Post Summary: 20+ Epic Things To Do In Banff, Canada
The default location for a honeymoon is on a warm tropical beach, right? Not for us!
Berty and I love the outdoors and seeing incredible places, so we quickly decided that road tripping to the Canadian Rockies was a must for our first few weeks as husband and wife.
Whether a honeymoon, family vacation, or a backpacking trip in the wilderness, Banff has a little something for everyone.
In this post, we’re sharing the research we did from our last few trips, and telling you all about the adventurous things to do in Banff National Park!
We hope you can find some activities that will spark your interest and get you outside!
20 Adventurous Things To Do In Banff, Canada
Admire The Blue Water of Lake Louise
The striking emerald blue-green colors comes from the silt that is carried down the mountain into the lake by the glacial runoff.
There are many activities to do here at Lake Louise, including canoe tours, walking the boardwalk around the lake, staying at the Fairmont Chateau (right on the water!) and even taking a hike up to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
Adventurers Tip: Lake Louise is one of the most popular photo spots in Banff National Park.
If you want to avoid the crowds, we suggest these three things: 1.) Come very early in the morning, ideally before 8 am, 2.) Come late at night, after 7 pm or 3.) take some of the many trails around the lake to get a new perspective.
Any of these options will let you escape the crowds and enjoy the glacial blues in peace.
OR, you can stay right on the lake!
Visit The Shimmering Moraine Lake
A short drive away from Lake Louise (8.7 miles to be exact!), this glacial-fed lake is glowing with blue-green water and stunning views of the Valley of Ten Peaks.
Visitors commonly hike The Rockpile Trail, which is one of the most photographed locations in the entire country!
Fun Fact: A picture of Moraine Lake was displayed on the reverse side of certain publishing years of Canada’s twenty dollar bill!
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a dip in the water (but it’s going to be verrrrrry cold).
We recommend coming here for sunrise so you can see the light play on the mountain peaks!
Take A Cruise On Lake Minnewanka
This dreamy lake cruise was probably the highlight of our first trip.
This panoramic, 1-hour cruise around Lake Minnewanka provides breathtaking mountain scenery, opportunities to see wildlife, and views of these beautiful blue waters.
We were able to learn from a charismatic tour guide about why the water is so blue (spoiler: it’s the minerals in the water), the kinds of wildlife that live in the area, and the history of how these mountains and lakes formed.
If you are looking for things to do in Banff, this is an incredible way to spend an afternoon.
We felt so acquainted and informed with the land after just one hour on the boat – it gives you more of an appreciation for the Canadian Rockies!
Read More: How To Save Money While Traveling
Ride The Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola is a newly redesigned mountaintop experience that includes indoor exhibits, a 360-degree view observation deck, and amazing restaurants.
The observation deck and boardwalk sits at 883 meters (2900 feet) that gives visitors stunning views of the Sulphur Mountain and the Canadian Rockies.
There is also an option to hike instead of taking the gondola. Hiking is free, but it’s a super challenging hike: almost 2,200 feet elevation gain, 3.4 miles, and will take you about 3.5 hours to finish!
Find the Banff Gondola here: 100 Mountain Avenue, Banff, Alberta – 403-762-2523
Capture The Reflection At Vermillion Lakes
Immediately west of the town of Banff (just off Highway 1) is a series of three lakes called Vermillion Lakes. They are
This is a popular place to photograph a sunrise or sunset. The relatively calm and undisturbed waters of the lakes provide a beautiful setting to catch the reflection of the sky, the colors, and of course, Mount Rundle.
If you are coming in the summer, remember to arrive early to grab a spot for your camera – the place fills up quickly with photographers.
Read More: Our Complete Travel Photography Gear List
Be Awestruck By Mt. Rundle
Yes, this is the mountain you will admire when you go to Vermillion Lakes!
Mount Rundle is viewable from the towns of Banff and Canmore, giving you spectacular views all day.
You can see famous viewpoints of Mount Rundle from Vermillion Lakes, the Bow Valley, and up at Mount Norquay (keep reading for more information on this place!)
