If you are looking for the best things to do in Banff we have you covered! 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.
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.
The mountains provide an endless playground bringing in millions of tourists a year. Hopefully, this guide will provide you with the information to choose the things you want to do while you’re visiting Banff!
Adventurous and Unique Things to do in Banff, Alberta!
Relax at 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
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
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.
I was standing in the middle of a massive chute watching Natasha’s snow rain down on me from the slope above. The run below me looked like a straight cliff and while standing I could touch the mountain, at least it felt that way. Banff Sunshine is a mountain that truly offers something to everyone from professionals right down to beginners. You can easily find yourself smack dab in freeride terrain that would be considered out-of-bounds in other resorts.
If you want to find a mountain with some seriously humbling terrain in-bounds then Banff Sunshine is the place to head. Jagged peaks loom high above alpine trees and the views are unparalleled. When you first arrive in the parking lot the mountain does not look like much as the base is simply a gondola station and one restaurant. In fact, to reach the true resort base guests must take a 15-minute gondola that delivers them into a sprawling resort that looks like it belongs in the Alps, not North America.
Banff Sunshine contains two expert only areas that require all riders and skiers to sign out with the ski patrol and carry an avalanche kit. Delirium Dive and Wild West areas feature massive cliff features, chutes, and some seriously steep terrain.
Don’t let the expert terrain detract you from visiting the resort as it also has a plethora of groomed beginner and intermediate runs. The resort has something for everyone and the base area makes for a perfect central point to meet after skiing the surrounding peaks.
- Lift Ticket Cost: Adult – $109 • Youth – $85 • Child – $42 • Senior – $85 (Book Tickets Here)
- Runs/Skiable Terrain: 145 runs • 3,300 acres
- Favorite Runs: World Cup Downhill, Bunkers, The Shoulder, Wildside, Rolling Thunder, Tin Can Alley
Lake Louise Ski Resort
There is arguably no ski resort in the world with a better view than Lake Louise Ski Resort, that photo above is what we’re talking about. In between runs screaming down groomers or tackling a bowl Banff National Park provides you some fresh air and stunning landscapes. We visited thirty resorts in one season and the views from Lake Louise were hands down some of the best in the world.
It also happens to be one of the largest ski resort in North America with 4,200 acres covering four mountain faces. The terrain varies between beautiful groomers, challenging steeps, and expert level chutes. The longest run here stretches for nearly five miles so start working out your leg muscles now.
- Lift Ticket Cost: Adult – $104 • Youth – $79 • Child – $39 • Senior – $79 (Book Tickets Here)
- Runs/Skiable Terrain: 145 • 4,200 acres
- Favorite Runs: Brown Shirt, Juniper Jungle, Men’s Downhill, Saddleback, Sunset Terrace, and E Chute.
Mt Norquay is the most digestible of resorts here and the least imposing for beginners/intermediates. It’s only a 10 minute drive from the town of Banff, making it a great option to go get some runs in and still have time in town. The resort has been in operation since 1926 and offers a number of activities asides from snowboard and ski. It’s also the only mountain that offers night skiing in the area and relatively small in comparison to the other resorts of SkiBig3.
While Lake Louise and Banff Sunshine can draw a decent crowd (still few lines) Mt. Norquay is a quiet mountain. You’ll have a hard time finding crowds here and it’s the perfect place to learn how to ski with a good ski school and affordable lift ticket. They also offer snowshoe hikes, tubing, and child care. The biggest plus to Mt. Norquay for us is the proximity to the town of Banff, only a 10-minute drive.
- Lift Ticket Cost: Adult – $74 • Youth – $56 • Child – $29 • Senior – $56 (Book Tickets Here)
- Runs/Skiable Terrain: 60 • 72 acres
- Favorite Runs: Constellation, Norquay 90 Glades, and Lone Pine.
Catch Sunset at Vermillion Lakes
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.
Walk Around Johnston Canyon
The Johnston Canyon walk is the best thing you can do in Banff in the winter or summer for free. In the winter it’s truly magical and has fewer tourists (but still busy). Have you ever stood on a frozen waterfall before? Neither had we until the Johnston Canyon hike. Due to the elevation of the region and the sub-zero temperatures of winter the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon freeze in time. It’s a pretty surreal experience and completely accessible for all.
As a tip, we suggest picking up some ice cleats in town if you visit Banff in the winter. Although the trail is well managed it can get icy and it’s better to slip everywhere on the trail – ours were very handy! Once you reach the end of the trail and the most impressive frozen fall you’ll probably find some ice climbers. If you’re feeling adventurous book an ice climbing tour yourself.
