Banff is a mecca for outdoor adventurers, travel junkies, and hiker trash (like myself hehehe). This beautiful National Park in the Canadian Rockies is THE ultimate destination for any type of summer getaway and I’m about to tell you why. In this post I’m going to cover literally every single thing you can do in Banff in summer to help you plan the funnest trip ever.
How do I know about all these rad Banff activities? I was actually fortunate enough to live in Banff from 2020-2021 which allowed me to experience everything Banff in every season. I’m tellin’ ya, Banff never disappoints.
In this guide I’ll also tell you about all the other stuff you need to know about visiting Banff like accommodation options, what to pack, etc etc etc. BUT for a more in depth review/recommendation/whatever you want to call it – check out this post.
Visiting Banff in winter? Check out my guide for 30+ epic things to do in Banff: winter edition.
- Getting to Banff National Park
- Best time to visit Banff in summer
- What to pack for Banff in summer
- Where to stay in Banff
- 50+ wicked things to do in Banff in summer
- An intro to Banff in winter
This post contains affiliate links; see my full disclosure. If you click these links and make a purchase you’re supporting The Holistic Backpacker. Thanks for your support & happy adventuring! – Taylor ♡
- Step-by-step: Plan your trip to Banff National Park
- 30+ epic things to do in Banff in winter
- How to live in Banff
- Guide to the Icefields Parkway
- How to plan the perfect itinerary to Jasper National Park
How to Get to Banff
Banff National Park is located about an hour and a half from the Calgary International Airport (YYC); Calgary being the gateway city for all-things-Canadian-Rockies.
Why? Everything in the Banff is spread out and the only way to properly explore the Park is by car. This is especially true if you plan on adding Jasper or any of the other nearby Parks to your Banff itinerary.
iep in mind that you’ll need to purchase a Park’s Pass to enter Banff with a vehicle; the same goes for any of the other Canadian National Parks. If you’re spending multiple days in Canada’s Parks, it may be worth it to purchase a Discovery Pass.
Best Time to Visit Banff in Summer
Summer in Banff is short. There’s a super small window where the weather is warm enough for outdoor activities, especially if you plan to do any sort of big summit or backcountry camping.
Summer in Banff is considered June to August, however depending on the year May, September, and even sometimes October are warm enough to still get outside and enjoy all of Banff’s wild nature. Month by month, here’s generally what you can expect in Banff in summer:
- May – still considered early season for outdoor activities. Hiking can be a little sketchy as you’ll find lots of snow up in the mountains and avalanches can occur (especially early in the month). There will however be next to no tourists and plenty of wildlife lurking around town. One of my favourite things about May is actually Banff’s moody weather. You’ll frequently see low-lying clouds framing the mountains and cloud inversions.
- June – Banff’s lakes are typically melted by June, hiking season officially starts, and Banff’s tourist count increases. Although town will be warm-ish, you’ll still find snowcapped peaks and lots of snow on high elevation hikes; best to stick to lower elevation trails.
- July – July is prime time for outdoor activities in Banff, especially later in the month. July is when backcountry camping trips are best enjoyed, water-based activities are prevalent, and it’s the point in summer where you’ll find the warmest temps and wildflowers. The only downfall of visiting Banff in July are the vast amounts of tourists/crowds; you won’t experience a “quiet mountain getaway” if that’s what you’re after.
- August – August is another excellent month for visiting Banff. Like in July you’ll experience warm weather which is suitable for water activities, hiking, and backcountry camping. In fact, if you plan to hike any of Banff’s big summits (like Mount Bourgeau) you’ll need to plan for late July/early August. In August you can also expect to find lots of tourists.
**Keep in mind that summer is also wildfire season. Some years are worse than others, but if it’s a warm/dry summer you can expect to find frequent smoke in mountainous regions.
Fall in Banff
Banff’s weather can be extremely variable, so fall is a bit of a mixed bag if you’re planning a trip. My first summer in Banff was quite cold, however I was able to continue hiking and completing pretty big summits until October. My second summer in Banff was quite hot (all of Canada experienced a massive heat wave), however by the end of August all of Banff’s mountains were snowcapped and it was too cold to go hiking or camping.
