Banff is a resort town found within Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, just 150km from Calgary.
When people think of visiting Canada, this is often one of the first places that comes to mind.
With its spectacular scenery, incredible wildlife watching opportunities, and beautiful lakes - it’s no wonder!
The town is located within Banff National Park which was Canada’s first-ever national park. It covers an impressive area of over 6,600 square km so as you can imagine there are plenty of sites to see.
Before we take a look at the best things to do in Banff, there are a couple of things you should know first!
There are a few different ways you can travel to Banff, but all of them require you to be in Calgary as this is the closest city to the park.
The closest airport to Banff is Calgary International airport. It’s located 144 km (89 miles) from Banff and serves both domestic and international flights.
For an easy journey to Banff, you can catch a shuttle bus from the airport to the town itself.
If you don’t have your own mode of transport and you’re flying into Calgary, this is the perfect way to get there!
The main shuttle service operators are Banff Airporter, Brewster Express, Discover Banff Tours, and Mountain Park Transportation.
If you’re looking to save a bit of cash, then you can catch a bus to Banff rather than the shuttle. It’s a much cheaper option, but you’ll have to get into Calgary city center first.
Two main operators serve the Calgary-Banff route; On-It Regional Transit (which only runs in the summer), and The Banff Express.
On-It Regional Transit runs from downtown Calgary, while the Banff Express runs from Eau Claire Market and a couple of other places.
Although there aren’t many train services to Banff, the Rocky Mountaineer does stop there on several of its routes.
However, the trains only run between April and October so you’ll need to keep that in mind.
One of the most popular ways of reaching Banff is by hiring a car from the airport or Calgary city center. You’ll find plenty of rental companies at the airport, but I’d recommend checking out Rentalcars.com first to give you a good idea of the price you’ll be paying!
If you decide to hire a car the journey will take around 90 minutes, and you’ll be traveling along the scenic TransCanada Highway.
The best way to get around Banff is by hiring a car or a small campervan.
Many of the sites in this guide are located outside the town center, and although transport links are pretty good - hiring a vehicle gives you ultimate flexibility.
Although you can’t wild camp in Banff National Park, there are plenty of great campgrounds in the area. So, if you hire a campervan instead of a car, you can cut your accommodation costs massively!
However, the only thing to be mindful of is parking. Some sites don’t have many parking spaces and at others, you’ll pay a large fee.
If you’re planning to hire a car I’d recommend Rentalcars.com, whilst if you want a campervan your best bet is Motorhome Republic.
Through this website, you can find some fantastic RV rentals in Calgary and Edmonton which are the two closest cities to Banff.
If you don’t have your own transport, then there are plenty of other ways to get around:
Walking - this is only an option for exploring the town center, and hitting some of the nearby trails. If you want to visit some of the sites outside of Banff town you’ll need to take a form of transport.
Bicycle - there are plenty of places to rent bicycles in Banff and it’s a great way to explore the local area.
Roam Transit - acts as a shuttle service and will take you to all the best spots in and around Banff.
Parks Canada Shuttle Buses - run from May to October, and are another great way to explore the surrounding area.
Hop-on and hop-off bus - getting a ticket for the hop-on bus allows you complete flexibility, so you can visit the top sites at your own pace.
Taxis - There are taxis available in Banff, but expect to pay a lot more if you’re using them as transportation.
Tours - Banff is full of awesome tour options! Some of the most popular tours in the area include this Banff National Park tour and a full-day tour of the Icefields parkway & Lake Louise.
There are plenty of accommodation options in and around Banff town center, which is where you’ll want to stay - especially if you don’t have your own transport.
Here are my top recommendations!
If you’re looking for a luxury stay in Banff, then Moose Hotel and Suites is a great choice!
Not only does this hotel have a striking mountain backdrop, but the suites are stunning, and they have fantastic facilities.
One of the highlights of Moose Hotel and Suites are the two rooftop pools that offer spectacular mountain views.
There is also a spa & wellness center on-site, an outdoor hot tub, a bar, and an Italian restaurant.
The Hidden Ridge Resort is located on Tunnel Mountain and offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
Although not located in the town center, the resort does run a free shuttle service into Banff.
This place has a variety of great facilities including an outdoor hot tub, a sauna, and an outdoor pool that offers spectacular views of the area.
Guests are also given a complimentary Banff roam bus pass!
