There are so many incredible things to do in Banff National Park. Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Banff is a place of unmatched natural beauty that captivates visitors from around the world. With majestic mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and a rich diversity of wildlife, Banff is a wonderland of adventure, where visitors can ski down snow-covered slopes, hike along winding trails, and soak in natural hot springs.
Whether you’re seeking a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of city life or an adrenaline-fueled adventure in the great outdoors, Banff has something to offer everyone. Are you ready to discover the magic of Banff and Lake Louise?
Best Things to do in Banff
Banff and Lake Louise are two communities within the National Park and both make for a great base. With an area of 6,641 square kilometers (2,564 square miles), it is a massive protected area and UNESCO World Heritage site. Choosing the best things to do in Banff can be a challenge, so these are our suggestions of things we think you should not miss when visiting Banff, Alberta.
Banff Town itself is actually quite small and but the surrounding national park, which is the oldest of Canada’s National Parks, is where this region comes alive. A lot of the sights here are known around the world, like Moraine Lake, the world-famous Lake Louise, and the Columbia Icefield to name a few.
Be sure to purchase your national park pass in advance. Rangers do ticket the parking lots and there are no exceptions. You can purchase it at the kiosks on Highway 1 as you enter the park, or order it in advance online.
1. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is the most popular attraction in Banff National Park. Tourists flock here in droves in the summer months to paddle a canoe on the pristine emerald lake and take in the beauty of the Victoria Glacier which feeds Lake Louise itself. Canoe Rentals cost $145 for day visitors. If you have the budget stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise located directly on the lake.
We recommend the shoulder seasons here to avoid crowds. Mid-summer it can get overwhelming with all of the people. The shoulder seasons offer fewer crowds and if you are into hiking, make for a more comfortable experience around the lake. Read our full experience at Canoe Lake Louise and Banff National Park, Alberta
Lake Louise in Winter
As with most sights in Banff National Park, the world-famous Lake Louise can be visited year-round. In the winter Lake Louise freezes over and you can rent skates to do some ice skating on the world’s most beautiful skating rink.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise rents skates and you can rent all the equipment you need from from downtown Lake Louise at Wilson Mountain Sports. Read all about our experience at Pond Hockey on Lake Louise – Skating the Most Beautiful Rink in the World
3. Moraine Lake
You cannot come to Banff National Park and not visit Moraine Lake. Canadians know this lake as Lake Moraine was made famous as the photo on the back of our old $20 bill and let me tell you it is a sight to behold.
It is not far from Lake Louise and is just an hour’s drive from the town of Banff. The best time to visit Moraine Lake is definitely at sunrise. When the sun hits the Valley of the Ten Peaks and reflects off of the mirror-like lake you know why this is one of the most photographed locations in North America.
Unfortunately, since the change in rules for 2023 (see below) accessing Moraine Lake for sunrise is not possible via the Parks Canada Shuttle. You will have to find a tour that has access to do this. If you ride a bike or take an organized tour you can visit Lake Moraine for sunrise.
After grabbing your sunrise shot we do suggest hitting the hiking trails. There are so many great trails in this area, but you should at least do the Moraine Lake Shore Trail. It is only 2.9km long, easy, and offers some of the most incredible views of the Canadian Rockies in the park. Most people stick to the Rockpile Trails, but you will often find this one less busy. Read more: 16 Best Banff Hikes To Discover
New Moraine Lake Rules
Please note that as of Summer 2023, you can only access Moraine Lake via the shuttle service from the Lake Louise Area, with Roam Transit, or other commercial transportation. This will cost $8 for adults, seniors $4, and kids aged six and under are free. It is recommended to book in advance on the Parks Canada Website. Parking at the Lake Louise Lodge is recommended or there are also shuttles available from the Lake Louise area.
