This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.
The great thing about national parks in Canada is there are plenty of exciting and free things to do!
Banff National Park is no different. There are several lakes, viewpoints, hikes, road trips, and other adventures just waiting to be had for free!
While there are certainly pricey activities you can do in Banff, there are even more free and cheap things! Some of the activities in Banff are so beautiful – it’s hard to believe you don’t have to pay to see them!
In this blog, I round up the 33 of the best free things to do in Banff National Park.
- Free Things to do in Banff National Park
- 1. Visit Bow Falls Lookout
- 2. Check out the Banff Hoodoos
- 3. Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive
- 4. Take in the views from Surprise Corner
- 5. Enjoy tea at Lake Agnes Tea House
- 6. Explore Johnston Canyon
- 7. Take in the views from the Lake Louise Lakefront/Foreshore
- 8. Drive the Icefields Parkway
- 9. Stare in awe at Moraine Lake
- 10. Visit Two Jack Lake
- 11. Walk to Consolation Lakes
- 12. Take in the views from Big Hill and Big Bend
- 13. Spot wildlife
- 14. Hike to Upper Stoney Lookout
- 15. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise
- 16. Go ice skating
- 17. Hike to Fairview Lookout
- 18. Visit Peyto Lake
- 19. Enjoy the Ice Castles
- 20. Hike the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass
- 21. Eiffel Lake Trail
- 22. Scramble up the Tower of Babel
- 23. Head to Marble Canyon
- 24. Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
- 25. Bow Lake Viewpoint
- 26. Hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House
- 27. Lake Louise Lakefront Trail
- 28. Banff Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition
- 29. Waterfowl Lake Viewpoint
- 30. Walk the Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail
- 31. Mistaya Canyon
- 32. Weeping Wall
- 33. Visit the Lake Louise frozen waterfall
- Where to Stay in Banff, Canada
- Before you go…
Free Things to do in Banff National Park
1. Visit Bow Falls Lookout
The Bow River is a stunning river that runs through the heart of Banff. Turquoise in color, it is nothing short of picture-perfect.
A short 1.5 kilometer (0.9 miles) scenic walk from Banff town (or drive), will bring you to Bow Falls viewpoint on the river’s edge. Here, not only will you see the river, but also the Bow Falls!
The viewpoint is a really nice place to come for a coffee in the morning or a short walk during the day. There is a large parking lot at the viewpoint, so you can park up and take a stroll. If you plan on walking from Banff, simply follow the river downstream until you reach the viewpoint.
If you want to keep walking, you can jump on the Mt Rundle track and either hike the entire trail or just the beginning. Its one of the hardest hikes in Banff, so come prepared!
Views like this prove that the best things in life really are free!
2. Check out the Banff Hoodoos
It wasn’t until my 6th visit to Banff that I discovered the park had its own hoodoos! They manage to fly slightly under the radar with tourists, which is such a shame. While the hoodoos themselves aren’t the most spectacular, the views from the short, easy trail make this a free activity in Banff, you won’t want to skip.
If you do the first option (which is what I usually do), it’s just a 10-minute walk to the viewpoint, at which point you can turn around and head back. If you do the latter, the entire trail is actually a loop that you can start and end in Banff town.
However, if you complete the loop, this means that you would need to walk back on Tunnel Mountain Road (not the most beautiful way to return.) So instead, walk from Suprise Corner and return via the same trail. It’s about a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) walk that takes 3 hours.
3. Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive
Only a 5-minute drive from Banff town is the Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive. This 4.3km-long stretch of road winds its way along the edges of a couple of very gorgeous and calm lakes. When they 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 Road. Here, the water is protected from the wind, and the views are stunning.
My tip is to go at sunset. Take a glass of wine or beer down and sit back and enjoy the views. Can you imagine a more beautiful free activity so close to Banff town!?
4. Take in the views from Surprise Corner
For loved-up couples, it’s a popular place to propose! Funny enough, though, that’s not how the viewpoint got its name.
At Suprise Corner, you’ll find a small parking lot that can fit around 12 or so vehicles. Because of that, it’s usually best to walk from town if you plan on going during peak periods.
