33 Incredible Things to do in Banff, Canada
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Seeing more than 4 million visitors every year, Banff is one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations. In fact, it is likely one of the most popular tourist towns in the whole world with tons of awesome things to do!
If you’ve ever been you’ll know why.
This tiny town is smack dab in the middle of the Canadian Rockies offering some of the most incredible scenery. The variety of lakes, rivers, and mountains set the scene for some pretty incredible activities and adventures throughout Banff National Park.
But the weather and ever-changing seasons do cause a bit of a problem for visitors.
The things to do and see in Banff change drastically depending on the season. In the winter, it is all about winter sports, drinking wine fireside, and snowy mountain views. And in the summer, go hiking, spot wildlife, or get out on the water in a canoe or raft!
Luckily for me, I lived in Edmonton (only a few hours away from Banff) for the majority of my life. I have been to Banff in every season numerous times! I know all of the best things to do in Banff and when to do them.
Yes, there are certain activities in Banff that are only possible at particular times of the year, but there are some that are great all year round! And in this blog, I’m not only going to let you in on the absolute best activities and places in Banff but also include what time of year you can actually do them so you can plan for your visit!
Things to do in Banff Anytime of the Year
As I said, contrary to popular belief, there are actual activities and attractions in Banff that can be done all year round. That’s right, in any season, in any weather – you can do it!
So, be sure to include all of these particular things to do on your own Banff bucket list!
Things to do in Banff Town
1. Ride the Banff Gondola
This is possibly the singular most popular thing to do in Banff – and for good reason! From the top of the gondola, the views of the mountains and Banff town are out of this world!
The gondola is about a 10 minutes scenic ride up. At the top of the gondola, you’ll find a restaurant and cafe, a gift shop, lots of information on the area and wildlife, as well as my personal favorite, the boardwalk! You can walk along the boardwalk to various viewpoints and take it all in.
For the best views, go on a clear day or a day when the clouds are quite high.
The gondola costs $64 CAD per adult but discounted rates are available for children or for those who purchase online in advance.
*Sometimes the line to buy tickets can be very long so you should just buy your tickets online in advance. This could save you lots of time (which is very valuable in Banff!)
2. Relax in the Banff Upper Hot Springs
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!
One of the things I love most about the Banff Hot Springs is how accessible they are for everyone. Easy to get to and affordable. At only $8.30 CAD per adult and $24.50 for a family, even those on a tight budget can enjoy this little piece of paradise.
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. The Hot Springs are open until 10 pm (11 pm during the summer) so the later you go the less people will be there!
*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. Check out the Bow River Falls lookout
The Bow River is a beautiful river. Turquoise in color, it is nothing short of picture-perfect.
A short 1.5km scenic walk from town (or drive) you’ll come to a viewpoint on the river’s edge. Here, not only will you see the river, but also a small waterfall!
4. Explore the Buffalo Nations Museum
Anybody who knows Daniel and I know that we are more of the “adventurous travelers”, meaning we don’t spend a huge amount of our time in museums. To be honest, I’m quite picky when it comes to museums, but I found this one in particular quite interesting!
The Buffalo Nations Museum is located just across the Bow River bridge in Banff. It is all about the First Nations in the area and features tons of artifacts, information, and life-sized displays.
The museum only costs $10 CAD per adult (discounted rates for children and seniors) and takes about an hour to go through. It is the perfect thing to do especially on a rainy day when you need an indoor activity.
5. Cave and Basin National Historic Site
This is another great thing to do in Banff if it is raining or very cold. The Cave and Basin Historic Site is a place where you can see some historic hot springs that are home to a rare species of snail.
This place was once the hot springs for swimming, but have since closed and remain a place of conservation. It is interesting to learn about the minerals produced in these natural springs as well as the history of Banff.
Entrance is only $3.90 CAD per person. Expect to spend about half an hour exploring the Cave and Basin.
6. Go partying!
Banff isn’t just a lively town in the daylight. When the sun goes down the bars and clubs come alive.
Banff is home to a young population from all around the world. Many of the people who live and work in Banff are on working holidays meaning they are living temporarily in Banff. These people love to have a good time so there is quite a vibrant nightlife in Banff.
Banff is also a popular spot for bachelor and bachelorette parties.
Head out to a night club such as the Dancing Sasquatch if you want to do some dancing. Or, check out a pub like St. James Gate Irish pub or the Banff Ave Brewing Co. for some beers, live music, and pub grub!
7. Walk Banff Ave
This one sounds obvious, and it probably is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give you some advice on the best places to check out along Banff Ave!