Always check the weather and current conditions before your trip, buuuut here’s generally what you can expect in Banff in fall:
- September – September is typically still a beautiful time of year in Banff. You can expect minimal tourists, crisp autumn air, golden Larch trees, and lots of wildlife. September/early October is actually the best time of year to visit Banff if you want to see elk. During this time the elk partake in rutting season (mating season) and make an eery bugling noise. Of course keep your distance, practice wildlife safety, and respect the animals.
- October – October is probably the most “blah” time of year to visit Banff. The snow starts falling and the temperature drops significantly making outdoor activities unenjoyable/impossible. In saying this though, if Banff experiences a warmer fall you can still hike late into the season and find the golden Larch trees the first week of October. Like in May, you’ll find a lot of low-lying clouds framing the mountains which does make for some spectacular scenery.
What to Pack for Banff in Summer
Packing for Banff can be tricky. Since you’re in the mountains, you’ll need to be prepared for alllll sorts of weather – after all, mountain weather changes on a dime.
My best tip for packing for Banff is to bring layers. Layers go for your hiking clothes AND for the cute clothes you plan to wear in town.
If you plan to hike in Banff, check out these guides for a more detailed report on what you’ll need gear-wise and clothing-wise for hiking:
- What to wear hiking in the Rockies
- Recommended hiking gear for the Rockies
- Backcountry gear guide: Canadian Rockies
- To help you with costs: how to save money on hiking/camping gear AND shop these stores to save
A quick overview of my favourite pieces of hiking gear/clothes: Peak Design Capture Clip for photographers, this waterproof jacket (men’s version), and my Hydrapak. I never hit the trail without these items!
Aside from hiking attire, I recommend packing the following for Banff:
- A (one) cute summery outfit, maybe 2. Leave the heels and fancy clothes at home – bring mainly athletic clothing!
- Versatile summer clothing you can layer with; ie. cardigans or a zip fleece (I like this one for travel/men’s version).
- Pants; either hiking pants (my favourite pants/men’s version), durable leggings, or jeans depending on the activities you plan on doing.
- Hiking boots (I use these/men’s version) or trail runners.
- Thin gloves (I use these/men’s version).
- A toque/baseball cap.
- A good day-pack (I use this one/men’s version).
Of course always check the conditions prior to your trip and plan accordingly.
Where to Stay in Banff
The “best” place to stay in Banff depends on your price range and what you’re looking for. There are a few ways to go about finding accommodations in Banff according to each price range:
- Find all accommodations in Banff here.
- Iconic Banff hotels: Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, The Rimrock Resort hotel, and Sunshine Mountain Lodge (ski in/ski out at Sunshine Village).
- Popular hotels in Banff: Mount Royal, Elk & Avenue, Juniper Hotel & Bistro, Banff Park Lodge, and The Banff Caribou.
- Budget accommodations in Banff: there are numerous hostels in Banff, The Dorothy Motel, Blue Mountain Lodge Bed & Breakfast, Banff Rocky Mountain Resort.
- Iconic hotels near Banff: Emerald Lake Lodge (Yoho), Prince of Wales (Waterton), Mount Engadine Lodge(Kananaskis Country), Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (Jasper).
Tips for Saving Money on Accommodations
I won’t lie, Banff can be a pretty expensive place to travel (but worth every penny). So, to help you offset some of the costs of your trip, here are tips for saving on accommodations in Banff:
- Camp in town. If you don’t have camping equipment you can rent tents, cooking sets, sleeping bags, and just about everything else from Bactrax.
- Stay at one of Banff’s hostels: the Banff International Hostel, Samesun Banff, HI Banff Alpine Centre, or the HI Lake Louise.
- Utilize Booking.com to compare hotel prices and amenities to ensure the hotel you book suits your needs. Some of the benefits of using Booking.com are their price match guarantee, free cancellation on almost all bookings, and clear pricing with no hidden fees.
- Check out hotels in Canmore. Canmore often offers cheaper rates and is located only 20 minutes from Banff.
50+ Wicked Things to do in Banff in Summer
Of course my list for things to do in Banff in summer starts with hiking! Banff is a world renown destination for outdoor adventures with a particular emphasis on hiking.
There are TONS of great trails in Banff, however you’d be missing out big time if you didn’t also take advantage of the hikes in Kananaskis Country (located just 40 minutes away). Some of my favourite hikes in Kananaskis are West Wind Pass, Rawson Lake, and Opal Ridge. BUT you can find all my Kananaskis trail guides here.
