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You are about to embark on one of the most epic and beautiful road trips you can possibly do in Canada! There are SO MANY amazing stops on your drive from Whistler to Banff, each one presenting its own magic and beauty.
I really encourage you to take your time at each one of these stops (although I think the bigger problem will be convincing you to leave each of these stops to continue onto your next destination!) You’ll get to experience breathtaking mountainscapes, emerald-colored lakes, national parks, and soothing hot springs on this drive from Whistler to Banff.
If you were to take this road trip without stops it would take about 10 hours, but take your time experiencing this road trip over several days. While these stops are listed from Whistler to Banff, you can easily do them in reverse as well driving from Banff to Whistler!
My hope is that after this blog you’ll everything about driving from Whistler to Banff. From the best stops to essential driving tips, I’ve included it all here.
About the Drive from Whistler to Banff
The distance from Whistler to Banff is about 800 km (500 miles), and without stops, the drive would take around 10 hours. As I stated, I highly encourage that you really take your time with this trip and enjoy and explore each of these individual stops over a several day period.
The road trip from Whistler to Banff can be done year-round, however, if you aren’t used to driving in the snow I would avoid the winter months. It’s beautiful regardless of the season you visit, but the roads are much easier to drive on in the summer and fall.
If you do decide to do this road trip in the winter, your car will need winter tires for extra grip. Winter tires are mandatory on Highway 99 and most BC highways from October 1 until March 31. You could be fined if you don’t have winter tires in good condition, but more importantly, it’s much safer to have them!
Without further adieu here is your list for the 21 best stops on the drive from Whistler to Banff!
21 Best Stops on the Drive from Whistler to Banff
This epic road trip starts from one of the most beautiful towns in all of Canada – Whistler! There are plenty of fun things to do and see in Whistler, so many that you could easily spend weeks here exploring. If you’re visiting Whistler in the winter, then be sure to hit the slopes, and in the summer in Whistler, get out on those hiking trails.
Some of the best activities and attractions in Whistler include:
- Explore the nearby lakes – Green Lake, Alta Lake, and my favorite, Lost Lake are accessible via easy walking trails through the surrounding pine forest.
- Ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola – This HUGE gondola holds the world record for not only the longest gondola but also the highest and longest unsupported span of any lift in the world.
- Go skiing or snowboarding – Blackcomb Moutain is Whistler’s winter pride and joy with over 200 different runs, 3,307 hectares (8,171 acres) of terrain, and 36 different lifts
- Wander around Whistler village – Check out the many local restaurants and boutique shops. Be sure to visit Pure Bread, an amazing bakery and coffee shop in Whistler.
Where to stay in Whistler:
There are tons of choices when it comes to hotels in Whistler if you decide you want to stay a few days! Hi Whistler is great for those on a budget (it’s one of the few budget options). Although a hostel, the place is very clean and comfortable and they also have private rooms. A great place to meet travelers and enjoy your time in Whistler.
If you don’t mind splurging a little Delta Hotels by Marriott Whistler Village Suites provides an amazing luxury stay. For Whistler, it’s still a great value hotel and has a swimming pool, bar, fitness center, and restaurant. The rooms a very nice and for groups they have 2 bedroom apartments.
Of course if you’re going to Whistler for a ski holiday, then there may be better accommodation options!
Related Read: Did you know Whistler is a festive place to visit leading up to the holiday season? Read our blog about visiting Whistler in December for more info on annual events and special seasonal activites.
Pemberton is a small village located right at a mountain base. Mount Curries’ north face dominates the Pemberton Valley skyline and has even been featured in several movies and TV shows. Regardless of the season you visit, you’re sure to have plenty to do. Hiking, biking, fishing, and skiing and snowmobiling in the winter are some of the highlights.
Blackbird Bakery is an amazing spot for breakfast or lunch. Everything is baked fresh by a French pastry chef! They open early, and once everything is sold out they’re closed for the day. Enjoy one of their almond croissants or sandwiches as you take in the mountain views on the patio.
After you’ve had some food, I recommend checking out at least one of two of Pembertons’ craft breweries. If you prefer spirits to craft beer they also have a distillery with award-winning organic potato vodka.
