60+ BEST Things To Do In Banff

If you are looking for the best things to do in Banff, we have you covered! 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 and eventually start this entire Banff website.

There’s really nowhere quite as remarkable as Banff National Park. Whether it’s winter or summer in Banff, there is so much to do that it’s impossible to get bored. We could spend a lifetime exploring these spectacular mountains.

The mountains provide an endless playground, so there is little mystery as to why millions choose to visit each year. Hopefully, this guide will give you the information to choose the best things to do in Banff for you and your travel companions.


Best Things To Do In Banff National Park


Go For a Bike Ride

Natasha Cycling The Bow Valley Parkway
Cycling on the Bow Valley Parkway

If there is a style of biking you enjoy, you’ll find an abundance of scenic places to get on a bike in Banff. Your skill level doesn’t matter either, as there is everything in the area. Head over to the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise on a road bike for one of the best rides of your life. Or head over to Canmore’s Nordic Center for some thrilling mountain bike trails.

If all of that sounds like too much, hop on the Legacy Trail (a paved trail that links Banff and Canmore) and ride to Canmore for some beers at the Grizzly Paw Brewery. You can even rent e-bikes at Banff Cycle for a leisurely ride to enjoy the scenery around Banff, like Bow Falls or Vermilion Lakes.


Have a Picnic by the River

Banff in the summer
Picnicking along the Icefields Parkway

A holiday to Banff is not a cheap one. Banff is a tourist town with higher prices 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 grabbing some bread and cheese and a cooler and enjoying a picnic lunch (just remember to leave no trace). In the summer, there are so many lakes and rivers to pull over by and enjoy a meal in the mountains.

If you really want to save money on your food, try venturing to Save On Foods or Safeway in Canmore, where prices are more normal grocery store prices rather than the IGA in Banff (though truly getting groceries in Calgary is the cheapest option). Some of the best picnic spots in Banff are:

  • Cascade Ponds
  • Waterfowl Lakes
  • Mt Norquay Viewpoint
  • Along the Bow River

Around Downtown Banff


Head Up the Banff Gondola

banff gondola in winter

The Banff Gondola is there for you if you want to get those amazing mountain range views from the top of Sulphur Mountain. The gondola runs year-round and provides the chance to relax and hang over the trees.

It’s easily the most popular thing to do in Banff, and every family member and friend that we bring up it raves about their time. We have now been up the Banff Gondola close to 10 times in every season. It’s not a cheap experience at over $60, but most find it’s well worth it. In my opinion, the gondola is great for those that are not physically able to do the hike. This may mean people with disabilities, the elderly, or large families.

If you are able and want to save some money, I highly recommend hiking up Sulphur Mountain. It’s not a hard climb and is doable all year round. The beautiful view will feel much more rewarding! Either way, you can’t travel to Banff and not take in the views from Sulphur Mountain!


Stroll Through the Cascade of Time Garden

Cascade Gardens

The Cascade of Time Garden is one of the best places to visit in Banff when you want to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while you stroll through the beautiful garden. It’s located behind Park Canada’s building right at the end of Banff Ave. From the garden, you get great views of Mt. Rundle and Cascade Mountain. This should go without saying, but please don’t pick the flowers.


Soak in the Banff Hot Springs

Banff Hot Springs-in april

Enjoying hot water in the cool air is one of the top activities in Banff. Don’t let the frigid Canadian temperatures detract you; there are plenty of ways to warm up around Banff. Just outside of Banff town lies the Banff Upper Hot Springs, easily one of the best places to visit in Banff and among the best hot springs in Alberta.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs water is geothermal, coming from the earth’s crust 3 km down and makes for one of the best places to relax those stiff muscles after a ski day. Just be warned, afternoons can draw a crowd in the summer, so head there in the morning for a more quiet experience. How much are the Banff Hot Springs? Don’t worry – it won’t break the bank at just over $16.


Buffalo Nations Museum

Buffalo Nations Museum

If you want to learn a bit more about the traditional and contemporary lives of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, pay a visit to the Buffalo Nations Museum. This log fortress on the Bow River will immerse you into a time when native people followed the great buffalo herds, traveled on horseback, and held elaborate ceremonies full of song and dance.


Open Top Touring

open top touring
Credit Amanda Hudson Cassell / Pursuit Collection

One of the newest experiences in Banff is to take a vintage tour! Pursuit Collection is now booking their Open Top Touring tour which allows visitors to roam the streets of Banff in style. During this tour a 1930s vintage automobile will take visitors to sights like Surprise Corner, Vermilion Viewpoint, Tunnel Mountain and Mount Norquay Viewpoint.

The vehicle is open glass and has a great canvas top roof, so you get to enjoy the views with storyteller guides in period costume the whole time, telling stories from 1938 to today. It’s great for small groups, special occasions, and wedding parties!


Taste the Gin at Park Distillery

Park Distillery Banff

The Park Disterilly is a hip restaurant and distillery in the town of Banff. It’s great for lunch and dinner and gets busy in the summer as it’s one of the best restaurants in Banff. This gin distillery has won multiple awards and has some delicious cocktails.

I mean, what can you expect from a place where the water comes from glaciers? It’s the perfect place to come with friends after a day out hiking or on the ski hill. They do daily free distillery tours (call to check times).


Enjoy a Beer at Banff Ave Brewery

Banff Ave Brewing

If you’re not much a gin person, then walk down the street to Banff Ave Brewery. This Banff 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 on Banff Avenue go by! Warning, the deck space is pretty limited, so you’re lucky if you snag a seat on the weekend.

Another great brewery in Banff is Three Bears Brewery on Bear Street, and if you find yourself in Canmore check out Grizzly Paw Brewery, Sheepdog Brewing, or Canmore Brewing Company.


Enjoy the Town of Banff

Downtown Banff

What is there to do in Downtown Banff? Plenty! If you want a day of shopping, cappuccinos, and breweries, stay in the Banff downtown area and venture right out from your hotel to stroll Banff Avenue for a few hours. Banff Ave has tons of restaurants, cafes, boutique shops, and even cheesy souvenir stores to entertain all. We recommend carving at least a half day on your vacation for wandering about.

During the summer season the Town of Banff will close its main street to vehicles in the downtown core between Wolf and Buffalo streets, and the adjacent sections of Caribou Street. Between May 19 and October 13th (tentative dates), this section of Banff Avenue will be exclusive to pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders.


Check Out Bow Falls

bow falls
Bow Falls

Bow Falls is a must-see waterfall when in Banff. It is only a short walk away from the town and takes you into magnificent nature. Although it is fantastic in the summer, I personally love visiting in the winter.

Depending on when you go to see them in the winter, they may be frozen, but we’ve been lucky and have seen their beauty half in ice and half in water. There are nice walkways for visitors so everyone can view safely.

Be warned: It’s one of the most popular things to do near Banff downtown, so there can be quite a crowd. Regardless, it’s a fantastic family activity to enjoy!


Eat The Castle Food Tour

banff springs hotel

If you want a bit of an indoor time and are a historian/foodie then embark on a culinary journey and explore the magnificent Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel with a small-group tasting tour. With four locations within the sprawling complex to visit, indulge in “fork and knife” tastings and beverage pairings at the Vermillion Room and 1888 Chop House. During this personalized experience, your knowledgeable guide will also provide insights into the hotel’s history, art, and architecture. It’s also a fantastic way to see inside the famous hotel without actually being a hotel guest.


Lake Experiences


Cruise Along Lake Minnewanka

lake minnewanka at sunset

One of the top things to do in Banff National Park is to stroll along the shoreline or take a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka. Lake Minnewanka is an awe-inspiring lake just ten minutes from the town of Banff. It has a long history and people have hunted and camped along its shores for a hundred centuries. Its waters and natural beauty are revered, and the Indigenous Stoney people named it Minn-waki, which means Lake of the Spirits, because they respected and feared the lake for its resident spirits.