Banff Ave stretches straight through the middle of Banff with tons of hotels at one end and the Bow River at the either. And in the middle, are tons of bars, restaurants, and stores. You could literally spend weeks here going into every shop!
Personally I recommend the following awesome spots:
- Cool as a Moose souvenir store – Get a funny souvenir here!
- Banff Candy Store – Buy some Canadian classic candies here including chocolates and Saltwater Taffy!
- Park Distillery – This distillery offers daily tours at 3:30 pm. Any other time of the day you can enjoy their bar and restaurant and have a cocktail made with their local spirits!
- High Rollers Banff – Bowling, beers and pizza, what more could you ask for!?
- The Grizzly House – This restaurant has been around Banff for practically ever. It specializes in Fondu and has a cute and quirky setting.
*If you really want to get to know Banff town then going on a private walking tour once you arrive is the best! This way, a local will show you around and point out all of the best things to do and see as well as where to eat! Book your Banff Walking tour well in advance online as they are often booked full!
8. Spend a night at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel
Looking for some luxury? Then you simply must stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. It is arguably one of the most beautiful hotels in the world with incredible views!
A hotel like the Fairmont doesn’t come cheap though and you can expect to pay upwards of $450 CAD a night! But to me, it is so much more than just a hotel and an actual overall experience. Even if you can only afford to stay one night, it is worth it!
*Book the Fairmont online in advance. Booking.com has a lowest price guarantee so you can rest assured you get the best deal!
If you aren’t able to spend the night all hope isn’t lost. You can actually go on a guided tour of the hotel and eat some of their finest food on this food experience tour within the hotel! It is a great way to indulge in amazing food and drink pairings and eat literally like a king or queen!
Things to do Near Banff
9. Ride the Chairlift up Mt Norquay
Mt Norquay chairlift and ski resort is located just a 10 minute drive from Banff town. In my personal opinion, the views from atop Mt Norquay are even better than that from the Banff gondola!
At the top of the chairlift, you can enjoy the views at the Cliffhouse Bistro. This little restaurant offers incredible food (try the tacos!) as well as a large selection of drinks. A beer with this view can’t get any better!
From the beginning of June to mid October the Norquay Chairlift is open just for sightseeing. For $37 CAD anybody can jump on the chairlift and ride it to the top. It is an awesome photo spot! You can also buy your tickets for cheaper in advance online.
In the winter months (November to the end of April) Mt Norquay is open for skiing and snowboarding. Day lift tickets cost $89 CAD per adult for a full-day with cheaper options available for half-days and children.
*If you don’t have your own gear (skis or snowboard, helmet, etc) with you, consider renting it in advance with delivery to your hotel to save any hassle!
10. Drive the 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 some very gorgeous and calm lakes. When they aren’t frozen, the lakes create a beautiful reflection photograph of the mountains behind them.
For the best photos, go at sunset! You can drive along and park wherever you want, or even go for a nice leisurely walk!
11. Explore Sunshine Village
Much like Mt Norquay, Sunshine Village is a ski resort in the winter, and a scenic viewpoint in the summer! But unlike Mt Norquay, Sunshine Village is an actual small village complete with shops, restaurants, and a lodge!
From the end of June until the beginning of Septemer you can ride both the gondola and chairlift at Sunshine Village for sightseeing. Once at the top you can hike one of the many trails in the area. It costs $45 per adult and $23 for children.
In the winter, Sunshine boasts having the longest non-glacial skiing season in Canada! They typically open at the end of November and stay open until late Spring (as late as possible!)
12. Enjoy panoramic views on a Helicopter ride
If you thought the views from the ground were nice, wait until you get in the sky! A helicopter ride in a place as stunning as Banff is truly a once in a lifetime experience!
Rides cost about $350 CAD for a 20-minute ride with a landing for exploring (an hour in total). You can go all year round and enjoy the craziest views of the Canadian Rockies possible.
Just be sure to book online in advance and have your camera ready to take some incredible shots!
13. Drive Bow Valley Parkway
Between Banff and Lake Louise there is a road called the Bow Valley Parkway. Instead of driving along the highway, consider taking this route that is very scenic and includes tons of places to stop along the way.
Some of the most popular stops along the Bow Valley Parkway include:
- Castle Mountain Viewpoint and hike
- Silverton Falls
- Morant’s Curve
- Moose Meadows
- Johnson Canyon (more info below)
There are tons of opportunities to pull over along the road and believe me, you’ll be wanting to stop for photos a lot!
This drive can be done in just over an hour, however, if you plan on stopping and exploring I recommend allowing a couple of hours!
14. Walk along Johnston Canyon
This is one of the most famous attractions near Banff and 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. There are two waterfalls along the trail, one located 1.7km from the parking lot and one located 1km further.
