22 Helpful Tips for Visiting Banff National Park

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!

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 to the Canadian Rockies.


Our Top Banff Travel Tips


What Airport Do You Fly Into For Banff?

Most visitors traveling to Banff will fly into Calgary International Airport (YYC). You can get to and from the airport to Banff is 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 flown in and out. I’ve rarely waited in a line for check-in or security and coming into Calgary on an international flight is extremely breezy. Nevertheless, if you’re visiting Canada and coming off a long haul flight check out our long haul flying tips first.

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

One of our top Banff travel tips is to consider renting a car for your trip. 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 in Canada 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.


Other Options Besides Renting a Car

Roam Transit

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.

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.


Go See the Main Sites

Peyto-Lake-Viewpoint-Sunset

Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon, Peyto Lake are some of the main “tourist” spots 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 deter you from visiting. I’m not a big fan of 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!).


Enjoy the Lakes

Banff travel tips

Speaking of a few lakes, it’s important to make sure you check them out in Banff. They are incredibly blue, and even Emerald sometimes. Why is the water so blue in Banff? Nope, it’s not food coloring. Lakes like Lake Louise and Bow Lake get their color from the glaciers that surround them.

In the early summer the melting glaciers run into the lake, they in turn deposit rock flour (fine rock ground by moving glaciers), this in turn refracts the sunlight. You can expect the color to change slightly based on the sunlight, but in general from June to September the lakes will be a beautiful baby blue.


Avoid the Crowds

It’s hard to avoid the crowds around Banff in the summertime. On the streets of Banff, on the top of Sulphur Mountain, or along the banks of 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. During the day test out some of the lesser-known trails to find seclusion.

Around Moraine Lake and Lake Louise it will get crowded around 6 am-7 am so set your alarm early! However, if you hang out around till 9 pm you can generally score some solitude.


Spread Out the Tourism

Mount Allan Hike Kananaskis Country

Of course, I don’t recommend only going to 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 and that does not include the connected parks of Kananaskis Country, Kootenay, Yoho, Jasper, Robson, and even more wilderness areas. Check out our list of things to do in Banff for a few ideas of getting off the beaten path.


Head to 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 tourist town where people live, but Canmore is where the mountain people really reside and base themselves out of.

Canmore is closer to Calgary, closer to Kananaskis Country, less crowded, and more affordable than nearby Banff. Plus there are almost more things to do in Canmore than in Banff.


Do You Have to Pay to Enter Banff?

Big Beehive

If you’re wondering if you have to pay to enter Banff the answer is yes. You’ll need a Parks Canada pass to enter Banff National Park. There are gates to buy a pass at the entrance of the park. You can purchase a Parks Canada pass at any park gate. Or you can buy them in advance online. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass which gets you entrance to all Parks Canada destinations for the year is only $139.40 for a family and $67.70 for a seasonal adult pass. Day passes are $9.80 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.

You cannot stop in Banff without a parks pass, though you can drive on the Trans-Canada. If you want to drive through Banff to sightsee, or get gas you can do so, but leaving the car may subject you to a ticket. So, if you plan on stopping in Banff for any duration of time you’ll need to purchase a pass.


Is Parking Free in Banff?

Parking is free in Banff but every area has limits. The Town of Banff has on-street parking and off-street lots, but they aren’t plentiful, so in the peak summer you may find trouble parking in town. Restrictions on time limits are enforced.


Consider Staying in Canmore

Canmore Spring Creek

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 Airbnb 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 love Canmore’s proximity to the Spray Valley and Kananaskis Country. There’s a ton to do, great places to eat, and it’s just as beautiful as Banff.


Dress for the Mountains

Natasha on Mount Athabasca

Every season in the mountains someone gets into trouble for being poorly prepared for the mountains here. Please come to Banff dressed for mountain weather. That means packable down jackets and hats even in the summer. The vast majority of us won’t face life-threatening conditions in the mountains. However, your comfort can mean the difference between a great day and a bad day.

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. 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 a bit like a fool, but it can be dangerous if you attempt a mountain hike you are not prepared for.

You can find our entire list of backpacking essentials here.


Wear Proper Footwear

Lake Minnewanka Shoreline

This is a must read Banff travel tip. I had to categorize this again because footwear choices in the mountains are extremely important. Don’t come to Banff with heels, no one wears them here. We wear our hiking boots and Patagonia sweaters everywhere and there are not many places around Banff where this attire isn’t acceptable. You can find out favorite hiking shoes for men and women here.


When is the Best Time to Visit Banff?

Tunnel-Mountain-Hike-Mount-Rundle-View

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 than 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 in 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. May is typically when the snow and ice start to melt, but expect the famed Lake Louise and Moraine to be frozen.


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 trashcan in the park is a bear safe trashcan, 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.

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

Bear Spray Hiking

Do you need bear spray in Banff? Absolutely. 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 CAD but it is more than worth it in the event of a bear encounter gone wrong.

Before any hike in Banff National Park, make sure to pack bear spray, check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada and AB Park), and then check again for notices at the trailhead. 

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.


Check Trail Conditions

Bourgeau Hike

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 pretty much every trail around Banff.

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.


Don’t Forget About the Altitude in Banff

Banff in October

The town of Banff sits at 1,383 metres (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 of any of the friends and family that have visited.


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 there. 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 try to shop at Save On Foods or Safeway in Canmore where prices are normal grocery store prices. Of course, you should eat out because there are some great restaurants in Banff!


Enjoy All the Things There Are to do in Banff

There are SO many things to do in Banff and around Banff it’s impossible to ever get bored. 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.

In the summer it’s a busy place to hike and go canoeing on, and in the winter it’s a sight to behold. 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.

Photograph Two Jack Lake

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 Big Mountain Terrain

Ski Snowboard

Snowboarding at all of the SkiBig3 resorts was our primary reason for heading to Banff in the winter. SkiBig3 is a collection of three mountain resorts all within Banff National Park. You have Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay which are all fantastic and unique ski resorts. Skiing or snowboarding here is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter.

Catch Sunset at Vermilion Lakes

A great Banff summer and winter excursion are Vermilion Lakes. The Lakes is one of my favorite places to go for both sunrise and sunset. Mount Rundle, arguably the most famous mountain in the whole park towers over the lake creating an epic backdrop any time of the year.

It’s the perfect place to come early morning and enjoy your coffee, or travel to for sunset with a bottle of wine. You can also take a canoe, kayak, or paddleboards out here and enjoy the water. The lakes are pretty calm and a great place for a chill ride.


Mt Norquay Via Ferrata

Norquay

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.

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.


Hike to Helen Lake

Helen Lake

Helen Lake is a beautiful lake along the Icefields Parkway. It’s far less popular than nearby Moraine Lake or Lake Louise. While the water is not glacier-fed bright blue it’s just as beautiful and quiet.

Travel Planning Resources

  • Packing Guide — Check out our Banff packing list to help pack your bags and ensure you don’t leave anything at home.

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