— BANFF, ALBERTA, CANADA — When planning your visit to Banff, you might want to write a list of places and activities that you want to explore on your next visit. Each season offers a plethora of activities to do. For those who love nature, make sure you visit some of the breathtaking lakes or rivers. There are also many waterfalls to explore.
Winter brings cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, hiking, dog sledding, or, for those who love extreme sports, ice climbing or backcountry skiing.
Spring brings warmer weather, fewer people, fresh mountain air, and longer days. Hiking in Spring is breathtaking and refreshing. It is the perfect time to take out your hiking boots and explore the surrounding trails.
Summer brings sunshine, mountain adventures, and moments full of vivid beauty. It provides you the opportunity to take a break from your busy life. It allows you the chance to have fun and feel rejuvenated.
For something new, why not try rock climbing or horseback riding. Or, for those of you who love getting back to nature, explore and be wowed by the unbelievable beauty of Banff National Park’s mountains, lakes, and valleys on a scenic drive or by helicopter.
Fall brings more relaxed days, the beauty of the trees changing colors, and the perfect time to explore some hiking trails. You will find the route less busy, allowing you to take your time. Make sure you bring along your camera.
11 Best Things in & Around Banff, Alberta, Canada
1. Banff National Park
When you visualize Banff National Park in your mind, the first thing you picture is majestic mountains. You can also imagine turquoise-colored lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, ice fields, and an unlimited number of trails to explore. This famous park was settled in 1885 and is the oldest national park in Canada.
What makes this park so unique is its easy access and proximity to the vast unspoiled wilderness of the Canadian Rockies. The Park spans 6,641-square of mountainous terrain, packed with notably scenic valleys, peaks, glaciers, forests, meadows, rivers, and waterfalls.
When planning your trip, do not forget that you will have to pay an entry fee when entering Rocky Mountain National Parks. Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks can be considered one enormous park. Your entrance purchased at one is valid at all the others.
PRO TIP: If you plan to explore this area for more than a week, you might want to invest in a Discovery Pass. The annual pass is valid in 27 Canadian National Parks and 77 of Canada’s National Historic Sites.
2. Downtown Banff
The town of *Banff is nestled high in the Canadian Rockies and is within the Banff National Park. It was incorporated as a municipality in 1990 and had a population of around 8,000 permanent residents. The town covers 3.93-square kilometers. It is at an elevation of 1,383-meters, making it the highest in Canada. Monumental mountains, including Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Cascade Mountain, surround Banff.
The town of Banff is a lively place, alive with adventure and wonder and surrounded by breathtaking and rugged mountains that seem to burst straight out of the ground. You might see a herd of deer wandering down the main street during your early morning walk.
The lively streets of downtown include top-class restaurants, bars, and shops, as well as a vibrant range of art galleries and museums.
The locals are warm, open, and genuinely connected to the inspiring environment in which they live. They also offer you endless options for rejuvenation and exploration every day.
3. Lake Louise
As you walk towards the magnificent view of the aquamarine-colored water and the majestic mountains in the background, you cannot help but fall in love with this spectacular view of Lake Louise. Nature at its best. Behind you is the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Lake Louise offers endless adventures in every direction. While you explore Banff National Park, you might want to book one hotel only. Surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of jaw-dropping sights and adventures, Lake Louise is a rare place that must be experienced.
There are hiking trails that wind up to the Lake Agnes Tea House for a bird’s-eye view. You will also find a canoe dock in summer and a skating rink on the frozen lake in winter.
4. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort, surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, is nestled deep within Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Canadian Pacific Railway first opened in 1882. Surrounded by towering mountain peaks, the majestic Victoria Glacier, and a glistening emerald lake, the natural beauty of this destination infuses every nook of the historic resort.
The hotel was originally built as a base for outdoor enthusiasts and alpinists. It is a year-round luxury resort specializing in Guided Mountain Heritage programs, unparalleled skiing in the winter, exceptional food and beverage experiences, and a new spa – The Spa at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
5. Banff Gondola
While visiting Banff, make sure you give yourself time to ride the gondola up to the Gondola Summit on Sulphur Mountain. You will find the Banff Gondola at the base of Sulphur Mountain, at the end of Mountain Avenue.
The views while riding up to the summit are amazing, especially if you love nature. Once you get to the top, make your way outside to the observation areas. The magnificent views of the mountain ranges and Bow Valley will leave you breathless.
For more glimpses of this stunning view, take the boardwalk and stairs up to Sanson’s Peak. This is a must-see, although your legs will be tired.
When you are ready to head back to the Gondola Summit, give yourself some time to explore the new, state-of-the-art Above Banff Interpretative Centre.
6. Columbia Icefields
While visiting the Banff area, make sure you give yourself some time to take a tour of the Columbia Icefields. While visiting the Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Valley, it is like looking into the heart of the earth, where time moves incredibly slow. And yet, we can see change happening right in front of our eyes. This glacier was much more prominent when our family regularly visited this area many years ago.
You can get your tickets inside the Glacier Discovery Centre. Experiencing the power of nature on the Columbia Icefield Adventure is a must-do experience when visiting the Canadian Rockies. The Icefields Parkway is known as one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world.
Enjoy the 30-minute ride on one of the massive Ice Explorers to the Athabasca Glacier. Once you disembark the Ice Explorer, you are allowed 20—25-minutes to ogle at the beauty surrounding you. After you are dropped back at the Discovery Centre, make sure you visit the gift shop.
7. Columbia Icefield Skywalk
After visiting the Columbia Icefields, make sure you visit the cliff-edge Skywalk overlooking the giant glaciers perched above you and the spectacular Sunwapta Valley that lays below.
This experience features waterfalls, wildlife, fossils, and more on an exciting 1-kilometer half-moon glass walkway with a 280-m drop. There is a presentation with an interpretive storytelling format that will connect you to the natural world.
Will you have the courage to step onto the glass and marvel at the beauty all around you?
8. Scenic Drive from Banff to Jasper
While spending time in the Banff area, make sure you plan to take a drive along the scenic Icefields Parkway to Jasper. The distance is 288-km and takes around 3.5-hours. If you are planning on stopping along the way, your time will increase. Plan on an early drive so that you can explore the sights along the way. You will not regret it.
If you are a waterfall chaser, there are quite a few waterfalls, lakes, and canyons to explore along the way.
- Bow Lake (98.8-km from Banff) – A beautiful, small lake nestled within the Canadian Rockies and fed by melted water from the Bow Glacier. Bow Lake is best known for its incredible turquoise hue due to glacial silt mixing with the cold waters. There is a 3.4-km family-friendly hike along the lake’s edge from the parking lot.
- Peyto Lake (101 km from Banff) – This deep blue glacier-fed lake is a popular stop for visitors traveling along the Icefields Parkway. Throughout the summer months, glacier rock flour flows into the lake, which gives the water its breathtaking color.
Named after Bill Peyto, an early guide in the park in the early 1900s. The walk to the viewpoint starts at the far end of the parking lot. You will find an information sign and a bathroom facility. The viewpoint to the Peyto Lake Lookout will take around 10—15-minutes.
Please note that Peyto Lake will open in August 2021.
- Mistaya Canyon (130-km from Banff) – Located along the Icefield Parkway towards Jasper is Mistaya Canyon, formed by the Mistaya River. The canyon is famous due to its distinctive curvy canyon walls. A 1-km round trip hike from the parking lot takes you down to a bridge over the gorge, giving you a great view of the deep slot canyon.
- Sunwapta Falls (234-km from Banff) – Located along the Icefields Parkway, Sunwapta Falls consists of upper and lower waterfalls fed by the Athabasca Glacier. The upper falls, which are easily accessed from the viewpoint parking lot, have an impressive drop-off of about 18.5-m. A 1.3-km hike takes you down through a lodgepole pine forest to the lower falls. Here you will see three waterfalls spread over the Sunwapta River.
- Athabasca Falls (257-km from Banff) – Located along the Icefields Parkway using Highway 93A, you will find plenty of free parking and a stroll to the falls. Athabasca Falls, 23-m in height, may not be the tallest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies. However, it is still one of the most powerful waterfalls due to the amount of water flowing into the gorge from the Athabasca River. There are quite a few platforms and walkways where you can safely view and photograph the falls.
9. Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway offers something for every visitor heading towards Banff National Park. You will find excellent road cycling, world-class hiking, or even just a quiet spot to have a picnic lunch. This 50-km scenic route runs parallel to the Trans-Canada highway, offering a tremendous alternative drive to connect Banff and Lake Louise.
10. Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is tremendously popular throughout the peak summer season when parking lots fill up before sunrise. If you plan to visit Moraine Lake from May to October, the best way is to reserve a Parks Canada shuttle ahead of time. MPT (Mountain Park Transportation) offers a round trip to Moraine Lake.
You will also find several hikes around the lake ranging from accessible walks to more strenuous hikes. The trek around the Moraine Lake Shoreline (3-km return) is the easiest way to explore the beauty of this famous lake. It is a flat, easy trail that weaves its way through shoreline trees. It offers extraordinary views of the Ten Peaks, a series of encircling summits all over 3-km.
11. Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is located 25-km from the town of Banff and 33-km from Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway. Parking is quite limited. Arrive early in the morning, especially between June and August.
The two most popular trails are the lower falls (2.3-km) and upper falls (5.1-km, with an elevation of 262-m). After about 1.1-km, you will reach the lower falls. You will find a better view after you cross the bridge over the creek.
Once you pass through a small tunnel, it opens across from the mouth of the falls. Continue towards the 30-m high upper falls. You will find multiple catwalks and lookout points along the entire trail, giving you an amazing and unique view of each of the falls and the canyon.
For a different perspective, continue 265-m further to the viewpoint at the top of the upper falls. Beyond the falls, a trail continues up and over a forested ridge to a meadow where water bubbles from deep below the Earth’s surface into shallow pools called the Ink Pots.
For those of you who enjoy getting back to nature, Banff is the ideal place to visit. You will find a plethora of opportunities to explore the natural beauty in every season. Whether you love skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, kayaking, or just relaxing, Banff offers you the perfect place to unwind and marvel at the beauty of nature.
*See more Banff things to do, places to stay, where to eat, and an events calendar HERE.
**Opening photo ©Kim Jackson
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