In the winter, the canyon freezes in many areas making the walk look like something out of a winter wonderland! Imagine icicles hanging everywhere and frozen waterfalls! It is magical!
The downside to Johnston Canyon is that it can get very busy. So busy, in fact, that the massive parking lot often fills up meaning you must reach it using a shuttle bus! If you don’t want to do that, be sure to book an organized tour. This way you get dropped off and picked up with your guide and get to learn all about the canyon on the walk too!
Johnston Canyon is located a 30-minute drive from Banff.
For an extra special winter experience at Johnston’s Canyon, book this icewalk tour! It’ll have you using crampons to experience the frozen waterfalls!
15. Hike the Lake Louise Foreshore
Did you know that Lake Louise isn’t actually just a town, but also the name of the lake! Going to the actual Lake Louise shore and wandering around is a gorgeous way to spend a couple of hours. The lake is pristine and the mountains surrounding it are breathtaking.
If you are up for a little more adventure, consider jumping on one of the more difficult trails such as the one to the Lake Agnes Tea House or the Plain of Six Glaciers. You can also rent a canoe in the summer months to explore on the lake.
But if you just want some relaxation, grab a coffee, or even a meal at the Lakeview Lounge. This gorgeous restaurant offers lakefront views and makes for the perfect place to dine (just book in advance for dinner or lunch peak times!)
Lake Louise is located about an hours drive from Banff making it the perfect day trip without being too far to travel!
*For an extended stay at the lake, consider booking a room at the lakefront Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel. This luxury hotel is gorgeous itself set in a peaceful and stunning location!
16. Eat at the Train Station Restaurant in Lake Louise
If you didn’t already eat at the Fairmont Lake Louise Restaurant, be sure to stop at the Station Restaurant in Lake Louise Village!
Daniel and I went here for lunch recently and were very impressed. Not only was the food very tasty and affordable, but the location was perfect! The restaurant is actually set in an old heritage train station. It is beautifully decorated and there is tons of pictures to look at and information to read.
Outside of the restaurant there are trains to look at as well as a river right next door with a bridge you can cross.
To me, it was a fun place to eat because it was about so much more than just the food!
17. Ride Lake Louise Gondola
The Lake Louise Ski Resort is the largest ski area in all of Canada! That’s right, so if you want to go skiing or snowboarding in the winter months then this is the place to do it!
But in the summer, the Lake Louise gondola and chairlift is equally exciting. With outstanding views, a wildlife interpretive, center, and really great chances of seeing a wild grizzly (from up above in the comfort of your gondola of course), it is a really fun thing to do! In fact, the chances of seeing grizzly bears are so great that in the summer that the area at the top of the gondola is fenced off!
When we visited, we didn’t get the best weather and the views were pretty 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 15-minute ride in the gondola was a blast!
The winter season runs from November to April. The sightseeing gondola season runs from June to October (check their website for exact opening and closing dates.)
*During peak times in the summer, this sight seeing gondola ride can get very busy! Book your tickets in advance online to skip the line and save you time!
Day Trips from Banff
18. Drive the Icefield Parkway
The Icefield Parkway is a beautiful highway considered by National Geographic to be one of the 10 most scenic drives in the world. The road connects Lake Louise and Jasper going through some of the most beautiful spots in both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
Some of the best places you can see along the drive include:
- Crowfoot Glacier
- Bow Lake
- Peyto Lake
- Waterfowl Lakes
- Mistaya Canyon
- Howse Pass Viewpoint
- Athabasca Glacier (more info below)
- The Skywalk
- Columbia Icefields and Glacier Adventure
- Athabasca Falls
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. If you are uncomfortable driving yourself during this time of year, you can always book transport.
*To drive the entire highway to Jasper and back will take an entire day with stops! If you want to be sure not to miss out on the best things be sure to join a tour. This way, you don’t need to stress about driving planning, or booking things like the Skywalk and Glacier Adventure!
19. Marvel at the Athabasca Glacier
The great thing about glaciers is that they are around all year! So even in the summer, you can enjoy views of the Athabasca Glacier and see the snow!
The Athabasca Glacier is a bit of a drive from Banff at 2.5 hours each way. However, the drive is along the beautiful Icefield Parkway which is something you absolutely don’t want to miss out on anyways!
All year round you can do a short hike to a viewpoint and check out the glacier. But in the summer, you can actually join a tour that walks on the glacier!
*You can also join a tour from Banff to the glacier so you don;t have to drive! This is an especially good option in the winter months for those worried about driving on icy roads.
