Full of expectations, we arrived in Banff a decade ago. What was living in Banff like? Read about our first impressions and a lot of tips for newcomers we gathered over the years.
New country, new town, new home, new job, new language, new friends and new ways of doing things.
All of this was waiting for us, as we decided to move from Slovakia to Canada and try living in Banff. (For those of you wondering where Slovakia is, it lies in the heart of Europe.) We got working holiday visas for one year and were excited to try living in another country.
We arrived in Banff, Alberta, in September 2012. And up until now, the first image that comes to my mind when I think of Banff is the main street full of hotels, tourists and souvenir shops surrounded by high rocky peaks and evergreen trees. Luckily the busiest part is just downtown.
But there’s so much to explore when you arrive in a new place. We were determined to find the real beauty of Banff. There must be something else since Banff is considered one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
First days in Banff
We arrived in the evening, and the bus from Calgary airport dropped us off on the main street. I remember it vividly. We were standing in front of a hotel with our new apartment building behind it, with two big suitcases and two big boxes with our dismantled mountain bikes, wondering how we would carry all the stuff.
We asked the hotel lobby if we could borrow their trolley for five minutes but were met with a hard no.
So we carried the luggage one by one closer to the building and crashed into bed as soon as the landlord unlocked our apartment.
The second day I woke up around noon, slightly jetlagged and confused.
“Where were we?” I looked outside the window and saw a deer slowly chewing his lunch.
“Oh, right, we arrived in Banff.”
Michal already had our bikes assembled and was waiting for me to get ready to explore around town. After we went outside, a huge wave of athletes passed us, and people were cheering on the sidewalks. Apparently, the triathlon athletes were just finishing their race.
We spent the day just exploring Banff’s streets and nature trails, visited Bow Falls, biked along the Bow River, and biked up a part of the road to Norquay to get the best view of Banff.
At the end of the day, we realized that in Banff:
- wildlife was everywhere
- the town was full of sports enthusiasts
- weather was so hot in September; you could wear flip flops
Simply said, we enjoyed our introduction to Canada.
Getting into real life
The following morning hit hard as the alarm clock announced we had to get up for work. Securing work upfront left us hoping that we could adjust to steep Canadian prices more easily with getting a paycheck every two weeks right from the beginning.
We both worked in a gift shop at Banff Gondola. That was the first and only job I had where the only means of transport was gondola, or hiking up the mountain for an hour (side not: Sulphur Mountain Hike is amazing, and we’ve done it several times after we quit this job).
Not a bad view, right? The bright side of the working day.
Oh my god, tourists! I don’t think I can ever work with tourists again. Ever. It’s exhausting and not rewarding at all, in a gift shop, at least. Why can’t people see the line formed in front of the cashier? Why are they pushing themselves to be the first? No offence to Chinese people, but they were the only ones doing this. Someone told me that’s how they shop at home as well.
Countless times tourists questioned us why we didn’t sell more Canadian souvenirs and why it was all made in China, which I really would like to know the answer to.
We were the only people freaking out a bit about the smoke in town one afternoon. Unmistakably we smelled smoke from the fire.
A prescribed fire in the nearby forest interrupted the gorgeous sunny weather. We learnt it’s common in Canada and a few other parts of the world. Ironically they put on the fire to maintain the health and diversity of the forest and to improve wildlife habitat.
Within Europe, we’re not used to setting up intentional forest fires.
There were a lot of surprises in the beginning, but we adapted to the new culture faster than we thought.
Our days were filled working at the gondola and endlessly answering tourists’ questions, mentally rolling our eyes. In the evenings, we went biking and exploring around Banff. We spent hardly any time in the town itself as it was very crowded and full of tourists, you couldn’t even walk freely in the streets.
Our first black bear encounter
The most enjoyable moments were spent mountain biking or running in the forest.
A beautiful bike path connects Banff and the nearby town of Canmore called Legacy Trail. When we were biking from Canmore back to Banff, I saw a big black animal in the distance. I stopped, waving to Michal behind me to stop and look ahead.
It was a black bear who didn’t mind cyclists or cars stopping and people staring at him. He was minding his own business and just went on a walk on a bike path.
After a while, he just moved on to the forest. As we passed by, we could still see him wandering in the bushes. The second he looked in our direction, we started to pedal a little bit harder.
We looked at each other and couldn’t stop smiling, realizing what had happened. Seeing the first bear just casually walking on the same bike path as you is definitely our top experience from Banff.
More encounters are in our post about wildlife in Canada.
On another day, we went for a run in the forest. As I was running with Michal behind me, he suddenly shouted to watch out. I looked around, not understanding what he meant, and I almost had a heart attack!
Two giant elk were chewing their dinner literally right next to me. They just glanced at us and returned to the tree, looking for more leaves to eat. We encountered many deer in Banff by now, but I was so close I could feel his breath.
Not something I want to experience again, to be honest. These elk were chill, but they can get aggressive, especially if you get into their space.
Bringing our mountain bikes from home was the best thing we could do. You can get anywhere within Banff by bike, but you can also discover surrounding lakes. It’s easy to bike to Vermilion Lakes, Cascade Ponds, Johnson Lake or Lake Minnewanka.
But biking season ends in October, with temperatures dropping significantly. We were “stuck” in town with no car and non-existing public transport out of Banff (now there is a bus connection between Banff and Canmore).
Fortunately, the company we worked for offered bus tours to the most beautiful lakes in Alberta. We jumped at a chance to go on a tour outside the town, and bonus as employees – for free.
It was surprising to see snow in October already, but that’s just one more thing we got used to over the years. Now we don’t even blink if it’s snowing in September. The last snow usually melts at the end of April, but that also depends on the elevation. At Moraine Lake, there’s still a lot of snow in May, and the lake slowly fills up from the glacier and shows the famous turquoise colour at the end of June.
Living in Banff was exciting, exhausting and expensive. We were glad for our introduction to Canada and months spent living in the mountains. But the constant crowds and drunken people on the streets weren’t exactly my idea of peaceful living. So when I found a job in Calgary, we bought a car, packed our bags and moved to a new city with new opportunities.
Since then, we have visited Banff regularly in all seasons to enjoy the beauty of the oldest national park in Canada.
We’ve gathered all the info we know about living in Banff in this next part.
Whoever wants to spend time in the Canadian Rockies usually sets eyes on Banff. Banff is a top-rated tourist destination with almost 4 million tourists visiting every year. It’s also a dream destination for people who want to spend more time in the Rockies while earning some money. The most common questions we get are if it’s expensive to live in Banff and what jobs you can find.
Let’s get into it.
Things to know about Banff
The town of Banff is where the first Canadian National Park was born. The town was set for workers on the Pacific railway that connected British Columbia with the rest of Canada. Later it became the central hub for Banff National Park.
Banff community has a population of 9,000 people. About half of the residents are not living there permanently – they came to work seasonal jobs.
There is about the same number of tourists and residents during the high season, so it looks slightly different during the off-season.
Because the town of Banff is right in the middle of Banff National Park, encounters with wildlife are common, as you could see in our story above. Many elk, deer, and sometimes bears walk the streets or back alleys of the town. Although during the high season, they usually hide in the wilderness.
The housing market in Banff
To buy a house in Banff, you need to reside or work in the Bow Valley, defined by Parks Canada residency requirements. With the restriction of residence and extremely high prices, the best bet is to rent.
A few residents can purchase/rent a house from the Banff Housing Corporation, which provides affordable housing options only for residents.
Banff and Canmore are the least affordable places to live in Canada. Not even Vancouver catches up.
How to find accommodation in Banff
Banff has set borders within the National Park. As a tourist and workers hotspot, rent is high, and rentals are hard to find. There is no room to build new houses, and with the high demand, owners are the winners.
If you are coming to Banff alone, the best way to get accommodation is to share a house or room in shared accommodation. Keep in mind that most landlords don’t allow pets.
Another option is to get staff accommodation from your employer, although only the bigger employers provide rooms for their staff. You may not find any place if you move during the peak summer season. Another option is to find a place in Canmore, or if you have a campervan or tent, you may be lucky to stay in campgrounds for some time. Camping is also limited to 30 consecutive nights at the same campground.
Rent in Banff: Is living in Banff expensive?
Yes, it is. If you get lucky and find a place to stay, you might be shocked by the price the owners or renters ask for.
For example, a four-bedroom house without utilities costs around 4,200 CAD/month. A room in shared accommodation is 1,200 CAD. A shared bed in a room starts at 500 CAD.
