There’s really nowhere quite as remarkable as Banff National Park and to travel Banff is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 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!
These mountains provide an endless playground bringing in millions of tourists a year. Hopefully, these Banff travel tips will help plan 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 YYC to Banff in just an hour and a half, making Calgary the ideal starting point.
I’m thrilled 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 exceptionally breezy.
The only other 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 spending the majority of your time in Jasper National Park.
Consider Renting A Car for Banff
Being in North America, your options for transport are limited. Most visitors to Banff will rent a car in Calgary, which 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 your travel season, car rentals in Calgary can be pretty affordable. We’ve rented with Enterprise for less than $25 CAD a day in the winter. However, expect prices to rise quite drastically during July and August.
In Banff in the winter, it’s best to get a car with winter tires, so make sure to check with your car rental agency. These winter tires are mandatory if you decide to drive from Alberta into BC! 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 without a car, the Banff Airporter is a good option and costs $146 (CAD) round trip.
Once in Banff, there is the Roam bus system to get around town. In the summer, it runs to sights like Lake Minnewanka and Lake Louise. While in the winter, it will quickly get you to Lake Louise Ski Resort and Banff Sunshine Ski Resort. The Roam Transit also easily connects Banff to Canmore.
The Main “Tourist” Sights Are Worth It
Every popular area is popular because they are out of this world beautiful. Everyone loves them, which means that they are swamped during the high season.
However, I wouldn’t let that differ you from visiting. Trust me, I absolutely HATE crowds, but Banff National Park’s natural spots are so incredible that it’s hard to let the crowds deter you. Even with the high numbers I don’t think there is anywhere more beautiful than Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
My advice would be to go see them once and then continue to some of the less popular areas (we’re getting to where those are!).
How to Avoid the Crowds at the Popular Banff Spots
My best Banff travel tip for avoiding the crowds is to travel outside of July and August, 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, you can generally score some solitude if you hang out around until about 9 pm in the summer. I know it sounds late, but the sun sets around 10:30pm in July, leaving plenty of time to explore.
Beyond the popular sights, I can’t stress enough to get out on some hikes. This is the best way to avoid crowds in the Rockies. In general, the further and higher you hike the fewer people you will see. Some of our favorite hikes and scrambles that don’t see many people are The Onion, Mist Mountain (Summit not hot springs), and Arnica Lake.
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 places to 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 and click around on 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 larger than some countries, but the reality is most people head to the same spots on their trips. 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 secluded 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 or parking at Lake Louise, drive up the Icefields parkway and enjoy Waterfowl Lakes.
- Instead of bumping into crowds on Banff Ave, head to Canmore or Golden for a pleasant stroll down the main street.
- Instead of hiking an easy trail in Banff, try one of these Kananaskis hikes instead or go hiking in Yoho National Park.
- Instead of fighting the crowds at Johnston Canyon, try Grotto Canyon in Canmore.
Venture to the Neighboring Mountain Towns
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 internationally known, but Canmore is where many of the mountain people really reside and base themselves. That being said with each passing year, Canmore becomes more expensive and busier.
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.
Another great mountain town to visit that sees far fewer numbers of people is Golden, BC. Golden is just one hour away from Lake Louise and provides exceptional access to Glacier National Park and Yoho National Park.
Consider Booking Accommodation Outside of Banff
One of my favorite Banff travel tips is to stay in the next door towns to save money. My two suggestions are either Golden or Canmore. Canmore is just a 15 minute drive away from Banff, so is the more obvious choice while Golden is closer to Yoho National Park.
Don’t just head to Canmore for a quick two-hour detour though – come and stay awhile. Canmore has many hotel and guesthouse options in and around town.
Canmore is slightly more affordable than Banff will provide you with a more local feeling, and is often 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, as there are some amazing hiking opportunities in both!
Dress For The Mountains
If I had a dollar for every time I saw a visitor wearing skimpy mountain clothes, I would have like $500. No, but seriously it’s best to come to Banff dressed for mountain weather. That means packable down jackets and warm hats even in the summer.
