20 Banff Travel Tips To Help Make Your Canadian Rockies Trip Amazing!

Banff Travel Tips

There’s really nowhere quite as special as Banff National Park. Whether it’s the winter or summer in Banff there is so much to do in Banff it’s impossible to get bored. We visited this little mountain town a few years back and fell in love so much that we decided to move to the Canadian Rockies.

The mountains provide an endless playground bringing in millions of tourists a year. Hopefully, these Banff travel tips will help with planning your ultimate Canadian Rockies trip!


Banff Travel Tips To Help With Your Canadian Rockies Trip


Fly into Calgary


Calgary

Most visitors traveling to Banff will fly into Calgary International Airport (YYC). You can get to and from the airport to Banff in just an hour and half which really makes Calgary the ideal starting point.

I’m very happy to call Calgary my home airport as I think it’s the most chill airport I’ve ever been in. I’ve rarely waited in a line for check-in or security and coming into Calgary on an international flight is extremely breezy. Nevertheless if you’re visiting Canada and coming off a long haul flight check out my long haul flying tips first.

The only other viable option for travelers coming in via plane is to fly into Edmonton. However, Edmonton International Airport consistently churns out much higher airfare prices than Calgary and is further away from Banff. I would only recommend flying into Edmonton if you are mainly visiting Jasper National Park.


Consider Renting a Car


Move to Canada
A Four Wheel Drive is definitely necessary when you live here!

Being in North America your options for transport are limited. Most visitors to Banff will rent a car in Calgary as this is the easiest way to get around. Renting a car in Canada ensures that you can get to where you want to go on your own schedule.

Depending on the season of your travel car rentals in Calgary can be quite affordable. We’ve rented with Enterprise for less than 20 CAD a day in the winter. However, expect prices to rise during July and August.

In the winter, it’s best to get a car with winter tires so make sure to check with your car rental agency. If you do decide to drive from Alberta into BC these winter tires are mandatory! You can see road conditions here, which are super helpful between November and late April.

Check Rental Prices Here!

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Other Options Besides Renting a Car


Banff Travel Tips

You may not feel comfortable driving in Canada and that’s okay! There are other options to get to and from Banff and around the town. However, they are limited so keep that in mind.

To get from YYC to Banff, the Banff Airporter is a good option and costs $138 (CAD) round trip.

Once in Banff, there is the Roam bus system to get around town and in the summer it runs to Lake Louise while in the winter it will easily get you to Lake Louise Ski Resort and Banff Sunshine Ski Resort.

In the winter, it’s best to get a car with winter tires so make sure to check with your car rental agency. If you do decide to drive from Alberta into BC these winter tires are mandatory! You can see road conditions here, which are super helpful between November and late April.


Go See the Main Sites


Moraine Lake

Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon, Peyto Lake…these are among some of the main “tourist” spots in Banff National Park. For good reason too! Every single popular spot is popular because they are out of this world beautiful. Everyone loves them and that means that they are extremely busy during the high season.

However, I wouldn’t let that differ you from visiting. Trust me, I absolutely HATE crowds but these natural spots in Banff National Park are so amazingly beautiful it’s hard to let the crowds deter you. My advice would be to go see them once, and then continue on to some of the less popular areas (we’re getting to where those are!).


Avoid the Crowds


Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake around 10 pm in July

It’s hard to avoid the crowds around Banff in the summertime. In Banff town, Sulphur Mountain, and Lake Minnewanka it’s almost impossible. My best Banff travel tip for avoiding the crowds is to travel outside of July and August and get up as early as possible and stay out later.

Around Lake Moraine and Lake Louise it will get crowded around 6 am-7 am so set your alarm early! However,, if you hang out around till 9 pm you can generally score some solitude.


Spread Out the Tourism


On top of Cirque Peak – a moderate scramble

Of course I don’t recommend only going to the well-known sites in Banff. The park is 6,641 km2 (2,564 sq miles) so there are PLENTY of places to go and find some quiet space. Check out our things to do in Banff for a few ideas of getting off the beaten path.


Head to Canmore


We chose to call Canmore home, so of course I’m always going to advocate for visiting Canmore. In my opinion and after much observation I find Canmore to have a much more local feeling. Banff is a tourist town where people live, but Canmore is where the mountain people really reside and base themselves out of.

