Banff’s location in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta makes it one of the most stunningly beautiful places in all of Canada. Though many people come to see the picturesque Lake Louise, there are actually a lot of fun Banff activities that will make you appreciate the true beauty of this area.
Here are some of the best places to visit in this unforgettable mountain and lake wonderland. It’s such a stunning area and a place you won’t likely forget.
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Banff National Park
Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada, getting its start back in 1865. The Canadian Pacific Railway was instrumental in bringing people to this area. They built the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise, attracting tourists from all around.
It’s a popular place to visit in one of the most picturesque areas of Canada, and millions visit every year. Given the large influx of annual tourists, regular conservation efforts are underway to maintain the pristine beauty of this area.
Banff is known for its striking mountainous landscape and for its stunning turquoise-blue glacier lakes like Lake Louise. People visit to enjoy many outdoor activities like hiking and boating, enjoying the views from a mountain top like Sulfur Mountain, and exploring the quaint small resort town of Banff.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The Canadian Rockies, of which Banff National Park is part, is a World Heritage site, recognized for its striking mountain landscape and scenic splendor. Here you’ll find rugged mountain peaks, glaciers and glacier lakes, canyons, waterfalls, and limestone caves.
UNESCO World Heritage sites are known for being special. They may be man-made or natural beauty, but they are all recognized for being an incredible place to visit and funds are provided to maintain their beauty.
Seeing a place is a UNESCO site is a great cue that it’s worth seeing, and I fully agree with that for Banff. I have never seen such a spectacular mountain area as Banff offers.
The Top Banff Activities
Banff is both the name of the national park and a town which is quite small. Banff Ave is the main drag in town, offering some chateau-like hotels, great little boutiques, fantastic restaurants, and amazing mountain views.
It’s a popular tourist destination, especially in the summer, and can get quite crowded.
Banff Gondola and Sulfur Mountain
One of the most popular Banff activities is ascending Sulfur Mountain for its incredible views of Bow Valley. You can hike it or take the Banff Gondola up the mountain for a spectacular ride.
It takes only 8 minutes in each direction to get to your destination, traveling a mile! There’s also a theater offering a multi-sensory show so you can soar over the Rockies from a bird of prey’s perspective included in your ticket.
There is a large viewing platform at the top where you can walk around to take in spectacular views in every direction. There are two coffee shops (including a Starbucks), three restaurants enjoying spectacular views, and retail shops as well.
The Above Banff interpretive center offers a state-of-the-art experience fun for the entire family. And the Family Experience also invites children and their parents to participate in self-guided activities to learn about this incredible landscape.
There’s also an interactive mobile game to learn about the area’s natural history and ancient geology. It helps bring the stunning Rocky Mountains to life.
The Banff Gondola is located at 100 Mountain Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1B2, Canada. Hours do vary throughout the year but you can find the latest information here. Ticket prices depend on the day and time of the year you visit, but they are generally between $38 and $62 USD.
The stunning Lake Louise is one of the most popular places to visit in Banff National Park. It’s a turquoise-blue glacier-fed lake surrounded by mountain peaks.
There are a lot of popular Banff activities drawing people to visit this lake. In the summertime, there’s a canoe dock, and the red canoes paint a striking picture against the blue waters.
Even in the summer, you’ll see snow-capped mountains and the Victoria Glacier in the distance. In the winter, there’s a skating rink on the frozen lake.
The Fairmont Château Lake Louise presides over the lake. This stately chateau is beautiful and worth visiting.
The Fairmont Château Lake Louise is located at 111 Lake Louise Dr, Lake Louise, AB T0L 1E0, Canada.
Another stunning lake that is popular among Banff activities is Moraine Lake. Like Lake Louise, it’s a vivid shade of turquoise fed by the glacier melt. This lake is located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, and it’s surrounded by beautiful scenery including mountains and waterfalls.
Sit by the lake to enjoy the views and clean mountain air, or go canoeing. As with much of this area, hiking is also a popular thing to do, and there are a number of trails around here.
