Banff is a lively tourist town based in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. It is a world-renowned holiday destination that operates year-round, welcoming millions of visitors.
The town sits within the Banff National Park and is subject to the many federal restrictions imposed on national parks.
If you are interested in living in Banff, you will need to know how these might impact you. And this is particularly true if you are looking the run a business there.
If you can navigate the various regulations, and come to terms with the high cost of living, then Banff is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live.
I have spent many years living just outside of Banff, and my children spent time at school there. In this article, I have tried to give you the main facts about living in Banff from the perspective of someone that knows the town well.
Living In Banff – The Facts
|Population Growth 2016/2021||5.80%|
|Population Born in UK 2016 Census||Not Available|
|Ave Cost Real Estate Jan ’22||Not Available|
|Sales Tax||5% GST|
|Prov Income Tax Low Band*||10%|
|Prov Income Tax High Band*||15%|
|Crime Severity Index 2020**||84.84|
|Violent Crime Severity Index 2020**||94.29|
Where Is Banff?
Banff lies in the province of Alberta in the Rocky Mountains. The closest major city is Calgary, about a 1.5-hour drive east of the town. On the west coast of Canada, Vancouver is around a 10-hour drive.
The town sits at the southern end of Banff National Park, where the Bow River and Spray River meet. The Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) and the Canadian Pacific Railroad run through the town.
The downtown area is on the valley floor, close to the Bow River, with residential areas that spread up Tunnel and Sulphur Mountains.
Due to its outstanding national beauty, Banff National Park was the first national park established in Canada. It was the world’s third national park and is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What Is The Population Of Banff in 2023?
The population of Banff in 2023 is 9,656, according to the latest Alberta provincial data.
The town has seen steady growth in recent years. The latest federal census data (released in 2022) showed a population of 8,305, representing a growth in the population of Banff of 5.8% between 2016 and 2021.
Banff has a relatively young average age, 39.8 years, versus the national average of 41.9. The town also has a large number of temporary seasonal workers employed in the services/hospitality industries.
These are often young single people on temporary work visas. Probably the largest group of overseas workers living in Banff comes from Australia, with many also from New Zealand and the UK.
The majority of Banff’s population is white and English-speaking. According to the last available census data, visible minorities account for just 20% of the population. Japanese are the largest visible minority group, followed by Filipino.
What Is The Weather Like In Banff?
The weather in Banff is classed as subarctic, with long snowy winters and warm summers. Winter temperatures are milder than much of Canada, but there will be snow on the ground for close to 6 months of the year.
The relatively mild winter temperatures are in part due to warm, dry Chinook winds that often blow through the town in winter.
A Chinook can last from a few hours to a few days and bring quite dramatic increases in temperature. An increase of 10-20 deg C within a day is not uncommon.
Spring in Banff comes later than most of Canada and is very short-lived. It often feels as though you go straight from winter to summer. June is the wettest month of the year.
Summers are warm and sunny, but the mountain weather is very unpredictable, and it is possible to get snow at any time of the year. The elevation means that it cools significantly at night and explains the low average July temperature shown in the table.
The days in fall start off cool but warm up quickly from the sun. The air at this time of year is particularly crisp and clear, there will be snow on the mountain tops, and the aspen leaves turn bright yellow. In my opinion, it is the best time of the year.
|Annual Rainfall (mm)||425|
|Annual Snowfall (mm)||257|
|Ave Hours Sunshine/Day||5.0|
|Ave Jan Temp (DegC)||-7.2|
|Ave July Temp (DegC)||11|
Is The Cost Of Living In Banff High?
The cost of living in Banff is very high, with rental and property costs being particularly high. The lack of affordable rental accommodation is a significant issue for the town.
This is a problem, especially for the large numbers of low-paid seasonal workers. Some of the large employers offer work accommodation, and when this isn’t an option, my workers opt for shared accommodations.
I haven’t included an average property price in the table above as a few multi-million dollar sales distorted the number.
However, the current Realtor.ca listings show that the price of a two-bedroom condo is likely to be in the region of $400,0000 to $700,000, while the cheapest detached family home was around $1,400,000.
Food and other necessities are also expensive. If you have a car, it can be a good idea to make occasional trips to Calgary to stock up. Prices in Calgary are significantly lower than in the valley.
What Is The Economy Of Banff?
The economy in Banff is built on tourism, with around 4 million visitors per year to the National Park and to Banff itself.
According to the federal census data, around 60% of the workforce works directly in tourism, with an estimated 90% of the economy linked to tourism.
Banff is prevented by federal law from developing beyond the townsite boundaries. The federal government also limits the amount of space that can be made available for commercial development within national parks.
The nature of any development must be consistent with the defined purpose of the town. Therefore, anyone looking to set up a business will need to check the regulations carefully.
Does Banff Have Good Transport Connections?
Roam Transit operates bus services in the Bow Valley Banff and Canmore areas. There are regular services between Banff and Canmore and within the towns themselves. There is also an express service to Lake Louise.
