Banff National Park, located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is a world-renowned destination that attracts visitors from all over the globe. You can enjoy Banff National Park year-round, and there are plenty of things to do for your whole family. Here are 17 reasons why you will fall in love with Banff National Park!
Where Is Banff National Park
Banff National Park is based in the splendor of the Rocky Mountains. Located on the western side of the province of Alberta and 125 kilometers west of Calgary, it is easily accessible from the Trans-Canada Highway.
Related: Most Popular National Parks in America
How To Get To Banff National Park
The closest airport to Banff National Park is Calgary International Airport (YYC). The best way to get around Banff National Park is by car. You can take a tour or drive yourself and explore the many attractions that surround this beautiful park. There are also shuttles available if you don’t want to rent your own vehicle.
There is a train service to Banff on the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver. The Rocky Mountaineer passenger train provides visitors with an unforgettable experience, allowing you to discover the wonders of British Columbia and Alberta.
How Far Is Banff National Park From Jasper National Park
The Icefields Parkway is a road that leads from Banff to Jasper, and if you have time for an adventure on your vacation here, then I highly recommend taking it.
The drive will take about three hours without stopping- but trust me, there are many stops along the way. Planning to spend a good portion of one day should be expected.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Banff National Park?
Banff National Park has many great things to offer year-round. Skiing and snowboarding in Banff is a popular activity during the winter, and there are plenty of winter trails to hike and explore. There are endless hiking trails, lakes to enjoy, horseback riding, and so much more in the summer months.
Banff Park Pass
Banff National Park is government-funded, and when you arrive, you will need to buy a pass. You can get a day pass, which expires the day after you buy it, or a Discovery pass, good for an entire year. If you plan to visit a lot for skiing, camping, and more, it is the best value.
Passes are for groups and individuals, must be shown for entry into most places, and can be bought online or in person. They do not give access to certain historical sites.
Things to do in Banff National Park
It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit Banff National Park; there is always something fun to do. The town of Banff has plenty of shopping, restaurants, museums and galleries, cafes for your coffee fix, live performances at night in the many pubs around town.
During the winter months, you can enjoy skiing on some great slopes or snowboarding down a mountain with views that will take your breath away! Or, take a sleigh ride through some of Banff’s snowy forests.
In the summer months, there are hiking trails that will lead you to beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous pools of glacial meltwater. Here are 16 reasons to fall in love with Banff National Park.
1 Hike the Best Trails in Banff National Park
There is no shortage of great hiking trails in and around Banff National Park. You can find a few easier ones for the kids to tag along, and there are more challenging ones for the more experienced hikers.
Lake Agnes Teahouse hike from Lake Louise is one of our favorite hikes in Banff National Park. The walk-up takes approximately one hour, and you can rest your legs at the teahouse while enjoying the incredible views of Lake Agnes.
Fenland Trail is an easy hike for everyone and easy to find from the center of Banff. It takes about 40 minutes and would be an enjoyable hike for the family.
Castle Lookout is a more moderate hike and shouldn’t take more than three hours round trip. Take in the spectacular beauty of the area and see where the fire tower lookout once stood.
Cory Pass Loop is one of the more challenging trails. Expect it to take six hours to complete and have breathtaking views. However, an alternative way down takes you into the Gargoyle Valley before returning to the original trail via Edith Pass.
Johnston Canyon is a great way to see some of the beauty of Banff National Park and is perfect for beginners. There are two popular hikes at Johnston Canyon, the Upper Falls and another to the Lower Falls.
2 Skiing and Snowboarding
Ski enthusiasts come from around the world to take in the scenic mountains and fantastic skiing. There are three ski resorts in Banff National Park, and each one has something special. Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sunshine Village Resort, and Mt Norquay offer exceptional ski conditions in this region.
One of the most incredible things to do in Banff National Park is ski or snowboard in the winter. From November to May, you may take advantage of one of the longest seasons in North America, with chairs spinning all winter long.
Located in Banff National Park, Sunshine Village Ski Resort has 145 runs over 3300 acres. It is an easy 15-minute drive from the town of Banff and is stunningly beautiful all year round.
Getting to the various runs is adventure enough for many people, as you must first take a 15-minute gondola ride to the base of the sprawling resort. Next, guests are lifted up in a gondola that holds eight people, where you will begin your first runs of the day.
In the summer, you can go up, take pictures, and enjoy a nice lunch at the mountain’s high altitude.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
Lake Louise Ski Resort offers world-class skiing and is known for its fantastic powder. There are so many runs where you could spend a week trying to ski down them all! There is a run at Lake Louise Ski Resort that spans almost five miles!