The summer is a completely different experience and nice to watch the waterfalls in motion. It is one of the easiest hikes you can do around Banff, with a well-maintained trail that is suitable for all ages. If you want to make a bit more of day out make sure to continue on to the Ink Pots.
Climb Athabasca Glacier
Mount Athabasca looms over one of the most popular attractions on the famed Icefields Parkway, but only a few get to see the view from the top. To reach the summit requires a long hike to a technical glacier crossing and then up an exposed face or couloir. The views are breathtaking in more ways than one. From the top, you can spot countless glaciers, icefields, and many of Alberta’s highest peaks.
The peak is one of many in the Canadian Rockies famous for reaching an altitude of 11,000 feet. Many climbers in the Rockies have the lifetime goal of summiting all 54 (58) of the peaks, and they are considered classic mountaineering objectives. At 11,453 feet in elevation with a massive glacier and convenient location, Athabasca proves to be a tremendous first “11,000er.”
You cannot attempt this on your own without mountaineering experience, it is a serious mountain. We did a three-day mountaineering course with Yamnuska and summited on the third day – the experience was epic. This is probably not for everyone, but definitely one of the more adventurous things to do in Banff.
Walk on Athabasca Glacier via the Ice Explorer
If you’re not feeling a full on mountaineering climb up Athabasca you can still go see the glacier, and even walk on it on the Ice Explorer. Here you can get some history around the glacier and experience the fun without much physical effort.
Walk on the Glacier Skywalk
If you’re already at Athabasca Glacier you may as well continue a couple of kilometers down the road to the Glacier Skywalk. Here you can step out on a cliff edge walk and see the glaciers around you and have views out of the Sunwapta Valley.
The Columbia Icefield Skywalk has views of wildlife, waterfalls, and fossils. It’s a fun family-friendly thing to do in Banff. However, in my opinion you can get the same experience by going on a beautiful hike in Banff National Park for free!
Enjoy Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is the most popular thing to do in Banff, and arguably the most popular sight to see in all of Canada. This iconic lake is the picturesque picture of Canada (seriously, just Google image “Canada” and see what comes up). With the ten peaks rising high over the glacier waters Lake Moraine is certainly a Banff attraction to see.
Lake Moraine is about an hour drive away from Banff town, and only twenty minutes further than Lake Louise. With it’s rising popularity and millions of Instagram location tags you’ll have to arrive around 6 am to grab a parking spot between June and September.
If you don’t get a parking spot you’ll have to either head back down to Lake Louise and fight for a parking spot there and shuttle in. If that is full (which it frequently is) you will have to try your luck at overflow parking 2km away and take a bus to Lake Louise and then get on another shuttle bus to Moraine Lake. It sounds simple, but in peak summer this whole process can take hours.
Just note that if you think you’re going to make your visit to Moraine Lake quiet and easier by visiting in the off-season you may want to think again. Moraine Lake Road closes between (approximately) October 10 to May 22. There road gets covered in snow and avalanche risk is high.
A visit in early October or Late May will provide you with the most promising parking situation and fewer crowds. Alternatively, you can snowshoe in the 11 km in the winter or bike in before the first snow falls.
Hike Around Moraine Lake
I’d say 90% of the people that head to Moraine Lake stay for an hour or so, take photos, and leave. But there is so much more to do at Moraine Lake than this. If you want an easy activity you can rent a canoe, but the more adventurous should consider a few of the hikes.
The easiest one is Consolation Lakes. This follows the path up the Lake Moraine rockpile and into the valley. This hike is only 6km roundtrip and has a 60m elevation gain.
Other hikes are Sentinel Pass, a 12 km moderate hike (732m elevation). The Tower of Babel scramble and Eiffel Peak hike are much harder and should be reserved for experienced hikers, but provide epic views over Moraine Lake.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful road trips you can take in the entire world. The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 North) connects Lake Louise with Jasper in Jasper National Park. The drive itself is stunning, but there are sooo many pull offs along the way. Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, and Herbet Lake are just to name a few.
This drive is amazing both in the winter and summer, but be warned if you do it in the winter to allow extra time – roads can be icy!
To make the most of driving the Icefields Parkway I would start early (6 am) and allocate at least two days.
Taste the Gin at Park Distillery
The Park Disterilly is a hip restaurant and distillery in the town of Banff. It’s great for lunch and dinner (but gets busy in the summer!).
