Banff is Canada’s most famous National Park and not only that it is the oldest national park in the country. Banff was designated as a national park in 1885 after the discovery of its hot springs by employees of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Located in Alberta just 1 hour and 30 minutes from Calgary, Banff national park is nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
There is a reason everyone flocks to Banff, Alberta. With snowcapped mountains, glacier lakes, and world-class four-season activities, it’s Canada’s outdoor playground. Banff National Park is so beautiful, that one of its most famous lakes, Moraine Lake was depicted on Canada’s twenty-dollar bill.
The only downfall of visiting Banff National Park is how busy it can get. Try to visit in the shoulder season or in winter. With skiing at Lake Louise, Dogledding, backcountry skiing, and snowshoeing there is something for everyone. Plus, the snow capped mountains of Canadian Rockies are at their most beautiful in winter.
- Location: Banff national park is located in Alberta in the Rocky Mountains just 90 minutes from Calgary.
- Size: 6641 11,000 square kilometers
Plan your trip to Banff National Park
The Best Things to do in Banff National Park
There are so many incredible things to do in Banff National Park. Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Canada’s first national park is a place of unmatched natural beauty that captivates visitors from around the world. With majestic mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and a rich diversity of wildlife, Banff is a wonderland of adventure, where visitors can ski down snow-covered slopes, hike along winding trails, and soak in natural hot springs.
Whether you’re seeking a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of city life or an adrenaline-fueled adventure in the great outdoors, Banff has something to offer everyone.
Banff and Lake Louise are two communities within the National Park and both make for a great base. With an area of 6,641 square kilometers (2,564 square miles), it is a massive protected area and UNESCO World Heritage site. Choosing the best things to do in Banff can be a challenge, so these are our suggestions of things we think you should not miss when visiting Banff, Alberta.
Banff Town itself is actually quite small and but the surrounding national park, which is the oldest of Canada’s National Parks, is where this region comes alive. A lot of the sights here are known around the world, like Moraine Lake, the world-famous Lake Louise, and the Columbia Icefield to name a few.
Be sure to purchase your national park pass in advance. Rangers do ticket the parking lots and there are no exceptions. You can purchase it at the kiosks on Highway 1 as you enter the park, or order it.
Lake Louise is the most popular attraction in Banff National Park. Tourists flock here in droves in the summer months to paddle a canoe on the pristine emerald lake and take in the beauty of the Victoria Glacier which feeds Lake Louise itself. Canoe Rentals cost $145 for day visitors. If you have the budget stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise located directly on the lake.
Lake Louise in Winter
As with most sights in Banff National Park, the world-famous Lake Louise can be visited year-round. In the winter Lake Louise freezes over and you can rent skates to do some ice skating on the world’s most beautiful skating rink.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise rents skates and you can rent all the equipment you need from from downtown Lake Louise at Wilson Mountain Sports.
It is not far from Lake Louise and is just an hour’s drive from the town of Banff. The best time to visit Moraine Lake is definitely at sunrise. When the sun hits the Valley of the Ten Peaks and reflects off of the mirror-like lake you know why this is one of the most photographed locations in North America.
Unfortunately, since the change in rules for 2023 (see below) accessing Moraine Lake for sunrise is not possible via the Parks Canada Shuttle. You will have to find a tour that has access to do this. If you ride a bike or take an organized tour you can visit Lake Moraine for sunrise.
After grabbing your sunrise shot we do suggest hitting the hiking trails. There are so many great trails in this area, but you should at least do the Moraine Lake Shore Trail. It is only 2.9km long, easy, and offers some of the most incredible views of the Canadian Rockies in the park. Most people stick to the Rockpile Trails, but you will often find this one less busy.
New Moraine Lake Rules
Please note that as of Summer 2023, you can only access Moraine Lake via the shuttle service from the Lake Louise Area, with Roam Transit, or other commercial transportation. This will cost $8 for adults, seniors $4, and kids aged six and under are free. It is recommended to book in advance on the Parks Canada Website. Parking at the Lake Louise Lodge is recommended or there are also shuttles available from the Lake Louise area.
No private vehicles are allowed on the road to Moraine Lake or the Parking Lot unless you have a disabled tag. There are daily shuttles from the Lake Louise Park-and-ride.
Lake Agnus Tea House Trail
The Lake Agnus Tea House has been serving tea since 1905 and is one of the more popular hikes in Banff. The Lake Agnes Trail which starts at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on a paved path that takes you along the north shore of Lake Louise with stunning views of the Victoria Glacier to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
The Lake Agnes Tea House itself was built by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1901 as a place where hikers could stop and rest as they hiked to see the turquoise lakes of Lake Louise and Lake Agnus. In 1905 it started serving tea and hasn’t stopped since.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Hot Springs is the most famous natural hot springs in Banff, and you can even rent an old-timers bathing suit to feel like you are in a bathhouse of the roaring twenties. This is also one of the cheaper things to do in Banff at just $10-15 CAD.
Not far from the Banff Gondola, is the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Located at an elevation of 1585 m the views of Mount Rundle and the surrounding valley are to die for. Couple that with soaking in the natural mineral water springs that are kept at a comfortable 98-104 F and you have a perfect afternoon activity.
Take the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain
One of the top things to do in Banff is to take the gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. The views from here really make you appreciate the location and beauty of Banff. There is a restaurant at the top and a fun interactive museum. There are also viewing platforms to take in different views of the Canadian Rockies and the Bow River Valley.
Once at the top of the gondola, you can take a short hike out toward the summit of Sulphur Mountain on the boardwalk. You will be rewarded with stunning views over the Bow River Valley as well as the surrounding peaks. The gondola ride itself is pretty expensive at $62 CAD per person, but you can definitely spend half a day up at Sulphur Mountain to get your money’s worth.
The Legendary Fairmont Hotels
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs Hotels are the Grand Dames of Banff. The old hotels were originally built for CP Rail passengers connecting Canada and have transformed over the years into luxurious properties. Even if you are not staying in these hotels, they are worth stopping in for a look.
Both hotels were founded by the Canadian Pacific Railway to attract tourists to the West. They have been renovated over the years and are a luxurious experience in Banff.
Banff Springs Hotel
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is not far from Downtown Banff and makes for a great base. It is also close to the Gondola, Upper Hot Springs, and Cave and Basin. From here it’s easy to take a hike to the Bow Falls Lookout to view Bow Falls. Book a night to stay here for dinner or just stop in for a coffee.
Chateau Lake LouiseFairmont Chateau Lake Louise is located directly on Lake Louise and you can enjoy all its amenities like ice skating on the lake in winter or canoe rentals in the summer. We always pick up a coffee at the Fairmont Lake Louise to take with us on a hike around the lake. But we highly recommend booking a night in this historic hotel.
Walking the path through Johnston Canyon is one of the most exciting things to do in Banff. You can do this year-round and it takes on a whole different feeling in the different seasons. We loved doing the Johnston Canyon Ice walk in the wintertime.
The full walk of Johnston Canyon in the winter will take you to six different frozen waterfalls and a deep pool of swirling water that is reached by walking through a stone arch. It is a winter wonderland like you’ve never seen.
Johnston Canyon is also beautiful in the summer as well. The trail features iron walkways overhanging the canyon, which offer some great views. There are two trails at Johnston Canyon and we suggest doing both.
The Upper Falls, where at the end of the trail you are rewarded with the magical scene of the falls plunging down into a pool that is surrounded by the canyon walls. And the Lower Falls which puts you right down in the canyon itself, with magnificent walls surrounding you as well as the falls.
The hike itself is pretty moderate and is about a 5 km round trip. If you are driving the Bow Valley Parkway, then make sure to add this to your itinerary.
Sunrise or Sunset at Vermillion Lakes
Vermillion Lakes is a series of three small lakes located in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. These lakes are known for their stunning views of Mount Rundle and the surrounding mountains. This is a very popular destination for watching sunrise and sunset.
The best time to see the sunrise or sunset is during the summer months when the days are the longest, and the sun rises early and sets late. It is also important to check the weather forecast, as the view can be obscured by clouds or fog. It is also a good idea to arrive at Vermillion Lakes early, at least 30 minutes before sunrise or sunset, to secure a good viewing spot and to take in the peaceful atmosphere of the area.
Vermillion Lakes has several scenic viewpoints and walking paths that offer panoramic views of the lakes and mountains. Some popular spots include the Vermillion Lakes Drive, which offers views from the road, and the Vermillion Lakes Trail, which offers views from the shore of the lakes.
Lake Minnewanka is located just outside the town of Banff and makes for a great day tour. You can enjoy the hiking trail around the lake, or get on the water. It is a relatively large lake at 27km long making Lake Minnewanka the perfect place to take a cruise. It gives you a great insight into the history of the area and is the perfect way to appreciate the beauty of this lake.
For those who are a little more adventurous, we suggest hopping on one of the many hiking trails that surround Lake Minnewanka. Some of our favorites are the Lake Minnewanka to Devil’s Gap trail and the hike to Stewart Canyon.
If you don’t have a lot of time here you can take a drive along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Derive, which takes you right along the edge of the lake before making its way back to the town of Banff. This is one area of Banff that you don’t want to miss.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a really cool experience in Banff. It was the original Banff Hot Springs. This national historic site takes you on a tour through a cave towards an underwater hot spring.
Unfortunately, you can’t swim in the spring anymore, but it is amazing to walk on the path to the original hot pool. Cave and Basin National Historic Site was where the Canadian National Parks system was born. It was the discovery of this original spring that lead to Banff being a protected area.
You can learn all about how and why Banff became the first Canadian National Park being the birthplace of the Canadian National Parks system., which gives you a lot of appreciation for the ones who discovered this area.
The Bow Valley Parkway
There are a couple of drives you shouldn’t miss when visiting Banff and the Bow Valley Parkway is one of them. Located off the Trans-Canada Highway this two-lane scenic drive offers some spectacular viewpoints. There is the Castle Mountain Trail, Johnston Canyon, and the famous Morant’s Curve.
Morants Curve is a popular spot for photographers. If you time it right, you may have a photo of a train coming around this famous curve. If you are looking for an alternative way to explore Banff National Park which is not the typical highway that everyone takes, the Bow Valley Parkway is the perfect road to take. This scenic drive is great in both the summer and winter.
One of the most adventurous things to do in Banff is to go ice climbing. Did you know that you can go ice climbing eight months of the year around Banff and Canmore, Alberta? The town Canmore is located just outside Banff National Park in Alberta between Calgary and Banff and you can book ice climbing tours with experienced guides at Yamnuska Mountain Adventures.
When you go ice climbing here, you’ll be climbing with the best mountaineers in the world! Our Guide, Pat of told us there are three places in the world that are the best for Ice Climbing, and the Canadian Rocky Mountains of Alberta are the tops! You don’t need experience, just a zest for adventure and a lack of fear of heights. Read all about it at Ice Climbing in the Rockies.
Two Jack Lake
First off, Two Jack Lake offers breathtaking scenery. The lake is surrounded by towering mountains, lush forests, rolling hills, and crystal-clear waters. Whether you prefer to take a leisurely stroll around the lake or explore the surrounding hiking trail, the views from Two Jack Lake are gorgeous.
The lake is a popular destination for paddling and picnicking, and there are several nearby hiking trails that offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Whether you prefer to relax and take in the views or to be more active, Two Jack Lake is sure to leave a lasting impression.
The lake is located just a few kilometers from the town of Banff, and it is easily accessible by car or bike and there is ample parking available near the lake.
Spot wildlife in Banff National Park
Great skiing, hiking, and outdoor activities are not the only things that Banff is famous for. A lot of people flock to the park to catch a glimpse of its abundant wildlife.
You are almost guaranteed to see deer wandering around the town of Banff itself, but if you are looking for the best wildlife experiences we suggest heading into the park to have the best chance of wildlife sightings.
Grizzly bears, wolves, and cougars are all in the park and you be able to see one if you are lucky and patient. We found that by going up to Jasper National Park we saw more wildlife than in Banff. Up there we saw plenty of elk walking through Jasper Park Lodge, two grizzly bears and bighorn sheep on the side of the road and mountain goats in the distance.
Visit Park Distillery
Park Distillery is a standout for drinks and dinner in Banff. Located in the heart of downtown Banff, Park Distillery produces a variety of handcrafted spirits using only the finest natural ingredients. You can book a tour for a look into their on-site working distillery.
One of the standout features of Park Distillery is that it is one of the few distilleries in the world to use 100% mountain glacial-fed water in its production process. This pristine water source comes from six glaciers high up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and is piped directly to the distillery, ensuring that the spirits are of the highest quality and taste.
In addition to the tours, Park Distillery has an on-site restaurant that serves up delicious, locally sourced food, much of which is prepared using the same glacial-fed water used in the spirits. The restaurant features an extensive cocktail menu that showcases the distillery’s spirits in unique and creative ways.
Take Sleigh Ride
The Fairmont Lake Louise offers sleigh rides along the edge of Lake Louise in the winter taking you out to the base of Victoria Glacier. It’s a beautiful ride through the forest offering mountain views and a romantic experience. Sip hot chocolate as your driver takes the reins and tells you the history of Alberta and Banff.
Stay in a Back Country Lodge
If you ever make it to the Rocky Mountains, you must make sure to go to a backcountry lodge. This is the epitome of things to do in Banff in winter. Why? Because it is where you completely get away from it all. Don’t fret too much about bears or cougars in the winter.
For the most part, they’re hibernating and if you are a party of two or three, they’ll be more afraid of you than you are of them. Imagine sitting in a log cabin heated by a wood-burning stove as the snow falls around you outside.
That is pure heaven. Sundance Lodge has an executive chef, hot water for showers, solar power, and cozy bedrooms. This is where luxury meets rustic living and if you go home and tell everyone that you trekked 16km into the Rocky Mountains to stay at a lodge, you will be the hero of all your friends. You can get to the Banff Alberta Back Country by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
Dog Sled to British Columbia
here’s only one place you can go dog sledding in Banff National Park and that is with KingMik Dog Sled Tours. Their team of dogs is fast and filled with pep and zip as they run through the Great Divide Trail all the way to the border of British Columbia.
As you are snuggled up inside a warm sleeping bag and zipped into the windproof canvas, you glide through the forest looking for lynx tracks while your guide tells you about the area, the dogs, and the scenery. On the way back, it’s your turn to drive the sled and you’ll feel like a true explorer as you mush through the old Trans Canada trail.
Take photos of the Starry Nights in Banff
Winter in Banff is the best time for night photography. The days are short so you can find dark skies as early as 6 pm.
The nights are clear revealing the milky way and the Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights). Banff is known for its dark skies and places like Vermilion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, and Bow Lake are just a few places to capture the imposing night skies.
We recommend jumping on a tour as it gets you to the best places at the right time. This sunset and stars tour is great as it runs year-round.
Snowshoe the Rocky Mountain Trails
We killed two birds with one stone during our helicopter flight with Rockies Heli, by booking the Heli Snowshoe experience. We landed on a mountain peak and hiked through the trails showcasing extraordinary mountain views.
We’ve done a few snowshoeing experiences in Banff, and this one was by far the best since it started at altitude and we were already high in the mountains. Nothing could compare to these views!
Helicopter Tour over Banff National Park
If there is one helicopter tour that you do in your life, do it over the Rocky Mountains. It’s even better to see them in winter. Dave and I have had the privilege of taking scenic flights on 6 continents, but our flight over Banff National Park offered the most breathtaking views of our lives.
Seeing Banff National Park in winter from above was the most striking scene we’ve ever witnessed. The peaks covered in snow looked like the perfect winter wonderland. Each pass offered one magnificent view after another. Rockies Heli uses are state-of-the-art helicopters with bubble windows and plenty of space to give everyone the best possible views.
Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay
Besides skiing and snow tubing at Mount Norquay, try your hand at its Via Ferrata. This thrilling and unique climbing experience allows visitors to scale the rugged cliffs of the Canadian Rockies while safely harnessed to steel cables and iron rungs. This guided climbing route is perfect for both novice and experienced climbers, offering a one-of-a-kind adventure with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The Via Ferrata route at Mount Norquay is a multi-pitch climb and the route is divided into several sections, with each section offering a different level of difficulty and challenge. Climbers are outfitted with a harness, helmet, and climbing gear, and are attached to the steel cables at all times, ensuring maximum safety.
As climbers ascend the mountain, they are treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the Banff Town, the Bow River Valley, and the snow-capped peaks of Rocky Mountains. The climbing route also includes several suspension bridges and a heart-pumping freefall swing.
If you are looking for family ski resorts in Banff, Norquay is an excellent choice. Norquay is the closest ski hill to Banff Town and is great for a day trip or for families.
If you want to try something different, head over to do some snow tubing. It’s the ultimate couch potato thrill ride. You ride the magic carpet to the top, let them put you on the tube, and push you down the hill.
Sunshine Village Ski Resort
Sunshine Village is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Banff and is usually the first to get snow, so it naturally has the longest ski season. It has 12 Chairlifts and over 3000 acres of skiable terrain, making it perfect for every level of skier or snowboarder.
When we snowboarded here we stayed right on the mountain at Sunshine Mountain Lodge which has Banff’s largest hotel hot tub so, after a day on the boards, we could soothe your aching muscles in the tub. Not a cheap option but definitely worth it if you want to splurge.
In the summertime, Sunshine village transforms into one of the premier hiking destinations in the park. There are so many hikes in this area, that you will want to give yourself a few days to explore a few for yourself.
Enjoy the Food Scene in the Town of Banff
The Town of Banff has an excellent food scene. Nothing beats Alberta Grade A beef, so head out for the night and try some local cuisine. Most eateries serve farm-to-table and ingredients are all locally sourced.
Recommendations for where to eat in Banff are:
- Sleeping Buffalo Dining Room at Buffalo Mountain Lodge
- Fine Dining at Buffalo Mountain Lodge
- The Bison Restaurant Downtown
- Park Distillery – Downtown
- Block Kitchen
Hotels in Banff
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs hotels are definitely high on the list of places to stay if you have the budget. Located right next door to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is Deer Lodge and we found this to be excellent to explore the famous Moraine Lake and Lake Louise.
But Sunshine Mountain Lodge at Sunshine Village has Banff’s largest hotel hot tub located right on the side of the ski hill where after a day on the boards, you can soothe your aching muscles in the tub. We also stayed at Deer Lodge located right next door to the Fairmont Lake Louise and it was excellent.
If you want to stay in the town of Banff, Buffalo Mountain Lodge and Fox Hotel and Suites are great options. And for a romantic winter getaway in a luxurious yet rustic cabin complete with a fireplace, we recommend Storm Mountain Lodge.
Most hotels have outdoor hot tubs and an affordable option is the Juniper Hotel.
How Far is Lake Louise From Banff?
Many people think that Lake Louise is next door to Banff, but in fact, it is a bit of a drive. Lake Louise is 57km (35 miles) from Banff. It is an easy drive along Highway 1 or The Bow Valley Parkway which is the more scenic route.
Should You Stay in Banff or Lake Louise?
It depends on what you want to do. Lake Louis is better for skiing and activities on the lake. The hotels are fully functioning with eateries and shops. But the town of Banff offers more amenities and it is closer to Banff’s main attractions like the Hot Springs and Banff Gondola. We have an entire guide on Where to Stay in Banff
Is Everything Open in Banff in Winter?
Banff and Lake Louise are fully functional in the winter. Everything is open save for hiking trails to lakes that are snowed in and many lake and hiking parking lots are closed.
How far is Banff from Calgary?
Banff is 130 km (80 miles) from Calgary or an hour and a half drive. It is 145 km (90 miles) from the Calgary Airport.
How Many Days do I need in Banff?
There are a lot of things to do in Banff and we suggest a minimum of three days in Banff. However, five days is ideal to visit Banff and be able to see its top attractions from the Icefields Parkway to the town of Banff. You’ll need one day alone to visit Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, another full day for downtown Banff and its nearby attractions and a full day for the Icefields Parkway and The Columbia Icefield.
Getting To Banff
Getting to Banff By Train
Getting to Banff by train is a great way to experience the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies while avoiding the stress of driving. Banff is located in the province of Alberta, and the nearest major city is Calgary, which is a 90 minute drive away.
We have traveled to Banff on the Rocky Mountaineer, which is a bucket list journey. This luxury tourist train has several different routes, including a route from Vancouver to Banff and Vancouver to Jasper that takes two days and includes overnight stays in Kamloops and Jasper. This option provides an opportunity to see some of the most scenic parts of the Canadian Rockies while enjoying comfortable accommodations, gourmet meals, and panoramic views from the train’s dome cars.
Another option for getting to Banff by train is to take the VIA Rail Canada service from Calgary to Jasper. This route takes approximately eight hours and passes through the heart of the Canadian Rockies, offering views of the stunning mountain scenery along the way. Once you arrive in Jasper, you can continue your journey to Banff by taking a bus or renting a car.
Regardless of the specific train you choose, there are several things to keep in mind when planning your trip to Banff by train. It is important to book your tickets well in advance, as the trains can fill up quickly during peak travel seasons.
It is also important to allow yourself enough time in Banff to fully enjoy the natural beauty we met people on the train who only gave themself one day in Banff and that simply is not enough.
Getting to Banff By Bus
Getting to Banff by bus is a convenient and budget-friendly option for those looking to experience the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Banff is about two hours by bus from Calgary.
One option for getting to Banff by bus is to take a shuttle service from Calgary International Airport. This is a convenient option for those who are flying into Calgary and want to directly head to Banff. The shuttle service usually takes about two hours and provides a comfortable and hassle-free journey to Banff. The shuttle drivers are knowledgeable and can provide information about the area and its attractions along the way.
Another option for getting to Banff by bus is to take the public transit system in Calgary, which includes both buses and trains. From Calgary, you can take the Calgary Transit bus number 300 to Banff Park and Ride, which is located just outside the town of Banff. From there, you can take a shuttle bus or a taxi to your final destination in the park.
Getting to Banff By Car
Getting to Banff National Park by car is the best way to visit Banff. Banff is a 90 minute drive from Calgary. Driving to Banff from Calgary is straightforward and relatively easy, as the trip follows the Trans-Canada Highway, which is a well-maintained four-lane highway. The drive from Calgary to Banff takes you through rolling hills and scenic countryside, and as you get closer to Banff, the scenery becomes more dramatic and mountainous.
Before you begin your drive to Banff it is important to check the weather and road conditions, as the roads can be icy and slippery in the winter months, and heavy snowfall can make driving difficult. It is also important to bring a map and a GPS navigation system, as cell phone coverage can be spotty in some parts of the park.
When driving to Banff, it is important to purchase a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which is required to enter Banff National Park. Be aware of the wildlife in the area and take precautions. Keep an eye out for wildlife on the road and avoid keep your distance from the animals. There are grizzly bears and mountain lions in the area.
Best Banff Hikes To Discover in 2023
We have been to Banff National Park a number of times in every different season and consider it one of our favorite places in Canada no matter what time of year. But to really take in all that this park has to offer you have to get out and hike. From the easier trails like Sulpher Mountain to more strenuous hikes in Banff like Corey Pass this guide will help you choose which are the best hiking trails in Banff to add to your next visit.
Tunnel Mountain Trail
The trail starts with nicely graded switchbacks and it can get a little steep in places so hiking boots are a good idea. Once you get closer to the top, you get a steady climb. You’ll see views of Vermillion Lakes, the town of Banff, the Banff Golf Course, and the imposing Mount Rundle.
Despite the steep sections, the Tunnel Mountain trail hike is considered easy and is possible to do with the whole family. It is also a perfect hike for sunrise or sunset as it doesn’t take too long and the views are incredible.
Elevation Gain: 266 Meters
Duration: 1 + Hours
Length: 4.5 KM
Lake Agnes Trail and Beehive Circuit (Little and Big Beehive)
This hike is one of the top things to do in Banff and one of the best Banff hikes as well. The hike itself is not too strenuous and is easily accessible from the small town of Lake Louise. The Lake Agnes Trail starts out on a paved path that takes you along the north shore of Lake Lousise with stunning views of the Victoria Glacier. You will then climb up into the spruce forest along some switchbacks before you reach the glistening Mirror Lake, alpine meadows, the falls, and the popular rock face called the Big Beehive.
As you leave Mirror Lake stay to the right for the best views. I am not going to lie, there’s something pretty special about finding yourself in an old-fashioned teahouse while surrounded by the iconic Rocky Mountains, turquoise blue lakes and bears, and deer to boot. Lake Agnes Tea House has been serving tea since 1905 and is the perfect place to grab a snack before continuing on to Little Beehive and Big Beehive where the views are even more spectacular.
The Lake Agnes Tea House itself was built by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1901 as a place where hikers could stop and rest. In 1905 it started serving tea and hasn’t stopped since.
This hike is extremely popular and can be really busy in the high season. This is because it is one of the easiest Banff hikes that can be completed in under 2 hours. We recommend doing it in October, before the snow to avoid all the crowds. Regardless, of when you visit though, it is definitely worth it. Please note Trail details below are for the Lake Agnes Trail only.
Elevation Gain: 435 Meters
Duration: 2-4 Hours
Length: 7.4 KM Out and Back.
Sulphur Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. Not only because it has spectacular views and is close to the town Center of Banff but also because you can take a Gondola up or down if you like. If you decide to hike up (or down) you will be treated to panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The hike up is considered strenuous as the elevation gain comes quickly through a series of switchbacks which ends at the top of the gondola for Sulphur Mountain. The trailhead is located at the Upper Hot Springs parking lot, and once you reach the summit, you’ll be able to see spectacular views of Banff, the Bow River Valley, and the surrounding peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
Because this is so close to the town of Banff it is one of the most popular things to do. That means in the summer it will be incredibly busy. But we think the views are worth it especially if you staying in Banff.
Elevation Gain: 759 Meters
Duration: 3-5 Hours
Length: 10.8 KM Out and back.
Helen Lake Trail
The Helen Lake Trail makes for an idyllic hike where you’ll be crossing rivers and streams and going through wildflower meadows and fir forests. There is a lot of adventure and fun to be had on this hike, but make sure you’re wearing the right footwear and clothing to be able to experience it in comfort.
You should definitely climb up to the ridge above Helen Lake via Dolomite Pass if you can, from there you get lovely views of the less-known and therefore undisturbed and purely blue Lake Katherine cupped in the mountain peaks.
The Helen Lake Trail hike is located off the Icefields Parkway at the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint and is a great alternative to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise if those hikes are too busy.
Elevation Gain: 540 Meters
Duration: 5-6 Hours
Length: 11.6 KM
Bourgeau Lake Trail
It is considered a moderate trail that will take you through forests of lodgepole pine and spruce all the way to Bourgeau Lake.
The lake itself sits in a glacially carved amphitheater and it’s a good idea to pack along a picnic so you can enjoy it when you get there. You might also be joined by chipmunks, squirrels, and pikas if you’re lucky.
The beginning of the trail is pretty steady until you hit Wolverine Creek. The creek is quaint, but the waterfall that pours down from it is absolutely stunning. Enjoy those views because after that you’re going to be getting into steep switchbacks, some poles could be incredibly helpful.
After all the huffing and puffing you’re going to reach the blue-green brilliance of Bourgeau Lake and have views of Sunshine Meadows and Rock Isle Lake. It’s the perfect place to stop, have a snack, and nod to yourself that the huffing and puffing were worth it. If you are feeling adventurous you can also combine this with a summit bid to Mount Bourgeau which is a 2,931-metre (9,616 ft) tall peak. This would make it a full-day hike so make sure to prepare accordingly.
You can get to the trail by taking the exit for Sunshine Village Ski Resort off of the Trans Canada Highway. You can park in the parking lot and there are restroom facilities.
Elevation Gain: 954 Meters
Duration: 4-6 Hours
Length: 13.8 KM
Lake Louise Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
This is one of the most perfect gradually elevated trails in the national park that allows for a leisurely hike. You get lovely views of Lake Louise along the way as well as Mount Victoria and the Victoria Glacier. You should note this trail can get a bit muddy as you’re along the water a lot of the time so wear appropriate shoes.
You can also bring your dog along this trail so you and your four-legged friend can enjoy the greenery and mountain flowers along your walk. The Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse is a lovely place to stop and take in the nature that surrounds you while enjoying some tea and treats.
Note: you can also get to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House by hiking from Big Beehive down to the teahouse. The downhill hike is pretty easy from Big Beehive.
This is a 14.6 KM round-trip hike that starts around the Lake Louise shoreline. To get to the trail you will need to go to the Chateau Lake Louise parking lot. Do note that this particular parking area fills up fast as it leads visitors to many trails as well as the Chateau.
Elevation Gain: 587 Meters
Duration: 4-6 Hours
Length: 14.6 KM Out and back.
Cascade Amphitheatre Trail
Cascade Mountain is named as such due to the waterfall that cascades down one side of it. Looking at Cascade Mountain from afar paints an intimidating picture and the thought of climbing it seems impossible.
It is definitely a difficult and rough climb, and that’s why hiking to the Cascade Amphitheatre is a good alternative to get close to the mountain without having to summit it.
You’ll be hiking through the dense forest at the beginning which is not all that interesting, but once you get closer to the amphitheater the trees start opening up and the sky appears. And you actually do feel like you’re in an amphitheater because of the looming mountain peaks surrounding you.
Before you get to the beautiful meadow of the amphitheater be prepared for all sorts of wildlife sightings. There have been reports of bears and elk and even cougars in the area.
What is the best hike in Banff?
That is a very difficult question to answer as Canada’s oldest national park has amazing hikes all around. One of the best could be the Tunnel Mountain hike as it gives you an expansive view of the whole park. For something that’s historic, rugged, and heart-warming, you should head out on the Lake Agnes Trail and visit the Lake Agnes Tea House.
How many hiking trails are in Banff National Park?
There are hundreds of trails in the park but the established ones total 160.
Is it safe to hike alone in Banff?
It is always better to hike in groups, especially in case of animal encounters. You should also always let someone know where you’re going before you head out on the trails. If you happen to arrive in Banff alone, you can always hire a guide to take you on the trails.
How long are the hikes in Banff?
The hikes in Banff can range anywhere from 2 KM to almost 100 KM. The shortest of hikes will take you less than an hour but the long hikes like the 72 KM Sawback Backpacking Trail can take you 3-5 days depending on your pace. Of course, there are happy mediums between the shortest and longest trails as there are plenty of day hikes available that range from 10 to 15 KM.
Tips for Banff National Park Hiking
- Be prepared for the weather: Banff can have sudden changes in weather, so it’s important to come prepared with appropriate clothing and gear.
- Plan ahead: Before you go, research the trail you plan to hike and make sure you have a map or GPS device, as well as enough water and food.
- Stay on the designated trail: To protect the natural environment and avoid getting lost, it’s important to stay on the designated trail and avoid shortcuts.
- Be bear aware: Keep a safe distance from bears and other wildlife, and carry bear spray if it’s available.
- Respect the park’s rules and regulations: Follow all posted rules and regulations, including those regarding camping and fires.
- Leave no trace: Pack out all trash and leave the park as you found it, so future generations can enjoy it as well.
- Get the right information: Always check the park website or visitor center for the most up-to-date information on trail conditions and closures, as well as information on permits, campsite reservations, and bear activity.
Where to Stay in Banff National Park
Best Hotels in Banff for First-Time Visitors
The Town of Banff is located directly in Alberta’s Banff National Park and is an excellent base for first-timers. Banff town is where you’ll find restaurants, spas, bars and plenty of accommodation. It is also the place where you can find some more budget options for hotels in Banff. Here are our top choices for hotels in Banff town.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel – Town of Banff
Luxury – Fairmont Springs Hotel: Okay, I know I said “besides” Banff Springs Hotel above, and it’s not the like Fairmont Springs Hotel needs advertising. But if you are looking for where to stay in Banff that is as iconic as it is luxury, this is heaven. The Fairmont is considered one of the best places to stay in Banff and with good reason.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is pure luxury in a historic location. It is located within walking distance of downtown (25 minute walk) and there is a complimentary shuttle to downtown for guests.
The hotel was opened in 1888 and has undergone many renovations since. It is a massive hotel with 11 restaurants, 14 shops, an indoor heated lap pool, and an outdoor heated pool.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge – Town of Banff
Mid-Range – Buffalo Mountain Lodge: If you want to be in the heart of the action of Banff proper Buffalo Mountain Lodge is a great choice for a hotel in Banff. Situated just a 15 minute walk from downtown, Buffalo Mountain Lodge offers free shuttles for guests to go out for dinner, drinks or downtown shopping.
We loved building a fire in our room as we overlooked our Rocky Mountain view from Tunnel Mountain. Staff provides kindling, newspaper, matches, and wood to create the perfect fire for a romantic or cozy atmosphere.
The Sleeping Buffalo Dining Room is a great choice for dinner featuring local fruits, vegetables, and grains plus hormone and antibiotic-free bison and elk raised on their own game ranch.
Hi Banff Alpine Centre
Budget – Hi Banff Alpine Centre : The Hi Banff Alpine Center is a top choice for budget travelers. It has dorm style and private rooms with an onsight kitchen and restaurant. It is just a 20 minute walk from downtown Banff. (4 minute drive) and is just a short drive to top Banff attractions like Cave and Basin National Historic Site, and Banff Upper Hot Springs
Where to Stay in Downtown Banff
Staying in Banff Town is great if you want to enjoy the foodie scene and nightlife. There are so many hotels to choose from in Banff, but these are ones that we have stayed at in the past and found to suit all our needs.
Basecamp Suites Banff
Luxury: Basecamp Suites Banff is located in the heart of downtown Banff just off Banff Avenue. This exclusive property has 21 elegant suites accommodating 2 to 10 guests. Each suite has a kitchen and living space
Located in Cascade Shops and Plaza, you are steps away from all the shopping and nightlife in downtown Banff. The property has two rooftop hot tubs to take in the beautiful panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies and if you want to hit the slopes, it offers free shuttles to the ski hill for guests.
Fox Hotel and Suites – Town of Banff
Mid Range: Fox Hotel and Suites: Located downtown Banff, Fox Hotel and Suites is within walking distance to all the main dining and hot spots. What sets Fox Hotel and Suites apart from other hotels in Banff is the large hot pool modeled after the Cave & Basin hot pools. The original Cave & Basin was Canada’s first national park.
We had a two-bedroom suite that echoed the perfect ski lodge setting. For roadhouse dining, we ate at Chilis Restaurant located in the lobby. When you’ve had a busy day of adventures in Banff, sometimes a quick meal at the hotel restaurant is in order.
Elk & Avenue – Town of Banff
Mid-Range – Elk & Avenue: f you want to be in the heart of the action, Elk & Avenue is completely central. Located downtown Banff, The Elk & Avenue is an excellent location to walk around the town and be close to everything. Plus it has free parking so you can road trip all around Banff National Park and the Icelands Parkway.
This Banff Hotel is basic hotel with few amenities (there’s a very uninviting hot tub in a concrete room) but for location, you can’t beat it.
Best Places to Stay in Banff for Skiing
One of the best things to do in winter in Banff, Alberta is to go skiing. Banff National Park has three ski hills. Norquay is perfect for the whole family, Lake Louise is a world class resort that hosted the 1992 winter olympics and Sunshine village is the only resort with slopeside accommodations in Banff.
Sunshine Mountain Lodge – Sunshine Village
For serious ski lovers, Sunshine Mountain Lodge is the top choice. It’s the only slopeside hotel in Banff. This luxury hotel is located at the top of the gondola giving guests the unique opportunity of being first on the hill.
With spa service, ski, and snowboard lockers, and Banff’s largest outdoor hot pool, Sunshine Mountain Lodge is a full-service winter retreat. Their restaurant offers Albertan beef and vegetarian options, and the loft rooms overlooking the ski hill are outstanding.
We turned on the gas fire and ate fresh local cheese as we looked over the ski lifts while staff groomed the trails for our day on the hill.
Lake Louise Hotels
Lake Louise is also a great place to make a base for skiing and snowboarding near Ski Louise. In the summertime there are plenty of things to do in Lake Louise as well. There are also plenty of things to do in Lake Louise from hiking, ice skating, dog sledding, and good dining options. There are a couple of Lake Louise hotels and accommodation options to choose from and here are our picks for where to stay in Lake Louise.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – Lake Louise
The sister lodge to Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Deer Lodge is located just a short walk from Lake Louise. If you are snowboarding or skiing at Lake Louise, this is a great nearby choice. During ski season, daily complimentary shuttles run from Deer Lodge to the ski resort.
Originally built in 1923 as a teahouse, it has grown and expanded over the years to a four-season lodge. The accommodation is rustic yet elegant offering fine dining at one of the most noted dining rooms in the Rockies. There is an incredible rooftop hot tub that looks out at Victoria Glacier and a new traditional dry wood sauna.
Lake Louise Inn
Mid-Range: Lake Louise Inn – When looking for where to stay in Lake Louise, it doesn’t need to be luxury accommodations to have great amenities. Lake Louise Inn makes for a superb stay with an indoor pool and hot tub, plus two on-site restaurants. There is even a lounge for apres ski cocktails. There is a free shuttle to Lake Louise Ski Resort and there is a ski storage and tune up centre. .
Rooms have views of the Canadian Rockies, flat screen TV and there are all suites apartments with a balcony and fireplace.
HI Lake Louise Alpine
Budget – Hi Lake Louise Alpine is great for budget travelers to cook inside the hostel with two kitchens. There is private storage for skis and you can get ski passes here. There is a common area with fireplace and flat screen TV. and it also has a sauna/
Where to Stay in Banff for Families
Juniper Hotel – Mount Norquay
Juniper sits at the foot of Mount Norquay making it the perfect getaway for families wanting to ski nearby. There’s a trail leading into the woods from the hotel that we took a great little hike on spying a family of deer, and the Juniper Bistro offers delicious home-cooked meals straight from the farm to the table.
Our room at the Juniper Hotel was to die for with a whirlpool bath, a wood-burning fireplace, and a leather couch propped in front of a big-screen TV. But it’s the outdoor hot tub looking at the striking Rocky Mountain view that sticks with us.
Best Wilderness and Backcountry Lodges in Banff
If you visit Banff, you really must get into the backcountry. You can ski into lodges in the winter and hike or even go horseback riding in the summer.
But there are lodges that are still in the wilderness without having to do the effort as well. To get the true feeling of Banff, you must stay in one of these lodges.
Sundance Lodge – Backcountry Banff
It may not be a typical hotel in Banff, but when visiting the National Park, you really need to get out to the backcountry at least once. Sundance Lodge is a cross-country ski or snowshoe in during the winter months, or a horseback ride or hike in the summertime.
The 10-room log cabin is nestled on the bend of Brewster’s Creek in the valley of the Sundance Mountain Range. Located 16km from Banff, it takes you away from it all where you can truly get away from cell service, noise, and light pollution.
You are in the true Canadian wilderness but you’re not roughing it. Your stay offers a personal chef, wood-burning fire, hot showers, and solar heating. A great Rocky Mountain escape awaits.
Storm Mountain Lodge – Banff National Park
Storm Mountain Lodge – For the truly romantic getaway in Banff, Storm Mountain Lodge is our top choice. Guests stay in private cabins ranging in size for couples to families with a spectacular view of Storm Mountain.
The lodge was originally built as a way for the Canadian Pacific Railway to attract more tourists to the Rocky Mountains in 1922. Eight log cabins are still used by guests today. Storm Mountain Lodge is completely self-sufficient with water, power, and sewer creating a sustainable green environment.
Our cabin had a fireplace and sofa where we sipped wine reminiscing about our day before dining at their all Canadian menu. It’s fine dining in a forest setting, nothing could be more superb. It’s a bit away from it all and that is exactly the way we like it.
Holiday Inn – Canmore
We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Canmore during the holidays one year and it is an affordable hotel in Banff. Located just off Highway 1, it offers easy access for driving to Banff, Jasper, Calgary, and Lake Louise. There is a good restaurant, renovated rooms with flat-screen TVs, free Internet and like most hotels in Banff, there is a hot tub!
Stoneridge Mountain Resort
Stoneridge Mountain Resort is a proper resort that is about a 10-minute walk from Canmore. This all suites hotel rooms have kitchens so it is perfect for families. Another cool thing is it has an outdoor heat pool that can be used year-round!
Where Can you Stay Near Banff?
Kananaskis Lodge – Kananaskis
Located 45 minutes outside of Banff, Pomeroy Kananaskis Lodge is an excellent choice for a luxurious escape. It is attached to the Nordic Spa that is a popular Banff Attraction unto itself. Kananaskis is a superb place to make a home base for a couple of days to explore the area around Canmore and Banff.
It’s not too far away, but it is also relaxing enough to escape the hustle and bustle that Banff sees in the summertime and ski season.
Yes, you can visit Banff from Calgary. Banff is 100 km (60 miles) from Calgary and many people do day trips from Calgary. We recommend staying in Banff or one of the closer towns, but Calgary can be a good option too as it is a great city with plenty of things to do!
We have stayed at this boutique hotel in Calgary a few times and it is outstanding. Even if you are only staying the night in Calgary before heading on to Banff, this is a great choice. The Hotel Artis is a luxury boutique hotel that goes the extra mile. Located in the heart of Kensington Village, it has a cool and funky vibe that is great for nightlife.
Taxis to downtown ranged from $11 to $13. They offer free bike loans at the hotel and it is located along the pedestrian path running along the river.
More Calgary Hotels
Budget – Best Western Plus Downtown offers guests spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains. Offering studios along with one and two-bedroom suites enjoy free breakfast and WiFi while being mere steps from the downtown fun.
Mid-Range – In the heart of Calgary, you will find several mid-range hotels, including International Hotel & Spa. The hotel offers generous room sizes, complimentary continental breakfast, a gym, and a heated pool.
Families – Although just out of downtown, Grey Eagle Resort is a great option for families. With separate living spaces and interconnected rooms, each member of the crew will have their own private space. Add in mountain views, a swimming pool along with an onsite restaurant and you have a winning combination.
Can you Stay in Banff National Park?
Yes, there is accommodation in Banff National Park. Banff Town is a community located completely within Banff National Park and there is plenty of accommodation from budget to luxury. Check out the Fairmont Banff Hot Springs, one of the best places to stay in Banff National Park.
Where to Stay in Banff in the winter?
The best place in winter is near Lake Louise. It is close to the ski hill, ice skating on Lake Louise, and many other winter activities. Check out our top choice the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Where to Stay in Banff on a Budget
There are hostels in Banff offering affordable accommodation including the Hi Banff Alpine Centre and Banff International Hostel in Banff Town.
Where Can You Stay Near Banff
There are other places to stay in Banff besides Banff Town. Canmore, Lake Louise, Kananaskis, and there are many mountain lodges in the surrounding area and backcountry lodges in the Canadian Rockies.