If you’re looking to experience the Great White North to its fullest on the ultimate Canada itinerary, you simply need to indulge in the best things to do in Banff, Alberta.
As the base of exploration for the pristine Banff National Park, the town of Banff in the Western Canadian province of Alberta is among Canada’s best retreats for nature-lovers.
Dabbling in the top tourist attractions in Banff National Park, you can experience everything from crystalline glacial lakes nested in the Canadian Rockies like Lake Louise or Lake Minnewanka to walking among millennia-old glaciers at the Columbia Icefield.
Not sure what to do in Banff? Explore Banff National Park to its fullest with this guide to the best places to visit in Banff, Canada…
Top tourist attractions in Banff
Among the must-see attractions of Banff National Park and must-stop for any Western Canadian road trip, Lake Louise charms visitors instantly with its shimmering turquoise waters nestled among the towering Canadian Rockies.
Experiencing Lake Louise isn’t just one of the best things to do in Banff but a must-have experience for anyone wanting to see Canada’s natural beauty at its most radiant.
Aside from picking your jaw up off the ground after seeing Lake Louise for the first time, there’s plenty to see & do around Lake Louise for active travellers.
Lake Louise is surrounded by incredible hiking trails of varying difficulty including The Lake Agnes Tea House Trail, The Little & Big Beehive trails, The Devil’s Thumb, and the Plain of Six Glaciers.
Visiting Lake Louise in winter? Make sure you save some time to carve the slopes at Lake Louise Ski Resort. It’s one of the biggest & best winter resorts in all of Canada!
If you want to stay in Lake Louise for a night, treat yourself to a night on the water at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Dating back to 1890, the legendary Chateau Lake Louise is one of Canada’s most famous hotels and a must-stay for luxury travellers visiting Canada.
Of all of the best things to see in Banff National Park, the most awe-inspiring might be the indescribably beautiful Columbia Icefield.
Located in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains along the Icefields Parkway, the Columbia Icefield is one of the largest non-polar icefields anywhere on the planet and near the top of the list of Canada’s must-see natural attractions.
One of the best ways to experience this wonder of nature is with a drive along the Icefields Parkway.
It’s not just one of Canada’s most incredible road trips: A road trip along the Icefields Parkway is considered one of the most scenic drives in the entire world!
If you’ve got a stomach for heights, enhance your visit with a walk on the spectacular Glacier Skywalk. Clinging to the edge of the Sunwapta Valley, this glass-floored skybridge suspends you 280 metres above the ground for spectacular views of the Athabasca Glacier, ice & snow-capped mountains, and the glacier-carved valleys below.
The Columbia Icefields are located about 2.5 hours from the town of Banff and about 1.5 hours from Jasper National Park on the Icefields Parkway.
Yet another entry in Banff’s seemingly endless list of lovely glacial lakes, Lake Minnewanka sits with the best in the bunch and among the top points of interest in Banff National Park.
Located just five kilometres from the town of Banff, this 142-metre-deep lake stretches out over 21 kilometres and is a popular escape in the Banff area all-year-round.
Visiting Lake Minnewanka in summer? Take to the trails. Easily accessible paths carve through the area’s aspen forests and hilly terrain for some spectacular views over Banff National Park.
For summer activities & hijinks on the water, Lake Minnewanka is the only lake within the park’s boundaries to allow motorized boats. Hop onto the daily scenic boat cruises to The Devil’s Gap learn more about the lake’s history and how its indigenous name, translated to Lake of the Spirits, came to be.
In winter, locals & tourists alike strap on their Nordic skis or snowshoes to explore the Lake Minnewanka area. The well-groomed 14-kilometre-long Cascade Trail is a great option for indulging in Canadian winter fun.
Lake Minnewanka is also among the most popular spots in Banff National Park for gazing at the majestic Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). If you’re lucky enough to catch them, it’ll undoubtedly be the highlight of your trip to Canada!
Sunshine Village Ski Resort
Located just 20 minutes from downtown Banff, Sunshine Village Ski Resort is among the top winter outdoor adventure destinations in Alberta and the Western Canada region.
Thanks to its long skiing season, stretching all the way from November until late May, and plenty of natural snow, the Sunshine Village Ski Resort is often considered, not just one of the best places to go skiing in Banff, but among the top-rated places to go skiing in Canada.
The resort features 12 ski lifts including Canada’s first heated chair lift, Teepee Town LX. There’s over 3,300 acres of runs here covering the entire gamut from beginner to advanced black-diamond pistes that should probably be reserved for 007 chase scenes or the X-Games.
While Sunshine Village is often skied as a day trip from Banff, if you’re looking for a cozier ski experience, snag a room at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge.
Located at an elevation of 7,200 feet, the lodge is the only ski-in ski-out hotel in the Banff region and features a wide range of family-friendly activities and relaxing amenities including Banff’s largest hot tub.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Built upon the discovery of a geological hot water source in a cave by rail workers in 1883, Banff Upper Hot Springs has been one of the most interesting places to visit in Banff National Park for over 100 years.
Although the mineral-infused hot springs once fuelled a property boom in the area, only Banff Upper Hot Springs remains open for your relaxation enjoyment.
At the hot spring resort, you can drown out all the stresses of trip planning with a soothing soak in the hot water pools. There’s a wide array of amenities here for guests including a café and swimsuit, towel, and locker rentals.
While the springs are open year-round, one of the best times to visit is during the chilly winter months and in the cooler months during Banff’s autumn season. The views of the surround Canadian Rockies under a soft fresh blanket of snow are simply magical.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
To escape the buzz of downtown Banff, pop over to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Situated in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, this heritage site is among the most important in the history of Canadian natural conversation. It was at this very place in 1885 that Canada’s first national park, Banff National Park, was born.
To this day, the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is still among the best things to do in Banff, especially if you’re travelling to Banff with kids.
On the site’s Discovery Tour, you’ll immerse yourself into the national park’s past with a series of family-friendly interactive exhibits along with a tour of some of the historical architecture and unique geological features.
Sulphur Mountain Trail
If you’re an avid hiker and only have one day in Banff, beeline for the Sulphur Mountain Trail.
Named for the sulphurous natural hot springs beneath (yes, the same streams that gave birth to Banff Upper Hot Springs!), Sulphur Mountain towers over Banff at a dizzying height of 2,281 metres.
Got some extra energy to spare? Take advantage of the unique opportunity to hike to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. It’s not necessarily the easiest of the most popular hiking trails around Banff, but along the way and once atop, you’ll be treated to an incredible 360-degree panorama of several mountain ranges, Banff Town, and the Bow Valley.
Even if you’re not feeling as spry, enjoy a ride on the Banff Gondola to the mountaintop. Once you’ve completed the journey on the Banff Gondola, you’ll be able to tackle a number of hiking trails & boardwalks along with fuelling up at a restaurant or enjoying tremendous views from the observation decks.
The summit is also home to the Cosmic Ray Station, a National Historic Site of Canada that was completed in 1957 and used to study cosmic rays from the peak.
Along with Lake Louise, the popular and stunning Moraine Lake sits among the most beautiful sights in Banff National Park.
With its water reflecting shimmering turquoise & bluish-green hues and the Valley of the Ten Peaks forming its backdrop, the beauty Moraine Lake is almost surreal and is easily one of the most incredible things to see in Banff.
Set within the mountains at the 1,885-metre level, Moraine Lake remains frozen into the summer month of June. The end of the month is the best time to go to Banff see the lustrous colours of Moraine Lake at their absolute finest.
One of the best ways to experience Moraine Lake is by hiking around it. There are a number of hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. The most famous and easily accessible of the bunch is the Rockpile Trail, culminating in a view some iconic it made its way onto the Canadian twenty dollar bill for a decade between 1969 and 1979.
Moraine Lake is located just 14 kilometres from Lake Louise and about an hour by car from the town of Banff. Keep in mind that the road to the lake closes for the winter after the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October.
If you’re not all “laked-out” yet, we’ve got (at least) one more you need to add to your list of things to do in Banff, Canada: Peyto Lake.
Like other glacier-fed lakes in the Banff area, Peyto Lake charms visitors with its radiant blue-green colour. As the glacial rock flour flows into the lake from the Peyto Glacier during the summer melt, it reflects the light through the water to create its shimmering hues.
Thanks to its 1,800-metre elevation in Waputik Valley, the Peyto Lake area is home to some of the best hiking trails in Banff. Most popular is the hike to the Bow Summit, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. Along the way and at the summit, you’ll get to enjoy marvellous views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Peyto Lake is located just over an hour from downtown Banff, about 40 minutes past Lake Louise.