No private vehicles are allowed on the road to Moraine Lake or the Parking Lot unless you have a disabled tag. There are daily shuttles from the Lake Louise Park-and-ride
4. Lake Agnus Tea House Trail
The Lake Agnus Tea House has been serving tea since 1905 and is one of the more popular hikes in Banff. The Lake Agnes Trail which starts at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on a paved path that takes you along the north shore of Lake Louise with stunning views of the Victoria Glacier to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
The Lake Agnes Tea House itself was built by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1901 as a place where hikers could stop and rest as they hiked to see the turquoise lakes of Lake Louise and Lake Agnus. In 1905 it started serving tea and hasn’t stopped since. Read more about the best hikes in Banff
4. Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Hot Springs is the most famous natural hot springs in Banff, and you can even rent an old-timers bathing suit to feel like you are in a bathhouse of the roaring twenties. This is also one of the cheaper things to do in Banff at just $10-15 CAD.
Not far from the Banff Gondola, is the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Located at an elevation of 1585 m the views of Mount Rundle and the surrounding valley are to die for. Couple that with soaking in the natural mineral water springs that are kept at a comfortable 98-104 F and you have a perfect afternoon activity.
5. Take the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain
One of the top things to do in Banff is to take the gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. The views from here really make you appreciate the location and beauty of Banff. There is a restaurant at the top and a fun interactive museum. There are also viewing platforms to take in different views of the Canadian Rockies and the Bow River Valley below.
Once at the top of the gondola, you can take a short hike out toward the summit of Sulphur Mountain on the boardwalk. You will be rewarded with stunning views over the Bow River Valley as well as the surrounding peaks. The gondola ride itself is pretty expensive at $62 CAD per person, but you can definitely spend half a day up at Sulphur Mountain to get your money’s worth.
6. the Legendary Fairmont Hotels
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs Hotels are the Grand Dames of Banff. The old hotels were originally built for CP Rail passengers connecting Canada and have transformed over the years into luxurious properties. Even if you are not staying in these hotels, they are worth stopping in for a look.
Both hotels were founded by the Canadian Pacific Railway to attract tourists to the West. They have been renovated over the years and are a luxurious experience in Banff.
Banff Springs Hotel
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is not far from Downtown Banff and makes for a great base. It is also close to the Gondola, Upper Hot Springs, and Cave and Basin. From here it’s easy to take a hike to the Bow Falls Lookout to view Bow Falls. Book a night to stay here for dinner or just stop in for a coffee.
Chateau Lake Louise
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is located directly on Lake Louise and you can enjoy all its amenities like ice skating on the lake in winter or canoe rentals in the summer. We always pick up a coffee at the Fairmont Lake Louise to take with us on a hike around the lake. But we highly recommend booking a night in this historic hotel.
7. Johnston Canyon
Walking the path through Johnston Canyon is one of the most exciting things to do in Banff. You can do this year-round and it takes on a whole different feeling in the different seasons. We loved doing the Johnston Canyon Ice walk in the wintertime.
The full walk of Johnston Canyon in the winter will take you to six different frozen waterfalls and a deep pool of swirling water that is reached by walking through a stone arch. It is a winter wonderland like you’ve never seen.
Johnston Canyon is also beautiful in the summer as well. The trail features iron walkways overhanging the canyon, which offer some great views. There are two trails at Johnston Canyon and we suggest doing both.
The Upper Falls, where at the end of the trail you are rewarded with the magical scene of the falls plunging down into a pool that is surrounded by the canyon walls. And the Lower Falls which puts you right down in the canyon itself, with magnificent walls surrounding you as well as the falls.
The hike itself is pretty moderate and is about a 5 km round trip. If you are driving the Bow Valley Parkway, then make sure to add this to your itinerary.
8. Sunrise or Sunset at Vermillion Lakes
Vermillion Lakes is a series of three small lakes located in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. These lakes are known for their stunning views of Mount Rundle and the surrounding mountains. This is a very popular destination for watching sunrise and sunset.
The best time to see the sunrise or sunset is during the summer months when the days are the longest, and the sun rises early and sets late. It is also important to check the weather forecast, as the view can be obscured by clouds or fog. It is also a good idea to arrive at Vermillion Lakes early, at least 30 minutes before sunrise or sunset, to secure a good viewing spot and to take in the peaceful atmosphere of the area.
Vermillion Lakes has several scenic viewpoints and walking paths that offer panoramic views of the lakes and mountains. Some popular spots include the Vermillion Lakes Drive, which offers views from the road, and the Vermillion Lakes Trail, which offers views from the shore of the lakes.
9. Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is located just outside the town of Banff and makes for a great day tour. You can enjoy the hiking trail around the lake, or get on the water. It is a relatively large lake at 27km long making Lake Minnewanka the perfect place to take a cruise. It gives you a great insight into the history of the area and is the perfect way to appreciate the beauty of this lake.
For those who are a little more adventurous, we suggest hopping on one of the many hiking trails that surround Lake Minnewanka. Some of our favorites are the Lake Minnewanka to Devil’s Gap trail and the hike to Stewart Canyon.
If you don’t have a lot of time here you can take a drive along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Derive, which takes you right along the edge of the lake before making its way back to the town of Banff. This is one area of Banff that you don’t want to miss.
10. Cave and Basin National Historic Site
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a really cool experience in Banff. It was the original Banff Hot Springs. This national historic site takes you on a tour through a cave towards an underwater hot spring.
Unfortunately, you can’t swim in the spring anymore, but it is amazing to walk on the path to the original hot pool. Cave and Basin National Historic Site was where the Canadian National Parks system was born. It was the discovery of this original spring that lead to Banff being a protected area.
of the birthplace of the Canadian National Parks system. You can learn all about how and why Banff became the first Canadian National Park, which gives you a lot of appreciation for the ones who discovered this area.
11. the Bow Valley Parkway
There are a couple of drives you shouldn’t miss when visiting Banff and the Bow Valley Parkway is one of them. Located off the Trans-Canada Highway this two-lane scenic drive offers some spectacular viewpoints. There is the Castle Mountain Trail, Johnston Canyon, and the famous Morant’s Curve.
Morants Curve is a popular spot for photographers. If you time it right, you may have a photo of a train coming around this famous curve. If you are looking for an alternative way to explore Banff National Park which is not the typical highway that everyone takes, the Bow Valley Parkway is the perfect road to take. This scenic drive is great in both the summer and winter
12. Downtown Banff
When looking for things to do in Banff, there are plenty of things to do downtown. Cascade mountain towers over this beautiful town creating a picture-perfect scene that is famous around the world. This world-class destination is unique in the fact that it sits inside the national park. Most people base themselves in downtown Banff to experience all the great things to do in Banff Nationational Park and for good reason.
Downtown Banff has a great food scene, terrific shopping, and hotels that can be a little easier on your budget than staying at places like the Fairmont Lake Louise. Don’t miss taking in some of the local cultures at the Whyte Museum and the Mount Royal Hotel which has a small museum inside and a great art display outdoors.
Things to do in Downtown Banff
Stroll along Banff Avenue and explore the many shops, restaurants, and galleries. Visiting the Banff Park Museum, which features exhibits on the history, geology, and wildlife of the area. Soaking in the natural waters at the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Enjoying a performance or event at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Exploring the local art scene at the Whyte Museum Banff Park Museum Hiking or biking on the many trails that start right from the edge of downtown. Relaxing with a book in Central Park or watching the world go by from one of the many outdoor patios.
13. Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in Canada. It starts in Banff National Park and takes you to some of the most incredible scenery on earth. It ends in Jasper National Park with a stop at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center at the mid way point. This drive connects the two national parks and you must make this part of your bucket list when visiting Alberta. Read our full post: Driving the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper Alberta
You can drive The Icefields Parkway in one day, but we suggest giving yourself 2 and spending some time in Jasper as well. On the drive you’ll see bighorn sheep, you may spot grizzly bears and you’ll have awe-inspiring views of glaciers. Check out all the things to do in Jasper here.
Make sure to take time to enjoy its views and be sure to stop at the Columbia Icefield Visitor Center to enjoy views of the Athabasca Glacier. There is a restaurant and you can book tours to see the Glacier Skywalk, Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield.
The drive itself starts in Lake Louise and heads north for 293 km. It passes turquoise lakes and high lookouts with famous stops such as Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, the Athabasca Glacier, and the Glacier Skywalk just to name a few.
You can rent a car in Banff and we highly recommend it for having the freedome to see all the top attractions. Not only will you be able to experience cool things to do in Banff but you will also end your journey in the beautiful Jasper National park where you can explore the Sunwapta Falls, Lake Annette, and check out the incredible Jasper Park Lodge.
