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15 BEST Things to do in Banff in September

15 BEST Things to do in Banff in September

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If you’re thinking about visiting Banff in September, you’re going to be in for a treat! September is a great time to visit Banff for a number of reasons. For one, it’s much less busy than the peak summer and winter months. You also are coming right before several of Banff’s best attractions close for the season, AND just in time for larch season (we’ll get to what that is soon!)

Banff in September is truly one of the most beautiful times to visit. You get to experience the colors of fall, amazing hikes, and some of Banff’s best attractions with a fraction of the crowds. Plus, since it’s off-season, prices for accommodations and rental cars are usually more affordable!

This blog is going to get you ready to go for your September trip to Banff! From the best things to do in Banff in September to where to stay, we’ve got you covered!

Banff Weather in September

A lady in all her hiking gear on the Larch Valley Trail
All bundled up for a sunrise hike to the Larch Valley!

The average Banff temperature in September is around 16°C (61°F) during the day. At night you can expect the average minimum temperature is around 3°C (37°F).

As for rainfall, September typically gets around 38 mm (1.5 in) spread over 13 days. September is also the first month Banff can typically expect snowfall! It’s usually just 2-3 days equating to around 61 mm (2.4 in) of snow. You may get to experience fall colors, with some snow-capped mountains.

15 Things to do in Banff in September

1. Hike the Larch Valley Trail

Larch trees with a moutain backdrop on the Larch Valley Trail during fall in Banff
How beautiful is the Larch Valley Trail in Banff in September?

Larch Valley Trail is one of the most famous trails to hike during fall in Banff. Sure, you can enjoy this trail any time of the year, but if you visit Banff in September, you get to experience the magic of “larch season”.

Larch season is when the larch trees turn yellow and orange, and people come from all over the world to witness it! The season typically begins in mid-September, so if you come early in the month you might not see the colors you’re looking for. Nonetheless, it’s still a beautiful hike! Experience autumn colors with crisp, fall air, and of course the stunning mountain views. This spectacular trail is easily one of the best things to do in Banff.

You should allot 5-6 hours if you plan on doing this moderate hike, as it’s 9 km (5.6 miles) out and back. The Larch Valley hike starts from Moraine Lake (arguably the busiest lake in Canada.), so be prepared to start early and read our blog about how to get to Moraine Lake before you go.

Important: The road to Moraine Lake and the parking lot closed in 2023 to all personal vehicles (except those with disability parking permits). Read our blog about parking alternatives at Moraine Lake for info on catching the shuttle, taking public transit, or jump on one of these tours to Moraine Lake.

Whether you’re planning to visit during larch season or at a different time of year, you can only get to Moraine Lake by shuttle or tour bus from the end of May to mid-October each year. In all other months, the road is closed because of avalanche risks.

2. Banff’s Farmers Market

Bailey walks through the Banff Farmers Market
Bailey walks through the Banff Farmers Market

September is one of the last months where you can experience the Banff Farmer’s Market before it closes for the season!

It’s held every Wednesday from May to the beginning of October (10 am to 6 pm) in Banff Central Park. You can find fresh fruit and produce, as well as many other unique crafts and handmade gifts. It’s a great spot to find very unique souvenirs – that were most likely made by a Banff local!

There is also live music and a variety of food trucks. I had a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich and it was delicious! So, go for lunch or an early dinner and then sit in the park and eat while enjoying the music. Simple, but wonderful.

3. Live Art at Banff Gondola

The views on the Banff Gondola in Canada
While you’re there you may as well take a ride! Here are the views on the way up.

There are a number of reasons to check out the Banff Gondola, but if you visit Banff in September you get the added bonus of getting to experience Live Art at Banff Gondola.

Here, you get the chance to discover local art from artists around the Bow Valley. Not only do you get to see the art, you also have the opportunity to witness the artists creating the work on-site. You can see everything from painting to wood carving! It’s a great way to connect with local artists and get a unique piece of work.

Live Art at Banff Gondola typically runs every weekend from mid-September through mid-November, but the exact dates for next year haven’t been announced yet. Make sure you read up on the best place to buy Banff Gondola tickets so you’re prepared for your visit!

Related Read: If you’re after more amazing views, find out which gondola ride in Banff to take by reading our comparison of the four gondolas here!

4. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway

A car drives along the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park
The Bow Valley Parkway!

Not only is this one of the best things to do in Banff, but it’s also one of the most amazing places to visit in Alberta! This highway is the scenic route from Lake Louise to Banff so you can use it instead of the main highway and enjoy the amazing views and limited traffic.

Some of the best stops include Johnston Canyon, Moose Meadows, Morant’s Curve (my favorite), and Castle Mountain lookout. The Bow Valley Parkway is also a great place to spot wildlife, especially in the morning before the parkway gets busy.

Visiting the Bow Valley Parkway in September means you’ll get to see beautiful fall foliage and experience hikes like Johnston Canyon with less of a crowd.

If you want to enjoy the parkway’s best stops then you’ll need half a day to do so, but with that said, if you simply want to cruise an alternative route from Banff to Lake Louise, then an hour will suffice!

Note: There will be some closures to vehicle traffic on sections of the Bow Valley Parkway this year (2024). From March 1-June 30 and then again from Sept 1-Sept 30 vehicles will NOT be able to drive the 17 km/11 mi stretch of road from the TransCanada-Highway junction to Johnston Canyon, it will be restricted to cyclists’ use only. This is the eastern part of the road that is affected if you’re traveling to Johnston Canyon from Banff. You will still be able to access Johnston Canyon and the Bow Valley Parkway via the intersection near Castle Mountain Chalets.

5. Stroll through the Cascade Gardens

Cascade Mountain as seen from Cascades of Time Gardens at Banff National Park with the historic Parks Canada admin building in the foreground.
I think this picture adequately shows why this activity made the list!

The Cascade Gardens are within walking distance from Banff Ave and the perfect activity for a tranquil afternoon. It features landscaped paths, terraced gardens, and multiple gazebos and sitting areas.

There are several varieties of trees and flowers. Peak blooming season runs from late May to early September. If you come later in the month, and miss peak bloom do not fret. I can assure you the fall foilage makes up for the lack of flowers!

This hidden gem is a great free activity in Banff! Not only are the gardens free, but you can also visit the Parks Canada Administrative Office for some interactive exhibits about Canada’s land and people. The garden is actually tucked behind the office, so checking out both is pretty convenient!

6. Relax in the Banff Hot Springs

Banff Upper Hot Springs
Perfect on a cloudy day in banff!

Just a short 5-minute drive up Sulphur Mountain you’ll find the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a public hot spring with incredible mountain views!

September is the perfect time to visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The hot spring closes in October for a couple of weeks each year, but they are open the entire month of September. Not to mention, visiting the hot spring with the cool temperatures in September (but not too cold!) makes a hot soak even more enjoyable!

One of the things I love most about the Banff Hot Springs is how accessible they are for everyone. The hot springs are easy to get to (only a couple of minutes from the center of town) and pretty affordable. It’s $16.50 CAD per adult and $53 CAD for a family, so even those on a tighter budget can enjoy one of the best Banff attractions.

As one of the most popular Alberta hot springs, they can get very busy though. If you want to visit with fewer people, I recommend going later on in the evening when all of the tour groups have left. The Banff Hot Springs are open until 10 pm (11 pm during the summer in Banff), the later you go the fewer people will be there! Be sure to check their hours before you go as they do change seasonally.

Related read: Another amazing hot spring is Radium Hot Springs. It is also operated by Parks Canada and although a couple of hours away, located in the beautiful Columbia Valley!

7. Wander Banff Ave

Banff Ave during fall

September gives the perfect temps for an outdoor stroll down Banff Ave!

Banff Ave stretches straight through the middle of Banff town and the views from the street are so amazing it’s considered one of the most Instagrammable places in Banff National Park.

You can find several hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops to explore. You could honestly spend weeks here just checking out all of the shops!

Here are some of my personal favorite spots I highly recommend checking out:

  • Cool as a Moose souvenir store – Get the coolest souvenirs in town at this spot! Out of all of the souvenir shops, this recommendation will be valued highly!
  • Banff Candy Store – How can you resist Canadian classics like chocolates and Saltwater Taffy?! This candy store is great for those with a sweet tooth.
  • The Grizzly House – This restaurant has been around Banff for practically ever. It specializes in Fondu and has a cute and quirky setting.