Canmore is closer to Calgary, closer to Kananaskis Country, less crowded, and more affordable than nearby Banff. Plus there are almost MORE things to do in Canmore than in Banff.


Consider Staying in Canmore


One of my favorite Banff travel tips is to actually visit the town next door! Don’t just head to Canmore for a quick two-hour detour – come and stay awhile. Canmore has many hotel and Airbnb options in and around town. As mentioned it’s also more affordable, will provide you with a more local feeling, and less crowded. There are things like a normal priced grocery store and down to earth restaurants in Canmore.

I love Canmore’s proximity to the Spray Valley and Kananaskis Country. There’s a ton to do, great places to eat, and it’s just as beautiful as Banff.


Dress for the Mountains


Banff Travel Tips
This photo was taken in July – yes it was cold.

If I had a dollar for every time I saw a visitor wearing poor mountain clothes I would have, like $500. No, but seriously guys come to Banff dressed for mountain weather. That means packable down jackets and hats even in the summer.

The weather here can change at a moment’s notice and you don’t want to be underdressed. It’s extremely important to pack layers, thermals, and HIKING BOOTS.

Yes, hiking boots or shoes. If you plan to do any hiking while visiting Banff please do not show up in Converse shoes. It will not only make you uncomfortable and look like a fool, but it can be potentially dangerous if you attempt a mountain hike you are not prepared for. You can find my entire list of backpacking essentials here.


Wear Proper Footwear


Backpacking Checklist - shirt

I had to categorize this again because footwear choices in the mountains is extremely important. Don’t come to Banff with heels, no one wears them here. We wear our hiking boots and Patagonia sweaters everywhere and there are not many places around Banff where this attire isn’t acceptable.

You can find out favorite hiking shoes for men and women here.


When is the Best Time to Visit Banff?


Banff Travel Tips

With some stunning scenery to behold all year round, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Canadian Rockies ever. Whether you like skiing and snowboarding or you simply want to hike around mountain trails and camp out under the stars, Banff is a dreamy destination of imposing mountains, glassy lakes, and storming waterfalls. 

So, when is the best time to visit Banff for good weather? It depends. If good weather for you is a winter wonderland than the best time to visit Banff is between December and February. If good weather for you means sunshine and long days then the best time to visit Banff is July and August.

May, June, September, and October are the shoulder seasons, and I would be prepared for some snow in any of these months. Although come June the weather will be starting to turn, but come late September you’ll be experiencing white fluff again.


Don’t Bother the Wildlife!


Things to do in Banff in the winter
A beautiful elk in our backyard

You can find all sorts of wildlife in Banff National Park. If your dream is to see an elk or grizzly bear you stand a decent chance of seeing these animals. Coyotes, cougars, moose, black bears…they can all be found in and around Banff National Park. They are beautiful, but should also be respected.

Bears are not cuddly, and your distance should be kept if you see one. Don’t try to get a selfie, don’t try to feed them, don’t try to get closer for an Instagram shot, don’t get out of your car when you see one…don’t do any of these things. Admire the bear from a safe distance and move on. Don’t stop traffic when you see a grizzly with cubs (it’s called a “Bear Jam” and locals do not like them).

Please don’t feed the chipmunks around Lake Louise and always clean up after yourself. Pretty much every trashcan in the park is a bear safe trashcan, but if you just leave your food and trash on top of the trash can or don’t latch it, it’s basically worthless. If I had a dollar for all the times I’ve seen these things I would have another $1000.

Respect the precious wildlife that is in Banff and avoid human encounters. If you don’t it’s not only you that could get hurt, but the animal too. As soon as a wild animal becomes aggressive towards humans, even if it’s the human’s fault the animal will likely be put down.

DON’T BE THIS PERSON

Always Be Wildlife Aware


If you plan to do any hiking around Banff you need to go to the local outdoor store and purchase a canister of bear spray. This will set you back around $30 CAD but it is more than worth it in the event of a bear encounter gone wrong.

Before any hike in Banff National Park, make sure to pack bear spray, check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada and AB Park), and then check again for notices at the trailhead. 

