The Ultimate Banff Travel Guide: Must-See Locations and Experiences
From Hidden Gem Locations to Where to Eat; Discover the Best of Banff National Park
Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest and most visited national park, is renowned for its rocky mountain peaks, majestic glaciers, and breathtaking turquoise lakes. Banff offers many opportunities for adventure seekers, nature enthusiasts, and photography lovers alike. Being such a popular destination year-round, each season offers its own unique charm and activities. If you’re planning a trip to Banff National Park, keep reading this Banff Travel Guide for an array of unforgettable experiences and must-visit locations that will make your trip to Banff truly extraordinary.
Summer is definitely the most popular time to visit Banff National Park, with June-August being Banff’s highest tourist season. The longer days and warmer weather create the perfect environment for flourishing outdoor activities, such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and water sports. Here are some must-see spots and activities to make the most of your summer in Banff:
Must See Spots:
Moraine Lake: Nestled amidst towering peaks, Moraine Lake is a true gem that captures the essence of Banff’s natural beauty. Its stunning turquoise waters, framed by the majestic Valley of the Ten Peaks, create a picturesque scene straight out of a postcard. Typically, the road to Moraine Lake opens in early June, but keep in mind that the exact date can vary from year to year due to weather conditions and snowmelt. However, it’s important to note that the road to Moraine Lake is now closed to personal vehicles. But fret not! You can still experience the beauty of this scenic spot by booking a shuttle. The Park & Ride Shuttle is a convenient option, priced at $8 per person; I highly recommend booking in advance to secure your spot. If you’re keen on witnessing the ethereal beauty of Moraine Lake at sunrise, you have the option to book with the Moraine Lake Bus Company. Their early bird shuttle starts as early as 4:00 AM, ensuring you don’t miss a moment of the breathtaking sunrise. This sunrise shuttle is priced at $100, offering exclusive access to the tranquil lake during the golden hours of dawn.
Lake Louise: This gem in Banff National Park boasts stunning turquoise waters and breathtaking mountain vistas. Explore scenic hikes like Plain of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes Tea House, or take to the water with canoe rentals starting at $145 per hour at the Lake Louise Boathouse.
Johnston Canyon: Embark on the scenic trail that winds along the canyon, leading you to stunning viewpoints and the mesmerizing Upper Falls. Johnston Canyon is easily accessible from the Bow Valley Parkway, making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers.
Lake Minnewanka: Just a short drive from Banff, Lake Minnewanka is a beautiful glacial lake offering many recreational activities and breathtaking views. Explore its shores on a scenic hike, rent a boat or take a cruise to experience the lake’s beauty up close. Whether you’re fishing, picnicking, or simply enjoying the serene atmosphere, Lake Minnewanka is a must-visit destination that will leave you in awe of its natural splendour.
Sunshine Summer Gondola: Escape to the tranquil and nature-filled atmosphere of Sunshine Village with a ride on the Sunshine Summer Gondola for only $65 per person. The Sunshine Summer Gondola is a nature lover’s paradise with its picturesque hiking trails and captivating mountain vistas. This hidden gem provides a refreshing alternative to the popular Banff gondola, offering a more serene and off-the-beaten-path experience.
Lake Louise Summer Gondola: Another great gondola experience is the Lake Louise Summer Gondola, priced at $60 per person. Once at the top, there are three hikes from 1.7km to 5.9km. Just make sure to bring your bear spray because Lake Louise is prime grizzly bear area.
Rent a Vespa and Drive Around: Explore the charming town and its surroundings with the wind in your hair. Banff by Scooters offers Vespa Rentals from 1-8 hours. Prices start at $105 for a one-hour rental for 1-2 people.
Via Ferrata at Norquay: Experience the adrenaline rush of the Via Ferrata at Norquay in Banff, a thrilling combination of rock climbing and hiking. With fixed cables, ladders, and bridges, navigate the mountainside, conquer challenging sections, and soak in breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. Prices start at $195 for 2 hours.
Trail Ride: Experience the beauty of Banff on horseback with guided trail rides. Banff Trail Riders offer trail rides for all experience levels, starting at $86 for a 1-hour ride or overnight rides starting at $800. Brewster Adventures also offers trail rides in the Lake Louise area if you’d rather experience the trails via horseback.