In “recent” years, it’s grown in size as a dam was built in the 1940s to supply additional power supply for the region. This grew the lake to 21 km long and 142 meters deep and helped power Banff with hydroelectric power. At the lake’s start lies Devil’s Gap, where the lake opens up to foothills and is flanked by Rockies. One of the best ways to take in the lake is on a Lake Minnewanka boat cruise that runs during the summer months.

boating-on-lake-minnewanka
On the Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise

In the summer, it’s a great destination for hiking, picnicking, and canoeing. In the winter, it’s a great spot for ice skating, snowshoeing, or just taking in the views. It’s one of our favorite spots in Banff, and we’ve lost count of how many times we’ve visited.

See it from the water and book a Cruise! Lake Minnewanka Cruise

Take Photos at Two Jack Lake

two jack lake banff
Two Jack Lake at sunset

Two Jack Lake is just a five-minute drive from Lake Minnewanka. It’s another fantastic lake with sweeping views of Mount Rundle. Two Jack is one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies due to its proximity to Banff and the amazing landscape. It’s also a popular spot for visitors and locals to go kayaking or swimming.

The lake always makes for a great photograph, especially when the evening light hits Mt. Rundle. In the winter, it’s even possible to arrive here with a tripod and be all by yourself. There’s also a campsite adjacent to the lake, which is one of the most popular in the summer.


Catch Sunset at Vermilion Lakes

Vermilion Lakes Sunset Couple
Vermilion Lakes at Sunset

Vermilion Lakes are a fantastic series of lakes that are fantastic any season. It’s one of our favorite spots in Banff for sunrise and sunset. Mount Rundle, arguably the most famous mountain in the whole park, towers over the lake, creating an epic backdrop at any time of the year. It’s the perfect place to come early morning and enjoy your coffee or travel for sunset with a bottle of wine.

You can also take a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard out here and enjoy the water. The lakes are pretty calm even on a windy day, and they are home to a plethora of birdlife. If we’re ever in town in the evening, this is where we’ll head to catch the sunset.


Morning Walk at Johnson Lake

Johnson-Lake-Banff-National-Park
Johnson Lake on a quiet morning

Johnson Lake is one of our favorite lakes to enjoy because it’s often overlooked by the more popular Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka and, therefore, fairly quiet.

Take a nice stroll around Johnson Lake and enjoy the mountain scenery. It’s a straightforward hike that is an even elevation and makes for a great evening or morning walk. The Johnson Lake Loop is near Banff town and close to Two Jack Lake campsite, and you can catch public transit here with Roam.

The trail works its way through the forest and offers some astounding views out over the lake back to Cascade Mountain looming high above. The lake is tranquil and a great place to go stand up paddleboarding or even take a swim if you’re brave enough. Keep an eye out for a rope swing!


Have a BBQ at Cascade Ponds

Cascade Ponds
Cascade Ponds in the Fall

Cascade Ponds are one of my favorite places to head to in Banff when I just want to chill and enjoy my surroundings. Located right off the Trans-Canada, well before you reach Two Jack Lake or Lake Minnewanka, you’ll come across Cascade Ponds. They are easily seen from the highway, but you could miss them if you don’t know what you are looking for.

Cascade Ponds are a series of ponds that lie right under Cascade Mountain. There are plenty of picnic benches and firepits here to enjoy a picnic. I like coming here on a sunny day and having a BBQ with the provided BBQ pits.

Just bring your beer and snacks, and you’re good to go (please remember to pick up after yourself and leave no trace). If you visit in the summer, you can see Cascade Waterfall coming from Cascade Mountain too!


Enjoy Waterfowl Lakes

Waterfowl Lakes Landscape

One of the best places to see in Banff that not many visitors think about are the Waterfowl Lakes. Waterfowl Lakes sit along the west side of the Icefields Parkway about 57kms north of Lake Louise. They are accessible right from the Icefields Parkway and are truly a beautiful sight to take in.

These are among some of the best lakes in Banff. Being Glacial fed, you can expect them to be bright turquoise blue in the summer, and you can snowshoe across them in the winter. If you have time, consider the short hike to Chephren Lake as well, which is nearby.


See Peyto Lake

peyto lake

Peyto Lake (PEE-toh) is a 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 “fox head” shape and absolutely mind-blowingly blue water.

Peyto Lake is also easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway. To get a great view, park and hike up an easy 10-minute well-maintained path to the viewpoint. There’s even an accessible path for those in wheelchairs.


Relax at Bow Lake

Right before you get to Peyto Lake, you’ll spot Bow Lake on your left (if driving from Lake Louise). Bow Lake is one of the larger lakes on the Icefields Parkway and lies south of the Bow Summit. It’s a beautiful lake to stop by and take in the surroundings, but it’s even better when you can get out on the water. We love to take our inflatable Stand Up Paddleboards around Banff so that we can pull over and take them out for a paddle.


Go for a Swim in Herbert Lake

Herbert Lake

Herbert Lake is a small lake just off the Icefields Parkway that you’ll see not long after you pass the park gates leaving Lake Louise and the TransCanada Highway.

Its location and the fact that it’s not considered a major highlight in Banff means the lake remains relatively quiet throughout the summer. I love heading here in the morning to watch the sun rise over Mount Temple. It’s a small lake to paddle on, and there’s even a hidden diving board if you want to take a dip and can handle the cold temps!


Stand Up Paddleboard

stand up paddleboard in canmore

Once the lakes around Banff National Park thaw in the spring and summer, they are a prime place to go for a SUP or stand-up paddleboard in the summer months. It’s one of our favorite ways to relax in the park, and we often find ourselves alone on the water. What’s great is you don’t have to own one yourself as you can rent them from several locations in town.

Banff Canoe Club and Bow Valley SUP are our preferred places to rent paddleboards, but if you plan on doing a lot of stand-up paddleboarding, you may want to even consider purchasing one. We bought ours off Amazon for $500 and it was a great investment. We use them more than we care to admit!

Tour Option: Intro to Stand Up Paddleboarding, Banff National Park

Lake Louise Area


Canoe on Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is an iconic lake that millions from around the world flock to Banff to see and is likely already on your bucket list. It is certainly a highlight of any trip to Canada. While not as scenic as the famous Moraine Lake, Lake Louise is still pretty darn mesmerizing. It is glacial-fed and sparkles bright turquoise blue under the sun. The mountains rising up around it provide the perfect backdrop to any photo.

Lake Louise is frozen solid from late October to early June, but you can take a canoe out in the summer and enjoy the fresh air. During the winter, you can walk out on the lake, go for sleigh rides, and even go ice skating.


Lake Agnes Teahouse Trek

lake agnes tea house

The Lake Agnes Teahouse trek is a popular thing to do in Banff for visitors to Lake Louise. This is an easy-to-moderate hike that goes from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes and is suitable for most Banff visitors. Getting to Lake Agnes requires climbing nearly 400 meters across 4 km on a heavily trafficked trail, though once at the top, you’ll find a historic teahouse and stunning Lake Agnes.

This easy hike can be done in under two hours. However, be warned: It is a busy one! To escape the crowds (and get better views), keep climbing to the Little Beehive, Big Beehive, Mt. St. Piran, or Devil’s Thumb. If you’re an experienced scrambler, you can keep going past to summit Mount Niblock (moderate scramble) or Mount Whyte (extremely difficult!).