Lake Louise Ski Resort is a 40-minute drive from the town of Banff, with 145 runs over 44oo acres. Be prepared to awe at the sight of the turquoise lake and the surrounding mountains.
Skiing, hiking, canoeing, sightseeing, dog sledding, and sleigh rides are all part of the charm and beauty.
The third ski resort in Banff National Park is Mt. Norquay. It’s a popular resort with a beautiful lodge, and double-seat chair lifts to get up the mountain. Mt Norquay has something special with some great beginner slopes that will have the young ones build their skills quickly before moving on to more advanced runs.
Mt Norquay is the only ski resort in Banff National Park that offers night skiing and is a quick ten-minute drive from the town of Banff. It is the smallest of the ski resorts in Banff National Park and the least expensive.
In the summer, you can still go up and take in the views, go climbing, and have lunch.
3 Spend the Day in Downtown Banff
Banff is a vibrant and inviting town with plenty of food, shopping, activities, and entertainment. There are many cafes for delicious treats, or you can stop in at one of the pubs to grab a drink before heading out on an adventure through Banff National Park.
Strolling through the town of Banff with the gorgeous backdrop of the Cascade mountains is a great way to spend an afternoon. Some of our favorite restaurants include Three Bears Brewery for a casual lunch, Tooloulous for breakfast, and the Grizzly House for a swiss fondue dinner.
4 Banff Upper Hot Springs
If you have never soaked in natural hot water pouring out of a massive rock while snow falls on you, you haven’t been to Banff National Park. There are nine springs in the area, but the one coming out of Sulfur Mountain is divine.
Banff Upper Hot Springs are the highest in Canada at an elevation of 1585 meters. Average water temperatures are 37 to 40 degrees Celcius. The hot springs are one of the popular attractions in Banff National Park, so try and avoid peak afternoon times and instead arrive in the morning to enjoy the peace and quiet.
The cost to visit is only $8.48 per adult, and the recommended amount of time to enjoy the hot springs is one hour.
5 Visit the Lakes of Banff National Park
One of the most stunning lakes in Banff National Park is Moraine Lake, and it is incredibly blue. It’s almost like a mirror image because it has such still water. If you want to get up close and personal with this beautiful lake, take a boat ride across or go kayaking on its surface.
Moraine Lake is 20 kilometers from Lake Louise and is part of the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The lake has a depth between 30 and 50 meters, with its deepest point in the middle.
Lake Minnewanka is another beautiful spot in Banff National Park where you can kayak or canoe on still water surrounded by trees. There are several boat launch sites along Lake Minnewanka.
There are hiking trails that go around the lake, or you can bring a bike. In the winter, you can hit those trails on cross-country skis or skate across the lake. Lake Minnewanka is just ten minutes from the town of Banff and gets very busy in the summer, so plan to arrive early; the sunrise is gorgeous with the towering mountains in the background.
Bow Lake is located between the iconic peaks of Mt. Rundle and Cascade Mountain, with plenty to explore, including trails, great fishing spots, kayaking on still water surrounded by mountains, or going for a cruise on one of the many boats available for rent.
Peyto Lake is another stunning area in Banff National Park where you can kayak, canoe, or standup paddleboard. It’s a trendy spot for photographers with its perfect reflection of the mountains.
Two Jack Lake
The beauty of Two Jack Lake is one that leaves you speechless. The views here are nothing short of spectacular, with Mount Rundle Views at your disposal and perfect for photography. But suppose this scenery isn’t enough to make an evening daydream turn into reality. In that case, there’s also the campsite right on-site alongside this incredible lake where visitors can enjoy their time outdoors in relative tranquillity.
A five-minute drive away from downtown Banff brings you close enough to see all those breathtaking mountains while still being able to take advantage of these natural assets in Banff National Park.
Vermillion Lakes are located in the Vermillion Valley, close to the Banff National Park Entrance. These lakes can be accessed by car, so you don’t have to hike far with your kayak or canoe, making them a popular spot for families and beginners that aren’t ready yet for long hikes into more remote areas of the national park.
A beautiful spot to visit all year long, where you’re surrounded by mountains and trees while enjoying a nice day of kayaking or canoeing, Vermillion Lakes are serene and picturesque with the perfect reflection of the surrounding peaks that make this area genuinely stunning.
6 Stay at Chateau Lake Louise
For a truly memorable experience, consider staying in one of the most iconic hotels in Canada, located right on Lake Louise. Chateau Lake Louise is an incredible hotel with expansive views and access to trails for hiking or biking all year long.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers guests the opportunity to enjoy all Banff National Park has to offer in true style and comfort for those looking for an exclusive vacation destination. Guests have access to the hotel’s location right on the shores of Lake Louise and early boat rentals before the crowds of tourists arrive by the busload.