As for hiking in Banff, these are the trails you don’t want to miss:
- Easy: Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots, Tunnel Mountain (smallest summit in Banff), and these 12 easy hikes.
- Moderate: Sulphur Mountain, C-Level Cirque, Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass, and the Lake Louise Circuit.
- Hard: Mount Bourgeau, Tower of Babel, and the Sulphur Mountain Traverse Route.
You can find detailed trail guides for the above hikes (and more) here.
Not sure what to wear for hiking in Banff? Check out my clothing guide for the Rockies.
Not sure what gear you’ll need for hiking in Banff? check out my Banff gear guide.
Tips for hiking in Banff:
- Always carry bear spray and keep your distance from wildlife.
- Don’t attempt anything out of your ability range (like scrambles).
- Most hiking trails don’t have cell service. Carry a map (or download an Alltrails map), bring a satellite communication device, and tell someone where you’re going/expected to return.
- Bring lots of food and water (I always bring 2L in my Hydrapak).
- Dress appropriately.
- Start early to ensure you have plenty of daylight to finish your hike. Oftentimes (especially if you’re an inexperienced hiker), hikes take such longer than expected.
- Have fun and take lots of pictures!
2. Go on a Multi-Day Backcountry Camping Trip
Another thing you can do in Banff in summer is backcountry camping AKA backpacking or multi-day hiking. Backcountry camping is the best way to truly experience Banff’s mountains, wilderness, and lakes.
The perks of backcountry camping include more solitude in Banff’s back ranges, wild morning and evening reflections on various alpine lakes in the region, and a complete disconnect from the modern world; you won’t find ANY cell service in the backcountry.
Of course, only attempt a multi-day hike if you’re prepared, have experience, and know what gear to take. the mountains can be unforgiving if you’re improperly prepared, so it’s best to go with someone more experienced or a take a guided tour before attempting something like this on your own.
My favourite backpacking trail in Banff is the Skoki Loop which spans 3 days and almost 40kms. On this trail you’ll find the most picturesque lakes and potentially some hungry porcupines.
If you’re a beginner backpacker you can try Glacier Lake! Glacier Lake is a relatively easy 1 night trail that’s perfect for those new to the sport.
Tips for Backpacking in Banff:
- Book your campsites via Parks Canada in advance; popular backpacking trails fill up instantly. If you can’t get a site, keep checking back for cancellations.
- Can’t get a reservation? Backpack at Ya Ha Tinda! This route crosses a Wildland area (just outside of Banff) which means no reservations are required.
- Know what gear you’ll need; here’s my backcountry gear guide for the Rockies.
- Aim to backpack in the summer months; July and August.
- Understand proper bear safety.
3. Explore the Town of Banff
Although I’m sure most of Banff’s visitors plan to beeline it to the lakes, hiking trails, and scenic highways, I’m recommending that you also take at least half a day to explore the town of Banff.
The town of Banff has lots of cute shops, bakeries, restaurants, and places you’ll want to see before you leave. Some of my favourite places in town are Rude Boys (snowboarding shop), Rocks and Gems (where are my crystals lovers at?), and Atmosphere (camping/outdoor gear).
You’ll also want to take your photo on Banff Ave with Cascade Mountain in the back. Cascade is one of the most famous mountains in Banff along with Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, and Castle Mountain. Note sure which mountains these are? Ask the locals! We’re quite proud of the rocky beauties surrounding our little mountain town and we’ll be happy to point them out to you.
4. Enjoy Banff’s Lakes
Of course, something you’ll want to do in Banff in summer is check out the blue alpine lakes. There are a couple famous lakes in Banff like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, but I’m not even going to talk about them because they’re so well known. I will link you to this page though which outlines all the ways to get to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake; I’d advise against driving because parking can be crazy.
What I will do is tell you all about the less popular, but equally beautiful lakes in the area.
Just minutes from town you’ll find the Lake Minnewanka scenic route. On this road you’ll find Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake and of course, Lake Minnewanka. Johnson Lake is a local’s favourite for swimming as it’s one of the warmest lakes in Banff. Two Jack is popular for camping, and lake Minnewanka is great for boat cruises, boat rentals, polar dips, and hiking (more about Lake Minnewanka next).