Helicopter Ride: Witness the unparalleled beauty of Banff National Park from a unique perspective. Soar above the majestic Rocky Mountains in a helicopter, marvel at cascading glaciers, turquoise lakes, and rugged peaks. Alpine Helicopters and Rockies Heli offer incredible tours that showcase the stunning landscapes of Banff.
Hiking in Banff:
Banff National Park is a paradise for those who love hiking. To help you plan your trekking escapades, I’ve curated a list of my favourite hikes in Banff. Check out the link to my AllTrails list for detailed information. Get ready to immerse yourself in the mesmerizing beauty of Banff’s wilderness.
Banff’s crystal-clear lakes beckon you to partake in refreshing water activities. A few lakes conveniently rent canoes and kayaks straight from the shore, such as Lake Minnewanka, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake. If you have your own boat or paddle board, you can bring it out to any lake. Two Jack Lake, Vermillion Lakes, or Bow Lake are excellent spots. These serene locations provide the perfect backdrop for paddling adventures, allowing you to explore the calm waters at your own pace.
Camping in Banff:
It’s no doubt camping is very popular in Banff National Park. There are so many great campgrounds to choose from. View a list of Banff’s campgrounds here. It’s essential to plan ahead and book your campsite well in advance, as Banff’s campsites tend to fill up quickly. You can reserve your spot online through Parks Canada’s website. If you’re looking for a more adventurous camping experience, backcountry camping is also available, offering the chance to explore remote and pristine areas of the park.
Fall in Banff
Fall in Banff is absolutely magical! The autumn colours create a breathtaking display, and there’s something extraordinary about the golden larches that adorn the forests. Larch season usually happens from late September to early October; you won’t want to miss it! To find these gorgeous trees, you’ll have to hit the trails. Some of my favourite larch hikes in Banff are Larch Valley, Taylor Lake, and Healy Pass, where the most awe-inspiring scenery will surround you.
Winter in Banff
Winter in Banff is an absolute wonderland! The snow-covered landscapes and crisp mountain air create a truly enchanting atmosphere. It’s no surprise that this season draws visitors from all over the world. The winter season gets pretty cold, with average lows ranging from -15°C to -20°C (5°F to -4°F); however, there is so much to do in Banff during the winter. So bundle up and be sure to try some of the activities listed below.
Skiing and Snowboarding: The ski hills in Banff offer world-class slopes and breathtaking mountain views while catering to both beginners and seasoned skiers. There are three major ski resorts: Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mount Norquay. Make sure to check snow conditions before hitting the slopes and have a great time.
Tubing: Besides skiing, Mount Norquay also offers an exhilarating tube park where you can have a blast sliding down the snow-covered slopes on a tube, making it a perfect activity for families and thrill-seekers alike.
Tobogganing: Tobogganing is a popular activity for all ages. Banff offers plenty of hills perfect for this classic winter activity. There’s a great sledding hill behind the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel by Bow Falls, and you can even rent a sled from the hotel for only $10. Another great option is the Cascade Ponds area, which features gentle slopes perfect for family-friendly sledding.
Dog Sledding: Embark on a thrilling dog sledding journey with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours in Banff. Join their experienced guides and a team of energetic and well-trained huskies as they lead you through the winter wonderland of Banff National Park. Kingmik offers two different tours at Lake Louise from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. Feel the rush of the sled gliding across the snow, surrounded by breathtaking mountains.
Cross-Country Skiing or Snowshoeing: Cross-country skiing is my favourite winter activity. There are plenty of cross-country ski trails for all skill levels in Banff and the Lake Louise area. There are also plenty of snowshoe trails in Banff and Lake Louise. Check trail conditions before heading out, and beware of trails that may require avalanche training and equipment. The best part is that the trails are free to use; all you need is the gear which, if you don’t already have, you can rent from Banff Adventures for $25 a day.
Skating: Banff offers some magical outdoor rinks where you can glide across the ice surrounded by stunning mountain views. One of the most popular skating rinks in Banff is the iconic Lake Louise, open from mid-December to mid-April. It’s a maintained rink, and they also offer rentals at the hotel. However, one of the most spectacular experiences is skating over a natural frozen lake in Banff. Timing has to be just right, as it must be cold enough that the lake is frozen enough to skate on (about 20cm thick) and before the lake gets covered in snow, which makes it very difficult to skate on. Conditions are usually best around November-December. Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, Johnson Lake, and Vermillion Lakes are some of the best lakes for skating on. If you are unsure about the skating conditions, contact a Parks Canada Visitor Center for more information. You can also rent ice skates, helmets, and hockey sticks from Banff Adventures.