Spend the morning with your own private guide hiking the trail to Lake Agnes Teahouse, or hop on the hotel shuttle for an excursion to nearby Moraine Lake. Guests have easy access to the most beautiful sunrises in Banff National Park, and a stay at the Chateau Lake Louise is one for the bucket list.
7 Go Rafting on the Bow River
A great way to get out and see Banff National Park is by taking a scenic guided float trip on the Bow River. The view of the area from Bow River is spectacular, with views of Sleeping Buffalo, Cascade, and Tunnel Mountains.
Bow River has rapids rated at Class II and III, which is excellent for first-timers rafting on moving water. Several outfitters around the area offer this activity, including Rocky Mountain Raft Tours, departing at the base of Bow Falls near the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course.
The tour has a duration of one hour, with a shuttle bus returning you to your starting point. The raised wood flooring on the larger 25-passenger rafts keeps your feet dry even while you’re floating! This isn’t a whitewater adventure. No huge splashes or waves are hitting the boat, and there are no rapids on this excursion.
It is perfect for families, friends, or anyone wanting to experience the thrill of floating on the Bow River while enjoying a relaxing scenic ride. Tours run from mid-May until the end of September, and the cost is $70 per adult and $30 per child under 15 years of age.
8 Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Banff National Park has several places related to its history, like Cave & Basin National Historic Site, which is located right in the heart of Banff.
Cave & Basin National Historic Site is where you can learn about how it all began for this world-famous national park. With its very own museum, guided tours of naturally occurring, warm mineral springs inside the cave and outside in an emerald-colored basin.
The site also houses uncommon and endangered Banff springs snails in their natural environment, interactive displays, interpretive strolls and boardwalks in the woods and marshes nearby, as well as interpretive panels describing the World War 1 internment camp that was established here.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site is open year-round with a limited opening from October until May, and admission for adults is $7.90, and youth under 17 are free. Cave & Basin National Historic Site also has a gift shop and snack bar. You will need your park pass for entry, so don’t forget it in your car!
9 Sleigh Rides
Whether you love to embrace the spirit of winter or can’t resist going out into nature, sleigh rides are a truly unique way to experience Banff National Park. So sit back and relax on either a western-style horse-drawn sleigh designed to accommodate families or cuddle up in a two-person sleigh full of romance. These sleigh rides are up to one hour in duration and run throughout December through March, leaving from Warner Stables.
10 Bike the Legacy Trail
One of the best ways to see Banff National Park is by bike. You can travel on a scenic path that runs beneath towering mountains, around sparkling lakes, and through fields of wildflowers all year long.
Banff’s Legacy Trail system consists of 25 km (15 miles) worth of paved paths, perfect for biking. It is an accessible way to explore Banff National Park without having to use your car, and you can end up at any of Banff’s amenities like shops, restaurants, and attractions.
The Legacy Trail runs between Banff and Canmore. The bike ride along this path past some of the most beautiful spots in Banff National Park is totally free. Depending upon your bike riding ability, the ride will take 1-2 hours each way.
11 Johnston Canyon
One of the most popular things to do in Banff National Park is to visit Johnston Canyon, which includes a series of trails, boardwalks, and suspension bridges that lead you right up to gorgeous cascading waterfalls.
There are many waterfalls along this trail, but one of the best views can be seen from Upper Falls, where it descends 40 meters (131 feet) into a natural pool of water before continuing its steep descent down.
Whether you choose to take the easy 1 km hike along the lower trail or do the additional 1.7 km hike to the upper falls, it’s well worth spending some time here admiring this spectacular site.
12 Drive the Icefields Parkway
If you do one thing while visiting Banff National Park, it should be a scenic drive on the Icefields Parkway. This roadway is just over 230 km (143 miles) long, connecting Banff and Jasper National Parks via the Bow Valley corridor in Alberta, Canada. It’s one of North America’s most beautiful drives, with amazing views of jagged peaks, turquoise blue lakes, and glaciers.
It’s a truly epic road trip that will take you right through the heart of Banff National Park, where your eyes are in for a treat. But, if you want to make it even more special, there are plenty of places along here where you can pull over and do some hiking or enjoy an incredible meal at one of the restaurants that line the route.
Fantastic stops include Bow Lake and Peyto Lake.
Related: The Best National Parks in the US
13 Banff Gondola
If you are looking for one of those must-do activities in Banff National Park, try taking a ride on Canada’s highest gondola, which travels over 698 meters (2292 feet) and takes eight minutes to reach the summit.
For an unforgettable experience, take a ride up to the top of Sulphur Mountain on Banff’s Gondola. The views of six spectacular mountain ranges and the Bow Valley from the Sulphur Mountain peak are breathtaking.
While at the top, you can walk the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk, which spans the crater rim, follow a series of wooden staircases to an observation deck with 360° views. Or head inside for an exceptional mountaintop meal at Sky Bistro.
Also inside is the Above Banff interpretive center, which is perfect for families and offers interactive exhibits, videos, and activities.
Tickets start at $54 per adult and $27 depending on the day (weekends are more expensive). The gondola ride is just over 8 minutes with a vertical rise of roughly 700 meters (2300 feet).
You can also hike up Sulphur Mountain for free instead of taking the gondola, and it is a great way to avoid crowds (until you reach the top!).
14 Experience Banff National Park on Horseback
If you have ever wanted to ride on a horse, there is no better time to experience it than in Banff National Park.
There are numerous tour companies that offer guided trail rides into the Rockies, where horses will get you deep into nature, through fields of wildflowers, and up close to some truly stunning mountain views. The best part about it is you won’t have to walk a single step.
There are many options, from a one-hour tour along the Bow River to horseback rides in Lake Louise. It’s an incredible way to see Banff National Park and experience one of its most popular activities.
Prices start at around $72 per person for a one-hour trail ride or $188 for a three-hour tour.
15 Stay at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
If you are looking for a truly luxurious experience, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is one of Canada’s most beautiful hotels.
The hotel sits on top of Sulphur Mountain and was originally built in 1888 to accommodate guests traveling along the Canadian Pacific Railway. It has since become an iconic landmark that offers views over Mount Rundle, Bow Falls, and the Bow Valley.
There are numerous activities for guests to enjoy, including a full-service spa, an 18-hole Arnold Palmer Signature golf course, banquets rooms, an indoor and outdoor pool, and a lineup of fun activities for hotel guests that make you not want to leave the premises! The hotel also has unique restaurants and lounges, including the Vermillion Room, 1888 Chophouse, Rundle Bar, Ramsay Bar, and Waldhaus Pub & Biergarten.
Our family loved the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel so much, but three things stood out for us. First, the indoor pool was one of the most magnificent indoor pools we have swum in. The skylight windows made it feel like you were outdoors but without the sunburn.
We loved the indoor pool so much that we barely even swam in the outdoor pool.
The hotel scavenger hunt was an absolute blast and turned into quite the competition between family members. The scavenger hunt is full of hotel history and takes you indoors, outdoors, and everywhere in between.
The outdoor patio overlooking the Bow River was our favorite place to dine and enjoy drinks. It was very family-friendly, and we enjoyed the laid-back, casual atmosphere while staring out at the gorgeous views.
The only way you will ever experience this incredible hotel or any of its amenities is by staying in one of its luxurious rooms, but it’s well worth it.
16 Go Dog Sledding in Lake Louise
As far as things to do in Banff National Park go, dogsledding is one of the most exciting and unique adventures you will ever have. Our dogsledding experience was indeed an amazing one, and it is something we would highly recommend for visitors of any age.
We loved getting to know our dogs and learning all about how sledding works and the different commands and meanings.
The guides were excellent with kids and kept them entertained throughout the entire experience, but we also learned a few things from them. They taught us how the sled works, what tools were used to train the dogs, and how they could tell which dog is in charge of a team.
The dog sledding tour in Lake Louise offers beautiful views of Mt Temple and is 1.5 hours long. The cost is $500 for a two-person sled.
The photo opportunities on a dogsled tour are endless, and we will never forget our time spent with these furry friends.
17 Go Ice Skating on an Outdoor Lake
Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful places in Banff National Park, and it’s well worth taking some time to explore this incredible place.
The lake itself was created when glaciers receded thousands of years ago, but it wasn’t until 1930 that ice skating became a popular activity. Ice skates can be rented out from Chateau Lake Louise.
The lake is stunningly picturesque and surrounded by snow-covered mountains that are just begging to be photographed.
Lake Louise isn’t the only lake in Banff National Park that you can go ice skating on, although it is one of the most popular and iconic lakes. Johnson Lake and Lake Minnewanka are also great lakes for ice skating.
There is no shortage of beauty in Banff National Park to fall in love with all year long. This incredible mountain town has something for everyone, from families to couples wanting a romantic getaway or solo travelers looking for adventure. So make the next trip one that will stay with you forever by visiting this world-class national park.
Banff National Park is hard to beat if you are looking for a great place to take a vacation or planning to return to one of your favorite spots. You can find beauty and wonder all year long, with plenty of things to do for the whole family.
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and the co-owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more.
You can follow her travel adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.