There are so many things to do in Banff, the oldest national park in Canada, that I can’t wait to come back to it. It’s my favorite place on earth!
We visited Banff National Park during our 15-day Canadian Rockies trip, and fell completely in love with its rugged mountains, its turquoise lakes, and wildlife. This park, covering over 2,500 square miles within the province of Alberta, is full of hiking trails and breathtaking views that you won’t easily forget.
Back in the 1880s, rumors of hot springs in Banff led the Prime Minister to designate about 10 miles of land as the Banff Hot Springs Reserve. Over the years, the Canadian Pacific Railway company took advantage of the potential increase in business by building accommodations in Banff, helping it become one of the most exclusive holiday destinations in Canada.
The best way to visit this still wild national park is by renting a car in Calgary, which has the closest international airport to Banff. From there, it takes a little over an hour to get to Banff.
If you don’t want to drive, you can also take this shuttle from the airport that leaves you in downtown Banff, and use this hop-on hop-off tourist bus to visit the most popular attractions in Banff National Park.
To help you plan your trip, I’ll share the top 25 activities in Banff, Canada, that you can’t miss. Are you ready to explore the Canadian Rockies?
1. Walk around downtown, a fun thing to do in Banff
Downtown Banff, Canada is the first place you’ll see when you get to the national park. It’s a small area with a charming atmosphere, and the locals are warm and friendly.
Along with hotels and shops, there are several museums and historical sites. Go to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies to learn more about the history of the mountains or stop by the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, which focuses on the indigenous First Nations people.
There are other cool things to do in Banff, such as visiting Central Park along the Bow River. Across the river is the Banff Indian Trading Post, where you can find unique gifts and indigenous products.
If you’re here during the summer, the Cascade of Time Garden is a tranquil place to go in Banff. It’s a small place, but it’s worth seeing, and it can be a romantic place to go as a couple. The garden has beautifully manicured lawns, flower beds, and butterflies that you can watch from a shady bench.
For dinner and drinks, head to Park Distillery or Rose and Crown, the oldest pub in Banff. Then, get a good night’s sleep so you can explore the national park!
2. Ride the Banff Gondola, an exciting thing to do in Banff National Park
Just 5 minutes from downtown Banff, you’ll find the sightseeing gondola. Riding the gondola is one of the best things to do in Banff, especially if it’s your first time here.
The gondola is a can’t miss attraction in Banff, but you should book a ticket in advance. During your ride, you’ll get 360° views of the area. Once you get to the top, spend some time on the observation deck or the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk. To get the best views, walk an extra half-mile or so along the Parks Canada Vista Trail to Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Observatory.
If you visit between January and April, you can see the Alpenglow Festival, a celebration of the winter sunset on the mountain peaks. This unique Banff activity takes place every Friday and Saturday evening during the festival, and it’s a great chance to enjoy rooftop fire pits, stargazing, ice sculptures, and refreshments.
3. Upper Hot Springs, a relaxing attraction to visit in Banff, Canada
While you’re riding the sightseeing gondola, you’ll see the Upper Hot Springs, one of the top attractions in Banff. This is the site of the original hot springs that were discovered in 1883.
The Upper Hot Springs is just one of the nine natural thermal baths in Banff. These pools are 5,200 feet above sea level, but the mineral water ranges from 98° to 104° F, so it’s always cozy. Plus, while you soak, you’ll have great views of Mount Rundle, so this is a must-do in Banff.
There is an admission fee to get in, but the facilities are modern and comfortable, and there’s even a cafe on-site. As we mentioned in our guide to the best hotels in Banff, the Fairmont Banff Springs is a beautiful castle-like accommodation less than 10 minutes from the Upper Hot Springs, and was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway company back in 1888.
Even if you aren’t staying overnight, relaxing in these thermal baths is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Banff, so consider adding it to your itinerary. Just be aware that the water flow is the lowest in the winter, and may cause the springs to close, so plan accordingly.
4. Lake Minnewanka, a beautiful place to see in Banff
Lake Minnewanka is a huge glacial lake and a good place to do some sightseeing in Banff National Park. At 460 feet, it’s the 2nd-longest lake in the Canadian Rockies.