Complete the Beehive Circuit

beehive circuit - big beehiv
View from Big Beehive

One of my favorite hikes in all of Banff involves two epic viewpoints. The whole Beehive Circuit refers to the Little Beehive and Big Beehive in the Lake Louise area and are extensions of the Lake Agnes trail mentioned above. Both are moderate hikes that provide a different viewpoint over Lake Louise.

The Little Beehive hike is 9km in distance with 535 meters of elevation gain from Lake Louise Lakeshore, while the Big Beehive is slightly more difficult. To hike the Big Beehive will involve hiking 10.3 km and 647 meters of gain. We highly recommend hiking both after reaching Lake Agnes for different vantage points. If you are a strong hiker and want more, try scrambling up Devil’s Thumb!


Moraine Lake Area


Enjoy Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is one of the most popular things to do in Banff and arguably the most popular sight to see in all of Canada. This iconic lake is a 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 one of the most amazing Banff attractions.

Moraine Lake is about an hour’s drive away from Banff town and only twenty minutes further than Lake Louise. Being the most popular destination in the park, Parks Canada has even introduced new measures on how to access the famous lake. Parking is no longer allowed for personal vehicles, and visitors must make an advanced plan for reaching Moraine Lake. We recommend taking the Parks Canada Park & Ride shuttle, which must be reserved in advance. We break down all the details for getting to Moraine Lake here.

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 is the only road to Moraine Lake and closes between (approximately) October 10 to late May/early June. During the winter the road gets covered in snow, and the avalanche risk is high making travel there unsafe.


Canoe on Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Canoeing on Moraine Lake is on many visitors’ bucket lists. It is something you can do between mid-June and mid-September. Moraine Lake Lodge operates the Boathouse and rents our canoes on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s an expensive experience, at nearly $150 for an hour-long rental, but it’s well worth it to canoe on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.


Hike Around Moraine Lake

minnestimma lakes

I’d say 90% of the people who 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 scrambles are much harder and should be reserved for experienced hikers, but they provide epic views over Moraine Lake.


Athabasca Glacier Experiences

Ice Explorer Experience

natasha on the ice explorer vehicles

The Columbia Icefield Discovery Center sits on the border of Banff and Jasper and makes for a tremendous stop when driving the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper. Here you can get close to a glacier with the Ice Explorer at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. When visiting you’ll learn about the history of the beautiful Athabasca Glacier and experience the fun without much physical effort.

The Columbia Icefields Adventure Tour is offered here, and you can take massive vehicles with wheels taller than a person onto the Athabasca Glacier. If you want to experience a glacier, it is a great way to get close to it if you have never seen one.

It’s a hit with kids, and all Icefield Explorer tickets include admission to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk!


Walk On The Columbia Icefield Skywalk

jasper skywalk

If you’re already at Athabasca Glacier, you may as well continue a couple of kilometers down the road to the Glacier Skywalk; even though it’s technically in Jasper, it can be a fun thing to add to your Banff itinerary. Here you can step out on a cliff edge walk, see the glaciers around you, and have views of the Sunwapta Valley.

The Columbia Icefield Skywalk has views of wildlife, waterfalls, and fossils. It’s a fun, family-friendly thing to do in Banff. It’s worth noting that all Icefield Explorer tickets include admission to the Skywalk.

Some visitors are mixed on the Skywalk experience, including ourselves as I think you can get the same experience for free by going on a beautiful hike in Banff National Park. Nevertheless, if you want to face your fears and walk over the Sunwapta Valley with nothing but glass between you it can be a thrilling experience!


Athabasca Glacier IceWalk

Athabasca Glacier IceWalk experience

You don’t have to take the massive Ice Explorer vehicles to walk on the Glacier. Instead, you can book an Ice walk tour if you are fit and able. An Ice Walk tour is a much more personal experience, with a certified guide that will safely take you on the glacier and provide insights and explanations of what you are looking at.

We highly recommend booking an Ice Walk tour and not trying to walk on the glacier yourself, which can be very unsafe. If you want to actually repel into a crevasse on your glacier experience, Rockaboo is the only guiding company certified to do that.


Hike to the Toe of the Glacier

Hike to the Toe of the Glacier

The best free option to experience Athabasca Glacier is to hike to its Toe, which can be reached easily from the parking area. This short hike is less than a 2km round trip and has less than 100 meters of elevation gain from the parking area. There are roped-off sections and signs so you don’t accidentally walk in unsafe areas.


Climb Mount Athabasca

Mount Athabasca and Andromeda
Looking up at Mount Athabasca

If you have plenty of time in the Canadian Rockies and really want an experience, you can summit Mount Athabasca. Mount Athabasca looms over one of the most popular attractions on the famed Icefields Parkway, but only a few can see the view from the top. Reaching the summit requires a long hike to a technical glacier crossing and then up an exposed face or couloir.

Hiking-Clothes-Mount-Ahtabasca-Summit
At the summit of Mount Athabasca!

The views are breathtaking in more ways than one. You can spot countless glaciers, many of Alberta’s highest peaks from the top. The peak is one of many in the Canadian Rockies, famous for reaching an altitude of 11,000 feet. Many climbers in the Rockies have the lifetime goal of summiting all 54 (58) of the peaks, and they are considered classic mountaineering objectives. At 11,453 feet in elevation with a massive glacier and convenient location, Athabasca proves to be a tremendous first “11,000er.”

You cannot attempt this alone without mountaineering and glacier travel experience; it is a serious mountain. We did a three-day mountaineering course with Yamnuska and summited on the third day – the experience was epic. This is probably not for everyone, but definitely one of the more adventurous things to do in Banff. It’s also a great introduction for those interested in mountaineering. If you’re more experienced, you can always hire a local ACMG guide to climb some of the great summits.


Hike Ideas

Hike Through Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon Things To Do in Banff
Johnston Canyon in the Summer

Johnston Canyon is one of the top attractions in Banff year-round and can attract a crowd, though it’s still a sight that nearly every visitor to the park wants to experience. Personally, we love to hike it in the winter more due to the summer crowds, but there is good reason to visit in the summer. A summer hike is visceral as the roaring water reverberates through the canyon and into your chest.

As a hiker, you get up close and personal with the canyon thanks to a series of suspended walkways. Hikers catch scenic glimpses of the mountains, multiple waterfalls, and a chance to spot wildlife along the way.

Johnston Canyon in the winter
Johnston Canyon in the Winter

In the winter, the waterfalls are locked away in a huge swath of ice. If you’ve never seen a frozen waterfall, hiking Johnston Canyon is a wonderful opportunity to do so. The trail along Johnston Canyon is open year-round unless noted by Parks Canada.

We suggest renting or buying microspikes in town if you visit Banff in the winter or early spring. Although the trail is well managed, it can get icy between November and May, and having them is better than slipping everywhere on the trail – ours always come in very handy! No matter the season, it’s an easy hike along a well-maintained trail suitable for all ages. For an extended hike, continue on to the Ink Pots.

Summer Tour Option: eBike and Hike To Johnston Canyon

Climb Sulphur Mountain

Sulphur Mountain Hike
Hiking Sulphur Mountain in the Winter

Remember the Banff Gondola that I mentioned above? Well, if you want to reach the top without paying $60, you can actually hike up the mountain instead. Sulphur Mountain is easily one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful hike up that offers visitors astonishing views over the Bow Valley.

Due to its proximity to town and the fact that you can take the Banff Gondola up to the peak instead of sweating it out on the trail, Sulphur Mountain becomes very busy at the top! However, the trail is enjoyable and will leave you with a sense of reward once you get to the boardwalk. If hiking in the winter, a pair of microspikes and some hiking poles will help you tackle the trail up in no time.


Hike Healy Pass (+ Extension to Egypt Lakes)

Healy Pass in Banff

One of the best hikes in Banff is Healy Pass. It has two peak hiking seasons: mid-summer, when the wildflowers are in full bloom, and late September, when the larch trees have turned a golden hue (photo above).

