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Known for its majestic mountain ranges and scenic lakes, Banff National Park is part of the Canadian Rockies and became Canada’s first national park in 1885. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, today it is the most visited national park in Canada for adventure travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. If you are visiting Banff, make sure you include these top 10 things to do in Banff National Park (amazing activities) in your Banff itinerary!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Soak in the hot spring
- 2 Visit a glacier lake
- 3 Take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain
- 4 Have an afternoon tea at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
- 5 Hike the Tunnel Mountain
- 6 Drive Along Bow Valley Parkway
- 7 Explore the waterfalls at Johnston Canyon
- 8 Treat yourself to BeaverTails
- 9 Go on a lantern tour at the Cave and Basin
- 10 Take a boat cruise across Lake Minnewanka
Soak in the hot spring
Banff was discovered because three Canadian Pacific Railway workers stumbled upon a series of natural hot springs on Sulphur Mountain. It only makes sense to start your trip at a hot spring, where it all began.
There are nine sulphurous hot springs on Sulphur Mountain, but only one – Banff Upper Hot Springs – opens to the public. It has long been thought that the mineral-rich waters have remarkable healing properties and can help with skin irritations and blood circulation. Whether you believe it or not, it is a wonderful place to take in the breathtaking mountain views and relax your muscles.
Visit a glacier lake
Banff is famous for its surreal glacier-fed lakes. You have probably seen a photo of one of the spectacularly blue lakes on Instagram. The question is: which one is worth visiting and where to find it?
Lake Louise is one of the most famous lake in Banff National Park and is easily accessible by Trans-Canada Highway and Lake Louise Drive. The turquoise waters, accompanied by the majestic Victoria Glacier in the backdrop and a beautiful castle-like hotel on the shore, have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in the summer. There are also a few different hiking trails around the lake for you to explore.
In the wintertime, Lake Louise is frozen up. People would bring their skates (or rent a pair) and glide on the frozen surface! A must-do activity if you’re interested in visiting Banff in winter.
Only 14 km away from Lake Louise, Moraine Lake is another beautiful lake that will take your breath away. In fact, it is one of the most photographed lakes in the world and is featured on the back of the old Canadian twenty dollar bills! The best way to explore Moraine Lake is by canoe, kayak, or stand up paddle board. There are also hiking trails running along the shore.
Take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain
Want to get a bird’s eye view of Banff Town and the surrounding mountains? Ride the Banff Gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain!
The 8-minute journey will take you to the upper terminal facility, which houses interpretive displays, a rooftop observation deck, restaurants and even a multi-sensory theater! You can also venture outside and take the boardwalk to the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station.
Have an afternoon tea at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
A more luxurious way to experience Banff is enjoying an afternoon tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Sitting inside the fairytale castle, you will get a chance to indulge in the mountain views and soak in the atmosphere of the glorious surroundings. Imagine sampling a selection of teas, scones, and dainty finger sandwiches, what a wonderful way to add a touch of elegance and indulgence to your visit! Booking is recommended.
Hike the Tunnel Mountain
Want to go outside and get active? There is no better way to experience Banff than hitting the hiking trails.
There is an endless amount of hiking trails to wander but a hike up the Tunnel Mountain is highly recommended. This easy hike (2.3 km) is relatively short (2.3 km) and leads to the top of Banff’s smallest summit. From the top, you can enjoy a panorama of the townsite, the Bow and Spray River valleys, the Banff Springs Golf Course, and surrounding peaks.
Drive Along Bow Valley Parkway
Many people come to Banff for wildlife viewing. Elk and deer are commonly seen around the town, but Banff is home to many more animals, including wolves, cougars, black bears, grizzlies, and big-horn sheep.
The best way to spot wildlife is taking a scenic drive along the Bow Valley Parkway (aka Highway 1A). Open year-round, the scenic route runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Parkway, connecting Banff and Lake Louise. Wildlife sightings are most common in early morning and late afternoon.
Animal encounters can be exhilarating, but make sure you stay in the vehicle and keep your distance. Most importantly, never ever feed the animals.
Explore the waterfalls at Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is a must-see attraction in Banff. Located just 30 minutes outside the townsite, Johnston Canyon offers hikers plenty of solitude and wilderness. In a short 2.7 km hike, you will encounter an amazingly varied scenery, including deep and narrow gorge, fascinating rock formations, cascading waterfalls, and secret caves. Although the main attractions are the Lower and Upper Falls, don’t be afraid to go further for another 3.1 km which will take you to the Ink Pots to see the seven green-colored mineral springs in an open meadow.
Treat yourself to BeaverTails
In terms of best places to eat in Banff, BeaverTails is one of the most famous and a favourite among many travelers. This iconic Canadian delicacy is similar to many other deep-fried dough pastries, except it is stretched to a shape of a beaver’s tail. It is often topped with a variety of sweet or savory ingredients like Nutella, banana, cinnamon, maple butter, or the signature poutine!
It is so popular that wwo BeaverTails storefronts opened up on Banff Avenue!
Go on a lantern tour at the Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin is a National Historic Site where visitors can learn about the park’s fascinating history and the rare plants and animals dependent on the thermal spring habitat.
In the summer from June through September, the park runs lantern tours on every Saturday night. The guide will share tales of the ancients as you wander through the tunnel. It sure is a fun and educational way to explore the site after dark! Registration is required.
Take a boat cruise across Lake Minnewanka
No visit to Banff is complete without a trip to the largest lake in the park – Lake Minnewanka, and the best way to explore this natural beauty is by a boat cruise.
Operating between mid-May and mid-October, this narrated boat tour takes visitors across the majestic lake in an hour while diving deep into the lake’s history and natural environment. Once in a while, animals like big horn sheep, American bald eagles, ospreys, deer and bears might be spotted.
Besides the classic 1-hour cruise, there are other cruise options available allowing you to experience more of Lake Minnewanka. The explorer cruise, for example, give visitors an extended time on the lake. Beer voyage, on the other hand, comes with a tasty selection of local craft beer and soda along with a special take-home gift!
This post is written by Cat Lin, a Canada-based food and travel writer.
Author’s Bio: Cat Lin loves adventure travel and enjoys sampling the local cuisine while visiting foreign countries. You can follow her stories at For Two, Please, or on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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