Banff is one of the most incredible destinations to visit in Canada, especially for those who enjoy nature, heritage, and a chilly climate. However, it is not an easy task to plan a thorough trip to Banff. From booking the right accommodation to figuring out the best things to do in Banff, it can be a process.
We at Canadian Train Vacations can take care of the itinerary for you. Our packages cover the top attractions in Banff — and set you up for an unforgettable experience.
Banff is a beautiful resort town in Alberta province of Canada, famous for stunning lakes, alpine mountain trails, and a vibrant urban scene. Located in Banff National Park amid the Canadian Rockies, the city is a skiing paradise for tourists during the winter season from September to March. If you'd rather explore Banff in the warmer months, May to August is the ideal time to visit.
A world-famous destination, Banff attracts nearly 4 million visitors every year!
Let's take a look at the top things to do in Banff:
1. Hike in Banff National Park
Nestled amid Alberta's Rocky Mountains, Banff National Park covers an area of 2,564 sq miles. Established in 1885, it is Canada's oldest national park. It was home to several indigenous settlements before the settlement of British Columbia. Previously known as the Rocky Mountains Park, this picturesque destination offers sights of glacial plains, alpine forests, and towering peaks.
Nearby attractions include Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, and the Icefields Parkway to the north. Also, Yoho National Park's lush green forests are to the west, Kootenay National Park to the south, and Kananaskis Country on the southeastern side.
The subarctic climate of the Banff National Park means Lodgepole pine trees grow at the lower elevation. This creates an ideal wilderness for hiking. Top hikes include Johnston Canyon to Upper Falls, Big Beehive trail, and Moraine lake shoreline trail. You may see wildlife, such as grizzly bears, cougars, moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. The park is home to several migratory birds as well; keep binoculars handy!
Banff National Park can be easily reached from other parts of Canada via railway or highway. The closest airport is Calgary International. The Rocky Mountaineer is the luxury train service between Vancouver and Banff. The journey takes you through the curves of the Canadian Rockies, offering breathtaking views at every turn. Canadian Train Vacations help you pick the best itinerary.
2. Explore Banff Avenue
Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the town of Banff offers a captivating blend of natural beauty, rich history, and a vibrant community. Banff's history dates back to the late 19th century when the Canadian Pacific Railway discovered the therapeutic hot springs, leading to the establishment of Canada's first national park. Besides the rejuvenating waters, Banff boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene, offering museums, galleries, and boutique shopping on Banff Avenue. Strolling this charming street is an ideal way to spend an afternoon.
3. Boat tour on Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka prides itself as the largest body of water in Banff, Canada. It's situated about 5km to the northeastern side of Banff town. It is a glacial lake flowing from the Cascade River with a depth of 142m throughout the 21km length it covers. The massive size of Lake Minnewanka makes it the second-longest lake in the Canadian Rockies. Take a guided boat tour on the lake to learn about its unique history and geological features.
Lake Minnewanka has a lot more to offer than just scenic beauty. It's a fun spot to indulge in some fishing. The alpine freshwater is home to species like the mountain whitefish — a popular salmonid of North American province — and the big-mouthed Lake Trout fish, also known as the freshwater char. Fishing gear and bait are available for rent near the lake.
Other family-friendly activities include cruising in the lake, enjoying a relaxing picnic by the waterside, floating along the lake in a canoe, or engaging in watersport adventure on a motorboat.
Parking is available at the Minnewanka Park & Ride area. We suggest you arrive two hours before the gate opens to find a convenient place to park. The Banff train station parking is also open for visitors. Banff's Roam Transit also goes to the lake.
Take a guided boat tour to learn about the local legends and folklore. Minnewanka translates to 'Lake of the Spirits,' which stems from the mystical stories that are told about the place. The Indigenous people who lived here believe in the presence of a grotesque merman in the water and other similar fantastical creatures.
4. The Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola takes you to the highest point on Mount Sulphur, and it takes eight minutes to reach the summit. The journey will take you to 7,486 ft elevation as you take in the stunning panorama of the surrounding area. It's especially beautiful when covered in snow during winter. At the summit, the award-winning Sky Bistro Restaurant offers an eclectic fine-dining experience.
The gondola starting point is at a 2.5-km distance from Banff town. You can drive to the location by taking the Cascade Gardens route from Banff Avenue. Once you reach the Cascade Gardens, take a smooth turn to the left towards Spray Avenue, then a right turn to Mountain Avenue. You will find the Banff Gondola Parking Area after driving past the Rimrock Hotel.
Parking can be very busy if you visit during summer. To avoid the hassle, take the Roam Route 1 shuttle service from downtown Banff. The round-trip ride costs around $2 in total.
The tickets at Banff Gondola are priced from $55 to $62 per adult. Meanwhile, kids up to 5 years old can enjoy the rides for free.
#1 Travel Tip: Book activities in advance
Avoid disappointment by reserving tours and activities in advance. The summer can be a very busy time in Banff and other seasons may offer limited capacity. Our vacation advisors can help with any arrangements when you book through Fresh Tracks Canada.
5. Upper Hot Springs
The Upper Hot Springs has been operating since 1883. This public pool was carefully designed and constructed to protect the natural source of the original hot sulphur spring. Visitors can enjoy the striking beauty of the surrounding Rundle Mountains while soaking in its waters.
This spring is one of the nine naturally occurring hot springs in the Banff region. It flows from a rock crack in the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault. The average temperature of the Upper Hot Springs water is 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees F), making it the hottest spring in Banff.
Visitors can enjoy it here from 10 am to 10 pm. The last entry is at 9:30 pm. It is open for all Canadian holidays as well.
The Upper Hot Springs ticket price starts from $16.50 for each adult. Senior citizens and youths have to pay $14.25, while children can enjoy the Upper Hot Springs for free. The family package costs $53.00.
6. Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Exploring the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is one of the unique things to do in Banff. It showcases the naturally occurring thermal mineral springs from the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
An entrance fee of $7 will get you access to the historical museum's displays, including botanical and zoological specimens and the mineral foundry.
7. Ski at Mount Norquay
Mount Norquay is the smallest ski resort in Banff, and is perfect for families. With 60 runs in total, there is a good mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced terrain.
In summertime, climb the Via Ferrata (iron road), with a certified guide, who will lead you up the mountain's cliffs by a system of cables, ladders and a suspension bridge in the summertime.
8. Paddle on Lake Louise in summer
The picturesque Lake Louise, often referred to as the "Jewel of the Rockies," is a must-see, with its serene turquoise waters and the imposing Victoria Glacier in the backdrop, making it a favorite spot for hikers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts.One of the Canadian Rocky's most photographed locations, Lake Louise is a must-do while you are in Banff.
[ Read more: Things to do in Lake Louise ]
The summer, the lake is a popular spot for hiking and paddling. Canoes are available for rent at the boathouse near the lake, making it a wonderful way to experience the natural beauty of this iconic location from a unique perspective.
The iconic Chateau Lake Louise, a grand hotel built in the early 20th century is one of the top sights in the area and is one of the hotels available on your Canadian Rockies Train Trips.
9. Skate on Lake Louise in winter
Skating on natural frozen lakes is a beloved Canadian pastime, and skating on Lake Louise is truly a magical and unforgettable experience. The surrounding snow-covered peaks and the Victoria Glacier create a stunning backdrop, making it one of the most scenic outdoor rinks in the world. The Fairmont Lake Louise offers amenities like warming huts and hot chocolate stands, providing a chance to take a break and warm up when needed.
10. Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is a fascinating 1,475-ft-long walkway in Jasper National Park, a scenic drive from Banff. The interpretive walk bends and curves along the landscape of the Canadian Rockies, overlooking the Sunwapta Valley.
The structure takes you over the Athabasca Glacier right above the glacial ice field, straddling the Continental Divide. This is where the North American watersheds break into the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic Oceans.
11. Stay Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Do you wish to experience some luxury while visiting Banff? Book a stay at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The history of Chateau Lake Louise is a tale of opulence and transformation against the backdrop of pristine wilderness. In 1890, the first modest chalet was constructed along the shores of Lake Louise in Canada's Banff National Park. Over the years, the chalet expanded and evolved, eventually giving rise to the grand Chateau Lake Louise we know today. The present-day Chateau, built in 1913, exudes Swiss-style elegance and has played host to a multitude of distinguished guests, including royalty and celebrities.
When you stay here, you can indulge in exquisite services all week long. The hotel provides many activities — both relaxing as well as adventurous, based on your preference!
12. Explore Whyte Museum
Founded and initially endowed by Peter and Catharine Whyte in 1968, the museum is a place for cultural heritage in Banff. The collection includes artifacts related to the indigenous population, a massive art collection, and heritage homes that reflect the true Banffite lifestyle.
Admission into the Whyte Museum is $10 for adults, while children under 12 are free.
13. Downtown Banff
There are many fun things to do in Downtown Banff. The downtown is lined with retail outlets, cafes, bars, pubs, eateries, bakeries, and restaurants. Check out an art gallery for local and Indigenous paintings and scultptures.
Banff has a thriving club culture as well. So, there are many fun things to do at night in Banff.
14. Explore Bow Falls
A scenic outlook near the Fairmont Banff Springs gives a great look at Bow Falls. For a nice hike, meander along the southern bank of Bow River — the trail runs from from Row River Bridge to Bow Falls. It takes 25 to 30 minutes to hike and even less to bike, although cycles are not allowed at the summit.
It's recommended you have a bear bell in summer and that you and check avalanche forecasts in winter.
15. Hike Sunshine Meadows
This scenic hike past the Rock, Larix, and Grizzly Lakes will take you to a land of green meadows, wildflowers, and butterflies.
A total of five hours will be enough to cover Sunshine Meadow's round trip of 10.3 km.
16. Tunnel Mountain Trail
Tunnel Mountain Trail, with its 300-m ascent, is one of the shortest treks in Banff. It starts in Downtown Banff and offers fascinating views of Banff Springs Golf Course and Mount Rundle.
It is one of the fun things to do in Banff without breaking too much of a sweat!
17. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic yet leisurely driving route from Banff to Lake Louise. Originally constructed in the 1930s, it served as the primary scenic route, offering travelers a picturesque journey through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. It now is considered a quieter and more beautiful alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway. It is a quieter and more beautiful alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway.
Johnston Canyon is a great attraction on the route, which is a thundering waterfall in summer and a frozen wonder in winter.
18. Take a Helicopter Tour
A helicopter tour in Banff is an exhilarating way to witness the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Canadian Rockies from a whole new perspective. Soaring over rugged mountain peaks, crystal-clear lakes, and ancient glaciers, these tours offer a bird's-eye view of the region's dramatic natural beauty. Some tours include hikes and picnics in remote areas only accessible by helicopter.
Ask your vacation advisor about adding one of our exclusive Fresh Tracks Canada Experiences, including a special helicopter tour, to your itinerary.
19. Banff Avenue
Banff Avenue is the bustling heart of Banff Town, Alberta. It is a commercial street where you can shop, grab a drink, and enjoy a wholesome meal. Many of the town's hotels are located on Banff Avenue.
#2 Packing tip:
Bring layers Banff enjoys beautiful summer weather but temperatures can drop at night. Be sure to pack a wardrobe that layers to be comfortable throughout your trip.
20. Parker Ridge Trail
This 5.4-km in-and-out trail is along the Icefields Parkway, which connects Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. The trail (in Banff National Park) offers breathtaking views. You can opt for snowshoeing in winter.
It takes around 2.5 hours to do the hike.
21. Explore the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre
The Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre is an interpretive visitor center located on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. It serves as a hub for visitors looking to explore the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier. The center offers educational exhibits, interactive displays, guided tours, and provides access to the famous Glacier Skywalk. Visitors can learn about the icefield's geology, ecology, and the impact of climate change on these glacial landscapes. It's a starting point for understanding and appreciating the natural wonders of the area and the importance of preserving these fragile ecosystems.
The Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre typically operates seasonally, primarily from late spring to early fall. Fees changes periodically, so check with them directly for current admission packages.
22. Walk on Columbia Icefield
At the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, you can add on a buggy tour, which allows you to step and walk on 10,000-year-old ice sheets of the Athabasca Glacier. It is one of the top tourist attractions in Banff, Canada. These tours use specially designed all-terrain vehicles or "buggies." These vehicles are typically large, rugged, and equipped to handle the glacial terrain. The tour will include stops at key points of interest on the glacier, providing ample opportunities for photos and taking in the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and ice formations.
23. Wildlife Tours
Banff wildlife tours are lovely for kids and adults to learn more about wildlife, animals, and natural vegetation. Deer, elk, tiny chipmunks, and big-horned sheep are some of the animals you can expect to see on these tours.
Your vacation advisor can arrange your wildlife tour when you book your trip with Canadian Train Vacations. Many of our itineraries include this tour as an option.
24. Stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs
The Fairmont Banff Springs, often referred to as the "Castle in the Rockies," stands as a testament to the grandeur and history of Banff National Park. This iconic luxury hotel has a rich and storied past dating back to its opening in 1888. Originally constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway as part of their vision to promote tourism in the region, the Banff Springs Hotel quickly gained a reputation as a luxurious retreat set against a backdrop of breathtaking mountain scenery. The hotel's architecture blends Scottish baronial style with alpine aesthetics, creating a unique and distinctive atmosphere Over the years, it has hosted royalty, celebrities, and dignitaries.
Today, the Fairmont Banff Springs continues to welcome guests from around the world, offering a blend of history, natural beauty, and world-class hospitality that makes it a cherished destination in the heart of the Rockies.Spend a relaxed afternoon availing of the spa service at Fairmont Banff Springs before returning home.
25. Go horseback riding
Horseback riding in Banff offers a unique and enchanting way to immerse yourself in the area. Guided trail rides provide an opportunity to explore the rugged terrain, tranquil forests, and picturesque valleys. Whether you're a novice or an experienced rider, there are options for all skill levels, and the horses are well-trained to navigate the mountainous landscape.
As you meander through the serene meadows and along crystal-clear rivers, you'll have a chance to spot wildlife and soak in the breathtaking scenery. It's a memorable adventure that harks back to a simpler time and allows you to connect with nature in a profound way, making horseback riding an unforgettable experience in the Banff National Park.
26. Try dogsledding in winter
Whether you're taking the reins yourself or riding as a passenger, dogsledding in Banff is nothing short of exhilarating. The crisp mountain air, the sound of paws pounding on the snow, and the stunning vistas of snow-covered forests and frozen lakes create an unforgettable experience. Professional mushers lead the way, providing insight into the history and techniques of dogsledding, as well as ensuring the well-being of the huskies. It's a unique and immersive way to appreciate the winter wonderland of Banff National Park.
27. Visit the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
As a renowned institution for arts and culture, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity offers a diverse array of programs, exhibitions, and performances that showcase the creative talents of both emerging and established artists.
Established in 1933, its known as a cultural hub in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, evolving from a single-course drama program into a globally recognized institution offering a wide range of artistic programs and residencies.
Its stunning natural surroundings provide a unique backdrop for artistic expression and exploration, fostering a deep connection between art and the environment. Whether you're attending a workshop, enjoying a live performance, or simply wandering through the center's picturesque campus, the Banff Centre offers a rich cultural experience that celebrates the fusion of nature and creativity.
28. Explore Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park is famous for its turquoise-hued waters, thundering waterfalls, and enchanting hiking trails that wind through lush forests. A well-maintained pathway leads visitors along catwalks and bridges, providing breathtaking views of Johnston Creek as it carves its way through the limestone walls. The highlight of the journey is the Lower and Upper Falls, where the force of the water has sculpted the rock formations into dramatic, photogenic shapes. Johnston Canyon's accessibility makes it a favorite for hikers of all levels, offering a memorable experience that combines the magic of the great outdoors with the soothing sounds of flowing water. It's an adventure that encapsulates the pristine beauty of Banff and offers a tranquil escape into the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
In winter , you can take a guided ice canyon tour and take in the spectacular frozen scenery.
29. Experience the Banff Mountain Film Festival
Banff Mountain Film Festival, an annual event, is a celebration of remarkable films and documentaries that capture the spirit of adventure, the thrill of outdoor pursuits, and the breathtaking beauty of our planet. Attending the festival provides an opportunity to be inspired by incredible stories of human achievement in the world's most remote and challenging environments.
The 48th annual Festival took place from October 28 to November 5th in 2023 at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Dates for 2024 are yet to be announced.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many days in Banff is enough?
A five-day vacation is enough to explore Banff. But to explore Jasper National Park on the same trip, a seven-day trip will be the best.
What should I not miss in Banff?
Lake Moraine, Lake Louise, and Banff Gondola Ride are among the top 10 things to do in Banff. The Parker Ridge Trail and Columbia Icefields are top spots as well.
Which month is best for Banff?
Summer and winter months are both ideal for enjoying Banff. May to August is ideal for hiking and other outdoor activities, while from December to March, Banff is a skiing hotspot.
Is visiting Lake Louise free?
You don't need a ticket, particularly for the Lake Louise visit. The one you get for Banff National Park will get you past the Lake Louise sightseeing.
Can you walk from Lake Louise Village to Lake Louise?
Yes! The trail is called The Louise Creek Trail. Nature's hidden secret connects Lake Louise to Lake Louise Village without the hassle of traffic and parking.
Is Banff worth visiting?
Of course! Banff has Canada's first national park offering stunning views of snowcapped mountains and pristine rivers.
Are 3 days in Banff enough?
The number of days you spend in Banff depends on your preferences. If you are okay with not seeing all of the national park, then three days is enough. Otherwise, you may want to consider extending your trip to at least five days.
Is Banff worth the money?
Yes. The area around Banff is considered a wonder of the world. The activities and amenities are worth the money.
About the author: Katherine is Product Manager with Fresh Tracks Canada. Having worked in the Canadian travel industry for almost 20 years, she enjoys sharing her local expertise with visitors. She is based in Calgary and one of her favourite Canadian destination is the... Read more
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