Samesun Banff is a popular hostel that’s located just a 5-minute walk from the center of town.
If you don’t mind bunking it out in a dorm bed, then this is one of the cheapest options you’ll find.
You’ll also find plenty of great facilities at this hostel including a fully licensed bar & restaurant, a common room, BBQ facilities, and a fully equipped shared kitchen.
If you’re looking to cut costs further, there are a couple of great campgrounds located in Banff including Tunnel Mountain Village Campground (I & II), and Two Jack Campground.
If you're looking for fantastic deals then why not check out our guide of how to get cheap hotel rooms...
Banff is nestled high within the Canadian Rockies, so as you can imagine the views are spectacular!
It’s the highest town in Canada and is surrounded by towering peaks on every side. Aside from wandering around the town and enjoying its lively atmosphere, there are plenty of awesome attractions.
Some of the best things to do in Banff town center include visiting the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and hiking the trail up to Tunnel Mountain.
If you’re looking for souvenirs during your visit, then head to Banff Avenue and Bear Street. These are the best shopping spots in town, and you’ll find plenty of unique items.
Another great thing about exploring Banff is the number of food options! There are tons of fantastic restaurants in the town including the Old Spaghetti Factory, the Grizzly House, and Masala Authentic Indian Cuisine.
Sulphur Mountain is an impressive 2,281m (7,486 ft) high and is named after the two hot springs that are located at the bottom.
To reach the summit, you can catch the Banff gondola right to the top and enjoy the breathtaking views along the way. It’s open all year round, and the journey takes about 8 minutes.
Just make sure you book your gondola tickets in advance!
Once you get to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, you’ll get panoramic views of the six surrounding mountain ranges, Bow Valley, and Banff town centre.
Make sure you allow yourself some time at the top, as there are plenty of things to do up here.
You can dine at the Sky Bistro, head to some of the observation decks, or wander along some of the boardwalks.
Sulphur Mountain also has a couple of hiking trails around its summit, if you’re looking for more of an adventure.
There is a free shuttle service that runs from downtown Banff to the Gondola, so getting here is easy!
Trust me, this is one of the Banff activities that you don't want to miss.
Get your tickets right here.
If you’re looking for a relaxing activity, then taking a soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs is a must.
It’s the only hot springs pool within Banff National Park and is located at the end of Mountain Avenue.
The water is heated geothermally so the temperature varies depending on when you visit. If you visit during the winter months the hot springs can reach temperatures of up to 116°F (47°C), whilst in the spring it dips to a minimum of 81°F (27°C).
This is a favorite spot in Banff, and it’s on a first come first serve basis so you can’t reserve a place in advance.
For this reason, I’d recommend heading there either when it opens, or later on in the evening for a quieter experience.
There is also a cafe on-site, and swimsuits, towels, and lockers are available to rent.
As Banff Upper Hot Springs is so close to the gondola, it’s a good idea to combine a visit to both sites on the same day.
If you're wondering what to do in Banff then grab your swimmies and prepare yourself for a relaxing experience!
Visiting Lake Louise is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Banff National Park!
It’s one of the most iconic lakes in the world and is famous for its turquoise waters, breathtaking backdrop, and awesome hikes.
There are plenty of things to do at Lake Louise, but I’d recommend either going for a hike along the lakeside or hiring a canoe (or both, of course).
One of the most popular trails is the Lake Louise Shoreline Trail which takes about an hour to complete. The hike is around 4 km (2.5 miles) in total and is pretty flat so is suitable for all fitness levels.
Another awesome hike at Lake Louise is the "Lake Agnes Tea house hike", this trail is fairly steep, but when you make it to the tea house you can reward yourself with a coffee/hot chocolate/tea and a homemade treat!
Just be sure to have cash on you have they don't always take card, and it's only open during the main season, which changes every year.
Google will not update when it's open! Check the official Banff Lake Louise website, it was open when we visited, but Google said it was closed.
It's rated as a moderate trail and takes most people around 1 to 2 hours; more or less depending on your fitness level. The elevation gain is 400 metres (1,312 feet).
You can either drive to Lake Louise, or you can catch the shuttle or park bus - it’s completely up to you!
This full day-tour of the Icefields Parkway will also take you to Lake Louise so that’s another option for you!
As you can see there are plenty of things to do in Lake Louise, so allow yourself lots of time here.
