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15 Things to Do in Banff National Park and Area

Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is a sanctuary of awe-inspiring landscapes, vibrant wildlife, and endless outdoor adventure. As Canada's first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Banff offers a blend of unspoiled wilderness and refined comfort. Whether you're seeking thrilling activities or tranquil moments in nature, Banff's majestic mountains, turquoise lakes, and lush forests provide the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable experience. The park's vast expanse covers over 6,641 square kilometers, offering visitors a chance to explore its beauty year-round, with each season presenting its own unique charm and array of activities.

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01 Explore Lake Louise

lake Louise

Lake Louise is a shimmering emerald treasure surrounded by towering peaks and glaciers. Visitors can canoe across its serene waters, hike along its scenic shoreline, or simply bask in the breathtaking views from the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. In winter, the lake transforms into a magical ice skating rink, complete with an ice castle and enchanting mountain backdrop. The area around Lake Louise is also known for its exceptional hiking trails, such as the Plain of Six Glaciers and the Lake Agnes Tea House hike, which offer stunning vistas and the opportunity to spot local wildlife.

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02 Take the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain

Banff gondola

For panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies, a ride on the Banff Gondola is a must. Ascend to the summit of Sulphur Mountain and step out onto the observation deck to witness a 360-degree mountain vista. Hiking trails and an interpretive center await those eager to learn more about the park's natural wonders. The gondola ride is an excellent way for all ages and fitness levels to experience the majesty of the mountains, and the summit offers dining options with a view, making it a perfect spot for a memorable meal.

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03 Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs

Banff hot springs

Relax and rejuvenate in the steamy, mineral-rich waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Perched on the side of Sulphur Mountain, these natural hot springs offer a soothing retreat with a historic spa and bathhouse. The hot springs are open year-round, providing a warm respite against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks. The facility maintains a comfortable soaking temperature that ranges from 37°C to 40°C (98°F to 104°F), making it an ideal place to unwind after a day of mountain adventures.

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04 Stroll along the Bow River

bow river

The Bow River winds its way through Banff, offering a tranquil setting for leisurely walks and picnics. Follow the riverside trails to discover hidden spots, watch for wildlife, or cast a line for some of the best fly-fishing in the Rockies. The Bow River is also a popular spot for kayaking and rafting adventures. The river's clear, blue waters are a result of glacial silt, and the surrounding area is dotted with benches and viewpoints, perfect for capturing the serene beauty of the park.

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05 Hike the trails of Johnston Canyon

Johnston canyon

Johnston Canyon is a natural wonder carved by water through limestone cliffs. Hikers can follow the catwalks and trails that lead to the Lower and Upper Falls, where the power of the cascading water is truly mesmerizing. In winter, the frozen falls become a playground for ice climbers and photographers. The trail to the falls is accessible to most visitors, and those looking for a longer hike can continue to the Ink Pots, a series of clear, colorful spring-fed pools set against the backdrop of rugged peaks.

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06 Visit Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks

moraine lake

Moraine Lake, with its vivid turquoise hue, is set in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The lake's stunning color is most vibrant in late spring and summer when the glaciers melt. Hiking trails, such as the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass, offer some of the most picturesque views in the park. Canoe rentals are available, allowing visitors to paddle the pristine waters and enjoy the tranquility of the lake. The famous Rockpile Trail leads to an iconic viewpoint that has been featured on Canadian currency.

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07 Drive the Icefields Parkway

jasper skywalk

The Icefields Parkway is one of the world's most scenic drives, stretching 230 kilometers from Lake Louise to Jasper. This journey offers a parade of glaciers, waterfalls, and alpine meadows. Stop at the Columbia Icefield to walk on the Athabasca Glacier or step out onto the glass-floored Skywalk. Along the way, there are numerous pull-offs and picnic areas where travelers can stop to appreciate the scenery, and the route is dotted with trailheads for those wishing to explore more deeply on foot.

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08 Wildlife watching

wildlife in Jasper

Banff National Park is home to an abundance of wildlife, including elk, bears, bighorn sheep, and wolves. Wildlife watching is a thrilling activity, but remember to keep a safe distance and respect the natural habitat. Dawn and dusk are the best times to spot these majestic creatures. The park offers guided wildlife tours and educational programs to help visitors learn about the local fauna and their conservation, enhancing the wildlife-watching experience.

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09 Mountain biking and cycling

female mountain biker

Banff's extensive network of trails caters to mountain bikers and cyclists of all skill levels. Pedal through picturesque landscapes, from gentle loops around the town to challenging mountain trails. Bike rentals and guided tours are available for those looking to explore on two wheels. The Legacy Trail, in particular, provides a scenic paved route connecting Banff to the nearby town of Canmore, offering stunning views and a safe path for cyclists of all ages.

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10 Go skiing or snowboarding

Snowboarding Lee Cohen / Getty Images

With three world-class ski resorts—Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt. Norquay—Banff is a winter sports paradise. Skiers and snowboarders can enjoy a variety of terrain, from gentle slopes to expert runs, all while surrounded by the stunning beauty of the Rockies. The resorts also offer ski schools and equipment rentals, making it easy for beginners to hit the slopes and for seasoned enthusiasts to find new challenges.

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11 Try ice climbing

person ice climbing

For the adventurous at heart, ice climbing in Banff offers an exhilarating way to experience the park's frozen waterfalls and ice formations. Guided climbs cater to all levels, providing the necessary equipment and instruction to safely ascend these icy verticals. The sport has become increasingly popular in the area, with the annual Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival often featuring ice-climbing films and speakers.

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12 Attend a festival or event

Banff restaurant

Banff's vibrant cultural scene includes festivals and events throughout the year. From the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival to the SnowDays Festival, there's always something to celebrate. These events showcase the spirit of the mountains and the creativity of the community. Visitors can also enjoy the Banff Summer Arts Festival, which brings a variety of performances, concerts, and art exhibitions to the park.

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13 Enjoy fine dining with a view

fine dining in Banff overview

Banff's culinary scene is as diverse as its landscape, with restaurants offering everything from hearty mountain fare to exquisite fine dining. Many establishments boast stunning views, allowing diners to feast their eyes on the scenery as well as their plates. The town of Banff and the surrounding area are home to several award-winning chefs and restaurants, making it a destination for foodies as well as outdoor enthusiasts.

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14 Visit the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is a hub for the arts, offering performances, exhibitions, and workshops. Visitors can immerse themselves in the creative process, enjoy world-class entertainment, or simply explore the campus with its inspiring mountain setting. The center also provides artist residencies and educational programs, contributing to the rich cultural tapestry of the park.

15 Take a scenic flight

helicopter in Banff

For a bird's-eye view of Banff's grandeur, a scenic flight is an unforgettable experience. Helicopter and small plane tours provide a unique perspective on the park's vast wilderness, soaring over peaks, glaciers, and lakes that seem to stretch into infinity. These flights offer a chance to see remote areas of the park that are otherwise inaccessible, making it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many visitors.

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