Looking for more action? Pemberton is an amazing place to go horseback riding! They actually have more horses per capita than any other area in the entire province. You can do a guided horseback tour that ranges from an hour to a full-day adventure.
If you do plan on hitting the next stop especially (Joffre Lakes), I highly suggest spending a night at the beautiful all-suite hotel Pemberton Valley Lodge. It’s a great place to relax as you can enjoy the outdoor pool and hot tub with mountain views, and you’ll be close enough to Joffre Lakes so you can get a jump start on the morning and beat the crowds!
3. Joffre Lakes
This is a must-visit on the drive from Whistler to Banff! The highlight of the hike through Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes with stunning turquoise blue water. The color is due to “rock flour” or glacial silt that lies suspended in the water and reflects the blue and green wavelengths from sunlight – it’s breathtaking!
The hike is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) long in total and goes uphill as you work your way to Upper Joffre Lake. Along the way, you’ll see the three amazing lakes, creek crossings, great views of the mountain range, a waterfall, and the Matier Glacier at the top overlooking Upper Joffre Lake. To get back, simply retrace your steps and enjoy the easier hike down and a second look at these stunning lakes.
In the summer, this is a super popular destination and parking can be a problem. The parking lot often fills up and you’re not allowed to park on the road. Sometimes they run shuttle buses from a nearby overflow parking lot, but this isn’t always true.
To avoid having any problems getting a parking space, get here at sunrise to get a spot in the parking lot. You’ll also be one of the first ones on the trail and enjoy it in peace (this is exactly what we did when we visited last summer.) When you’re done your early morning hike and then hit the road early to your next spot. This is why I recommend staying a night in the nearby Pemberton.
4. Seton Lake
Stop here to take a short one-kilometer (0.6-mile) hike to a popular spot overlooking the lake with part of the Sea to Sky Highway making a U-shape in the foreground – known as the Duffey Lake Road U-Turn. It’s a great road trip picture!
To get to the hike, you’ll park in a gravel area and cross the highway to a path on the other side. Follow the trail to get to the Seton Lake Lookout and enjoy the view!
If you want to stay longer, Seton Lake is perfect for a swim! There’s a beach (but no sand!) with a marked-off swimming area. Or, rent a canoe and head out onto the lake. The water is so clear and blue here, it looks like a postcard.
Lillooet is a small town along the Fraser River with some really dramatic mountain scenery on the way to Banff. During the Fraser River Gold Rush around 1858, Lillooet was one of the largest towns in North America as thousands of people flooded in looking to get rich. Now, you can see artifacts from the Gold Rush era inside the Lillooet Museum.
It has a hot, desert-like climate with some of the warmest temperatures ever recorded in Canada. With a long growing season, you’ll also find orchards and wineries around here – try some of the award-winning wine from Fort Berens Estate Winery. While you’re here, walk across the Old Suspension Bridge. It was built more than a century ago and is just open to pedestrians now.
If you’re wanting to stay a night here, check out the Reynolds Hotel for a nice place to stay with some historic charm (it was built in the 1940s) that has recently been updated. It has a great restaurant to eat at and a little convenience store to stock up on road trip essentials for the rest of the journey.
On your road trip from Whistler to Banff, Kamloops is the biggest city that you’ll pass through. Kamloops is a great place in any season with winter activities like downhill skiing or snowshoeing. Or if you’re visiting in the summer, take advantage of long summers with nice weather from April to November and go hiking or paddling on the nearby lakes and rivers.
There are more than 100 lakes within an hour of the city! These are great for a canoe, kayak, or even to try stand-up paddleboarding. Go to the gorgeous Kamloops Lake and see it from the water. You’ll see old stone train bridges and tunnels, rock bluffs, and may even spot an eagle’s nest.
The hiking opportunities in Kamloops are endless. You can explore wide-open grasslands, ponderosa pine forests, sandstone canyons, and steep valleys. Try the Kenna Cartwright Nature Park with 40 km (25 miles) of trails. It has breathtaking views of Kamloops and the Thompson Valley and several beaches and picnic areas. Head out at sunset or sunrise for a particularly beautiful view.
