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21 BEST Things to do in Banff (Ranked in Our Favorite Order!)

21 BEST Things to do in Banff (Ranked in Our Favorite Order!)

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Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is a paradise for outdoor adventure, from hiking to seeing wildlife, and even walking on a glacier!

Having lived in the Banff area, we’ve done all these activities. Even still it’s hard to figure out exactly how to hit it all during your visit! 

When our friends were recently in town, we decided to make it simple and put together a list of our favorite things to do in Banff. So when our friends or family visit, we follow this list, in order, as it’s ranked from our absolute favorite activity down to other must-dos.

It’s easy to follow, simply start at #1 and work your way down for the full Banff experience. Let’s go!

Best Things to do in Banff in Order

1. Banff Gondola 

Banff gondola building and boardwalk on a early spring day with lots of snow
The top of the Banff Gondola
Cable cars travel up the Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola is a must-do!

Taking a trip up the Banff Gondola is the single most popular thing to do in Banff – no wonder it’s at the top of our list! From the top of the Banff Gondola, the panoramic views of the mountains and Banff town are out of this world. This is our first stop whenever we have friends in town, you simply can’t miss it.

The Banff Gondola is an 8-minute scenic ride from the parking lot to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. Once you reach the top of the gondola, you’ll find a restaurant and café (definitely grab a coffee here and enjoy the views!), a gift shop, tons of information on the area and wildlife, as well as my personal favorite, the boardwalk!

The boardwalk leads you to some amazing viewpoints and takes around 1 hour to walk up and back the entire way. For the best views, walk all the way to the end and visit the old weather station. From here you can see the entire valley!

For the best views, it’s best to go up the Banff Gondola on a clear day, but a little low cloud won’t ruin your views completely. As there are a ton of things to do inside the complex at the top, and the gondola is completely enclosed, a visit here is great in all seasons. Our full guide on visiting the Banff Gondola has all the details!

We’ve dined a couple of times at the Sky Bistro, which is the restaurant right at the top of the gondola. It’s pretty crazy eating at a whopping 7,510 feet (2,289 m) above sea level, but it makes for an incredible lunch or dinner. You can take a peek at their menu here – I’d personally recommend the lemon garlic chicken or the ratatouille!

The gondola costs approximately $70 CAD and I’ve found that it’s generally cheaper the further out you can book. The best place to buy Banff Gondola tickets is online through Viator. You’ll get to pick your date and skip the admission line that can get long during busy times!

2. Banff Hot Springs 

Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Hot Springs is a great stop!

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. After you finish up at the gondola, head to the hot springs for a relaxing afternoon!

One of the things I love most about the Banff Hot Springs is how accessible they are. The hot springs are easy to get to (only a couple of minutes from the center of town) and are also pretty affordable.

These hot springs can get very busy, though. If you want to visit with fewer people, I recommend going later on in the evening when all the tour groups have left, or when it’s raining outside. No need to worry about getting wet when you’re in a pool, anyway!

The Banff Hot Springs are open until 10 pm and the later you go, the fewer people will be there! Be sure to check the hours before you go because hours can sometimes change. Parking here is also a little limited and tends to fill up pretty quickly during the summer season, so you may want to grab the ROAM bus number 1 instead. It’s super straightforward and the route goes straight to the Upper Hot Springs parking lot.

Admission for the hot springs is $17.50 CAD per adult or $56.75 CAD for a family of four, and all tickets need to be purchased in person at the springs.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs are open during all seasons. However, they do close annually for 1-2 weeks for cleaning near the end of October. Be sure to check their website for these exact dates!

3. Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake 

Bailey stands on a rock at Lake Louise, Canada
Lake Louise is so pretty!
Bailey in a canoe at Moraine Lake, Banff NP
There’s so much to do at Moraine Lake!

Lake Louise Drive Construction Notice: This summer (2024), construction will be on Lake Louise Drive, causing significant traffic delays. This means you could spend well over an hour sitting in traffic just to be turned away for lack of parking (over a thousand people are turned away each day during the peak summer months!). To avoid this, consider booking this hop-on hop-off shuttle from Banff instead! Check availability for the shuttle here – it fully books out in the summer months!

Both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are staples in a Banff itinerary, so hitting these as your third activity just makes sense. These two stunning alpine lakes are perhaps my favorite areas in all of Banff National Park. There is so much to do and I mean, look at those colors!

At Lake Louise, our favorite activity is hiking to the Lake Agnes Tea House. The hike to the tea house begins at Lake Louise foreshore and is a 7.2 km (4.5 miles) return trip. Once you reach the tea house, you can enjoy stunning views of Lake Agnes and stop for a snack. For a longer tea house hike, I like the 13.8 km (8.6 miles) Plain of Six Glaciers – don’t worry, it’s long but relatively easy!

