The resort town of Banff is nestled in Banff National Park in the Rocky Mountains along Alberta, Canada’s Trans-Canada Highway. This picturesque place is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. There’s a lot to do here too. In order to help you plan your trip itinerary, here are the23 best things to do in Banff.
- 1. Take A Hike
- 2. Cruise Icefields Parkway
- 3. Pitch A Tent
- 4. See Surprise Corner
- 5. Chase Waterfalls
- 6. Take Pictures At A Glacial Lake
- 7. Spend The Night In An Alpine Hut
- 8. Enjoy Assorted Adventure Activities
- 9. Admire Local Wildlife
- 10. Experience Backcountry Camping
- 11. Take The Banff Town Walking Tour
- 12. Learn The Haunted History Of The Banff Springs Hotel
- 13. Explore The Local Arts Scene
- 14. Hike To An Alpine Teahouse
- 15. Sample Alberta’s Locally-Sourced Dishes
- 16. Enjoy A Beaver Tail!
- 17. Sample Banff’s Craft Beers And Spirits
- 18. Have Brunch At Chateau Lake Louise
- 19. Ride The Fun Banff Gondola
- 20. Shop ‘Til You Drop In Banff Town
- 21. Soak In The Hot Springs
- 22. Hit The Slopes
- 23. See The Stars
23 Best Things to Do in Banff National Park
1. Take A Hike
Get a close-up look at Banff National Park by exploring it on foot. Take in the amazing view of the rugged Canadian Rockies and the valleys. There are hiking trails here for every level of experience.
Some of the highly recommended hikes here include the easy family-friendly Lake Minnewanka Loop Trail and the paved Johnston Canyon trail that takes you to some of the park’s stunning waterfalls. There’s also the moderately difficult Plain of Six Glaciers hike which offers great views of Lake Louise and its neighboring glaciers. Finally, there’s the difficult, challenging hike to the peak of mighty Mount Rundle! Be prepared!
2. Cruise Icefields Parkway
Driving down the exceptional Icefields Parkway is said by some to be a “quintessential” Banff activity. This highway is surrounded by great glaciers, green-blue alpine lakes, and jagged mountain peaks. Assuming you rented your vehicle, you take the previously-mentioned Trans-Canada Highway from the city of Calgary to Banff, then follow the signs to the Icefields Parkway in the direction of Jasper.
Spend a day exploring the noteworthy Columbia Icefield area. Stop at the numerous viewpoints and overlooks as well. Don’t miss the Glacier Skywalk, a huge, hanging walkway where you can take in striking views of the ice field.
3. Pitch A Tent
There are many attractive campsites in Banff. Indeed, they are found in some picturesque places in the park and have a lot of amenities as well. For example, the front-country campsites offer hot showers and running water.
They’re cheaper than the local hotels too! More importantly, camping here is a fun, easy way to get out into the great outdoors and immerse yourself in the park. It’s a lot easier than camping in other places because if you forget something or something goes wrong, you’re close to town.
4. See Surprise Corner
There are a number of different lookout points in the park. However, the appropriately-named Surprise Corner is one of the best. When you get to this popular albeit unofficial attraction, you will truly understand why it’s called that.
It offers travelers amazing panoramic views of the beautiful Bow Valley, and the Banff Springs Hotel thrusting up out of the verdant evergreens. Ah, but remember there is no official sign marking this viewpoint. Surprise Corner is found roughly five minutes out of the park on Tunnel Mountain Road not too far from town. You will know it by the scintillating scenic views.
5. Chase Waterfalls
Don’t go jumping waterfalls. It’s good advice. However, feel free to chase them in Banff. The park features a lot of waterfalls, and you can see them all “up close and personal.”
You will find some of them on hiking trails such as Bow Falls or Johnston Canyon. You can reach other waterfalls via stand-up paddleboard or kayak. Some of the park’s most popular waterfalls here are the Bow Falls, the Bow Glacier Falls, the Johnston Canyon Falls, and the Sundance Falls.
6. Take Pictures At A Glacial Lake
Many veteran visitors say their trip to Banff was inspired by striking photographs of the shining turquoise lakes and majestic mountains there. So be sure to take plenty of pictures of your own while you’re there. Some of the most popular places to shoot photos in the park are Lake Minnewanka, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake. Mind you, these lovely lakes are quite crowded during the summer. If you want to avoid the crowds and any potential photo bombs, visit early in the day, or even in late spring or early fall. Less popular yet pretty lakes include Chephren Lake, Peyto Lake, and Two Jack Lake.
