The Getaway
15 Things to Do in Banff National Park and Area

Hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies, the sanctuary of Banff National Park has awe-inspiring landscapes, vibrant wildlife, and endless outdoor adventure. 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. As Canada's first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Banff blends unspoiled wilderness and refined comfort with majestic mountains, lush forests, and turquoise lakes, providing the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable experience.


01 Explore the iconic Lake Louise

lake Louise

Canoe across serene waters, hike along scenic shorelines or bask in breathtaking views at Lake Louise. A shimmer emerald treasure surrounded by towering peaks and glaciers, this area also features the famed Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, where you can enjoy a first-class spa day with spectacular scenery. The lake transforms into a magical ice skating rink in the winter, complete with an ice castle and enchanting mountain backdrop. While here, use area hiking trails, such as the Plain of Six Glaciers and the Lake Agnes Tea House paths, to stretch your legs, marvel at stunning vistas, and spot local wildlife.


02 Take the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain

Banff gondola

For panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies, take a ride on the Banff Gondola. 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 offers an excellent way for all ages and fitness levels to experience the majesty of the mountains, and the summit boasts dining options with a view, making it a perfect spot for a memorable meal.


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 serve as a soothing retreat with their historic spa and bathhouse. These hot springs open year-round for the ideal place to unwind after a day of mountain adventures. Enjoy a warm respite here against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks, with comfortable soaking temperatures in the hot springs ranging from 37°C to 40°C (98°F to 104°F).


04 Stroll along the Bow River

bow river

The Bow River winds its way through Banff, creating 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. Also a popular spot for kayaking and rafting adventures, this river captivates visitors with clear, blue waters that emerge from a glacial silt. The area surrounding the shore includes benches and viewpoints, perfect for capturing the serene beauty of the park.


05 Hike the trails of Johnston Canyon

Johnston canyon

Marvel at a natural wonder carved by water through limestone cliffs at Johnston Canyon. Follow the catwalks and trails that lead to the Lower and Upper Falls to be mesmerized by the power of the cascading water. 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.


06 Visit Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks

moraine lake

Set in the Valley of Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake has a vivid turquoise hue that brings visitors to its shores. 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, provide some of the most picturesque views in the park. Rent a canoe to paddle the pristine waters and enjoy the tranquility of the lake. Take the famous Rockpile Trail to reach an iconic viewpoint that's been featured on Canadian currency.


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 takes travelers by 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, find numerous pull-offs and picnic areas where you can stop to appreciate the scenery. Trailheads dot the route for those wishing to explore more deeply on foot.


08 Wildlife watching

wildlife in Jasper

Get stunning views of the abundance of wildlife that make Banff National Park its home. Be on the lookout here for elk, bears, bighorn sheep, and wolves at dawn and dusk, but remember to keep a safe distance and respect the natural habitat while you're wildlife watching. The park offers guided wildlife tours and educational programs to help visitors learn about the local fauna and conservation, enhancing the outdoor experience.


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. Rent bikes and arrange guided tours when you want to explore on two wheels. The Legacy Trail, in particular, provides a scenic paved route connecting Banff to the nearby town of Canmore, providing stunning views and a safe path for cyclists of all ages.


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 spectacular 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.


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.


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 here to celebrate that showcases 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


13 Enjoy fine dining with a view

fine dining in Banff overview

Banff's culinary scene is as diverse as its landscape, with restaurants serving up everything from hearty mountain fare to exquisite fine dining. Many establishments boast amazing views, allowing diners to feast their eyes on the scenery while they clean their plates. The town of Banff and the surrounding area are home to several award-winning chefs and restaurants, creating a hot-spot for foodies as well as outdoor enthusiasts.


14 Visit the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

A hub for the arts, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity features performances, exhibitions, and workshops. Here, you can immerse yourself 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 give you a chance to see remote areas of the park, making it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view otherwise inaccessible spaces.


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