Banff and Canmore – ideas for free time

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This southern end of the Rockies is a haven for outdoor activities and once you have taken a few deep breaths to inhale the magnificent scenery, you can dive right in. There are many walking trails around both Canmore and Banff which can be tackled on your own, many taking you up to splendid vantage points – maps are available from the tourist information centres, or join a guided walk with a local expert. A particularly popular spot is Johnston Canyon, where Johnston Creek tumbles impressively over limestone rocks in to the gulley below. A scenic walkway hugs the canyons walls and for those that venture further it leads in to pretty meadows above the falls. We recommend visiting early in the day to avoid the crowds. Taking to horseback is also a lovely way to appreciate the scenery around Banff and Canmore, with a gentle rides available which take you along the valley floors across the lower mountain slopes for an equine perspective on the beautiful scenery.

Nearby Cave & Basin National Historic Site is a collection of hot springs which have been known to the native aboriginal peoples for thousands of years, however which were more recently ‘discovered’ by the Canadian Pacific Railway workers. To protect the heritage of this spot you can’t bath in the thermal waters but there is an interpretive boardwalk and small museum explaining how the discovery of the hot springs let to the creation of the National Park, and modern day Banff. If do with the take a dip then nearby Banff Upper Hot Springs has hot pools, steam rooms and a spa, all with excellent mountain views.

For further cultural insight the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff has an excellent collection of artwork, images and exhibits depicting the history of the town and park, and showcasing local and international talent.

Finally, whether Banff is your first or last stop in the Rockies we recommend taking a trip on the Banff Gondola to put the landscape in perspective; from the observation deck at the top you will find superb views of the surrounding mountains ranges and the Bow River Valley winding its way in to the distance.

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