Banff is famous for its stunning lakes, and it’s one of the main reasons why people visit.
Vermillion Lakes is just one of the popular sites in the area and is located within Bow Valley.
Not only is this spot beautiful, but it also offers spectacular views of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain.
During your time here, I’d recommend hiking the Fenland Trail. It’s a 2km (1.2 miles) loop that will take you through the nearby marshlands. You might even get to spot elk, beavers, moose, and the occasional bear.
If you’re looking for free things to do in Banff, then taking a picnic to Vermilion Lakes is a great option.
You can pack all your favorites, enjoy the breathtaking views, and if you time your visit with sunset - you’ll be especially rewarded!
If you decide to visit this lake during the winter months you’ve got a chance of seeing the aurora borealis and seeing the bubble layers within the ice too!
Lake Minnewanka is located just 5 km (3.1 miles) from Banff town center.
It’s a glacial lake and is also known as Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits), as the indigenous people believe it’s home to several spirits.
Aside from its obvious beauty, Lake Minnewanka has so much more to offer!
It’s a haven for outdoor activities including mountain biking, hiking, fishing, canoeing, and snowshoeing (during the winter months).
However, one of the most popular things to do at Lake Minnewanka is to go for a swim or scuba dive.
Now, you may think this is a strange place to go scuba diving, however, there’s a good reason for it!
Several dams have been built in this area, and in 1941 the village of Minnewanka Landing was fully submerged when the most recent dam was built.
If you dive underwater, you can explore this abandoned village and the original dam which is pretty cool!
Here's some more information about diving in Lake Minnewanka!
If you’re wondering what to do in Banff, then head up to Mount Norquay.
From the top of this mountain and ski resort, you’ll get breathtaking views of downtown Banff.
Not only that but there are plenty of things to do up here!
If you’re visiting Banff during the winter months then this is one of the best ski resorts in the area.
However, if you’re heading up Mount Norquay during the summer you can head out on the sightseeing chairlifts, or if you’re feeling daring - I’ve got the perfect adventure for you.
Via Ferrata translates to ‘Iron Road’ and is an assisted climbing experience that will take you along the cliffside.
You’ll be climbing up the mountainside, traversing ladders, and crossing over suspension bridges, so it’s perfect for any daredevil.
If you’d prefer something more relaxing, then spend some time searching for wildlife or dine at the Cliffhouse Bistro.
Driving the famous Icefields Parkway is without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Banff!
If you only have a few days in the area - put this right at the top of your list.
The Icefields Parkway is considered to be one of the best drives in the world and is known for its spectacular scenery, wildlife-watching opportunities, and fantastic hikes.
Covering a distance of 232 km (144 miles) this route takes you on the ultimate adventure of the Canadian Rockies.
The parkway runs between Banff and Jasper National Park and is home to lots of iconic sites including Bow Lake, Lake Louise, and the Columbia Icefield.
This drive will also take you past endless turquoise lakes, dramatic peaks, and over a hundred glaciers.
Take your time along the Icefields Parkway, take pictures at every corner, and look out for wildlife along the way!
If you don’t have your own mode of transport, then this fantastic tour will take you along the Icefields Parkway.
Banff National Park is famous for its scenery and wildlife, and one of the best ways to experience this is by going on a hike.
There are endless options within the park, and it all depends on what you’re after. However, there are a couple of trails that stand out above the rest!
One of the most popular hikes is the Lake Agnes Tea House trail which is found at Lake Louise.
Another great option is the hike through Johnston Canyon, where you’ll be walking along sheer canyon walls.
During your visit, you should also take a look at the Plain of Six Glaciers, Helen Lake, and Larch Valley.
Going on one of these hikes is one of the best things to do in Banff National Park, and you won’t regret it.
Just make sure you pack bear spray and keep your distance from any wildlife you come across.
You can find more information about hiking in Banff on the government website.
Moraine Lake is another spot that’s famous for its turquoise waters and dramatic mountain peaks.
Located in the Valley of Ten Peaks, this place is sure to take your breath away.
Although beautiful at any time of day, there is something truly special about heading here for sunrise. The colors are absolutely stunning, and the reflections from the lake are out of this world.
Once you’ve taken some time to appreciate the sun coming up, head off to explore!