Moraine Lake Lodge is a beautiful and modern lodge made of thick wood beams with lots of large glass windows to enjoy the beautiful views.
Here is a map of Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake Road is only open from mid-June through mid-October. From July through September, it can get very crowded, and they limit the number of people who can go. So, it’s best to go before 9 or after 5. Moraine Lake Lodge is located at 1 Moraine Lake Rd, Lake Louise, AB T0L 1E0, Canada.
Lake Minnewanka, meaning “water of the spirits” in the language of one of the local Native tribes, is another glacier lake. It’s over 13 miles (21 km) long and the second-longest lake in the Canadian Rockies’ mountain parks. This lake is fed by the Cascade River as well as a number of streams from the nearby mountains.
This lake is not one of the top Banff activities to see as Lake Louise is more popular. However, if you have the time, it’s worth seeing.
The map for Lake Minnewanka is here.
High Tea at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
This hotel may now be a Fairmont hotel, though it often goes by its original name, Banff Springs Hotel. It opened back in 1888 and was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. This hotel was one of the earliest of the grand railway hotels built in Canada.
The hotel has undergone a number of additions, and a fire destroyed the original structure in 1914, which was later rebuilt. This hotel is so impressive it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988. It’s worth visiting alone just to see this incredible structure and the amazing views.
For a special treat, try the high tea, known as the “afternoon tea.” This is one of the special Banff activities you can only find in this area. There’s an impressive spread you can choose from and over 20 teas.
You might think with little finger sandwiches and pastries that you’ll leave hungry for more, but that wasn’t the case. Enjoy the imperial view while sipping hot tea and enjoying little cakes and sandwiches. It’s a truly pampered delight.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is located at 405 Spray Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1J4, Canada. It costs $55 (unless you purchase other items), and the dress code is “resort casual.” This includes polos and button-down shirts, sundresses, slacks, skirts, and nice shorts. No short shorts, tank tops, or sleeveless shirts.
Bow Valley Parkway
There are many beautiful places to see along the Bow Valley Parkway, which is the scenic route running between Banff and Lake Louise. This winding road runs parallel to the highway on the opposite side of the Bow River and offers some incredible viewpoints and lovely picnic areas.
In fact, we drove this when the highway was backed up and came across a bear right near the side of the road!
Johnston Canyon is a really popular National Park located off the Bow Valley Parkway. It was created by the erosion from Johnston Creek, a tributary of the Bow River. What remains are some beautiful areas with gorges and waterfalls.
It’s very popular for hiking, and there are a number of hikes in the park, ranging from easy to moderate. One of the aspects that makes it so popular is the waterfalls you can visit.
Mule Shoe Picnic Area is a popular place to stop for lunch. Here you can enjoy Mule Shoe Lake, surrounded by large aspen trees.
If you’re lucky, you might see elk here, especially in the winter. There’s a short hike you can take through the forest to a viewpoint. Birders will love this area and you can often see woodpeckers, osprey, and more.
Morant’s Curve is one of the most photographed spots in Banff National Park. It offers incredible views of the Bow River and the nearby mountains Mount Temple, Fairview Mountain, and others. The railway goes right by here as well so you might even catch a train in your shot.
Go for a Hike
There are a lot of spectacular hikes in and around Banff National Park, and hiking is one of the top Banff activities. Some of the most popular are:
- Sulfur Mountain—Ascend the mountain on switchbacks to enjoy the amazing views of Bow Valley and the Bow River. This almost 3.5-mile hike is considered moderate.
- Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots—7.3-mile moderate out-and-back hike near Banff with a waterfall and some gorgeous views.
- Lake Agnes Trail—4.7-mile moderate out-and-back hike near Lake Louise. It also has a waterfall, and you can hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House, a hiker shelter built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1901.
- Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail—9.1-mile out-and-back trail near Lake Louise. It is considered moderate and unsafe in the winter due to the high avalanche risk.
