Bow River Falls, which is located at the base of the stunning Banff Springs Hotel (which is way worth the steep stair climb up to explore):
While you’re there, be sure to dip your toes in to feel just how COLD that glacial water really is!
3. Just outside of the town you will find the gorgeous, glistening Lake Minnewanka, the largest lake in Banff, and also the only one that permits (and rents) powerboats!
We enjoyed a long moment relaxing by her turquoise shores, watching the peddle boaters go by, taking in the fresh, cool air:
4. As we made our way out of town we had time for one last stop at Johnston Canyon, home of a series of iron catwalks that are attached beneath overhanging canyon walls, where the turbulent waters of the creek flow beneath your feet, leading to a number of waterfalls and other natural beauties.
Tip: Go early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the crowds. This is known as the busiest trail in the Canadian Rockies! It’s also important to note that there is a casual diner, a sit-down restaurant, an ice cream shop and a coffee hut located at the trailhead! Or, if you’re like us, there are plenty of places to enjoy a delicious picnic and glass of vino:
5. Last but certainly not least, as we continued North we took the time to hike around/admire the unimaginably-beautiful Lake Louise:
While it would be easy to spend a nice chunk of change on a fancy dinner at The Chateau, a canoe ride on her glacial waters ($65), a made-from-scratch breakfast at the Lake Agnes Teahouse, or a historic night’s stay at Skoki Lodge, it’s also just as easy to spend an unforgettable day enjoying the incredible natural beauty surrounding her without spending a single penny.
There are a ton of hiking trails (full post here), including the strenuous 4.6 mile hike to the top of Mount Fairmont, all of which offer five-star views, photo ops and memories that are sure to last a lifetime.
So, don’t be discouraged if budgeting is a top priority when planning your travels. With a bit of creativity, a hint of curiosity and a hunger for adventure, you are sure to discover that there is more than enough awaiting you, with or without your wallet.