This gin distillery has won multiple awards and has some delicious cocktails. I mean what can you expect from a place where the water comes from glaciers? It’s the perfect place to come with friends after a day out hiking or on the ski hill. They do daily free distillery tours (call to check times).
Enjoy a Beer at Banff Ave Brewery
If you’re not much a gin person then go down the street to Banff Ave Brewery. This brewery was opened by the same crew who opened the Jasper Brewing Co (Canada’s first National Park Brewery) after great success.
Located on Banff Avenue this two-story restaurant and bar serves up delicious food and great beer. It’s well worth a stop for anyone visiting Banff. Try to get a seat outside in the summer and watch life go by!
Climb Cascade Mountain
Cascade Mountain towers over the town of Banff and has been on every postcard of Banff National Park for years. It’s beautiful to look at, but you don’t just have to stop there!
Did you know you can actually climb Cascade Mountain? It will require work and a long 20km day, but the rewards are fantastic views over Lake Minnewanka and the glory of saying you summited Cascade! It’s not the most exciting hike you can do in Banff, but is easily accessible from the town if you don’t want to venture far.
Canoe on Lake Louise
Lake Louise is the other iconic lake that millions from around the world flock to Banff to see. It is certainly a highlight of any trip to Canada. Lake Louise, while not AS scenic as Moraine Lake is still pretty darn mesmerizing.
Lake Louise is another glacier-fed lake that sparkles bright turquoise blue under the sun. The mountains rising up around it provide the perfect backdrop to any photo.
Lake Louise is frozen solid from late October to early June, but in the summer you can take a canoe out and enjoy the fresh air. During the winter you can walk out on the lake, go for sleigh rides, and go ice skating.
Lake Agnes Teahouse Trek
The Lake Agnes Teahouse trek is a popular thing to do in Banff for visitors of Lake Louise. This is an easy to moderate hike above Lake Louise that is suitable for all visitors to Banff.
When you reach the top of the 7.6 kilometer (round trip) heavily trafficked out and back trail you’ll find a teahouse and stunning Lake Agnes.
This is an easy hike that can be done in under an hour and is an iconic thing to do in Banff. However, be warned it is a busy one! To escape the crowds (and get better views) keep climbing to the Little Beehive, Big Beehive, or Devils Thumb.
Soak in the Banff Hot Springs
Enjoying hot water in the cool air is one of the top Banff winter activities to enjoy. Don’t let the frigid Canadian temperatures detract you because there are plenty of ways to warm up around the Banff. Just outside of the Banff town lies the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
These hot springs make for one of the best places to relax those stiff muscles after a ski day. Just be warned afternoons can draw a crowd so head there in the morning for a more quiet experience.
Mt Norquay Via Ferrata
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.
Climb Sulphur Mountain
Still wondering what to do in Banff in the summer or winter? How about you climb a mountain just outside of town.
Sulphur Mountain is easily one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful hike up that provides visitors with astonishing views over the Bow Valley.
Due to it’s proximity to Banff town, and the fact that you can take the Banff Gondola up to the peak instead of sweating it out on the trail means that Sulphur mountain becomes very busy in the summer! In the winter a pair of crampons and some hiking poles will help you tackle the trail up in no time. You can read all about hiking Sulphur Mountain here.
Take the Banff Gondola Up Sulpher Mountain
The Banff Gondola is there for you if you want to get those amazing six mountain range views from the top of Sulphur Mountain without the climb up or down.
The Banff Gondola runs year-round and provides the chance to relax and hang over the trees.
The Banff Gondola is not a cheap experience at $62 Round trip. In my opinion, the gondola is great for those that are not physically able to do the hike. This may mean people with disabilities, the elderly, or large families.
If you are able, I highly recommend hiking up Sulphur Mountain. It’s not a hard climb and doable all year round. The beautiful view will feel much more rewarding! Either way you can’t travel to Banff and not take in the views from Sulphur Mountain. It’s one of the top Banff activities to do!
Hike to Helen Lake
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.
Scramble Cirque Peak
Want more of a challenge past Helen Lake? Keep going once you reach the lake up up Cirque Peak. This is an amazing (yet difficult) hike that provides absolutely amazing views (some say the best in Banff).
It’s a tough steep climb, especially towards the top, and some of it can get a little sketchy, so this should only be attempted by seasoned hikers. You’ll likely find 50 or so marmots along the way. You can try asking them for directions if you get lost, but they probably won’t be much help!
When you reach the summit enjoy the vies and crack a beer – you did it! This whole circuit (Helen Lake+Cirque Peak) took us six hours roundtrip, but we are fast hikers. I would allocate at least 7-8 for this trip.
