It’s hard to get anything better than Banff in the summer. The temperature is perfect, the sun is shining, and the famous glacial-fed blue lakes are sparkling. People flock all over to see the Canadian Rockies in the summer months. June through September is a busy time in the park, but there’s a good reason for it as all adventure activities are on offer.
After spending a few summers in this stunning part of the world, here are my favorite summer activities in Banff.
How to Enjoy Banff in the Summer
Enjoy Lake Minnewanka
So what is there to do in Banff National Park in the summer? First up, is visit Lake Minnewanka. One of the top things to do in Banff National Park is to stroll along or take a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka. Lake Minnewanka is one of the largest lakes in Canada that is just a ten-minute drive away from the town of Banff.
This man-made lake is 21 km long and 142 meters deep and helps power Banff with hydroelectric power. In the summer it’s a busy place to hike, picnic, canoe on, or even rent a motorboat. You can also hop on the popular boat cruises that take you to the lake’s start called the Devil’s Gap. The mountains towering over Lake Minnewanka are seriously impressive all year round. Oh yea, and there’s also a Canadian resort ghost town under the lake. (Psst a great hike in the area is called the C-Level Cirque and gives amazing views over Minnewanka for low effort).
Stand Up Paddeboard on Two Jack Lake
Just a five-minute drive away from Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake. It’s another fantastic lake with stunner Mount Rundle Views. Two Jack is one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies, due to its proximity to Banff. It’s also my favorite spot to take the stand up paddleboard out on during a Banff summer. It has scenic views and isn’t as wind affected as nearby Minnewanka.
Go For a Bike Ride
If there is a style of biking you enjoy you’ll find an abundance of scenic places to get on a bike in Banff in the summer. It doesn’t matter your skill level either as there truly is everything in the area. Head up the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise on a road bike for one of the best rides of your life.
Seriously it’s an amazing paved road that is great for cyclists. If all of that sounds too much hop on the Legacy Trail and ride to Canmore for some beers at the Grizzly Paw Brewery. Or just rent some simple cruisers and enjoy the scenery around Banff town, like Bow Falls or Vermilion Lakes.
If you want to mountain bike in Banff there are a few okay mountain bike trails, look up Star Wars and Top Notch on Trailforks for an idea of what they are like. Though if you are a decent mountain biker I would suggest heading to the Canmore Nordic Center for a much better trail network. If you don’t have your own bike with you, you can rent one at Banff Cycle on Bear Street.
Hike Healy Pass
One of the finest hikes in the Banff National Park is Healy Pass. The hike starting point is a short drive from the town of Banff and climbs a gradual pass until unveiling a pristine alpine meadow. It’s an easy hike with not much elevation gain that spans many km – ultimately a great day out and where you can get all your wildflower feels in.
The meadow is resplendent for hiking and famed for wildflowers in the summer and is well worth a hike. There are quite a few storybook vistas in the park, but Healy Pass rivals the best of them. You can read all about the Healy Pass hike here.
Go Deep in the Backcountry on Horseback
One of the best things to do in Banff in the summer is hop on a horseback and get deep into Banff. It’s a huge park that very little people really get out to, most stick to the main sites. But having a horse will help you get far back into some unknown passes.
Banff Trail Riders is a local company that can take visitors deep into the backcountry via horseback in the summer. It’s one of those bucket list experiences I would recommend to anyone that truly wants to live out those old western dreams. We spent a week in the backcountry with Banff Trail Riders and it was marvelous. Read all about that experience here.
Canoe on Vermilion Lakes
There are plenty of lakes to canoe on in Banff National Park. The closest one to town is Vermilion Lakes which sits right below beautiful Mount Rundle and is so fun to canoe on. There are always some curious ducks and geese on the water, and if you’re lucky you might even spot a beaver. It’s a pretty shallow spot to canoe, making it great for beginners who want to canoe in Banff in the summer.
One of the best things to do in Banff in the summer is to go hiking. Seriously you cannot visit the Canadian Rockies and not go hiking, I personally think it’s the best place to hike in the world. With almost every hike giving you amazing views of something gorgeous be it mountains, lakes, or beautiful valleys. You can see some of my favorite Banff hikes here.
If you are a good hiker and want to try something more challenging try your hand at scrambling. Scrambling is a walk up steep terrain involving the use of one’s hands. Three points of contact with your body is typically needed to classify a hike as a scramble. I love scrambling as it’s more challenging than hiking, and it’s typically required to access some of the big peaks in the Rockies.