Travelling further afield can be difficult without your own transport, although shuttle bus services do operate between Banff and the ski resorts in the winter months.
How Do I Travel Between Banff And Calgary?
At the moment, there isn’t public transport between Banff and Calgary. The options for travelling to Calgary are:
- Drive (either your own car or a rental car)
- Poparide (a carpooling scheme where drivers collect money to cover costs by filling empty seats in their cars)
- Taxi or Uber
- Take the Banff Airporter (a shuttle bus which connects Banff/Canmore to Calgary Airport. It is a relatively expensive option mainly used by tourists)
The town lies on the Canadian Pacific Railroad, but there aren’t any public passenger services. However, there are hopes this will change due to a proposed rail link between Banff/Canmore and Calgary.
On the positive side, Banff benefits from being around 1.5 hours from Calgary International Airport. Calgary Airport is the fourth busiest in Canada; before covid, over 17 million passengers passed through the airport each year. Almost a third of these were international passengers.
What Outdoor Activities Can I Enjoy In Banff?
The Rocky Mountains are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, and many people move to the area for this reason. The most popular summer activities are hiking and mountain biking, and there is an endless choice of trails for all abilities. Living in Banff enables you to take advantage of all of these opportunities.
Many hikes and bike rides start within the town. A popular hike amongst locals is Tunnel Mountain which begins from the east side of town. It will take you around 1.5 (there and back), and you will have an incredible view of the town, rivers and mountains from the top. The main picture for this article was taken from Tunnel Mountain.
If you are looking for more extreme options, mountaineering, rock climbing, and even ice climbing are available.
The Bow River also offers the opportunity to canoe. For the most part, the waters are dangerous, with rapids, strong currents, and the odd waterfall. Steer clear unless you are very experienced or with an expert.
Banff’s popularity as a winter destination has a lot to do with its easy access to some of the best skiing in the world. It has three resorts known as the SkiBig3.
Mount Norquay (60 runs & 6 lifts) is just a 15-minute drive from Banff and perfect if you only have half a day to spare. It is the smallest of the three resorts but has runs for all levels, night skiing, a terrain park and tubing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get as much snow as the other two resorts, and I find it can get icy later in the day.
Banff Sunshine (138 runs & 12 lifts) is a 20-minute drive plus a 15-minute gondola ride from Banff. It is easier at the end of your day as you can ski out down to the car park.
Sunshine has a great range of runs, from easy green to the most challenging double blacks. It is my favourite resort, there is masses of space for everyone, and the snow is the best I have ever come across.
Lake Louise (164 runs & 11 lifts) will take you around 40 minutes to drive from Banff. It has the largest number of runs of the three resorts and has stunning views over Lake Louise.
The main slope at the front of the resort can get busy, but you can easily escape to quieter areas during the day.
Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, Ice Walking & Outdoor Skating
For many locals, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice walking are popular winter activities. The season is long, from late November to April. There is a range of trails for snowshoeing and for classic and skate skiing.
For night skiing, head to the Canmore Nordic Centre, around a half-hour drive away in Canmore.
The Town of Banff normally sets up an outdoor rink within the town.
Or you can head for a frozen lake. You will need to catch a lake early in the season before it is covered in snow (make sure you get advice from an expert before venturing out).
The exception to this is Lake Louise, where a portion of the lake is maintained by the hotel.
Does Banff Have Good Entertainment And Nightlife?
Banff has a reputation for lively nightlife. If you like to party, you won’t be disappointed. This is partly due to the tourists, but it probably has more to do with the young seasonal workers in town.
The downtown area is very compact. The bars, restaurants and clubs are all centred around the south end of Banff Avenue, Bear Street and the block between the two.
Some of the most popular (and my favourite) eating and drinking places with tourists and those living in Banff are:
- Tommy’s Neighbourhood Bar is a legend in Banff. It has been owned and operated by Tommy himself for 25 years, and you won’t find a friendlier place in town. This cozy basement bar is sometimes missed by tourists but is loved by everyone living in Banff. It serves reasonably priced food and a good selection of beers and can get very lively later in the evening.
- Banff Ave Brewing Co is popular with locals and tourists. It is a lively brewpub with a great range of beers and a very good food menu.
- Melissas Missteak is a huge bar, restaurant and live music venue. For me, it is the best breakfast place in town; for the younger crowd, it is a lively late-night venue which is open until the early hours.
- The Rose and Crown has a relaxed atmosphere with a range of beers, pub grub and regular live bands. The younger crowd will fill it later in the evening when it can become very lively.
- The Dancing Sasquatch is THE place to go if you like to party. I admit I’m a little old for clubbing, but I couldn’t talk about the nightlife in Banff without giving it a mention.
- Masala Authentic Indian Cuisine is the place to go if you are looking for a curry.
- High Rollers is a lively venue offering ten-pin bowling, pool, craft beers and pizza.