Hiking: Hiking is still possible in Banff during the winter. However, it comes with some challenges. You’ll want to find more popular and heavier trafficked trails so the trails are more clearly marked. You’ll also want to make sure to dress warm, check trail conditions before heading out, and if you’re hiking more advanced trails, have proper avalanche training and equipment, or check the avalanche forecast. Trails will likely be covered in ice, so make sure to bring your crampons, or you can rent a pair from Banff Adventures for $17.
Sleigh Rides: Cozy up under warm blankets and experience the magic of Banff’s winter wonderland with a memorable sleigh ride, perfect for a romantic ride with your partner or a family outing. Ride through picturesque meadows and serene forests with Banff Trail Riders or over the famous Lake Louise with Brewster Adventures.
Banff Christmas Market: Visiting Banff during the Christmas season? The Banff Christmas Market is an annual event held in the heart of Banff. It typically runs the last two weekends of November and the first weekend of December, costing $10 to enter. Stroll through the twinkling lights, browse the artisan stalls, and indulge in delicious treats while enjoying live entertainment. It’s a perfect opportunity to find unique gifts, savour seasonal delights, and embrace the joyful atmosphere that captures the essence of the holiday season.
Spring in Banff
Spring is a wonderful time to experience Banff with fewer crowds. As the temperatures rise and the snow begins to melt, the breathtaking turquoise lakes gradually thaw, showcasing their vibrant beauty. It’s important to note that lake thawing typically occurs in May, and some lakes may not fully thaw until June. If you plan hiking during this time, remember to check trail conditions and prepare for slushy trails.
Best Restaurants in Banff
When visiting Banff, take advantage of the opportunity to explore the vibrant food scene. From exquisite fine dining establishments to cozy cafes and trendy eateries, this mountain town offers a variety of exceptional restaurants that cater to every palate.
The Bison Restaurant: A top choice for Canadian cuisine, offering creative dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. $$$
Lupo: Serving exquisite Italian cuisine. They create an immersive dining experience that transports you to the charming streets of Italy. With mountain-view patios and private dining spaces, it offers the perfect setting to indulge in their culinary delights. $$$
Nourish Bistro: A vegan and vegetarian-friendly eatery known for its delicious and wholesome meals, showcasing a blend of flavours from around the world. $$
Magpie & Stump: A vibrant Mexican-inspired eatery offering a diverse menu of delicious dishes, from sizzling fajitas to refreshing margaritas. In the summer, enjoy your food while sitting out on their rooftop patio. $$
Hello Sunshine: Modern Japanese Cuisine and sushi bar with a groovy dining room, mountain view patio, and private karaoke rooms. $$
Park Distillery: Combining great food and spirits, this restaurant serves dishes made with locally sourced ingredients paired with their own craft spirits. $$
Whitebark Café: A local’s favourite for coffee in Banff. Serving fair trade organic coffee, loose-leaf teas, and delicious pastries. $
As you can see, there are so many great restaurants to choose from. For a more comprehensive list, visit here.
Banff Gondola: Experience the breathtaking mountaintop views of the Canadian Rockies without the need for hiking by taking a ride on the Banff Gondola. With prices around $60 per person, this remarkable journey takes you to the summit, where you can indulge in panoramic vistas from the rooftop lookout. Stroll along the boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak, or treat yourself to a delightful meal at Sky Bistro.
Banff Hot Springs: The Banff Hot Springs is open year-round and provides a perfect retreat after a day of outdoor adventures, allowing you to soak in the warm waters while surrounded by breathtaking mountain views. Located near Sulphur Mountain, admission is $16.50 per person.
Bowling:High Rollers in Banff is a lively bowling alley with a fun and vibrant atmosphere for all ages. With multiple lanes, a stylish bar, and a great selection of pizza and appetizers, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a game of bowling with friends and family.
Places to Stay in Banff
Banff offers a wide range of accommodations to suit every traveller’s preference and budget. From cozy bed and breakfasts to luxurious resorts and everything in between. Here are some of the top places to stay in Banff:
Fairmont Banff Springs: A grand and iconic castle-like hotel with luxurious rooms, multiple dining options, a spa, and breathtaking mountain views.