It’s a very popular sport in Banff, but it should not be confused with hiking. Some scrambles are dangerous and you should have proper experience with harder hike and maybe even some beginner scrambling. August is the best time to scramble as most of the snow has melted off the mountain peaks. Some of my favorite scrambles in the Canadian Rockies are Jimmy Simpson, The Onion, EEOR, and Mist Mountain.
Go for a Dip in a Glacier Fed Lake
If you’re gonna go for a swim in one of the Canadian Rockies lakes, Banff in the summer is the time to do it. I particularly like August as it’s the warmest month, and getting in the water will take your breath away slightly less than it would other months. But it’s still the Canadian Rockies and submerging yourself in the water is still incredibly cold. I wouldn’t plan to spend too long in the water or go for a long swim.
Mt Norquay Via Ferratta
Want to get into the mountains and try scrambling as I mentioned above, but have the safety of harnesses and a mountain guide? Mt. Norquay’s Via Ferrata is the perfect thing to do for those looking for a real adventure in the Canadian Rockies.
This is an assisted climbing experience up Mount Norquay. There are four different routes that vary in length and difficulty. Perfect for any visitor in Banff with many different options for families too.
Explore Johnston Canyon
The Johnston Canyon walk is one of the best things you can do in Banff in the summer. The summer is a completely different experience than in the winter when it is a winter wonderland, and nice to watch the waterfalls in motion. They are roaring by the time July rolls around as the snow from the surrounding mountains melt. It is one of the easiest hikes you can do around Banff, with a well-maintained trail that is suitable for all ages. If you want to make a bit more of the day out make sure to continue on to the Ink Pots.
Go to Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is the most popular thing to do in Banff, and arguably the most popular sights to see in all of Canada, perhaps only behind Niagara Falls. This iconic lake is the picturesque picture of Canada (seriously, just Google image “Canada” and see what comes up). With the ten peaks rising high over the glacier waters Lake Moraine is certainly a Banff attraction to see.
Moraine Lake is about an hour’s drive away from Banff town, and only twenty minutes further than Lake Louise. With it’s rising popularity and millions of Instagram location tags you’ll have to arrive before 6 am to grab a parking spot between June and September.
If you don’t get a parking spot you’ll have to either head back down to Lake Louise and fight for a parking spot there and shuttle in. If that is full (which it frequently is) you will have to try your luck at overflow parking 2km away and take a bus to Lake Louise and then get on another shuttle bus to Moraine Lake. It sounds simple, but in peak summer this whole process can take hours.
Just note that if you think you’re going to make your visit to Moraine Lake quiet and easier by visiting in the off-season you may want to think again. Moraine Lake Road closes between (approximately) October 10 to May 22. The road gets covered in snow and avalanche risk is high, so the summer is the only time to see this beauty. But she’s well worth it I assure you.
Hike Around Moraine Lake
I’d say 90% of the people that head to Moraine Lake stay for an hour or so, take photos, and leave. But there is so much more to do at Moraine Lake than this. If you want an easy activity you can rent a canoe, but the more adventurous should consider a few of the hikes around Moraine Lake.
The easiest one is the Consolation Lakes. This follows the path up the Lake Moraine rockpile and into the valley. This hike is only 6km roundtrip and has a 60m elevation gain.
However, the classic hike is Sentinel Pass, a 12 km moderate hike (732m elevation) that guarantees tremendous views (pictured above). The Tower of Babel scramble and Eiffel Peak hike are much harder and should be reserved for experienced hikers, but provide epic views over Moraine Lake.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful road trips you can take in the entire world. The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 North) connects Lake Louise with Jasper in Jasper National Park. The drive itself is stunning, but there are so many pull-offs along the way. Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Herbert Lake, Hector Lake, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Glacier are just to name a few (but here are all of the amazing stops).
To make the most of driving the Icefields Parkway I would start early (6 am) and allocate at least two days. And yes this includes Banff in the summer when we have well over 15 hours of daylight.
Soak in the Views at Bow Lake and Hike to Bow Glacier Galls
Bow Lake is another stunner that’s a brilliant aquamarine color on a summer day. The scale of the lake is impressive as it’s one of the largest in the park and the giant mountains that surround the lake humble visitors with scale. It makes a great place for a nice picnic, canoe, or you can hike to wonderful Bow Falls one of our favorites in Banff.
If you have time I highly suggest hiking to Bow Glacier Falls behind the lake. Then you get up close to the falls that fall from the Wapta Icefield and feed Bow Lake.
Take a Dip in Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake is one of our favorites because it’s often overlooked by the more popular Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. Take a nice stroll around Johnson Lake and enjoy the mountain scenery. Or alternatively, Johnson Lake is one of the best lakes in Banff to take a dip in. It’s warm and not wind affected like so many other lakes in the Canadian Rockies. Plus there is a hidden rope swing on this lake!