7. Spend The Night In An Alpine Hut
Banff, like the Dolomites or Mont Blanc, is home to several alpine huts that people can hike or ski to and spend the night in. They provide intrepid adventurers with an immersive experience. It’s also a noteworthy compromise between a cozy cabin stay and even more challenging mountaineering.
Spending the night in one of these alpine huts is arguably one of the most memorable and unique experiences offered here. Alpine huts include both private rooms and sizable dorms. Additionally, most lodges offer food and drink for an additional charge.
8. Enjoy Assorted Adventure Activities
There’s also horseback riding. They offer sessions for both beginners and experienced riders with sessions between one and three hours. Banff also offers challenging trails for mountain bikers.
Want to avoid summer crowds? Visit in the winter. You can go on ice walks, snowshoeing, and ice skating here too.
9. Admire Local Wildlife
Banf is also known as the home of some spectacular wildlife. For big animal lovers, going wildlife watching is a great way to spend your time here. Look for black bears, deer, elk, grizzly bears, mountain goats, and more! You have a great chance of seeing them in the distance or even from the comfort of your car.
Want a closer look? Sign up for a special guided tour to various wildlife-watching spots. There are general wildlife tours and special grizzly bear tours too. Local guides will even tell you about the different species you’re seeing.
10. Experience Backcountry Camping
If you’re up to a slightly more challenging, off-the-beaten-path adventure, why not do some backcountry camping here in the less traveled backcountry camping areas? Banff is a fantastic location for backcountry camping, with stunning camping areas and hiking trails to tackle. Frontcountry camping allows you to drive your car right to your campsite and offers other amenities.
Backcountry camping requires you to actually hike to your campsite. You’ll also have to carry in all your gear and there are no amenities either. You’ll need a permit from Parks Canada too.
11. Take The Banff Town Walking Tour
Not only is there a lot to do in the park; there’s a lot to do in town too. The town’s history is significantly tied to fur trappers, indigenous residents, and European visitors. You can learn all about the history of Banff by taking the educational Banff Historic Walking Tour.
The town guide, Graham, has reportedly lived in town for more than 50 years. He is quite knowledgeable about the area. His tour comes highly recommended and will contextualize your trip.
12. Learn The Haunted History Of The Banff Springs Hotel
You might look at the luxurious Banff Springs Hotel and be reminded of a castle out of a film like Chronicles of Narnia, Nestled amidst thick evergreens in the beautiful Bow Valley, its striking spires spring from the lovely landscape. Ah, but much like a real castle, these opulent accommodations include a deep, dark history.
This high-profile hotel has played host to such celebs as Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe. Ah but the haunted halls herein are also home to a ghoulish ghost bride who expired after falling down a flight of stairs. Best not even try to book the oddly absent room 873.
13. Explore The Local Arts Scene
Are you the arty type? Banff has something for you too! The town hosts a number of different international artists and festivals every year.
Here in this hip hotspot for inspiration and creativity, you can visit the local art institutions. Every year, thousands of creative artists from around the globe travel here to attend such events as the Ice Magic Festival–for actual professional ice carvers–and the Banff Film + Book Festival. Visit the interesting Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity to see a lot of the area’s most renowned art festivals and exhibits.
14. Hike To An Alpine Teahouse
Some of the hiking trails in the park include alpine teahouses that you will see along the way. This provides visitors with yet another fun and unique experience. For those not in the know, an alpine teahouse is a small cabin on a hiking trail that offers hikers various snacks and tea that’s actually made from real local glacial water.
They generally serve sandwiches, cookies, and, of course, tea. So you’re getting a little taste of the park by stopping here. There are two hiking trails in the park that include teahouses.
They are Plain of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes. Visit in the summer though because that’s the only time they are open for business. They don’t have electricity and only accept cash. So be sure to have some Canadian currency on you.
15. Sample Alberta’s Locally-Sourced Dishes
Banff town is also home to a number of different, distinctive, amazing eateries where you can sample an assortment of dishes from specialty meats and vegan bites. A few of the local restaurants worth patronizing include the restaurant-distiller combination called Park Distillery. Saltlik specializes in enticing meat dishes.
The Bison Restaurant offers a meal with a view and a choice of both vegetarian and meat dishes. Try Nourish Bistro too. It’s a healthy eatery with a relaxed atmosphere that features an impressive assortment of amazing curries.