20. Experience new heights on the Skywalk
If you already plan on driving the Icefield Parkway and visiting the Athabasca Glacier you might as well do the Skywalk too. This 279-meter high glass walkway offers views of glaciers and mountains unlike no other!
It is a bit freaky standing on glass so high in the sky, however, the engineers guarantee the Skywalk’s strength saying it could hold as much as two whole airplanes!
Unfortunately, the Skywalk is only open in the summer season.
Things to do in Banff in the Summer Months Only
When I say “summer months” what I really mean is not in the winter. There are various things to do in and around Banff that cannot be done in the snow and freezing temperatures.
So, if you’re coming to Banff between May and October, check out some of these seasonal activities!
21. Check out Lake Moraine
We might be biased (as this is where we got engaged) but we think Lake Moraine is one of the most beautiful spots in and around Banff.
The lake itself is the brightest turquoise color possible and the surrounding mountains are nothing short of amazing.
Unfortunately, because of its beauty, Lake Moraine is one of the most visited places in all of Banff National Park. It is easy to get to with only s short couple hundred meter walk, free, and stunning. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go?!
The parking lot to visit Lake Moraine is consistently full. This means most people visit by taking a shuttle either from Banff town itself or from Lake Louise.
The shuttles also only run during select hours so if you want to go at sunrise or sunset, you are going to have to snag yourself a parking space somehow! This can be a challenge, but if you go before 6 am, you will be able to get one.
The alternative to taking a shuttle is going on an organized tour. This way you get dropped off and picked up as well as shown around to the most beautiful spots by an experienced guide!
*Moraine Lake is open form May to mid-October making it one of the things to do in Banff in the summer, spring, and fall months only.
22. Shop (and eat) at the Banff Farmers Market
Every Wednesday from May to the beginning of October (10 am to 6 pm) there is a Farmers Market in Banff Central Park. Here you can buy fresh fruit and produce, but also many other unique crafts and handmade gifts. It is truly where you will find the most unique souvenir from Banff, likely made by a Banff local!
There is also live music and a variety of food trucks. I had a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich and it was delicious! So, go for lunch or an early dinner and then sit in the park and eat while enjoying the music. Simple, but wonderful.
23. Ride on a Lake Minnewanka Cruise
Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park. It spans over 28 kilometers and reaches a depth of 142m – it is huge!
The best way to explore Lake Minnewanka is on a scenic boat cruise. There are cruises departing hourly every day between the months of May and October. The cruise ride goes for just over an hour and includes live commentary by a local guide.
On the cruise you’ll learn about the legend of the lake, it’s history, and it’s importance today! You’ll also see beautiful mountain views and have lots of opportunities for photos.
The Lake Minnewanka Cruise only costs $64 CAD per adult and $32 CAD per child. It is a really fun way to spend an hour and since it is indoors on a boat, it isn’t weather dependent either. However, the cruise doesn’t operate between the months of November and April simply for the reason that the lake freezes!
24. Go hiking
Okay, okay, I know this sounds vague. But the truth is, it doesn’t much matter where exactly you decide to hike, all of the trails in Banff National Park are gorgeous! So don’t stress too much about which trail to tackle and just pick one and go for it!
Some of the most popular and easily accessible day hikes in Banff National Park include Larch Valley, Stanley Glacier, Consolations Lakes, and the Plain of Six Glaciers.
If you aren’t an experienced hiker then it might be best to go with a guide. All of these hikes I’ve listed can be completed with a guide on a group tour and should be booked online in advance! With a guide, you’ll gain more knowledge about the area as well as rest assured you have someone who knows the area well and what to do in case of wildlife (like bears!)
25. Explore the Mountains on Horseback
If hiking sounds like a bit too exhausting, or just not that much fun, a great alternative is horseback. Besides, back in the day, this is how people got around, so why not give it a go for yourself?!
There are a few different horseback mountain experiences you can have around Banff, with the most popular being:
- 1-Hour Bow River Ride – This shorter horseback ride is perfect for those short on time, or just wanting to try out horseback riding for the first time!
- 3-Hour Bow Valley and Sulphur Mountain Ride – This guided horseback ride takes you up Sulphur Mountain and offers views of mountain peaks and the Bow Valley.
- Helicopter ride, hike, and horseback tour – The combo tour starts with a 20-minute helicopter ride. From here, you’ll go on a guided hike complete with a picnic lunch before jumping on a hose for an hour ride!
26. Have an adventure Whitewater Rafting
Whitewater rafting is one of my favorite adventure activities! It is so scenic but also gets the adrenaline pumping with all of the excitement! In Banff, you can join a whitewater rafting tour during the summer months and see for yourself what exactly I mean.
