Rugged snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, glacial lakes and fields of evergreen trees make Banff National Park a dream destination for many travelers! Located just 1.5 hours outside of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, the town of Banff makes for an ideal base to explore this beautiful region. The town is nestled in the Bow River Valley, surrounded by the Banff National Park, as well as several other national parks including Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, and Glacier National Park.
The Canadian Rockies are a real adventure playground for all outdoor enthusiasts and Banff is the centre of much of the action all year round. There’s plenty of things to do in Banff, including hiking, mountain biking and skiing.
The Rockies also has some interesting history with a number of museums and important historical sites to visit. Banff has been home to the First Nations people for thousands of years so it’s worth spending some time to learn about their culture through local museums and tours.
The region surrounding Banff is home to some famous sights including Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, but there are so many other things to see and do in this area! You can easily spend over a week road tripping through Banff National Park, getting out on the trails, checking out the sights, and hanging out in Banff town itself.
Having now visited Banff a few times on our cross-Canada travels, we’ve had the opportunity to explore much of the region. We’ve found our favourite spots, seen some breathtaking sights, had some fantastic meals and explored the region beyond just the main touristy sights and attractions.
If you’re planning a trip to Banff in Canada, then we’ve put together this guide to the best things to do and see, so you can get the most out of your visit and see the very best of Banff.
How to get to Banff
The town of Banff is a very popular destination in Canada. There are several ways of getting to the area from other major cities in the country. Whether you’re taking a road trip around Canada or hoping to fly into Banff for a quick trip, here’s how you can get to this mountain paradise.
The nearest airport to Banff is Calgary International Airport (YYC). From the airport, it’s 140km or 87 miles to Banff, along what is guaranteed to be a very scenic drive. From the airport, you can hop aboard one of the regularly scheduled shuttle buses that run from the airport to the town, or you can rent a car and head for the national park at your own pace.
The following airport shuttles offer service from Calgary International Airport to Banff and Lake Louise.
- Banff Airporter Inc offers daily scheduled transfers between the Calgary International Airport, Banff and Canmore.
- Take the Roam Bus offers transfers between Canmore and Banff.
- Brewster Express offers shuttle service to/from Calgary International Airport to Baff
Find out more about getting to and around Banff and Lake Louise with transit and shuttles.
Banff is conveniently located on the Trans Canada Highway, which is a well-maintained road that runs right through the Rockies. From Calgary, it’s about a 90-minute drive to get to Banff.
If you’re travelling to Banff from the West Coast, Banff is located 850km (530 miles) from Vancouver. While long, the drive from Vancouver to Banff weaves through many parts of British Columbia, including the famous Okanagan wine region and the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
For a completely unique journey, Banff can also be reached by train. Choose to travel on the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer, a spectacular two-day journey with regular departures between April and October. Or a more affordable ViaRail route to get to the nearby town of Jasper.
How to get around
Rent a Car:
The best way of getting around Banff and the surrounding area is by car. It’s the most ideal way to travel as it gives you complete freedom to travel at your own pace on scenic drives like the Icefields Parkway and Bow Valley Parkway. It also allows you to see places you might not otherwise be able to get to by public transport.
However, the town of Banff has a really good transport network making it easy to get around the main attractions using public transit.
Roam Transit offers shuttle buses connecting the town of Banff with the major attractions in Banff National Park as well as Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon, and Lake Minnewanka.
The hybrid bus network operates set routes and schedules around Canmore and Banff with fares varying from a one-way trip to multi-day passes. A one-way fare is CAD $2 and a 3-day pass is CAD $12.
Special routes such as the Lake Louise Express can be extremely popular in the high season. Tickets for this route can be and should be reserved in advance.
Best Time to Visit Banff
The weather in Banff can be quite extreme, but there are activities to do no matter what time of year you decide to visit. Depending on your interests, you may want to plan your trip to Banff around a certain season and available attractions.
Summer is the peak season in Banff. This is when the weather is at its warmest and perfect for most outdoor activities. Temperatures average around 20°C at its warmest and 7°C at the coldest. The hiking trails and lakes can be very busy at this time, and it’s best to book hotels in advance.