Nonetheless, this is one viewpoint every visitor to Banff should visit, and it’s free!
5. Enjoy tea at Lake Agnes Tea House
My favorite hike that starts from Lake Louise is the Lake Agnes Tea House trail. Starting from the Lake Louise lakefront, the trail has you hiking high above Lake Louise where you can peer down and see parts of the lake from above.
After, you continue on to an interestingly shaped mountain called the Bee Hive (let’s see if you can tell how it got its name!) Then, it’s on to the main attraction, Lake Agnes!
Lake Agnes is a spectacular alpine lake surrounded by huge mountain peaks. It’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy some pretty spectacular views. Of course, you can also head over to Lake Agnes Tea House to enjoy tea, coffee, or a snack.
The tea house is usually jam-packed so if you don’t want to wait in line, you’d best get going early in the day. However, even without buying something from the tea house, Lake Agnes is easily one of the best free things to do in Banff National Park.
Lake Agnes Tea House Trail is a 7.3-kilometer (4.5 miles) return track that climbs 400 meters in elevation. The trail is moderately difficult but not technical at all!
Note: From June until mid-October, you’ll be required to pay $12.25 per vehicle per day to park at Lake Louise lakefront (2022 updated price). The paid parking is in effect from 7 am until 7 pm daily.
6. Explore Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is one of the most famous free attractions in Banff National Park. The best part is, it’s open all year round!
You can stroll along the boardwalk next to the canyon filled with turquoise water during the summer months. There are two waterfalls along the trail, one located 1.7 km (1 mile) from the parking lot and one located 1 km (0.6 miles) further.
The canyon freezes in many areas in the winter, making the walk look like something out of a winter wonderland! Imagine icicles hanging from the cliffs and frozen waterfalls – it’s magical!
The downside to Johnston Canyon is that it can get very busy. So busy, in fact, that the huge parking lot often fills up – meaning you must reach it using the public bus!
Johnston Canyon is located a 30-minute drive from Banff. Entrance to the canyon is free, and so is parking.
Note: There will be some closures to vehicle traffic on sections of the Bow Valley Parkway this year (2022). From May 1-June 30 and then again from Sept 1-Sept 30 vehicles will NOT be able to drive the 17km 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. You will still be able to access Johnston Canyon and the Bow Valley Parkway via the intersection near Castle Mountain Chalets.
Related Read: Johnston Canyon is one of the best stops on the drive from Calgary to Radium Hot Springs!
7. Take in the views from the Lake Louise Lakefront/Foreshore
Lake Louise is hands down one of my favorite lakes in Canada. It’s best enjoyed by simply wandering the edge of the lake for an hour or so. The mountains surrounding the foreshore are breathtaking, and the lake is pristine.
If you’re looking for adventure, you may want to enjoy one of the hiking trails like the Lake Agnes Tea House I mentioned above or the Plain of Six Glaciers (more on that later).
If you just want some relaxation, take some food, set up a little picnic, and enjoy the views. You can even grab a coffee from the hotel cafe.
Lake Louise is a 45-minute drive from Banff town but still within Banff National Park.
8. Drive the Icefields Parkway
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 places to visit in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
Without a doubt, this is my favorite scenic drive in all of Canada. Please don’t miss this. It’s not just one of the best free activities in Banff but also in all of Canada!
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, and please drive to the conditions. Also, watch out for wildlife, moose and bears cross this high often!
Below, I’ll mention all the best places to visit close to Banff, however, half of the highway is also in Jasper National Park. So be sure to read up on the best Icefields parkway stops before you go!
9. Stare in awe at Moraine Lake
Maybe we’re biased – since this is the spot where we got engaged. But we think Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful free places to visit in Banff National Park.
The lake has a bright turquoise color, and the surrounding mountains are nothing shy of amazing. Daniel chose this place to get engaged because of its beauty.
There are plenty of amazing things to do at Moraine Lake, such as hiking, enjoying a coffee, or even going canoeing!
The shuttles run during select hours, so if you want to go at sunrise, you’re going to have to try to grab yourself a parking spot. This can be challenging, but if you arrive before 6 am, you should be okay. Sunrise at Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful things to see in Banff in my opinion.