Indigenous people in the area refer to the lake as the “Water of the Spirits,” and there have long been myths of a merman in the lake. If you go to the Banff Indian Trading Post, you can see a skeleton display of the creature.
Since the lake is so large, it offers some of the best activities in Banff, such as lake cruises, hiking, and biking. We followed the trails to Aylmer Lookout, and took the path past Stewart Canyon. However, be mindful that grizzly bears frequent this area at certain times of the year, and the trails can be closed or otherwise require you to hike in a group.
At the southwestern tip of Lake Minnewanka, it narrows to create the much smaller Two Jack Lake. We stayed at the lakeside campground and had beautiful views of the Milky Way with Mount Rundle in the background. I recommend planning some time to explore this area, as it’s a great thing to do in Banff in the summer.
5. Cave and Basin National Historic Site, a can’t-miss attraction in Banff
Cave and Basin National Historic Site is one of the coolest places to visit in downtown Banff, Canada. It’s a historic site because it’s near the hot springs where the national park was established. Cave and Basin is also the only cavern large enough to accommodate several groups of people.
The site is near the Marsh Loop Trailhead, a beautiful scenic spot. From there, you have to walk through a manmade tunnel to the natural grotto. You’ll pass a restored 1916 swimming pool along the way.
Visiting this area is a good thing to do in Banff as a family, and you can go on your own or take a guided tour. As you get closer to the hot springs, you start to smell the minerals and feel the temperature change.
The odor of Sulphur may throw you off, but the place is worth seeing. This is one of the best kid-friendly activities in Banff, as there are interpretive displays about the geology of the area. It’s also a pretty place to see, and something unique to do in Banff National Park.
6. Vermilion Lakes, the best place to see the sunset in Banff
The Vermilion Lakes are one of the best places to visit in Banff National Park, especially for photographers. The three lakes originate from the Bow River valley, and one of them has a hot spring.
If you travel along the Vermilion Lakes road, you’ll find the Vermilion Lakes Viewpoint. Here, you’ll have stunning photo opportunities of the mountain backdrop and placid waters. It’s a must-see in Banff at any time of day.
That said, I suggest you visit at sunset because the views at this time are incredible. It’s one of the most popular places to photograph in Banff since the colors and ambiance are so magical. If you stay there after the sun goes down, you’ll get another treat, as the area is a beautiful spot for night photography, too. So if you’re into photography, check out our guide to learn how to photograph the Milky Way.
During the day, the Vermilion Lakes provide plenty of recreational opportunities. You can bike or hike, enjoy some canoeing, or look for wildlife. The area has lots of moose and bears, so keep your eyes peeled.
7. Lake Louise, a breathtaking place to visit in Banff National Park, Canada
Lake Louise is one of the most famous attractions in Banff, and while it’s touristy, I recommend checking it out. This glacial lake is known for its striking turquoise color, which you have to see to believe.
Just overlooking the lake and the Victoria glacier, you will find the massive Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise that was also built by the Canadian Pacific Railway company, in 1890. If you want to stay at this hotel, you will have to book months in advance since it’s one of the best luxury resorts in the national park.
The surrounding area is also a gorgeous place to explore, so I suggest spending a day or two here. That said, this area is frequented by grizzly bears, so, before your trip, check out our guide on how to survive a bear attack, especially if you’re going to do some hikes to more secluded areas.
One of the most popular hikes goes to Lake Agnes Teahouse, a fun thing to do in Banff in the summer, which I’ll mention in the next section.
There are other hikes in the Lake Louise area, so I suggest checking out the Lake Louise visitor center, just a couple of miles away, to get a hiking map.
8. Hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse, one of the best things to in Banff
As I mentioned earlier, you can take a hike from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes. The journey takes about an hour, and on the way, you’ll pass Mirror Lake, another attraction in Banff worth visiting.
During the hike, you’ll come to the Lake Agnes Trail View Point. This scenic spot is well worth the effort and looks like an idyllic postcard. Carry on for a few more minutes, and you’ll arrive at the Lake Agnes Tea House.
This little rustic tea house overlooks Lake Agnes and is the best place in Banff to refresh and recharge. The tea house is unique in that it has no running water or electricity. The staff sends supplies to the little house via horse or helicopter.
