Banff National Park is such a cool place to visit in North America! It includes the town of Banff, Lake Louise, and all the way up to the Columbia Icefield. The hardest thing is deciding what you are going to do with your time there. There really are a lot of amazing things to do in Banff National Park.
Table of Contents
- Yoho National Park
- Radium Hot Springs
- Peyto Lake
- Where to stay
Banff Gondola Ride
The ride itself is so much fun and then once you get to the top the views are amazing. We weren’t expecting to spend so much time up there, but that is exactly what we did and recommend planning on at least 2 hours.
There is a hike you can take to the top of Sulphur Mountain and it is a pretty easy hike since it is a boardwalk until you get to the very top, then just a short area where you are climbing on a rock pile.
There is a small museum in the Gondola building where you can learn more about the mountain and area. And of course a gift shop.
There are a couple of eating options with a nice sit down restaurant and also a cafeteria style restaurant that offers very reasonably priced options plus beer and wine! The floor to ceiling windows that surround the restaurant area makes it a great place to grab some refreshments and soak in the panoramic views of Banff.
Learn more about our time in Banff and the Explorer Pass here.
Cave and Basin Historical Site
This is the location of where and why Parks Canada began. It is a hot spring was previously open to the public, but now they don’t even want you touching the water due to invasive bacteria in the water. However there is a small area by the entrance where you can feel the water.
There used to be a pool at the site were locals and tourists alike would take in a good soak, which now has been covered and closed. There is a nice museum to learn more about the Cave and Basin and the history of it. Along with the cave that you can walk into. And the Basin with all those amazing colors!
They have live history performances here as well as a gift shop and an eating area.
The town of Banff is such a cool mountain town. Yes, it is touristy and busy, but it doesn’t take away from the experience and I loved how you could see the mountains all around you. Plus the shopping was good and there were a ton of restaurants to pick from.
You can also check out the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies to learn more about the area.
This is also where the visitor center is and they were very helpful in making recommendations on things that we could do in the area. The Bow River cuts through the western end of town where there are some public parks and playgrounds. The water level was a bit high due to winter snow melt and summer rains, but we would have loved to rent kayaks to go out on the river.
Eat on the rooftop
Looking to grab a bite to eat? Check out The Elk and Oarsman on Banff Avenue where you can eat on the rooftop and look out over the mountains! The food was good and so was the service.
Play at the park
There is a nice park area located in downtown by the Bow River that had public restrooms. This is a great stop to make with kids who just want to run around and play.
You know those iconic lake pictures you see of Banff? Lake Minnewanka is one of them. It is a beautiful lake that we were able to catch a glimpse of when we were on the C-Level Cirque hike – once you pass an old mineshaft on the trail you take a right off of the trail and come out to a clearing where you can see the lake.
You can also rent kayaks and boats here and take the Banff Lake Cruise.
Banff Lake Cruise
The Banff Lake Cruise with Brewster Canada is a great way to get out on the beautiful waters of Lake Minnewanka. The boat is completely covered so you can choose to stay inside and listen to the tour guide give you amazing facts about the lake (there is a whole town underwater there!) or you can open the windows or go sit out on the back deck to take in the views.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
The hot springs were OK. I love the idea of a huge hot tub with natural hot spring water. BUT there were a LOT of people in the pool. . . plus we found out it is part natural hot spring and part water they bring in to make the temperature right. Would much rather prefer a totally natural hot spring than one that has been so altered by humans. But nevertheless it is one of those things you should do when in Banff.
Want to walk on a Glacier? You can do that with a 90 minute drive from Banff to the Columbia Icefields on the Icefields Parkway. From the Icefields Parkway Vistior Centre you take a bus to an Ice Explorer then to the Glacier.
It is an amazing feeling to stand on the Athabasca Glacier and to touch the fresh and freezing cold glacier water. The trip on the gigantic Ice Explorer to get there is pretty fun too. You go up and down a 32% grade!
The Ultimate Explorer Pass is the way to go if you want to go on the Glacier, do the skywalk, ride the Gondola and take a lake cruise.
After the glacier, the bus takes you to the Glacier Skywalk which is a glass walkway that hangs out over the edge of the mountain. . . Yes a little scary but also really cool!