Largely considered its own small mountain range, Mount Rundle has seven peaks, the farthest east of which is a pretty intense hike called…(scroll for the next point!)
Hike the East End of Rundle Trail (EEOR)
The East End of Rundle trail is a 3.6-mile (5.8 kilometers) hike just outside of the town Canmore, Alberta.
While the hike itself is on the shorter side, the elevation gain is not (870 meters or ~2900 feet).
This puts this trail at a higher level of difficulty, which includes sections scree (loose rock), scramble passages, and a consistent incline the entire time.
Don’t let the difficulty deter you from doing this trail!
Even just halfway up are incredible views of Ha Ling Peak (the neighboring mountain), the Whitemans Pond (which is a man-made reservoir) and a stunning vista of the entire Bow Valley.
Come prepared with plenty of water, good shoes, and some headlamps if you plan to arrive for sunrise or sunset.
Explore Around Johnson Lake
One of the quieter attractions in Banff National Park, Johnson Lake is the perfect pit stop for a lunch break or a summer swim.
You can hike around the lake on a loop trail, seeing tons of wildlife and breathe in the fresh mountain air.
Berty and I came for sunrise to watch the sunlight up Mount Rundle!
Go Camping in Banff National Park
Banff has a lot of amazing campsites. One thing we love about these places is that they are central to so many amazing things to do in Banff National Park.
Each campground provides unique opportunities to experience activities like amphitheater shows, proximity to wildlife, and accessibility to hikes and attractions.
Click here to quickly compare campsites and decide which one is best for you!*
Here are the most convenient campsites for the proximity of things to do in Banff:
- Castle Mountain Campground
- Johnston Canyon Campground (Where we stayed!) Perfect for easy access to Johnston Canyon Hike)
- Two Jack Main Campground (Great places to view wildlife)
- Two Jack Lakeside Campground (Camping by the lake, easy access to Lake Minnewanka and Johnson Lake)
- Tunnel Mountain Village 1, Village 2, and Trailer Court Campgrounds (All campgrounds close to things to do in Banff)
- Lake Louise Campground (Great location for things to do in north Banff National Park)
OR Stay At The Stoneridge Resort In Canmore
This place left a wonderful and lasting impression on us. We stayed here for our honeymoon!
Not only did our room have jaw-dropping views of the mountains, we were also lucky to have a full kitchen, living room, and access to a pool and spa!
The Stoneridge Resort goes above and beyond when it comes to service and accommodating requests. This resort is located just outside of Banff in the town of Canmore.
This means it’s much cheaper to stay here vs. Banff, but you don’t sacrifice any proximity to the park. Win-win!
Visit Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is yet another glacial-fed lake in the beautiful Canadian Rockies.
Its icy waters are world-famous for their turquoise-blue waters, almost too blue to be true! Every spring/summer, large amounts of glacial flour flow down into the lake and get suspended in the water.
This allows the floating particles to give that bright, shimmering blue color that visitors come to see!
The best place to view this lake is at Bow Summit, which is located right off the Icefields Parkway.
There is a convenient boardwalk for viewing. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can take some of their hiking trails for a new perspective!
Take a Soak In The Upper Hot Springs
Just a few kilometers south of the town of Banff is a historic spa and bathhouse, fully updated with the most modern of amenities.
Berty and I came to visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs on a rainy day. It wasn’t great weather for a hike, but absolutely perfect conditions for a good soak!
The unique mix of Rocky Mountain minerals in the steaming water is some that visitors have been talking about for ages.
This place is perfect for a soak year-round, with conveniences such as a snack bar, outdoor terrace, and a historic 1930s bathhouse that make it hard to ever leave!
You can find the Banff Upper Hot Springs at 1 Mountain Avenue, Banff, Alberta – 403-762-1515 – hotsprings.ca
Drive On The Icefields Parkway
Known as one of the most scenic drives in the world, the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) is full of amazing sights and activities.