If you want to avoid the crowds, it’s best to visit Moraine Lake in the late afternoon. This is by far the least busy time.
Moraine Lake Road is open from the end of May to mid-October and closes for the winter due to avalanche risk. This means it’s only one of the best things to do in Banff during the summer, fall, and spring. You can, however, snowshoe and cross country ski part of the road – it’s one of the best winter activities in Lake Louise!
Below, I’ll be mentioning many of the best hikes at Moraine Lake that are also free!
10. Visit Two Jack Lake
Two Jack Lake is one of the most popular lakes to kayak and SUP in the summertime. With the warmer days, it’s the perfect place to cool off and even have a few drinks.
In winter, the lake freezes over, and although less popular to visit, the lake is the perfect place to capture stunning photos.
At Two Jack Lake, you’ll find a large day-use area complete with picnic benches and mountain views. Stop at the day-use area, catch spectacular views of Mt Rundle, and continue onto Lake Minnewanaka!
If you want, there are also two large campgrounds at Two Jack Lake. The campsites usually 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. You have to sleep somewhere, right? And this is definitely one of the more affordable options.
11. Walk to Consolation Lakes
The Consolation Lakes Trail is one of the easier trails that starts at Moraine Lake, perfect for families or those who don’t like long hikes.
It’s a 2.9-kilometer (1.8-mile) one-way trail that helps you escape the crowds of Moraine Lake. It takes you out to two stunning alpine lakes with the most epic mountain backdrops. The Consolation Lakes Trail is relatively flat and a pretty easy hike.
After the first lake, there is a bit of a scramble over some rocks to get to the second. If you’re not comfortable climbing the boulders, you can just visit the first lake. In my opinion, the first lake is more beautiful anyway. All up, it only takes just over two hours to hike the trail there and back.
The trailhead begins at the Moraine Lake parking lot bathrooms. From there, you’ll follow the path to the small wooden bridge and continue on until you reach a bear warning sign. Here, turn left, and you are on the trail!
Related Read: Consolation Lakes is one of the easiest hikes near Canmore – find out what the others are!
12. Take in the views from Big Hill and Big Bend
Big Bend is the name of a massive curve in the road along the Icefields Parkway around 2 hours from Banff. Any Icefields Parkway itinerary will include Big Bend, as you have no choice but to drive on it!
However, there is a viewing area at the top of the curvy road where you can look back on the Icefields Parkway called Big Hill! You’ll see the road you just drove wrap its way around mountains and through the valley floor. On a clear day, this is the perfect place to stop for a photo!
The viewpoint is on the right side of the road (if you’re driving from Banff to Jasper) and somewhat on a blind corner. So, be careful when pulling in and out here. Drive all of Big Bend with caution and take your time so you can see the pullover bay where you can safely get out of your vehicle.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Big Bend is really far from Banff. However, as I mentioned above, driving the Icefields Parkway is one of the best free things to do in Banff.
So, I recommend driving as far as Big Bend (the furthest stop on this list) and then visiting the other five attractions mentioned below on your way back.
13. Spot wildlife
Banff National Park is one of the best places in Canada to see wildlife. Over the years, I’ve seen around 10 bears in Banff National Park, including the grizzly above, who was eating grass at Bow Lake.
On top of that, there are plenty of elk, bighorn sheep, moose, and beavers around – just to name a few.
While in Banff, take some time to drive around and keep an eye out for wildlife. This is my favorite free activity as seeing these creatures is magnificent!
Of course, be sure to enjoy them from afar and give them plenty of space.
14. Hike to Upper Stoney Lookout
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do for free in Banff is hiking. Luckily, not all hiking trails in the area are challenging, and you can instead check out some of the easier hiking trails around Banff. Upper Stoney Lookout is the perfect trail to enjoy magnificent views over Banff National Park.
The 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) loop begins at the Mt Norquay Ski resort parking lot and climbs another 250 meters (820-feet) to a viewpoint. This trail is great all year round.
Depending on the time of year, you may need snowshoes or ice cleats. In the summer, the trail is very easy to follow and suited to most people. All up, the trail only takes around 2 hours to complete.
15. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise
I touched on Lake Louise briefly earlier but neglected to mention the amazing drive you’ll encounter to get there. The drive between Lake Louise and Banff is really special.
Along your road trip, I suggest you take a slight detour and drive the Bow Valley Parkway to get there. The Bow Valley Parkway is a highway that stretches between Banff and Lake Louise and is one of the most spectacular in Canada. The 50-kilometer-long highway takes around 1 hour to drive without stopping but allowing half a day is recommended.
Some of the best places to check out on the Bow Valley Parkway include:
Castle Mountain Viewpoint – Castle Mountain is one of those mountains you simply can’t miss. At the roadside viewpoint, you get amazing views. However, those who want a closer look can hike 6.5 km (4 miles) out and back to the viewpoint.
Morant’s Curve – This is my favorite place to photograph on the Bow Valley Parkway. Morant’s Curve is a famous viewpoint (pictured above) in the Bow Valley, where the train passes through the valley. It’s stunning and a must-visit!
Moose Meadows – Moose Meadows isn’t home to many moose these days, but it’s a nice place to stop with spectacular views.
Baker Creek Mountain Resort – Looking for a beautiful cabin getaway? The Baker Creek Mountain Resort is the perfect place to stay on the Bow Valley Parkway. Choose a romantic Jacuzzi Suite for couples or a one-bedroom loft for families!
Once you’ve arrived in Lake Louise, be ready to explore all of the fun things to do and see.
16. Go ice skating
Ice skating is one of the classic free Banff winter experiences. Of course, you can simply go to Lake Louise, which is not only one of the best places but it’s also free (so long as you have your own skates.) However, there are a lot of places much closer to Banff too.
One of the closest is the downtown rink at Banff Community High School. The outdoor rink is completely free to visit, located right in Banff, and with Banff’s views, you’ll feel like you’re wild ice skating.
On top of skating at the official rinks, you can also go wild ice skating during certain conditions. Vermilion Lakes, Johnson Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and Cascade Ponds are popular choices. Of course, heavy snowfall can interrupt this but early in the season, or if people have cleared some of the snow, these lakes are perfect.
Above, you can see me ice skating at Vermillion Lakes – how beautiful!
Skating on frozen lakes is dangerous without the right experience. Only skate on ice thick enough to hold your weight and skate at your own risk. If you’re unsure if the ice is safe, ask at a visitor center before you go.
17. Hike to Fairview Lookout
Fairview Lookout is a short 2.5 kilometer (1.5-mile) out and back or loop trail that leads to a stunning viewpoint over Lake Louise and the Fairmont Hotel. The trail begins at the Lake Louise foreshore and heads left past the boathouse before climbing to the viewpoint.
There are two ways to the top, one heading along the shoreline before ascending steeply to the top and the other a more gradual climb (at the fork turn left). You can take one up and the other down to create a nice loop.
In winter, the gradual climb is much safer, and I recommend going up and back down this way, especially if you don’t have ice cleats. Although possible without them, they help a lot! In the summer, you can hike either way, depending on your fitness level.
18. Visit Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is located on the Icefields Parkway and is another one of the most spectacular lakes in the Rocky Mountains. Peyto Lake is most popularly visited by driving to the viewpoint above the lake, which is just off the Icefields Parkway.
Once there, you can stare down at Peyto Lake and the surrounding mountains. You’re basically visiting an epic viewpoint above the valley without even needing to hike!
Petyo Lake is about an hour drive away from Banff, making it super convenient to visit.
19. Enjoy the Ice Castles
If you’re visiting Lake Louise in the winter, you need to check out the ice castles. The large ice castles sit on the shoreline of the lake and are completely free for visitors to enjoy.
Grab your camera and get some photos with this cool display. Kids love them and they make for the perfect family picture!
20. Hike the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass
During fall in Banff National Park, the Larch Valley Trail is one of the most spectacular hikes you can do. The entire valley erupts into a sea of yellow Larch trees with an epic backdrop of the famous Ten Peaks.