Enjoy a Beer at Banff Ave Brewery
One of the best things to do in Banff in the summer is head to Banff Ave Brewery for drink. This brewery was opened by the same crew who opened the Jasper Brewing Co (Canada’s first National Park Brewery) after great success.
Located on Banff Avenue this two-story restaurant and bar serve up delicious food and great beer. It’s well worth a stop for anyone visiting Banff. Try to get a seat outside in the summer and watch life go by! Warning, the deck space is pretty limited so you’re lucky if you snag a seat on the weekend.
Head to the Waldhaus Restaurant & Pub
Another one of our favorite places to have a beer in Banff in the summer is the Waldhaus Pub near the Banff Springs Hotel. I love coming here when the weather is nice and grabbing a beer, pretzels, and watching golfers tee off under the mountains.
Have a Picnic!
A holiday to Banff is not a cheap one. Banff is a tourist town and prices are higher than many other places in Canada. If you go out to eat for every meal you’ll put a bit of a dent in your wallet. I recommend grabbing some bread and cheese and a cooler and enjoy a picnic lunch (just remember to leave no trace).
There are so many lakes and rivers to pull off by in the summer and enjoy a meal in the mountains. If you really want to save money on your food to Save On Foods or Safeway in Canmore where prices are in Banff.
Climb Cascade Mountain
Cascade Mountain towers over the town of Banff and has been on every postcard of Banff National Park for years. It’s beautiful to look at, but you don’t just have to stop there!
Did you know you can actually climb Cascade Mountain? It will require work and a long 20km day with a lot of elevation gain, but the rewards are fantastic views over Lake Minnewanka and the glory of saying you summited Cascade! It’s not the most exciting hike you can do in Banff but it is easily accessible from the town if you don’t want to venture far. Plan a full day for Cascade Mountain and pack appropriately, this is a serious mountain and should not be taken lightly.
Canoe on Lake Louise
Lake Louise is the other iconic lake that millions from around the world flock to Banff to see. It is certainly a highlight of any trip to Canada. Lake Louise, while not AS scenic as Moraine Lake is still pretty darn mesmerizing.
Lake Louise is another glacier-fed lake that sparkles bright turquoise blue under the sun. The mountains of Banff rise up around it provide the perfect backdrop to any photo.
Lake Louise is frozen solid from late October to early June, but in the summer you can take a canoe out and enjoy the fresh air. If you’re brave you can jump in for a few seconds!
Lake Agnes Teahouse Trek
The Lake Agnes Teahouse trek is a popular thing to do in Banff for visitors to Lake Louise. This is an easy hike above Lake Louise that is suitable for all visitors to Banff. When you reach the top of the 7.6 kilometers (round trip) heavily trafficked out and back trail you’ll find a teahouse and stunning Lake Agnes.
This is an easy hike that can be done in under an hour and is an iconic thing to do in Banff. However, be warned it is a busy one in Banff in the summer. To escape the crowds (and get better views) keep climbing to the Little Beehive, Big Beehive, Mt. St. Piran, or Devils Thumb. If you’re an experienced scrambler you can keep going past to summit Mount Niblock (moderate scramble) or Mount Whyte (difficult exposed scramble!).
Stroll Through the Cascade Gardens
If you’re strolling around Downtown Banff in the summer you can’t miss a stop at Cascade Gardens. It’s located behind Park Canada’s building right at the end of Banff Ave. From the garden, you get great views of Rundle and Cascade. This should go without saying, but don’t pick the flowers, please.
Head to Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake (PEE-toh) is a yet another glacier-fed lake in Banff National Park. This is probably the third most popular lake to visit in Banff, after Louise and Moraine. The reason is its unique shape that resembles a fox and absolutely mind-blowingly blue water.
Peyto Lake is easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway. To get a great view all you have to do is to park and hike up a simple 10-minute path to the viewpoint.
How do You Avoid Crowds in Banff in the Summer?
Avoiding the crowds in Banff in the summer is actually easier than you would think. Banff is huge, the second largest park in Canada to be exact. Which means you just have to get off the beaten path a little bit to avoid the crowds. That means staying away from extremely popular places like Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Sulphur Mountain, and Peyto Lake. Instead, opt for hiking in Banff. The more difficult the hike, the fewer people you’ll see. Read our guide on how to hike in Banff safely.
If you want to enjoy a day at the lake, head to ones like Waterfowl Lakes or Chephren Lake. They take a little more work to get to, but you’ll be rewarded with fewer people around.