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Top Free Things to Do in Banff

Banff is a stunning destination that offers plenty of opportunities for adventure and exploration. And the best part is, you don't have to break the bank to experience its beauty and excitement. There are plenty of free things to do in Banff that will keep you entertained and allow you to experience the best the area offers.

Clouds over towering mountains in Banff

From hiking on scenic trails to taking in the views from stunning vista points, there is no shortage of activities for you to enjoy. You can spend your days exploring the lush forests and pristine lakes or stroll through the charming towns. As Canada's first national park, there are interesting, historical spots to check out too. While admission to any national park requires a park pass, many of the things to do in the park are free.

Canadian Train Vacations is dedicated to providing travelers with the ultimate Banff experience. Our team of travel experts knows the area inside out, and is eager to share their knowledge and advice with visitors. Whether you're looking for the best hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, or local spots to grab a bite, our Canadian insiders are here to help.

Here is our list of 24 free things to do in Banff.

1. Visit Bow Falls Lookout

Bow Falls Lookout, a popular tourist spot, offers breathtaking views of the Bow River and the cascading waterfalls known as Bow Falls. Surrounded by picturesque mountains and forests, the lookout is the perfect spot to take photos and admire the area's natural beauty. Plus, it's easily accessible by foot or car, making it an excellent destination for a scenic hike or a picnic.

Best of all, visiting the Bow Falls Lookout is one of the many free things to do in Banff, making it a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the natural beauty of Banff National Park on a budget.

A woman walks on the rocks in front of Bow Falls, a waterfall near Banff

2. Check out the Banff Hoodoos

As a tourist in Banff, Canada, you'll definitely want to visit the Banff Hoodoo. This iconic natural formation is a tall, thin spire of rock shaped by years of erosion, and it's a must-see attraction. And the best part? Visiting the Banff Hoodoo is one of the many free things to do in Banff, making it a great budget-friendly option for travelers. In addition, the views from the top are breathtaking, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and forests.

Couple hiking with poles along the Hoodoo Trail in winter

3. Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive

As a tourist visiting Banff, Canada, the Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive is an absolute must-do. This scenic route takes you past a series of three stunning turquoise lakes surrounded by breathtaking peaks and lush forests. Along the way, you'll have plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the views, snap some photos, and soak up the natural beauty. The Vermilion Lakes are also a hot spot for wildlife viewing, so keep your eyes peeled for sightings of beavers, ducks, and other local animals.

Fall colours at Vermillion Lakes in Banff with Mount Norquay in sight

4. Take in the views from Surprise Corner

This popular lookout point offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, making it a must-visit destination for tourists. The name "Surprise Corner" comes from the unexpected views that greet you when you round the corner, and you won't be disappointed. Best of all, taking in the views from Surprise Corner is one of the many free things to do in Banff, making it a budget-friendly option for travelers.

Woman standing at the Surprise Corner viewpoint with Fairmont Banff Springs hotel in the distance

5. Explore Johnston Canyon

Discover the beauty of Johnston Canyon while visiting Banff, Canada. This popular hiking trail takes you along a crystal-clear creek and past breathtaking waterfalls, all surrounded by towering cliffs and lush forests. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, making it a great option for hikers of all skill levels. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to stop and take in the views, snap photos, and maybe even spot some local wildlife. The destination is the Upper Falls, where you can witness the powerful force of water as it cascades down into the canyon below.

Family on a bridge across a river, next to a waterfall and turquoise plunge pool

6. Take in the views from the Lake Louise Lakefront/Foreshore

The Lakefront/Foreshore is the perfect viewpoint for taking in the beauty of this iconic lake and its surrounding mountains. From here, you can see the turquoise waters framed by majestic peaks. Relax on the shore, stroll along the lake's edge, or look for wildlife sightings. This natural beauty is not to be missed, so ensure to include the Lakefront/Foreshore in your Banff itinerary.

A couple holds hands as they stroll along a trail next to Lake Louise

7. Sulphur Mountain Hike

Embark on an adventure to the summit of Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Canada, and be mesmerized by breathtaking views. This popular hike winds through the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Canadian Rockies, offering stunning panoramic vistas along the way. The trail is a journey to remember, with well-groomed paths and breathtaking lookout points. The summit is a reward like no other, a 360-degree panoramic view that will leave you in awe.

View of Banff mountains and valley from Sulphur Mountain boardwalk lookout

8. Stare in awe at Moraine Lake

Be captivated by the spellbinding beauty of Moraine Lake in Banff, Canada. Surrounded by the grand peaks of the Canadian Rockies, this glacial lake is renowned for its vivid turquoise waters and stunning scenery. Immerse yourself in the views from the lakefront or embark on a scenic hike in the surrounding valleys and mountains.

