If you're planning a trip to Alberta's Banff National Park, surely the city isn't the main draw. You must be planning to see Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and hopefully Johnston Canyon. That said, Banff is a charming town with some great sights of its own. In between your hikes into the natural beauty of the National Park, be sure to check out the best things to do in downtown Banff.
1. Cascade of Time Garden
Banff's Cascade of Time Garden is without a doubt the best thing to see in the town of Banff. This totally free, public garden is nestled on four acres behind a stunning administrative building. It's a terraced garden with tiny waterfalls, stone arches, wooden benches, and so many gorgeous flowers. The garden was built in the 1930s and is pristinely managed. The flowers are in bloom from mid-June to September, so we arrived at the perfect time. The weather was wonderful, the birds were chirping, and the flowers smelled delightful. I'm a huge fan of botanical gardens, and I've visited many in all my travels. This was one of the best. Five stars for sure.
2. Bow Falls
You've surely learned by this point in my journey that the Canadian Rockies are littered with gorgeous waterfalls. Bow Falls is no exception. The Bow River bisects Banff, and follow the river just a kilometer, and you'll get to this excellent small waterfall. At the base of the falls is a beach and an input for local rafting and kayaking companies. While this wasn't the best waterfall of my entire Canada road trip, it was a great hike and definitely a good stop on any tour of Banff. The easiest way to get to Bow Falls is via the town shuttle, which is only $2 CAN for 30 minutes. But there is a better way: the Art in Nature Trail.
3. Art in Nature Trail
The best way to get to Bow Falls from downtown Banff is to walk! Specifically, hop onto the Art in Nature Trail. This is a free art gallery out in the wild and available all summer long. It was such a joy to happen upon, and it was one of my favorite parts of Banff. The trail to Bow Falls (usually called the Bow Falls Trail) was decorated with more than 65 pieces of art in an amazing impromptu-looking gallery. Every piece was nature-inspired, some representing the Bow River right next to the trail. The 1.2-kilometer walk was transformed from a nice riverside hike to something much more fun and colorful and inspiring. Here are some of my favorites:
Bonus: Cave and Basin National Historic Site
One more sight within the town of Banff is Cave and Basin. This natural hot spring is culturally significant to the Indigenous Peoples in the area, and it's free to tour with your Canada Parks pass. The cave and basin are geothermally heated, the last of nine continuous sulfur hot springs on Sulphur Mountain. And let me tell you, your nose will not forget this fact. Aside from a short and smelly tour of the hot spring, you can enjoy excellent views of the mountains from their lookout deck and plenty of hiking trails in the area.
Another Bonus: the Wildlife
Keep an eye out for wildlife! Banff is full of interesting species like this curious and photogenic little guy! (I believe it's a marmot.)