However, many people don’t realize that the Larch Valley Trail is also a spectacular trail in the summer months. In fact, wildflowers blossom in the valley during this time, and to some, it’s their favorite time to hike the trail.
The Larch Valley trail starts from the Moraine Lake parking lot and follows the Lakeshore Trail before you reach a sign for the track telling you to go left. Once on this track, the trail quickly begins to climb high above the valley up a range of switchbacks (there are 10 to be exact.)
The initial climb gains around 450 meters (1,476 feet) in elevation, which is not a walk in the park. But once you reach the valley, the trail flattens out until the end, and you can finally enjoy the views! The total elevation gain of the track is 535 meters (1,755 feet.)
It takes around 4 hours to finish the 8.6-kilometer (5.3-mile) out and back hike. If you’re feeling up to it, you can also continue on to Sentinel Pass. Hiking to the pass not only gives you great views of the Larch Valley but also Paradise Valley on the other side. The extra hike to Sentinel pass is 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) each way and takes around 1.5 hours.
Related Read: For more info, reach our blog about visiting Banff in September!
21. Eiffel Lake Trail
Situated not too far away from Larch Valley, you’ll find a remote alpine lake, Eiffel Lake. Larch Valley Trail is actually the beginning of the trail to Eiffel. Once you overcome the ten switchbacks, you hit a fork in the road where one path takes you to Eiffel Lake.
The Eiffel Lake Trail then continues on in the Valley of the Ten Peaks with stunning scenery everywhere you look. At some points of the trail, you’re even able to peer down at Moraine Lake and see her bright blue color shining. While Eiffel Lake is small, its surrounding landscapes make the visit very worthwhile.
It’s a 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) out and back hike to Eiffel Lake from Moraine Lake. The trail is moderately difficult and usually takes around 4 hours to complete. Those with hiking experience could join both the Larch Valley and Eiffel Lake into one long hike. In total this would take around 7 hours and is one of the best free things to do in Banff!
22. Scramble up the Tower of Babel
This next free activity in Banff may seem like just another hike, but it’s actually not an official trial. In fact, it’s not even on the Parks Canada website. However, it’s one of, if not the most, popular scrambles in Banff National Park.
The scramble to the top of the Tower of Babel is iconic. It’s those panoramic views of the mountains that have made the trail so famous and a must for any beginner scrambler.
The trail is short at only 2.9 kilometers (1.8 miles). However, it involves a 518-meter (1,699-ft) climb on some pretty rough terrain. Once you reach the top, the views of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks are out of this world. You’ll quickly see why so many people make the hike to the Tower of Babel.
Hiking the trail requires a little planning and knowing exactly where to go. I could try to explain it, but this Tower of Babel hiking guide does it really well, and it’s actually the blog I used to hike the trail.
23. Head to Marble Canyon
From Banff, you can easily explore Marble Canyon, which is only a 35-minute drive away. Marble Canyon is gorgeous, and thousands of years of erosion have created a deep cut in the earth with smooth walls.
Visitors can walk to a 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) trail along the canyon, staring down into the deep canyon. At the end of the trail, there is a huge waterfall.
In winter, parts of the canyon freeze (including the waterfall), and the surrounding area becomes covered in snow. It’s truly a winter wonderland!
24. Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
This gorgeous viewpoint in Banff National Park is 92 kilometers (57 miles) from Banff town. It’s just a quick viewpoint stop, and from the small pull-off bay on the side of the highway, you can see Crowfoot Glacier!
Crowfoot Glacier feeds the Bow River as it melts. It was originally named because of its shape – like a crow’s foot! Over the years, it has been receding, causing the glacier’s shape to change. Even so, it’s still pretty massive and easily seen from the Icefields Parkway viewpoint.
Crowfoot Glacier sits above Bow Lake and is wedged between mountains, so it’s a very beautiful sight. And if you haven’t seen the Athabasca Glacier yet, then it’s a great introduction to Canada’s glacier country!
Hot Tip: If you plan on visiting this viewpoint, check out Peyto Lake and Bow Lake Viewpoint (next in this blog) too – the three attractions are located very close together!
