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Things to do in Banff….when you can’t hike

Posted inBanff Canada Cycling

Banff National Park has some of the best hiking trails in Canada. Maybe the world. But what if you can’t hike? What can you do in Banff with a disability?

I didn’t intend to visit Banff and not hike. The idea was to meet my old camping partner for long walks and climbs to gorgeous Rocky Mountain views, and even mountain bike the many trails there. Alas, between planning and departure I got sick. Sick enough that I could no longer exert the energy necessary for the outdoor adventures Banff is famous for.

I’m so glad that I decided to go anyway. Because what I found was that even for someone with limited mobility, there was plenty of things to do in Banff. The national park, and the resort town located within it, have done an impressive job to make it easy to get around, have fun, and even get to see those famous views.

Banff Roam Bus
Banff’s Roam transit is an accessible way to get around

The best thing about travelling in Banff with a disability is the ROAM bus service. These local buses will take you to pretty much all the main attractions like Banff Springs Hotel, Tunnel Mountain, and the Gondola, and pick up all along the main strip of town so you don’t need to walk much from your hotel for shopping, restaurants, etc. The fare is just $2 or $5 for a one-day pass, but we got free passes from our hotel so definitely ask about that.

Here are the Top 5 Things I did in Banff that were not hikes!

View from the top of Sulphur Mountain
Views from the top of Sulphur Mountain

Best views in Banff: Sulphur Mountain Summit

I saw a lot of gorgeous views in Banff. A lot. But nothing compared to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. What a panorama!

You can hike up. But most take the Banff Gondola, which whisks you to the top in 8 minutes. A true blessing for anyone who can’t hike mountains but wants to feel like they are on top of the world!

At the top, there are Muskoka chairs to relax in, several bars and restaurants, and if you’re able to climb up and down stairs a Skywalk for even more stunning views from Samson’s Peak. I chose the Muskoka chairs, and didn’t want to leave.

On top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff
Views from the top of Sulphur Mountain

For anyone visiting Banff who can’t do a lot of physical activity, this is my top choice for a beautiful experience that will really make you feel like you’re in the great outdoors. The steps-to-awesome ratio is excellent. Go early in the day so you don’t have to queue.

The gondolas fit four people per cabin and can accommodate wheelchairs. Ticket prices start at $50. Reservations and hours here.

For more details and on how to book a ticket, and their dynamic pricing, read my full Banff Gondola review.

Fairmount Banff Springs Hotel
The iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, courtesy Fairmont.

Best Splurge in Banff: Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont

The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is one of the most famous places to stay in Canada – a castle in the mountains so iconic they made a pit stop off the road so you can take pictures of it through the trees.

And English-style Afternoon Tea, the kind of set-menu lunch with clotted cream, scones, and tiny sandwiches, is a hallmark of Canada’s Fairmont hotel chain. So for my friend’s birthday celebration, we splurged on the Fairmont Banff Springs Afternoon Tea experience.

It’s not cheap, at $82 per person. For tea. But this is the first time at any high tea that I was super impressed with the food offering. All three of us had different dietary restrictions. Not a problem. Because we called ahead, they prepared a different selection of treats for each of us — sweet and savoury, palm sized bursts of rich flavours and creative presentation. And we were actually full after. No, really.

High Tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel
Delicious sandwiches and sweets at the Fairmont Banff Springs Afternoon Tea

Bonus: you can order from the Fairmont Rundle Bar menu and they make delicious non-alcoholic cocktails!

The piano tunes in the background notwithstanding, the Fairmont Banff Springs High Tea is not an overly fussy experience. Yes, you can dress up with a pretty fascinator. Yes, there is a fancy hourglass timer to properly steep a perfect brew of Lot 23 tea. But it’s a welcoming place with top-notch service that will make you feel like a VIP whether you’re staying at the hotel or not. The best place to sit your ass down in Banff!

Fairmont Banff Springs High Tea
Birthday mimosas…with a view!

We arrived promptly at 11am when they open, so scored a corner table beside the window. This is another gorgeous Banff view you don’t need to hike for!

