The Ultimate Banff Travel Guide

Established in 1885, Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national park and is one of the most popular. You’ll find tons of hiking trails and unbelievably blue lakes during the summer. On the other hand, if you’re here in the winter, the park becomes a snowy wonderland, perfect for skiing, ice skating, and maybe even catching the Northern Lights. No matter when you visit, you’ll be greeted with beautiful landscapes and some of the most picturesque views in the world. Read this Banff travel guide to find out what the park offers.

Quick Overview

  • How to Get There: Calgary International Airport (YYC) is the closest major airport. It’s an hour and a half drive to the park entrance. If you plan to stop by Jasper National Park, you could fly into Edmonton International Airport (YEG).
  • Currency: Canadian Dollar – I always like to have some cash on me, but credit cards are widely accepted throughout the park
  • When to Visit: You can visit anytime, but you’ll have different experiences in the winter versus summer. Keep in mind that the lakes (like Lake Louise) sometimes don’t thaw until mid-June and freeze around November. Many roads are also closed during the winter 
  • Emergency Number: 911

WHERE TO STAY

Fairmont Banff Springs hotel
Fairmont Banff Springs

Staying in downtown Banff is very convenient as it will put you in the heart of everything. There are plenty of hotels in town, and you’ll be within walking distance of shopping and dining. If you want to splurge, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is the way to go. 

For more budget-friendly options, Canmore has both hotels and Airbnbs available. It’s just a little outside the Banff National Park entrance, and you’ll still get some great views of the Canadian Rockies.

THINGS TO DO

Banff sign outside of downtown Banff
Banff National Park

Things To Do

Downtown Banff

Downtown Banff

Downtown Banff is the perfect place to start your trip. There’s the Banff Visitor Centre where you can get more information about everything happening in the park. I’d also recommend stopping by Surprise Corner and Bow Falls, just outside of town.

This is the best place to unwind if you need a break from the trails. There is plenty of shopping with a mix of well-known stores, like North Face and Patagonia, and local shops selling souvenirs. There’s a small garden, The Cascades of Time Gardens, hidden behind the Parks Canada Administration Office. You can also learn about wildlife in the park at the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site.

Surprise Corner Viewpoint

Surprise Corner is a scenic overlook that gives you a beautiful view of the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. The parking lot is small, so most people end up parking along the road. However, you can walk there from town along the Bow River.

Bow Falls

Bow Falls in Banff National Park

Bow Falls is one of the most accessible waterfalls to access in Banff. It’s located just behind the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. From downtown, you can walk the mile along the Bow River or park at the lot for the viewpoint.

Banff Upper Hot Springs

After a long day of hiking, there’s no better way to relax than at the Banff Upper Hot Springs. While soaking in the hot spring, you can enjoy the view of the nearby Mt Rundle. The springs are open year-round, and entry is first come, first serve.

Banff Gondola

The Banff Gondola is the park’s #1 attraction. It will take you to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where you can see Bow Valley and the town of Banff. There’s even a 360-degree observation deck to get a full view of the Canadian Rockies.

Tunnel Mountain Trail

If you’re looking for a free alternative to get above Banff, consider the Tunnel Mountain Trail. It’s an easy-to-moderate hike and just over 2.5 miles roundtrip. In the end, you’re rewarded with a view of the town from above and the surrounding mountains. 

Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is another easy-to-moderate trail that takes you through a canyon carved by thousands of years of water erosion. The hike takes you to two waterfalls. It’s less than a mile to the Lower Falls and then another 1½ miles to the Upper Falls. While the canyon trail is open all year long, the Upper Falls freeze during the winter.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise at Banff National Park

Lake Louise is one of the most iconic spots in Banff National Park. This means huge crowds, especially during the summer, so get there early. 

In the summer, Lake Louise is turquoise blue due to the rock dust formed when the glaciers melt into the lake. Since the glaciers feed the lake, it stays around 60°F all summer. Canoe rentals are available (but pretty pricey in my opinion). During the colder months, the lake freezes, and you can ice skate on it (depending on conditions).       One day is enough to explore the lake so getting another hotel isn’t necessary. However, if you want to stay nearby, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a beautiful hotel and sits on the lake’s edge.

Moraine Lake

Less than a 30-minute drive from Lake Louise is another amazingly blue lake. Although it’s not as well known as Lake Louise, it still gets jam-packed. The road to the lake is closed due to heavy snowfall during the winter, so you can only visit during the summer.

Yoho National Park of Canada

Natural Bridge at Yoho National Park
Natural Bridge

Yoho National Park is an excellent option for a day trip away from Banff. It’s far less crowded and has some sights worth seeing. 

If you visit during the summer, Takakkaw Falls and Wapta Falls should be on your list of hikes. Takakkaw is one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada and is an easy 1-mile hike. Wapta Falls is the largest waterfall on the Kicking Horse River. Both waterfalls are only accessible from June to October due to road closures. Another stop you should make is Emerald Lake, the largest lake in the park. It is also a really pretty blue, like Lake Louise. Right off the road to Emerald Lake is the Natural Bridge, a rock carved by the Kicking Horse River to look like a bridge.

Icefields Parkway

Once you’ve got your fill of Banff, head up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper National Park. It’s only a three-hour drive, but I’d anticipate spending most of the day on the Parkway. It’s one of the world’s most scenic drives, so take your time and enjoy the views. You’ll want to stop by many spots, including Peyto Lake and the Columbia Icefields.

Overall

Banff National Park

With turquoise blue lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The summers and winters are entirely different, so you’ll have to go twice to experience each. I’d recommend spending at least four days in Banff, but you’ll probably want to stay even longer.

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