- Magpie and Stump is another longstanding Banff eatery, serving Mexican food in a relaxed setting.
What Sports Can I Watch In Banff?
The opportunities for watching sports within Banff are limited. However, nearby Canmore has a Junior A ice hockey team competing in the Alberta Junior Ice Hockey League (AJHL). The Canmore Eagles typically play around one home game per week through the season.
If you are prepared to travel to Calgary, then you have several major league teams to choose from:
The Calgary Flames ice hockey team competes in the National Hockey League (NHL)
The Calgary Stampeders (American) football team competes in the Canadian Football League (CFL)
The Calgary Roughnecks lacrosse team competes in the National Lacrosse League (NLL)
Are You Planning A Move To Canada?
Are you wondering whether to make the move and have endless questions?
We have the answers to these and many more questions.
What Are The Main Neighbourhoods And Districts Of Banff?
I am not aware of any areas you should avoid when living in Banff. Everywhere is attractive. But the closer you are to downtown, the more likely you will be disturbed by tourists and drunken revellers.
The downtown areas to either side of Banff Avenue are a mix of condos and houses, with seasonal workers and permanent residents.
Tunnel Mountain area is to the east of Banff Avenue. As you move away from the main avenue up the mountainside, there are fewer condos and some attractive single-family homes. This is a good area if you want a peaceful area that is still close to town.
Squirrel Street/Big Horn Street area northwest of Main Street is another good district if you want to be close to downtown but away from the party-goers.
Middle Springs & Valley View are both quiet residential areas on the south side of the river. These neighbourhoods are a short distance from the downtown area, on the bottom slopes of Sulphur Mountain. Both are popular with families.
What Is Banff’s “Need To Reside”?
Parks Canada imposes restrictions on residency for living in Banff. Regulations state that anyone living in Banff must have what is termed “eligible residency.”
The restrictions are in place to ensure that community lands, and especially housing, are exclusively available for community use rather than as recreational and second homes.
There are a number of ways for a person to gain eligibility for living in Banff, but the main categories are:
- Individuals whose primary employment is in the park.
- Individuals who operate a business in the park and who are required to be present at the business on a day-to-day basis.
- Individuals who are retired and for the 5 years prior to retirement fit into one of the two categories above.
- Full-time students at educational institutions within the park.
- Spouse, partner or dependant of any of the above.
Note that bed and breakfast homes and home occupation businesses do not class as eligible.
More information can be found on the Parks Canada website.
Is Living In Banff Safe?
As someone that lives very near Banff and whose children went to school there, I was surprised to see that Banff’s crime rates are higher than the national average.
I haven’t ever felt unsafe in the town, either during the day or at night. Also, in responses to a 2021 Banff RCMP survey, residents’ main safety concerns were:
- Nightime drinking
- Safety of women at night
- Drug use
My own feeling is that a lot of crime results from the busy nightlife in the town, including drunk and disorderly conduct. I would not feel unsafe living in Banff.
Are There Bears Living In Banff?
Living in Banff alongside the wildlife is one of the great (and occasionally scary) things about living in the national park.
Both black bears and grizzly bears can be seen living in the Banff area. You are almost certain to see both if you live there, but this is most likely to be outside of town. But sometimes, weather conditions will drive bears down the valley in search of berries. Then there can be sightings in town on a daily basis.
Bears are generally quite shy, but a few years ago, diners in neighbouring Canmore were shocked when a black bear wandered in through an open door of a restaurant.
The good news about black and grizzly bears is that they aren’t naturally aggressive and will typically avoid human contact. In my experience, you are much more likely to have a negative encounter with an elk.
Elk can be seen daily around town, and this is one thing I love about the area. However, be warned!! They can weigh up to 300kg and cause serious injury. In addition, they are very unpredictable, and they can charge without warning.
You definitely need to keep your distance from the elk, but the animal you really want to avoid is the cougar. Also known as mountain lions, these large cats are rarely seen but are active in the valley year-round.
They usually avoid humans but, if hungry, may see us as prey. They are the only local animal I know of that would stalk a human.
Other wildlife you may spot living in Banff are deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, coyotes, wolves and (if you are very lucky) moose.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Living In Banff
The main pro of living in Banff is the stunning scenery. It does come with some significant cons, the biggest being the cost of living and limited accommodation options.
Pros Of Living In Banff
- Stunning mountain location
- Great hiking/biking
- Some of the best ski hills in Canada
- Great nightlife
- Live alongside wildlife
- Comfortable summers
- Beautiful autumns
Cons Of Living In Banff
- Need to Reside requirement
- Business restrictions
- High cost of living in Banff
- Long winters
- Very busy in high season
- It can be hard without a car
- Relatively high crime rates (petty theft)
- Limited accommodation options
If you are interested in checking out other small towns in Alberta, you may be interested in our article on the 16 Best Small Towns In Alberta To Live In 2023.
Sources of Data Statistics Canada & Canadian Real Estate Association