Banff National Park is one of the most visited national parks in Canada because this beautiful area of mountains, lakes and wilderness is simply spectacular.
Located in Alberta, Banff National Park protects a vast region that includes the tall peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the cold climes of the Columbia Icefield and some of the most pristine and iconic lakes in the country.
With the intriguing town of Banff, Canada as your base, you can hike in the summer, ski in the winter or even enjoy a road trip along the Icefields Parkway, the highway that cuts through the park.
It’s an incredible place to visit, and to inspire your trip, here are the best things to do in Banff National Park.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks (Travel Guide)
Top 10 Things to Do in Banff, Canada
1. Explore Banff Town
Any trip to Banff National Park will start in the town of Banff, the hub and centerpiece of the region.
This is a resort town, and it’s perfectly set up to cater for tourists looking to see the best of the surrounding region.
Banff, Canada is found in an enviable position, with tall mountains, such as Tunnel Mountain and Sulphur Mountain, providing a unique backdrop to the town.
You can ski in the nearby resorts in winter or use Banff as a base for hiking the rest of the year.
There are museums to visit, plenty of cafes and restaurants, while the town is famed for its hot springs too, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity for downtime and relaxation.
Breakaway from Banff town and check out some of the local adventure activities such as: riding the Banff Gondola, walking Johnston Canyon or paddling the Bow River.
2. Drive the Icefields Parkway
One of the best things to do in Banff National Park is to drive the Icefields Parkway.
This scenic stretch of highway is often said to be the most beautiful road trip in Canada, as the Icefields Parkway will take you past the most iconic sights and attractions.
The road trip is just over 200 kilometers in length and links Banff with Jasper.
This means that actually, you get to experience the spectacular natural wonders of not only Banff National Park but of Jasper National Park too.
3. Go Skiing in the Winter
Banff, Canada is one of the best-known ski areas in the country because the town is surrounded by some of the best slopes in Alberta.
In winter, Banff turns into a lively ski resort and there are slopes and ski fields that are perfect for almost any ability
You can learn to ski in the gentle slopes, or you can head further afield to the black runs for some intense downhill skiing.
Mount Norquay is one of the most popular ski resorts in Banff National Park, but there are many more slopes too, including Lake Louise.
And of course, in winter the scenery is wonderfully snowy, with snow-capped mountain tops and icy hot springs to see.
4. Explore the Many Hiking Trails
Once the snow has melted, the outdoor adventures in Banff switch from winter sports to hiking because Banff National Park is truly a hikers paradise.
There are trails to be walked across the park, from short hikes to longer trekking routes, and no matter how little time, or how much time you might have, you’ll find a suitable walk to tackle.
Some of the best are found close to Banff town, including the well known Tunnel Mountain trail and Mount Rundle trail.
If you’re heading further afield then make sure you have experience in the wilderness because in the Rocky Mountains the weather can quickly change for the worse, while wildlife, such as bears, can pose a threat to unwary hikers.
Always practice wildlife safety procedures especially if you are hiking alone or camping out overnight.
If you are not up for hiking on your own, book a group tour and choose from four of Banff National Park’s most iconic trails on this 7-hour guided hiking tour with packed lunch.
Pick the perfect walk for your level of ability and experience, varying from 4.5 miles (7km) to 6.6 miles (10.6km) in length, with spectacular mountain scenery no matter which option you select.
5. Try White Water Rafting
Once the ice and snow have begun to melt, one of the best outdoor activities you can take on in Banff National Park is white water rafting.
A network of rivers cross crosses through the park, many of them fed by flowing alpine or glacial waters which hurtle down the mountains after winter.
There are different runs found across the park, with some intense runs and quieter and calmer runs too.
Some of the most famous stretches of white water include the ominously named Kicking Horse River, where rapids go up to a class IV Level, or the gentler Bow River, which is actually the same waterway that you’ll see flowing through Banff town itself.
6. Visit the Columbia Icefields
The Columbia Icefields are a vast covering of ice and glaciers that are found within Banff National Park.
Follow the Icefields Parkway north from Banff, Canada and a drive of one and a half hours will bring you to the icefields.
This is one of the largest and most important glacial areas in the Rocky Mountains, and surprisingly, you can actually see the sheets of ice from the side of the road.
You’ll want to get much closer than that though by joining an off-road adventure on an ice truck that drives directly onto the Athabasca Glacier.
7. Face the Glacier Skywalk
After taking an off-road and icy adventure across the Athabasca Glacier, take a trip to the nearby Glacier Skywalk, where you can enjoy a unique if slightly terrifying experience.
The Glacier Skywalk takes visitors along a safe, yet high walkway that runs along the edge of a cliff, for stunning views across Banff National Park and across the Columbia Icefields.
The tallest and most nerve-wracking section is the viewing area that’s found at the end of the Skywalk, where you can see the glacier directly below you as you stand several hundred meters above the ice.
8. Catch a Sunrise at Lake Louise
Lake Louise is easily one of the most iconic natural attractions in Banff National Park, and possibly one of the most photographed natural sights in Canada.
This stunning Lake is fed by pure glacial water running down from the Rocky Mountains, and it’s this mineral-rich water that gives Lake Louise its distinctive blue and turquoise shine.
Spend the day relaxing around the water’s edge in the shadow of the mountains, or take on one of the hiking trails around Lake Louise.
9. Skip Rocks at Lake Minnewanka
Banff National Park is renowned for its numerous lakes, and Another iconic natural sight to visit while you are in the area is Lake Minnewanka.
Located just a few kilometers outside of the town of Banff, Lake Minnewanka is one of the longest lakes in the National Park, stretching up to 28 kilometers at its lengthiest extent.
There are plenty of hiking trails around the edge of the lake and lots of camping sites too which can be enjoyed in summer.
Camp out in the wilderness and you can get down to the turquoise water well before the day-trippers arrive from Banff, and you can enjoy Lake Minnewanka all to yourself.
10. Climb Sulphur Mountain
Named for the abundance of hot springs that are found on its slopes, Sulphur Mountain stands tall over Banff, Canada and forms part of the distinctive and mountainous skyline of the town.
At 2451 meters in height, Sulphur Mountain is one of the tallest in the near vicinity of the town and offers incredible views of Banff National Park from the summit.
It’s a long slog to the top, but if the weather is good and you’re feeling fit and energetic then you can make it to the highest point on Sulphur Mountain in two hours.
If you’re not up for the long hike though, then you can take the easier option, and ride the Gondola up to the summit.
The cable car only takes around ten minutes to the top of Mount Sulphur and you’ll be able to enjoy stunning vistas as you make your way up from Banff.
More Things to Do in Banff National Park
11. Soak in the Upper Banff Hot Springs
Fed by thermal waters which flow from within Mount Sulphur, the Upper Banff Hot Springs is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a hard day of outdoor pursuits in Banff National Park.
Located on the mountain slopes themselves, the hot springs are at a high elevation and are in fact, the highest altitude hot springs you can bathe in while on Canada.
The hot springs are outdoors and they offer superb views over the valley and across to the neighboring mountain peak, Mount Rundle.
The Upper Banff Hot Springs is one of the oldest tourist attractions in Banff too, has been attracting visitors since the late 19th century, and over a century later it’s still one of the best things to do in Banff National Park.
12. Visit the Buffalo Nations Museum
Take a day off from all the outdoor activities and natural attractions in Banff National Park, and instead, take a few hours to explore the town’s museums.
There are several, including the Whyte Museum and the Banff Park Museum, which are both well worth a visit. One of the most underrated rated museums to call into though is the Buffalo Nations Museums.
This excellent historical institution has been preserving local indigenous history since the 1950s and aims to educate visitors on the history and culture of Banff National Park’s original inhabitants.
Learn about the local history of the Buffalo Nations and see a different side of Banff, Canada away from the ski slopes and hot springs that the park is famous for.
13. Climb the Rock Pile at Moraine Lake
One of the most famous lakes in the Canadian Rockies is Moraine Lake, located near to Lake Louise. Reaching the lake can be a challenge due to the small parking lot and road regulation by Parks Canada.
This means most people have to take the bus service offered from the Lake Louise Parking lot. Once you finally reach the lake, however, the best views can be had from the top of the Rock Pile.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of Moraine Lake, or even the Canadian Rockies, you have likely seen a photo that was taken from this vantage point. Seeing this view in person is one of the top things to do in Banff.
14. Go Caving in Canmore
Did you know there is a dense cave system that contains miles of tunnels just outside of Canmore? Me neither, until I booked a caving tour and went to see for myself.
Taking a caving adventure in Canmore is unique to the Banff area and something I highly recommend if you are not claustrophobic and enjoy a good adventure.
Canmore Cave Tours will take you into the heart of Rat’s Nest Cave, where you’ll spelunk, crawl and climb your way around. It’s the most fun you can have wearing a onesie, trust us!
15. Visit Johnston Canyon
The first time we visited Banff National Park, we didn’t visit Johnston Canyon. We spent our time exploring other areas of Banff and Jasper National Park instead.
On our second visit, we made it a priority and realized that this is the most stunning canyon you can visit in Canadian Rockies. Not only do you get some amazing trails, but stunning natural scenery.
