When I was fortunate enough to move to Banff in the spring of 2019, I was ecstatic. Every story I’d heard, every picture I’d seen, and every detail I’d learned about about the Rocky Mountain town left me more excited than the last – I couldn’t believe I’d actually be calling this home!
Upon arrival, it was even better than I imaged. After all, actually experiencing a place provides an entirely new perspective. The foundation of that experience was my role as a Banff & Lake Louise Ambassador – a decision that definitely transformed my stay.
As an ambassador, I was able to share my passion for showing off this remarkable place and now I’d like to share it with you! If you’re looking for the best ways to experience Banff, read on … this week we’re looking at some of the region’s heritage highlights.
Discover Banff’s Birthplace
The best way to truly experience a location is to learn a bit about it. In 1883, while the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, three workers stumbled across a series of natural hot springs at the base of Sulphur Mountain. Shortly thereafter the town of Banff was settled.
To step back in time and discover some of these natural hot springs for yourself, I highly suggest a trip to Cave and Basin. At this National Historic Site and birthplace of Banff, I leisurely strolled the series of walkways, learning more and more about the natural and cultural history of the mountains around me. While I opted to do this solo, a guided tour offers a more in-depth experience. The staff even wear period clothing to complete the blast from the past.
My favourite part was trying to spot the Banff Springs Snails in one particularly large hot spring. These teeny-tiny endangered mollusks are extremely hard to see, but I was finally rewarded with a sighting. I should also warn you, that as a natural hot spring the smell of minerals is quite strong, so be prepared for the smell of sulphur!
A town rich in history
As Canada’s oldest national park, Banff has done a wonderful job at preserving the historical and cultural sites for visitors to explore. Through them, you can immerse yourself in the complex history that Banff has to offer. Beyond Cave and Basin, I highly recommend visiting at least one of these other history-inspired destinations!
Housed in a beautiful log cabin dating from 1903, this is actually the oldest museum of natural history in all of Western Canada.
In addition to an expansive taxidermy collection, find an impressive collection of the region’s diverse flora and fauna, shared in glass displays that allow you to discover them up close. The museum sits adjacent to Central Park – meaning you finish off the tour by wandering the outdoors trying to spot some of the museums collections in real life.
If you’re an art lover, a trip to the Whyte Museum of the Canadians Rockies is definitely in order! Partners Peter and Catherine Whyte, iconic landscape artists, founded the museum to maintain the history and culture of the Rocky Mountains. The museum hosts seasonal art exhibits, events and a comprehensive collection of original artworks, photographs and other archival material. Located close to the Banff town centre, it’s easy to stop by after the Banff Park Museum. There, you’ll find the staff all incredibly knowledgeable and happy to help with all things Banff.
Experience the heritage of the Indigenous people who have lived here for centuries at the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, located across Bow River. The intriguing exterior invites visitors inside to enjoy a variety of displays, including weaponry, clothing and ceremonial pieces. Be sure to also take in the view from the museum back across the river to Banff.
Built in 1888, the Fairmont Banff Springs marked the beginning of the tourism industry in Banff. The hotel’s architecture, fine dining and ghostly rumours have made it a must-see! One local story that sticks with me is of a bride who on her wedding day lost her footing and fell down a flight of stairs to her death. Legend has it, she wanders the hotel’s halls to this day!
The Historic Luxton Museum tells the story of the Luxton family– Norman Luxton, Georgina McDougall Luxton and their daughter, Eleanor. Spanning nine decades and offering a glimpse into the life of this pioneer family, the museum sits on Beaver Street and offers great views of Cascade and Tunnel mountains when the skies are clear. Following your tour, I suggest following Beaver Street until you reach the Banff Pedestrian Bridge!
Watch over the coming weeks to learn more about a Banff Ambassador’s guide to the Banff & Lake Louise region this multi-part series.
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