25. Bow Lake Viewpoint
Just 1.4 kilometers (0.9 miles) further from the Crowfoot Glacier is the Bow Lake Viewpoint. Like Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint, this viewpoint is simply a pull-over bay on the side of the highway. Its location has been created because of the amazing view from this specific spot overlooking Bow Lake.
The last time Daniel and I stopped at this viewpoint, we actually saw a Grizzly bear! He was just in the grass near the road, chowing down on some grass. We stayed in our van (a good distance away) and watched him eat peacefully for a little while.
I recommend driving a little further down the road to the Bow Lake parking lot if you’re into photography. Here, there are some short walking trails and more viewpoints that, during calm weather, offer mirror reflections so beautiful, it made our list of Instagrammable places to visit in Banff.
26. Hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House
Plain of Six Glaciers is not only another great tea house in Banff National Park to visit, but it also attracts a fraction of the people as Lake Agnes Tea House. This is mostly because of its remote and rugged location. This makes the trail a perfect hike for travelers who like to get off the beaten path!
It’s a 5.3-kilometer (3.3-mile) hike one way to the tea house from Lake Louise, with a 400-meter elevation gain. If you hike up and back down the way you came, the trail will take about 4 hours to complete.
You can join the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House hike with the Lake Agnes Tea House Trail if you love to hike. This track is a 14.6-kilometer (9-mile) loop taking around 6 hours to complete with stops. This epic trail visits two beautiful tea houses in Lake Louise!
27. Lake Louise Lakefront Trail
The views from the Lake Louise foreshore are spectacular, but that is only one point of view. For another, head out on the Lake Louise Lakefront Trail and hike to the far end of the lake. From here, you can look back and enjoy a view of Lake Louise many don’t get to see.
The Lakefront Trail is super easy and flat! From the foreshore, it’s a 4 kilometer (2.5-mile) out and back hike and takes around an hour to complete. As I said, it’s flat and super easy!
The Lake Louise Lakefront Trail is actually the start of the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House hike, so if you’re planning on doing that trail you’ll get to do both.
28. Banff Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition
The Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition is held every year from mid-January (check updated dates here) until the end of the month at Lake Louise. So if you’re visiting Banff in the winter, this is a must.
During the event, you can visit Lake Louise and watch artists carve amazing ice sculptures right in front of you. Kids love the event and from Monday to Friday you can visit for free.
On weekends, it’s also free to visit before 10:00 am and after 5:30 pm, however, during peak times there is an admission fee. Although the event ends at the end of January, the ice sculptures are on display throughout February.
29. Waterfowl Lake Viewpoint
Waterfowl Lake Viewpoint is Daniel’s favorite stop along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. The lake water reflects the mountains behind it perfectly on a clear day. I think most photographers would agree with Daniel they could take pictures here all day long.
Even if you don’t have time to spend all day at Waterfowl Lakes, a quick stop to check out the view, snap a shot, and hit the road.
Waterfowl Lakes is 114 kilometers (71 miles) from Banff. Although far, you can visit the lakes as you explore the Icefields Parkway. You’ll see the lake and car parking lot on your left-hand side of the road for around 15 vehicles.
30. Walk the Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail
The Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail is arguably one of the best things to do at Moraine Lake. This hike allows you to enjoy magical views of Moraine Lake from angles you simply don’t get from the viewpoints near the parking lot.
The trail starts at Moraine Lake Lodge. You will follow the edge of Moraine Lake for 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles). It’s an out and back trail, so once you reach the end you will return the way you came. It will take around an hour total to complete the trail and enjoy all of the magnificent views.
The Lakeshore Trail is great for any skill level. The path is well maintained and pretty flat, so it’s super easy!
31. Mistaya Canyon
Mistaya Canyon is located on the Icefields Parkway about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Banff. This is one of my personal favorite stops along the Icefields Parkway because it is actually a little bit of a walk and makes for the perfect place to stretch your legs.
From the Mistaya parking lot, it is a 0.5-kilometer-long (0.3-mile) walk to the canyon. The walk is all downhill on the way there and it ends at a viewpoint overlooking the canyon. The canyon is beautiful and it really showcases the power of water as it rushes down the Mistaya River.