14. Bow Lake
Bow Lake is probably one of our favorite places to visit when we are in Banff. Located along the Icefield’s parkway and fed by the Bow Glacier, Bow Lake is a picturesque stop you won’t want to miss.
It is a great stop when driving up to Jasper National Park from Banff and we suggest hiking along the shoreline, or taking the Bow Glacier Falls Trail in the summer and getting yourself some snowshoes in the winter. You can then drop into the Num-Ti-Ja Lodge to grab a drink or to take in the history of the area.
We recommend spending a little time here if you are really into hiking. The hike up to Bow Glacier Falls not only takes you around the lake itself it offers spectacular views of the valley and you are rewarded at the end with the beautiful scene of Bow Glacier falls. It is a relatively easy hike and well worth it.
15. the Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier, which is part of the Columbia Icefield is the most-visited glacier in North America. Every year thousands of people flock here to get a chance to walk on the famous glacier and witness the beauty of the surrounding mountains.
Located around the halfway point of the Icefield’s parkway between Banff and Jasper, the Athabasca Glacier is one of those things to do in Banff that you can really brag about.
But we suggest jumping on a tour that takes you out to walk on the glacier, gaze into crevasses, and feel the power of mother nature beneath your feet. There are a couple of options, a 3-hour tour, and a 5-hour tour, depending on how much time you have and how fit you are. It does take an average fitness level but it is an experience you will never forget.
16. Hit the slopes at Lake Louise Ski Resort
IOne of the best things to do in Banff is to hit the slopes and go skiing or snowboarding. Banff has 3 ski resorts (Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Norquay) that are relatively close together and the conditions here are ideal.
The most famous of all the ski resorts in Banff is Lake Louise. This is the premier ski destination in Alberta and when you see the views surrounding you on the slopes you know why. Lake Louise hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics and its world-class slopes have terrain for everyone from beginner to expert.
Soaring mountain peaks surround you as you enjoy the over 400 acres of skiable terrain on the 10 chair lifts. The trails here cater to all levels and if hitting the slopes is what you love to do then we suggest adding the Lake Louise Ski Resort to your list.
Lake Louise Gondola
In the summertime take the Lake Louise Summer Gondola is open for wildlife viewing. It is one of the best places to safely view grizzly bears. But you may also see black bears, lynx, moose, elk, and mountain goats. You can book guided hiking tours,
17. Sunshine Village Ski Resort
Sunshine Village is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Banff and is usually the first to get snow, so it naturally has the longest ski season. It has 12 Chairlifts and over 3000 acres of skiable terrain, making it perfect for every level of skier or snowboarder.
When we snowboarded here we stayed right on the mountain at Sunshine Mountain Lodge which has Banff’s largest hotel hot tub so, after a day on the boards, we could soothe your aching muscles in the tub. Not a cheap option but definitely worth it if you want to splurge.
In the summertime, Sunshine village transforms into one of the premier hiking destinations in the park. There are so many hikes in this area, that you will want to give yourself a few days to explore a few for yourself.
If you are looking for family ski resorts in Banff, Norquay is an excellent choice. Norquay is the closest ski hill to Banff Town and is great for a day trip or for families.
If you want to try something different, head over to do some snow tubing. It’s the ultimate couch potato thrill ride. You ride the magic carpet to the top, let them put you on the tube, and push you down the hill. All you have to do is hoot and holler all the way down!
19. Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay
Besides skiing and snow tubing at Mount Norquay, try your hand at its Via Ferrata. This thrilling and unique climbing experience allows visitors to scale the rugged cliffs of the Canadian Rockies while safely harnessed to steel cables and iron rungs. This guided climbing route is perfect for both novice and experienced climbers, offering a one-of-a-kind adventure with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The Via Ferrata route at Mount Norquay is a multi-pitch climb and the route is divided into several sections, with each section offering a different level of difficulty and challenge. Climbers are outfitted with a harness, helmet, and climbing gear, and are attached to the steel cables at all times, ensuring maximum safety.
As climbers ascend the mountain, they are treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the Banff Town, the Bow River Valley, and the snow-capped peaks of Rocky Mountains. The climbing route also includes several suspension bridges and a heart-pumping freefall swing.