There are endless amounts of fun and unique experiences in Banff National Park.
Known for its beautiful scenery and snow-covered mountains, Banff has plenty of activities and attractions to choose from during the winter and summer months.
Here are 10 fun things to do while visiting Banff.
1. Watch the sunrise at Two Jack Lake or Moraine Lake
If you’re looking for a breathtaking moment in nature, you won’t want to miss the sunrise at Two Jack Lake or Moraine Lake.
Pictured above, Two Jack Lake is a gorgeous emerald-colored lake located only 15 minutes from the town of Banff. It is accessible by a 2-mile loop trail that is appropriate for all skill levels. The way the sun hits the beautiful green shades of the lake while rising is truly unforgettable and best enjoyed with a mug of hot coffee. There is also a campground nearby if you want to spend the night in the Two Jack Lake area.
Another great option for a sunrise viewing is at Moraine Lake, which is located close to Lake Louise. Getting to Moraine Lake can be difficult during the summertime as it is a very busy tourist destination. Therefore, your best option is to try and get there as early as possible, so you can beat the crowds but also enjoy the peaceful sunrise.
If you plan on visiting Moraine lake during the winter season, It is important to note that it can only be accessed by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing during the winter, as the main road is closed.
2. Go Hiking
Banff is the ultimate place to go hiking and take in the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
There are thousands of trails to explore that feature everything from lakes and waterfalls to snow-capped mountain peaks. From a few hours to multi-day excursions, no matter what your skill level is there is a trail for everyone to enjoy.
While hiking, you’ll want to keep an eye out for lots of wildlife. Animals such as bighorn sheep, elk, and grizzly bears are often spotted in Banff National Park along with mountain goats and moose.
If you do come across wildlife, please remember to keep your distance and respect their space.
You can explore the trails on your own or hire a guide to lead the way. A guide will provide you with lots of information about your surroundings, so you can have a deeper appreciation for Banff’s wilderness. If you really crave a once in a lifetime experience, consider going heli-hiking. Although it is expensive, heli-hiking will take you by helicopter to some of the most remote trails Banff has to offer.
3. Explore the Johnston Canyon
The Johnston Canyon is a must-do in Banff National Park. It can be visited year-round and is around a 30-minute drive from the town of Banff.
There are several hiking trails and viewpoints around the canyon, but there are two main trails to view the Lower and Upper Falls.
- The trail to the Lower Falls takes around 30 minutes to hike and is fairly flat and smooth- a great option for families with small children.
- The trail to the Upper Falls takes about 1 hour each way and the last part is quite steep, but the views from the top are incredible. It is one of the most popular summer tourist destinations in Banff for good reason.
Johnston Canyon can also be accessed during the winter months and has some fun activities. The Upper Falls freeze during the cold months and provide a chance to ice climb and ice walk. If you’ve never gone ice climbing before, not to worry, the conditions are suitable for beginners. Guides are also available for both activities for additional safety.
4. Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Upper Hot Springs is the perfect spot to relax and recharge after a day of exploring Banff. It is located at the foot of Sulphur Mountain and a quick 5 minutes south of Banff.
Here you’ll be able to take a dip in the toasty outdoor pool while enjoying a view of Mount Rundle. The pool temperature ranges between 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit and the water is 100% mineral, so you can expect it to smell like sulfur. This is the only place in Banff National Park where you find hot springs in which you can bathe.
The entry fee to the Banff Upper Hot Springs is very reasonable at only $8.30 CAD for adult entry and family passes are available. With your admission fee, you’ll receive a token for a locker, so you can safely store your belongings while soaking in the hot springs.
There is a café on-site for any snack cravings, or you can bring your own picnic lunch to enjoy on the large deck.
5. Ride the Banff Gondola
Taking a ride on the Banff Gondola is a must when visiting the Canadian Rockies and a perfect thing to do if you only have 36 or 48 hours in Banff National Park.
The gondola is less than a 5-minute drive from the town center of Banff making it an easily accessible activity.
This scenic and fun experience will allow you to visit the summit of Sulphur Mountain. Once you board your gondola and reach the peak of Sulphur Mountain in around 8 minutes, there is lots to do. You can take a stroll along the ridgetop boardwalk for optimal views of the mountain.
There is also a newly renovated state-of-the-art upper terminal building that is home to several restaurants, interactive exhibits, and a 360-degree rooftop observation deck.
If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can skip the gondola ride up the mountain and hike instead (not to worry though, you can take the gondola down once you reach the top).
Although hiking is an option, skiing is not, as sporting equipment is not allowed to be brought in the gondolas.
If you are trying to avoid crowds, it is suggested to visit the Banff Gondola before 12pm or after 5 pm.
6. Explore downtown Banff
The charming downtown area of Banff is the perfect place to wander after a busy day. The streets are lively with a variety of unique restaurants, bars, shops, and art galleries.
To really get a taste of the local culture, be sure to check out the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. If you want to learn more about the history of Banff, informative guided walking tours are also available. This 4-day itinerary includes the main highlights.
Don’t be surprised if you come across some furry friends in downtown Banff! As it is common for herds of deer to wander into the downtown region especially early in the morning.
Downtown Banff is equally as beautiful in the summer as it is in the winter.
During the summer months, the streets are decorated with flowers and there is a whimsical feeling. While the winter season in downtown Banff resembles a snowy scene out of a Hallmark holiday movie.
7. Drive the Icefields parkway
The thought of driving across icefields may sound dangerous, but rest assured, this scenic route only takes you close to the glaciers with plenty of impressive vistas as a reward.
Driving across the infamous Icefields Parkway is a must-do in Banff (and part of one of the most iconic road trips in the country). This stretch of road between Jasper and Lake Louise is one of the most scenic highways in the world. It is full of ancient glaciers, waterfalls, vast valleys, and emerald lakes.
Along the way, you’ll want to make stops at the numerous lookout points and nearby trails. With regular stops to take in the amazing vistas, it should take you around a full day of travel to drive across the parkway.
Services such as gift shops, restaurants, and hotels are only available between June and September. The only gas station on the parkway, located near Saskatchewan, also closes in October for the season.
One last practical thing to note is that there is no cellphone service along the Icefields Parkway.
Make sure to be on the lookout for wildlife during your drive as animals like bears, sheep, and wolves are often spotted roadside, so drive slowly.
8. Hit the slopes
You can’t visit Banff without spending some time on the slopes!
Banff is home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding hills in Canada, so you’ll never run out of new slopes to try.
There are several ski resorts to visit such as Mt. Norquay Ski Resort, Banff Sunshine Ski Resort, and Lake Louise Ski Resort. All three of these resorts offer world-class conditions and are suitable for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels.
If you don’t want to lug your ski equipment along while traveling, all resorts have the convenient option to rent ski and snowboard gear as well as proper winter clothing.
Now there’s more to do at these resorts than just skiing and snowboarding. All the resorts mentioned have a wide range of winter activities such as snowshoeing and tobogganing.
Those traveling with children will want to take Mt. Norquay Ski Resort into special consideration as it has a snow tube park.
If you’re planning to visit during the summer months, there is still lots to do. For example, ski resorts change their focus in the summertime and have wonderful hiking trails for guests and some resorts run their chairlifts purely for sightseeing.
9. Go snowmobiling
Anyone with a need for speed will want to go for a ride on a snowmobile.
The Banff area has many snowmobile trails of various lengths, meaning you can go for a quick ride or go on a multi-day excursion.
However, it is important to note that since Banff National Park is a protected area, snowmobiling is prohibited within its limits. There are several companies in the area that offer guided snowmobile tours, which is a great option for beginners or those who don’t want to stress about navigating foreign trails.
Depending on the type of tour you purchase and where you’re staying, you may have to wake up early to travel to nearby Golden or Panorama BC, since many tours run out of these locations.
Tours are available in two options: half-day and full-day. Therefore, if you don’t want to commit to a full day on the trails, you can easily fit a half-day tour into your schedule. Full days tours usually have additional amenities such as snacks and a provided lunch.
Snowmobiling is one of the most fun things to do in Banff!
10. Explore the Lake Louise area
The Lake Louise area is easily one of the most popular places to visit in Banff and there is just so much to see and do in this area.
- A canoe ride will leave you speechless as you paddle over the emerald-colored water and take in the surrounding views of the Canadian Rockies.
- The hiking trails are equally breathtaking and range in length and difficulty.
- Visitors enjoy combing a variety of trails to make a day’s worth of hiking. For example, trails like Big Beehive and Plain of Six Glaciers are close enough to each other to combine.
- Another unique activity in the Lake Louise area is the infamous Lake Agnes trail. The trail leads to the iconic rustic cabin teahouse nestled at the lakeshore. The hike itself should take anywhere between 2 and 3 hours and the teahouse is a great place to stop for lunch or a beverage.
- During warmer weather, stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Louise is a fun way to beat the heat. You can either bring your own SUP board or rent one nearby.
- Wintertime in Lake Louise is especially exciting as the frozen lake makes for a beautiful smooth ice rink to play hockey or figure skate on.
- And for animal lovers, there are some opportunities to practice horseback riding too.
Be aware though, this place is a crowd favorite and can get very busy! If you are bringing a car, be aware that the parking lots fill up quickly, especially on hot summer days.
There are countless exciting things to do in Banff during all seasons. From skiing and snowboarding to gondola rides and hiking- there is something for everyone to enjoy.
No matter what activity you chose, you are guaranteed to have a fun time in the Banff region!
We’re Kris & Sylvia, passionate travelers who love the freedom they get from traveling independently across our beautiful planet. For us, traveling is all about the experiences. On our website Wapiti Travel, we share no-nonsense travel tips, inspiring travel stories, and ready-to-use travel itineraries to some of the most iconic places.