See wild animals up close at the BC Wildlife Park. It’s a rescue and rehabilitation center and most of the animals here are rescued. There are more than 60 different species including Clover the Spirit Bear, a rare white bear that is the only Kermode Bear in captivity in the world. There’s also a splash park, playground, and mini-train for the kids. Admission to the park is $14.95 CAD for adults.
Where to Stay in Kamloops
There are plenty of hotels to choose from to base yourself in Kamloops for a while and enjoy the city and surrounding area.
For a more luxury option, try the South Thompson Inn and Conference Centre. It’s located on 55 acres of green space surrounded by mountains and the South Thompson River. The rooms have great views, there’s a 24 hour hot-tub overlooking the river and nearby hiking trails.
Budget travelers can grab a room at the Kings Motor Inn. It’s a very reasonably priced place to stay with large rooms.
Side trip to Kelowna and Vernon:
From Kamloops, you can go on a bit of a detour if you want to explore the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan is known for beautiful lakes, warm weather, delicious fruit, and most importantly, wine! Head to the cities of Kelowna and Vernon first, then if you want to venture further south you can check out Osoyoos or Peachland. I personally love going to all of the wineries in Kelowna!
7. Salmon Arm
I lived in Salmon Arm for a few years and fell in love with this small city. There is so much to do in Salmon Arm, especially if you love the outdoors! Explore stunning natural attractions, or spend a relaxing day at the lake, Salmon Arm has something for everyone.
Aside from the outdoor activities there is also plenty of amazing food (lots of fresh produce!) and even delicious wine. On the off chance I haven’t quite sold you yet, check out some of the top things to do in Salmon Arm:
- Go hiking – This region has some pretty stellar hikes if you’re ready to get outside and get active. One of my favorites is Mt. Ida, which is a large 1,564-meter mountain south of Salmon Arm. There are a few routes to take up the mountain, but if you are up for a challenge, try the Mount Ida Loop. It’s a 33km loop with 1,598 meters of elevation gain – quite the trek, but so worth it. If you are looking for a more low-key hike, try out Raven Trail or Shuswap North Rail Trail, both of which are fairly easy, and go around Shuswap Lake.
- Visit the most Northern winery in BC – Larch Hills – You absolutely cannot visit this region of BC without trying out some local wines. Larch Hills offers some of the most delicious wines, and you can try them out during a free cellar door tasting. Once you’ve learned a little about the wine, how it’s made, and what your favorite is, you can go to the tasting room, enjoy a glass and take in the stunning views from their property.
- Walk the largest wooden Wharf in North America – I bet you didn’t think going to Salmon Arm meant visiting a record-setting wharf! As the longest wooden wharf in North America, it’s got a pretty interesting history. You can enjoy walking on the wharf year-round, taking in the scenery of Shuswap Lake. If you’re around during the summer, you’ve got to go and enjoy some live music and meal from food trucks! It’s got a fun, community feel to it, so make sure to get in on the action.
Where to stay in Salmon Arm:
If you feel like you want more time in Salmon Arm (I don’t blame you!), stay overnight at one of Salmon Arm’s hotels. The Hilltop Inn is a popular choice especially with the larger rooms that can fit small families. This hotel also has a pool, free parking, and breakfast included.
If you’re traveling with your significant other or are after a luxury stay The Inn at the Ninth Hole Bed & Breakfast is really the only option. The rooms here are beautiful and surprisingly cheap. Of course, this place includes an exceptional breakfast and is in a beautiful area outside Salmon Arm.
This little town is the houseboat capital of Canada with people coming from all over to the beautiful lakes in the area. You’ll conveniently drive right through it on your road trip from Whistler to Banff. Houseboating on Shuswap Lake is a unique way to spend a few nights out on the water enjoying this area.
Houseboating season goes from June until October. While there will be lots of houseboats especially in July and August, this is a big lake with 1,000 kilometers (over 600 miles) of shoreline, so there’s lots of room.
If you’re here in the winter, the community borders four mountain ranges and has been voted as having the best snowmobiling in western Canada. There are also some nice local trails for snowshoeing.
