Banff is located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains on the Trans-Canada Highway 128km (80 miles) west of Calgary, 38km (24 miles) east of the BC-Alberta border on Hwy 93 and 70km (43.5 miles) east of the BC-Alberta border on Hwy 1. In the heart of the world-renowned Banff National Park, Banff is home to breathtaking natural scenery and fabulous hot springs. Skiing, mountain climbing, hiking, golf, horseback riding, cycling, and wildlife viewing are just a few of the activities you can enjoy in this awe-inspiring mountain region.
In 1885 the Canadian government declared the hot springs, discovered by two off duty railroad workers, and the 10 surrounding miles the Hot Springs Reserve. The reserve was enlarged and the name changed to Rocky Mountain Park in 1887 and in 1930 the Canadian national park system was begun when the name was changed to Banff National Park. The hot springs and spectacular scenery were used to attract tourists via the CPR and help keep the railroad successful (no automobiles were allowed in the park until 1916).
Accommodations in Banff range from camping to the landmark Banff Springs Hotel. There are over 1600 campsites, in five campgrounds, and about 3500 hotel rooms. Some campsites are open year-round and shuttle services are available at some campgrounds.
The Banff Springs Hotel was originally built in 1888 above the confluence of the Bow and Spray Rivers, with 250 rooms. A blend of Scottish baronial and French chateau, construction of the current 829 room (after expansion) hotel was completed in 1928. It offers a convention centre, with a 1600 seat ballroom, a world renowned 27-hole golf course, luxurious Persian carpets, smoking rooms, lounges, restaurants, a sushi bar, a night club, the $3000 a night Presidential Suite and more. Guests have included the likes of Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, the King of Siam, Lassie, and Paul Newman.
There are two sets of hot springs in Banff. The Upper Hot Springs are 3km from downtown and the mineral water is a hot 43C (109F). The other hot springs are at the Banff Spring Hotel.
Banff is home to many attractions for arts and history lovers. There are 4 museums, the Banff Festivals of Mountain Films & Books, and the Banff Centre for the Arts among others. Housed in a designated Canadian historic site, The Banff Park Museum is Western Canada's oldest natural history museum and has wildlife displays of the birds and mammals found in Banff National Park. The building illustrates an unusual style of architecture called "railroad pagoda".
The Luxton Museum lets you experience the time when Native people of the Northern Plains and Canadian Rockies followed the great bison herds. Displays range from costumes and hunting equipment to dances, songs and legends. The Natural History Museum and Gift Shop displays show the cave system of the area, including Castlegar Cave under the Columbia Icefields. Four dinosaur skull are included among the numerous fossils specimens. The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies introduces you to the "spirit of the wilderness" through displays on the history and culture of this unique mountain area.
For those who love outdoor recreation the possibilities are endless. Mt Norquay just minutes from downtown offers everything from gentle beginner runs, to adrenaline pumping double black diamond runs and a full featured snowboard park. There are 25 runs, 2 express quad chairs, 2 double chairs and one surface lift. The area abounds with cross-country trails. There are excursions for every level. You can take a leisurely trip around the golf course or a weeklong camping trip on a glacier.
You can fish, sailboard, canoe or boat on Lake Minnewanka or go white-water rafting on the Bow River. Horseback riders will enjoy a short "dude" ride or a more challenging pack trip. For those who don't want or like to ride on a horse's back there are carriage tours and sleigh rides.
Of course there is always hiking through the endless trails of the park and there are lots and lots of excellent boutiques and eating establishments to while away the time.
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