Access / Getting here: On the one-hour drive west from Calgary, the Canadian Rockies stretch into the distance, surrounded by thousands of acres of protected wilderness, wildlife such as big horn sheep, bears, elk, and deer, along with glacier-fed rivers, streams and lakes so clear you can practically see the fish. Charter a bus for large groups, hop on an airport shuttle, or rent a car; from Calgary International Airport it’s only 130 kms to Banff and 56 km further to Lake Louise.
Tips and gratuities: Gratuities are usually not included on bills in restaurants and bars, and are completely at your personal discretion. Satisfied customers usually leave a gratuity of 15 per cent of the total bill and tour guides and bus drivers are generally tipped $1 to $2 per day, per person.
Conversions: Canada uses the metric system to calculate temperatures in Celsius, speed limits and road distances in kilometres, and gas is sold by the litre (currently about $1.40 CDN/litre as of September, 2008).
Currency: The best exchange rates in Banff National Park can be found at the Canadian Chartered Banks and Credit Union and most are open Monday to Friday from approximately 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Outside of those hours, money and travelers cheques can be converted to Canadian funds at currency exchange outlets throughout Banff and Lake Louise, most hotels, or the airport. For quick cash, you’ll find automated teller machines (ATMs) at banks, gas stations, variety stores, and the grocery store. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.
Sales Tax: There is no provincial sales tax in the province of Alberta, where Banff and Lake Louise are located, but there is a 5 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) charged on the sale of all products and services in Canada.
Customs: If you arrive by plane you will clear Canadian Customs and Immigration at the airport and are required to declare your country of origin, your Canadian destination and length of stay, and what articles you are bringing into the country. A valid passport is necessary.
Smoking Bylaws: The first thing you’ll notice is the clear alpine air, the rare atmosphere you breathe in Banff National Park. There’s no smoking in public buildings, workplaces and public transportation, which includes all restaurants, bars and nightclubs, hotel lobbies, and buses. Look for signs indicating designated smoking areas with ashtrays, including public streets and patios where no food or beverages are served.
What to Wear: Layering. It’s the key to wearing the right clothing in Banff National Park, no matter what the weather brings. You can always take off a layer of clothing and stash it in a bag if you’re too warm. Gloves, knitted hats – that’s Canada's famous “toque” – a heavy coat, and warm, waterproof footwear are definitely needed in winter. In the summer, never set out for the day without a jacket that repels rain and wind and a light sweater or fleece top. Sunglasses and sunscreen are also a must all year-round- due to the higher UV exposure from the sun at alpine altitudes. A small knapsack/rucksack makes a great way to tote a day's necessities.
Weather: Weather in the Canadian Rockies is unpredictable – at best. It’s possible to have sunshine, snow, wind or rain – all in the same day. Summers are pleasant, with low humidity, warm temperatures averaging a high of 21C (70F) and daylight hours stretching until 11 p.m. in June and July. Autumn brings cool nights, crisp air and warm sunny afternoons. In January, the average day time high is -7C (19F) and by April it is +9C (49F).
Current Banff conditions: