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Best Things To Do in Banff

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.

Clouds over the towering mountains and forest in Banff National Park

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. 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. 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.

Mountains and trees reflected in Vermilion Lake

2. 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.

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.

A small boat cruising on Lake Minnewanka

3. 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.

A Banff gondola cabin travelling above the trees

4. 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.

Two people standing in Banff Upper Hot Springs pool on a sunny winter day with snowy mountains in the distance

5. 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.

Two people standing on the Cave and Basin boardwalk and looking out at the view

6. 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.

Two skiers holding their skis by a fence looking out at the mountains at Mount Norquay ski area

7. Lake Louise

One of the Canadian Rocky's most photographed locations, Lake Louise is a must-do while you are in Banff.

The summer, the lake is a popular spot for hiking and paddling. In winter, the lake becomes an ideal frozen land for skating and snow-shoeing. A park pass includes access to the trails and lakefront at Lake Louise.  

Drop into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for high tea. In the winter, you can get a hot chocolate after your skate.

A couple sitting on the edge of Lake Louise looking at the turquoise water and towering mountains

8. 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.

People standing on the Columbia Icefield Skywalk above the mountains

9. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Do you wish to experience some luxury while visiting the skier's paradise that Lake Louise is? Then, book a stay at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. You can indulge in exquisite services all week long.

The hotel provides many activities — both relaxing as well as adventurous, based on your preference!

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in front of the frozen lake and snow-capped mountains on a sunny day

10. 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.

Two people look at a display of artifacts at the Whyte Museum in Banff

11. 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.

View of a snowy street in Banff with shops and towering mountain behind

12. 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.

A person walking on rocks by Bow Falls beside the Bow River

13. 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.

People hiking on a trail in Sunshine Meadows in Banff

14. 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!

Aerial view of Banff townsite and Tunnel Mountain

15. Bow Valley Parkway

The Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic yet leisurely driving route from Banff to Lake Louise. 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.

Woman and man stand on bridge overlooking river flowing through a canyon.

16. 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.

Two people walk bikes across the street in Banff with mountains in the distance

17. 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.

Young couple looking out at the view from Parkers Ridge

18. Columbia Icefield

At Columbia Icefield, you get 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. Visitors love the stories of the ancient terrain.

Couple walking on an icy glacier in the Canadian Rockies

19. Wildlife Tour

Banff wildlife tours are lovely for kids and adutls 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.

Chipmunk sitting on a rock in front of a lake in Banff National Park

20. Fairmont Banff Springs

Spend a relaxed afternoon availing of the spa service at Fairmont Banff Springs before returning home. They have luxury packages for families and couples to ensure you have a great time.

A river and trees in front of the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel

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.

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Fresh Tracks Canada
Our team of Canadian Insiders love exploring Canada.