Egypt Lake
Egypt Lake

At 20.9 km and 890 meters of gain, the Healy Pass hike is not a short one, and you should expect it to take you a full day. It’s also often done as an overnight trip, but it’s well worth the effort, I promise. If you have the extra energy, keep hiking to Egypt Lake for an extra long but epic day.


Hike to Helen Lake

helen lake
Above Helen Lake

Helen Lake is a beautiful lake along the Icefields Parkway. While it’s far less popular than nearby Moraine Lake or Lake Louise, its water is just as beautiful and the area is much quieter. To reach Helen Lake, you must hike in on a moderate trail for 6km (one way). The trail is well-maintained and absolutely stunning, with views of mountains and blooming wildflowers everywhere! Bring lunch here and enjoy the views.


Scramble Cirque Peak

cirque peak
The view from the top of Cirque Peak

Want more of a challenge past Helen Lake? Keep going once you reach the lake and go up to Cirque Peak. This amazing (yet difficult) hike provides absolutely amazing views (some even say the best in Banff).

It’s a tough, steep climb, especially towards the top, where some scrambling can get a little sketchy, so this should only be attempted by seasoned hikers. You’ll likely find 50 or so marmots along the way. If you get lost, you can try asking them for directions, but they probably won’t be much help and will just give you a whistle instead!

When you reach the summit, enjoy the views and crack a beer – you did it! To do the whole circuit (Helen Lake+Cirque Peak), plan for a full day out. Round trip this hike will take most adventurers 7-8 hours.


Hike C-Level Cirque

Easy hike in Banff - C Level Cirque

A short but rewarding hike near Banff is C Level Cirque. C Level Cirque starts near Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake; it’s a steady incline to the amphitheater, which should only take about 45 minutes.

You can stop here, but the views over Lake Minnewanka start when you climb higher. Follow the trail around the amphitheater and up for about 45 more minutes until you reach the rock wall.

I love doing this hike when I am short on time, as you can get it done in under three hours. This is a 9 km out-and-back trail with over 750 meters of gain, and it can get very busy on weekends in the summer so plan to hit the trail early or after the crowds have died down in the evening.


Climb Mount Bourgeau

Climb Mount Bourgeau
At the summit of Mount Bourgeau

Mount Bourgeau is a 2,931-metre (9,616 ft) tall mountain in the heart of Banff National Park. It’s easily accessible from the Town of Banff and just a short 10-15 minute drive to the parking area from Downtown Banff.

Mount Bourgeau is a fairly easy hike with no scrambling involved and provides amazing views over Banff. The only issue is that it requires 21 km of hiking with nearly 1700 meters of elevation gain to reach the top, so prepare for a full day out if you want to summit Bourgeau.

Nevertheless, if you want a full-on fulfilling hike in Banff, and to say you’ve summited a mountain in the Canadian Rockies, summiting Bourgeau is easily attainable for the reasonably fit. Even if you don’t want to summit Bourgeau, you can still hike to Harvey Pass for stellar views.


Climb Cascade Mountain

Cascade Mountain
At the summit of Cascade Mountain

If you’ve walked down Banff Avenue, you have seen Cascade Mountain ahead of you. 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 serious work and a long 20km day with over 1600 meters of 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 and want a big day out. If you put Cascade Mountain on your list know that it will take you all day, and has a few scrambling sections. It’s certainly not for first-time hikers and should only be summitted during the summer months of July, August, and early September.


Hike in Kananaskis Country

tent ridge

There are so many more great hikes in the Kananaskis Country Provincial Park it’s a wonder why Banff gets all the glory. The provincial park is home to some of our all-time favorite hikes and scrambles in the region.

If you want to find some headspace on less crowded trails, it’s a great place to go for a hike. To learn more, we’ve got a post on our favorite hikes in Kananaskis Country and our favorite easy hikes in Kananaskis. (Psst try Tent Ridge, Sarrail Ridge, or Windtower)


Larch March

Larch-Valley
Hiking Sentinel Pass

“Larch March” is likely a term you haven’t heard before. It refers to a season in Banff when the larch trees turn golden, and everyone in Alberta goes out hiking to see them. If you happen to be in Banff during mid/late September to early October getting out on a larch hike is essential.

So what is a larch? Larches are conifers that are native to cooler temperatures. Although they are conifers, they are deciduous and lose their needles in the autumn. Right before they lose their needles, they turn a golden color for a few short weeks creating a fantastic scenic landscape that people flock from around the world to see.

It’s a stunning time in the Rockies, and my absolute favorite season! A few of my recommended larch hikes are Saddleback Pass, Devil’s Thumb, and Arnica Lake!


Scenic Drives


Lake Minnewanka Loop Rd

Cycling-Lake-Minnewanka-Loop
We love cycling Lake Minnewanka Loop Rd!

I’ve mentioned Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, Johnson Lake, and Cascade Ponds throughout this list of things to do in Banff. You can visit them all at different times, but it’s best to plan for a half day out driving the Lake Minnewanka Loop Rd and checking them out one after the other. You can drive the road, take the Roam Route 6 bus, or cycle the loop if you are up for a bit of uphill biking!


Drive the Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful road trips you can take in the entire world and has many Banff must-sees. 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, and Herbert Lake are just to name a few. This drive is amazing both in the winter and summer, but be warned if you do it in the winter to allow extra time and know how to drive in the winter- roads can be icy! To make the most of driving the Icefields Parkway, I would start early (6 am) before the crowds and allocate at least two days to tackle everything.


Drive the Bow Valley Parkway

driving the bow valley parkway
Driving the Bow Valley Parkway

The Bow Valley Parkway, or the 1A, is a road that every visitor to Banff National Park should drive on at least once. Its history predates the TransCanada, as the Bow Valley Parkway was the original road linking Banff and Lake Louise in the early 1900s. The park’s first guest to arrive by vehicle drove the scenic route.

Now, it’s a road primarily used for sightseeing and outdoor recreation. It’s a great alternative to the TransCanada for those driving from Banff to Lake Louise. The scenic byway is all about taking in the sights, meaning it’s much slower than the highway. Some of the best sights are Morant’s Curve, Jonhston Canyon, and Storm Mountain Lookout!


Drive The Smith Dorrien Highway

Smith Dorrien Highway
Driving the Smith Dorrien with Mt Shark in the Background

The Smith Dorrien Highway is not in Banff, but instead a gravel/dirt road that crosses Kananaskis Country. It’s just south of the town of Banff and can be reached from the town of Canmore.

The gravel road is flanked by some spectacular mountains and offers a great chance to spot more wildlife. We’ve even seen moose on more than one occasion near the Mt Engadine Lodge, where you can stop for afternoon tea.

It’s a gorgeous drive and one of our favorite parts of the Canadian Rockies. However, it’s not a good road for a sedan or small rental car, as it’s heavily corrugated and has plenty of loose rock.


Viewpoints


Enjoy Castle Mountain Views

Castle Junction

Castle Mountain is like a shining star that rules over the park, standing tall for everyone to see as they drive down the Trans Canada. It’s worth stopping off at Castle Junction to admire the views by the Bow River and hang out for a few. There’s also a small Airbnb in Banff (Castle Mountain Chalets) if you want to stay overnight here and enjoy the views longer.


Head Up a Sightseeing Chairlift/Gondola

banff gondola vs lake louise gondola

There are a few sightseeing chairlifts and gondolas in Banff. The Banff Gondola already mentioned, The Mount Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift, the Sunshine Gondola, and the Lake Louise Summer Gondola.

