Banff has a new and unique sightseeing tour complete with vintage-styled open top coaches and tour guides in period costumes. Fun for all ages!
Climbing into the Open Top coach is like going back in time… save for power steering, seatbelts, and a sound system (ok, the whole vehicle is new, but it’s vintage style). As we get settled and pull blankets over our laps, we groove to 30’s jazz. Our guide, Ness, tells us it’s Benny Goodman, the “King of Swing.” Goodman visited Banff back in the day – causing quite a sensation – and even had an airstrip cleared for him so he could fly his own plane to town. Later, we drive by the spot at the foot of Cascade Mountain, and get an epic view of where he stayed (the Banff Springs Hotel, of course).
Whether it’s your first time in Banff or you’re here every weekend, you will learn fun facts about the park and its history on the Open Top Tour. After losing her husband and parents, Mary Schaeffer (explorer, artist, and writer) settled in Banff and married Bill Warren, a mountain guide 20 years her junior. Go, Mary! Although she was an adventurer extraordinaire, “her neighbors gave her the ‘heebie-jeebies’,” Ness shares. Rounding the corner, we discover why; Schaeffer’s home is across the street from the cemetery!
On Tunnel Mountain Drive, Ness regales us with tales of Banff in the 30’s and throws in tips on where to go and what to do while visiting the park. She’s lived here a while, so she’s full of great ideas. At a classic viewpoint, Ness pulls over so we can disembark and enjoy the view of Mount Rundle. Park visitors draw near to admire our Open Top coach, a beautiful replica of the kind Jim Brewster used almost a century ago to take guests to the park’s most scenic spots.
Elk, deer, wolves, and bears live here, so my daughters, the designated “Wildlife Spotters,” keep their eyes peeled. In short order, their patience is rewarded, and they announce a deer sighting just past the campground. Insider’s tip: Sunrise and sunset are the best times of day to see wildlife.
In Bill Peyto and Norman Luxton’s time, wildlife were still being captured and put in zoos or kept as pets. Did you know Banff’s Central Park was a zoo and aviary until 1937? Ness tells us about the time Peyto walked into a bar with a live lynx strapped to him, and about Luxton’s bear cub, Teddy, that greeted guests at the Trading Post. Nowadays, expect a fine up to $25,000 for harassing or feeding wildlife.
The next leg of the tour takes us on the highway. We wave at cars while wind whips our hair around and Cascade Mountain grows smaller in the rearview mirror. Moments later, Ness is navigating the hairpin turns of Mount Norquay to offer us a spectacular view of Mount Rundle and the Bow Valley. From this vantage, high above the hustle and bustle of Banff, we imagine what it must’ve looked like 90 years ago when Walter Ashdown drove the likes of Marilyn Munroe and the King of Siam (now Thailand) around here. While many things have changed, the scenery remains the same: absolutely stunning.
Back at the Mount Royal Hotel, we clamber out of the Open Top vintage-styled bus with a whole new appreciation for Banff’s movers and shakers of the 1930’s – and the era’s music. Suitable for all ages, this 30’s-themed sightseeing tour is a wonderful way to discover Banff’s history and iconic photo spots.
Know Before You Go
The 90-minute tour departs from the Mount Royal Hotel between 9 am and 7 pm.
Reservations recommended; the Open Top Tours are running at half capacity (10 guests per tour) to allow for physical distancing.
Masks are required until further notice. I also recommend bringing a jacket as it can get chilly in the mountains! The top of the bus is usually open, but if the weather is bad, a glass roof will be put on for your comfort.
More Information / Book Tickets Now
For more information, or to book tickets now, please visit Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection | Open Top Tours. Tickets start at $40 for adults and $20 for children aged 6 to 15 (Insiders Tip: book online at least two days in advance for the best price). Children 5 & under are free but require a ticket.
This story was written in partnership with Pursuit, but all words and opinions are my own (as usual).