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Guide to See the Fall Colours in Banff and 12 Things to Do!

Guide to See the Fall Colours in Banff and 12 Things to Do!

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Fall in Banff is one of the most beautiful seasons to visit this wanderlust alpine town. Whether you’re here for the stunning autumn colors, a crisp-air hike, or a cozy mountain stay, you’re sure to find it here!

I visited Banff in the fall twice before moving to Canmore. The first time I proposed to Bailey, and the second was to capture amazing photos on the Larch Valley Trail – so both were incredible experiences! Better yet, the crowds are far fewer and prices around town are much more affordable. 

With that said though, there are a few things you need to know before you go, and in this blog, I’ll share all of that and more so you can make the most of Banff in the fall!

Best Time to Visit Banff to See Fall Colors

Larch trees on the Larch valley Trail during fall in Banff

Fall in Banff technically starts in September, but for those coming for the vibrant fall colors and Larch season, you’ll need to come later in the month. The exact dates change slightly year by year, but the best time is from around September 18 to October 1.

Depending on the year, it can be risky waiting until October as high winds can blow the leaves right off the trees! The perfect time every year would be to visit Banff in September somewhere around the 23rd to the 27th. This is right in the middle of the season and will offer great colors both from the Larch trees and other trees around Banff.

If you do decide to come then, our guide to visiting Banff in September might be helpful too!

Things to do During Fall in Banff

1. Hike the Larch Valley Trail

Views on the Larch Valley Trail at sunrise during fall in Banff
A lady inspects a larch tree on the Larch Valley Trail in Banff National Park

Without a doubt, the best thing to do in Banff during fall is to hike the Larch Valley Trail. The Larch Valley is arguably the most beautiful place in Banff during the autumn season and the colors are truly out of this world! The valley is literally covered in stunning larch trees that all turn shades of yellow and orange!

For photographers, the chance to capture these amazing colors is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and for those who have never stood among thousands of Larch trees, I promise it’s something you’ll always remember.

The Larch Valley Trail is a 9-kilometer (5.6-mile) out-and-back trail with a hefty elevation gain of 535 meters (1,755 feet) that starts at Moraine Lake. This large elevation gain is right at the start as you climb up to the valley. Once there, it gradually inclines until you reach the lakes. There is also an extra 30-minute-long trail to a viewpoint that’s worth doing!

It takes around two hours to hike to the valley and then I’d allow another hour to explore. In total, 4 to 5 hours is plenty of time to enjoy the trail at a steady pace.

A popular thing to do (and what we did) is to hike up first thing in the morning. That early morning light is so beautiful – especially for photos.

Moraine Lake Parking: As of 2023, Parks Canada has closed the Moraine Lake Road and parking lot to all personal vehicles. This means you’ll need an alternative to park at Moraine Lake like taking the Parks Canada Shuttle, ROAM public transit, or a tour (more on this below!).

2. Visit Moraine Lake

lake Moraine at sunrise in fall
If you get amazing weather you’re in for a real treat!

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

One of the best viewpoints at the lake is from a spot called the Rock Pile. It’s only a short hike from the parking lot (300 meters/984 feet). To reach it, jump on the Consolation Lakes trail until you hit a Y in the path. Here you’ll see a bench and a sign talking about bear safety. Take the trail to the right and follow it up to the Rock Pile.

Getting to Moraine Lake

Since you can’t drive to Moraine Lake anymore (Parks Canada closed the parking lot in 2023), there are a few alternative ways to get to Moraine Lake. Below are my favorite options!

  • Parks Canada shuttle – This shuttle will transport you from the park and ride at the Lake Louise Ski Resort to Moraine Lake. There is also an option to stop at Lake Louise! The shuttle runs every 30 minutes, costs $8 CAD per person, and must be booked in advance. This shuttle stops operation in mid-October for the season.
  • Hop-on hop-off bus tour – To see more of Banff in the fall, this hop-on hop-off bus stops at Moraine Lake and a bunch of other great places! It will help maximize your time without having to drive yourself. We recommend it to all of our friends and family when they come to visit. It is $95 CAD and operates until late September – be sure to book it in advance as it does sell out!
  • Sunrise shuttle – If you want to visit Moraine Lake at the most beautiful time of day, then you need to get there for sunrise! The way the morning light hits the mountains and the lake is magic. This sunrise shuttle service departs at 4 or 5 am and is $119 CAD. They also offer daytime shuttles, which include a stop at Lake Louise for $99 CAD. We really loved this service, and the people are wonderful – read our full review of it here!
  • Organized sunrise tour – For an even more immersive sunrise experience, this award-winning tour is the way to go! Departing at 4 am, you’ll catch Moraine Lake at sunrise and then have breakfast at the Trailhead Cafe – what a fantastic start to the morning! Then head to Lake Louise and explore before all the crowds of people arrive. This tour is $287 CAD, and while more expensive you get more of an exclusive experience with this tour company.

