William Braun

12 Best Things to Do in Banff: Must-See Attractions

Looking to visit Banff in Canada anytime soon? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do in Banff. These spectacular sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for an unforgettable vacation experience.

Ah, Banff—a destination that evokes visions of towering mountain peaks, crystal-clear glacial lakes, and boundless outdoor pursuits. Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is more than just a place; it’s an ambiance, an aspiration, the epitome of extraordinary things to do in Banff National Park that will make your visit unforgettable.

Imagine waking up to the sight of elk grazing outside your window, or the sun rising over a mirror-like Lake Louise, painting the sky in hues of gold and pink. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a city dweller, Banff offers a slice of paradise for every kind of traveler.

But let’s not forget the winter wonderland that Banff transforms into, come snowfall. Picture yourself skiing down world-class slopes or sipping hot cocoa by a roaring fire. It’s not just a place; it’s a feeling, a moment captured in time that you’ll cherish forever.

So, are you ready to unleash your inner adventurer or find your zen in the lap of nature? Keep reading, as we’ve curated the ultimate list of things to do in this Alberta gem. From the adrenaline-pumping to the soul-soothing, we’ve got you covered. Buckle up—Banff is calling, and you must go! Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in Banff.

The top places to visit in Banff right now
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Best Places to Visit in Banff

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in Banff? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this pristine vacation spot in Canada. So keep reading to discover all these unique Banff places to visit.

Are you looking to embark on exhilarating outdoor adventures like hiking, skiing, and wildlife viewing amidst the stunning natural landscapes of the Canadian Rockies? Or would you prefer to explore the rich cultural offerings, from art galleries to local cuisine, and relax in the tranquil ambiance of this mountainous paradise? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in Banff can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in Banff that you should know about.

1. Johnston Canyon

If you’re seeking a blend of natural beauty and a dash of adventure, hiking Johnston Canyon should be at the top of your list of Banff attractions. The trail winds through lush forests and offers jaw-dropping views of waterfalls that cascade down into deep blue-green pools. It’s a hike that’s as mesmerizing as it is invigorating.

The first part of the trail is relatively easy, making it accessible for families and hikers of all levels. But don’t stop at the Lower Falls; the real magic happens when you reach the Upper Falls and beyond. That’s where you’ll find the Ink Pots—natural springs that bubble up from the ground, creating a surreal landscape that looks like it’s straight out of a fantasy novel.

And here’s the kicker: the Ink Pots are surrounded by open meadows, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. It’s a sight that will make even the most seasoned travelers stop and say, “Wow, this is why I travel.”

Whether you’re a hiking novice or a trail-blazing veteran, Johnston Canyon offers a rewarding experience that encapsulates the best places in Banff for outdoor enthusiasts. So, lace up those hiking boots and get ready to be wowed by Mother Nature’s artistry.

Johnston Canyon is one of the best things to do in Banff.
Hiking Johnston Canyon, a captivating blend of natural beauty and adventure, is a must in Banff.

2. Lake Louise

Imagine standing at the edge of a lake so vividly turquoise that it looks like a gemstone set amidst towering mountains. Welcome to Lake Louise, a gem in Banff National Park that’s nothing short of a natural wonder. The lake’s surreal color comes from rock flour carried into it by meltwater from the glaciers above.

But the allure of Lake Louise isn’t just skin deep. Venture out onto the lake in a canoe, and you’ll feel like you’re paddling through a dream. The stillness of the water, broken only by the gentle strokes of your paddle, adds a layer of serenity to the experience.

For those who prefer terra firma, the hiking trails around the lake offer equally stunning vistas. The Fairview Lookout trail, for instance, provides a bird’s-eye view of this iconic lake and the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Thinking of the best things to do in Banff when you want a mix of relaxation and awe? Lake Louise has you covered. Whether you’re capturing the perfect photo or simply soaking in the views, this is a destination that encapsulates the essence of Banff’s majestic beauty.