Rimrock Resort Hotel: Perched on Sulphur Mountain, this elegant hotel offers stunning views, spacious rooms, a spa, and fine dining options.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge: A rustic and charming lodge nestled in the forest with cozy rooms, wood-burning fireplaces, and a renowned restaurant.
Moose Hotel & Suites: A modern mountain lodge with stylish rooms, cozy suites, an indoor pool, and a rooftop hot tub located near downtown.
Tunnel Mountain Resort: Nestled in the heart of Banff National Park, this resort offers chalet-style accommodations with fully equipped kitchens, fireplaces, and access to outdoor amenities.
HI-Banff Alpine Centre: Affordable dormitory-style accommodations offering a communal kitchen and social areas.
Shadow Lake Lodge: Try staying at one of Banff’s backcountry cabins for a more secluded nature retreat. This remote lodge provides a peaceful wilderness experience near the scenic Shadow Lake. It offers comfortable accommodations, home-cooked meals, and access to picturesque hiking trails. You’ll just have to work a little harder to get here as it’s a 14km hike to the lodge.
If you’re looking for alternative accommodations outside of Banff that offer a more budget-friendly option, consider staying in nearby towns like Canmore or Golden.
These towns offer a range of accommodations, including hotels, motels, lodges, and great Airbnb options. With Airbnb, you can find cozy cabins, charming mountain homes, and unique retreats that provide a comfortable and personalized stay experience. Canmore, just a short drive from Banff (20 minutes), provides a charming mountain town atmosphere and easy access to the Rockies. Golden, located further west (1 hour past Lake Louise), offers a gateway to Yoho National Park and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
Beyond Banff: Exploring the Surrounding Areas
When visiting Banff, take advantage of the opportunity to explore the stunning, lesser-known areas of Yoho National Park and Kananaskis Country. Yoho, located just west of Banff, is a hidden gem known for its breathtaking landscapes, including Takakkaw Falls and Emerald Lake. On the other hand, Kananaskis, situated east of Banff, offers many outdoor activities and natural wonders. This lesser-known region is perfect for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and wildlife spotting. Discover hidden trails, cascading waterfalls, serene lakes amidst the rugged mountains, and a tranquil escape to the Nordic spa.
Document Your Trip With a Photoshoot
So you’ve booked your once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Banff? What better way to hold onto the memories than with a photoshoot? Booking a photoshoot is a fantastic way to document your trip and bring home stunning images of you and your loved ones amidst Banff’s breathtaking landscapes. As a photographer, I would love to come alongside you as you journey through Banff and capture images that perfectly encapsulate your Banff experience. Together, we’ll create stunning images that showcase the joy, wonder, and connection you feel in this natural paradise. Take home tangible mementos that will transport you back to the awe-inspiring scenery and unforgettable moments you shared in this stunning destination, allowing you to relive those incredible moments for years to come. Book a photoshoot with me, and let’s make your Banff memories last forever.
As an elopement photographer who has had the privilege of capturing countless love stories in Banff, I’ve had the opportunity to explore both the well-known attractions and the hidden gems of this remarkable destination. I hope this Banff travel guide has given you valuable insights and inspiration for your Banff adventure. May your time in this awe-inspiring place be filled with unforgettable moments, breathtaking scenery, and abundant joy.
I’m your elopement hype girl and a photographer for the goofball lovers + those who want to make their wedding day an adventure. I’m also the owner of a converted camper van and love exploring the outdoors. You’ll find my heart on this blog. Whether it’s documenting my real life couples or giving my brides + grooms the tips + tricks they need to plan their best elopement, I’ve poured my heart out for you here.
I'm Liv Hettinga
The Ultimate Banff Travel Guide: Must-See Locations and Experiences
"Liv is extremely talented and great to work with! She gave us enough direction in our shoots to know what to do but still left tons of room for candid, genuine moments. Nothing beats seeing real smiles and laughter in your photos! She was more than willing to collaborate and go for some sillier ideas, and was always super encouraging. She's an incredibly sweet person and we felt very comfortable to be ourselves around her. Liv's talent is beyond just the technical knowledge, she really has an artist eye for beautiful photos. Her editing style is perfect, not too dark or light but still brings personality with the warm tones she adds. I HIGHLY recommend working with Liv!!"