Hot tip: If you really want to get to know Banff town then going on a private walking or biking tour once you arrive is the best way! A local will show you around and point out all of the best things to do and see as well as where to eat!

8. Hike Healy Pass

Panoramic views of Healy Pass Trail in Banff in September
Isn’t it beautiful in September?

Healy Pass Trail is a 20.9-km (13-mile) heavily trafficked, well-maintained out and back trail. This is another hike that is absolutely stunning for larch season.

This trail is very popular for its impressive views of several gorgeous peaks and Egypt Lake.

Healy Pass Trail starts wide, but shaded, with a gradual climb and then narrows as you go. You’ll get to experience a lush forest, alpine meadows, and even a minor creek crossing during this trail. If you’re lucky you’ll even get to encounter some wildlife!

Around the 7.5 km (4.7 mile) mark is when the forest begins to give way to a gorgeous alpine meadow. Once you’re there you’ll have expansive views of lakes, rolling hills, and peaks in the distance.

9. Get tipsy at local breweries and distilleries

Drinking beer and eating at Banff Ave Brewing
Nachos and beer, is there a better combo?!

If you’re like me and you love craft beer and liquor, then one of the first things you’re going to do when you get to Banff is to visit the best craft breweries and distilleries. Cozying up with a nice craft beer indoors is the perfect thing to do in Banff in September when the weather starts to cool down.

There are a few great breweries in Banff that deserve a visit!

Let’s start with the Banff Ave Brewing Company! This was the first brewery in Banff and the craft beer here is delicious! The brewery is conveniently located on Banff Ave but it can be a little tricky to find as it’s on the second floor. They have a great selection of beers and the place gets lively at night.

Three Bears Brewing is Banff’s newest brewery and is actually owned by the Park Distillery. When I first heard about Three Bears Brewing opening for business I was super excited to try it out. I mean, why did Banff only have one brewery up until now!?

The indoor area is trendy, and they also have a nice patio area outside. The entire brewery is gorgeous with high ceilings, beautiful decor, and great beer. This overall creates a really fun atmosphere and it didn’t take me long to get the beers flowing.

Be sure to check out their tea-infused rotating beer. If this isn’t available when you visit, they have some awesome permanent brews on tap, like the Happy Trails Pale Ale and Wishing Tree IPA. They also have great food, so bring your appetite!

If you’re more of a spirits person, then head to Park Distillery. Park Distillery is the only distillery in Banff and it’s conveniently located on Banff Ave. They have 5 whiskeys and 11 spirits all of which are crowd favorites. In fact, they’re often completely sold out of their craft whiskeys! Whiskey lovers will really enjoy tasting them all which range from 36 to 47 months.

I myself am not a whiskey fan so I stick to their spirits which include vanilla vodka (my favorite) and expresso vodka!

This distillery offers daily tours at 3:30 pm, and they also have delicious food!

10. Get in your last round of golf

Views at Stewart Creek Golf Course in Canmore
Views at Stewart Creek Golf Course in Canmore
A man puts a ball at Stewart Creek Golf Course in Banff
The courses are stunning!

The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course is known for its panoramic beauty! This course’s captivating, yet challenging layout draws in professionals and amateurs alike.

The magic of this course is you get breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains in every direction. Honestly, it’s hard to even be mad if you’re not doing well with views like that!

If you visit Banff in September you have one of the last few chances to tee off at this great course, as it’s open from June through early October.

You can play 18-holes for $75 CAD, plus tax, or 9-holes for $50 CAD, plus tax. All rates include a shared power cart (unless otherwise noted), use of driving range and practice facility prior to your round, and a sleeve of Banff Springs logo golf balls.

11. Visit Vermillion Lakes

Reflections at Vermilion Lakes during fall in Banff

Vermilion Lakes is located just outside Banff along the Vermilion Lakes scenic drive. During September, the fall colors here are stunning and with perfect reflections of the lakes, it’s the perfect place to explore – especially at sunset!

The best part is that you can actually choose to either drive or walk from Banff – it’s that close! From Banff town, simply head out of Banff towards the Banff sign. Just past there you’ll turn left onto Vermilion Lakes Road. This stretch of road passes many viewpoints and takes around an hour to explore.

