Banff. It’s a place that often comes to mind when you think about Canada’s natural beauty. Full of mountain views, crystalline lakes, and wildlife, it’s not surprising that this park and surrounding sights are at the top of almost every “must—visit” list.
But Banff is more than just beauty, it’s also full of adventure, culture, and charm. Under two hours from Calgary, it’s a year-round destination — snow dusted greenery in spring, sunny in summer, full of bold autumn colours in fall, and, of course, blanketed in snow in winter. Here are the top 10 things to do once you’ve planned your trip to this world-renowned place.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
The key to a good vacation? Relaxation. Head to the Banff Upper Hot Springs to experience just that in geothermal pools of mineral water — perfect for easing tired muscles after a day in the mountains. Having been around for over 100 years, this spot is definitely popular, so it’s recommended you visit early in the morning or later at night if you’re looking for a lower key experience. At the bottom of Sulphur Mountain, you’ll be treated to great views while you soak and it’s especially pretty when snow is falling.
Canada’s first national park
If you like to boast about your trips, head to Banff if only to say you’ve been to Canada’s oldest (and first) national park. Opened in 1885, the 6,640 square-kilometre park is home to mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests, and more — perfect for wildlife and adventurous humans. In fact, the park's natural beauty draws over 3 million visitors a year. Wanting to avoid the crowds while visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site? Read these tips.
If you have a Pinterest board of travel inspiration, we know that there’s at least one unbelievably blue glacier lake pinned to it. Besides the mountains, Banff’s glacier lakes are another huge draw. Lake Louise is the most well-known, but Peyto Lake, Moraine Lake, and Vermillion Lakes are all worth a visit too. Take a hike on a nearby trail and see them from the top, or get on the water in a rented canoe for an Instagram-worthy snap.
Town of Banff
Once you’ve had your fill of fresh air, come down from the mountains and check out the Town of Banff. Here, you’ll get a sense of the local culture through its unique shops, boutiques, restaurants, and experiences. Visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies to learn more about the area, or check out the Banff Centre, a celebrated arts venue that’s home to a variety of cultural events throughout the year.
When it’s winter, that means skiing in Banff. There are three resorts within the area known as “Big Three.” Check out Mt. Norquay, the Lake Louise Ski Area, and Sunshine Village for all your downhill needs. With 8,000 acres of skiable terrain, you’ll get good use of your tri-area lift ticket.
From July to September, hiking is prime in Banff. There’s over 1,600 kilometres of maintained trails for all levels. Plus, taking a hike is a great way to escape some of the crowds in the drive-in areas of the park. Popular routes abound, but some of our favourites are Johnson Lake, Johnston Canyon Upper and Lower Falls, as well as the Bow River Loop. No matter what trail you choose, be sure to equip yourself for the terrain and journey. This means packing water, food, having a clear plan, first-aid supplies, and a light source.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
“The Castle of the Rockies” is worth paying a visit to. Whether or not you stay here, it’s a spectacular place to explore. Opened in 1888, this hotel was built as Canada’s railway expanded, and the architecture showcases the grandeur of the time. Stop in for a meal at one of their restaurants, visit the spa, stop in for a game of bowling, or just stroll through the lobby.
Glacier Skywalk and Columbia Icefield
You can’t come to Banff without checking out the famed icefields and glaciers. Particularly the Columbia Icefield, the largest one in the Rocky Mountains. You can book a tour in an Ice Explorer (a big-wheeled vehicle designed to roll over the icy terrain) or see it from above at the Glacier Skywalk. This cliff-edge walkway and series of glass platforms overlook the Sunwapta Valley. Here, it’s really all about the views.
Gondolas and sightseeing
Speaking of views, the Banff Gondola is a great way to experience the park from above. Very close to the village, this 8-minute ride takes you to the summit of Sulphur Mountain — almost 2,300 metres up! Once at the top, take in the view, set out on one of the hiking trails, and check out the interpretive centre. If you’re looking for more vantage points, there are more gondolas and sightseeing chairlifts in other areas of the town.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Just when you thought you’ve seen all the beauty this place has to offer, Cave and Basin National Historic Site enters the picture. Here, you’ll find stunning caves to explore, trails to discover, and lots of activities to keep you entertained. Try the Discovery Tour, where you’ll visit five areas of interest with a Parks Canada guide. By night, there’s an evening tour where you explore entirely by the light of a lantern.
With inspiration in mind and breathtaking photos to persuade you, learn more about booking your trip at the Travel Alberta website.