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. There really are a lot of amazing things to do in Banff National Park.
We have explored the park multiple times and always find something amazing to do. In this post we share our favorite things we have done in the park!
Quick list of our top picks in Banff National Park:
- Banff Gondola Ride.
- Rafting trip on the gorgeous Kananaskis river in Banff.
- Hour long horseback riding adventure with Banff Trail Riders.
- Golden Skybridge.
- Lake Minnewanka Cruise.
- Columbia Icefield Adventure.
At the bottom of the post we also share our recommended 5 night 4 day itinerary for Banff National Park! You can purchase a digital copy of the itinerary for $3.99 and download it immediately!
Table of Contents
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 buffet style restaurant. The floor to ceiling windows that surround the restaurant area makes it a great place to eat and soak in the panoramic views of Banff.
They also have a coffee shop where you can grab some snacks and eat them on one of the lookout platforms. This is one of many attractions you will want to visit in Banff.
We headed out on an hour long horseback riding adventure with Banff Trail Riders! It took us by the Cave Basin hot springs and along the Bow River.
Our guide talked about the area and shared a variety of information as we meandered down the trail on our beautiful horses.
When in Banff doing a horseback ride is a must. They also over a wagon ride or horseback ride to a cowboy cookout that looks really fun.
Going on a rafting trip on the gorgeous Kananaskis river in Banff was so much fun!! They fitted us with wet suits, booties, a windbreaker jacket and helmets and off we went onto the river.
It was a level 2/3 rapids and was a perfect level of rapids for our group (kids age 10-15). We all paddled a lot to get us through the river and rapids and our guide did a great job making the trip fun!
We were on the water for about 2 hours and at the end Carson, Cannon and Ivan jumped into the water!! It was freezing but they loved it.
Ok the Golden Skybridge isn’t technically in Banff National Park but is a scenic 2 hour drive to the town of Golden. It is worth it and once you get here plan to spend at least 3-4 hours if you want to participate in all of the activities.
If you don’t want to do all of the activities you can just pick and choose the ones you want to do and it would be a much shorter stay.
We did the following:
Treetop Play Park – a few things our teens could do but a weight limit of 120 on the zipline so be aware of that.
Upper Sky Bridge – a crazy walk on a sky bridge across a 500 foot deep canyon! We said we all felt like Indian Jones 🙂
Ropes Course – a fun ropes course with some easier courses and a more challenging one. It also includes a zipline course.
Mountain Coaster – a fun mountain roller coaster where you control your speed. You can go together if you weight under 310 pounds combined or else you can go on your own.
Touch The Sky Seat – a great place to grab a picture.
Sky Zipline Launch – take a zipline across the 500 foot canyon!!
The Village – in the village you can do axe throwing, a rock wall (for younger kids), grab lunch or dinner and get a beer or soda.
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.
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 rangers around to share information. As well as a gift shop at the bottom of the hill when you are walking up from the parking lot.
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.
Cascade Of Time Garden
Take a walk through the Cascade of Time Garden which is free and located right in downtown. The flowers weren’t quite blooming yet when we were there but you could tell it was going to be gorgeous!
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 to take out on the lake.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise 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.
Moraine Lake is located up in Lake Louise and you won’t believe the color of the water. Is simply breathtaking. You could sit and just take in the views or go for a hike around the lake area.
Things have changed and you can no longer drive a car on the bow valley parkway to get there so you would have to hike in or get a ticket to take the bus in. You can learn more about getting there here.
We stopped at Lake Louise on our way back to Banff from the Golden Skybridge. It actually worked out well since it can be really hard to park up by Lake Louise. but guess what at 8pm at night it is still light up for a couple more hours in the summer and it is super easy to get a parking spot!
We made our way to Lake Louise and got out to walk around and take some pictures and just take in the beauty that is Lake Louise!!
When in Banff don’t miss coming to see Lake Louise and when they are open do the 6 Plains Glacier Tea House hike and the Lake Agnes Tea house. The teahouses were still closed for the season when we were recently there but the 6 Plains Glacier Tea House is one of our favorite hikes ever!!
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 Visitor 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!
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!
Chasing Aurora Borealis
Here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the incredible Aurora Borealis. Check out this guide to seeing the Northern Lights while you are in Banff to see if you can make it work!
Check out these lakes near Banff National Park.
Hiking In Banff
There are a variety of hiking trails 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 do 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.
One of the most popular hikes in Banff. There are a variety of different hikes you can do. Some will be a quick 40 minute hike or you can opt for the longer 4 hour option. We did the shorter Lower Falls hike and it was gorgeous!