There are plenty of great hikes in the area, where you’ll be treated to incredible views of the lake, and its surrounding peaks.
However, the best one is the Rockpile Trail as it offers stunning vistas from the top!
The hike is 3km (1.9 miles) there and back and is relatively easy so you don’t need to worry about having a high level of fitness.
The season was actually running a little late when we arrived, so the lake was still frozen, but equally as beautiful!
Now, I know there are a lot of lakes in this guide - but trust me, you don’t want to miss any of them!
Bow Lake is another popular spot that’s found off the Icefields Parkway.
It’s located just 30 minutes from the famous Lake Louise and is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park.
Sitting at an elevation of 1,920m (6,300 ft), Bow Lake is a pretty impressive sight, so you’ll want to take some time exploring the area.
Like the Lake Louise area, and Moraine Lake, you’ll find plenty of great hikes here.
Some of the most popular trails include the Bow Lakeshore Trail, Bow Glacier Falls, and Cirque Peak.
This area can get pretty busy, so it’s best to get there early if you’re looking to avoid the crowds.
You’ll also want to watch out for mosquitos during the summer months, as they seem to love this place!
Here's some more information if you're looking to visit Bow Lake...
If you’re looking for places to visit in Banff, then Peyto Lake is a must.
Located along the famous Icefields Parkway, this lake is one of the most popular attractions in the area.
Peyto Lake is another glacier-fed lake, which is why it’s such a vivid turquoise color during the summer months.
From the car park, you can take a 10-minute walk up to the lookout - and trust me you’ll want to!
This is one of the most photographed spots in Banff, and it’s easy to see why.
Not only do you get stunning views of Peyto Lake, but the surrounding peaks and forestry will truly take your breath away.
However, be prepared to share this viewpoint with plenty of other tourists as Peyto Lake is one of the most popular lakes in Banff.
To avoid the crowds, you can head to the lake early, or head down the other trails to find a viewpoint of your own.
If you're planning to visit this spot (which you should) then here's some extra information about Peyto Lake!
Taking a road trip along the Bow Valley Parkway is a must during your trip to Banff.
It’s one of the most scenic drives in Canada and runs between the town center and Lake Louise.
The route is 50km long (31 miles) and takes around an hour if you don’t make any stops, but I definitely recommend that you do!
There are a tonne of awesome photo opportunities along the parkway, and plenty of great places to stop along the way.
If you’ve got the time, then I’d recommend stopping at Castle Junction, Hillsdale Meadows, Moose Meadows, and Storm Mountain Lookout.
You can even camp along the parkway for the ultimate experience!
The Bow Valley Parkway is one of the top Banff attractions, as it’s a much quieter alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway and offers plenty of pull-off opportunities.
You’ve also got a great chance of spotting wildlife along the roadside slopes.
There's no denying that we enjoyed exploring the bustling cities of Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto but there's just something so special about camping out in nature!
Johnston Canyon is located along the Bow Valley Parkway, and is one of the area’s most spectacular natural wonders.
With its overhanging canyon walls, roaring falls, and vibrant turquoise waters, this is a place you don’t want to miss.
The best way to experience Johnston Canyon is by hiking to the Lower Falls, and then onward to the Upper Falls.
You’ll be walking along the canyon walls right beside Johnstone Creek, and the views are spectacular.
There’s also a viewing platform that can be found if you hike through a tunnel.
If you’re heading to the Canyon during the summer months, you’ll want to get there early.
This is one of the busiest trails in Banff National Park, and you’ll be sharing it with a hoard of crowds if you don’t.
Exploring the falls at Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular activities in Banff, so make sure you add this place to your list.
Banff National Park is famous for its incredible wildlife-watching opportunities, and this draws in millions of people every year.
You’ll find a HUGE variety of animals within Banff including bears, wolves, lynx, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.
Some of the best spots to see wildlife in Banff include Lake Minnewanka, Sulphur Mountain, Vermillion Lakes, and surprisingly enough, Banff Springs Golf Course.
You’ve also got a great chance of spotting animals along the Icefields Parkway, and the Bow Valley Parkway.
If you’d prefer to go on a tour to see wildlife, there are plenty of options. Two of the most popular options include this wildlife and sightseeing minibus tour, and an evening wildlife safari which has a 95% success rate when it comes to spotting animals.
Looking out for wildlife has to be one of the BEST things to do in Banff, making this place a must-visit for any nature lovers.