For photographers and hikers, fall can be one of the most beautiful times to visit Banff. It’s much less crowded and you can enjoy the incredible colours of the larches around the lakes and mountains. Temperatures tend to drop quite suddenly come October, with average highs of 10 degrees.
For this reason, it’s best to arrive in the first half of Fall. The main season in Banff tends to end after Canadian thanksgiving weekend with snow beginning to fall soon after. Our favourite time to visit Banff is in late September!
If you’re keen to hit the slopes, then winter might be your best time to visit Banff. This is one of the premier skiing and snowboarding destinations in the country, with three ski resorts, including the popular Sunshine Village at Sunshine Meadows.
Christmas and New Years’ Eve holidays are also a very magical time to be around Banff, with a great atmosphere and incredible winter landscape. However, temperatures sit below zero, so make sure that you’re well prepared and pack accordingly.
Spring is the shoulder season in Banff and can be a good time to visit for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s the least crowded time of the year with far fewer visitors. Secondly, you will likely get much better rates on accommodation and some tours, so it’s unlikely you’ll have to plan too far ahead.
In saying that, the weather can be pretty miserable and unpredictable. It’s also the awkward time in between the skiing and hiking seasons, meaning that some activities will be closed and others might not be open yet.
Entrance Fees for Banff National Park
Before you begin to plan what to do at Banff National Park, you will need to buy a National Park Pass. Daily park passes are available if you’re simply going for a short weekend trip. A daily Banff park pass is CAD $10 per adult or $20 for a family.
However, if you’re going to be spending a fair bit of time in Banff and other national parks in Canada, then we definitely recommend you opt for the Parks Canada Discovery Pass. This annual pass allows entry into all national parks in Canada for a year. Discover Pass costs $145.25 for family/group or $72.25 for adult, while the Daily Pass costs $21.00 for family/group or $10.50 for adult.
This means that if you’re planning on a trip to Banff for longer than a week, Discovery Pass is the way to go to save money on park fees throughout your visit.
Things to Do in Banff
There are countless incredible lakes, mountains and activities in Banff National Park to explore, with plenty to keep you busy for days. Here are our top things to see in Banff so you can ensure you get the most out of your trip to this spectacular place.
1. Stroll through Banff Town
While most people use the town of Banff as a base to check out the surrounding area, it is also a fun place to explore in its own right. The peaks of Mt Rundle and Mt Cascade dominate the skyline making strolling around Banff a particularly scenic affair.
The vibrant town is at its most lively in summer and winter when the main hiking and skiing seasons are in full swing. The town offers plenty of accommodation, restaurants and shops dotted around Banff Avenue. Spend a day strolling through town, popping into shops, and enjoying a drink or a meal at one of the many restaurants.
2. Admire Banff from Banff Gondola
Banff Gondola has become one of the most popular things to do in Banff. The gondola takes you up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, offering one of the most unique perspectives of the town against the backdrop of the most incredible mountains.
Once you reach the top of Sulphur Mountain, you can continue to explore further. There’s a panoramic observation deck, plus restaurants where you can enjoy a meal with a view. If you’re feeling active, you can also wander along the boardwalk to the summit of Sulphur Mountain.
The Banff Gondola is a short drive from the centre of town near the Banff hot springs or you can hop on the Roam Transit Route 1. Tickets to the Banff Gondola are a little pricey at CAD $60 per adult and $30 per child, but it’s an incredible experience worth the money. Just make sure you plan a visit on a clear day.
3. Soak at the Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Upper Hot Springs were once considered an important healing place for First Nations people. Since the 1900s, they have been home to a public bathhouse and have grown to become one of the major Banff tourist attractions. Sitting at 1585m below Sulphur Mountain, the natural hot springs have a constant temperature between 37°C and 40°C.
The hot springs are located just 4km from Downtown Banff, right next to the gondola for Sulphur Mountain. It’s a perfect place to soak up the warm water and relax the muscles after a day of hiking or skiing. Banff Upper Hot Springs are open from 10am to 6pm every day. Tickets cost $9.25 for adult single entry, $8.00 for youth (3-17). Children under 3 can visit for free.
4. Go Open Top Touring
If you’re looking for a unique way of seeing some of Banff’s top sights, hop onboard one of the Open Top Tour Busses. These custom vintage buses have a completely open roof so you can enjoy the spectacular views while hearing from the knowledgeable guides.
Banff tours include stops at some of the most popular photo ops. The guides share fascinating stories about Banff and the characters throughout the area’s history. It makes for a good introductory tour to Banff or if you’re hoping for some highlights on a short trip. Tickets are CAD $42.00 for adult and CAD $24.00 for a child.
5. Explore Bow River
Bow River is a beautiful river that runs right through Banff township. There are a few ways to explore this turquoise waterway a bit further.
You can opt for popular canoe trips along the river from where you can get a different perspective of the surrounding landscape. You can either rent your own gear or join a guided tour with the Banff Canoe Club.
If you prefer to stay on dry land, you can try a horse ride tour along the river, where you can spot some wildlife and pass by the historic Cave and Basin. There are horse riding tours perfect for beginners or up to more experienced riders.
6. See Bow Falls
Bow Falls is the beautiful natural waterfall found just outside of Banff Town on the Bow River. It’s an easy spot to reach on foot with a couple of scenic footpaths running on either side of the river.
There’s also an official Bow Falls Viewpoint on the trail which offers the best view of the waterfall backed by the incredible mountains. While the falls aren’t very tall, they are wide and offer one of the best free things to do in Banff town.
7. Visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site
For those interested in learning more about the history of Banff National Park, the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a must-do in Banff. Often considered the “birthplace of Canada’s National Parks”, the National Historic Site has much more to offer to visitors than the standard tour of the Cave and Basin. There are boardwalks and natural thermal hot springs that serve as an incredible educational site.
Not only is the site very picturesque, but it offers an insight into the history of the park and the evidence of human occupation of the land for over 10, 000 years. The Cave and Basin National Historic site is located just across the Bow River on the other side of Banff townsite.
8. See a Movie at Lux Cinema Banff
If you’re wondering what to do in Banff National Park on a miserable day, the Lux Cinema in Banff is the perfect spot to relax with a film. The retro-inspired theatre shows the latest films with comfortable seating and plenty of snacks available.
It’s the best excuse to take a day off from the hiking trails if you’re wondering what to do in Banff on a rainy day!
9. Visit Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum
Another great way to learn more about the First Nations communities and their culture is to head to the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum in Banff. Located just across the river from the town centre, the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum showcases a range of exhibits and artifacts.
After over 50 years in operation, the museum continues to be an inspiring force in highlighting the unique cultures, traditions and values of the First Nations people. It’s open every day from 10am to 7pm and the ticket prices are CAD $10 per adult and $5 for kids.
10. Hike Tunnel Mountain Trail
The Tunnel Mountain Trail is a nice short hike to get you warmed up for other trails in the national parks in Banff. This trail is a great option for an easy activity as it is located just outside of Banff town. The 2.3km trail takes you on a steady incline to a small peak and offers incredible views across the town and mountain backdrop.
While the trail is open all year round, it can get very icy and covered in some snow in winter, so check conditions before you set out.
11. Visit Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
Another great option for stuff to do in Banff on a rainy day is to pay a visit to the Whyte Museum of Canadian Rockies right in Banff town. Showcasing the history and heritage of the Banff area, the Whyte Museum has displays and exhibits on the landscapes, early human exploration and the first settlements in Banff.
It’s open from Thursday to Monday from 11am to 5pm. Tickets are CAD $10 for adults, kids under 12 enter for free.
12. Explore Sundance Canyon
Sundance Canyon is one of the prettiest places to see in Banff for cyclists and hikers just southwest of Banff town. To reach the canyon you can either ride or walk the 4km paved trail which begins from the Cave and Basin Historic Site.
Once you reach the end of the pavement, the final stretch is for walkers only and takes you on a beautiful trail up through the canyon and forest. This last section is moderately steep but a really pretty place to stretch the legs.
13. Cruise Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is just one of many glacial lakes in Banff National Park in Canada. The 21km long lake offers plenty of activities for almost everyone. It’s located just 5km from Banff town and offers an easy place to head to for a fun day.
There are many things to do on Lake Minnewanka, particularly in the summer months. There is canoeing, hiking, cycling and fishing. You can also jump on a Lake Minnewanka cruise to appreciate the beauty of Banff’s largest body of water and hear stories and legends of Lake Minnewanka.
One of our favourite things to do here is to hike to the Stewart Canyon. There are 2 different options for this hike. One is a short 3km return trail that takes you to the Stewart Canyon and back. The trail then continues for many more kilometres past the canyon along the lakeshore of Lake Minnewanka leading to a number of backcountry campsites along the lake. The trail is flat and easy for families with kids and offers a nice alternative to some of the more challenging hikes in Banff.
14. Drive along Bow Valley Parkway
If you’ve rented a car then take our advice: avoid the main Trans Canada Highway connecting Banff to Lake Louise and take a scenic drive along Bow Valley Parkway instead. The 48-kilometre secondary road runs almost parallel to the Trans Canada Highway but offers fantastic scenery and some great wildlife spotting opportunities.
There are some incredible places to stop and enjoy along the way making it a very scenic drive, including Johnston Canyon, Castle Lookout and Rockbound Lake.
15. Hike the Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular stops on the Bow Valley Parkway. It’s a limestone canyon flanked with tall trees and countless waterfalls. The start of the trail is located just 25km from downtown Banff.
If you’re short on time you can opt for the easy walk to the Lower Falls, but it’s worth continuing onto the Upper Falls for a 5km return trip. If you want to make a full day of it and avoid the crowds, you can continue further to the Ink Pots, which is another 3km further down the trail. These emerald-coloured springs are a very unique sight in Banff National Park.
16. Visit Castle Junction
The Castle Junction is another worthy stop on the Bow Valley Parkway. It’s an intersection of the parkway and Banff-Windermere Highway where you’ll find the Castle Mountain Chalets and Castle Mountain Campground.
The Castle Junction is also the start of the trailhead for the Rockbound Lake Trail, which passes by Silverton Falls and Tower Lake. It’s a steep hike but an incredibly underrated trail in the national park.
17. Have a picnic
There are countless places to have a picnic in Banff National Park. Whether you pick one of the incredible glacial lakes or a designated picnic spot in the forest, it can be a great way to enjoy the sounds of nature and slow the pace down.
During our time in Banff, we had the most amazing luxury picnic set up for us at our campground in Banff National Park by Banff Graze Co. It was picture perfect lunch date set up against a stunning backdrop of mountains in the park. Whether you want to have a picnic to celebrate a special occasion or just have a super Instaworthy photoshoot as we did, a picnic like this is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Banff.
18. Visit Cascade Ponds
Speaking of picnics, Cascade Ponds is one of the best places to enjoy a slow afternoon with a grazing platter at a lake in Banff. The picturesque spot is just an 8-minute drive from the town of Banff, off the Trans-Canada Highway.
You’ll find a series of ponds at the base of Cascade Mountain with picnic benches and fire pits available for public use. There are also a number of easy trails for the whole family to explore away from the popular Banff tourist spots.
19. Go on a Plant Medicine Walk
If you are interested in learning more about the world of plant medicine, consider joining a tour with Mahikan Trails. This First Nations tour operator offers guided plant medicine walks around Cascade Ponds and other parts of Banff. The walks are roughly 2 hours long and cover just 1.5km, but are a fascinating insight into the traditional medicines found around the Banff area.
The Medicine Walk tour is one of the best things to do in Banff in summer, and starting from this year, Mahikan trails will now be offering winter medicine walks in Banff as well!
20. Visit Lake Louise
Lake Louise is one of the most famous lakes in the entire world. The turquoise glacier lake is surrounded by tall peaks, making it one of the most breathtaking sights in the Canadian Rockies.
Important Note: Lake Louise is one of the most popular places to visit in Banff, so it’s important to plan ahead and arrive early! Parking at Lake Louise is expensive and limited, but there is a great car-free hassle-free shuttle offered by Parks Canada. The shuttle offers a direct route to both Lake Louise and the nearby Lake Moraine (equally as popular) from the town of Banff. You must book your shuttle seat in advance, as walk-up seating may not be available.
Once at Lake Louise, you can choose to just stroll around the lake to admire the views or take part in one of the many activities in the Lake Louise area.