There are a vareity of hikes around the downtown Banff area. You can either drive and park your car or RV at the trailheads or take the free buses – learn more about the free buses and schedule at the Visitor Center.
The trailhead for Tunnel Mountain is located on the outskirts of town and you could walk to it from downtown. This hike is popular and we saw a lot of non-hikers on the trail, but don’t be fooled. It isn’t an easy hike.
You hike up the whole way . . . but once you get to the top the views are amazing and it was worth the effort. Also if you are concerned about bears or not use to hiking this is a great hike since it is so busy.
The way down is a whole lot easier than the way up!
Hike by Cave and Basin
After you are done visiting the Cave and Basin National Historic Site you can go on a nice flat walk by the river. The trailhead is located right behind the historical site. Please note this is where we saw a big black bear on the trail.
Being flatter and surrounded by trees and with the river there I think it lends itself to being an area where bears may frequent. Be sure to have your bear spray with you.
We saw the bear when were about 100 yards away from it and watched it hang out and eat at the shrubbery before a set of bicyclers came down and scared it away. At that point we turned around and went back. We didn’t want to take a chance that the bear would come back and block us from returning to our RV.
Hike to C-Level Cirque (Upper Bankhead)
As soon as Carson heard from the people at the visitor center that there was snow at the top of this hike he was sold. It was our first day in Banff and we were not prepared for a hike, but we decided to it and were so glad we did!
As most hikes in the area are it was up a mountain for about 2 1/2 miles but then we reached the area where the snow was! It was so cool to be able to play in the snow and turn around and see the amazing views. Due to Avalanche concerns they don’t recommend running around and playing in the snow . . .
There are remnants of an old town here and you can walk around to check out the building and old mining cars. It is a short hiking/nature trail. So if you aren’t up for the 5 mile Upper Bankhead hike, then this one is for you.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is over an hour drive from Banff, but just a short 30 minute drive from Lake Louise if you end up staying there. It is a cool National Park and has the tallest waterfall in Canada (which the road wasn’t open to yet when we were there). I definitely wish we would have spent more time here.
Wapta Falls Hike in Yoho
This was a great hike to an amazing waterfall and place to stay and play for a while. The hike was mostly flat through the forest and then you start to hear the waterfall. You can stop and look down at the waterfall or make the climb to the bottom where you can get your feet wet and play around for a while.
We of course recommend going down to the water. It is so cool to feel the spray from the waterfall and just to play around in the water, build with the rocks, and take it all in.
Radium Hot Springs
Radium Hot Springs is a bit over a 90 minute drive from Banff, but there are a few places you can stop on the way and it is a pretty drive. Once you get there they have a small visitor center and a little town. But the main attraction is the natural hot springs.
What we liked about these hot springs is there is a cold pool and a hot pool and the cold pool has a diving board and slide! We also liked how it was much less busy then the Banff Hot Springs.
This is a must do while on your way to Radium Hot Springs or else just for a quick day trip from Banff. The Canyon is huge and the water crashing through it is a site to see. There are lots of great picture spots and bridges to walk over. It really is spectacular.
Visit the Continental Divide
You can’t drive by the Continental Divide and not stop right?! Not much to look at but be sure to grab a picture and remember you were here.
If you go to do the Glacier Adventure or the Icefields Parkway there are a lot of stops along the way. This is the one we recommend NOT missing. Peyto Lake. The colors of this lake seem totally fake. It really is surreal to see in person.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Trailer Court campground in Banff National Park and it worked out great! It is about a 30 minute walk down into Banff – or you can take the bus down for free. If you want to take the bus back you do have to pay $2 a person. We chose to walk back up. It isn’t an easy walk since you are going up hill, but it is totally doable.
The campground has full hookups and a picnic table at each site. The sites are small but most people aren’t there to hang out. They are there just to sleep and head out to the park to explore.
The sites were pretty flat and well maintained. We really enjoyed staying there and highly recommend it.
When you are in Banff there are a couple of places you don’t want to miss and Lake Louise is definitely one of them! We did one of our all time favorite hikes here and absolutely fell in love with the amazing blue water and the scenery.
The other place not to miss is the Spectacular Jasper National Park! We recommend spending at least a couple nights there too explore the city and also do some great hikes and to take the gondola up to get an amazing view of the city.
We have also heard that the Sunshine Village is a great place to stay too.
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