Lake Louise offers a surreal turquoise gem set amidst towering mountains.
Lake Louise offers a surreal turquoise gem set amidst towering mountains.

3. Banff Upper Hot Springs

Ah, the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a place where you can literally soak in the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Situated high in the mountains, these natural thermal pools offer a distinctive blend of relaxation and scenic views. If you’re wondering where to visit in Banff for a dose of tranquility with a side of awe, this is your spot.

The hot springs are rich in minerals like sulphate, calcium, and magnesium, which are said to have healing properties. As you ease into the warm, mineral-rich waters, you’ll feel your muscles relax and your worries dissolve. It’s like nature’s own spa treatment, but with a view that no indoor spa could ever match.

For the history enthusiasts among you, the Upper Hot Springs have a storied past. They were one of the first attractions to draw tourists to Banff National Park, and their facilities have been restored to reflect the 1930s era.

Banff attractions often boast natural beauty, but the Upper Hot Springs add a layer of comfort and health benefits to the mix. Whether you’re there for the ‘gram or for some genuine R&R, these hot springs are a must-see in Banff. Is this hot spring among the top things to do in Banff National Park? You bet!

Banff Upper Hot Springs, high in the Canadian Rockies, provide a unique mix of relaxation and mountain views.
Banff Upper Hot Springs, high in the Canadian Rockies, provide a unique mix of relaxation and mountain views.

4. Moraine Lake

Imagine this: You’re standing at the edge of a glacially-fed lake, surrounded by towering mountains and dense forests. The water is an almost surreal shade of turquoise. Welcome to Moraine Lake, a place so stunning it once graced the Canadian twenty-dollar bill.

Located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Whether you’re an avid photographer or simply someone who appreciates natural beauty, exploring this lake is among the unique things to do in Banff. The Rockpile Trail gives you an elevated view of the lake and is an easy walk suitable for all ages.

If you’re more adventurous, there are several other hiking trails that offer varying levels of difficulty and promise equally rewarding views. Canoe rentals are also available if you’d like to paddle your way across this gem of a lake.

What sets Moraine Lake apart is its ability to make you feel like you’ve stepped into a painting. Every angle is a new photo opportunity, every moment a chance to breathe in the crisp mountain air.

Moraine Lake: a stunning glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies once on the $20 bill.
Moraine Lake: a stunning glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies once on the $20 bill.

5. Icefields Parkway

You haven’t truly experienced Banff until you’ve driven the Icefields Parkway, a 232-kilometer stretch of road that’s often hailed as one of the most scenic drives in the world. This isn’t just a road; it’s a journey through the heart of the Canadian Rockies.

What makes this drive a must-visit? Picture glaciers, waterfalls, and emerald lakes so clear they look like mirrors. Every twist and turn of the road unveils another jaw-dropping vista. You’ll want to pull over at every lookout, and honestly, you should.

Do you love to hike? There are numerous trails along the way, each offering its own distinct perspective of the surrounding natural beauty. And if you’re into wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears, moose, and mountain goats.

If you’re wondering where to go in Banff, let the Icefields Parkway be your guide. It’s not just a drive; it’s an adventure that promises to be one of the highlights of your trip.

The Icefields Parkway, a 232-kilometer scenic drive through the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
The Icefields Parkway, a 232-kilometer scenic drive through the heart of the Canadian Rockies.

6. Sulphur Mountain

Elevate your Banff adventure—literally—by taking the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. As you ascend, the panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies unfold before you, each moment more breathtaking than the last.

Why is this a Banff must-see? Imagine floating above a sea of evergreen trees, punctuated by jagged mountain peaks and the winding Bow River. Once you reach the summit, you’re not just on top of a mountain; you’re on top of the world.

The boardwalk at the summit offers a 360-degree view that’s nothing short of spectacular. And for the romantics out there, the sunset views are the stuff of dreams. Don’t forget to visit the interpretive center to learn about the local flora and fauna.

When compiling a list of the coolest things to do in Banff National Park, missing out on this would be a high-altitude mistake. The gondola ride and the experiences that follow are quintessential Banff, capturing the essence of its natural grandeur.