It’s over 100 years old, one of the oldest in Canada, and it has the homiest atmosphere. Inside, there is a stone fireplace, and you can sit outside and peruse the extensive tea menu. The tea house is open from June to Canadian Thanksgiving, and it’s cash-only.
If you’re wondering what else to do at Banff National Park, take a hike along the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. After a little over an hour, you’ll get to another quaint tea house that overlooks the incredible Victoria glacier. It’s a moderate back trail with lovely mountain views along the way.
9. Visit Moraine Lake, the best thing to do in Banff with kids
Lake Moraine is another must-see in Banff. This huge glacier-fed lake, a 20-minute drive from Lake Louise, is quite a treat for your eyes.
The lake has an electric blue color and is surrounded by the Valley of Ten Peaks. The scene is a favorite tourist attraction in Banff, Canada, among photographers. You’ll get the most magnificent views of the area at sunrise when the sun paints the peaks in an orange glow.
You can go canoeing on the lake or explore the nearby hiking trails. Some of the most popular routes are the Rockpile Trail and Sentinel Pass, which does a loop through a larch pine forest and passes by the Ten Peaks and Paradise Valley. The Consolation Lakes Trail is another easier option that takes about 2 hours roundtrip and gives you nice views of the area.
Hiking around Lake Moraine is a great thing to do in Banff, but be sure to go in the warmer months, as the area is closed off in the winter. Also, if you plan to stay overnight, the Moraine Lake Lodge is one of the nicest accommodations with private balconies overlooking the lake.
10. Go skiing or tubing at a ski resort, a must-do in Banff National Park
A ski trip is one of the best things to do in Banff in winter. Plus, this area has several great options if you want to hit the slopes.
One of the most popular places is the Lake Louise Ski Resort. The area has been a popular skiing destination for nearly 100 years, and today there are 145 runs, an all-terrain park, and full-service lodges. Plus, the sightseeing gondola is open year-round and offers panoramic views of the surrounding glaciers.
A visit to Banff Sunshine Village is another fun thing to do in Banff for families. It gets the most snow out of all the ski resorts in Banff. You can also visit this resort during the summer and follow the walking trails through alpine meadows.
The last of the three major ski resorts in Banff is Mount Norquay Ski Resort. It’s a good place to go in Banff if you like snowboarding. Along with the snowboard park, there are 60 runs and a sightseeing lift that operates during the summer months.
11. Bow Valley Parkway, a stunning place to go in Banff National Park
The Bow Valley Parkway is the old scenic route between Banff and Lake Louise. Most tourists go to Lake Louise using the Trans-Canada Highway because it’s faster, but the Bow Valley Parkway is much more fun.
The route snakes along the Bow River, so follow it to find some picnic areas and access points to several trails and other stuff to do in Banff.
It’s also a great spot for wildlife viewing, especially if you stop by the Hillsdale Meadow Viewpoint, which is gorgeous in the fall and a good place to see elk. We even saw grizzly bears and many deer here. Check out our guide all about how to spot wildlife in the Canadian Rockies if you want some tips.
If you keep going northwest, you’ll get to Johnston Canyon, another popular area I’ll mention in a bit. Before arriving to Lake Louise, you will also pass through Castle Cliff Viewpoint and Morant’s Curve, another important landmark in Banff National Park.
12. Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots, the best hike in Banff National Park
As I mentioned, the Bow Valley Parkway leads to the Johnston Canyon, an incredible thing to see in Banff, Canada.
This is a prime hiking area that leads to beautiful waterfalls and hot springs. The Johnston Creek begins in a glacial valley at Castle Mountain and flows through Johnston Canyon. Thousands of years of erosion and water flowing through the limestone has created a gorgeous backdrop of pools, falls, and canyon tunnels.
Walking through the canyon is one of the best things to do in Banff if you want to get to know this area up close. It takes just 10 minutes to walk from the Johnston Canyon Trailhead to the Lower Falls. From there, it’s about a mile to the Upper Falls, which cascade 130 feet into a large pool.