3. Relax at the Banff Upper Hot Springs

The Banff Upper Hot Springs on a sunny day with the mountains in the background
The Banff Upper Hot Springs is one of my favorite things to do in Banff, Canada

Ok, so let’s assume you’ve spent your morning at Moraine Lake before hiking the Larch Valley Trail. What’s next? Well, what better way to enjoy the day than to visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs to unwind?!

Although this isn’t an itinerary type of blog, I do believe that after an early morning and moderate hike, the hot springs are a great idea. The best part though? The views from these hot springs are out of this world!

From the springs you can sit back while the day is young and enjoy those breathtaking views while you soak your muscles in natural spring water. Although the springs do get busy the entrance fee is $17.50 CAD for adults (it’s cheaper for kids and seniors) and for that, I think it’s a great value.

Related Read: Visiting the Banff Hot Springs is one of the best activities in Banff in the rain because you’ll get wet anyway and it’ll likely be less busy!

4. Ride the Banff Gondola

The top support of the Banff Gondola in Banff National Park, Canada

Taking a trip up the Banff Gondola is the single most popular thing to do in Banff, but it’s extra special in the fall. Seeing the autumn colors of Banff from above is spectacular – not to mention the panoramic views of the mountains.

Plus, even if it’s a chillier fall day, you’ll be nice and warm inside the gondola and there’s lots to do inside the buildings at the top. The ride itself is 8 minutes long and goes from the parking lot to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. Once at the top, there’s a restaurant and café, gift shop, and my personal favorite, the boardwalk!

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

We’ve dined a couple of times at 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. I’d personally recommend the lemon garlic chicken or the ratatouille!

The gondola costs approximately $71 CAD and I’ve found that it’s best to book in advance. You’ll get to pick your date and skip the admission line that can get long even in the fall.

5. Cruise Lake Minnewanka

Another great way to take in the fall colors of Banff National Park is to cruise across Lake Minnewanka. This hour-long cruise was full of incredible views of the Rocky Mountains and the fall colors reflecting off the lake had us saying “wow” more than a few times!

Prices start at $70 CAD and it lasts for around an hour. It’s located close to Banff Town, about a 10-minute drive away. We also love that there are multiple departure times throughout the day, making it easy to fit into a busy fall trip to Banff. We have a full review on the Lake Minnewanka cruise if you want more info!

It’s a very family-friendly excursion and a must for nature lovers, but it’s suitable for pretty much anyone who wants to spend an hour or so on a gorgeous boat ride! The cruise runs throughout the fall until about mid-October, so there’s plenty of time to catch those autumn colors Banff is known for.

6. Wildlife tour

An elk stands on the road in Banff National Park
A grizzly Bear on the Icefields Parkway duirng a wildlife tour in Banff

Fall is a great time to view wildlife in Banff. The reason? Well, the lack of crowds is one thing that is essential to having great chances to see wildlife. With large crowds, animals usually shy away, making them really hard to spot.

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 during the fall in Banff is the elk. The fall season is elk rutting season (breeding 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.

While you can spot wildlife on your own, I highly recommend taking this wildlife viewing tour if this is high on your bucket list. You’re more likely to see wildlife, as the guides are very familiar with the area and adjust the tour to where wildlife have been spotted already that day. Honestly, you’ll probably be taken to places you couldn’t have found on your own!

Don’t worry though, you’ll stay a safe distance away and not disturb them at all. It’s simply a unique viewing experience! This tour is 3 hours and is $155 CAD during the fall.

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. Hike the Lake Agnes Tea House trail

The Lake Agnes Tea House on a sunny day in Banff
The views of the mountains at Lake Agnes

One of the most popular trails in Banff National Park is the Lake Agnes Tea House Trail, and in the fall, it’s even better! The trail starts in Lake Louise and climbs up to one of the stunning alpine lakes around Banff called Lake Agnes. At the lake is the famous Lake Agnes Tea House which overlooks the lake and its stunning mountain backdrop.

Lake Agnes Tea House Trail is a relatively easy trail that starts from the Lake Lousie lakefront. The 7.2-km (4.5 mi) out-and-back trail takes around 5 hours to complete with a nice long break at Lake Agnes to enjoy a tea with a spectacular view.

In the fall, the Lake Agnes valley turns yellow as the surrounding larch trees transform into their fall colors. I, unfortunately, have never visited Lake Agnes in the fall, however, I have seen photos and it’s on my bucket list. Just imagine the photo above but with stunning fall colors!

8. Drive the Icefields Parkway

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

The Icefields Parkway is one of the most breathtaking highways to drive on a regular day. In fall? Well, it’s even more magnificent! This 230-kilometer stretch (143-mile) of highway 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.

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 halfway point. 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!

If you don’t have your own set of wheels, you can still enjoy this scenic drive on a guided tour. I love this full-day tour because you hit the highlights of the parkway, such as Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Bow Lake before heading to a viewpoint above the Crowfoot Glacier. Not only do you get to see the gorgeous fall foliage at all of these places, but the local guide is a fountain of information, so you can truly immerse yourself in the area.

This tour runs almost until the end of October, so no matter when you visit in the fall you should be able to enjoy it. I recommend booking this tour in advance as it’s one of the highest-rated tours, you can do so for $195 CAD per person.

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

9. Take a Ghost Tour

Discover Banff Tours Ghost Tour
Photo credit: Discover Banff Tours Ghost Tour

Fall is peak “spooky” season, so we recommend jumping right into the dark side of Banff on this ghost walk. It’s an evening tour that takes you through Banff town where you’ll hear all about haunting tales from the past.

If you’re a fan of scary movies or murder mysteries, the guides bring the dark tales of Banff to life. From unsolved crimes and murders to the story of a couple who went hiking never to return – I won’t spoil it, but there are some chilling tales!

We also enjoyed that some of Banff’s history was woven in. Our guide, Jenn, had historical photos on hand and her storytelling was fantastic.

Dress warm as this tour starts at 7 pm and lasts for almost 2 hours. It’s around $40 CAD depending on the night you go and tours run daily until the end of October.

10. Visit Vermilion Lakes

Reflections at Vermilion Lakes during fall in Banff

Vermilion Lakes is located just outside Banff. During the fall, the colors here are stunning and with reflections on 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. It’s one of Banff’s best free attractions!

My best advice is to grab a hot drink from one of the coffee shops (Pumpkin Spice Latte anyone?) and then head to Vermillion Lakes for a walk, it’s so peaceful!

11. Take in views on the Bow Valley Parkway

A lady stands near a railing overlooking Morant's Curve on the Bow Valley Parkway during fall in Banff
A view of the road with mountains in the background on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park

The Icefields Parkway is easily the most famous drive in Banff, however, the Bow Valley Parkway is equally as beautiful. The best part is that this 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.

I love a cozy road trip in the fall, so slow down and enjoy the drive along the Bow Valley Parkway!

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.

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.

12. Cascade Ponds

Cascade Ponds with mount rundle and wooden bridge in autumn forest
Cascade Ponds looking especially beautiful in the fall

Less than 10 minutes outside Banff, we love stopping at Cascade Ponds in the fall! This is a place for photographers as the mountains and fall trees reflecting in the water are stunning. The ponds are also connected by bridges and we found it to be so photogenic – especially with the autumn colors.

Cascade Ponds is a day-use area that’s a good spot for a picnic or to roast some marshmallows. There’s usually wood to make a fire in the firepits here.

For a nice fall hike, the Cascade Ponds to Bankhead trail is our top pick. As you leave the ponds behind, it takes you through the forest and then to the ghost town of Bankhead. This former mining village was deserted back in 1922 and you can explore the eerie remnants of the town of the town today and learn about its past from information boards dotted around the area.

Related Read: For more ideas, check out our list of the best tours in Banff for all seasons!