There are plenty of other lakes in Banff, but the catch is you must hike to them. A few of these lakes are Rockbound Lake, Boom Lake, the Skoki Lakes, Taylor & O’Brien Lake, Arnica & Twin Lakes, and Glacier Lake. You can find my trail guides and how to access the lakes here.
Looking for more lakes nearby? In Kananaskis Country you can find Rawson Lake, the Spray Lakes, the Picklejar Lakes, and Grassi Lakes. In Jasper you can find the stunning Maligne Lake, and in Yoho you can find Emerald Lake and Sherbrooke Lake.
5. Watch Sunrise/Sunset
As you create your bucket list, something in Banff in summer you MUST do is catch sunrise and/or sunset. The following spots are the best places in town:
- Vermillion Lakes
- Norquay patch
- Tunnel Mountain or Sulphur Mountain
- Tent Ridge in Kananaskis (only in the summer months)
- Hoodoos viewpoint (GPS)
6. Take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain
The Banff Gondola is the Park’s most famed attraction. I worked there the summer of 2021 and can attest to the absolute beauty this mountain summit possesses.
Atop the summit you’ll find the Sky Bistro (super fancy restaurant), Castle Mountain Coffee Co, various festivals, a rooftop patio, an interactive museum, and a boardwalk. There’s lots to do at the Banff Gondola, however since it’s such a popular attraction you can expect to find loads of tourists up there. If you want some solo time at the summit I’d suggest arriving as soon as the Gondola opens or going up for sunset.
I personally find the Gondola tickets to be a bit expensive, so I’d recommend hiking up Sulphur Mountain instead if you have the time and physical capability. You can read about the Sulphur Mountain hike here or if you want to take the gondola you can book tickets here.
Sulphur Traverse Route
Advanced hikers, this is for you.
The Sulphur Mountain Traverse route starts on top of Sulphur Mountain and follows a ridge that connects to the true Sulphur summit over series of peaks.
If you have route finding and scrambling capabilities, I’d HIGHLY recommend checking this trail out – I think it features some of the most beautiful views in Banff.
If you’re new to hiking or don’t have the skills, do NOT attempt this route. This is considered a “local’s only” hike and even by those means no one really knows about it so no one will be able to help/inform you on the trail.
Your can read my complete Sulphur Mountain Traverse guide here.
7. Explore Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is a lesser known lake compared to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, however it’s actually one of my favourite lakes in the area.
In summer you can find lots of great hiking trails, boat rentals, camping spots, and boat cruises along the shore. In winter, this is one of the best lakes to skate on in Banff.
I’d recommend checking out the easy Stewart Canyon trail, renting a tin boat or kayak, and bringing a picnic. Lake Minnewanka is the perfect place to spend a summer day in Banff!
Follow The Holistic Backpacker’s Adventures on Socials:
Sign up for my newsletter and stay up-to-date with my latest adventures, gear guides, and eco-resources!
8. Go on a Photography Tour
Canada’s Rocky Mountains are an absolute paradise for photographers. LITERALLY everywhere you turn in Banff you’ll want to take out your camera and snap some shots.
I feel silly even pointing out “photography spots,” because everything is so photo-worthy here, however the following spots are kind of famous for photographers in Banff:
- The lakes: Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Vermillion Lakes, Bow Lake, Emerald Lake (Yoho), Peyto Lake, and Two Jack Lake.
- Castle Mountain Lookout trail.
- Any of the highways through the mountains. The Trans Canada is great as well as Kananaskis Way.
- The Three Sisters via Policeman’s Creek in Canmore.
Aside from these spots, literally any hike or mountain summit will provide you with incredible spaces to do photoshoots.
9. Visit the Banff Farmer’s Market
The farmer’s market is a local’s favourite in the summer months. Here you can find fresh produce from British Columbia, local crafts and goodies, and some GREAT food trucks.
^After grabbing lunch at the market you can go for a nice picnic/stroll along the nearby Bow River.
The Farmers market usually starts at the end of May and continues until fall rolls around. Usually the market occurs on Wednesdays at Central Park (GPS), however you can find the latest information about the market’s hours and dates here.
10. Plunge into the Depths of Rat’s Nest Cave
Okay so caving is TOTALLY off-the-beaten path, but this is something super cool so it had to make the list of things to do in Banff.
Caving is not for the faint of heart, especially at Rat’s Next Cave. Here you’ll climb through thin cave walls, rappel down an 18m hole, and slide down laundry chutes in order to reach underground caverns. Along the way you’ll have the chance to see stalactites and stalagmites (unique rocks formations) as well as various animal bones, crystal clear pools, and you’ll get to hear all about how the cave was used by indigenous peoples for sacrificial purposes.
The Adventure Tour has been named a “signature Canadian experience.” This tour spans 6 hours (4 underground) and features every cavern, pool, and chute in Rat’s Nest Cave.
The Explorer Tour is 4.5 hours (2 underground) and acts as more of an intro tour to caving. If you’re nervous, the explorer tour is a great option to start with!
11. Float Down the Bow River
If you ask any local about their favourite thing to do in Banff in summer, it’s float down the Bow River.
For this you’ll need an inflatable raft (this one from Amazon is perfect), some cold beers, dry bags (to attach your drinks & belongings to the raft), and a speaker – I like this one because it’s waterproof and it has a clip so you can attach it to anything.
The easiest way to get to the start of the float is to hire a taxi. Chances are if you tell the taxi driver what you’re doing they’ll know where to drop you off, BUT if not just tell them to drop you off at the pullout on the right side of the Trans Canada (coming from Banff) after the exit for the Bow Valley Parkway (highway 1A) and before the exit for Sunshine Village.
Make sure your raft/boat adheres to the “clean, drain, dry” rule before launching it. The initial entry into the river is fast flowing and hard to steer (keep right), but after this the flow chills out and you can relax until the river takes you back to town. The best places to exit your raft are at the Bow Valley Canoe Club (GPS) or the Rec Grounds (GPS).
Make SURE you get out at the Rec Grounds because after this the river turns quite rocky and there’s a waterfall – you don’t want to get caught up in this.
12. Go for a Bike Ride
Going for a bike ride is a great way to see the town of Banff and a super relaxing way to spend a summer day in the mountains. If you don’t have a bike you can rent one from Bactrax in town.
A few great bike riding trails in Banff are:
- The legacy trail from Banff to Canmore (40kms roundtrip). If you don’t feel like riding back, you can opt to take the Roam bus one-way for $6.
- Vermillion Lakes loop – one of the easier routes in town; great for kids, families, and chill rides.
- The Fairmont Golf Course – my FAVOURITE. So many great spots to stop along the river and you’ve got a high chance of seeing wildlife, especially if you ride in the fall.
- From town to Lake Minnewanka – expect lots of hills on this route.
- Bow Valley Parkway (highway 1A) – this is a BIG day of riding, but it will take you to spots like Johnston Canyon.
If you’re a hard-core, extreme cycler you can actually ride all the way from Banff to Jasper. You have to be in CRAZY shape to do this, but accomplishing it is such a bucket list item.
13. Get an Ice cream from Cows
Something you have to do (and I mean have to) in Banff is grab a cone from Cows.
Cows on Banff Ave has super rich ice cream in all sorts of flavours. My favourite is Messy Bessie. mmmmm you have to try it!
When I lived in Banff I made it my mission to find the best ice cream in the Rockies. Cows came in 3rd place behind (#1) Big Scoop in Waterton Lakes National Park and (#2) Scoops and Loops in Jasper National Park.
I guess if you’re an ice cream enthusiast, like myself, you’ll have to travel elsewhere in the Rockies to find the best ice cream!
But Cows is pretty good and if you’re in Banff in summer it’s a must!
14. See Banff From Above: Norquay Patch
Norquay patch is a grassy lookout located off Norquay road toward the ski resort. From the lookout you’ll have a killer view over the town of Banff, Vermillion Lakes, and down the Bow Valley.
This is a great place for sunset, but it’s also ideal for picnics or a chill afternoon. If I ever felt like reading, journaling, or meditating (okay, pretending to meditate) this was the place. There’s also a hike not far up the road called the Upper Stoney Lookout trail.
In winter the locals flock to Norquay patch to get some skiing/snowboarding in before the ski hills open.
15. Visit Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is one of the famed Banff lakes and it’s located along the Icefields Parkway. The serene beauty and prime location of Peyto Lake makes this something you have to do in Banff when you visit. Peyto Lake is famous for it’s wolf-shaped appearance and bright blue water.
Unfortunately when I lived in Banff the lake was closed for renovations so I never got to see it in person.
If I could give you any tips it would be to arrive early or late. Since this spot is so famous, you’re guaranteed to be swarmed by fellow tourists all wanting the exact same photo.