If you’re up for it, you can hike another two miles or so to the Ink Pots. Not many people make it to this beautiful attraction in Banff, but it’s worth the extra energy. For me, it’s one of the most stunning views you will find in this national park.
The Ink Pots are six spring-fed pools, each with a pretty blue-green color. They vary from clear to milky and are quite cold, so don’t jump in!
There are other hiking trails in the area, so I recommend checking the hiking map on the official Parks Canada website.
13. Castle Mountain Viewpoint, another amazing place to go in Banff
One of the most unique sights in Banff is Castle Mountain. It is appropriately named because the mountainous peaks make it look like a castle or fortress. The distinct shape is the result of years of erosive layers of shale, limestone, dolomite, and quartzite.
If you’re looking for one of the best viewpoints to visit in Banff National Park, head from the Bow Valley Parkway to the Trans-Canada Highway, using the Banff-Windermere Highway.
After crossing the Bow River, you will find an animal fence at your right that you can open and sneak through. Siting at the Bow Rivershore to enjoy the stunning views of Castle Mountain is one of the most romantic things to do in Banff National Park.
This is a spot that not many tourists know, but if you’re into photography, you should check it out.
14. Photograph Morant’s Curve, another must-see in Banff
Another iconic attraction in Banff is Morant’s Curve. This viewpoint became famous after Nicholas Morant, a photographer for the Canadian Pacific Railway, shared his beautiful panoramas of the mountain scenery and Bow River. To this day, photos of this emblematic place promote tourism to the Canadian Rockies via the train company.
Morant’s Curve is a popular place to visit in Banff National Park among tourists and landscape photographers. The area looks great at all times of the year, so you can get wonderful views no matter when you go. Sometimes, you can catch a train winding around the curve, creating a picturesque scene that you won’t find anywhere else.
This spot isn’t exactly a designated tourist attraction, so it’s not always easy to find. To get there, follow the Bow Valley Parkway and you should come across Morant’s Curve before you reach the town of Lake Louise. You can also check the map at the end of this guide to help you find it!
15. Bow Lake, a spectacular place to see in Banff National Park
Bow Lake is not as popular as Moraine Lake or Lake Louise, but it should still be on your Banff to-do list. You will pass through this gorgeous turquoise lake when driving the Icefields Parkway north, and you can take in some incredible sights during your time here.
A few of the best views include the Crowfoot Glacier, the Crowfoot and Bow Mountains, and Mount Thompson, whose reflection you can see in Bow Lake on a clear day.
One of the best things you can do here is to stay at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, which was built before the Icefields Parkway even existed. This historic lodge is also one of the best hotels in Banff, but has less than 15 rooms, so you should book in advance if you want to stay here.
From Bow Lake, it takes a few hours to hike to the Bow Glacier Falls, another must-see attraction at Banff National Park. Also, if you’re up for it, I recommend visiting the Wapta Icefield, which is spread out between Banff and Yoho National Parks. The icefield is easy to access both during the summer and winter and includes the Bow Glacier and Peyto Glacier.
16. Peyto Lake, a tranquil place to go in Banff, Canada
Not far from Bow Lake is Peyto Lake, another beautiful glacier-fed lake I recommend visiting. A hike to this lake is a good thing to do in Banff in the summer, as the water takes on a bright turquoise color. The iconic shade of blue is a result of glacial rock flour flowing into the lake.
Peyto Lake is along the Icefields Parkway. If you park at the Bow Pass and Peyto Lake Viewpoint, it’s about a 20-minute walk to the lake deck, where you will have the most beautiful views of the lake.
This is my favorite lake in the Canadian Rockies, so I consider it a must-see in Banff National Park. Actually, we visited on three different days in May, so we were able to see the lake melt in the late spring. All the natural elements come together and create a stunning scene, especially when the bright blue lake contrasts with the green alpine forest.
17. Visit Mistaya Canyon, something fun to do in Banff
While you’re traversing the Icefields Parkway, stop by the Mistaya Canyon. It’s quite easy to access, and it’s another iconic tourist attraction in Banff.
After turning into the parking area, it’s about a third of a mile to the canyon, and there is a short trail you can follow. This is definitely something to do in Banff during the summer because the path is too icy and dangerous in the winter.
Also, I suggest getting to Mistaya early in the morning so you can avoid the crowds that come here in the afternoon. This canyon is beautiful, so it’s one of the many places to go in Banff that are worth getting up early for!
When you get near the canyon, you’ll hear the roaring waters as they flow over huge rocks. This foamy water originates from the glacier and has a mesmerizing milky-blue color. Just be careful while you’re here, as it can get quite slippery.
18. Hike around Tunnel Mountain, a free thing to do in Banff
Tunnel Mountain is unique in that the town of Banff encircles nearly the entire mountain. So, during your stay in downtown Banff, you’ll get used to seeing Tunnel Mountain.
That said, the beauty and majesty of this mountain never get old. The area offers numerous hiking trails through the wooded landscape. Many visitors take the Tunnel Mountain Trail, an easy route to the mountain peak.
You can also hike the trails encircling Tunnel Mountain. To do so, park at the Surprise Corner Viewpoint further south, where you will get nice views of the Bow Falls. From there, follow the Hoodoos Trail, where you will have partial views of the Bow River.
It takes about 3 miles to reach the Hoodoos Viewpoint, and along the way, you’ll pass the Tunnel Mountain Campground. Then, you can come back to downtown Banff by following the path that continues parallel to the Tunnel Mountain Road.
19. Climb Mount Cory, something interesting to do in Banff
Mount Cory is another mountain near the Trans-Canada Highway. With its highest elevation at almost 9,200 feet above sea level, it’s one of the best spots in Banff that overlooks the Bow River Valley.
This area is a prime spot for hikers and mountaineers, and there are some different trails to take around the mountain. They’re quite challenging, but if you’re an experienced hiker, it could be a cool thing to do in Banff. The Mount Cory back trail is a little over 5.5 miles, while the Edith-Cory Pass circuit hike is almost nine miles long.
Another distinct feature of this mountain is the “Hole in the Wall” cave. It’s a gaping hole in the western side of the mountain. This is a natural cave, and it’s about 100 feet deep, but not the easiest to get to. However, you can see this Banff attraction from the Trans-Canada Highway.
20. Go rafting at Kicking Horse River
Taking a journey along the Kicking Horse River is one of the best things to do in Banff with kids. The river runs through the Canadian Rockies and passes through Banff and Yoho National Parks. If you’re in Banff, you can find the river 10 minutes north of Lake Louise Ski Resort.
The river gets its name from a Scottish explorer who reportedly got kicked by a packhorse while crossing the river. His name stuck, and while you won’t see any horses along the river, its electric blue waters are worth checking out. Besides, three waterfalls originate from the river, although they are at the Yoho Park.
The river is also a popular spot for white-water rafting, one of the top activities around Banff that I recommend. This 3-hour rafting tour includes a guided rafting ride along class-2 rapids as well as all the rafting gear. It’s an exhilarating experience that will get your adrenaline up!
21. Mount Assiniboine, a fun thing to do in Banff
I’ve shared my top places to visit in Banff, but I want to add Mount Assiniboine, which is in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, but borders Kootenay and Banff National Parks.
This mountain is known for its distinct pyramid shape, and it’s also one of the tallest mountains in the Canadian Rockies, hovering over 11,800 feet.
The lakes surrounding Mount Assiniboine set a lovely backdrop for this magnificent summit. Lake Magog, Sunburst Lake, Cerulean Lake, and Og Lake are to the north, while Lake Gloria and Marvel Lake are to the east. There are a few campgrounds around the lakes but the most popular one is the Lake Magog Campground.
No roads lead to this park, so the only way to get to Mount Assiniboine is to hike or take a helicopter ride. The most common hikes are from Sunshine Village Resort in Banff National Park and from the Mount Shark Trailhead. Both hikes are around 18 miles, so it makes it for a great multi-day trip.
If you opt in for the helicopter flight, you will get to Assiniboine Lodge in just 10 minutes, but it costs around CAD 200$. Flights depart from the Canmore Alpine Heliport, about a 10-minute drive from Banff.
Given the tricky accessibility of this mountain, and the stunning views you get from there (especially from the Niblet point), I think visiting it is a good thing to do in Banff in the summer.
22. Drive the Icefields Parkway to Jasper National Park
After doing all the best activities around Banff, hop on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) and drive to Jasper National Park. The scenic Parkway runs for 140 miles, giving you sweeping views of the Canadian Rockies.
Some of the top stops at the Icefields Parkway are the Columbia Icefield, the Athabasca Glacier, the Glacier Skywalk, and Athabasca Falls. The glacier forms the Sunwapta Falls, which many consider the most photogenic falls in the area.
Driving along the Icefields Parkway is an awesome free thing to do in Banff, but check out our guide on things to do in Jasper National Park if you want to know what else you can do once you get to Jasper.
If you want to spot wildlife, drive from Medicine Lake to Maligne Lake across Maligne Road. You’re sure to see different species.
Moreover, check out the Valley of the Five Lakes, a good hiking spot if you want to stretch your legs and see these five green water lakes. I also suggest checking out Pyramid Lake and Island, another scenic area where you can rent a canoe. Also, you can enjoy some relaxation at the Miette Hot Spring, another beautiful spot.
If you’re looking for things to do near Banff, spending a couple of days in Jasper National Park is the best option!
23. Yoho National Park, another place to visit around Banff
Yoho National Park is just 15 minutes from Lake Louise and offers some of the highest peaks and gorgeous ice fields in the Canadian Rockies, so you should visit it too!
Yoho has some of the best things to do near Banff, so don’t pass it by. First, check out Wapta Falls, which originate from the Kicking Horse River. I highly recommend Takakkaw Falls, which are an astounding 990 feet tall.
If you’re not sure what to do around Banff, Emerald Lake is a must-see. It is the largest of the 61 lakes in Yoho, and this is where we spent a night we’ll never forget. We rented a cabin at the Emerald Lake Lodge and saw the Northern Lights in Canada for the first time, so for us, it’s the best thing to do in Yoho National Park.
Another incredible lake is Lake O’Hara, but it’s only accessible by bus or hike, and only during the summer months. This beautiful body of water is a striking sight and a favorite climbing spot for many people. It was inaccessible when we went to the Canadian Rockies in May, but I hope to come back soon.
24. Kootenay National Park, another place to go near Banff
On the other side of the Continental Divide in Banff, you’ll find Kootenay National Park. A few Banff attractions bleed into Kootenay, although Kootenay National Park has plenty of unique sights to see.
The northwestern area of the park is where you’ll find the Vermilion River and all kinds of natural wonders. You can hike to Numa Falls and continue north for another hour or so to see the ochre-colored Paint Pots. From there, it’s just 35 minutes to Marble Canyon, an intriguing natural gorge near Tokumm Creek.
I also suggest seeing Helmet Falls, the 11th-tallest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies at over 1,150 feet. The falls descend over several cliffs and create a striking sight known as tiered horsetails.
Another fun thing to do around Banff is visiting the Radium Hot Springs in East Kootenay via the Sinclair Canyon Trail. The hot springs complex has two pools, one at about 100° F and the other at 84° F. As you can guess, the name comes from the radioactive element in the mineral water. The radium levels aren’t harmful to most visitors, and the odorless water is higher in elements like calcium and magnesium.
25. Canadian Rockies helicopter tour, the best thing to do in Banff
Of all the things to do in Banff, Canada, one of the most unforgettable experiences is a helicopter ride over the Canadian Rockies. Seeing these majestic mountain cliffs and serene lakes from a birds-eye view is a one-of-a-kind trip you won’t regret.
I recommend this helicopter tour, which will give you panoramic views of icefields, waterfalls, and lakes. You can choose a 20-minute or half-hour ride, and the excursion includes a 1-hour snowshoeing trek through the alpine forest along the Cline River. The tour provides all the necessary gear as well as complimentary hot chocolate for all your hard work.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so it’s one of those Banff activities that you’ll want to invest in.
Now that you know all the best things to do in Banff, you can start planning your perfect trip. I’ve included this map of Banff National Park tourist attractions to make it easier to organize your itinerary.
I know you’ll love the attractions in Banff and the surrounding national parks, but don’t hesitate to ask me your questions. Leave a comment, and I’ll help as much as I can.