You can also rent a canoe at Lake Louise and explore that gorgeous turquoise water. Head to the Fairmont Boathouse on the western side of the lake to rent canoes on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s a little pricey at $155 CAD for a half hour or $165 CAD for a full hour, but I had so much fun that it’s worth it at least once! And if you’re visiting during the winter, rent some ice skates and enjoy the lake in its frozen state.

You can do similar activities at Moraine Lake. I actually prefer Moraine Lake, not only for its stunning landscape, but this is also where we got engaged – so it holds an extra special place in our hearts! The Moraine Rockpile hike is super easy but has incredible views. Canoeing is fun here too, you can rent canoes at the Moraine Lake Lodge for $140 CAD per hour.

If your group is looking for a seriously memorable experience, you must visit Moraine Lake at sunrise – the views are out of this world. We have a whole guide on how to visit at sunrise, but basically, you must go with a tour group, book a shuttle, or try to get a spot on the special Parks Canada shuttle as you can’t drive to the lake on your own (more on that next). Please note that Moraine Lake is only open from May to October due to avalanche risk.

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo the the rockpile at Moraine Lake
Hands down the prettiest lake in Banff

Logistically, it makes sense to visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake together. If you haven’t heard yet, parking at Lake Louise is a nightmare and is completely impossible at Moraine Lake. So while it’s a bit of a hassle to get to either lake, it’s worth it – trust me on this one!

The best option is to take an organized tour, especially if you want to catch the sunrise. This sunrise tour visits both lakes early in the morning, so seeing them without the globs of tourists is such a perk! I also love this brand-new shuttle option that transports you from Lake Louise gondola (with a huge parking lot) to Lake Louise foreshore and Moraine Lake. It has multiple departure times, doesn’t completely break the bank, and gives you the flexibility to explore on your own.

For more information, I suggest reading our guides to parking at Lake Louise and alternatives for Moraine Lake!

4. Hit the slopes 

Bailey at Lake Louise Ski Resort
Let’s go!
snowboader at Lake Louise Ski Resort
Dan ready to go!

The most obvious and popular thing to do in Banff in winter is skiing and snowboarding! We love taking our friends to these world-class ski resorts when they visit at this time of year. In fact, I’m starting to think they only visit us for the ski resorts!

Here are my favorite ski resorts around Banff:

Mt Norquay

Mt Norquay is the closest ski resort to Banff town – only a 13-minute drive away! The ski hill offers some of the best views and is also open for night skiing. Mt Norquay isn’t the largest resort in the area and the runs to me aren’t the best. On the other hand, I think it’s a great place for beginners to find their feet or those not looking to ski an entire day.

You can also rent out the equipment you’ll need for the day here – their full-day complete ski package includes skis, poles, and boots, for just $53 CAD. The price for a full-day lift ticket is $124 CAD. That’s not a bad value for Banff! Tickets are also cheaper if you pre-purchase online.

The closest hotel to the resort is The Juniper Hotel & Bistro, which is just a 10-minute drive away with comfortable and modern rooms.

Bailey on the Banff Sunshine Gondola in winter
Winter is more popular for skiing!

Sunshine Ski Resort

The Sunshine Ski Resort is located right in the heart of Banff National Park, about 20 minutes from Banff. They have a wide variety of runs for beginners and experts alike.

There are lots of black and double black runs here, making this resort especially good for advanced skiers and snowboarders. Although there are plenty of green runs too, most have flat spots which are not so great if you’re not comfortable going really fast.

As for ski rental, they’re broken down into three groups: sport performance (12 and under), sport performance (13+), and high performance (13+). A full-day ski package for sport performance (13+) will cost $60 CAD. A lift ticket costs $165 CAD.

You can also stay at the ski resort and ski in and ski out every day – the Sunshine Mountain Lodge is a luxurious hotel that is only meters from the chairlifts! Stays here aren’t just limited to the winter though, the lodge and resort are also beautiful in the summertime, with loads of outdoor activities to try.

Bailey skiing at Lake Louise Ski Resort near Canmore, AB
Me, skiing at Lake Louise!

Lake Louise

Lake Louise Ski Resort is the furthest ski hill from Banff, around a 40-minute drive away. With that said, it’s one of the largest in Canada with a 935-meter (3,068 ft) vertical descent, 7 ski lifts, and 142 km (88 mi) of groomed ski runs. It offers the complete package when it comes to enjoying amazing skiing.

The resort is also perfect for beginners, intermediates, and pros. I love the tree runs around Lake Louise and with so much resort to explore, it will keep you busy all day, and the next day if you decide to come back! Oh, and on the colder days, the gondola is an absolute lifesaver.

You can rent a full-day complete ski equipment package (skis, boots, and poles) here for $74 CAD. Lift tickets start at $139 CAD with a half-day option at $112 CAD. Depending on the day you go, tickets might be more expensive. If you want to stay close to the resort, book a hotel in Lake Louise Village.