This 2-hour whitewater rafting tour takes you along the Kanaskasis River. The rapids are exciting but not too dangerous and suitable for anyone over the age of 5. You’ll get completely geared up and before before you start and finished the excitement with a calm float where you can also opt for a swim!
*Be sure to book this tour online in advance as it will book up!
27. Tackle Via Ferrata or Rock climbing
There are some really great places to go rock climbing in and around Banff. If you’re an experienced rock climber, you can rent gear in town and then adventure on your own. Otherwise, for those a little less confident, be sure to join a tour where an experienced rock climbing guide can teach you all of the ropes (no pun intended!)
To be honest, rock climbing is a bit too extreme for me. The combination of strength and heights just sounds terrifying to me personally so it isn’t something I go for.
Instead, I like to do Via Ferrata. It is an easier version of rock climbing where you still climb but are assisted with ladders and iron bars along the way. Via Ferrata is 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! It is sure to be exciting but suitable for those even with zero experience!
Things to do in Banff in the Winter Months Only
I’m not going to tell you to hit the slopes and go skiing or snowboarding – that is simply too obvious and likely something you plan on doing anyways.
But, what many people don’t know is that there a variety of fun winter activities in Banff that you can do when you aren’t up on the mountain shredding.
28. Try out Snowshoes
You haven’t really experienced winter in Canada until you’ve gone snowshoeing! So, get on your warm gear and strap on those snowshoes – it’s the only way to hike properly in the winter months in Canada!
You can choose between two different snowshoeing experienced in the area:
Banff Wildlife Snowshoe Experience: This four hour long tour includes pick-up and drop off from your Banff hotel. You will explore in the snow and try and find wildlife include lynx, wolverines, and hares.
Lake Louise Scenic Snowshoe Experience: You’ll have to get yourself to Lake Louise for the start of this one, but after that, you’ll ride the Lake Louise Ski Resort Gondola before trekking around for 2 hours in snowshoes. There are some incredible views from up there!
29. Go winter hiking
I think that hiking in the winter is the best time. Why? Well, the mountains are dipped in snow, making everywhere you look that much more beautiful. Plus, hiking in the snow adds an extra challenge to the whole experience making it all that much more rewarding.
In the winter you do have to beware of avalanches though. Be sure to check trail conditions and warnings at the visitor center always before leaving!
30. Ride on a Horse drawn sleigh
Enjoy the winter wonderland that is Banff on a horse drawn sleigh! This is a very popular thing to do in Banff around Christmas time as a festive family activity!
31. Spot Winter Wildlife
Just because you’re visiting Banff in the winter doesn’t mean you can see some wildlife. Some of the wildlife in the area are actually very active in the winter, you just need to know where to look!
Some of the wildlife you can expect to see in the winter in and around Banff National Park include elk, deer, sheep, and wolverines.
*Sometimes spotting wildlife can be difficult, so going on a tour with an experienced guide is a huge help! This tour is a sightseeing tour in Banff with a special focus on spotting wildlife in the winter months!
32. Try Cross Country Skiing
Cross country skiing is very different than downhill skiing. It is definitely less of a thrill (great for those looking for something a little less crazy.) It is a good way to get out in nature and take in the tranquility of the forests and mountains.
If you have never tried cross country skiing before then consider booking a tour and lesson, this way you can learn how to do it and get shown around to the most gorgeous places around Banff National Park.
33. Go Ice Climbing
To me, this is the ultimate experience in Banff! You will use ice climbing gear such as ice picks, crampons and ropes to climb an icy waterfall – how incredible!
This activity isn’t for the faint hearted though and is best suited to those who aren’t afraid of heights and willing to learn.
Of course, unless you are already a pro ice climber – you’re going to need to sign up for a tour. This particular tour departs right from Banff town and the guides have the highest safety and skill qualifications.
Where we Stayed in Banff
Of course, if you’re going to Banff you will need a hotel! The number of hotels and hostels in the area is quite frankly overwhelming. We decided to stay at the Rundlestone Lodge in their spa loft suite and it was gorgeous!
The location was only a short 5-minute walk to town and there was a bar and restaurant on site as well as a pool and hot tub!
We wrote a massive blog that is a guide on where to stay in Banff – it will give you a ton more suggestions in different price ranges and locations!
And there you have it, 33 amazing things to do in and around Banff! If you even just check a couple of these activities off your list while you’re in Banff you’re guaranteed to have a blast – just like we did!
We would love to hear from you, so, if you have any questions, comment below and we will get back to you!
We loved traveling around Western Canada and have written all about our experiences. Check out some of our other blogs from places near Banff to help plan your trip:
November 15, 2019