Elevate your Banff adventure with the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies as you ascend.
Elevate your Banff adventure with the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies as you ascend.

7. Canmore Cave Tours

Seeking a Banff spot that’s a bit off the beaten path? Look no further than the Canmore Cave Tours. Perched just outside of Banff National Park, this underground adventure offers a thrilling and educational experience.

Imagine descending into a labyrinth of chambers and tunnels, each one more awe-inspiring than the last. The stalactites and stalagmites create a natural art gallery, sculpted by Mother Nature herself. As you navigate through the dark, your guide will share fascinating tidbits about the cave’s geology and the creatures that call it home.

This is more than just a spelunking adventure; it’s a lesson in Earth’s history. You’ll learn about the forces that shaped these caves over millions of years, making it a perfect spot for anyone interested in geology or natural history.

For the adrenaline seekers, there’s even a section where you can try your hand at rappelling. It’s a heart-pounding experience that adds an extra layer of excitement to the tour. And for those who prefer a more leisurely pace, there are plenty of opportunities to simply stand in awe of the underground wonders.

Are you on the hunt for Banff things to do? Make sure the Canmore Cave Tours are on it. It’s a subterranean world that promises to leave you spellbound.

Discover an off-the-beaten-path adventure with Canmore Cave Tours near Banff National Park.
Discover an off-the-beaten-path adventure with Canmore Cave Tours near Banff National Park.

8. Bow River

Fishing enthusiasts, rejoice! The Bow River is a dream destination for anyone who loves the thrill of the catch. This river is a world-renowned fishing destination, teeming with brown and rainbow trout. Imagine standing on the riverbank, rod in hand, surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. It’s not just fishing; it’s an experience that nourishes the soul.

The river’s crystal-clear waters make it easy to spot fish, but catching them is another story. These trout are wily, offering a challenge that both novices and experts will appreciate. Local guides are available to share their insider tips, ensuring you have the chance to reel in a big one.

What sets this apart from other fishing spots is the breathtaking scenery. As you wait for a bite, you’ll be treated to views of snow-capped peaks and lush forests. It’s a serene setting that makes the hours fly by.

For those who prefer fly-fishing, the Bow River offers some of the amazing spots in Canada. The river’s varying currents provide ideal conditions for this type of fishing, making it one of the cool destinations in Banff for anglers of all levels.

Wondering what to do in Banff that combines relaxation with a dash of excitement? Don’t overlook Bow River Fishing. It’s an exceptional blend of sport and natural beauty that you won’t find anywhere else.

The Bow River, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, is a world-renowned fishing destination, teeming with brown and rainbow trout.
The Bow River, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, is a world-renowned fishing destination, teeming with brown and rainbow trout.

9. The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Nestled amidst the towering Rockies, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is a haven for art lovers and creators alike. If you’re searching for unique places in Banff that offer more than just outdoor activities, this is your spot. The centre is a hub for artists, musicians, and thinkers from around the globe, offering a range of performances, exhibitions, and workshops.

Here, you can immerse yourself in a world of artistic expression, far removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Whether it’s a contemporary dance performance, a thought-provoking art installation, or a classical music concert, the Banff Centre has something to stir your soul.

But it’s not just about observing; it’s about participating. The centre offers workshops and classes in various artistic disciplines. Ever wanted to try your hand at pottery or learn the basics of digital photography? This is your chance.

The setting couldn’t be more inspiring. With panoramic mountain views serving as a backdrop, creativity flows as naturally as the nearby Bow River. It’s a destination that offers a different kind of natural beauty, one that engages your mind and enriches your spirit.

Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is a cultural experience you won’t soon forget.

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in the Rockies is a hub for artists and creators worldwide.
The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in the Rockies is a hub for artists and creators worldwide.