I have been lucky enough to ski at all the ski resorts above. So, which one is my favorite? Well, in all honesty, I love Lake Louise the most. The ski area is huge and I love the terrain. Plus, the gondola saves you from the cold! My second choice would have to be Sunshine Village. It also has great terrain and the views are spectacular. For beginners, though, I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, head to Mt Norquay where you can learn and ski for less.

5. Go on a sightseeing tour 

Bailey on the shores of Lake Louise
Lake Louise, one of the best places on earth!
Bailey and her mum pose for a photo at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake!

There is truly too much to see in Banff, so why not combine it into a convenient sightseeing tour? This is an easy addition to our favorite things to do in Banff list because you can see the most, and learn a lot along the way – which always makes the experience more meaningful!

Even though we live in Canmore, we still enjoy going on a sightseeing tour when friends are in town. It honestly makes seeing Banff’s iconic (and somewhat busy) sights so easy! And hey, it’s okay to be a tourist in your own town, especially when it’s this beautiful.

This Banff National Park tour will take you to both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, which takes all of the sightseeing logistics off your plate! The entire tour lasts for just over four hours and on your way back from Lake Louise you’ll drive down the scenic Bow Valley Parkway (more on this in a little bit).

Both of these lakes are well worth spending more time at, but again, if you’re in a rush, then this is such a great way to explore them both without any hassle. There’s also an absolute maximum of 24 people per trip – when we took it there couldn’t have been more than 15, so all in all, it felt very personalized.

This tour is one of the most popular options in all of Banff and comes with hundreds of 5-star reviews that you can read here. At $113 CAD per person, it’s also a great deal!

6. Visit Johnston Canyon 

Bailey at the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Upper falls!
Johnston Canyon lower waterfall in winter
Johnston Canyon lower waterfall in winter

Johnston Canyon is one of the most famous attractions in Banff National Park, so it was an easy addition to the number 6 slot on our favorite things to do in Banff! One of the reasons for that is that it is open (and beautiful) all year round!

During the summer months, you can stroll along the boardwalk next to the canyon filled with turquoise water. You’ll find two waterfalls along the trail, the Lower Falls, which is located 1.7 km (1 mile) from the parking lot, and the Upper Falls, located 1 km (0.6 miles) further.

Important info: Johnston Canyon is located a 30-minute drive from Banff. Entrance to the canyon is free and so is parking.

Go exploring during winter!

When winter rolls around, the canyon freezes over, making the walk look like something out of a winter wonderland! Imagine icicles hanging everywhere and frozen waterfalls, so make sure to make a trip up here even if you’re visiting late in the year.

If you are visiting during the winter, I’d highly recommend joining a winter tour from Banff to Johnston Canyon. This Johnston Canyon Icewalk is one we’ve done and loved! It’s 4 hours long and includes transport to and from the canyon as well as an expert guide, ice cleats, and hiking poles – so you’ll be super safe. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the views of frozen waterfalls and icicles, plus, I’ll be really jealous of you as this is one of my favorite winter activities!

Tickets for the tour cost $107 CAD and include a cup of hot chocolate as well as a tasty maple cookie snack. Be sure to wear layers too as it can get pretty chilly!

Johnston Canyon can get busy.

Now, the downside to Johnston Canyon is that it can get very busy (especially during summer). So busy that the massive parking lot often fills up, meaning you must reach it using a shuttle bus! We like this hop-on hop-off tour that can take you to Johnson Canyon and a bunch of other must-see spots, like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and more.

It’s one of the top bus tours we recommend in Banff when we have friends or family come to visit. The bus operates from early morning (starting at 7:45 am) until late evening (the last bus arrives back in Banff at 6 pm). I’d recommend going as early as possible though to make the most of your ticket and see as many spots as possible!

You can purchase tickets for the hop-on hop-off tour for $95 CAD. This is a popular tour though, so make sure to get your tickets well in advance!

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

7. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway 

Castle Mountain Viewpoint along the Bow Valley Parkway
Castle Mountain Viewpoint along the Bow Valley Parkway

Between Banff and Lake Louise, you’ll find a gorgeous road called the Bow Valley Parkway. Instead of driving along the highway, consider taking this route that’s so scenic and includes tons of places to stop.

To drive along the parkway, you’ll need to grab a day ticket or a yearly Discovery Pass from Parks Canada. The day ticket isn’t too expensive, at $11 CAD per adult or $22 CAD for the whole car! You can either buy your ticket online or purchase it in person at the entranceway to the parkway.

There are tons of opportunities to pull over along Bow Valley Parkway and believe me, you’ll want to stop for photos a lot. This drive can be done in just over an hour, however, if you plan on stopping, I say allow a couple of hours, all the way up to a full day if you’re keen on exploring a lot.

Some of the most popular stops along the Bow Valley Parkway include:

Castle Mountain Viewpoint and Hike

Castle Mountain is one of my favorite views in all of Banff. Pictured above, this mountain is so stunning. You can either just pull over off the road or hike the 6.5 km (4 miles) in and back to a viewpoint.