When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners. It’s also a busy trail so you generally don’t need to make too much noise, but always be bear aware. 

Which means staying alert, traveling in a group, minding children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it.


Check Trail Conditions


Backpacking Checklist - shorts
Hiking in Banff National Park

Before you head out on any trail you should be prepared for the wilderness and trail conditions. My go-to is the app, AllTrails, which gives reviews of pretty much every trail around Banff.

If there are recent reviews I study them before picking where I’m going to head off to for the day. If someone notes that the trails are icy or that they recently saw a bear on the trail I will likely avoid it and pick another one.


Purchase Park Passes


Banff travel tips

Any visitor to Banff needs to purchase a park pass before entering the park. Day passes for adults are $9.80. If you are staying longer than a week it’s probably worth it to buy either a seasonal adult pass ($67.70) or a Family pass which gets you access for a car full up to seven people for $136.40.


Altitude in Banff


Ultimate Backpacking Checklist

The town of Banff sits at 1,383 metres (4,537 feet), making it the highest town in Canada. If you think that you might suffer from altitude sickness from visiting Banff it may be worth it to get medication.

Although, I have never had a problem in the Canadian Rockies and neither of any of the friends and family that have visited.


Save Money by Eating In


banff travel tips
We rarely eat out

A holiday to Banff is not a cheap one. Banff is a tourist town and prices are higher than many other places in Canada. If you go out to eat for every meal you’ll put a huge dent in your wallet.

I recommend booking a place with a kitchen so you can enjoy some of your meals in. The main grocery stores in Banff are IGA and Nesters. They are more expensive than your typical Canadian grocery store, but still cheaper than eating every meal out. For lunch grab some bread and cheese and a cooler and enjoy a picnic lunch (just remember to leave no trace).

If you really want to save money on your food to Save On Foods or Safeway in Canmore where prices are normal grocery store prices.


Enjoy All the Things To Do!


travel in banff

There are SO many things to do in Banff and around Banff it’s impossible to ever get bored. As long as you like being outside you’ll love being in Banff. Here are just a few of the things to in Banff that I recommend.

Relax at Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka

One of the top things to do in Banff National Park is Lake Minnewanka. Lake Minnewanka is a glacial lake that is just a ten-minute drive away from the town of Banff. This lake is 21 km long and 142 meters deep.

In the summer it’s a busy place to hike and go canoeing on, and in the winter it’s a sight to behold. The mountains towering over Lake Minnewanka are seriously impressive all year round. Oh yea, and there’s also a Canadian resort ghost town under the lake.

Photograph Two Jack Lake
Two Jack Lake

Just a five-minute drive away from Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake. It’s another fantastic lake with Mount Rundle Views. Two Jack is one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies, due to its proximity to Banff. However, in the winter it’s possible to arrive here with a tripod and be all by yourself.

Ski/Snowboard Big Mountain Terrain
Tasha Hiking Lake Louise

Snowboarding at all of the SkiBig3 resorts was our primary reason for heading to Banff in the winter. SkiBig3 is a collection of three mountain resorts all within Banff National Park. You have Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay which are all fantastic and unique ski resorts. Skiing or snowboarding here is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter.

Catch Sunset at Vermillion Lakes
Quotes about Mountains

A great Banff summer and winter excursion is Vermillion Lakes. Vermillion Lakes is one of my favorite places to go in Banff for both sunrise and sunset. Mount Rundle, arguably the most famous mountain in the whole park towers over the lake creating an epic backdrop any time of the year.

It’s the perfect place to come early morning and enjoy your coffee, or travel to for sunset with a bottle of wine.

You can also take a canoe, kayak, or paddleboards out here and enjoy the water. The lakes are pretty calm and a great place for a chill ride.

Mt Norquay Via Ferrata
Things to do in Banff

Want to get into the mountains, but have the safety of harnesses and a mountain guide? Mt. Norquay’s Via Ferrata is the perfect thing to do for those looking for a real adventure in the Canadian Rockies.

This is an assisted climbing experience up Mount Norquay. There are four different routes that vary in length and difficulty. Perfect for any visitor in Banff with many different options for families too.

