The town of Banff, located 65 mi/105 km west of Calgary, shares its name with the surrounding Banff National Park, and many visitors use the town as their base while exploring the park. As a result, it can be crowded during summer, with its permanent population of about 8,000 people swelled by tens of thousands of visitors. But for many, braving the crowds is worthwhile in exchange for dazzling mountain views and a seemingly endless array of outdoor activities.
People began settling in the Banff area in the 1880s, when a railway was built through the Bow Valley. A few years later, workers discovered a series of natural hot springs on Sulphur Mountain. The Canadian government created a reserve around this area, which later became Banff National Park. In 1984, Banff became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Since then, Banff has become a place that attracts both rugged outdoorsmen and those seeking a relaxing holiday against a mountain backdrop. Visitors can sip lattes as they peruse the local shops, soak in the hot spring, grab a bite of sushi or check out live music or theater. Because of the town's increasing popularity, Banff doesn't really have an off-season anymore. And since there are limits to development in the park, accommodations book up fast. This means that tourists need to plan their trips early if they want to stay right in town or stick to their budget.