Silverton Falls

Silverton Falls might not be the most majestic waterfall you’ll ever see, but the tranquil walk to the falls makes the trip worth it. It’s a gentle, 700-m (2,297-ft) stroll from the Rockbound Lake Trail parking lot to the falls, and you’ll return via the same path.

For those up for a more extended adventure, you can continue hiking past the falls onto Rockbound Lake. This is a much more challenging route, with the entire trail from the parking lot to the lake being about 18 km (11.1 mi) out and back.

Morant’s Curve

You may not have heard of Morant’s Curve, but you’ve probably seen photos of it online! It’s a super famous spot along the parkway where trains pass with a stunning mountain backdrop. There’s no specific schedule for the trains themselves, but there’s normally one every hour or so. If you’re traveling along the parkway, you have to check this place out, especially if you’re a photographer!

Moose Meadows

Moose Meadows may not be the moose hotspot it once was, but you can still see wildlife here and enjoy breathtaking views of wildflowers and mountains. It’s best not to rush though, so breathe in the fresh mountain air, and who knows, you might just spot elk or deer.

Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is the most famous stop on the Bow Valley Parkway. As we mentioned earlier, it’s worth either a quick stop or it can be a destination in itself. Regardless, be sure to check out Johnston Canyon!

8. See Lake Minnewanka 

Views of the mountains from a Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff National Park
I mean, wow!

Lake Minnewanka proudly holds the title of being the largest lake in the entire park, spanning over a whopping 28 kilometers (17.4 miles). And when it comes to depth, Lake Minnewanka goes deep – like, really deep. Plunging down to 466 ft (142 m), it’s like the Mariana Trench of Canadian lakes!

The best way to explore Lake Minnewanka is on a scenic boat cruise which you can book online. There are cruises departing hourly every day from May to October. The cruise goes just over an hour, includes live commentary by a local guide, and is only $69 CAD for the whole experience.

It was amazing to learn all about the legend of the lake, its history, and its importance today. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the cute but elusive mountain goats on the lake’s edge and bald eagles up above. Trust me, spotting some of these majestic creatures in their natural habitat is simply magical!

We wrote a full review on this cruise and, spoiler alert, it is a fun way to spend an hour! Since it is indoors on a boat, it isn’t weather-dependent either. The cruise doesn’t operate between November and April simply for the reason that the lake freezes!

Note: There are now a couple of different cruises you can choose from, including a Beer Cruise and a Family Cruise. You can see all of the different cruises online here!

9. Admire the views at Bow Falls Viewpoint 

Bow Falls in Banff
Bow Falls in Banff
Bailey and Daniel at Bow Falls viewpoint in Banff National Park
What a beautiful place!

The Bow River runs right through the heart of Banff. With beautiful evergreen forests on both sides, it’s nothing short of picture-perfect. Since it’s so close to town, we often like to explore the river to get out of the hustle and bustle of downtown, so it pairs nicely with our next stop on the list.

After a short 1.5 km (0.9 mi) scenic walk from Banff town (or drive), you’ll come to the Bow Falls viewpoint on the river’s edge. Here, not only will you see the river, but also the Bow River waterfall!

The viewpoint is a nice place to come for a coffee in the morning or a short walk during the day. There is also a pretty large parking lot, so you can park and take a stroll. But if you plan on walking from Banff, just follow the river’s edge downstream until you reach the viewpoint.

If you want to keep walking, jump on the 15 km (9.3 mi) out-and-back Mt Rundle trail and either hike the entire way (which takes about 8 hours) or just the beginning. It’s quite a challenging route, so bring good footwear and plenty of water!

10. Walk Banff Ave

Bailey poses for a photo on Banff Ave walking street
The prettiest town you’ll ever see!

After you explore the Bow River, you’ll quickly find yourself downtown on Banff Ave, it’s the pinnacle of activity in the city! Whether you’re looking for a bite to eat, some souvenir shopping, or simply want to people-watch – you can find it all on Banff Ave.

Banff Ave stretches straight through the middle of Banff and the views from the street are so amazing, that simply wandering around makes for a fun afternoon. There are tons of hotels at one end and the Bow River at the other. In the middle, you’ll find bars, restaurants, and shops to explore.

Personally, I recommend the following awesome spots:

  • Cool as a Moose souvenir store – Here is where you’ll get the coolest souvenirs in town. Amongst all of the souvenir shops you can find here, this one has the best selection and the staff are super cool too!
  • Banff Candy Store – Buy some Canadian classic candies here, including chocolates and Saltwater Taffy.
  • High Rollers Banff – High Rollers is a bowling alley/bar that’s a really fun place to take the family. Bowling, beers, and pizza – what more could you ask for!? There are just 6 lanes here though, so it does book up pretty quickly. You can book your lane here.
  • The Grizzly House – This restaurant has been around Banff practically forever. Their specialty is fondue and the restaurant has a really cute and quirky setting.
A group of people at Three Bears Brewery & Restaurant in Banff
Three Bears Brewery is the perfect place to bring friends!
Bailey enjoys a bear at Banff Ave Brewing Company in Banff town
Cheers from Banff Ave!