Vivid blue water of Moraine Lake with jagged mountain peaks behind

9. Visit Two Jack Lake

Escape to the tranquil haven of Two Jack Lake in Banff, Canada. Surrounded by verdant forests and towering mountains, this serene lake offers a peaceful respite from the bustling town of Banff. No matter how you choose to spend your time, Two Jack Lake promises a tranquil and rejuvenating experience. Indulge in the serenity of this natural oasis and be inspired by the beauty of Banff, Canada.

View of orange sunset clouds and mountains reflected in the clear water of Two Jack Lake

10. Walk to Consolation Lakes

Embark on a journey to the breathtaking Consolation Lakes in Banff, Canada. The easy and scenic hike leads you through a picturesque forest, unfolding to reveal the tranquil beauty of the Consolation Lakes. Surrounded by soaring mountains and lush greenery, these crystal-clear waters are a natural wonder that cannot be missed. Whether seeking peace or adventure, this hike offers a touch of both.

Person walking across rocks at Consolation Lake on a clear day

11. Bankhead Ghost Town

Step back in time and explore the hauntingly beautiful Bankhead Ghost Town in Banff, Canada. Once a thriving coal-mining town, Bankhead is now a historic ghost town that offers a glimpse into the past. Take a walk through the abandoned streets and see the remains of the former homes, shops, and mines. Imagine the lives of the people who lived and worked there over a century ago.

Old coal mining rail car in the forest at the Bankhead Ghost Town in Banff

12. Spot wildlife

Embark on a wild adventure in Banff, Canada and discover its diverse array of fascinating creatures. With its stunning natural surroundings, Banff is a playground for all sorts of wildlife, from grizzly bears to elk, moose, and mountain goats. Whether hiking through the forests, exploring the parks, or simply taking a scenic drive, you never know what kind of wildlife you might come across.

Grizzly bear and cub standing next to a tree in a grassy area

13. Hike to Upper Stoney Lookout

The scenic hike through the Upper Stoney Lookout in Banff, Canada, takes you on a journey through lush forests, past babbling brooks, and up to the very peak of the Canadian Rockies. At the top, the Upper Stoney Lookout awaits, offering a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. So grab your hiking boots, pack a picnic, and prepare for an adventure like no other. With each step, the view becomes more breathtaking, and the reward at the top is simply unforgettable.

14. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise

The drive from Banff to Lake Louise along the Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic journey that takes you through the heart of Banff National Park. Surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, forests, and wildlife, this drive offers a glimpse into the breathtaking beauty of Banff. With multiple stopping points along the way, you'll have plenty of opportunities to take in the views, snap photos, and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. 

  1. Castle Mountain Viewpoint: This viewpoint offers a stunning panoramic view of Castle Mountain, one of the most recognizable peaks in Banff National Park. With its dramatic cliffs and rugged peaks, Castle Mountain is a sight to behold, and the viewpoint provides the perfect spot to take in the view.
  2. Morant's Curve: Named after Canadian Pacific Railway photographer Nicholas Morant, Morant's Curve offers a panoramic view of the valley and surrounding mountains and is a popular spot for tourists and photographers alike.
  3. Moose Meadows: Moose Meadows is a peaceful meadow surrounded by mountains and forests and offers a serene escape from city life. Keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife, including moose, which frequent the area.
  4. Baker Creek Mountain Resort: This mountain resort offers a picturesque view of the surrounding mountains and forests, as well as a glimpse into the local history of Banff. With its rustic cabins, charming lodges, and stunning views, Baker Creek Mountain Resort is a must-visit destination on the Bow Valley Parkway.
Senior couple in a convertible driving on a scenic road, past tall trees and mountains

15. Go ice skating

Ice skating is a classic winter activity perfect for visitors of all ages. With numerous outdoor rinks and indoor arenas to choose from, you're sure to find a spot to lace up your skates and hit the ice. The crisp winter air and stunning mountain scenery make for a truly unforgettable experience. Whether you're a seasoned skater or just looking for a fun, active way to spend the day, ice skating in Banff, Canada, is a must-do activity. So grab your skates, bring a friend or two, and get ready to glide across the ice!

Couple holding hands and skating on a frozen Lake in Banff

16. Hike to Fairview Lookout

As you embark on your journey to Fairview Lookout, you feel like you're walking into a fairytale. The path ahead is shrouded in mist, with only the occasional flicker of sunlight piercing through the dense forest. You finally arrive at Fairview Lookout and are greeted by an even more breathtaking sight. From this vantage point, the view is truly a feast for the senses, with rolling hills dotted with wildflowers and distant mountains that look like they've been painted in watercolors.

