Banff is one of Singletracks’ top 10 mountain bike destinations in North America, and we want to help you plan your trip! The best Banff area trails are concentrated around the towns of Banff and Canmore (just outside the national park), so most of our recommendations will focus on setting up camp in this area.
Unless you’re planning a road trip, fly into Calgary, which is about a 1.5-hour drive from the Canmore/Banff area. There is a lot to see in the park and not all of the trails connect, so you’ll probably want to rent a car (though for a 2-3 day trip there is plenty of singletrack within riding distance of lodging in both Canmore and Banff). If you do decide to go car-free, take the Brewster airport shuttle bus where you can make use of free wi-fi on the way.
There are a few options for renting bikes in the area if you’re not traveling with your own rig. We rented from Soul Ski and Bike; the shop stocks 27.5 Giant Trance full suspension rigs and also 29er hardtails. Most shops will stock, at a minimum, 29er hardtails, though longer travel bikes are hard to come by in the local rental market. Soul Ski and Bike provided excellent support during our trip, fixing Greg’s flat in no time and offering a tune up after our first day of hard riding.
If you’re spending any time at all in Canmore, be sure to stop by Trail Sports at the Canmore Nordic Centre to check out their Rocky Mountain rental fleet, including a few select high-end carbon Instincts kitted out with Shimano XT components, Fox suspension, and dropper posts.
In Banff, we couldn’t have picked a better spot than Buffalo Mountain Lodge; we could literally see Tunnel Mountain and the Topp Notch trailhead from our back deck. For those looking to save a few bucks, the Tunnel Mountain Campground is located right across the road and offers hundreds of tent and RV sites (though they regularly sell out in summer months). For those looking for an ultra luxe experience, it’s hard to find more posh digs than the Fairmont Banff Springs.
In Canmore, Greg stayed at the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge. While the buildings are a bit dated, the rooms are spacious, clean, with comfortable beds, and feature a kitchenette with mini fridge (perfect for keeping your beers cold). If you’re looking for comfortable lodging in Canmore that won’t break the bank, RMSL is it!
Canmore has a much more suburban feel to it than Banff, so you should be able to find lodging to suit your needs, with everything from chain hotels to local luxury spas and posh downtown B&Bs.
Brews and Burgers (and Pizza too)
Banff has a single brewery in town but man, is it a great one! The Banff Ave. Brewing Co. is located above the main drag in town, Banff Ave., and serves up an impressive menu of regular and seasonal brews including the popular Brewer’s Oar Cream Ale and Banff Ave Blonde Ale. Greg sampled the brewery’s IPA, though it seems like lagers are the more popular style in the region. The brewery also serves up giant hamburgers and a delicious buffalo chicken sandwich.
We picked up a six pack of Bow Valley Lager at the local package store and the “strong” version was pretty tasty after a hot day of riding. At the Bear Street Tavern, Greg downed a stein of The Griz Pale Ale while we munched on half-price calzones on a Tuesday night. The Bear Street Tavern was a really busy place and popular with the locals; in fact, we tried to grab lunch there the previous day but the line was too long!
Dining in Banff can land on the pricey side of things, and local Mexican restaurant Magpie and Stump is no exception… but the burritos and tacos are excellent and worth every penny! The restaurant has sort of an old west, south of the border vibe to it and serves the Bulldog, a lime margarita with an upside down Corona in it. On a Tuesday afternoon we found $2 hard shell tacos, which were a steal!
About a mile or two outside of town the Banff Centre is an arts and education complex featuring excellent connectivity with the Tunnel Mountain trails. We met town manager Robert Earl for dinner at Maclab Bistro and from the looks of the open air patio and modern furnishings, we assumed we were in for another pricey meal. But it turned out Maclab had some of the most reasonable prices in town, offering both pizza and burgers plus cold Big Rock brews on draft. Not only that, we left the crowds behind and had the dynamite patio almost completely to ourselves.
Canmore’s very walkable downtown offers up enough options for a month of culinary ecstasy, and has been touted by food critics as being the “best dining in the Rockies.” However, if you’re “just” looking for delicious burgers and beer, be sure to check out Tavern 1883.
Bonus: Down Day Activities
Ok, so if you’re like me you probably won’t take an entire down day during a bike trip, but there are plenty of other area activities to fill the holes in your biking schedule.
Relax your blown out legs at the Banff Hot Springs. The pool isn’t huge, but the facilities are nice and the springs are open until 11pm each night. Our advice: hit this place at night as it can be crowded (and hot!) during the day.
Since most of the mountain bike trails in and around Banff stick close to the valley floor, you’ll want to get a birds eye view of the area at some point. The Via Ferrata at Mt. Norquay is your ticket! You can read more about this experience at our sister site, Tripleblaze.com, but suffice it to say it’s a fun and unique way to take in the sights.
If you’re traveling with family, there are plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained while you shred. Canoeing on the Bow River, a visits to the Cave and Basin, or a ride on the Banff Gondola are worthwhile.
Planning a mountain bike trip to Banff is a cinch. The only problem is, you might not make it back home–most of the locals we met came out for a visit many years ago and never left!