- Johnston Canyon to Upper Falls–3.1-mile easy out-and-back trail near Banff that is very popular. It has a beautiful waterfall and is good for any skill level.
- Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail—9.1-mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, that features a lake and is rated as moderate.
If you’re interested in knowing a bit of the history of this area, Whyte Museum is a great place to go. It’s a small museum but has a lot of interesting exhibits.
You’ll learn all about the history of this beautiful place and will get to see a lot of really gorgeous local art.
Where to Stay in Banff
Prices in Banff tend to be a little higher than in some areas as it’s a popular destination. You can find hotels for under $100 at certain times of the year, and you’ll see a wide range in cost.
Budget: The Mount Royal Hotel is at the heart of it all! Right on Banff Avenue, you can walk to restaurants and bars, and there is a lot to choose from. The rooms are comfortable and well-appointed.
Mid-range: The Rundlestone Lodge is also right on Banff Ave, but a few minutes walk from the busiest area. So, it’s nice and quiet as well as easily accessible with lots of restaurants in the area. The lobby has a large welcoming fire, and the rooms are comfortable.
Luxury: If you’re looking for a splurge, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is the way to go. It’s not too far from town and the sites and the location is simply amazing. This hotel offers almost everything you can imagine, including bowling, golfing, horseback riding, a spa, and even a heated outdoor swimming pool.
Where to Eat in Banff
There are a lot of restaurants to choose from in Banff. Here are some of the most popular:
- Sky Bistro—Located at the top of Sulfur Mountain, this restaurant is a treat with lots of large glass windows to enjoy the spectacular views. You can enjoy the views with a distinctly Canadian menu with handpicked local ingredients.
- Farm and Fire—Right on the main drag in downtown Banff, this place proudly offers up a menu of wood-fired Canadian fare.
- Grapes—Not only does Fairmont Banff Springs offer a spectacular afternoon tea, but they also have the best wine bar in town. They offer amazing charcuterie plates that will satisfy even the most discerning palate.
- Ticino Swiss-Italian Restaurant— For something a little different, head to Ticino for some tasty fondue. The cheese fondue is excellent, as is the raclette, another Swiss treat.
- Coyotes Southwestern Grill—THE place to go for breakfast is this restaurant. They are known for their blueberry pancakes, which are actually a think pancake with blueberry compote. You can’t go wrong with anything here.
When to Go to Banff
The answer to the best time to go to Banff really depends on what you’re looking for. For the best weather and highest temperatures, you’ll want to go from June through August. I went in July, and there was snow in some of the highest mountains in the area, even still!
The leaves change between mid-September and October, so that’s a lovely time to go as well, though not as warm. The height of the winter season is from December to March. So, if you’re interested in skiing and the picturesque beauty of Banff National Park in the wintertime, that’s the best time to go.
Average highs in the summer from June to August are between 65 and 70°F (around 18 to 21° C), and lows are in the low 40s F (around 5 to 7°C). December tends to be the coldest month at around 23°F with lows in the single digits (around -5°C for a high and -22°C for the average low).
January is similar, and March sees an increase in temps with an average high of 40°F and low of 19°F (high of 4.5°C and low of -7°C).
The sun in this high-alpine area is strong, so no matter the time of year, make sure to wear sunscreen.
How to Get Around Banff
You do need a car to get around Banff National Park and the area. There are shuttles you can take to get from Calgary to Banff, and Uber is available in the area.
Unless you’re looking to stay mostly in the center of Banff, it’s best to rent a car to be able to get around the area.
Why You Should Visit to do the Top Banff Activities
Banff is such a quaint small town in the striking Canadian Rockies and a popular place to visit. There are a lot of ways to appreciate this scenic area, from hiking, visiting the stunning turquoise glacier lakes, and enjoying the main drag in Banff.
It’s such a spectacularly beautiful place, and there are so many fun Banff activities—it’s not a place you’ll likely soon forget
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