They are similar experiences but provide different views. Mount Norquay, for example, looks over Mount Rundle and Downtown Banff, while the Lake Louise Gondola brings you to the top of one of the most epic vistas in the park and out to Victoria Glacier. You can also easily see Lake Louise, Mount Temple, and if you look hard, the Ten Peaks.


Take in the Views from the Red Parks Canada Chairs

banff red chairs
Banff Red Chairs at Two Jack Lake

There are over 200 red Adirondack chairs that Parks Canada has placed in peaceful and always breathtaking locations across Canada. Some are easy to spot, while others require a bit of an adventure. There are plenty of red chairs around Banff National Park (especially on Lake Minnewanka Road).


Mount Norquay Lookout

Mt-Norquay-Lookout

Mount Rundle is one of the most famous mountains in all of Canada and a top sight to see in Banff year-round. It’s an icon of Banff and will make you feel incredibly small at any time of day. As mentioned before, Mount Rundle is best seen at sunrise and sunset. Besides Vermilion Lakes, my most favorite spot to see Mountain Rundle is the Mount Norquay Lookout. Pictured above!


Surprise Corner

Surprise Corner

The surprise corner viewpoint is right off Tunnel Mountain Drive in Banff. Along the Bow River and easily reached by car. It’s called Surprise Corner because of its amazing view of the Banff Springs Hotel, a castle in the heart of the mountains.


Morant’s Curve

natasha at  Morant's Curve

If you’re driving the Bow Valley Parkway, you’ll pass a spot just before you get to Lake Louise that overlooks the train tracks down an epic valley. This is called Morant’s Curve and is one of the best Banff picture spots.

It particularly looks ideal in the winter when the mountains and trees are blanketed in snow. It looks great without a train, but to really nab the shot, you’ll need to hang out in the cold waiting for the Canadian Pacific train to pass by (there is no train schedule). It requires patience and warm clothes, but it can be done.


Tours

Become a Cowboy on the Western Frontier

Banff Trail Riders

Have you ever watched City Slickers, Yellowstone, Heartland, or any Western movie or show where cowboys and cowgirls saddle up their horses and ride deep into the wilderness and longed for that to be you? I can tell you I sure have. Did you know you can live out that dream in Banff National Park?

Banff Trail Riders offer a backcountry horseback experience in the summer, bringing guests deep into the backcountry for almost a week. You may have seen the backcountry before, but I bet never like this via horseback! See the full details of our epic trip here.


Enjoy the Town of Banff Via Horseback

Banff Trail Riders

If you don’t have time for an overnight trip, Banff Trail Riders also offer visitors the chance to see Banff on horseback for just a few hours. It’s a shorter alternative to the overnight trip I mentioned above and will give you the desire to return. Seriously give it a go!


Mt Norquay Via Ferrata

Via Ferrata / Travel Alberta
The Mount Norquay Via Ferrata / Travel Alberta

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.

So, what is a Via Ferrata? It’s a hiking trail that combines the elements of hiking and climbing along a path with safety features that allow hikers to get around otherwise inaccessible sections with the help of secured ladders, ramps and cables. Essentially, you are secured to a steel cable via your harness so you can move safely on the trail that is more likened to an obstacle course. 

The Mount Norquay Via Ferrata is the only one in Banff National Park. Four different routes vary in length, price, and difficulty. Perfect for any visitor in Banff, with many different options for families too.


Spot the Banff Wildlife

Bull Elk in Banff

The animals of Banff are active all the time. Apart from bears, you’ll find moose, elk, deer, owls, foxes, wolves, and coyotes here all year round. In the summer, you may catch a glance of a black or brown bear (hike with bear spray always).

I love spotting these animals all around the Bow Valley. Please remember, if you want to take photos of wildlife, to do so safely, stay out of the way of traffic, stay in your car, and never get too close to any wildlife.

The general rule is that if you make them move, you are too close. For almost guaranteed wildlife sightings, I recommend heading up the Spray Valley Road just outside Banff in Kananaskis Country. However, if you are really adamant about seeing wildlife, we recommend booking a guided wildlife tour so you can see the animals safely and responsibly.


Cross Into Yoho National Park

Sunset at Emerald Lake Lodge
Emerald Lake in August

Yoho National Park is the much less heard about sister to Banff National Park. Less than an hour’s drive from the Town of Banff will bring you to this beautiful park in British Columbia.

Home to sites like the magnificent Takakkaw Falls, Wapta Falls, and Emerald Lake, Yoho definitely deserves a few days of exploration. This might not technically be one of the best things to do in Banff National Park, but given it’s so close, you should put it on your list! If you are looking for an epic hike in Yoho, don’t miss the Iceline Trail!


Stay in a Cabin

Baker Creek Cabins
Cozied Up at Baker Creek Mountain Resort in February

If you are looking for somewhere unique to stay in Banff, consider booking a Banff cabin. There aren’t many in the park, but the ones that are on offer are like something out of a movie. My favorite cabin experience in all of Alberta can be had at Baker Creek Mountain Resort off the Bow Valley Parkway. Castle Mountain Chalets, Johnston Canyon Bungalows, and Storm Mountain Lodge also offer great log cabin experiences.


Things to do in Banff in Winter


Chase the Northern Lights

northern lights in banff

Yes, it is possible to see the northern lights in Banff! Though timing them is all about luck! However if you do manage to see them shine over the Rockies you are in for the night of your life.Though the northern lights can make an appearance any time of year your best chance at seeing them is between October and April when the night sky is darkest.

We recommend downloading an app and watching the KP index. Look for a clear night and a new moon – and don’t plan on getting any sleep! Oh and hope that lady luck on your side, we see the aurora in the Rockies just 1-3 times per year.


Ski/Snowboard Big Mountain Terrain

Lake Louise Snowboard Banff National Park
Snowboarding at Lake Louise

North American ski culture has its roots in the Canadian Rockies, where Skoki Lodge, the first ski hut in North America, is located.

Now there are three ski resorts in the Banff National Park and one in the neighboring Provincial Park, Kananaskis, along with a bunch of other great mountains within a couple hours’ drive. The region has it all in terms of ski – whether that’s a groomer, big mountain resort, backcountry, and even heli-skiing.

The resorts within the park comprise a group called the SkiBig3. In this group, you have Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine Village, and Mt. Norquay, which are all great ski resorts. Skiing or snowboarding here is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter. You also have one of the longest seasons in North America, with chairs spinning from November to May.


Banff Sunshine Village

Banff Sunshine Village

Banff Sunshine is a mountain that truly offers something to everyone, from professionals right down to beginners. You can easily find yourself smack dab in freeride terrain that would be considered out-of-bounds in other resorts. If you want to find a mountain with some seriously humbling terrain in-bounds, then Banff Sunshine is the place to head.

When you first arrive in the parking lot, the mountain does not look like much as the base is simply a gondola station and one restaurant. In fact, to reach the true resort base guests must take a 15-minute gondola that delivers them into a sprawling resort that looks like it belongs in the Alps, not North America. It’s only a fifteen-minute drive from Banff and generally has great snow conditions.

Banff Sunshine contains two expert-only areas that require all riders and skiers to sign out with the ski patrol and carry an avalanche kit. Delirium Dive and Wild West areas feature massive cliff features, chutes, and some seriously steep terrain. Don’t let the expert terrain detract you from visiting the resort as it also has a plethora of groomed beginner and intermediate runs. The resort has something for everyone, and the base area makes for a perfect central point to meet after skiing the surrounding peaks.