Stop by for fresh milk, ice cream, and cheese from D Dutchmen Dairy where everything is produced on-site. It’s a small family-owned farm in Sicamous that focuses on high-quality ingredients. The milk is sold in glass containers to keep it cold for longer and you can even buy egg nog here at Christmas!
They also have 62 different flavors of ice cream which has been called BC’s Best Ice Cream – making this a must-visit if you have kids (or adults!) who love a treat.
9. The Enchanted Forest
Right on the Trans Canada Highway about halfway between Sicamous and Revelstoke is The Enchanted Forest. This is a fun stop, especially for kids, where you can climb the tallest treehouse in BC, paddle a rowboat in real beaver ponds or take a nature walk through the forest.
There are cute little figurines from fairy tales and nursery rhymes throughout the property along with a castle and very regal-looking 800-year-old cedar trees. Admission is $14 CAD and includes a variety of activities on the property.
For more fun, the Skytrek Adventure Park is located right next door. It has zip lines, a treetop obstacle course, climbing walls, and jungle gyms for the little ones. Both of these parks are open seasonally from May until October.
Continue along the highway a little further and you’ll arrive in one of my personal favorite little towns – Revelstoke! Revelstoke, or “Revy” as the locals call it, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Canada. It has everything you could want – mountains, lakes, glaciers, vast forests, and friendly people!
It’s all about the outdoors here. For my nature lovers out there, Revelstoke is a paradise waiting to be explored. From hiking trails to beautiful scenery it can be a little overwhelming when deciding what to do. Here are some of the best things to do in Revelstoke:
- Take the gondola up at Revelstoke Mountain Resort – It’s easily one of the best views in Revelstoke with the added bonus of not having to walk up! Don’t get me wrong, I love hiking but sometimes you just want to take it easy. There are two gondolas at the resort. The first takes you to the top of the mountain coaster. This second gondola is a good 10-minute ride, and at the top, you have breathtaking panoramic views of the valley!
- Ride the Pipe Mountain Coaster – This cool gravity-fed roller coaster is one of the top attractions in Revelstoke. If you want to, this coaster can fly down the hill, and it’s actually super fun and gets the adrenaline going. Of course, you can go as fast or slow as you want and the coaster actually has brakes – so it’s great for kids too. The Mountain Coaster is located at the top of the first gondola at the Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
- Hit the slopes in winter – Revelstoke, BC is famous for the number of awesome things to do in the winter. It’s not hard to see that this small mountain town is a winter paradise! Revelstoke is famous for huge yearly snowfalls and steep mountainous terrain that could challenge even the most skilled. But, if you’re like me and are more suited to green or blue runs then they have that too!
Related read: If you want to stay a night or two in Revelstoke, check out our guide on the best places to stay in Revelstoke!
11. Mount Revelstoke National Park
Just on the outskirts of Revelstoke, you’ll find is Mt Revelstoke National Park. It’s a unique national park in the fact that you can actually drive right into the park and even to the summit of Mt Revelstoke on the Meadows in the Sky Parkway. This makes it accessible to almost anyone!
Once at the summit car parking lot you can then venture out and hike one of the many stunning trails, have lunch by one of the lakes, or even take a short walk to see all of the beautiful flowers and viewpoints.
Some of the best hikes at the summit are Eva Lake trail, a 12km (7.5 miles) round trip through beautiful landscapes great for spotting bears; or Heather Lake, a short 10-minute hike around a stunning lake with breathtaking reflections.
Other amazing hikes in the park (but not at the summit) include the Giant Cedars Boardwalk and the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk. Both trails are along the highway towards Golden just outside of Revelstoke town.
Regardless of the trails you hike or viewpoints you enjoy, a day in Mt Revelstoke National Park is a must!
Note: Mount Revelstoke National Park and the next few national parks mentioned in this blog require a parks pass. To visit them, you’ll need to purchase a Parks Canada pass. More info can be found below:
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.
12. Canyon Hot Springs
Soaking in the hot springs with mountain views is so relaxing and the perfect way to take a break from your Whistler to Banff road trip. The Canyon Hot Springs Resort is only about 20 minutes from Revelstoke. The mineral waters here were supposedly discovered more than 100 years ago by railway workers.