You’ll want to allow yourself a good amount of time to relax, and simply look out for wildlife during your trip!
I'd also recommend investing in a great-quality camera and zoom lens so you can take epic photographs!
Out of our entire Rockies trip, I think Two Jack Lake was probably my favourite, simply because it was so darn blue and beautiful!
It wasn't even busy when we went out on the water either, which is often unheard of at the other lakes in the area.
We had our inflatable kayak with us, and it's an easy route around the peaceful waters of the lake.
It's located 15 minutes from the town of Banff and close to Lake Minnewanka so you can do both in one day.
The campsite at Two Jack is also one of the most popular in all of Banff, so it fills up super quick. If you want to stay here, you will need to book waaayy in advance!
There is plenty of parking at the area, but I suggest you get there early in case it fills up.
You can also take advantage of the shuttle bus to get here too!
Remember you have to stop at the boat inspection points before you can bring your water craft into waters within Banff National Park!
If you're looking for things to do around Banff then we can wholeheartedly recommend this activity.
Here's some more information about kayaking on Two Jack Lake...
This is actually a pretty unique spot in Banff, and the good news is - it's free to enter with your parks Canada pass.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site is home to natural thermal mineral springs. It was these springs that Canada's first national park - Banff, was established around.
People used to swim in these waters when it was a swimming pool, but then the water was found not to be suitable, and eventually it ended.
There's a whole history of how it was discovered and why it's such a special place for indigenous Peoples for over ten thousand years!
It's open daily from 9.30 to 5pm and there is plenty of onsite parking.
If you want to treat yourself to a truly special and unique experience, then I recommend doing the afternoon tea at Lake Louise.
Not only is the food amazing (we had the vegetarian option), the room is located on Lake Louise, so you have a view of the lake whilst dining.
It was an amazing experience for us and worth every penny! Just make sure that you've factored this activity into your budget as it's not cheap.
Prices start at $70 CAD per person, and extras for sparkling drinks and champagne start at $10 each.
You can book the tickets for Fairmont Chateau afternoon tea here!
This is one of the most unique things to do in Banff so I'd definitely recommend it if you don't mind splurging a little.
Banff can be visited at any time of year but generally, the best time to visit Banff is between June to August. This is when the weather is at its best with clear skies, and it’s also a great time for wildlife-watching.
However, if you’re planning to Ski in Banff you’ll need to visit during the winter months.
There are so many incredible places to visit in Banff, that you could easily spend a week here.
However, many people don’t have that amount of time!
I’d recommend spending at least 4-5 days so you can see the most popular sites, take time to wildlife watch, and not rush around. Many people spend 3 days in Banff, but I’d say that’s the absolute minimum!
There’s no denying that visiting Banff can be expensive, especially if you’re heading there during the peak season. There are so many awesome activities to do, exciting tours, and the accommodation isn’t the cheapest either!
If you want to do everything on this list, and stay in a nice hotel for a few days, then you’re probably looking at around CA$160 ($125) per day.
We spent a bit less than this, closer to CA$100 per person, as we saved on transport costs, food costs and stayed at the local campsite which is more affordable. Not to say we didn’t eat out and enjoy the local shops in Banff (which we certainly did!).
There are so many fantastic tours available if you’re looking to explore Banff!
Some of the most popular tour options in this area include a trip to Athabasca Glacier, a tour of the Icefields Parkway, and this Banff national park tour which includes Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
If you’re heading to Banff to see wildlife specifically, then this evening wildlife safari has a 95% success rate of spotting animals in their natural environment.
This wildlife and sightseeing minibus tour is another great option!
Before heading to Banff there are a couple of things you should know:
There’s no doubt about it - this place has to be on your Canadian bucket list!
Just remember to book your gondola tickets in advance as they can sell out fairly quickly. No trip to Banff is complete without doing this activity!
You’ll find plenty of incredible things to do in Banff, and in all honesty, you could spend weeks here.
However, Canada has a tonne of other great cities and attractions to visit, so leave some time free to visit other places in the country.
The natural destination after spending time in Banff is to head north to Jasper and then explore more of Alberta - trust me, you will NOT be disappointed.
I'd also recommend heading to Yoho National Park if you've got time which is also in the Rockies!
If you need some more help planning your Canada trip here are some of our other guides:
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