Bow Falls Viewpoint
This 1.7 mile there and back hike is another great hike in Banff! Plus it is open year round.
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.
There are so many great things to do in Banff Canada!
4 night 4 Day Itinerary For Banff
Banff Gondola: Last ride up at 7:30pm or 8:30pm be sure to check the time. It will close on top at 9pm or 10pm. I recommend going at around 6/6:30 so you have time to explore at the top without being rushed.
Cascade Of Time Gardens: closes at 11pm. It is free so you can go in to walk around.
Downtown Banff for dinner and/or drinks. Be sure to check the restaurant hours to know when to get there if you want food.
With it being light out later it can get confusing what time of day it is!
10am: Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise: 15 minute drive from Banff – prepare for time to park – but with a 10am time slot you shouldn’t have a problem. But give yourself time to park and walk down to the boat launch. We recommend getting there at 9:15/9:30 at the very latest.
12pm: Johnston Canyon Lower Falls Hike: 45 minute drive from Lake Minnewanka. There is a 2nd parking lot with a lot of parking but will take some extra time to walk to the trailhead. The hike is 1.4 miles roundtrip.
3pm: Golden Skybridge: 1hour 20 minute drive from Johnston Canyon Lower Falls.
8pm: Lake Louise: 1 hour drive to Lake Louise from Golden Skybridge. Coming in this late you should have no problem parking in the lot up by Lake Louise. It is a 45 minute drive to get back to the town of Banff from here.
10am: Banff Trail Riders: 1 hour ride with the stables being a 10 minute drive from the town of Banff. However they will send you a bunch of emails before you show up telling you if you are not there 30 minutes before your time you will not be allowed to go. So be sure to plan to get there 45 minutes early incase there is traffic in Banff.
11:15am: Cave and Basin Historic Site: You have to pay to get in and once in you can check out the hot spring in a cave and learn more about Banff and how it became a National Park. (be sure to leave by 12:30 to give yourself time to get to the rafting).
1:30pm: Chinook Rafting: this is a 4 hour experience and is a 45-60 minute drive to get to the Riverbase from Banff. You should wear your bathing suit as they will give you a wetsuit and other equipment to wear on the trip. No phones allowed so bring a go pro if you want footage. They do have equipment you can use to attach your go pro to your helmet.
6:30pm: Stop In Canmore for the Brewery (you can order pizza or other food and bring it to the brewery) and Dinner.
Drive the Icefields Parkway stopping at Peyto Lake: if you plan to make other stops in the pull offs plan on this taking you 3-4 hours. Plan your time for doing the Columbia Icefields Adventure accordingly. You do have timed entry and must be there 15 minutes early or you may miss your timeslot.
Do the Columbia Icefields Adventure – this will take 2 1/2 hours to complete the whole thing. Take note there are no bathrooms on the trip.
Drive back to Banff
If you have extra time add on:
- A day trip to Radium Hot Springs
- More hiking in Banff
- A full day in Lake Louise to do the 6 Plains Glacier Tea House Hike
- The Wagon Ride with Cowboy Cookout
A digital copy of the Itinerary is available for $3.99! Click here and you can purchase it and download it instantly!
Where To Stay
There are a variety of different accommodations in Banff. Below we share our recommendations.
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 per 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.
Some other options if you don’t mind driving include Mountain Aire Resort located in Water Valley (about a 90 minute drive to Banff) and Millarvile Campground located in Millarville (about a 90 minute drive to Banff).
Banff is a perfect place to take an extended RV road trip. Don’t have an RV? Learn more about renting one here! Check out our post on Tips For Renting An RV and How To Plan An RV Trip. Plus this one on RVing to Banff National Park.
There are a variety of hotels in Banff.
If you are a skier and it is winter you will want to check out the Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Take a look at this absolutely cozy looking house for a family. Includes a BBQ and Hot Tub as well as those amazing Banff views.
If you are looking to stay in Banff for an extended period, this Cozy Riverside Cabin with Expansive Mountain Views may be for you. Located in nearby Canmore, this stay requires a minimum booking of 28 nights, and includes 4 bedrooms, a balcony overlooking the river and mountains, bbq and patio and two kitchens! Perfect for an extended stay with family or friends.
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 (Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse hike) 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. There are so many great places to visit in Jasper!
We have also heard that the Sunshine Village is a great place to stay too. And be sure to check out all the great mountain retreats in the area!
Learn more about Alberta, Canada on this post: The Best Things To Do In Alberta, Canada For Families.
And if you want to plan a whole Rocky Mountain trip check out this great Canadian Rockies vacation itinerary.
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