The water is a bright blue that contrasts with deep greens and brown earthy tones on land. Paired with the strong scent of pine and fresh air. You’re rewarded with waterfalls for the hiking efforts too.
All of this combined makes Johnston Canyon one of our favorite places in Banff National Park. You do not want to miss this stop.
16. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic byway route that connects Banff Town with Lake Louise Town within Banff National Park. The alternative is the freeway, so this is the best option between the two towns.
Along this route, you can access multiple hiking trails, scenic overlooks, dramatic mountains and stunning views of the Bow River. The drive itself takes just over an hour but it’s worth planning an entire day for the drive.
17. Visit the Scenic Overlook at Peyto Lake
When you’re driving along the Icefields Parkway to the north of Lake Louise, one of the most famed and beautiful stops is at the Peyto Lake overlook.
This lake, shaped like a wolf head, is one of the brightest colored lakes in the park. From the vantage point of the overlook, you can see the entire valley that surrounds the lake below.
The trail is short from the car park and there are overlook platforms built for safe viewing. This easily makes stopping at Peyto Lake one of the top things to do in Banff, Canada.
For the more adventurous, there are trails that head off into the surrounding forests that offer varying angles and viewpoints to enjoy too.
18. Take a Helicopter Ride over the Mountains
If you’re like me, you’ll be seeking the best photographic opportunities of the mountains around Banff, Canada. One of the best ways to do this is by helicopter and the vantage point will be unrivaled.
We went up with Alpine Helicopters and were able to get a birds eye view of the mountains and lakes that sit between Canmore and Banff National Park.
Not only do you get a different perspective, but you will also get a chance to see parts of the area that are not possible to access on foot.
19. Try Forest Bathing
I know this sounds like a strange activity, but it is actually a very insightful way to connect with your surroundings. No, you don’t get naked and roll around in the forest.
Instead, you are guided through a series of meditation exercises and inner reflection questions by a trained guide. This is done in a quiet, off the beaten track area so you can connect with your surroundings.
We’ve done this in several places and think that doing it in Banff National Park is a special experience that you shouldn’t miss.
20. Go on a Plant Medicine Walk at Cascade Ponds
A great way to connect with the nature of Banff National Park is to learn about the medicinal uses of the plants in the area. Before this area was a National Park, the First Nations people used the land to survive.
All throughout the forests and mountains of the area, you can find a wide variety of medicinal plants, trees, flowers and herbs.
Guided by a family that has utilized the land for many generations, you’ll learn what plants are good for what. What first appears to be just a simple forest, will leave you in awe at how it can be used to treat ailments.
21. Visit the Cave & Basin National Historic Site
Take a step back in time to revel in the history of the Banff, Canada area at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. It was here that the first hot springs were discovered, paving the way to the creation of a settlement in the area.
Not only can you walk the paths and explore the various hot springs on the site, but you can also visit some of the original caves and learn how they were accessed by early settlers.
After that, you can take some time to read through the well thought out museum to understand the evolution of the area. It’s a great place for history buffs.
22. Sample the Flavors at Park Distillery
Infusing local inspiration with alcohol is what sets the Park Distillery apart from other distilleries you may visit around the world.
Located in the heart of Banff Town, this is the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploration in and one of the best things to do in Banff.
For a unique sampling of their best spirits, try one of their signature cocktails. We personally enjoyed The Beehive, Cascade and The Three Sisters.
23. Ride the Banff Gondola
To get the best views of Banff Town, the Bow River and surrounding mountains you’ll have to head to the top of Sulphur Mountain. You can do this by hiking or riding up on the Banff Gondola.
The gondola is the fastest way to reach the top, offering views of the surrounding area and the forests below you on the way up.
Once on top, there is a large wrap around viewing platform that offers 360 degree views below. You can also head off on boardwalk type trails to the adjacent peak for views of the valley.
24. Stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
There are few experiences that can compare to a stay at the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and this is one of the best things to do in Banff National Park.
Built on the shores of the famous lake, this property is what mountain escape dreams were made of.
Not only do you get a front row view to the stunning surroundings, you get privileged access to the area when the crowds clear out each day.
Using this property as a base, you can set off early for hiking, make early reservations for canoe rental and not worry about parking when you want to catch a sunrise on the lake shores.
Not to mention the incredible dining options inside the hotel, pool, hot tubs and spa services.
25. Drink Local Beer at Banff Ave Brewing
After a long day of exploring the area there are few better treats than a locally brewed beer at Banff Ave Brewing.
Located in the heart of Banff Town, this local brewery offers locally inspired craft beers and a menu that includes Canadian staples such as poutine.
The brewery has a great atmosphere with a cozy appeal, the perfect combination for a mountain town.
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