Hike to Helen Lake
Things to do in Banff

Helen Lake is a beautiful lake along the Icefields Parkway. It’s far less popular than nearby Lake Moraine or Lake Louise. While the water is not glacier-fed bright blue it’s just as beautiful and quiet.

To get to Helen Lake you must hike in on a moderate trail for 6km (one way). The trail is well maintained and absolutely stunning with views of mountains and blooming wildflowers everywhere! Bring lunch here and enjoy the views.


Places to Stay in Banff


Elk+Avenue

The first time we visited Banff we stayed at Elk+Avenue hotel in Banff which had a great location right on the main street and across from a grocery store. Rooms here are comfortable and spacious. 

Agoda.comBooking.comHotels.com


Fairmont Banff Springs

This is easily the most luxurious (and expensive) place to stay in Banff. It’s situated in a secluded spot in the forest and provides guests with amazing views.

Agoda.comBooking.comHotels.com


things to do in Banff

Airbnb

For apartment rentals in Banff consider looking at Airbnb. However, Airbnb’s in Banff don’t come cheap and you will need to book them well in advance. Especially in peak summer and around the winter holidays. You can read about choosing a good Airbnb hereHere is a coupon for your first stay with Airbnb!

Airbnb Coupon


Plan Your Trip to Banff


Travel Insurance

We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage

SafetyWing is perfect for digital nomads. See our full review here!

Check Rates


Get a Travel Credit Card

How do we travel so much and avoid going broke? Well, we actually have many travel rewards credit cards. How many? Over 20 to be exact. If you’re a responsible credit card user I highly recommend looking at these travel rewards credit cards and earning points and airmiles for your purchases.

Check out our travel banking tips here. And If you’re wondering how to save money for travel click here.

The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Accommodation in Canada

To feel more at home we use Airbnb you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code hereOr just take this coupon for your first stay!

Get Coupon


Things to do in Jasper
Guide Book

Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.

Guide Book


Camelbak
Hiking/Daypack Backpack

You’re going to need something to carry your belongings in while your traveling around Jasper. Even if you’re not doing extensive hikes you need at least something small for day trips. My favorite daypacks are from Camelbak.

See our favorite hiking backpacks here!


Beach Packing List Sunglasses
Sunglasses

Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Canada. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.

We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.

Purchase Sunglasses


Sunscreen

Skin cancer is for real, even in the mountains! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Jasper. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.

We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.

Get Sunscreen


Danner Mountain 600 Mens Travel Boots
Hiking Shoes or Boots

If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Banff then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Canada.

I love my Merrell Moab Ventilators and have been going strong in them for two years! Check out my other recommendations on women’s shoes, and we have a post on the best safari boots.

Best Lightweight Hiking Boots


Best Down Jackets
Down Jacket

I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go on in the Rockies. They aren’t just good for hikes, but doing anything in the mountains. Even in July, you may still find yourself reaching for a jacket!

Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint –Feathered Friends, Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded JacketPatagonia Down SweaterREI Coop Down Jacket)

Feathered Friends


Packable Rain Jacket - Arcteryx Women’s Beta SL Gore-Tex Jacket

Goretex Shell

We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy a number of times. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx.

Any jacket can do the job, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather.

Arc’teryx


Best Travel Water Bottles
Waterbottle

Please consider purchasing a travel water bottle before your trip! We hate to see one time use plastic bottles ending up in the ocean. The tap water is so good here – seriously please don’t be one of those tourist that buys plastic water bottles in Jasper. It’s a waste of money and plastic!

Grayl Waterbottle


Buff Headband
Buff

I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in the mountains. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding even traveling in the desert. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!

Get a Buff!


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THANKS FOR READING!

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About the Author

Natasha

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Natasha is a five-foot blonde that believes she was made short so she could fit in air, train, car, and bus seats comfortably. She believes in watching every single movie nominated for an Oscar and loves all animals. Natasha has a passion for environmentally friendly and sustainable travel. Natasha recently made a move to Canada and resides near Banff National Park in Alberta and loves new adventures in the mountains. Natasha's favorite countries are Italy, Iceland, Greece, Japan, Mozambique, and South Africa.

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