Hemmed in by towering limestone cliffs, Johnston Canyon is one of the most stunning tourist attractions in Banff and among the top choices for what to do in Banff National Park.
For visitors of all ages and fitness levels, Johnston Canyon is one of the most accessible hikes in the Banff area. To tramp through Johnston Canyon, there’s a series of well-groomed hiking trails and catwalk that slip past the canyon’s high walls, waterfalls, and the shimmering blue water of Johnston Creek.
Although the canyon is open to visitors for most of the year, the best time to visit is during the spring, summer, and fall when the trails are at their easiest.
The most popular hike at Johnston Canyon is to the Lower and Upper Falls. From the parking lot, it’s short & easy 1.1-kilometre trek through forest trails and catwalks to the Lower Falls.
Continuing on to the Upper Falls is slightly tougher, climbing around 120 metres in elevation over a 2.6-kilometre run. The views to the waterfall from the viewing platform here are simply breathtaking.
To get to Johnston Canyon from Banff, drive 25 kilometres north alongside the snaking Bow River on the Bow Valley Highway. Alternatively, the canyon is 33 kilometres south of Lake Louise.
Located just 25 minutes north of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway, Bow Lake is, yet another, stunning glacial lake set within the heart of Banff National Park.
Fed by the Bow Glacier in the Wapta Icefield, Bow Lake shimmers with spectacular blues and turquoises that change depending on the angle of the sun in the sky. The jagged peak of Bow Summit provides an incredible backdrop for some seriously Instagrammable photo ops!
If you’re visiting Banff in fall, be sure to pencil in a journey to Larch Valley. Located a few kilometres from Moraine Lake, the valley is famous for its namesake larch trees, among the only coniferous trees to lose their needles and change colours in autumn.
After you’ve admired the beauty of Larch Valley, extend your hike with a short 1.5-kilometre walk to Sentinel Pass. Set a little higher in elevation, the pass serves up eye-popping views over the lovely Paradise Valley.
Where to stay in Banff for sightseeing
Thanks to its immense popularity, choosing where to stay in Banff can sometimes be a challenge. Hotels here tend to book up quickly, especially in the peak tourist months in summer and even in the winter during ski season and when the Northern Lights are in full force.
Most travellers choose to stay in Banff Town, the “urban” centre of Banff National Park. There’s also a handful of accommodation options elsewhere in the park including a cluster of hotels in Lake Louise.
- Mount Royal Hotel: Offering a relaxing modern design aesthetic, this hotel is one of the top value hotel picks in Banff. The site includes a relaxing hot tub and sauna for guests.
- Banff Boutique Inn: Situated just 5 minutes from downtown Banff, this smaller B&B-style property fuses contemporary style with alpine sensibilities for a memorable stay.
- Moose Hotel & Suites: Located just one minute from the centre of Banff, these lovely suites are the perfect place to lay down your day after a full day of exploring Banff National Park. Besides the comfortable alpine-inspired rooms, the hotel offers a full-service spa centre with a private outdoor hotel pool along with an indoor swimming pool, fitness centre, and two rooftop hot pools with views over the Rockies.
- Fairmont Banff Springs: Like its sibling in Lake Louise, this historic luxury hotel, built in 1888, is a national treasure and a must-stay if you can fit it into your travel budget.
When is the best time to visit?
For most travellers, the best time to go to Banff is between June and September. By June, most of the park’s glacial lakes will (finally!) be melted, allow you to experience their magnificent colours in their full glory. During the summer months, the trails around Banff will also be at their driest and the wildlife-viewing opportunities at their best.
Keep in mind, however, that the months of July and August are the busiest around Banff. In fact, the crowds in & around Banff National Park can get a tad insane at times! Be sure to come prepared with a little extra patience.
Although there’s a lot of love about visiting Banff in summer, winter is also a great time to travel here if cold-weather activities are your thing. The ski season in Banff is among North America’s longest, starting as early as November and extending as far as May. The peak ski season at the SkiBig3 resorts—Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay—is between January and March.
From Calgary: To travel from Calgary to Banff, hop onto the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1). Banff is only about 90 minutes from downtown Calgary. Between late spring and mid-fall, you might also enjoy the even more scenic ride to Banff along the Bow Valley Parkway.
From Jasper: Banff is located 288 kilometres south of Jasper. The scenic ride from Jasper to Banff along the Icefields Parkway should take about three and a half hours.