  • Runs/Skiable Terrain: 145 runs • 3,300 acres
  • Favorite Runs: World Cup Downhill, Bunkers, The Shoulder, Wildside, Rolling Thunder, Tin Can Alley

Lake Louise Ski Resort

lake louise ski resort

There is arguably no ski resort in the world with a better view than Lake Louise Ski Resort. In between runs screaming down groomers or tackling a big mountain bowl, Banff National Park provides you with fresh air and stunning landscapes. We have visited ski resorts worldwide, and the views from Lake Louise are hands down the best. Lake Louise is what we consider our home mountain, and we’ve skied almost every inch of it.

It also happens to be one of the largest ski resorts in North America, with 4,200 acres covering four mountain faces. They also have plans and approval from Canada Parks to expand, so we’ll see what the future holds. The terrain at Lake Louise varies between beautiful groomers, challenging steeps, and expert-level chutes. The longest run here stretches for nearly five miles so start working out your leg muscles now.

The big difference between Lake Louise and Sunshine Village is the layout. Lake Louise is easy to navigate with longer runs, and the views are way better. The downside of Lake Louise is it’s forty minutes from Banff.

  • Runs/Skiable Terrain: 145 • 4,200 acres
  • Favorite Runs: Jerry’s Jungle, Pika, Eagle Flight, Upper Boomerang, Swedes, Brown Shirt First

Mt. Norquay

mt norquay

Mt Norquay is the most digestible of resorts here and the least imposing for beginners/intermediates. It’s only a 10-minute drive from the town of Banff, making it a great option to go get some runs in and still have time in town.

The resort has been in operation since 1926 and offers many activities asides from snowboard and ski. It’s also the only mountain that offers night skiing in the area and is relatively small in comparison to the other resorts of SkiBig3.

While Lake Louise and Banff Sunshine can draw a decent crowd (still few lines) Mt. Norquay is a quiet mountain. You’ll have a hard time finding crowds here, and it’s the perfect place to learn how to ski with a good ski school and affordable lift ticket. They also offer snowshoe hikes, tubing, and child care. The biggest plus to Mt. Norquay for us is the proximity to the town of Banff, only a 10-minute drive.

However, truthfully we like to consider it the ugly cousin to the other two ski resorts. The terrain is limited, and its aspect towards the sun often results in icy runs that aren’t fun. That being said, they have a well-known ski school that has been teaching people to ski people for decades. It’s also a lot cheaper than Lake Louise or Banff Sunshine Village.

  • Runs/Skiable Terrain: 60 • 72 acres
  • Favorite Runs: Constellation, Norquay 90 Glades, and Lone Pine.

Go Dog Sledding

dog sledding in winter

Kingmik Dog Sled Tours offers dog sledding adventures at Lake Louise and Howling Dog Tours in Canmore. We’ve dog-sledged five times around the world, and it’s always an amazing experience. I particularly love the quiet ride, with only the sound of the dog team’s steps against the snow.


Ice Skate on the Frozen Lakes

ice skating in johnson lake
Ice Skating in Banff

Ice skating in Banff is a highlight for not just visitors to Banff but those that live in the Bow Valley. The Canadian Rockies have some of the best wild skating in the world! When the lakes freeze here, they create some of the world’s most beautiful ice rinks. Imagine skating on clear ice among all these giant mountains.

We typically chase the wild ice during the months of November and December when the lakes freeze, but the snow hasn’t fallen quite yet. Some of the best lakes to ice skate on in Banff are Lake Minnewanka, Johnson Lake, and Lake Louise, but there are plenty of others!


Head to Canmore!

airbnbs in canmore
Winter in Canmore

Okay, this isn’t really a thing to do in Banff, as Canmore is a 15-minute drive away. We may be biased to our home base, but we think Canmore is the bee’s knees. It’s also where we spend a lot of our time in the Canadian Rockies.

Canmore is another mountain town just outside of Banff National Park. It’s not nearly as touristy or popular as Banff, making it much more enjoyable. You can walk down the main street here without fighting through crowds, and there are plenty of great restaurants, bars, and shops to venture into. The views are just as amazing as well. Make sure to check out The Three Sisters!


Spend the Holidays in Banff

Lake Louise in the winter
Christmas Eve at Lake Louise!

Banff is magical in the winter, especially around Christmas. The town does a lot of work to ensure everyone is getting into the Christmas spirit. If you have dreamed of a white Christmas, you are guaranteed it in Banff.


Our Favorite Tours and Excursions in Banff


What can you do in Banff when it rains (or is Smokey)?

natasha on tent ridge
Rain, snow, sunshine – all on one hike!

First, I would not let the rain deter you from doing things in Banff. You are in the mountains and should prepare for all types of weather. If it’s just drizzling or sprinkling, you can probably expect it to not last forever. You can experience four seasons in Banff in just one day.

Also, the weatherman never quite gets it right here in the mountains, so if that Apple Weather app shows you it’s going to rain the entire time on your trip, don’t fret too much, as it’s often not very accurate. We like to use Mountain Forecast and Windy.com for more precise weather, and do not rely on Apple Weather here.

lux cinema in banff

However, if it’s absolutely pouring in Banff, I understand not wanting to be outside! If there have been wildfires in the area, it’s understandable not to want to adventure too much outside either, as the smoke will affect your trip. So these things are great if you’re looking for things to do in Banff when there is smoke or rain:


BANFF ITINERARY

Learn how to put all these things to do in Banff together in our article:

Sample Banff itineraries: 1, 2, 5, 7 days

How to Spend 2 Days in Banff

How to Spend 5 Days in Banff

An itinerary for visiting without a car


Best Things to Do in Banff Map


The Best Places to Stay in Banff

moose hotel in banff
The Moose Hotel

So you’ve got what to do in Banff covered, now let’s talk about accommodation. Banff has quite a few great places to stay for a small mountain town. From luxury to basic, here are our favorite places to stay in Banff.


Where Are The Best Places to Eat in Banff?

  • Brazen: Brazen is one of our favorite restaurants in Banff. Located right on Banff Ave, it’s an easy place to head on any type of day. Their food is delicious and sourced from local Canadian farmers. No matter what you get here, it’s going to be delicious.
  • The Bison: Our favorite restaurant in Banff with a great atmosphere and high-quality farm-to-table food. They have a seasonal menu and won several national awards in Canada for exceptional service. It’s well known as the best spot in Banff for brunch on Sundays. The menu is more varied than several other restaurants in Banff, and there is a wide range of options, such as vegan or vegetarian.
  • Eden: Experience fine dining with incredible views at Eden in the Rimrock Resort. The restaurant serves up some of the best food in the province let alone Banff, as it is the only Five-Diamond Restaurant in all of Western Canada. The modern French restaurant serves up playful and delicious dishes that leave a lasting impact much like the views.

A Few Banff Travel Tips To Know Before You Visit

the banff blog
Download AllTrails

If you plan to do any hiking (including the hikes mentioned on this list), download AllTrails first. Alltrails gives you the latest review of a hike, as well as all the logistical information you may need. If you pay for AllTrails Pro, you’ll also be able to download offline trail maps to your phone. It’s not the be-all and end-all of the hiking, and it isn’t always 100%, but it is a great starter for planning hikes in the Rockies. It’s also suggested you grab a topography map from the outdoor store if you’ll be in Banff for a while.

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 in 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 $35 CAD a day in the winter. However, expect prices to rise significantly during periods of high demand like 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.

Check Rental Prices Here!
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. Please come to Banff dressed for mountain weather. That means packable down jackets and 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 essential to pack layers, thermals, and hiking boots. Yes, hiking boots or shoes. If you plan to go hiking while visiting Banff, please do not show up in Converse shoes.

It will not only make you uncomfortable and look foolish when on a mountain, but it can be potentially dangerous if you attempt a mountain hike you are not prepared for. You can find my entire list of things to pack for Banff here.


How Many Days in Banff is Enough?