21. Canoe on Lake Louise
One of the most peaceful and beautiful ways to experience Lake Louise in the summer is to get out on the water. If you have your own kayak, canoe, or SUP, you can launch them into the lake at no cost. You’ll be happy to know that non-motorized boats, like canoes, kayaks, sailboats and rowboats, are allowed on all lakes within Banff National Park. If you don’t have your own boat, you can rent a canoe at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Boathouse
The rates are a bit steep at $135+GST for a one-hour rental or $125+GST for 30 minutes for day visitors, but if the weather cooperates for you like it did for us, it can be an experience worth every penny. This was one of the highlights of our time in Banff National Park and an experience we would definitely recommend to every visitor!
22. Get a View from Above at Lake Louise Gondola
For an incredible view of Lake Louise from above, you can take a ride on the Summer Lake Louise Gondola at Lake Louise Ski Resort. You can purchase a general admission Summer Gondola Ticket and take a sightseeing gondola to the top of the resort or upgrade your Summer Gondola Ticket to a Ride & Dine Ticket and enjoy a dining experience at one of the restaurants at the top. Summer Gondola season usually runs from mid-May to mid-September.
The Winter season at Lake Louise Ski Resort runs from mid-November to and is one of the most popular places to be for a range of Banff winter activities.
23. Enjoy an Afternoon Tea at Fairmont Lake Louise
The historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a unique property located on the edge of the beautiful Lake Louise. This luxury hotel is one of the most iconic places in the Banff area, with unrivalled views of the lake.
While rooms at this hotel are pricey and the opportunity to stay here is not accessible to all, you can get a taste of luxury at the Afternoon Tea at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The menu starts at just CAD $70/pp and features delicious pastries, tea sandwiches and other desserts served at the Fairview Bar & Restaurant which boasts views of Lake Louise.
24. Hike to Agnes Tea House
For a different kind of tea house experience, consider taking a hike to Agnes Tea House, a seasonal tea house, located 3.5 kms from the lakeshore trail at Lake Louise. The hike is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in the summer but is a bit more than a walk in a park. The hike is a moderate hour-long climb with a 370m ascend to Lake Agnes.
You should allow 2-3 hours for the return hike, with time to admire Lake Agnes and Mirror Lake on the way. The teahouse can be extremely busy in the high season, so make sure you allow enough time to wait for your order as well.
25. Hike or ride to Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse
Another teahouse worth hiking to when visiting Banff National Park is at Plain of Six Glaciers. It’s one of our favourite hikes at Lake Louise but requires quite a bit more time and effort. This moderate to difficult trail 10km return trail takes around 5-6 hours to complete.
The incredibly scenic hike takes in some of the best mountain scenery in the Canadian Rockies and is much quieter than the Agnes Teahouse trail.
Instead of hiking, you can also explore the Plain of Six Glaciers on horseback with Brewster Adventures. You can admire the incredible view of the six glaciers and travel to the historic teahouse on this epic Lake Louise horseback riding adventure. We have to admit, our horseback tour to the Plain of Six Glaciers was an amazing experience made even more special by the surprising snowfall and winter wonderland ride. It was a really unique way to see Lake Louise and the glaciers that surround it!
26. Go Skating on Lake Louise
In the winter, Lake Louise freezes over and becomes an incredible outdoor skating rink, offering an opportunity for visitors to go skating in this magical setting. We haven’t had a chance to experience Lake Louise in the winter first hand, but have heard many stories of the magical skating sessions on the lake. The sunsets in the winter can be INCREDIBLE!
Skating on Lake Louise is definitely one of the best things to do in Banff in winter, so don’t miss out! If you need to rent any gear, you can duck into Snowtips Bactrax in Banff before you head off.
27. Go Lake Hopping
Banff is famous for its glacial lakes, so it’s no surprise that one of the best things to do in Banff is to go lake hopping. While the world-famous Lake Louise gets a lot of attention, in our opinion, the nearby Moraine Lake is actually more picturesque!
The iconic Moraine Lake is backed by the towering ten peaks which reflect on the mirror-like turquoise water. Moraine Lake is located just an hour from Banff and is one of the most spectacular destinations in Banff park. There is no entrance fee to visit Moraine Lake, but parking at the lake is very limited, so plan to arrive early to beat the crowds. The upscale Moraine Lake Lodge located right on the shores offers a great option to stay the night and enjoy the lake without the crowds.
There are plenty of other lakes to check out in the Banff Lake Louise area. Bow Lake, Helen Lake and Peyto Lake are all located a short distance from each other on the Icefields Parkway scenic drive. Each lake is unique in its own way and is worth a drive to check out.
Another lake that we really love and recommend visiting is the beautiful Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. The lake is located about 40km from Lake Louise town but is also worth the detour. Emerald Lake is different from the other glacial lakes in the Banff Lake Louise area as it has more of a green hue to it. There is a lovely walking trail around the lake and a beautiful Emerald Lake Lodge, ideal for those looking to extend their stay in this unique postcard-perfect setting.
If you’re looking for a Banff lake hopping drive closer to town, check out Vermillion Lakes, Johnson Lake, Mystic Lake and Vista Lake. You can visit all of these lakes on a long-winded picturesque drive.
28. Go on a Big Hike
There is no shortage of great hikes in Banff National Park, ranging from easy family-friendly walks to multi-day challenging scrambles suitable only for experienced hikers. If you are an avid hiker, you can spend weeks hiking in the Banff Lake Louise area!
One of the best hikes in Banff National Park is the trail to Sulphur Mountain, which is one of the closest hikes to Banff and an alternative to taking the pricey gondola.
Another popular hiking activity close to the town of Banff is to climb Cascade Mountain near Lake Minnewanka. It’s a serious trail, totalling 18km and ascending 1325 metres in elevation. You’ll find the trailhead at the ski resort at Mount Norquay.
Another hike that we really enjoyed was to Arnica Lake, a challenging trail with a 595m elevation gain. The hike can be done following an in-and-out trail or as a round trip to the Twin Lakes. The views of the Storm Mountain look particularly impressive with vibrant larches, so if you get an opportunity to hike to Arnica Lake in early fall, do it!
If you’re not feeling completely up to a solo hike, you can go on guided hiking tours with Banff Hiking Co. The owner and lead guide, Samuel, is an expert in the best hikes in Banff National Park and will be able to help guide you through the Canadian Rockies in a safe and enjoyable way.
29. Visit a Cave with Canmore Cave Tours
One of the most fun things to do in Banff National Park in any season is the Canmore Cave Tours. The tour takes you into Rat’s Nest Cave under Grotto Mountain just outside of Canmore. Operating since 1992, the tour is perfect for those looking for a little thrill during their time in Banff and Lake Louise.
There are 6-hour and 4.5-hour tours starting from CAD $135 per person. The tour is unique and is definitely one of the most memorable activities in Banff.
30. Try Forest Bathing
Banff National Park is probably one of the best places in the world to try the wellness exercise known as forest bathing. The practise is rooted in Japanese culture and has been proven to decrease stress and promote long-term happiness.
Forest Fix runs a variety of programs and workshops suitable for all ages. The programs include activities like Eco-Yoga and walking meditation that allows you to enjoy the true benefits of being surrounded by the incredible Rocky Mountains away from the popular Banff sightseeing spots.
31. Visit Mt Norquay
Mount Norquay is a ski resort located just outside of Banff in Alberta. The resort offers a range of activities throughout the year, even in the warmer summer months. You can enjoy a sightseeing chairlift which offers a stunning 10-minute ride to the top of the lookout at just over 2000m.
Another popular summer activity is the Via Ferrata, an exhilarating assisted climbing experience made popular in the European Alps. As one of the closest places to go in Banff, Mt Norquay is a popular spot to visit in the summer and in the winter.
32. Drive Icefields Parkway
The extraordinary Icefields Parkway is considered one of the most scenic road trips in the world. Stretching for over 200km, the road connects the Banff area from just outside of Lake Louise to Jasper National Park.
While you can certainly do part of the drive as a day trip, the drive is an adventure in its own right and is best done over the course of 2 -3 days. There are lots of beautiful stops along the Icefields Parkway, including Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Athabasca Glacier and Sunwapta Falls.
33. Step Foot on the Athabasca Glacier
One of the most breathtaking parts of the Canadian Rockies is the spectacular glaciers that surround Banff and Lake Louise. You can explore the awe-inspiring Athabasca Glacier on a Columbia Icefield adventure departing daily from Columbia Icefields on the Icefields Parkway.
Best Restaurants in Banff
You may be surprised to learn that the town of Banff offers some great food and drink experiences. There’s no shortage of great restaurants and cafes in Banff. Here are some of our favourites!
