Ask me to describe a perfect late summer or early fall weekend, and it would involve a healthy dose of outdoor adventure punctuated with great food and potent cocktails. Luckily, I don’t have to go far to get an invigorating escape. Banff is right on Calgary’s doorstep, and I just came up with the ultimate Banff itinerary for a weekend getaway.
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Banff offers the best of everything alpine related, distilled into one picture perfect destination. When figuring out what to do on a two or three day weekend, your Banff itinerary should include a mixture of snaggletoothed spires, pungent pine forests and brilliantly blue waters. Here’s the best of what to see, do, and eat on a weekend getaway to Banff.
Friday Night in Banff
Now I don’t know if you’re coming into Banff on a Friday night, but if you want to kick things off right, I suggest a meal or at least drinks at The Radiant as soon as you get into town. This new restaurant is in a word: gorgeous!
With velvet booths, art deco wallpaper and tin ceiling panels, it’s all very sumptuous, rich and en pointe. It’s a classy (yet unpretentious) joint with a cabaret, burlesque or drag show every week.
You could wet your whistle with a killer #ginstamgram, but all cocktails are creative, ‘gram-worthy and scanning the ingredients, quite possibly medicinal. But if you’re a wine drinker, good luck finding wine on tap anywhere else in town. You can’t beat $1/oz!
The global menu is tapas-style and meant to be shared. Those with food sensitivities won’t have a hard time finding something savoury to nosh on, with several dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free and vegan options. Tandoori Chicken and Pakora Waffles were a hit, as was A Tuna Matata, a flavourful riff on poke with a panko’ed avocado and togarashi mayo.
Via Ferrata Mt. Norquay
For the ultimate Rocky Mountain high, tackle the Via Ferrata at Mt. Norquay in the morning. If you like hiking and challenging yourself, but aren’t an actual mountaineer, you’re sure to love this heart thumping, high alpine climbing experience.
After taking an incredibly picturesque sightseeing chairlift, you’ll gear up in a safety harness and get instruction on how to scale the Via Ferrata.
Basically, you’ll be scaling the side of a mountain, along fixed anchors drilled into the mountain face.
The exposure is real (as evidenced by these pics), but your risk is majorly minimized thanks to the cables you’ll clip into, plus the safety harness and helmet you’re wearing. Fret not, you’re led by a professional ACMG certified guide. Our rad, patient and friendly guide was Katsu (blue jacket below).
Celebrate your accomplishment at Cliffhouse Bistro before heading down on the chairlift. Their nachos are totally pimped out and they have lots of other fun appies and drink specials. The icing on the cake is a 10% discount given to Via Ferrata climbers.
Horseback Riding Banff
Slow things down in the afternoon with a spot of horseback riding. With so many options for trail rides with Banff Trail Riders and gentle, well trained horses, it’s an ideal activity for families.
I’ve done plenty of trail rides before, but never have I crossed a river on horseback, so the one-hour Spray River ride was right up my alley. The warm scent of pine wafted through the air as we moseyed through a sunlight dappled forest and splashed our way through Spray River, before coming upon Bow Falls.
In my head I kept thinking how fabulous this was. To be out here in nature, doing something different, special even, yet not being physically taxed. (I’m a total slacker at heart.) Sure, I walked a bit funny after dismounting, but minutes later I was strutting just fine.
Kananaskis White Water Rafting
On your second day in Banff, get that adrenaline pumping again by racing down the Kananaskis River on Class 2 and 3 rapids. Probably one of the most fun activities in the Rockies is riding the rapids. Half day rafting excursions with Chinook Rafting won’t steer you wrong.
The best part? All these activities from rafting to horseback riding to Via Ferrata are currently 20-30% off!
Dinner in Banff
There’s no shortage of restaurants in Banff, but after a day of doing ALL the things, you just might be up for something casual, yet hearty. For that, head to Bear Street Tavern and pray for a spot on their gorgeous, pet-friendly patio.
Ask any local and they’ll tell you this is the best pizza in town. Pizzas are hand stretched and personal sized at around 11”. As much as I adored the crust and the toppings on The Godfather (prosciutto arugula, olives, confit garlic and truffle oil), it’s how they jazz it up that stands out.
All pizzas come with a rosemary chili oil and honey, that you’re encouraged to dip in. So very more-ish! Here, I really wanted to order a punch bowl of their summer sangria (that good!), but when cocktails and glasses of rose are $8 apiece, you want to shop around.
Breakfast in Banff
For a healthy breakfast in Banff, look no further than Seed n Salt. This new addition to Banff’s dining scene sports smoothies, toasts and other breakfast items, in addition to rice and quinoa bowls. Everything is chock full of good for you ingredients. You’ll leave feeling nourished, satisfied and likely quite virtuous.
Best is that it’s licensed, serving up local brews, kombucha ciders and Okanagon wine from 50th Parallel and Quail’s Gate.
Affordable Banff hotels
Right now, there’s several affordable Banff hotels, resorts and motels offering discounted prices. We bed down at Tunnel Mountain Resort, a lovely property that’s been recently renovated with a wood burning fireplace (you can make s’mores inside!), full kitchen and patio.
Our room could’ve slept 8 – for real! There were two queen beds in the loft, a pull-out couch and a separate queen bedroom. Though we stayed on a weekend it was surprisingly quiet and wasn’t sold out.