A young girl looks at Lake Louise from the high vantage point of the Fairview Lookout

17. Visit Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is a popular spot for locals and visitors, and it's easy to see why. The turquoise-blue waters of the lake are set against a backdrop of majestic mountains, creating a breathtaking view. The best way to experience Peyto Lake is to take a short hike to the viewpoint. The hike is easy and takes you through a beautiful forest before opening up to the stunning panoramic views of the lake. Once you reach the viewpoint, you'll see the full extent of the lake's beauty and the surrounding mountains.

Couple standing together looking at Peyto Lake from a viewpoint on a trail

18. Enjoy the Ice Castle (Ice Magic Festival)

Every nook and cranny of the ice castle holds a new surprise, and you could spend hours exploring the ice-covered kingdom. Towering ice formations reach toward the sky, each more intricate and beautiful than the last. The ice formations are illuminated from within, casting a warm glow that illuminates the surrounding area. As you walk deeper into the castles, you see tunnels, archways, frozen thrones, and even an ice-carved slide.

Family playing together as they explore the Ice Castle on frozen Lake Louise

19. Hike the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass

As you hike up to the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass, you pass towering peaks and bubbling streams to keep you company. You finally reach Sentinel Pass, and the view is even more magnificent. From here, you can see for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see. The air is crisp and fresh, and the scent of pine trees adds to the peaceful atmosphere.

Two people hiking past the yellow trees in Larch Valley

20. Eiffel Lake Trail

Eiffel Lake is nestled in a valley, surrounded by steep cliffs, creating a natural amphitheater for a breathtaking view. As you set out on the Eiffel Lake Trail, you feel a sense of adventure and excitement. The trail winds through the forest, surrounded by towering trees and the occasional glimpse of the majestic peaks above.

A hiker stops along a curved part of the Eiffel Lake Trail to look at the mountains

21. Scramble up the Tower of Babel

As you set out to scramble up the Tower of Babel, you start to see why it's called the Tower of Babel. The rock formation is massive, rising high above you, and the various angles and ledges make it look like a tower indeed. You strap on your helmet and begin the ascent, finding your way up the steep cliffs and narrow ledges.

22. Head to Marble Canyon

As you make your way to Marble Canyon, you feel a sense of excitement and wonder. The trail leads you through a stunning landscape, surrounded by towering cliffs and the occasional glimpse of the rushing river below.

As you approach the canyon, the landscape becomes more dramatic. The cliffs tower above you, and the sound of the river echoes through the canyon, creating a symphony of sound. You walk along the trail, admiring the intricate patterns and textures of the marble walls. The colors range from shades of blue to white and even pink, creating a natural work of art.

23. Banff Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition

The Banff Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition is a must-see event for anyone visiting Banff during winter. This unique competition brings together some of the world's best ice carvers to create incredible sculptures using only ice and snow. The sculptures are displayed throughout Banff, allowing visitors to experience the beauty and creativity of ice carving up close.

Couple enjoying a drink at an ice sculpture/bar on frozen Lake Louise

24. Lake Agnes Tea House

This charming little haven is nestled in the heart of the mountains and offers stunning views of its namesake lake. While there is a charge for tea, the hike up to tea house is free. If you're ready for a snack, try their delightful selection of teas, as well as light snacks and baked goods, all made fresh on-site. The menu is inspired by the natural surroundings, with items such as the "Mountain Berry Scone" and the "Lake Agnes Lemonade." The ambience is relaxed and peaceful, making it the perfect spot to unwind and recharge.

Lake Agnes Teahouse sits on the side of a clear lake, surrounded by trees

Where to Stay in Banff, Canada?

There are a variety of accommodation options in Banff, ranging from budget-friendly motels to luxury resorts. Some popular options for travelers include:

  1. Banff Rocky Mountain Resort - a mid-range option with a range of rooms and suites, indoor and outdoor hot springs, and a convenient location near downtown Banff.
  2. Fairmont Banff Springs - a luxurious resort with elegant rooms and suites, multiple dining options, and an on-site spa.
  3. Mount Royal Hotel - a budget-friendly option with basic rooms, a central location, and a popular on-site restaurant.
  4. Moose Hotel & Suites - a stylish hotel with spacious rooms and suites, a fitness center, and a central location.

No matter your budget or preferred accommodation style, you're sure to find a place to stay in Banff that meets your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is the ticket for not having a park pass in Banff?

The fine for not having a valid park pass in Banff National Park, Canada, is $27 CAD. However, it is recommended to purchase a park pass beforehand, as it helps support conservation and maintenance efforts in the park.

Do you have to pay to get into the town of Banff?

No, there is no fee to enter the town of Banff, Alberta, Canada. However, access to many attractions and recreational activities within Banff National Park, such as hiking trails, hot springs, and ski resorts, requires a park pass, which can be purchased at various locations within the town or online.

Is the Banff shuttle free?

No. It is always best to check with the local authorities or the official website for up-to-date information on fees and schedules.

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