You could spend weeks to months here and never feel like you’ve had enough time in Banff! But in general, I would say planning at least a week would be an ideal amount of time to spend in Banff. If you have an entire week, that would be the perfect opportunity to see both Banff and Jasper.

With 4-5 days, you’ll be able to hit many of the major Banff attractions and even go on a few hikes, though you will 100% leave wanting more.


How Much Does it Cost to Visit Banff?

johnston canyon in winter

Banff is not a cheap place to visit, and daily costs will vary greatly depending on time of year, what type of accommodation you stay in, the food you eat, and the Banff activities you participate in.

However, in general, one can expect to easily spend more than $300 CAD per person per day in the summer (on the very low end) and slightly less during the winter months. This is if you’re a budget traveler. Of course, if you work hard, you can spend less, but it definitely won’t take much effort to spend a lot more than $200+ a person a day. It all depends on your group size, hotel booking, season traveling, restaurant choices, etc.

If you decide to camp, cook all your meals in, and hike instead of taking part in the Banff attractions and tours, you’ll be able to save. Additionally, you’ll be able to score cheaper rates on accommodation and car rentals if you visit during the shoulder and off-season months (March, April, May, October, and November).

On average, I would say that most visitors spend at least $5000 CAD for two people, for a 5-7 day trip in the summer. This includes a car rental, mid-range hotels, food, and activities that were all pre-booked in advance.


Is Banff Better in the Summer or Winter?

Lake Louise Ski Resort
Snowboarding at Lake Louise in the winter

I love Banff during both the summer and winter. Summer in Banff is hard to beat as the views are amazing and hikes are endless, though there’s no denying that it’s busy.

If you love winter sports, you’ll love Banff in the winter. Lake Louise Ski Resort and Banff Sunshine have mind-blowing terrain and exceptional views. There’s also great cross country ski trails, ice skating, and snowshoeing opportunities.


A Brief History of Banff National Park

Banff on a budget - vermilion lales

Banff National Park was Canada’s first national park and actually one of the first national parks formed in all of North America. Banff dates back to 1883 when railway workers discovered a natural hot spring at the base of Sulphur Mountain. Prime Minister Macdonald set aside a preserve of 26 square kilometers in 1885 around the Banff Hot Springs.

Two years later, in 1887, Canada’s first national park would be established. The park expanded to 674 square kilometers and was named the Rocky Mountains Park. The park was renamed Banff National Park in 1930 under the National Park Act. Wondering what it was named after? The Canadian Pacific Railway president named it after his Scottish homeland, Banffshire.

It's important to note that both Banff and Lake Louise are located on the traditional lands of Treaty 7 Territory. This land is comprised of the Stoney Nakoda Nations of Wesley, Chiniki, and Bearspaw; three Nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy: the Pikani, Kainai, and Siksika; and the Tsuu T'ina of the Dene people.

Where is Banff National Park?

cameron at moraine lake

Banff National Park is huge and makes up a large portion of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The Town of Banff is 126 km west of Calgary, with the Trans Canada taking you almost all the way there from the city.

The Town of Banff sits at almost 1400 meters, making it the highest town in Canada. If you want to stop by the tourist information center, you can find information at the Banff Visitor Centre, located at 224 Banff Ave.


Weather in Banff

Larch-Valley

The weather in Banff varies greatly depending on the time of year. It never gets crazy hot in Banff, unless there is a freak Alberta heatwave. However, it does get very cold in Banff, possibly some of the coldest temperatures you’ve ever experienced. We’ll break down the weather in Banff into four parts.

  • Winter weather in Banff: Winter in Banff feels like it lasts for over half the year. From November to mid April you can expect it to be pretty wintery, and for there to be plenty of snow. During this time you’ll want to dress warm as temperatures can fluctuate between -30°C and 10°C, with some of the coldest temperatures hitting in January and February.
  • Spring weather in Banff: Spring finally rolls around in the Canadian Rockies come mid April, and stays pretty springlike until late June, well after the rest of North America is experiencing summer. During the spring months you should be prepared for anything. Bring your down jacket, but also be optimistic for some shorts and sandals.
  • Summer weather in Banff: Summer feels like the shortest season in the Rockies, but when you get that ideal summer weather in Banff, there truly is nowhere better to be. The best summer months are July and August and during these months temperatures float around 25°C. However you still need to pack a jacket, as temperatures plummet at night.
  • Fall weather in Banff: Fall is a magical time of year in Banff. September and October are fall months, with the highlight peaking in late September when the larch tree needles turn golden. We call this season “larch season.” Larch season only lasts 2-3 weeks, but it is a wonderful time when the park is awash with yellow!

How to Get to Banff

banff-airporter
The Banff Airporter

There are many ways to get to Banff. It’s most easily accessible from Calgary as there aren’t any direct flights to Banff, and Calgary International Airport (YYC) is a great international airport. However, Banff can also be reached by driving along the Icefields Parkway from Jasper or driving from Edmonton.

Getting to Banff By Car

The easiest way to get to Banff is by having your own car. This will also make traveling around the park much easier. Whether or not if you’re driving from elsewhere in Canada or the US with your own car or renting one, you will love the freedom of your own set of wheels in Banff.

  • Driving from Calgary to Banff: Banff is 128.6 km west of Calgary. The quickest and easiest way to get from Calgary to Banff is on the Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W. You can also get there on the 1A which is the more scenic route but will also take about 20 minutes longer.
  • Driving from Jasper to Banff: Banff is 288.3 km south of Jasper and will take about 3.5 hours of driving along the stunning Icefields Parkway. Though it will probably take longer because there are so many wonderful stops along the route. I would plan for the drive to take all day with plenty of photo stops. This road can be particularly difficult to drive in the winter and drivers should have proper winter driving experience.
  • Driving from Edmonton to Banff: Banff is 389km from the Edmonton International Airport along the AB-2 S and Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W and will take drivers about four hours to complete.
  • Driving from Vancouver to Banff: Driving from Vancouver to Banff is a long one, but we’ve done it a few times and it can be done in a day. 850 km will take about nine hours with no stops, but realistically you should plan on the drive to take you at least 11 hours. Kamloops makes a great halfway stop off point, but we’ve also stopped in Revelstoke before to break up the drive.
Getting to Banff By Bus

We understand 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 $160 round trip. The Brewster Express also connects Calgary to Banff, Kananaskis, and Canmore.

Getting to Banff By Train

There aren’t many passenger train routes to Banff, but it’s also possible to take the scenic Rocky Mountaineer to Banff if coming from Vancouver or Kamloops.


Transport Around Banff

parked in front of two jack lake

Once in Banff, there are a few ways to get around if you don’t have your own car. The Roam Bus System is a great way to reduce emissions. It operates year-round and will also take you between Banff and Canmore. We use it frequently to get from our home to Banff.

roam transit in downtown banff
Roam Transit
Best Ways to Explore Banff
  • Walking: Downtown Banff is extremely walkable as it is only 4-square-kilometers in area, with plenty of pedestrian sidewalks. This is the easiest way to get around the Town of Banff. During the summer season the Town of Banff will close its main street to vehicles in the downtown core between Wolf and Buffalo streets, and the adjacent sections of Caribou Street. Between May 19 to October 13th, this section of Banff Avenue will be exclusive to pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders.
  • Rental Car: Having a rental car is the best way to ensure you will get to all you want to get to on your own schedule. You can pick up a rental car right from the Calgary Airport, Downtown Calgary, or there are a select few enterprise locations in both Banff and Canmore.
  • Roam Transit: The Roam Transit will get you between Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise at an inexpensive price year long. Roam Public Transit also connects with many major attractions in Banff National Park. See their full route and price information here. Some Banff attractions even have shuttles to transport you around. Expect this from the Cave and Basin, Banff Gondola, to Lake Louise, and from Lake Louise to Lake Moraine.
  • Taxi: There are only a handful of taxis in Banff and Canmore, and they are not the cheapest option. However they are a great alternative if you are stuck in a bind. If going from Banff to Canmore expect a taxi to charge around $70.
  • By Bike: One of my absolute favorite ways to get around Banff is by bike. If you are driving in, I highly recommend bringing bikes to explore the park. Banff Adventures and Banff Cycle also rent mountain bikes, e-bikes, and cruisers during the summer. Bike rentals include a helmet, lock, and trail map. Both Banff and Canmore are becoming increasingly bike-friendly.
  • Parking: Parking in the town of Banff can be challenging during peak summer months. There are a few free places to park in Banff, like the Train Station Public Parking Lot for up to 9 hours, but many lots are now pay parking only. Check out the Banff parking website to see where is available when you are visiting.

Get a Parks Canada Pass to Visit Banff

on top of sulphur mountain

You can purchase a Parks Canada pass at any park gate; you need a Parks Canada pass to visit Banff. Yes, Parks Canada employees check, and you can get a ticket. If coming from Calgary, you’ll hit a Parks Canada gate right after Canmore along the Trans-Canada Highway.

If you already have a Parks Canada pass, you can stick to the right lanes and keep driving past the gates. The lineup to purchase a Parks Canada pass at these gates can get long on a nice summer day, so I recommend purchasing in advance. Though you don’t have to purchase in advance, and the most I’ve ever seen the car line up to purchase tickets in the summer is perhaps 15 minutes – so don’t worry if you didn’t get your Parks Pass beforehand. Parks Canada pass prices are as follows:

Parks Canada Day Pass Rates
Pass TypeRate
Adult$11.00
Senior$9.50
Youth (up to 17)Free
Family/Group (7 Persons)$22.00
Day passes expire at 4 pm the following day.

Or you can buy Discovery 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 $151.25 for a family.

Again, day passes are $11.00 per person, so depending on how many days you are staying and if you have plans to go elsewhere, like Waterton or Jasper, you may want to consider the Discovery Pass. Discovery Pass fees are as follows:

Parks Canada Discovery Pass Fees (Yearly Pass)
Pass Type (Yearly Pass)Rate
Adult$75.25
Senior$64.50
Youth (up to 17)Free
Family/Group (up to 7 Persons)$151.25

Hopefully, this helped you determine what Banff activities you’ll want to do. If you have any other questions about the best things to do in Banff leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.


Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service connecting you from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Banff or Canmore.
  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip, we like to compare camper prices on Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals, and also like to use travel credit cards to hack our way into free flights and hotels! Our favorite card is the Capital One Venture X.
  • Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
About Cameron

Cameron is a resident of Canmore, Alberta. After traveling the world for six years, he settled down in the beautiful Bow Valley with Natasha. He has been featured as a travel expert with numerous publications worldwide and has spoken on several occasions about the power of travel. He has a passion for all things in the Canadian Rockies and loves to spend his time snowboarding, scrambling, camping, biking, and trail running. Conservation is a deep fundamental in his life, and he aims to inspire others to care about our natural world. You can learn more on the about us page.

If you have found the content on this site helpful to your trip planning please consider supporting The Banff Blog. You can say thanks directly by buying us a coffee. All support is much appreciated!

11 thoughts on “60+ BEST Things To Do In Banff”

  1. To tell the truth, I am so glad that I came across your article about the best things to do in Banff, because I fall in love with travelling and I always try to find new places to visit. Banff has conquered my heart for a long time ago, but before this time I hadn’t been aware of all the nuances and details connected with this place. It is so cool that you enlightened people about Banff to a huge extent and covered all points because after reading this, I feel so savvy regarding this incredible place. I can say that Two Jack Lake is a true nature’s miracle which has incredible distinctive features. I was able to feel the atmosphere of this lake through the screen because I hadn’t seen such aesthetics which would arouse such emotions for a long time. It is so cool that there is such a range of alternatives to explore Banff because it will make staying here more comfortable and pleasant which is really important.

    Reply
  2. Fake News
    None of the pictures show the 30000 cars that clog up everything daily All summer. Or the 4500000 visitors. Canoe rental at Lake Louise ( if you can get there ) is $135 an hour with an hour wait. The cave at Johnston canyon is an hour wait. Just to name a few.
    If you want long lines. Traffic gridlock. Over charging. Ya come on down. We love to milk you
    He doesn’t even live in Banff

    Reply
    • Sorry you are frustrated with Banff and the crowds Paul, but it’s a tourist town, and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. We typically hike further and longer (you have put in a bit of legwork, but it’s worth it) to escape the crowds in the summer – Banff National Park is massive, and most of it is unexplored.

      Most people are aware that Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise are the busiest attractions in the park and it’s quite easy to be inventive and away from it… And you are right we live in Canmore, like it says all over this website 😉

      Reply
  3. Hi, I am Roland
    I am so glad that I came across your Blog
    I live in Europe and I am planning to go for the first time from Europe to Canada in summer 2023 for about 21 days with my partner. I read a lot of useful tips in this blog.
    Your goal is to ensure you make the most out of our time in one of the most magnificent parts of the world. That is a very nice thought

    Thank you for all the help provided by your blog.

    Reply
  4. Hi Natasha and Cameron,
    Thank you so much for sharing these tips and places in this area.
    My sis and I will be visiting Banff next week. To be honest, I felt so overwhelmed by the search results online and kinda lost, therefore, kept procrastinating to create an itinerary for our trip. Stumbled upon your blog by chance (thank God!) and things become much more manageable 🙂 Super helpful information and tips that helped me easily narrow down and picked the top 5 places/activities for my trip. I’m so excited to experience some of the places you’ve mentioned.
    Can’t thank you enough!!! I’m gonna tell all my friends about it.
    Cheers,

    Thu

    Reply
  5. Your site is wonderful, thanks for all the insight! I’m heading to Waterton and Banff in a month and your posts have been incredibly helpful as I plan where to hike and eat and drink! Cheers!

    Reply
  6. Felt so lucky I found your blog, so many mind blowing blogs travelers and hikers can dig deeper with, thank you guys so much! God bless you couple!

    Reply
  7. I wanted to thank you for your blog! It is the best one I found and even followed it faithfully on our vacation we just returned from! I printed this whole blog out and took notes to plan our trip to Banff National Park and used many of the links for planning where to eat and even for the different bus options available. I saw the comment above about long lines and traffic, etc. but interestingly enough, I never felt like that when we were there just 2 weeks ago in the height of travel season! We stayed in Canmore for the week and rented a car. Bought the park pass ahead of time so we did not have to wait in line at the park entrance. We drove the Icefields Parkway starting at 11 AM on a Monday and felt like it was very quiet everywhere. I mean there were people at all stops, however, I am sure much less than a weekend day so you can do this trip without all the crowds, if you plan properly. We visited Peyto Lake like you suggested, and then hiked along the Bow River to Mistaya Canyon for a picnic lunch, and continued to Columbia Icefield, where we turned around and headed back. There was quite a bit of traffic going the opposite direction when we were headed to Columbia Icefields so it was much quieter on the way back for us because we started later in the day. Someone suggested to me to visit these places later in the day when everyone is going back to their hotels for dinner so that is what we did, and it was great advice! There was barely anyone at the Columbia Icefields when we arrived around 4 PM because they were all leaving. We booked the Hop On Hop Off bus on a Tuesday to take us to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, and once again, a little quieter day so there was no traffic back up or crowds. Did an e-bike tour through Canmore which was a highlight of our trip! Thank you for all of your fabulous suggestions and for making my family vacation memorable!!

    Reply

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