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. Visiting in autumn, you trade 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?
The summer tourist season winds down into the autumn shoulder season. By September, 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 dazzle at its striking fall colours. Most impressive are its distinctive larch trees. They’re 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 experience some of the top places to visit in Banff at their best. Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Lake Agnes, and Peyto Lake will all be at 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 wintry. November marks the beginning of Banff’s long ski season. Snow starts to fall and the top ski resorts in Banff & Lake Louise opening their runs to skier & snowboarders.
Places to see in Banff in autumn
Undoubtedly, Larch Valley is one of the top places to go in Banff National Park for autumn colours. The distinctive larch trees of Larch Valley are an absolute must-see for your fall Banff trip.
Larch Valley is one of the best hiking trails in Banff National Park & the Canadian Rockies. And at no time of year does it shine more than in autumn.
The 4.6-kilometre-long Larch Valley hike is set among a dense thicket of larch trees. In the fall, they shimmer with their distinctive golden yellow needles. The majestic Ten Peaks form their dramatic 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.
PRO TIP: The Larch Valley area is known to be home to many grizzly bears. It’s a good idea to hike in groups of at least four at this time of year and to carry bear spray in case of emergency.
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 to see the fall colours in full force, the main reason to visit Moraine Lake in autumn is to escape its usual crowds.
To be sure, 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. But it’s nothing compared 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!)
Peyto Lake is among the finest glacial lakes in the Canadian Rockies. It’s no surprise many list Peyto Lake as one of the coolest places to see in Banff for travellers.
Visiting Peyto Lake in fall, however, is particularly magical. When the high season crowds of July to August fall off and the fall shoulder season begins, it recaptures its quiet beauty. (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. The area is most popular for winter activities like alpine & cross-country skiing. But 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. Wake up before the sun rises to see the lake, the forest, and the surrounding mountains bathed in a soft golden light.
Fall also marks the winding down of the Lake Louise hiking season. It will also be your last chance to tackle the Lake Agnes Trail, one of the best hiking trails in Lake Louise. The famous Lake Agnes Teahouse usually closes in September. Time is of the essence!
Bow Lake is 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. From here, it heads southward through a valley towards Bow Glacier Falls.
Among the most accessible hikes from Banff Town, Sulphur Mountain is a great place to visit all year-round. Hiking to the summit of Sulphur Mountain is especially fun in the autumn shoulder season. In fall, tourism numbers slip to more manageable levels. The Bow Valley also 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 less comfortable. In November, the temperatures begin to plummet and the winds 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. At the top, 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 buy a pass from Parks Canada. If you’re planning to spend more than a week between Banff and other Canadian national parks, you’ll save money with an annual Discovery Pass. You can get more information and book your passes here.
Getting to & from Banff by bus from other popular Alberta destinations, including Calgary and Jasper, is normally a cinch. Many of the bus routes start to wind down their schedules into fall though. You can find information about shuttles, tours, and bus routes at the Banff & Lake Louise Tourism official site.