10. Vermilion Lakes

Ah, the Vermilion Lakes—a series of tranquil bodies of water that often get overshadowed by Banff’s more famous lakes. But let me tell you, this is where you’ll find some of the most jaw-dropping sunsets in the entire park. If capturing the perfect shot is what you’re after, this is a must-see in Banff.

As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky bursts into a kaleidoscope of colors, reflecting off the still waters of the lakes. It’s a sight that even the most seasoned travelers find mesmerizing. And the exciting part? You’ll often have this natural spectacle all to yourself.

If you love to paddle, the lakes offer a serene kayaking experience. Glide through the water as you take in the surrounding mountain vistas. It’s one of those getaways that make you realize just how small we are in this vast, beautiful world.

And don’t forget about the winter months! The lakes freeze over, providing a distinct setting for ice skating or even a game of pond hockey. It’s one of those best things to do in Banff that locals love but many tourists overlook.

Whether you’re a budding photographer, a nature lover, or just someone looking to escape the crowds, Vermilion Lakes should be on your Banff bucket list. It’s a quieter, more intimate way to experience the natural beauty of the park.

Vermilion Lakes is one of the best things to do in Banff.
Vermilion Lakes, often overshadowed by more famous lakes in Banff, offer some of the most jaw-dropping sunsets in the park.

11. Warner Stables

If you’re looking for a truly authentic Banff experience, head over to Warner Stables for a horseback riding adventure that’s second to none. This is one of those best places to go Banff where you can explore the wilderness just like the pioneers did—on horseback!

Just a few minutes away from downtown Banff, Warner Stables offers a variety of guided tours that take you deep into the heart of Banff National Park. You’ll traverse the scenic Spray River Valley, ride along the base of Sulphur Mountain, and even have the chance to cross the iconic Spray River Bridge.

For beginners, there’s a one-hour “Bow River Ride” that’s perfect for getting a taste of horseback riding. More experienced riders might opt for the half-day or full-day rides, which include a hearty cowboy-style BBQ lunch.

As you ride, your guide will share captivating stories about Banff’s history, from its Indigenous roots to its establishment as a national park. You’ll also learn about the local flora and fauna, making this not just an adventure but an educational experience as well.

The stables are well-maintained, the horses are well-trained, and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable. It’s no wonder that horseback riding at Warner Stables is often cited as one of the unique things to do in Banff.

For an authentic Banff experience, visit Warner Stables for a horseback riding adventure that lets you explore the wilderness just like the pioneers did.
For an authentic Banff experience, visit Warner Stables for a horseback riding adventure that lets you explore the wilderness just like the pioneers did.

12. Kicking Horse River

Ready to get your heart pounding? Whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River is a go-to destination in Banff for thrill-seekers. Just an hour’s drive from Banff, this river offers some of the most exhilarating rapids in all of Canada.

You’ll start your journey at the rafting headquarters, where you’ll get geared up and receive a safety briefing. Then, it’s onto the rafts and straight into the action. The river’s Class III-IV rapids promise a wild ride that’s both challenging and incredibly fun.

As you navigate the turbulent waters, you’ll be surrounded by the awe-inspiring beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Towering cliffs, lush forests, and maybe even some local wildlife will be your backdrop as you paddle through this adrenaline-pumping experience.

What sets this apart from other Banff destinations is the sheer intensity of the ride. You’ll be talking about this adventure long after you’ve dried off. And don’t worry, experienced guides are there every step of the way to ensure your safety and enjoyment.

Craving a bit more? Some tours even offer cliff jumping as an added bonus. It’s the perfect thing to do in Banff National Park to cap off an already unforgettable day.

Whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River, an hour's drive from Banff, is a thrilling adventure for adrenaline junkies.
Whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River, an hour’s drive from Banff, is a thrilling adventure for adrenaline junkies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Banff

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Banff? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Banff:

What’s the best time to visit Banff?

Honestly, there’s no bad time to visit this mountain paradise. Winter offers world-class skiing and snowboarding, while summer is perfect for hiking, kayaking, and wildlife spotting. Each season has its own unique charm!

Do I need a park pass to go to Banff?