The walk back is uphill but only gains about 40 meters in elevation making it suitable for all fitness levels. Do be careful if you’re hiking in winter or late spring as there can be lots of snow and ice making the trail slippery. Also, be sure to stay on the marked paths.
This is another stop very far from Banff but as I mention is a great addition to a free road trip day in Banff National Park.
32. Weeping Wall
The Weeping Wall is a viewpoint where you’ll note several tiny waterfalls streaming down a cliff face of a mountain, making it look as if it’s crying or weeping.
In my opinion, this attraction is even better in the winter. While in the summer you will see the small waterfalls, in the winter they freeze, and it looks like a winter wonderland! Regardless of the season you’re visiting, it’s worth a stop.
It’s just a quick viewpoint stop, and you don’t even need to leave your car. You can actually see the Weeping Wall from the road and may choose not to stop at all!
The viewpoint is located along the Icefields Parkway, 162 kilometers (100 miles) from Banff. Checking out all of the stops I’ve mentioned above along the Icefields Parkway is a great way to fill your day with several free activities in Banff.
33. Visit the Lake Louise frozen waterfall
Few people know that Lake Louise is home to a giant frozen waterfall that’s a popular ice climbing route. The waterfall is located at the end of Lake Louise and you can reach it by simply walking along the right-hand side (follow the cross country ski route or Lake Louise Lakefront Trail) of the lake until you reach it.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see ice climbers on the face of the waterfall. Just be sure to keep your distance and don’t climb up to the waterfall unless you have the necessary experience.
Where to Stay in Banff, Canada
This is one of the most important parts of your trip and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. Below are some great hotels we recommend, but if you’d like more info check out our best hotels in Banff blog. It includes options for everyone’s budget and travel style!
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. If you’re saving by doing free things in Banff so you can splurge a little more on your accommodation, this is the spot to do it! 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. In the peaks of winter and summer, Banff often books out months in advance.
For this reason, I highly 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 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 one day.
- Adult (ages 18-64) is $10.50 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.00 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.)
- $21.00 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) – $72.25 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 CAD
Hot Tip: Although more expensive upfront, 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 of booths at the entrance to many national parks.
Renting a Car in Alberta
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.
Car rental in Canada is relatively cheap especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a 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 Rental Cars.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!
Canada Travel Essentials
Before you decide to head off and explore the gorgeous mountains, lakes, towns, and cities around Canada it’s important to have the right equipment. Of course, it’s likely you’ll have most of the basics already but there are some common items people forget that I never travel without.
Crampons: In winter crampons are super handy, but what people don’t realize is that they come in handy in summer too. In fact, up until mid-July, you can still expect icy conditions in the mountains. The pair I use is only $29 and they have lasted me 3 seasons so far!
Waterproof shell: Most people will have this item but I thought I’d include it anyway since it’s so handy in Canada. The Columbia waterproof jacket is a lightweight windproof jacket that will seriously save you in many situations. The best part though? It comes in pink!
Scent-proof bag (for bears): Most people think you only need to keep the smell of food away from you when you’re overnight camping. However, bears can smell the food in your bag while you’re hiking and the best way to avoid an encounter is to use a scent-proof bear bag. Basically, you put your food in the bag and the bear cannot smell it while you’re hiking. This is one item most people never have (I never hike without it) but it could save you and the bear.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Dry bag: I have expensive camera equipment so I always travel with a dry bag large enough to fit some of my equipment. It can be a camera, book, binoculars, or even my keys. Regardless, a dry bag gives me peace of mind! The MARCHWAY bag is really good quality, and when not in use, takes up only a small amount of room.
Binoculars: I love my binoculars! Seriously they have come in hand so many times especially when I’m looking for wildlife. The best part is, I use a set that only costs $27 and they serve my basic needs without any issues!
Before you go…
I hope this post has you excited about your trip to Banff National Park and shows you that you do not have to break the bank when visiting Banff. There are plenty of fun, free things to do in Banff National Park to fill up your itinerary, regardless of the season you visit!
Be sure to check out our other Banff blog posts before your trip! Here are some of our top picks: