There’s hardly a better place to experience Canada’s majestic autumn season than Banff. Fall is one of the best times of year to visit Banff National Park, trading in the heavy tourist crowds of summer for cooler temperatures, and, of course, the beautiful fall colours that Canada’s so famous for!
Not sure where to go in Banff in autumn? Plan your perfect Canadian Rockies autumn getaway with this guide to visiting Banff in fall…
Why visit Banff in fall?
With the summer tourist season winding down into the autumn shoulder season, Banff starts its quiet descent into cooler temperatures from its warmest summer highs.
Fall in Banff starts in mid-September, both officially and unofficially. Along with the cooler weather, September also brings with its the changing of colours.
Entering Banff National Park in late September to early October, you’ll be dazzled by its striking fall colours, particularly its distinctive larch trees, one of the only coniferous trees to change colour and lose their needles in autumn.
Autumn in Banff is also a fantastic time to go hiking. With the summer crowds gone, the hiking trails in Banff National Park are far less crowded. You might even get to have some epic views all to your own!
Unlike during spring, the famous glacial lakes of Banff National Park won’t be frozen. In autumn, you’ll get to experience some of the top places to visit in Banff like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Peyto Lake in their full technicolour glory.
Keep in mind that the best time to visit Banff in fall is between mid-September and mid-October. By mid- to late October, the weather in Banff starts to take a sharp turn. Blizzards aren’t unheard of towards the end of the month.
By November, the last official month of fall in Banff, things are already starting to feel a little wintry. November marks the beginning of Banff’s long ski season with the snow starting to fall and the top ski resorts in Banff opening their runs to skier & snowboarders.
Places to see in Banff in autumn
Undeniably one of the top places to go in Banff National Park for autumn colours, Larch Valley is an absolute must-see for your fall Banff trip.
Larch Valley is considered one of the best hiking trails in Banff National Park & the Canadian Rockies, and at no time of year does it shine better than in autumn.
The 4.6-kilometre-long Larch Valley hike is set among a dense thicket of larch trees, shimmering in the fall with their distinctive golden yellow needles with the majestic Ten Peaks as a backdrop.
The Larch Valley trailhead shares a parking lot with the insanely popular Lake Moraine. You’ll need to start out in the wee hours of the morning to grab a parking spot.
One of Banff National Park’s most iconic places, Moraine Lake is a must-see all year-round. Visiting this turquoise glacial lake in fall, however, is an extra treat!
While there are better places in Banff for seeing the fall colours in full force, one of the biggest reasons to visit Moraine Lake in autumn is to escape the worst of summer crowds.
Although fall is still a busy time of year at Moraine Lake (you’ll still need to arrive very early in the morning to secure a parking spot), it’s nothing comparable to the rush of tourists on any given summer day. Especially on weekends!
Keep in mind that the road to Moraine Lake closes in mid-October after the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. If you want to access the lake and nearby hiking trails after that, you’ll need to hop on a pair cross-country skis. (Assuming there’s snow, of course!)
Among the finest glacial lakes in the Canadian Rockies, Peyto Lake is, understandably, one of the coolest places to see in Banff for travellers.
Visiting Peyto Lake is fall, however, is particularly magical as the high season crowds of July to August fall off and the fall shoulder season begins. (Not that you’ll have the views here totally to yourself, but it’ll be at least a little quieter!)
At just 2.7-kilometres and gaining only 111 metres in elevation, the Peyto Lake Trail is one of the easiest & most accessible hikes in the Banff area. It’s one of the best fall activities if you’re travelling to Banff with kids.
The trail is currently closed for construction but should be re-opened by spring 2021.
Among the best places to visit in Alberta, Lake Louise is stunning in any season. Although the area is more popular for winter activities like alpine & cross-country skiing, visiting Lake Louise in autumn is also a fantastic idea!
To catch the top Lake Louise tourist attractions at their very best in autumn, spend the night in Lake Louise and wake up before the sun rises to see the lake, the forest, and the surrounding mountains bathed in a soft golden light.
Fall will also be your last chance in the hiking season to tackle the Lake Agnes Trail, among the best hiking trails in Lake Louise. The famous Lake Agnes Teahouse usually closes in September. Time is of the essence!
Located about a half an hour north of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway, Bow Lake sits among the largest lakes in Banff National Park and is near the top of the list of what to see in Banff in fall.
To experience Bow Lake at its best, hop onto the Bow Glacier Falls Trail. The hiking trail runs from the northern shores of Bow Lake to its southwestern corner before heading further southward through a valley towards the falls.
Among the most accessible hikes from Banff Town, Sulphur Mountain is a great place to visit all year-round. Heading up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain is especially fun in the autumn shoulder season as the tourism numbers slip to more manageable levels and the Bow Valley becomes awash in gentle fall colours.
Thanks to the milder temperatures, tackling the Sulphur Mountain Trail is a fantastic idea in September and October. There’s often a sprinkling of snow along the trail by the end of October, creating a magical scene to behold.
Although November still officially falls within the autumn season, things get a little less comfortable as the temperatures plummet and the winds tend to pick up. At the end of fall, visitors often prefer travelling to the top of Sulphur Mountain on the Banff Gondola. The gondola operates year-round, zipping up 2,281 metres to the summit where you’ll find restaurants, observation decks, and more hiking trails including to the Cosmic Ray Station.
Getting to Banff National Park in autumn
The closest airport to Banff is Calgary International Airport (YYC), located about 140 kilometres east. The drive to Banff from YYC is approximately 90 minutes in ideal driving conditions.
By far, the easiest way to get to Banff is by car. Driving from Calgary to Banff via the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1), expect about a 90-minute drive. From Jasper to Banff, along the scenic Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), it’s about three and a half hours.
Keep note that if you’re driving into the park, you’ll need to purchase a pass from Parks Canada. If you’re planning on spending more than a week between Banff and other Canadian national parks, you’ll save by purchasing an annual Discovery Pass. You can get more information and book your passes here.
There’s a handful of options for getting to & from Banff by bus from other popular Alberta destinations including Calgary and Jasper, although many of the bus routes start to wind down their schedules into fall. You can find information about the various shuttles, tours, and bus routes at the Banff & Lake Louise Tourism official site.