Banff is a river rafter's paradise (photo: Paul Zizka/Banff & Lake Louise Tourism)

The First-Timer’s Guide to Banff

By AMA Staff

Taking a summer road trip to the Rockies is a formative experience for practically every Albertan, with time spent in and around Banff being a particular highlight. The town has a ton of great options for dining, shopping and people watching, and of course the stunning natural surroundings offer ample opportunities for excellent (and very Instagram-worthy) adventures.

Planning your first friends-only drive to the area? Consider these fun things to do to make your Banff trip memorable. And don’t forget, an AMA membership is good for more than just roadside assistance: See for the many benefits you get even when you’re not on the road.

If you’re seeking thrills on a hot day, there are few better ways to get them than on a white water rafting trip through the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains. Operators such as Inside Out Experience offer exhilarating half- and full-day guided trips on the scenic Kananaskis River just outside of Banff. A dip following your raft is an (at-your-own-risk) option, but be warned: the Kananaskis is a glacier-fed river, which means it’s pretty chilly even in summer. If you’d prefer a more relaxed excursion (or are just pressed for time), Canmore River Adventures leads hour-long trips down the Bow River that are perfect for wildlife spotting and scenic photo ops. AMA members save 15% on regular adult rates with Inside Out Experience, and 15% on regular-price float tours with Canmore River Adventures.

Guide to Banff Via Ferrata Mount Noquay
Climbing Mount Norquay on the Via Ferrata (photo: Jake Dyson/Banff & Lake Louise Tourism)

Beginners hungry for a taste of the alpine will be satisfied by the Norquay Via Ferrata, located on the cliffs above Mount Norquay Ski Resort in Banff National Park. No climbing experience is necessary for this mountainside adventure, but you’ll still want to have some nerve in reserve. Harnessed and helmeted participants follow a guide along a route of iron steps, steel cables, ladders, and bridges to reach the peak. There are four trips of varying lengths to choose from, from the 2.5-hour (return) Explorer introductory option to the more challenging, six-hour Summiteer route, a new offering this summer.

The world-renowned Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is nestled in the Rockies—on the west side of Tunnel Mountain, above downtown Banff. It’s a beautiful setting for enjoying an outdoor concert, and this summer musicians such as Sarah Harmer (July 23) are scheduled to take the stage. Check out the Centre’s calendar for a full list of engaging talks and performances, which take place in one of many intimate indoor spaces, or at the open-air Shaw Amphitheatre.

Get out and enjoy Alberta on these awesome cycling day trips and picturesque hiking trails

Banff National Park presents avid explorers with day hikes of varying length, difficulty and destination. Be prepared before hitting the trails: Bring extra clothing, ample food and water and bear spray. (Check out Park Canada’s day hiking checklist for more suggestions). For a moderate hike featuring gorgeous scenery, try Healy Pass. The nine-kilometre trip from Sunshine Village takes about six hours to complete, and boasts many mountain vistas, plus open meadows full of wildflowers—in bloom from mid-July to late August. Pick up a Parks Canada Discovery Pass at any AMA centre, which gets you free admission to the parks and national historic sites, such as Banff’s Cave and Basin.

After a day of adventure, nothing beats a refreshing dip at pretty Quarry Lake Park, a day-use area in Canmore (just a half-hour drive south of Banff) with incredible views of Mount Rundle and Ha ling Peak. The reclaimed mining quarry is now a recreational park with trails, picnic spots, an off-leash dog park and a deep lake that’s fed by an underground mountain spring. If you’re really weary, spend some time at the Banff Upper Hot Springs, where you can soak in steaming-hot mineral waters at 1,585 meters above sea level. AMA members save 15% on regular admission to Canadian Rockies Hot Springs.

Guide to Banff High Rollers
Pizza and bowling at High Rollers (photo: Noel Hendrickson/Banff & Lake Louise Tourism)

The food scene in Banff—and neighbouring Canmore—has grown significantly in recent years. Banff in particular features a number of higher-end restaurants that fill up with tourists at dinnertime. But for some good grub and a good time with the locals, head to High Rollers, a beer hall that also has a half-dozen bowling lanes. Or if you just need a little nibble before your next adventure, stop by Wild Flour Bakery, a storied independent shop, for coffee and a sweet treat. Head to Canmore for even more eclectic eats: PD3 by Blake dishes out Asian-fusion street fare from a distinctive 1960s British double-decker bus, while La Belle Patate, though located in an industrial area off the beaten path, nevertheless draws hordes of diners for its poutine and other Quebecois-style options.

The Best Western Plus Siding 29 Lodge in downtown Banff offers affordable, pet-friendly accommodations plus extras like complimentary hot breakfasts, free parking and an indoor pool. AMA members save 10% or more at Best Western hotels, and CAA Preferred Best Western Rewards members who stay at a Best Western–branded property until September 4, 2017 get a $20 USD Best Western gift card for every night of an eligible stay

Is your teen is heading to Banff with a friend this summer? Make sure they’re protected in anyone’s vehicle— anytime, anywhere in Alberta—by adding Kids Go Free coverage. Plus or Premier members can add it for free. Got a basic membership? Upgrade to a Plus membership now.