If you are looking for epic Banff attractions, you will want to check out the Pursuit attractions! Lake cruises, gondola rides, standing on a glacier, walking out over the edge of a mountain, so many amazing things to do!
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4 Epic Banff Attractions You Don’t Want To Miss
You have a choice to make on which Lake Cruise you will do – or you can do both! In our opinion the deciding factor is if you plan to visit Jasper National Park on your trip.
If you do, then we recommend the Maligne Lake tour. If you are only going to be in the Banff area then the Lake Minnewanka cruise is for you!
What we loved about this boat tour is you are able to get off the boat and explore by Spirit Island. This is one of those iconic picture places in Jasper National Park. The boat ride takes about 30 minutes over the beautiful Maligne Lake where you will watch the water color change before your eyes (due to the Glaciers that impact the amount of rock flour in the water) and see multiple Glaciers right from the boat.
Once you reach Spirit Island you will have a chance to get off of the boat for 15 minutes to explore and take some beautiful pictures. Then you head back to the boat for the 30 minute drive back to the dock.
If you are feeling up to it, you can head to the back of the boat and sit outside or you can stay inside where you can open or close your window. The tour guide does a great job of giving you facts and history of the lake on your trip and is more then willing to answer any questions that you have.
Once the boat docks you can rent a canoe or kayak or stop in the restaurant to grab a bite to eat.
Things to know
- You are up at around 5,000 ft when you visit the lake so the weather could be colder than in Jasper.
- There is no internet or cell coverage when you are by the lake and I mean none . . . they don’t have wifi or anything so be prepared for that.
- They do have a restaurant with pastries, sandwiches, and drinks if you want to plan to hang out for a while.
The Lake Minnewanka cruise is a great way to get out on the beautiful waters of Lake Minnewanka. The lake is one of those picturesque lakes you see in pictures of Canada. The blue seems like someone poured blue Kool-Aid into the lake and the Canadian rockies in the background looks like a painting.
Our tour guide on the boat did a great job explaining the history of the lake and the area while also throwing in some funny jokes to keep us entertained. The boat ride is about an hour long which is the perfect length of time with kids.
You can also get up and move around on the boat and head out to stand on the back balcony. The boat has windows that can be opened or closed. When the windows are closed the boat is nice and warm.
Things to know:
- There is not a bathroom on the boat dock so be sure to stop at the bathroom before heading down – there are no bathrooms on the boat as well.
- After getting your tickets you get in a line to get on the boat. If you have a large group or want to be sure your family sits together you may want to get there early to get in line. Each row sits 3 – 4 (with kids) comfortably.
- Plan extra time to enjoy Lake Minnewanka after the boat cruise. The have a snack bar right by the dock and also a beach area where you can watch the boats and take pictures. It is a great place to bring a picnic lunch as well.
This is definitely a must do attraction in Banff! The views on the way up are simply amazing and once you get to the top of Sulphur Mountain, there are so many fun things to do. We spent 2 hours up there enjoying everything there was to do.
You can go out on the patio area of the first floor and take in the beauty of the mountains, the Bow River and downtown Banff or you can go up to the balcony on the top of the building and take in the beauty there.
Then you can walk about 500 meters on the decking and stairs to get to the top of the peak and get another amazing view of the mountains around you. I highly recommend taking the walk. When you reach the top there is an old weather tower and you can still see the bunk beds that the men use to sleep in.
In the 1900’s the first weather observer hiked the mountain over 1000 times to record different weather activity. That is a whole lot of hiking!
After that you can head back to the building to visit the gift shop or walk through the museum to learn more about Banff and the gondola. Then head upstairs to either have a full dinner in their upscale restaurant or head over the cafe area to get a snack, dinner, or a drink.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time riding the gondola and spending time at the top of the mountain. I would love to go back again in the winter to see what it looks like then!
Things to know:
- It was definitely colder on the top so dress accordingly and if you want to do the hike to the summit wear the right shoes. At the end of the hike you do climb over a few rocks.