This iconic west coast road trip includes a 230-kilometer (140-mile) highway that traverses the continental divide and spans through both Banff and Jasper National Park.
We suggest taking an entire day to drive the full length to make plenty of time for stops, hikes, and picture-taking!
Some highlights of the Icefields Parkway include: (Some of these spots can also be found in our post about the best photo spots in Jasper National Park!)
- Bow Lake and Peyto Lake
- Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier
- Sunwapta Falls
- Athabasca Falls
- Taking a hike on Wilcox Pass
Go Horseback Riding
Just a few kilometers outside of the town of Banff is one of the largest stables in the area!
Banff Trail Riders provide summer activities like cowboy cookouts and trail rides, but also sleigh and carriage rides in the winter! Berty and I took the tour with Banff Trail Riders to discover the Banff countryside and enjoy a fun cookout!
If you’ve never ridden a horse, this is a great first experience to try. The horses are very gentle and friendly!
The staff is very knowledgeable and made sure we were totally comfortable on the horses. They gave us a great pre-ride orientation which made our ride really fun.
We rode along the Bow River for quite some time before arriving at the backcountry stable (3 Mile Cabin) for lunch.
All around the property were fun cowboy games like horseshoes and lasso-ing to try.
They also provided a toasty fire with some comfy Adirondack chairs for the ultimate relaxations.
Lunch was a delicious steak meal on the barbecue with baked potatoes, beans, salad, and dessert too!
We were able to sit with other riders on the tour and came away meeting some really awesome people!
Rent a Canoe at Vermillion Lakes
The calm waters of Vermillion Lakes and Forty Mile Creek provides a calm and enjoyable canoeing or kayaking experience on a hot summer afternoon.
We used the Banff Canoe Club that allows you to rent canoes, kayaks, and SUP paddle boards by the hour.
From their little boathouse right off of Downtown Banff, you get access to the Bow River (for more advanced paddlers), Forty Mile Creek, and Vermillion Lakes.
Explore Johnston Canyon
This dramatic canyon is a must-see on any trip to Banff National Park!
Located off the scenic Bow Highway is Johnston Canyon – a family-friendly, adventurous hike with tons of things to do and see! There are several tiers to this hike depending on your time and skill level in hiking.
Read the options below:
Lower Falls (1.1 km)
Walk across the series of sturdy iron catwalks that overhang the canyon after you’ve exhausted your trail options and are forced to go deeper into the canyon. Want to see it frozen in the winter? See pictures in our Banff in winter post!
You will feel the water rush under you as you walk through this scenic and up-close part of the trail! Once you reach the falls, you can admire the turbulent water via a bridge, or climb through a tunnel to get a very close (and very wet!) perspective!
Johnston Cave (1.5 km)
This was our absolute favorite part of Johnston Canyon! (But please read till the end of this section because taking this trail could cost you a pretty penny…)
Somewhere in between the Lower and Upper Falls is a fairly large but unmarked dirt trail that leads hikers down into a cave below the normal trail.
Here, you’ll discover another smaller falls, a deep cave, and an incredible rock that forces the water to rush past it. It’s a truly magical sight!
IMPORTANT SUMMER NOTE ABOUT JOHNSTON CAVE: As of 2018 to the current day, Parks Canada has closed off this trail during the extended summer months to protect the fragile breeding ground of the Black Swift birds.
These birds are on endangered species lists and prefer to lay their eggs in the natural protection that under waterfalls provide.
When people come down this trail, it causes stress on the birds and they are laying less, thus decreasing the overall population.
The Black Swift birds breed and lay anywhere from April to late July, so there is no access to the trail during this time. Taking the trail during this time may result in a $25,000 fine. Yikes.
During the winter months (no birds, no chance of disturbing their environment), the trail is open for ice climbers to access various waterfalls. However, call or contact Parks Canada to confirm open access to this trail.
If you are coming during a month that you are unsure of the trail status, don’t hesitate to call or contact the Parks Canada Service for the most up to date information.