Yes, you do. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass is required for entry, and it covers access to multiple national parks and historic sites in Canada. Passes can be purchased for single or multiple days and are essential to explore the beauty and attractions of Banff National Park.

How many days do you need to visit Banff?

The number of days you should spend in Banff depends on what you want to see and do. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Short Stay (1-2 days): This allows you to explore the town of Banff, take a dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs, visit the Banff Gondola, and perhaps drive the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. You can also do a short hike or two.
  • Medium Stay (3-5 days): With a few more days, you can explore more of Banff National Park, including Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and the Icefields Parkway. This duration also allows for more hiking, wildlife watching, and visiting other attractions like the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
  • Long Stay (6-10 days): A longer stay lets you thoroughly explore Banff and its surrounding areas. You can take day trips to nearby places like Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, engage in multiple outdoor activities like canoeing, horseback riding, and mountain biking, and even spend a day or two just relaxing and soaking in the mountain views.

Is Banff family-friendly?

Absolutely! Banff is a family-friendly destination. It offers a range of activities suitable for all ages, including hiking, wildlife viewing, and easy access to scenic viewpoints. Family-friendly accommodations, dining options, and visitor centers are available, making it an ideal destination for those traveling with children or as a family.

Children playing ice hockey in Banff National Park, Canada.
Children playing ice hockey in Banff National Park, Canada.

What should I pack when going to Banff?

When packing for Banff, consider the weather and activities. In summer, pack layers for varying temperatures, hiking gear, and comfortable walking shoes. In winter, bring warm clothing, including waterproof jackets, boots, and layers. Don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, hats, and a reusable water bottle for outdoor adventures.

What is Banff best known for?

Banff is best known for its stunning natural beauty, encapsulated in the majestic Rocky Mountains, turquoise lakes, and diverse wildlife. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities like hiking, skiing, and kayaking. Here are some of the things Banff is most famous for:

  1. Scenic Beauty: Banff is set against the backdrop of the majestic Canadian Rockies and offers breathtaking views of mountains, glaciers, dense forests, and turquoise-colored lakes.
  2. Lake Louise: One of the most photographed lakes in the world, Lake Louise is renowned for its vibrant blue-green waters and the Victoria Glacier in the background.
  3. Banff Gondola: This popular attraction takes visitors to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, offering panoramic views of the Bow Valley and surrounding peaks.
  4. Banff Upper Hot Springs: These natural hot springs offer a relaxing experience with the added bonus of mountain views.
  5. Wildlife: Banff National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, bears, wolves, and mountain goats.
  6. Outdoor Activities: From hiking and mountain biking in the summer to skiing and snowboarding in the winter, Banff offers a plethora of outdoor adventures.
  7. Icefields Parkway: Often touted as one of the most scenic drives in the world, this highway connects Banff to Jasper National Park and offers views of glaciers, waterfalls, and the Rockies.
  8. Moraine Lake: Another iconic lake, known for its distinct blue color and the Valley of the Ten Peaks in the background.

Is it worth going to Banff?

Absolutely, Banff is a bucket-list destination that offers a unique blend of awe-inspiring wilderness and luxury amenities. Whether you’re an adventure-seeker or someone who just wants to soak in natural beauty, Banff provides an unforgettable experience. It’s a year-round paradise that never ceases to amaze.

Concluding Thoughts on Visiting Banff

So, there you have it, folks! A comprehensive guide to the best places to go in Banff. From the adrenaline-pumping whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River to the tranquil moments at Vermilion Lakes, Banff is a destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a culture vulture, or someone who just wants to soak in the natural beauty, Banff has got you covered.

But don’t just take my word for it. Pack those bags, book that ticket, and experience the magic of Banff for yourself. Trust me, it’s a trip you won’t soon forget. And hey, you might just find yourself coming back year after year. After all, places as special as Banff have a way of capturing your heart.

So, what are you waiting for? Your Banff adventure is just a click away!

The top things to do in Banff for all types of travelers
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