Fall in Banff FAQs

lake reflecting mountain and fall colored trees in Banff National PArk
The most beautiful time of the year!

What to Pack for Fall in Banff

Bailey dressed in lots of warm gear on a hike in Banff during fall
It sure gets cold in the mountains

Clothing for all seasons – Fall can be a tricky time to visit Banff. Depending on the year, the weather can be bitterly cold or quite warm. For this reason, it’s best to pack for both. The one thing that’s guaranteed is that it will cool down at night to the point you’ll need long pants and a sweater. The only question is, how cold? Well, at Moraine Lake in the morning, it can be well below 0°C (32°F) so be prepared.

Flashlight – Sunrise hikes and even just being at Lake Louise early in the morning will require a flashlight.

Hiking boots – You can get snow in fall around Larch season so having hiking boots is a great idea for wet, slushy, or icy conditions.

Bear spray – During fall in Banff, bears can become more desperate for food. For that reason, it’s even more necessary to carry bear spray and know how to use it. Also, depending on the season and bear sightings, some of the trails may require you to hike in groups of four. Breaking this rule will result in fines.

Where to Stay during Fall in Banff

Banff Ave during fall

The funny thing about the fall in Banff is that the best place to stay is not actually in Banff town – there are lots of great hotels all over Banff National Park. In fact, during my visits, I always opt to stay in the Lake Louise Village within Banff National Park. The reason? Well, most of the fall attractions are closer to Lake Louise.

Places such as Moraine Lake, Larch Valley, Lake Agnes Tea House, Icefields Parkway, and even the Bow Valley Parkway are closer to Lake Louise Village rather than Banff town. With that said, Lake Louise town isn’t very lively so you’ll need to decide if you want to be in the vibrant Banff town or the quiet, but convenient, Lake Louise.

For this reason, I’ll recommend the best places to stay in Lake Louise and the best hotels in Banff town so no matter your decision, you’ll stay at a great hotel!  

Tip: Wherever you decide to stay, book EARLY. Prices rise quickly for peak fall season (mid-late September), so if you can, I say book a hotel (or two) with free cancellation options ASAP and then figure out the exact details of your trip closer to the time.

Lake Louise

HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre – This is my top pick for budget travelers. I’ve stayed here numerous times and always enjoy it. The rooms are basic, but they have a kitchen and a really good bar and restaurant onsite. Dorm rooms start at $50 CAD and private rooms start around $140 CAD.

Lake Louise Inn – For those with a medium budget or in large groups, the Lake Louise Inn is perfect. They have a huge variety of modern rooms and apartments with all of the amenities you need including a pool, gym, and restaurant. Rooms here begin around $250 CAD.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – For a luxury option, why not stay at the famous Fairmont Chateau?! This perfectly located hotel is nothing short of pure luxury and with views of Lake Louise and the mountains, it’s the perfect place to stay for high-end travelers. A stay here starts at $1,000+ CAD.

Banff Town

Banff Inn – This is great value for money with reasonable prices, great reviews, and good facilities, plus the staff are super friendly! It has a convenient location in downtown Banff, paired with a hot tub, sauna, and restaurant, what more could you want!? A double queen room here starts around $239 CAD.

Moose Hotel and Suites – Set in central Banff, this hotel puts you within walking distance of the best restaurants, cafes, shops, and main attractions of the city. The rooms range from a standard hotel room all the way to rooftop suites, and really, even the standard rooms are comfortable! Oh, I can’t forget about the rooftop pool! You can get a room here for around $350 CAD.

Fairmont Banff Springs – If you came to Banff for a luxury stay then the Fairmont Banff Springs is your only top choice. This luxurious hotel has 11 restaurants and cafes, 2 pools, a spa, and wellness center, a bowling alley, a tennis court, and more. Oh, and did I mention the views!? Rooms start around $925 CAD.

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. Read our honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

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 you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable! Check out my review of Motorhome Republic here for tips before you book.

Thanks for reading!

A couple take a selfie at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park
Thanks for reading!

Banff truly is such a magical place to visit in the fall. With such a short window to catch the beauty before the autumn leaves fall, it makes visiting both unique and exciting. I hope you’re all set for a memorable trip to the mountains during one of the most beautiful times of the year.

If this guide was helpful, have a look around all our blogs about Banff. We have lots of tips and ideas to make the most of your trip.

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