*We are keeping these photos up to share current and accurate information. They were taken before the trail closure and we will not be returning in the future during these months*
Upper Falls (2.7 km)
Reaching the falls, there are two viewing areas. One is a side trail to a catwalk with a view of the bottom of the falls and the second is to an overhanging platform reached by a steep trail.
Each gives its own unique perspective of this amazing location!
Ink Pots (5.8 km)
The Ink Pots are a series of seven bubbling mineral pools located in a beautiful open meadow.
Most visitors don’t get this far and turn around at the Upper Hot Springs.
If you’re looking for more things to do in Banff that give a little more solitude, consider taking this hike.
Read More: The 2017 Essential PNW Bucket List
Ride The Mt. Norquay Scenic Chairlift
If you are looking for breathtaking views of Banff, you must visit Mount Norquay.
This lift is different from the Banff Gondola because it consists of an open-air chair, exposed to the elements. A 10-minute ride up to the top gives you an open-air, summer experience.
Climb to nearly 7000 feet of elevation to experience the mountains and the Bow Valley from a completely different vantage point!
At the top, you can enjoy the Cliffhouse Bistro and boardwalks with many scenic viewpoints of the town of Banff.
We took some time to soak in the views from inside the Bistro house and got some lattes and hot cocoa!
Watch Sunrise at Two Jack Lake
Yet, another magical spot to watch the sunrise at Banff National Park! From the parking lot, you can walk to a little island with an incredible view of Mount Rundle.
Discover The Mountain Wildlife
One of the best things in Banff National Park is to appreciate the diversity of animals living in the area.
Both Banff and Jasper National Park have easy hikes to take in the area, but that doesn’t deter wildlife from coming to say hello!
Wildlife Safety Tips:
- Don’t leave anything smelly outside of your campsite
- Don’t EVER feed wildlife. Let’s keep them wild and not reliant on humans for food!
- If you see wildlife on the road, don’t get out of your car. Slow down, but keep moving. Take one picture and move on!
- Give them plenty of space. It’s important to keep at least 300 feet between you and cougars/bear/wolves, and at least 100 feet from elk/moose/bighorn sheep.
Walk Around Banff Avenue
Walking around the city center was a fun way to get to know Banff and pick up a few souvenirs.
I (Emily) was a total dummy and forgot a properly warm coat, so we were relieved to find a Patagonia on the main avenue to pick up a warm layer.
This place is for shoppers, foodies, and adventure-lovers alike. You can find lots of companies that will help you plan trips out to see famous and historic sites!
Here Is Some More Information To Know About Banff, Canada:
Basic Information about Banff
- Banff is the highest town (4,547 feet above sea level) in Canada
- The Banff National Park alone has over 1,000 miles of hiking trails
- Peak tourism season is in the summer, which is June-August
- Banff National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Average temperatures in July are 60 degrees F and all the way down to 12 degrees F in January
- Nearest Airport: Calgary International Airport (YYC) and a 1.5-hour drive to get to Banff
Getting Around Banff National Park
- Have a very reliable car (you’ll be doing a lot of driving), or take a fully planned bus tour if you don’t wish to drive.
- Pack lots of snacks and water. It can get hot in the summer months.
- Visiting in the shoulder season months (September/October and May/Early June) will bring to fewer crowds, but chances of snow and cold weather are much more likely.
- Stop by the Banff Visitors Centre to pick up hiking guides, backcountry permits, park passes, and even bear spray.
What To Pack For Banff National Park
Packing for Banff National Park can be tricky, especially during the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn.
A general rule when considering what to pack for Banff would be to dress in layers. Mornings can be really cold but the afternoons can quickly warm up!
Here’s what we suggest packing:
- Warm clothes for the mornings and evenings (Find our PNW Packing List in this post!)
- Layers for hiking
- Outerwear like gloves, hat, scarves. It can get super cold, even in June!
- Sturdy hiking boots
What are some other things to do in Banff? Have you been camping or hiking here? Tell us in the comments below!
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