Head to Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake (PEE-toh) is a glacier-fed lake in Banff National Park. This is probably the third most popular lake to visit in Banff, after Louise and Moraine. The reason is its unique shape and absolutely mind-blowingly blue water.
Peyto Lake is easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway. To get a great view all you have to do is park and hike up an easy 10 minute path to the viewpoint. It’s the perfect place to come and enjoy the stellar Banff National Park views in both winter and summer.
Get Those Mount Rundle Views
Mount Rundle is one of the most famous mountains in all of Canada and a top sight to see in Banff year round. It’s an icon to Banff and will make you feel incredibly small any time of day.
As mentioned before, Mount Rundle is best seen at sunrise and sunset. Besides Vermillion Lakes, my most favorite spot to see Mountain Rundle is the Mount Norquay Lookout.
Spot the Banff Wildlife
Banff wildlife is active all the time. Apart from bears, you’ll find moose, elk, deer, owls, foxes, wolves, and coyotes here all year round. In the summer, it’s very possible you’ll catch a glance of a black or brown bear (hike with bear spray always).
I love spotting these animals all around the Bow Valley. Please remember if you want to pull over to take photos of wildlife to do so safely and make sure you are out of the way of traffic.
Enjoy the Town of Banff
If you want a day of shopping, cappuccinos, and breweries stay in the Banff downtown area and enjoy a day of walking around. Banff Ave has tons of restaurants, boutique shops, and cheesy souvenir stores to entertain all.
Check Out Bow Falls
Bow Falls are a must see when in Banff. They are only a short walk away from the town and take you into magnificent nature. Depending on when in the winter you go to see them they may be frozen, but we’ve been lucky and seen the beauty of them half in ice and half water. There are nice walkways for visitors so they can view safely.
Be warned it’s one of the most popular things to do near Banff downtown so there can be quite the crowd here. Regardless, it’s a fantastic Banff family activity to enjoy!
Go Dog Sledding
Discover Banff Tours runs dog sledding adventures at Lake Louise and in Canmore. We’ve done this four separate times around the world and it’s always an amazing experience. What I particularly love is how quiet the ride is with only the sound of the dog teams steps against the snow.
Relax in Nature
We have an addiction to the post excitement high we receive in the mountains. After flying down a mountain on our snowboard or a hike nothing beats the feeling of calming our nerves in nature. There are a countless number of ways you can relax whether it be by a hot tub, on a bench, by a fire, or watching the sunset over the frost-tipped mountains.
Just kick back with the one you love and let the calming effect of Banff National Park wash over you. Nothing else can compare to this when visiting Banff.
Head to Canmore!
Okay, this isn’t really a thing to do in Banff, Canada as Canmore a 15-minute drive away. We may be biased to our home base, but we think Canmore is the bee’s knees.
Canmore is another mountain town just outside of Banff National Park. It’s not nearly as touristy or popular as Banff meaning it’s much more enjoyable. You can walk down the main street here without fighting through crowds and there are plenty of great restaurants, bars, and shops to venture into. The views are just as amazing as well. Make sure to check out The Three Sisters!
Spend a Winter in Banff
Banff is not just great in the summer, but perfect for an entire winter vacation. Seriously, it’s a winter wonderland here come December.
Where To Eat in Banff
We love sushi and we love a good deal so Banff Sushi is a slam dunk for us. The novelty of sushi train was definitely appreciated and brought us back to Japan as we nabbed tantalizing bites of sushi off the Canadian train engine. If you like sushi this may be one of the best deals in Banff.
Hip coffee shop serving delicious coffee and freshly baked treats. It’s the perfect post ski pick me up if you’re not into the apres ski scene!
Check out the only distillery in a national park in North America. It’s super cool inside with large tables perfect to finish off a winter day in Banff with friends or family.
This healthy cafe is the perfect lunch spot in town with reasonably priced lunch combos and coffee.
Bear Street Tavern
Winter activities often mean you’re burning plenty of calories so if you’re looking for a laid-back atmosphere and some tasty grub head to this tavern to replenish.
The Grizzly Paw Brewing Pub
Our favorite post ski ritual is to check out the local brewery, something you can only find in North America. To find some of the best brews around go to the neighboring town of Canmore.
Places to Stay in Banff
Fairmont Banff Springs
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 here. Here is a coupon for your first stay with Airbnb!
Plan Your Trip to Banff
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.
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.
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 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 Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
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.
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!
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!
The best way to get all around Alberta is with your own rental car. See all our tips on how to rent a car in Canada here.
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