If, like me, you feel the need to stop the world and go offline for a bit, I’ll let you in on a secret: Banff. It’s my absolute favorite place to slow down.
First, the vast swathe of wilderness, wide-open spaces, towering peaks, glorious glacial lakes, and forests are simply good for the soul. It’s a place to breathe, be mindful, slow down, and revel in nature. Second, Banff is home to world-class healing spas and hot springs. You can do a forest walk or yoga session and follow it up with a top-to-toe massage, soothing facial, or soak in a mineral-rich hot spring. All while breathing in the crisp alpine air.
Here are some of my favorite things to add to your Banff wellness wish list.
Start Your Wellness Reboot in a Banff Spa
Every good well-being break should be planned around a spa visit. And perhaps the ultimate alpine spa is the world-class Willow Stream Spa at the beautifully-situated Fairmont Banff Springs.
The spa is enormous. You’ll find amenities like waterfalls, mineral pools, saunas, and even a eucalyptus inhalation room. Hairdressers and manicurists are on hand to pamper you. Significantly, out of 27 treatment rooms, 21 are dedicated to massage. This is because Willow Stream prides itself on offering the massage of a lifetime. And massage is sorely needed after you’ve overestimated your physical abilities playing in the mountains (which a particular writer may be guilty of). Plus, the Fairmont has one of Banff’s favorite bars, so you can enjoy a cocktail after your treatment.
Cedar & Sage in downtown Banff is another spa that prides itself on world-class massage. They specialize in deep tissue sports therapy and offer private infrared saunas and mountain retreats.
And finally, we have Red Earth Spa at the Swiss-inspired Banff Caribou Lodge. Red Earth has six treatment rooms and offers massage and full-body treatments as well as access to the hotel’s hot pool.
Soak Away Your Cares in a Banff Hot Tub
Hot springs are one of my favorite things. You can be outdoors under the stars while snow gently falls or indoors and resting in the steamy fog. You name it, I’ll soak in it. And Banff gives you many choices to choose from.
In the late 1800s, the geothermal Banff Upper Hot Springs were catapulted into public awareness after railway workers discovered them. Soon, the springs became the go-to place for late-Victorians to take to the waters. Today, there’s still something glorious about basking in warm mineral water that has bubbled up from below. If you want a taste of this history, the Upper Hot Springs are near the top of Sulphur Mountain and the highest in Canada. A spring with a view, these can be crowded but are worth visiting if you arrive early.
For a quintessential mountain hot tub experience, head to Canalta Lodge. Besides the hot tub, they have a glacier plunge tub, which is great for icing any sore muscles from skiing or snowboarding. Plus, you can end your evening on a sweet note with a fireside s’more.
Alternatively, head to a rooftop hot tub to soak in mountain views. Moose Hotel & Suites are just a hop, ski, and jump from downtown Banff. Both of their rooftop baths (yes, they have two) have spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies.
In Lake Louise, you’d be remiss not to visit Deer Lodge. This renovated historic tea house has a cozy tub that’s the perfect spot for recounting the day’s adventures.
Suppose you prefer to take your hot springs in the sanctity of a spa. In that case, the Willow Stream Spa mentioned above has a beautiful, pillared mineral pool (like a Roman bath) and three waterfall pools. If you don’t want to use the spa, the hotel has an outdoor hot pool with sweeping views down the valley.
The Fox Hotel and Suites hot pool grotto is another unique way to explore the waters. It’s an award-winning, theatrical replica of the historical cavern where Banff’s thermal mineral springs were discovered.
Learn About Nature’s Healing Powers on a Plant Medicine Walk
You’d think that the peaceful meadows and majestic forests of Banff were simply healing enough, right? Yes and no.
If you take a medicine walk with Brenda Holder or one of the Cree guides on Mahikan Trails, your eyes will open to the vibrant world of plant usage. You’ll find a shrub that can cure stomach upsets and then a plant for colds and flu. One can help you start a fire, and the other will feed you.
Holder spent her childhood in Jasper, Alberta, home of the Kwarakwante, and built Mahikan Trails on the ancestral knowledge of her people. She has a passion for supporting indigenous tourism and sharing the knowledge that helped the Kwarakwante survive in the wilderness for millennia. Aside from plant walks, she also holds workshops for making plant medicine, soap, moccasin, beading, and bush-craft. You can book a workshop by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get Your Forest Fix with Banff Forest Bathing
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul,” wrote John Muir, a champion for the preservation of the wilderness. It seems Muir knew something of which we all have a sense: nature refreshes us like nothing else. And nowhere is that more true than in the forests of Banff.
The Japanese have a name for this activity. It’s called shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), soaking in the peace of nature with each of the five senses. And before the Type A in you thinks this is about exercise, think again. Forest bathing is about leaving your phone behind and wandering slowly and aimlessly.
While meandering among the trees, the light, silence, and smell of damp earth and fresh pine calm you. Find a clearing or a lakeside spot, and you’re sure to be treated to sights of snow-capped sierras. These spectacular mountain vistas make Banff unique as a forest bathing destination.
While you can head out alone, armed only with something warm and your bear spray, it is worth joining a forest therapist like Ronna of Forest Fix. Guides can help you quiet your mind, silence your inner “doer” voice, and bring you to peace in the glorious forests of Banff.
Namaste: Yoga in Banff
Because I visited Banff for a wellness reboot, yoga was high on my oh-so-relaxing to-do list. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuji for ‘yoke’ or ‘union.’ Its combination of breathing, meditation, and poses is an ancient art in reuniting body and mind.
To reboot, consider immersing yourself in one of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s yoga and wellness retreats. Set on the iconic lake, they offer you the perfect spot to kick back, de-stress, and reconnect with your body.
Banff Yoga Practice focuses specifically on wellness and caters to everyone from the novice to the accomplished yogi. Based in a snug chalet in Banff, the dynamic setup offers workshops and retreats to beautiful destinations throughout the year. If you fancy a bash at the silks in a mindful way, they also have aerial yoga. But be warned: your core will be begging for the hot springs once you’re done.
Try a refreshing sound bath and meditation session at Flow State Yoga to wind down completely. This immersive experience uses the healing vibrations of sound to guide you through gentle restorative movements and meditation. Their flow classes are also wonderful, with specially curated options for runners, skiers, snowboarders, or anyone looking to build strength and flexibility.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the Banff Yoga Festival, which offers a host of yoga activities focused on the beauty of Banff and participants’ wellness. A tentative date has been put in place for May 2022, depending, of course, on Covid-19 regulations.
Banff is like a breath of fresh air to any traveler. Whether you’re into wellness, outdoor activities, or foodie indulgences, this charming town has something for you. Check out our Banff Travel Guide for more planning and travel tips.