- If you plan on hiking to the summit, sitting down to eat and take time to explore the museum area you could be at the top for a good 2 hours.
- There is RV parking by the base of the gondola and a trail you can walk on to get to the gondola office.
Visit the Athabasca Glacier
Interested in a Banff attraction that puts you on a Glacier?! The Columbia Icefield Adventure will do just that! A huge ice truck (each truck costs over 1 million dollars) takes you on an adventure to reach the Athabasca Glacier. You go down one hill that has over a 32% grade. It is an adventure in itself just getting there.
On The Glacier
You then park on the glacier and are able to get out and walk on the glacier, touch the water, and even drink it if you want to. It really is a surreal feeling to be standing on a glacier that is about 1000 feet thick and to see the blue water and touch the cold glacial water.
You are on the glacier for about 20 – 30 minutes so you have plenty of time to grab some fun pictures and take in the beauty around you. We went on a day where it was about 75 degrees at the ticket window and once we got up there we were fine with just sweatshirts on and no hats or gloves.
BUT be sure to keep in mind it is colder on the glacier so if you want to be really warm dress accordingly. It is also usually windy.
When on the glacier, there is running water of melting ice, so be sure to have a good pair of waterproof shoes to keep your feet warm and dry. We had our Keens which have proven again to the be the only shoe we need!
To get to the glacier, you go to the Columbia Icefield Adventure building, then head to the tour departure area and get on a tour bus. The bus takes you up to a depot where you get on the Ice Truck to get to the Glacier.
The drivers on each leg of the ride where very informative and shared some fun facts about the glaciers and the area.
To return you do the same and take the Ice Truck to the depot and then the tour bus takes you on about a 10 minute drive to get to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk.
Things to know:
- It seemed to us that things really slowed down in the afternoon – with tour buses and people. So if it works with your schedule, we recommend going later in the day.
- There are lots of stops you can make on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) on your way to or from the Glacier adventure so take that into consideration when you are planning your day.
- There is plenty of RV parking – they have a whole separate lot for RV’s. It is a walk to get from the parking lot to the ticket office so plan at least an extra 10 minutes to walk from your car to the ticket window.
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is a walkway with a glass bottom that extends out over the valley! On the walk to get to the Skywalk, there are pictures and information you can read to learn more about the area.
Once you get to the Skywalk take a deep breath and step out on the platform. If you are afraid of heights don’t look down! Actually I do recommend looking down – it is cool to see the rushing water below you and then looking out you get an amazing view of the mountains and glaciers.
This can be a quick trip if you just get off the bus and go to the walkway or it could take an hour or so if you take your time.
When you are done the tour bus will take you back to the Columbia Icefield Adventure Centre and you can visit the gift shop, grab some lunch, or sit out on the deck and take in the amazing glacier views!
Planning your trip:
There are so many amazing attractions in Banff national park it can be hard to pick what to do! Banff is Canada’s first national park and hosts the Banff upper hot springs. And offers amazing exploring in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. There is also the Bow falls, mountain biking and some great winter activities.
If you are going to be heading to Jasper, we recommend you do the Banff Gondola while in Banff then plan on doing the Glacier Adventure and Skywalk on your way to Jasper. Then do the Maligne Lake tour once you are in Jasper. You will also want to add a stop at Lake Louise when leave Banff and drive on the bow valley parkway!
If you are only going to be in the Banff area we recommend you do the Banff Lake Cruise first, then the Gondola, then take a day to head up to the Icefields Parkway and do the Glacier Adventure and Skywalk. The Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre is about 2 1/2 hours from Banff and the Icefields Parkway is a Banff attraction in itself.
More fun things to do in and around Banff:
Learn more about Crazy Family Adventure! We are a family of 6 plus a dog who sold our house, bought an RV, and have been traveling full time around North America since May 2014. Learn more about us here.
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Disclosure: A huge thank you to Brewster Canada for providing the Ultimate Explorer Package to these Banff attractions. All opinions here are my own.
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