An accommodation that employers provide starts at around 10 CAD/night (usually 15 CAD). The drawback of this is that you’re tied to the job, and if you want to get a different job, you also need to find a new place to stay.
What kind of jobs are in Banff?
As a tourist destination, almost all jobs are related to tourism, and about half of those are seasonal.
You can count on hospitality, bars, restaurants, and hotels jobs. In winter, most jobs are related to ski resorts and hotels. Other main areas are attractions such as lake cruises, lifts, and summer tour bus drivers for summer jobs.
A leading employer with most jobs related to summer months is Parks Canada, where you can help tourists at info centers or guide traffic. There are some jobs in construction as well.
Higher management jobs are scarce as employees try to keep their well-paid jobs. For middle management and supervisory positions, it’s best to apply a few months before the beginning of the season.
With the recent increase of digital nomads, living in Banff is more financially viable if you don’t rely on a paycheck from companies in Banff.
If you’re on your way to becoming a digital nomad, make sure to get info from experts in the area. One of them would be Aaron from Nomads Nation; check out his website for packing tips and more.
What is the wage in Banff jobs?
Luckily, the minimum wage in Alberta increased to 15 CAD/hour a few years ago. Most seasonal and lower-skilled jobs get paid minimum wage. The waiter starts at 16, basic office job 15, construction jobs 20, retail staff 16, store supervisor 21, store manager 30, customer agent 16 CAD/hour.
Banff transportation and Roam Bus service
If you are coming to Banff from Calgary, read about all the options to get to Banff.
Banff National Park lacks public transport quality and frequency, but it’s slowly improving. The town is only about 5 km long from one end to another.
During the summer months, everything is accessible by foot or by bike. In winter, you can use public Roam buses which run every 30 minutes the least. To access other parts of the National Park, you can use Roam buses in summer, but you will need to use your vehicle in the low season. Most residents don’t own a car cause the speed limit in Banff is 30 km/h, and roads can be full of cars and tour buses, especially during the summer season.
Canmore, the closest tourist town, can be accessed via Roam bus service. As a Banff resident, you will need it for some more extensive shopping, more entertainment or some bureaucratic errands.
What can you do in your free time?
Banff is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts. Main summer activities are hiking, trail running, mountain biking, road biking, kayaking, rafting, SUP, and rock climbing. Endless hiking trails in Banff National Park forced us to start and enjoy hiking because bikes are forbidden for the majority of them. You can access about ten different biking trails straight from town with various lengths from 6 to 60 km.
In winter, you have three ski resorts within 60 km, with one right at the edge of town. Banff also has lots of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. Very popular is playing hockey and ice skating on frozen lakes in winter.
For locals, the party night is Sunday. Tourists from nearby Calgary leave on Sundays afternoons, leaving the bars and pubs empty for Sunday night. Locals call it Sunday Funday.
Weather and tourist seasons in Banff
Banff has very long winters that start in November and end in April. The ski season begins in mid-November and ends in mid-May. There is plenty of snow on the streets and roads.
The coldest months are January and February, where temperatures often fall below -20C at night. Spring is very brief from May till mid-June, and the summer season starts at the beginning of June and ends in mid-September.
This time is also the main tourist season where hotels, campgrounds, trails and streets are full of tourists. Temperatures in summer hit high 20’s C. Long daylight hours allow you to start your activity around 6 am, and sunsets are past 10 pm.
Quick fall from September to mid-November empties the streets of Banff. Also, seasonal workers leave town as there is almost no work at this time of the year.
Pros and Cons of living in Banff
- Wildlife on the streets
- Fresh air and lovely landscape
- Suitable for temporary or seasonal workers
- Your workweek is not Monday to Friday (avoiding weekend tourists)
- Expensive rent and groceries
- Quite boring if you are not a fan of outdoor activities
- Summer and downtown streets are overcrowded with tourist
Conclusion on living in Banff
Banff is a great place to live if your work provides you with accommodation. Stay here if you like to see wildlife roaming the streets, if you are in mid 20’s and you want to meet with a lot of international peers. When you want to ski for half a year, or you don’t need to save money.
If you’re looking for a secluded place, Banff, filled with tourists, is not your best option. You might not like it if you want a great selection of cheaper groceries or your budget is tight. In that case, consider living in Jasper or Canmore.
Read more about Banff
Are you thinking about moving and living in Banff? Let us know if you have any questions.
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