The water is piped right from the spring to a hot mineral soaking pool and a swimming pool. You can spend a couple of nights here at the resort and rent a cabin to get free admission to the hot springs. You can camp here too, but hot springs admission isn’t included. Or if you just want to take a dip, a single swim is $12.50 CAD.
13. Glacier National Park and Rogers Pass
As you make your way towards Banff from Whistler, you’ll actually drive right through the middle of Glacier National Park. This stretch of road is beautiful and along the way, you can spot plenty of wildlife (please, drive carefully!)
Make sure to stop at the Rogers Pass National Historic Site inside the park. Here, you can hike along the now-abandoned railway line that first connected Canada from coast to coast. The visitor center here is great and has lots of info about the history of the area.
On the drive, you’ll go through the Rogers Pass which I think is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the entire country.
There are also some nice spots for short hikes in the area including the Hemlock Grove Boardwalk, which is good for the whole family as it’s a series of boardwalks through the forest. If you want to see a waterfall on a relatively easy trail that isn’t too busy, visit Bear Creek Falls. It’s only about a 15-20 minute hike with a really impressive waterfall at the end.
Golden, British Columbia is a small town of just around 4,000 people in the Canadian Rockies. But what it lacks by way of population, it absolutely makes up for in terms of epic things to do! This small town is surrounded by a bunch of national parks and mountain ranges, so there are endless outdoor activities to enjoy.
The town of Golden also has some amazing restaurants, shops, bars, and cultural attractions to offer as well. Whether you prefer a chill stop on your road trip from Whistler to Banff, or something high-energy, you will love Golden.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Golden many times both in the summer and winter months allowing me to create an epic list of things to do in Golden, but here are some highlights:
- Walk the Golden Skybridge – Why not start off with Golden’s newest attraction? The Golden Skybridge is Canada’s highest suspension bridge and it only just open in the summer of 2021! At 130 meters (426 feet) above the canyon, you’ll experience such a thrill walking over it and taking in all the amazing views of the Columbia Valley. If walking along a suspension bridge is not enough for you, there is also a zipline experience and ropes course. I also hear rumors that a canyon swing will open one day too – how cool!
- Go whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse – The best way to experience the river is to go whitewater rafting! Whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River is such an adrenaline rush. With grade 3-4 rapids, it’s one of the best rivers in Canada to go rafting. There are a number of tour groups that you can join, such as this full-day tour. For $112 CAD, you will get a 5-hour experience out on the river. All equipment is included, along with a buffet lunch! You will also have an expert guide leading the way and keeping you safe.
- Explore downtown Golden – You’ll be pretty busy with all the different outdoor recreation activities around Golden, but don’t forget the town itself! Downtown Golden is a quaint, historic-looking town with a bunch of things to do! A good place to start your exploration is 9th Avenue, which has a lot of shops, cafes, and restaurants to explore. You can learn more about the city at the Visitor Centre or Golden Museum.
Where to stay in Golden:
Best Western Mountainview Inn is a great choice if you’re looking for something in town. This hotel is clean and comfortable and has everything you could want including an indoor pool and an included breakfast. The reviews are great and the price is modest.
Related read: If you aren’t quite ready to leave Golden just yet, check out the best places to stay in Golden.
15. Wapta Falls
Only 30 minutes from Golden is one of the nicest waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Wapta Falls is gorgeous and the hike to get there isn’t too bad at all. It’s a short hike of about 2 km (1.2 miles) and it’s easy enough for kids.
You’ll find the start of the trail at the Wapta Falls turnoff right off the Trans Canada Highway and within Yoho National Park. Bring your lunch or a snack to really take some time and enjoy the view of this magnificent waterfall. It’s worth it!
16. Field and Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park with the community of Field in the center is an amazing place to explore – be prepared to spend at least a few hours here if not a whole day! The park is known for its towering waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, and the huge variety of activities that can be done in all seasons. Plus, there are shops, restaurants and more to see in Field.
A must-see is the stunning Emerald Lake with its vivid waters that are true to its name. You can easily walk around the entire lake in about an hour or snowshoe around it in the winter. It’s a great way to see wildflowers including wild orchids that grow around here as well as bald eagles, moose, and loons. You can also canoe or kayak on the lake with its calm and clear waters. Spoil yourself and stay a night at the Emerald Lake Lodge on the edge of the lake.