For information and reservations.

Lake Louise Alberta summer 2022
One of Canada’s best views, Lake Louise.

Best road trip from Banff: Lake Louise

You’ve seen the postcards and the Instagram reels. Lake Louise is stunning. Last time I visited I did the famous hike to a tea house. This time, I was happy just to see it. Seeing beautiful things makes you feel better, after all.

Although parking is notoriously tricky (more on that below), Lake Louise is reasonably accessible. There are benches to sit and enjoy the view. And a flat paved boardwalk for a stroll around the edge. I watched with envy canoeists taking to the water for the day. (On the list for next time.)

Canoes on Lake Louise Alberta
Classic Canadiana. Photo by Giordana Provenzano via Unsplash

We got up early for the 45-minute drive from Banff to Lake Louise to get a parking spot because they do fill up. Not before-the-sunrise early, more like 9am early. We scored a good spot not far from the entrance. It cost $12.25 per vehicle. By the time we left an hour later, it was full.

Park officials encourage use of their shuttle bus (takes you to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake from Banff) during high season, which you reserve in advance on the Parks Canada website. There are also many highway signs for a park-and-ride system where you park further away and grab a shuttle to the entrance.

The chaos does seem to be seasonal, from May to October. Outside of those months, expect fewer crowds and an easier time parking. Whatever you choose, the views are worth it.

Banff Upper Hot Springs
Banff Upper Hot Springs

Best cheap relaxation in Banff: Upper Hot Springs

Regular readers know I’m on a mission to review 100 Baths – spas, hot springs and other public bathing rituals around the world. So this was high on my list.

Banff Upper Hot Springs was actually the origins of the national park — a precious resource the government wanted to ensure was not monetized by any one person. The original hot springs site is now an education centre, but the new pool for the general public is just as nice. And it costs less than $10, an excellent budget activity in Banff.

Expect hot water that’s not too sulphurous, a no frills family-friendly atmosphere, and — again —  gorgeous mountain views!

The entrance is up a short but steep hill, but you can drop off passengers at the top then go back to park. There’s an elevator inside to avoid the stairs also. A great place to soak away tired and sore bodies – if you went for a strenuous hike but even if you didn’t!

Read my full review of the Banff Upper Hot Springs here!

Banff e-bike tour
So many smiles on our Bikescape e-bike tour!

Best outdoor adventure in Banff: E-bike tour

As I mentioned, I really wanted to ride a mountain bike in Banff. Lucky for me, the national park has recently opened up more trails for e-bikes, the kind where you pedal most of the time but can get an electric assist if needed. And I needed!

So we booked a 2-hour Taste of the Trails e-bike tour with BikeScape and it was amazing. Our tour guide Claire is a true Rocky Mountain trail expert, and she knew just where to take us for maximum “wheeeeeee” factor with minimal physical effort. I was able to see parts of Banff, such as Bow Falls rapids or the Art in Nature trail, I would not have been able to under my own leg power.

Banff bike trail
Some nature trail action in Banff, thanks to an e-bike

E-bikes are an excellent way for friends or family of different physical abilities to adventure together. Nobody needs to know how much of the electric assist you are using to get up that hill. If you want a physical challenge, the bikes are pretty heavy. And if you don’t, as long as you can keep pedalling, they will get you where you need to go.

Even when I’m able to ride up mountains again, I would take this ebike tour in a heartbeat. The company also prioritizes bike safety, environmental responsibility, and making cycling fun for everyone. Top recommend!

Banff  Trading Post

Bonus! Best free creepy attraction in Banff: The Merman

I cannot show you a picture of the Merman. Well, I could. But then you would not get to experience the discovery of the Merman for yourself. This mythological creature is on display at Banff Trading Post. A shop which also offers tourist souvenirs, Indigenous crafts, and…taxidermy. (Free parking out front.) But you don’t need to buy anything to see the Merman. Just…go…..

I will definitely return to Banff when I’m healthy enough to hike. But now I know that even if I can’t, there is still beautiful things to see and do at any ability.

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