16. Enjoy A Beaver Tail!
Got a sweet tooth? If you want something prepared locally that’s also sweet to eat, then enjoy a Bear Tail. They are one of the country’s favorite sweet treats and you can get one in a shop smack dab in the center of town.
But just what is a Beaver Tail? We’re glad you asked! A Beaver Tail is essentially a piece of perfectly baked dough that is topped with a virtual cornucopia of candy and more!
Tasty toppings may include cinnamon, fresh fruit, M&Ms, Nutella, and more. You can choose from a number of pre-made determined combos or create your own yummy masterpiece! Beaver Tails aren’t actually unique to the town, but it’s still a Canadian favorite and a great way to reward yourself after a hard day of hiking in the park.
17. Sample Banff’s Craft Beers And Spirits
Banff is not only a great place for eats, but it’s also a great place for exceptional craft beer and local spirits. Unwind with a local adult beverage after your long day of adventure in the park. The previously mentioned Park Distillery offers homemade cocktails and even conducts tours of their distillery.
You can check out the town’s original brewery, the Banff Ave Brewing Co. There you will have your choice of several different entrees and bar snacks and, most importantly, several beers on tap. So sample some poutine, or warm pretzels, and experience this memorable brewery.
18. Have Brunch At Chateau Lake Louise
If you really want to treat yourself, enjoy brunch at the Chateau Lake Louise’s restaurant, the Poppy Brasserie. Get there early and get a table overlooking the lake. Those in the know say the view alone is worth the price of the meal.
The eatery’s extensive menu here offers dishes for both omnivores and vegetarians. They offer both an a-la-carte menu and a buffet. You need to remember though that the restaurant prioritizes seating guests of the hotel.
So, if you go there on an especially crowded day, you will probably have to wait a bit. The doors open at 6:30 a.m., so if you get there early you have a pretty good chance of being seated quickly if you arrive before the others even wake up.
19. Ride The Fun Banff Gondola
Do you love stunning views but just don’t want to hike the better part of the day for it? Then take a ride on the enjoyable Banff Gondola. This convenient cable car will take you up to an exceptional observation deck to provide passengers with some of the most incredible views in the entire park.
The gondola is available the entire year and even has a cafe and restaurant at the top. On a chilly day, you can warm up with a glass of wine or a warm drink. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset. They also offer a number of special packages to treat yourself or celebrate a special occasion.
20. Shop ‘Til You Drop In Banff Town
Shopaholics will love all the little shops that sell artisan items from the area. Shop for handmade clothing, outdoor gear, interesting souvenirs, and much more. Even if you aren’t big on buying things, window shopping is a relaxing way to unwind from a long road trip or bustling tour. Don’t miss the main drag or the visitor center. You can even park on the street.
21. Soak In The Hot Springs
After an adventurous day in the park, unwind in the welcoming Banff Upper Hot Springs. This big outdoor pool is not only full of warm water, but it overlooks the forests and mountains below it as well. Soak in the warmth and the stunning view of the setting sun.
Ah, but this is more than a relaxing activity, it is also one that’s reasonably priced. It’s CAD 8.30 per person. If you don’t take your own towel, you can rent one for an additional CAD 1.90. In fact, you can actually rent swimwear if you didn’t think to pack your own.
22. Hit The Slopes
If you’re a skier, Banff is the place to be in the winter. Indeed, it’s also a hot spot for snowboarders, and all the other winter sports fans. Banff National Park is home to a trio of world-famous ski resorts.
They are Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, and Sunshine Meadows. If you’re a hardcore skier and plan to spend your entire visit skiing, look into getting a Big 3 Lift Ticket. You’ll get access to all of the park’s ski resorts.
Additionally, you’ll be able to ride the shuttle from almost every major hotel in Banff to the resorts. The Banff ski resorts include ski slopes for people of all skill levels, from little bunny hills to challenging black diamonds. In fact, Mt. Norquay resort even offers night skiing. If you are new to the sport, you can rent ski equipment. If you decide skiing isn’t for you, you can always go ice skating or just kick back by the fire inside the lodge instead.
23. See The Stars
Stargazing in Banff is the best non-hiking outdoor activity here. The skies here are always very dark and on clear nights, visitors are treated to a multitude of majestic stars. Take a leisurely drive to Lake Minnewanka and see the stars reflecting off the lovely lake. If you’d rather not drive, simply gaze up at the beautiful sky right where you are there. You might find the experience both memorable and, with the right company, even romantic.