Another impressive sight is the Natural Bridge – an ancient rock formation over the Kicking Horse River. It’s easy to get to by car as it’s only 3 km (1.9 miles) from Field along Emerald Lake Road. You can also take a guided hike to fossil beds in the area where there are fossils from 500 million years ago.
17. Lake Louise
I have been to Lake Louise numerous times throughout my years of living close to the Rockies. Each time ticking off all the best things to do in Lake Louise. From hikes to restaurants and all of the epic Lake Louise activities, I’ve pretty much done it all! Here are a few of my favorites to check out during your visit:
- Relax at the Lake Louise foreshore – When it comes to enjoying Lake Louise, one of the easiest and most common ways is to enjoy the views are from the Lake Louise foreshore. Within minutes of arriving, you can have a coffee in hand and stare out at mountain peaks, glaciers, and the bluest lake you’ll ever see.
- Hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House – My favorite hike in Lake Louise is the Lake Agnes Tea House trail. Starting right from the foreshore, the trail has you hiking high above Lake Louise where you can peer down and see parts of the lake from above. 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!
- Rent a canoe and explore Lake Louise – When I think of iconic Canadian activities a few come to mind. However, one of the most relaxing and breathtaking is paddling an alpine lake in a Canadian Canoe. You can do this throughout Canada, but there aren’t many places as beautiful as Lake Louise to enjoy this activity.
- Go ice skating on Lake Louise – Lake Louise is the color of the sky in summer and that color has made the lake famous. But in the winter, the cold temperatures completely freeze the lake over and it now becomes an ice-skating dream! This is one of the best things to do in Lake Louise in the winter, and it’s completely free if you bring your own skates!
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.
Where to Stay in Lake Louise:
If you decide you want to stay in Lake Louise, the Hi Lake Louise Alpine Center is the best budget option in Lake Louise Village. The location is right in town, they have a shared kitchen, basic but comfortable rooms, and friendly staff.
For those with a bigger budget, you can’t look past the Fairmont Château Lake Louise. The hotel sits on the shoreline of Lake Louise with epic views in the most stunning of locations. I’ve added spending a night or two here to my personal bucket list!
18. Moraine Lake
We might be biased (as this is where we got engaged) but we think Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful places to visit near Banff, and an absolute must stop on your road trip from Whistler to Banff.
The lake itself is the brightest turquoise color possible and the surrounding mountains are nothing short of amazing. Daniel chose this place to get engaged because of how beautiful it is!
Unfortunately, because of its beauty, Moraine Lake is one of the most visited places near Banff. It is easy to get to with only a short couple hundred-meter walk from the car parking lot, so it’s accessible to most. Visiting Moraine Lake is also free. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go?!
The parking lot to visit Moraine Lake is consistently full for most of the day. 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, you are going to have to snag yourself a parking space! This can be a challenge, but if you arrive before 6 am, you will be able to get one. To me, a sunrise at Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful things to see in Banff.
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 with an experienced guide!
Avoid the crowds: If you want to void the crowds then it’s best to visit Moraine Lake in the late afternoon. This is by far the least busy time.
Important info: Moraine Lake 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.
19. Morant’s Curve
This is an excellent viewpoint for a photo along a bend in the Bow River where trains typically pass through with a spectacular mountain backdrop. Morant’s Curve is only a short drive (about 5-7 minutes) along the Bow Valley Parkway after you leave Lake Louise. Keep an eye out for the signs indicating the viewpoint and park across the highway in the small parking lot.
The best photos are when a train is traveling around the bend and framed perfectly in the shot. Your best chance to catch a train is during a weekday – trains typically pass by at least once an hour. The curve is named after a photographer (Nicholas Morant) who worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and this was one of his favorite places to capture.
20. Johnston Canyon
The hike through Johnston Canyon is an easy walk with huge rewards. The boardwalk along the path leads you right into a canyon filled with seven glacial waterfalls that cascade over rocky cliffs. You can get right next to the water flowing from Johnston Creek and close enough to waterfalls to feel the spray of the water on your face!