Park Distillery: Located right in the centre of town on Banff Ave, Park Distillery is a very trendy restaurant and craft distillery. The restaurant is known for its locally sourced campfire-inspired cooking & small-batch spirits distilled in-house. Try their cocktails and be sure to indulge in some appetizers. The food and drink are fantastic!
Shoku Izakaya: A casual authentic Japanese restaurant, Shoku Izakaya gets rave reviews for its sushi and grilled meats. However, they also offer plenty of vegan options too.
The Bison: This higher-end restaurant specializes in Canadian cuisine and offers an open terrace with mountain views from your table.
The Radiant: Another option on Banff Ave, this nighttime hot spot is popular for its cocktails and live music sessions. They also offer great gluten-free and vegetarian food options.
Nourish Bistro: A top option for vegan and vegetarians, Nourish Bistro has a very creative plant-based menu. Their dishes are colourful, interesting and really tasty. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed. They also have delicious cocktails for a night out in Banff.
Block Kitchen & Bar: This casual eatery focused on Asian cuisine is a known spot on Banff Ave. It’s popular for lunch and dinner and has indoor and outdoor seating.
Ramen Arashi: A cheap and cheerful ramen restaurant offering vegetarian variations and tasty Japanese starters. This is one of the best Ramen restaurants we have come across in all of Canada and is well worth a visit. The restaurant is tucked away on the third floor of Sundance Mall.
Farm and Fire: A unique classy spot offering a farm-to-table style menu with locally sourced produce. Although Farm and Fire is particularly popular at brunch, they also have happy hours of an evening with affordable cocktails.
Wild Flour Bakery: A great place to enjoy breakfast, Wild Flour Bakery offers baked goodies and excellent coffee, with vegan options available. The bakery also showcases plenty of local art.
The Prow at Buffalo Mountain Lodge: A new addition to the Banff must-see dining experiences, The Prow features local cuisine with game meat, mountain-inspired tapas and homemade pasta. They also have a fantastic breakfast with some of the best Eggs Benedict we’ve had in a long time!
Good Earth Coffee House: A casual breakfast spot to grab some coffee, Good Earth has a lovely patio if you want to dine in or some great snacks to go.
Coyotes Southwestern Grill: A popular restaurant serving a mix of Southwestern and Mediterranean cuisine, with a focus on fresh and locally sourced produce. The dimly lit restaurant is a great place for a romantic dinner.
Whitebark Cafe: A trendy hangout for brunch, this cafe is known for its sustainably sourced coffee bean. They also have a range of teas and treats for a delicious start to the day on Banff Avenue.
Best Hotels in Banff
Budget Accommodation in Banff
For budget travellers, camping is the cheapest way to save money on accommodation in Banff. There are a few great campgrounds in Banff including:
Tunnel Mountain Village: The closest campground to Banff town, Tunnel Mountain Village is a huge campground offering fully serviced and some unserviced sites suitable for tents, campervans and motorhomes. It’s a very convenient base for sightseeing in Banff. Prices start from CAD $29.25 per night for camping. Some sites have fire rings and allow campfires for a small additional fee.
Lake Louise Campground: One of the most popular campgrounds in Banff National Park is the Lake Louise Campground. It’s a great campground if you want to get to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake early in the day, with campsites available all year round. Prices are CAD $28, with added fees for campfires.
Two Jack Campground: Just 15 minutes from Banff and close to Lake Minnewanka, this campground has over 60 sites for a range of camping including tents and RVs. Camping fees are CAD $28 for lakeside spots.
Johnston Canyon: Another great campground near some Banff National Park attractions, Johnston Canyon has over 130 sites with basic facilities. Prices are CAD $28 per night.
All campgrounds can be booked on the Parks Canada website and should be reserved in advance, particularly in the summer season.
Mid Range Accommodation in Banff
Deer Lodge: This lodge boasts a great location just a few minutes away from Lake Louise. The lodge retains much of its original structure and charm from the 1920s and is one of the best places to visit in Banff. The lodge has a range of rooms available, plus an outdoor hot tub and dry sauna.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge: Located on top of Tunnel Mountain, this retreat has been built in a traditional mountain lodge design. The lodge offers an outdoor hot tub and fitness centre to unwind just outside of Banff. The onsite restaurant, the Prow, specializes in local and organic produce and sustainably sourced meat.
Luxury Accommodation in Banff
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: As one of the most famous luxury hotels, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers a once-in-a-lifetime stay in Lake Louise. You can stay close to Lake Louise and enjoy the elegant comforts of the hotel, experience their sustainable dining options and take advantage of unique activities available only to hotel guests.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel: The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is an iconic luxury hotel in Banff town, Canada, known as the Castle in the Rockies. The hotel is ideally located in town allowing guests to enjoy some of the top things to do in Banff. The hotel offers a range of rooms and a strong commitment to sustainability.
Unique Accommodation in Banff
Storm Mountain Lodge: Located on the Banff-Windermere Highway, Storm Mountain Lodge is a unique lodge set in the wilderness of Banff National Park, Canada. Accommodation at the lodge is in traditional log cabins equipped with double beds, fireplaces, a dining area and a full bathroom.
The lodge is fully self-sufficient in generating its own power and water and is a perfect eco-friendly accommodation for anyone looking for a sustainable stay in the Rockies. The lodge does not have many luxuries such as Wi-Fi, televisions and other modern amenities, but that’s exactly what makes it unique. The food at the lodge is spectacular and the restaurant itself is worth a visit even if you are not able to spend a few nights at the lodge. Rates range from CAD $300-500 depending on the season.
Emerald Lake Lodge: Located right on the shores of Emerald Lake, Emerald Lake Lodge offers one of the best opportunities to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area. Built-in hand-hewn timber in a vintage style, the cabins feature modern amenities and offer amazing views of the lake. Their restaurant also serves sustainable meat and local produce in a fine dining experience. The seasonal prices vary from CAD $200 to $500.
Responsible Tips for Visiting Banff
As Canada’s first National Park and a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Banff National Park is a dream destination in the Canadian Rockies. To make sure that future generations can enjoy this beautiful region as much as we did, we encourage visitors to follow a few simple but important responsible tips for visiting Banff.
Don’t feed the wildlife: It’s best to keep wildlife wild and you can help do that by not feeding them any scraps of your meal or anything left over from your stay. Animals can find their own way into the garbage and this can lead to them becoming aggressive towards people. Make sure to always clean your picnic area after eating and store your food in your vehicle or in designated food lockers.
Leave no trace: Don’t leave behind any garbage, including toilet paper, on the trails, or elsewhere in the park. Use garbage bins provided at the picnic spots or take everything with you to ensure you help protect these natural places.
Treat wildlife with respect: Banff National Park is home to many different animals, including black bears, elk, deer, and more. Whether you’re on foot or in a car, you should always give them plenty of space to move away. Maintain a safe distance from all animals both for your own safety and their survival. If you want to take photographs of any animals, use a telephoto lens and zoom function to get closer.
Obey signs and speed limits: For your own safety and that of others, obey all road signs in Banff National Park. The speed limits may vary on different roads, but it’s best to pay attention to any changes to ensure you drive safely on these mountain roads, including popular drives like the Icefields Parkway.
Reduce, reuse, recycle: Try to be a responsible traveller and avoid single-use plastics and other waste while exploring Banff. If you want to get take out while in Banff, support the Banff Isn’t Disposable initiative by ordering from one of the restaurants in Banff that participate in the program by using reusable containers.
Other Tips for Exploring Banff National Park
- Plan ahead: There are so many things to do in Banff that it can be very overwhelming. However, if you plan ahead using this guide it can make your trip much more enjoyable.
- Layer up and pack smart: The weather can be extreme in Banff at any time of the year with snowfall occurring in all seasons. Be prepared for dramatic weather changes and pack accordingly.
- Allow enough time: As you can see there are so many things to do in Banff that you’ll need plenty of time to even scratch the surface. We recommend at least a week to explore Banff National Park, but you could easily stay longer or even return a second time.
Do you have any questions about visiting Banff and Lake Louise? Leave us a comment below and we’ll be happy to help you with your planning!
Disclaimer: Our visit to Banff & Lake Louise was done in collaboration with Banff & Lake Louise Tourism Board, but, as usual, all opinions expressed in this article are our own.