Learn About Banff
The Town of Banff incorporated as a municipality in 1990 and was the first municipality in Canada to be incorporated inside a national park. The only other national park community in Canada is the Municipality of Jasper, in Jasper National Park, incorporated in 2001.
The Banff townsite covers 3.93 square kilometres (2.5 square miles) and has an elevation of 1,383 metres (4,537 feet) making it the highest town in Canada.
Banff's townsite boundaries are fixed by federal law. The municipality may not expand its land base.
The Town of Banff is located inside Banff National Park, Canada’s first and the world’s third national park, established in 1885. The park itself is 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles); 96 percent of the park is wilderness.
Banff National Park is one of four adjacent national parks designated as the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. Banff National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
The Town of Banff official population is about 8,000 residents. Check out the municipal census for details.
Living in Banff is a privilege and we all know how lucky we are to be part of this community inside a national park. Our way of life is more than just skiing and hiking (but there is a lot of that), it’s also taking care of this special community and respecting our surroundings. Everyone that lives in Banff must meet a "need to reside" requirement regulated by the federal government.
- The Town’s “Visitor Adjusted Population” is a function of our permanent resident population (Municipal Census), plus overnight visitor population, and day visitors:
- Overnight visitors in the summer are comprised of hotel guests and campground visitors. There are approximately 3,700 hotel rooms within the Town, and we estimate occupancies of between 2.1 and 2.9 depending on hotel type. At 90% occupancy this results in a hotel guest population of 7,500.
- At the Tunnel Mountain Campground there are 1,150 sites, which we estimate to have occupancies of 2.9. At 90% occupancy this produces a campground population of 3,000 people.
- Day visitors are a function of vehicle traffic into the Town. A typical busy day in Banff is characterized as around 25,000 vehicles (two-way traffic …includes inbound and outbound). Removing resident and overnight guest vehicles (25%) who are counted above, leaves us with around 9,500 unique, inbound vehicles which estimated to have an average occupancy of 2.4 persons per vehicle, or 23,000 day visitors.
The net result of this is a typical summer day Visitor Adjusted Population of around 43,000 persons. This number can increase significantly based on day visitation, since every 1,000 additional inbound vehicles brings around 2,500 additional people. On the busiest summer days we estimate our daily visitor adjusted population to be above 50,000.
Tourism is the town’s economic driver. More than 4 million people visit Banff National Park every year, and almost all of them visit the Town of Banff.
The federal government limits the amount of space available for commercial development in national parks. Commercial space in the Town of Banff is capped at 353,000 square metres (3.8 million square feet), or about 10% of the total area of the townsite. Commercial activities must be consistent with the purposes of the town as set out in the Banff Incorporation Agreement. Find out more about opening a business in Banff.
Hotel capacity within the Town of Banff is 3,698 rooms, although this will vary based on definition of a room (vs. a collection of rooms like at Tunnel Mountain Campground) and redevelopment (e.g. when a hotel goes “off-line for renovations or redevelopment). This figure also excludes hotels located outside of the municipality including the Rimrock, Juniper, and Rocky Mountain Resort.
The number of residents who populate the town based on the tourism industry is estimated with data from the Federal Census (link to Banff’s labour info here) . Based on the federal data, approximately 61% of respondents are employed directly in the Retail, Accommodation and Food Services, Transportation, and Arts, Entertainment and Recreation sectors. Many of the other respondents are indirectly involved in tourism, since industries like Construction, Real Estate, etc… are heavily tied to the tourism industry. Economists have indicated almost 90% of Banff’s economy is involved in tourism
The Town of Banff is governed by a mayor and six councillors under The Municipal Government Act of the Province of Alberta. A municipal election is held every four years.
Banff Established to Serve Visitors
Indigenous peoples have lived in this area for well over 10,000 years and their knowledge of the geography undoubtedly benefited European settlement of the mountain community.
In the early 1880s, three Canadian Pacific Railway workers building the nation’s railway saw the potential of the natural hot springs. The president of the Canadian Pacific Railway named the area Banff after his birthplace of Banffshire, Scotland, and the Banff Springs Hotel quickly became one of the railway’s most prized properties.
The natural beauty of Banff’s surrounding lakes and mountains made it Canada’s first National Park and the world’s third national park refuge, and part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 4 million people from around the world now visit Banff National Park every year. While the Town of Banff had been in existence for a century to serve visitors, it was officially incorporated in 1990, making it Canada’s first municipality within a National Park.
The purpose of the Town, as set out in its incorporation agreement, is:
- To maintain the townsite as part of the World Heritage Site;
- To serve, as its primary function, as a centre for visitors to the Park and to provide such visitors with accommodation and other goods and services;
- To provide the widest possible range of interpretive and orientation services to Park visitors;
- To maintain a community character which is consistent with and reflects the surrounding environment; and
- To provide a comfortable living community for those persons who need to reside in the townsite in order to achieve its primary function.