The weather in Banff can change at a moment’s notice, and you don’t want to be underdressed. It’s essential to pack layers, thermals, and hiking boots or shoes for hiking.
Yes, hiking boots or shoes. If you plan to hike while visiting Banff, please do not show up in Converse shoes. It will not only make you uncomfortable and look like a little out of place, 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 are crucial. Don’t come to Banff with heels; no one wears them here.
We wear our hiking shoes, Salomon Speedcross, Blundstone Shoes, Arcteryx down jackets and Patagonia sweaters everywhere. There are not many places around Banff where this attire isn’t acceptable. You wouldn’t look strange going to the nicest Banff restaurant in it! 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 simply want to hike around mountain trails and camp 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 is a winter wonderland for you, then the best time to visit Banff is between December and February. If good weather means sunshine and long days, 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 to see some snow in any of these months. Although come June, the weather will be starting to turn, come late September, you’ll be experiencing white fluff again.
March, April, and November are low season months when you 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 in the summer. Coyotes, cougars, moose, black bears…they can all be found in and around Banff National Park and the rest of the Rockies. 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 visit 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. 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, the animal will likely be put down even if it’s the human’s fault.
Always Be Wildlife Aware
If you plan to hike 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 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. If it’s a busy trail, so you generally don’t need to make too much noise, but always be bear aware.
This means staying alert, traveling in a group if possible, minding children and keeping the pets on a leash, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. This means having it easily accessible so you can reach it within seconds in an emergency and not at the bottom of your backpack.
If you are flying to Alberta, bear spray cannot travel on an airplane. So it’s best to buy it when you get to Canada. Atmosphere on Banff Ave and Valhalla in Canmore both carry bear spray and are recommended places to buy it.
Check Trail Conditions
Before heading out on any trail, you should be prepared for the wilderness and trail conditions. My go-to is the app, AllTrails, which reviews many of the current trail conditions.
If there are recent reviews, I study them before picking where I will head off for the day. If someone notes that the trails are icy or that they recently saw a bear on the course, 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 need a Parks Canada pass to visit Banff and all the Canadian National Parks. This includes Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park, and Kootenay National Park.
Yes, Parks Canada employees check, and you can get a ticket. Parks Canada pass prices are as follows:
- Adult: $10.50
- Senior: $9.00
- Youth (up to 17): Free
- Family/group of 7 people: $21.00
- 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 $145.25 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: $72.25
- Senior: $61.75
- Family: $145.25
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 you might suffer from altitude sickness from visiting Banff, getting medication may be worth it.
Although, I have never had a problem in the Canadian Rockies, and neither have any friends and family that have visited. So unless you are prone to altitude sickness, you will 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 in many other places in Canada. If you go out to eat for every meal, you’ll put a massive dent in your wallet.
I recommend booking a VRBO with a kitchen to enjoy some of your meals in. The leading 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. Grab some bread and cheese and a cooler for lunch and enjoy a picnic lunch (just remember to leave no trace).
If you really want to save money on your food, Save On Foods or Safeway in Canmore have everyday grocery store prices that don’t gouge tourists.
Enjoy All The Things To Do in Banff
There are SO many amazing 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! We get out all the time and know we will never even scratch the surface. You’ll love being in Banff as long as you like being outside. Here are just a few things 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: Two Jack Lake is just a five-minute drive away from Lake Minnewanka. 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, it’s possible to arrive here with a tripod in the winter 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 are 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 prevalent than nearby Lake Moraine or Lake Louise. While the water is not glacier-fed bright blue, it’s a peaceful area.
Where to Stay in Banff
You have so many options for lodging in Banff. We break down all the best neighborhoods to stay in Banff here, as well as the best hotels in Banff, and the best hotels in Canmore. A few of our favorite places are:
Hopefully, these Banff travel tips help you plan your trip to Banff.
If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.
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
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out Safetywing or World Nomads offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our complete Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around or embarking on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.
↓ Join the community ↓
The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for the Canadian Rockies travel advice and information. Including hike info and off-season travel information. This is also a place where you can meet one another when you need adventure buddies.