This is also a great place in the winter! The waterfalls freeze over and create layers of giant icicles, which are incredible to see. The ice on the Lower and Upper Waterfalls here also takes on a blue color that is quite beautiful.
Johnston Canyon is open all year and it’s free to get to – including free parking in one of two parking lots. It is one of the more popular hikes in Banff National Park and is great for families as the path is wide and not too steep. The hike is about 2.5 km (1.6 miles) to get all the way to the Upper Falls.
Hot Tip: If you’re visiting in the winter, you really need ice cleats or spikes. If you don’t have them, then consider joining a guided ice walk tour that will safely lead you on the ice and supply all of the safety gear you’ll need.
The drawback to Johnston Canyon is that it may become quite crowded. It’s so popular that the large parking lot frequently fills up, forcing you to use the public bus!
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.
You made it! Banff is easily one of the best places to visit in Alberta, attracting thousands of visitors each year. And it’s no wonder why – it’s absolutely beautiful and there are tons of things to do in Banff in winter, spring, summer, or fall.
The downtown area is very quaint and there are many awesome options for places to eat, drink, and shop. With the mountains as the backdrop to Banff Ave, it’s a beautiful place to base yourself in Banff National Park.
Banff is more than just a ski town though, and regardless of the season you visit, Banff town is an amazing place with plenty to do. Some of the best things to do in Banff include:
- 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! The hot springs are easy to get to and very affordable. At only $9.25 CAD per adult and $29 for a family, even those on a tight budget can enjoy one of the best Banff attractions. It’s even a great activity to do in Banff when it’s raining.
- Ride the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain – The Banff Gondola is possibly the singular most popular thing to do in Banff – and for good reason! From the top of the Banff Gondola, the views of the mountains and Banff town are out of this world. The first time I rode the gondola was during my first Christmas in Banff and I loved it! 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!
- Check out the 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 1.5km scenic walk from Banff town (or drive) you’ll come to the Bow Falls viewpoint on the river’s edge. Here, not only will you see the river, but also the Bow River Waterfall!
- Cave and Basin National Historic Site – Another great place to visit in Banff is Cave and Basin Historic Site. Here you can see some historic hot springs that are home to a rare species of snail. The museum is the main attraction in my eyes and it is very interactive and fun especially for kids. You’ll find lots of information about Banff and the surrounding area.
Where to Stay in Banff
Banff, being the holiday destination it is, has no shortage of beautiful hotels. In fact, it’s hard to book a bad hotel in Banff. With that said, there are a few stand-out hotels for every budget. You know, those places that offer more for less.
Please note: Hotel prices in Banff differ from winter to summer. In fact, most hotels are more than double the price in summer.
For budget-conscious travelers, the HI-Banff Alpine Center is my top choice. I love this hostel for its fun social atmosphere as well as clean rooms and good facilities. One thing to note though is the hostel is located a decent walk from the main area of Banff.
If you still want a rather inexpensive hotel but would love a great location the High Country Inn has both (much cheaper in winter though). The hotel is only a few blocks from the action and although a little outdated, offers an indoor pool, sauna, and hot tub, as well as an onsite restaurant.
For the more luxurious travelers, the Rimrock Resort Hotel has everything you need. The rooms are gorgeous and those mountain views are hard to beat. On top of that, they have all the facilities you could want including an indoor pool, spa and wellness center, onsite restaurant, room service, and restaurant. Their location is a little out of town though.
If money ain’t a thing then the Fairmont Banff Springs is the most luxurious option, and you will not be disappointed. Fairmont Banff Springs is more than just an accommodation, it’s an experience!
Renting a Car in British Columbia
If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this 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 $70 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year. 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 Rental Cars.com 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…
Driving from Whistler to Banff is one of the most epic road trips you can do in Canada! You are going to get to experience some of Canada’s best gems. While the drive is beautiful in itself, I suggest taking your time at each stop mentioned so you can really experience the beauty that British Columbia and Alberta have to offer!
I hope this blog post has you feeling excited and prepared as you embark on your drive from Whistler to Banff. As always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out! And be sure to check out some of our other Canada posts: