There’s really nowhere quite as special as Banff National Park. Whether it’s the winter or summer in Banff there is so much to do in Banff it’s impossible to get bored. We visited this little mountain town a few years back and fell in love so much that we decided to move here, and eventually start this entire website!
The mountains provide an endless playground bringing in millions of tourists a year. Hopefully, these Banff travel tips will help with planning your ultimate Canadian Rockies trip and let you experience Banff to the fullest.
Our Top Banff Travel Tips
Start Your Banff Trip in Calgary
Most visitors traveling to Banff will fly into Calgary International Airport (YYC). You can get to and from the airport to Banff in just an hour and a half which really makes Calgary the ideal starting point.
I’m very happy to call Calgary my home airport as I think it’s the most chill airport I’ve ever been in. I’ve rarely waited in a line for check-in or security and coming into Calgary on an international flight is extremely breezy.
The only other viable option for travelers coming in via plane is to fly into Edmonton. However, Edmonton International Airport consistently churns out much higher airfare prices than Calgary and is further away from Banff. I would only recommend flying into Edmonton if you are mainly visiting Jasper National Park.
Consider Renting A Car
Being in North America your options for transport are limited. Most visitors to Banff will rent a car in Calgary as this is the easiest way to get around. Renting a car for Banff ensures that you can get to where you want to go on your own schedule.
Depending on the season of your travel car rentals in Calgary can be quite affordable. We’ve rented with Enterprise for less than $20 CAD a day in the winter. However, expect prices to rise during July and August.
In the winter, it’s best to get a car with winter tires so make sure to check with your car rental agency. If you do decide to drive from Alberta into BC these winter tires are mandatory! You can see road conditions here, which are super helpful between November and late April.
There are Other Options Besides Renting A Car
You may not feel comfortable driving in Canada and that’s okay! There are other options to get to and from Banff and around the town. However, they are limited so keep that in mind.
To get from YYC to Banff, the Banff Airporter is a good option and costs $138 (CAD) round trip.
Once in Banff, there is the Roam bus system to get around town and in the summer it runs to Lake Louise while in the winter it will easily get you to Lake Louise Ski Resort and Banff Sunshine Ski Resort.
The Main “Tourist” Sights Are Worth It
Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon, Peyto Lake…these are among some of the most popular spots to visit in Banff National Park. For good reason too! Every single popular spot is popular because they are out of this world beautiful. Everyone loves them and that means that they are extremely busy during the high season.
However, I wouldn’t let that differ you from visiting. Trust me, I absolutely HATE crowds but these natural spots in Banff National Park are so amazingly beautiful it’s hard to let the crowds deter you. My advice would be to go see them once, and then continue on to some of the less popular areas (we’re getting to where those are!).
How to Avoid the Crowds at the Popular Spots
It’s hard to avoid the crowds around Banff in the summertime. In Downtown Banff and places like Sulphur Mountain and Lake Minnewanka, it’s almost impossible. My best Banff travel tip for avoiding the crowds is to travel outside of July and August and get up as early as possible and stay out later.
Moraine Lake and Lake Louise will get crowded around 6 am-7 am so set your alarm early! However, if you hang out around until around 9 pm in the summer you can generally score some solitude. I know it sounds late, but the sun sets around 10:30pm in July, leaving plenty of time to explore.
Spread Out The Tourism
Of course I don’t recommend only going to the well-known sites in Banff. The park is 6,641 km2 (2,564 sq miles) so there are PLENTY of places to go and find some quiet space. I could go on and on about how to escape the crowds in Banff, or I could tell you to navigate this site. It has all the resources you need for researching and finding the best places to go in Banff for you!
Banff National Park is bigger than some countries, but the reality is most people head to the same spots on their trip. It’s been estimated that over 85% of visitors to the park don’t venture more than 2 km from the car park. Obviously, this will create crowding issues. To find yourself in more alone experiences hike higher, further, and venture away from the main tourist spots. Here is a post on over 130 things to do in the Canadian Rockies – some are popular things to do, while others are not. I know I said I wouldn’t, but here are just a few tips for spreading out:
- Instead of fighting for parking at Moraine Lake, drive up the Icefields parkway and enjoy Waterfowl Lakes.
- Instead of bumping into crowds on Banff Ave, head to Canmore for a nice stroll down main street.
- Instead of hiking an easy trail in Banff, try one of these Kananaskis hikes instead.
- Instead of fighting the crowds at Johnston Canyon, try Grotto Canyon in Canmore.
Make Sure To Check Out Canmore
We chose to call Canmore home, so of course I’m always going to advocate for visiting Canmore. In my opinion and after much observation I find Canmore to have a much more local feeling. Banff is a town built on tourism, and is more international known, but Canmore is where many of the mountain people really reside and base themselves.
Canmore is closer to Calgary, closer to Kananaskis Country, less crowded, and more affordable than nearby Banff. Plus there are plenty of epic things to do in Canmore.
Consider Staying In Canmore
One of my favorite Banff travel tips is to actually visit the town next door! Don’t just head to Canmore for a quick two-hour detour – come and stay awhile. Canmore has many hotel and guesthouse options in and around town. As mentioned it’s also more affordable, will provide you with a more local feeling, and less crowded. There are things like a normal-priced grocery store and down-to-earth restaurants in Canmore.
I particularly love Canmore’s proximity to the Spray Valley and Kananaskis Country.
Dress For The Mountains
If I had a dollar for every time I saw a visitor wearing poor mountain clothes I would have, like $500. No, but seriously guys come to Banff dressed for mountain weather. That means packable down jackets and warm hats even in the summer.
The weather here can change at a moment’s notice and you don’t want to be underdressed. It’s extremely important to pack layers, thermals, and hiking boots or shoes for hiking.
Yes, hiking boots or shoes. If you plan to do any hiking while visiting Banff please do not show up in Converse shoes. It will not only make you uncomfortable and look like a tourist, but it can be potentially dangerous if you attempt a mountain hike you are not prepared for. You can find my entire list of what to pack for Banff here.
Wear Proper Footwear
I had to categorize this again because footwear choices in the mountains is extremely important. Don’t come to Banff with heels, no one wears them here. We wear our hiking shoes and Patagonia sweaters everywhere and there are not many places around Banff where this attire isn’t acceptable. I’ll link to our favorite hiking gear at the bottom of this post.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Banff?
With some stunning scenery to behold all year round, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Canadian Rockies ever. Whether you like skiing and snowboarding or you simply want to hike around mountain trails and camp out under the stars, Banff is a dreamy destination of imposing mountains, glassy lakes, and storming waterfalls.
So, when is the best time to visit Banff for good weather? It depends. If good weather for you is a winter wonderland then the best time to visit Banff is between December and February. If good weather for you means sunshine and long days then the best time to visit Banff is July and August.
May, June, September, and October are the shoulder seasons, and I would be prepared for some snow in any of these months. Although come June the weather will be starting to turn, but come late September you’ll be experiencing white fluff again.
March, April, and November are low season months and is when you will find the best rates.
Don’t Bother The Wildlife
You can find all sorts of wildlife in Banff National Park. If your dream is to see an elk or grizzly bear you stand a decent chance of seeing these animals. Coyotes, cougars, moose, black bears…they can all be found in and around Banff National Park. They are beautiful, but should also be respected.
Bears are not cuddly, and your distance should be kept if you see one. Don’t try to get a selfie, don’t try to feed them, don’t try to get closer for an Instagram shot, don’t get out of your car when you see one…don’t do any of these things. Admire the bear from a safe distance and move on. Don’t stop traffic when you see a grizzly with cubs (it’s called a “Bear Jam” and locals do not like them).
Please don’t feed the chipmunks around Lake Louise and always clean up after yourself. Pretty much every trash can in the park is a bear-safe trash can, but if you just leave your food and trash on top of the trash can or don’t latch it, it’s basically worthless. If I had a dollar for all the times I’ve seen these things I would have another $1000. So now I’m up to $1500 – yay!
Respect the precious wildlife that is in Banff and avoid human encounters. If you don’t it’s not only you that could get hurt but the animal too. As soon as a wild animal becomes aggressive towards humans, even if it’s the human’s fault the animal will likely be put down.
Always Be Wildlife Aware
If you plan to do any hiking around Banff you need to go to the local outdoor store and purchase a canister of bear spray. This will set you back around $30-45 CAD but it is more than worth it in the event of a bear encounter gone wrong.
When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners. It’s also a busy trail so you generally don’t need to make too much noise, but always be bear aware.
Which means staying alert, traveling in a group, minding children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it.
If you are flying, bear spray cannot travel on an airplane. So it’s best to buy it when you are in the park. Atmostphere in Banff carries them and is a great place to buy a canister.
Check Trail Conditions
Before you head out on any trail you should be prepared for the wilderness and trail conditions. My go-to is the app, AllTrails, which gives reviews of many of the recent trail conditions.
If there are recent reviews I study them before picking where I’m going to head off to for the day. If someone notes that the trails are icy or that they recently saw a bear on the trail I will likely avoid it and pick another one. You should also check Parks Canada for trail closure notices.
Purchase a Parks Canada Pass
You can purchase a Parks Canada pass at any park gate, you do need a Parks Canada pass to visit Banff. Yes, Parks Canada employees do check and you can get a ticket. Parks Canada pass prices are as follows:
- Adult: $10.00
- Senior: $8.40
- Youth (up to 17): Free
- Family/group of 7 people: $20.00
- Day passes expire at 4 pm the following day.
You can buy from Parks Canada in advance online. If you’re staying in Banff for more than a few days I highly recommend a Discovery Pass. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass which gets you entrance to all Parks Canada destinations for the year is only $139.40 for a family. Again, day passes are $10 per person, so depending on how many days you are staying and if you have plans to go to Banff, you may want to consider the Discover Pass. Discovery Pass fees are as follows:
- Adult: $69.19
- Senior: $59.17
- Family: $139.40
Read more about Parks Canada passes on the Parks Canada website.
Altitude In Banff
The town of Banff sits at 1,383 meters (4,537 feet), making it the highest town in Canada. If you think that you might suffer from altitude sickness from visiting Banff it may be worth it to get medication.
Although, I have never had a problem in the Canadian Rockies and neither have any of the friends and family that have visited. So unless you are prone to altitude sickness you’ll likely be fine! Just come with lots of lotion and chapstick – it’s dry here!
Save Money By Eating In
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 huge dent in your wallet.
I recommend booking a place with a kitchen so you can enjoy some of your meals in. The main grocery stores in Banff are IGA and Nesters. They are more expensive than your typical Canadian grocery store, but still cheaper than eating every meal out. For lunch grab some bread and cheese and a cooler and enjoy a picnic lunch (just remember to leave no trace).
If you really want to save money on your food to Save On Foods or Safeway in Canmore where prices are normal grocery store prices.
Enjoy All The Things To Do!
There are SO many things to do in Banff and around Banff it’s impossible to ever get bored, and you’ll need many trips to Banff to feel fulfilled to the fullest! As long as you like being outside you’ll love being in Banff. Here are just a few of the things to in Banff that I recommend.
- Relax at Lake Minnewanka: One of the top things to do in Banff National Park is Lake Minnewanka. Lake Minnewanka is a glacial lake that is just a ten-minute drive away from the town of Banff. This lake is 21 km long and 142 meters deep.
- Photograph Two Jack Lake: Just a five-minute drive away from Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake. It’s another fantastic lake with Mount Rundle Views. Two Jack is one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies, due to its proximity to Banff. However, in the winter it’s possible to arrive here with a tripod and be all by yourself.
- Ski/Snowboard: Banff has three ski resorts in the park, and a few more if you venture to Kananaskis, Golden, or Jasper. All are fantastic and is the best thing to do in the winter.
- Mt Norquay Via Ferrata: Want to get into the mountains, 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.
- Hike to Helen Lake: Helen Lake is a beautiful lake along the Icefields Parkway. It’s far less popular than nearby Lake Moraine or Lake Louise. While the water is not glacier-fed bright blue it’s a peaceful area.
See All Our Things to do in the Rockies!
- 3o Wonderful Things To Do in Banff in Winter
- 50+ Best Things To Do in Banff National Park
- 14 Things to do in Waterton National Park
- 21 Amazing Things to Do in Lake Louise
- 12 Amazing Things to Do in Lake Louise in The Winter
- 15 Fun Things to do in Canmore in the Winter
- 45 Fantastic Things To Do in Canmore, Alberta
- 16 Magical Things to do in Jasper in the Winter
- 30 Absolutely Awesome Things To Do in Jasper
- 10 Best Things to do in Golden
What to Wear On a Hike in the Rockies?
- Down Jacket: A down jacket is an essential in the Rockies. They pack down and fit easily in a backpack. However, despite their lightweight nature, they can offer a lot of warmth which is needed on almost every mountain summit.
- Hiking Pants: Good hiking pants are important in the Rockies as there is a lot of loose scree and rocks that can tear others pants easily. Our favorite hiking pants are the Fjallraven Kebs (Mens and Womens)
- Hiking Leggings: Hiking leggings are great for women in the Rockies. They provide awesome mobility and these ones from Arcteryx aren’t see through and are heavy duty.
- Windbreaker/Rainjacket: An important item to have while hiking is a windbreaker jacket. They come in especially handy on mountain summits when the wind is aboslutely whipping. Arc’teryx Windbreakers are our preferred jackets
- Sunglasses: Proper eye protection is important. Our favorite sunglasses brand is Smith.
- Scrambling Gloves: I don’t go on a hike or scramble in the Rockies witout a pair of rugged clothes to protect my hands. My favorites are from Outdoor Research.
- Trail Runners: Honestly I complete most hikes in trail runners so I can run or jog parts of the trail when I want. My go to trail runners are made by Salomon.
- Hiking Boots: On multi day hikes when I am carrying a large load I turn to proper hiking boots. The Salomon Outline boots are fantastic.
- Wool Socks: Don’t cheap out on your hiking socks. A proper pair of wool socks can make the difference between wet and dry feet.
- Hiking Underwear: The difference between hiking in normal underwear and actual moisture wicking underwear meant for outdoor actitivites is extreme. Yes they are more expensive but they last forever. My favorites are from Patagonia.
- Performance Shirt: The Outdoor Research Echo Series are the best hiking shirts for men and women.
- Hiking Poles: Can save your knees, especially on the descent of some of these steep hikes. Black Diamond is my preferred brand.
- Lightweight Backpack: You’ll need an awesome backpack for carrying all your gear. My favorite hiking backpacks are made by Camelbak.