12. Drive the Icefields Parkway

The road through the Icefields Parkway, Canada
The Icefields Parkway travels from Jasper to Moraine Lake!

The Icefields Parkway is one of the most breathtaking highways to drive on a regular day. But in September it’s even more magnificent! This 230-kilometer (143-mile) stretch of highways runs between Lake Louise and Jasper passing through two national parks (Banff and Jasper.)

Along the way, there are so many amazing places to stop that you could spend days exploring the Icefields Parkway. However, in just one day you can visit many of the best attractions along the Icefields Parkway and enjoy amazing fall colors. And if you are looking to plan a day trip here, check out our guide to the best day trips from Banff for ideas.

With that said, the most beautiful parts of the Icefields Parkway aren’t actually official stops at all. As you can see from the picture above, it’s the views from the road that make this drive so spectacular.

The above shot was taken just past the Saskatchewan River Crossing at the half waypoint. If you want to find the exact spot, keep driving towards Jasper past the crossing and stop at the first bridge you see. At this bridge looking back towards Banff is where it was taken!

Regardless, a road trip down the Icefields Parkway is a must for your September Banff trip!

Related Read: If you’re driving the Icefields Parkway to Jasper, be sure to check out our blog about 30 of the different amazing things to do in Jasper!

13. Visit Moraine Lake

Bailey poses for a photo while canoeing in Moraine Lake, Banff
Moraine Lake!

One of the most epic things to do in Banff in September (or any time of the year, really) is to visit Moraine Lake. I’ve done it twice in the fall, and the first time it was clear and calm, and I proposed Bailey (she said yes!). The second, we actually had terrible weather, but you win some you lose some.

The lake has a bright turquoise color, and the surrounding mountains are nothing shy of amazing. There are plenty of amazing things to do at Moraine Lake, including:

  • Go hiking – Hike the Larch Valley Trail, walk to Consolation Lakes, or tackle the challenging Tower of Bable. There are actually quite a few hikes that start from Moraine Lake, so choose a trail suitable to your skill level and lace up your boots!
  • Visit the Rock Pile – The is the most popular place to see Moraine Lake from. From the parking lot, follow the trail to the left up a few stars until you see the beautiful view of Moraine Lake! This is just a short 5-10 minute walk, and there are benches and various viewpoints to enjoy.
  • Rent a canoe – Canoes can be rented from the Moraine Lake Lodge and the price starts at $130 CAD+tax for one hour. The canoes can fit up to three people. Rentals include life jackets and because of the stability of Canadian canoes, even those with no or limited experience can give it a try!
  • Stay at the Moraine Lake Lodge – With parking being impossible at Moraine Lake now (more on that below), staying at the only hotel right on the lake helps avoid that completely. If you stay at Moraine Lake Lodge you will be right at Moraine Lake for the night and can enjoy both sunrise and sunset. Bookings are almost impossible to get, though, and can be upwards of $1,000 CAD!
  • Enjoy the view with a coffee – The Snowshoe Café is Moraine Lake’s very own boutique café serving all your favorites including delicious coffee. It’s located in Moraine Lake Lodge and besides coffee, also sells plenty of food items that are perfect to-go. They have breakfast foods such as quiches and croissants, or if you want, sandwiches for lunch too. My best advice is to grab a coffee and a bite to eat and go for a walk. Or, pack a picnic!

If you are planning on driving to Moraine Lake, you’re out of luck! As of 2023, Parks Canada has restricted the Moraine Lake Road and parking lot to commercial traffic only. You’ll need to figure out a parking alternative at the lake like catching a Parks Canada shuttle, taking public transit, or saving yourself all the hassle and booking this hop-on-hop-off bus from Banff town that stops at Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and Johnston Canyon!

For more tips before you go, we put together this complete guide on getting to Moraine Lake. Also, take note that Moraine Lake closes annually in October and doesn’t open again until the end of May. So September really is your last chance to go for the year!

Want to visit Moraine Lake for sunrise?

The only way to visit Moraine Lake at sunrise this year (since the road is closed to personal vehicles) is to either go on this organized tour or book this privately-operated shuttle (the Parks Canada shuttles don’t leave early enough to make it for sunrise.)

The tour begins at 4 am in Banff, and because they are a licensed tour operator, they can access Moraine Lake for sunrise. The tour costs $287 CAD and includes not only a visit to Moraine Lake with hot chocolate and coffee to enjoy, but also an early morning visit to Lake Louise. That means you can visit two of the busiest lakes in Canada without the crowds or the stress of parking/shuttles. You can book the tour here with free cancelation up to 24 hours before.

The new Moraine Lake sunrise shuttle includes transport only from Lake Louise Village but comes at an affordable price of $59-69 CAD per person. They offer a few pick-up times depending on what you have planned at Moraine Lake, with the first shuttle leaving at 4 am and the second at 5 am. You must book your spot online in advance here to avoid missing out.

14. Go bowling!

Bailey bowls at High Rollers in Banff
This is such a fun bowling alley!
bailey with a beer at High Rollers in Banff
What’s bowling without beer?

Did you know there is bowling in Banff? Well, there is! And it is actually better than even your “normal” bowling alley since it also features a bar and pizza restaurant too.

High Rollers Banff is located right on Banff Ave and their motto is “Pins. Pints. Pizza.” I mean, what more could you really ask for? They have six bowling lanes, a huge bar offering 48 different craft beers on tap, 3 pool tables, and serve the biggest pizza slices you’ll find in Banff.

It should come as no surprise that this place gets busy – especially when it’s raining in Banff. In fact, the bowling lanes are almost always booked in advance, so be sure to book yours too.

Booking a lane costs about $50 CAD per hour for a group of up to 8 people. Bowling shoes are required and if you don’t have your own, you can rent them for $6 per person. Sometimes, especially during the week, they do have discounted prices on both bowling, food, and drinks.

15. Go on a wildlife viewing tour

Wildlife watching in Banff National Park
Wildlife watching in Banff National Park in September

September is a great time to view wildlife in Banff especially if you’re looking a joining a wildlife tour. There is usually a lack of crowds which is essential to having great chances to see wildlife. With large crowds, animals usually shy away making them really hard to spot.

But the main reason is that wild animals are generally really active in September. Bears, in particular, are on the hunt for food during fall to get ready for hibernation. For this reason, they are more likely to come lower in the mountains in search of food.

Another animal you’ll want to see in Banff in September is elk. The fall season is elk rutting season so if you’ve ever wanted to see huge elk this is a great time! It’s also the time to stay clear of them and stay in your car if you see one – this is when elk are the most aggressive.

Regardless, September provides a beautiful time to see wildlife and on a wildlife viewing tour, your expert guide will be able to take you to places frequented by wildlife that you simply wouldn’t find on your own.

Where to Stay in Banff, Canada

One of the magnificant rooms in the Fairmont Banff Hotel
One of the magnificent rooms in the Fairmont Banff Hotel

This is one of the most important parts of your trip, and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. There are lots of different areas to consider when it comes to deciding where to stay in Banff National Park. There are also plenty of great hotels in Banff town to consider. Below are some amazing hotels we recommend:

Samesun Banff Hostel – A great budget hostel with dorm rooms. Perfect for those on a tight budget.

King Edward Hotel – A budget range hotel where you still get a private room for a great price.

Banff Inn – The Banff Inn is in the perfect price and luxury range. It’s still cheap but also comes with lots of luxuries.

Banff Rocky Mountian Resort – Pushing up into the mid-range budget this hotel has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens.

Fairmont Banff Springs – This is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible (pictured above!) If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose!

Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. For starters, you need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. Luckily if you’re visiting Banff in September it isn’t quite as busy as in the peaks of winter and summer. During those months Banff often books out months in advance.

I still suggest booking a place ASAP! Using Booking.com is great too because lots of hotels offer free cancellation so just lock in a place (or two) for now and make the final decision later!

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is mesmerizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Before you go…

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie on the Banff Gondola
Thank you for reading!

Banff truly is such a magical place to visit any month you choose to go, but Banff in September is something extra special. Once you witness larch season for the first time, you will know exactly what I mean!

Enjoy your time in Banff, and I really hope you enjoyed this guide and feel well prepared for your upcoming trip. Be sure to check out all our Canada blogs or some of the articles listed below!

Fun things to do in Canmore

Best stops on the drive from Jasper to Banff

Guide to Visiting Banff for Christmas