Dan and I are suckers for craft beer, so it should come as no surprise that whenever we are in Banff, we go to Banff Ave Brewing. The brewery is located (as the name suggests) right on Banff Ave, and they have a pretty diverse menu that’s full of delicious beer. You can’t go wrong with one of their IPAs, but be sure to ask about their seasonal taps too – they are always so creative!

Banff Ave Brewing isn’t the only brewery in Banff, in fact, recently another brewery opened meaning there are actually now two breweries in Banff! Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant is located on Bear Street in town and offers a trendy atmosphere and plenty of tasty beer. Be sure to try their tea-infused beers – so delicious!

And if you’re looking for something a little stronger, we’ve got you covered! Head over to Park Distillery, Banff’s very own craft distillery. Home to some of the best pub food and cocktails in Banff, it’s a crowd favorite and I love enjoying a meal and drinks here.

The distillery is located on Banff Ave, and they have a small sales counter as well as a restaurant. I love the chicken sandwich and seared BC salmon! For cocktails, be sure to try a few, but my favorites are the Sawback and the Summit.

Although the drinks can be a little on the pricier side, if you visit for Happy Hour (4-5 pm Monday to Thursday, 3:30-5:30 with a DJ on Fridays!) you’ll be sure to snag a few deals. They also offer offers daily tours at 3:15 pm for a more in-depth experience.

11. Drive the Icefields Parkway 

A bird flys over the road on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park in fall
The beautiful Icefields Parkway!
Scenic road down the Icefields Parkway in Canada
The views are epic around every corner!

The Icefields Parkway is a beautiful highway considered by National Geographic to be one of the 10 most scenic drives in the world! The road connects Banff and Jasper going through some of the most beautiful spots in both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. A lot of the locations on this list are along the Icefields Parkway, so you’ll likely be driving this route. But, now that you know just how notable this stretch of road is, slow down and enjoy the drive!

Some of the best places you can see along the drive include:

  1. Crowfoot Glacier
  2. Bow Lake
  3. Peyto Lake
  4. Waterfowl Lakes
  5. Mistaya Canyon
  6. Howse Pass Viewpoint
  7. Weeping Wall
  8. Athabasca Glacier/Columbia Icefield (more info below)
  9. The Skywalk
  10. Athabasca Falls

For more details about each of these stops, check out our guide to driving the Icefields Parkway here!

As the Icefields Parkway stretches between national parks, you’ll also need to purchase a day pass or Discovery Pass to drive the route. Just like the Bow Valley Parkway, this costs $11 CAD per person.

If you don’t have a car, there are great Icefields Parkway tours from Banff that take care of the itinerary planning and drive for you! This highly-rated full-day tour goes through the heart of the Rockies, where you’ll get to visit beautiful glaciers, waterfalls, and emerald-green lakes. It’s pretty incredible how much you’ll experience in just one day, I know I took about a million photos along this route!

Here’s a little personal tip: While the tour does include some light refreshments, it’s a great idea to pack a lunch or some extra snacks. This not only allows you to save some time but also ensures you can enjoy a bite to eat while soaking in the stunning views all around. Tickets for this tour are available online for $195 CAD – just know this is a super popular tour, so book early to secure your dates.

Without a doubt, the Icefields Parkway is my favorite scenic drive in all of Canada. Please don’t miss this, it’s not just one of the best activities in Banff but also in all of Canada!

Winter driving: The downside to this drive is that it can be very icy in the winter months. You are required to have winter tires between November and April.

12. Walk on the Athabasca Glacier 

the ice explorer athabasca glacier bus drives on the glacier with a mountain backdrop
This bus actually drives you onto the glacier!
Daniel on one of the large Ice Explorers on the Athabasca Glacier on a tour
Athabasca Glacier!

While you’re driving along the Icefields Parkway, one of the most iconic Canadian stops is the Athabasca Glacier. I mean, exploring a giant frozen glacier in the Rocky Mountains – how much cooler does it get? (Literally, it’s COLD up there!).

The great thing about glaciers is that they are around all year! So even in the summer, you can enjoy epic views of the Athabasca Glacier and see the snow. In fact, tours that go onto the Athabasca Glacier only operate in the summer, as you can imagine it’s way too cold during the winter!

Now I have to be honest, the Athabasca Glacier is located a bit of a drive from Banff, at 2.5 hours each way. I drove out to the glacier and back again on a day trip from Banff all while enjoying the best stops on the Icefields Parkway. It makes for a long day, but the views make it worth it.

Once you get to Athabasca Glacier, it’s time to explore it! The only way to walk on the glacier is on a guided tour, and as you can imagine, it is a really popular activity that is often fully booked. This full-day combo tour is the most popular option, and it includes riding up to the glacier in a specially designed vehicle called the Ice Explorer (pictured above) before getting out to stand on it.

Although only a couple of hours long, tickets are reasonable at $115 CAD. It also includes tickets for the Skywalk, which is a glass walkway offering views of glaciers and mountains like no other!

Glass boardwalk on the Columbia Icefield Skywalk in Banff National Park
The Skywalk is so cool!

If you love hiking as much as we do, consider booking a half-day guided hiking tour on the glacier. This tour spends a lot more time actually on the glacier but requires a better degree of fitness than the typical Ice Explorer tour that most people do. If you want to truly explore the Athabasca Glacier, this is the best way to do so!

As you make your way across the ice, your knowledgeable guide will share some fascinating details about how the glacier was formed, what makes it unique, as well as the ongoing impact of climate change. Walking across a glacier is a story to tell the folks back home, and for $184 CAD for 4 hours of glacier hiking – you really can’t beat it!

That being said, all year round you can do a short hike to a viewpoint of the Athabasca Glacier. This hike is completely free, and you can do it without a guide. With that said, for the best experience, I highly recommend joining a tour!

13. Watch the sunset at Vermillion Lakes 

Reflections at Vermillion Lakes in Banff National Park
Head to the end of the road for the best reflections.

Only a 5-minute drive from Banff town is Vermilion Lakes one of our top sunset spots near Banff! Since it’s such a short drive, you can easily make it out to the lake’s edge to catch the sunset, and take the scenic drive out during golden hour – gorgeous!

This 4.3 km-long (2.7-mile) stretch of road winds its way along the edges of a couple of beautiful and calm lakes. When the lakes aren’t frozen, the lakes reflect the mountains behind them almost perfectly.

The best place to go for photos is right at the end of Vermilion Lakes Drive. Here, the water is protected from the wind and the views are stunning. Trust me, your camera will thank you.

When you go for sunset, be sure to pack yourself a bottle of wine or a few beers and just sit back and enjoy the views! It’s the perfect recipe for a moment of pure bliss. We loved bringing our friends here to share the experience.

14. Spot bears on the Lake Louise Gondola 

Lake Louise Gondola during a warm summers day
Photo credit: Ski Louise
Viewpoint at the top of the Lake Louise Gondola
Photo credit: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola

The Lake Louise Ski Resort is one of the largest ski areas in all of Canada! Depending on which time of year you go, this can either be a fun day hitting the slopes, or a day of sightseeing and hiking!

But when summer rolls around, the Lake Louise Gondola and Chairlift transform from a ski lift into an epic sightseeing activity. With outstanding views and a chance to visit the wildlife interpretive center at the summit, it’s a super fun activity that’s only a 40-minute drive from downtown Banff.

While there are four other gondolas in the Banff area, Lake Louise is THE place to go to see wildlife – specifically grizzlies! But don’t worry, you’ll be observing them from the safety of your gondola. In fact, during the summer months, the area at the top of the gondola is cordoned off just to ensure the safety of visitors and bears alike.

When we visited, we didn’t get the best weather and the views were obstructed thanks to fog and clouds. But, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun. The wildlife interpretive center and restaurant were awesome to visit and the long 14-minute ride in the gondola was a blast!

You can grab tickets for the gondola for $65 CAD. The summer sightseeing gondola season runs from mid-May to October. You can take a ride up in the winter as well but there are no facilities open at the top, so we think this is a much better activity during the warmer months when you can hike, visit the restaurant, and look for wildlife.

Hot tip: You can catch the shuttle from the Lake Louise Ski Resort to Lake Louise foreshore. There is a huge parking lot here and it’s much cheaper – so knock two things off this list easily!

Related Read: Read our comparison of all the sightseeing gondolas available in Banff here!

15. Check out the views from Suprise Corner 

Bailey at Surprise Corner viewpoint in Banff, Canada
I could sit here all day!

One of the most famous viewpoints in Banff town is Surprise Corner. Overlooking the Spray Valley and Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, you’ll fall in love with the view! Many proposals happen at Surprise Corner each year, although, that’s not how the viewpoint got its name!

The parking situation here is a bit of a tight squeeze. With a capacity for only about 12 cars, it’s often best to take a leisurely stroll from the town during peak times. My recommendation is to visit after a fresh sprinkle of snow. The landscape gets a whole new level of beauty that’s just so pretty. Don’t just take my word for it, go see it for yourself. You won’t regret it!

Regardless, this is one viewpoint every visitor to Banff should visit. Since it’s a quick stop, you can hit it as you are working your way through these other epic things to do in Banff!

16. Wander 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!

Cascade Gardens are within walking distance from Banff Ave and are the perfect activity on a calm and sunny afternoon. The gardens feature landscaped paths, terraced gardens, and multiple gazebos and sitting areas!

We love visiting here because sometimes we simply don’t have the time (or energy) to go on a hike, but still want to enjoy Banff’s gorgeous outdoors. So Cascade Gardens is a lovely alternative!

The peak blooming season runs from late May to early September. If you come later in the month, and miss the peak bloom, don’t fret. I can assure you the fall foliage more than makes up for the lack of flowers!

Not only are the gardens free, but you can also visit the Parks Canada Administrative Office for some interactive exhibits. The garden is actually tucked behind the office, so checking out both is convenient!

Related Read: Visiting Banff doesn’t have to break the bank! Check out our guide to the best FREE things to do in Banff – you’ll be surprised by the list!

17. Wildlife Tour

A young grizzly bear along the roadside grass on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff
A young grizzly bear we spotted on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff

For many, seeing the wildlife of Banff National Park is a bucket-list experience. Well, the truth is that there are a lot of animals around – you just need to know where to look! Even though this blog is in order of our favorite Banff activities, you might happen to see wildlife on your own anyways (which really screws up my organized list here!).

If you don’t happen to see any wildlife while you’re on the Lake Louise Gondola or exploring on your own, then your best chance is on a guided wildlife tour. Some of the animals you can expect to see include elk, bears, deer, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and more!

The animals tend to be more active in the morning and during the evenings, which is why I’d suggest this evening wildlife tour, where you’ll visit plenty of wildlife hotspots. We love that you can also customize the itinerary of the tour to exactly what you’d like to see. Of course, wildlife sightings aren’t guaranteed, but with a local guide, who knows the area like the back of their hand, your chances are so much higher.

This tour lasts for 3 hours and costs $110 CAD during the winter or $154 CAD during the summer. Once you’ve booked your spot, don’t forget to bring your camera!

18. Hike to the Banff Hoodoos 

A lady poses for a photo at the Banff Hoodoos
Can you spot the hoodoos?

Here’s a little insider tip – check out the Banff Hoodoos! I actually didn’t know Banff had its own hoodoos until my 6th visit and for some reason, they remain off the typical tourist trail. Although the hoodoos themselves aren’t the most spectacular, it’s the views from the short, easy trail that make this a must-visit in Banff.

If you didn’t know, a hoodoo is simply a name for a tall spire of rock that is formed by erosion. They can turn into some pretty wacky structures over time, leaving us to enjoy some impressive displays!

You can reach the Banff Hoodoos two ways. The first is to drive up to the parking lot on Tunnel Mountain Road. From here, it’s only a 10-minute walk to the viewpoint, at which point you can turn around and head back whenever you feel like it. This is what I usually do, simply because it’s so convenient.

The second way is to hike from Surprise Corner, walking the Hoodoos Trail to the viewpoint. The entire trail is actually a loop that you can start and end in Banff town – however, this means you need to walk back on Tunnel Mountain Road. Instead, I’d suggest just walking from Surprise Corner and returning via the same trail. It’s about a 10 km (6.2 mi) walk that takes about 3 hours.

19. Party on Banff Ave 

A couple take a selfie with beers at the Banff Brewery in Banff
I hope you like craft beer as much as we do!

We love going out for a night on the town, and luckily Banff isn’t just lively in the daylight. We have a list of the best activities in Banff at night here!

There are plenty of great places to go for dinner and drinks, so just hit the main street of Banff Ave and take a stroll. It won’t take you long to find somewhere great! However, a few places I can personally recommend are:

Banff Ave Brewing Co.

As mentioned earlier, we love craft beer, so we always stop at Banff Ave Brewing Co. whenever we’re in town. They have a huge selection of beers and this place gets super lively at night! Their opening times do vary a bit, but generally, their pub is open until midnight or 1 am. This makes it an amazing place to go for pre-drinks before heading over to our next recommendation…

The Dancing Sasquatch

The Dancing Sasquatch is your classic young-person party bar and club. The bar itself isn’t that nice or fancy, but there’s always a great party on, and it’s easy to meet other people here. They also often host DJs from out of town and hold themed events, like their famous glow rave! It’s open Thursday to Saturday from 9 pm to 2 am.

St James’ Gate Irish Pub

Irish pubs are always a fun place to go for a drink, there are always jokes, stories, and great-tasting beer to be had. I love the food at St James’ Gate and the warm cozy feel of the bar. It’s one of my favorite places for a social drink in Banff.

20. Swim at Two Jack Lake Day Use Area 

Three people relax at two Jack Lake on a hot summers day in Banff National Park
The best summer hangout!
Bailey on a inflatable doughnut at Two Jack Lake, Canada
If you need me…

Two Jack Lake is honestly one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever been to. While it may be smaller in size compared to its popular neighbor, Lake Minnewanka, it certainly doesn’t lack awesome views! Here, you’ll also find a large day-use area complete with those amazing mountain views.

During the summer, Two Jack Lake is a really popular spot for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. You can’t rent kayaks or paddleboards at the lake, so it’s best to bring your own, or you can rent paddleboards in town from trusted places like The Banff Canoe Club.

When winter rolls around, the lake freezes over, and while it’s much less busy, it’s still the perfect place to capture some stunning photos. So make sure to grab a coffee on your way out of Banff and take a drive to Two Jack Lake to enjoy the gorgeous views. Stop at the day-use area to spot Mt Rundle in the distance, then continue onto Lake Minnewanaka!

There are also two large campgrounds at Two Jack Lake. They normally book up months in advance, but if you can snag a spot (like we did last year) then you’ll love camping here. Two Jack Lakeside Campground is my personal favorite since it offers views of the lake.

21. Try Via Ferrata

bailey hangs on a cliff while trying via ferrata
Via Ferrata is a little nerve-wracking, but also lots of fun!

Our last item on our favorite things to do in Banff list is the Via Ferrata! I had so much fun (despite my look of extreme concentration in the photo above) because it’s similar to rock climbing, with a little more security!

Via Ferrata means “iron path” in Italian, and offers the thrilling experience of navigating rock faces using a series of iron rungs, cables, and bridges – and all the while you’re securely attached to a lifeline. It’s also generally safer and easier to get up higher with less experience and effort.

I highly recommend this Via Ferrata tour in Banff for anyone who isn’t completely sold on rock climbing just quite yet. No worries if you’re new to this – your guide will provide a thorough safety briefing and equipment tutorial before the climb begins.

A little tip from me! Make sure to wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear. Gloves can also be a good idea as the iron rungs can be a little harsh on the skin.

Tickets for this 2.5-hour experience cost $200 CAD and include all of your climbing gear, your expert instructor, and even a shuttle from Banff!

Related Read: Heading to Banff from the Calgary Airport? Check out our blog about all of the different transport options available!

Where to Stay in Banff

View of the Fairmont Banff Springs from the Gondola
The Fairmont Banff Springs is the most luxurious place to stay in Banff!

Banff National Park is full to the brim with great hotels and hostels – it’s pretty exciting, but it can also be a little overwhelming when deciding where to stay! Of course, cost is a big factor when deciding on your accommodation, as well as comfort and all the amenities on offer.

From hotels in Banff town to ones that are a little more out in nature, we’ve put together a list of our favorites for each budget category:

Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$

The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. As you can expect, it’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose.

Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, a bowling alley, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. With so much to do in this one-of-a-kind luxury hotel, you’ll honestly feel like you’ll never want to leave!

Rooms here at the Fairmont start from around $600 CAD a night, but can exceed the $1-2k CAD range in peak season. For the best deals, it’s best to book as far ahead as possible! You can check prices and room availability online here.

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$

For those with a mid-range budget, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a beautiful swimming pool, hot tub, and gym, and all the rooms come equipped with kitchenettes or full kitchens. We’d say this is the perfect option for families since two and three-bedroom units are also available.

The hotel is also in a good location that’s just a 5-minute drive away from town, so it’s a great place to enjoy the wonderful peace and quiet of the Banff countryside!

Rooms here average around $500-600 CAD per night in the high season, but dip as low as around $129 CAD in the low season. You can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.

Banff Inn – $$

Rooms at the Banff Inn have a very affordable price tag, but are also chock-full with all the amenities you could want to have a great stay! This way, you can splurge on those once-in-a-lifetime tours and experiences that make a trip to Banff so memorable.

The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. Inside, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar – perfect for a little bit of relaxation after a long day out exploring Banff.

Rooms here start at $143 CAD, but don’t forget to book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff!

Samesun Banff Hostel – $

For folks looking to save some cash while having a blast in Banff, it’s worth checking out the Samesun Banff Hostel. It’s a great place for backpackers or anyone who’s fine with making some new friends and doesn’t mind sharing a dorm. But if you’re keen on privacy, keep in mind that there aren’t any private rooms available here.

A bed in a dorm here starts from around $45 CAD, including breakfast, and can be booked on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

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. I 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.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie ith drinks on a rooftop bar in Banff, Canada
Thanks for reading!

So there you have it, our 21 favorite things to do in Banff, ranked in order! These are the most popular attractions, and after you visit I’m sure you’ll agree. If you can’t hit all the items on this list, even if you hit a few, I think you’ll have a fantastic Banff experience.

If you have any questions about these activities or things that we missed, leave a comment below! As you plan your further travels, check out our other Banff blogs, including a few of my top picks below.

BANFF ITINERARY – How to Spend 1, 2, or 3 Days in Banff

10 Absolute EASIEST Hikes in Banff 

Whitewater Rafting in Banff: 8 Things to KNOW +Best Tours