For reference, this is the quick hike that takes you to the famous Peyto Lake lookout point.
16. Go Star Gazing
Okay star gazing is one of those things to do in Banff that’s just next level. Since there’s no light pollution the stars are INCREDIBLE here!
The best places to see the stars in Banff are easily Lake Minnewanka and Peyto Lake, although Lake Minnewanka is much closer to town which makes it more accessible.
Another option is to look at the stars from Abraham Lake. I’ll talk more about Abraham Lake next, but this is a free camping spot in the Rockies and it’s UNREAL.
The winter months (October to April, and especially February) are ideal for looking at the stars because there’s a higher chance of seeing the northern lights, however the summer stars never disappoint so, really, any time of year is great for this!
17. Go Camping
Going with the whole “outdoorsy” theme of Banff, camping should surely make your Banff summer bucket list. There are a couple campsites right in the town of Banff like Two Jack lake and Tunnel Mountain, but the really good camping spots are found in the backcountry.
Whatever your camping adventure looks like, make sure you book your site on the Parks Canada website waaaaay in advance. Both front country and backcountry spots fill up quickly in Banff.
If you’re in need of any sort of camping equipment like tents, sleeping bags, or stoves, you can rent them from Bactrax in town.
18. Enjoy a Night on the Town
Pretty much every night in Banff is a party, but special emphasis is put on Sunday – Sunday Funday, baby! Sunday is the night all the locals go out because a lot of have Monday/Tuesday off. Many bars and clubs in town also have discounts and specials.
Banff has one night club – The Dancing Sasquatch – as well as multiple other popular bars like High Rollers (bowling, pool, and super cheaper fishbowls), Mels (karaoke), Hello Sunshine (new, karaoke), Tommy’s, Rose and Crown, and the greasiest bar in Banff; Pump and Tap.
You may want to check out Taxi Mike as well. Taxi Mike is run by a local who constantly updates this site with all the drink and food specials in town.
19. Hang out at the Rec Grounds
I know I talk about local’s favourite a lot in this post, but we’ve got a lot of good things here that make living in Banff fun. One of those things being the Rec Grounds.
The Rec Grounds are located at the end of town (GPS) and feature everything you need to have a good night. There are public fire pits with free wood, tennis courts and football fields, a park, and pavillions.
The rec grounds is the perfect place to bring some food and beers, have a bonfire, or play some spike ball.
20. Visit Bow Falls
A quick and easy thing to do in Banff in summer is visit Bow Falls. Bow Falls is located along the Bow River right next to the Fairmont Golf Course. So actually, if you’re planning to bike the golf course you might as well stop at the falls and kill two birds with one stone.
The picture I have here is facing away from the falls because for some reason I took the worst photo possible of the waterfall hahaha. I guess you’ll have to take a quick stroll/bike ride over here to see what it looks like yourself!
Considering Bow Falls is right in town though it’s SO impressive!
21. Find the Best View of Mount Rundle at Cascade Waterfall
Like Cascade Mountain, Mount Rundle is an iconic mountain in Banff. You can summit Mount Rundle (or do the East End from Canmore), however this is a massive and intense day-hike that should be left for serious and advanced hikers only.
Instead, you’re better off to find a view of Mount Rundle from down below! My favourite places to see Mount Rundle are from Two Jack Lake and Cascade Falls. Cascade Falls is actually the starting point for an ice climbing route in the winter, however this little trail is becoming more and more popular.
The best part? It’s super close to town! You don’t even need a car to access Cascade Falls.
You can read more about the little hike to Cascade Falls in this post.
22. Visit Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is a great hike for people of all ages and hiking abilities. The hike features beautiful blue waterfalls, massive canyon walls, little caves, and gushing rapids.
If you don’t have a car, don’t fret. You can take route 9 on the Roam bus or even bike to the trailhead.
My advice would be to arrive very early or do this hike late in the day though as it’s so popular. If you arrive mid-day during the summer there will be huge crowds of people, almost no parking, and you’ll have to wait ages in line to see the little caves and waterfalls.
Want to Extend This Hike?
If you’re looking to make the Johnston Canyon hike a little longer, you may want to consider going to the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots are vibrant cold spring pools that are all slightly different in colour.
The hike to the Ink Pots is great for all ages and ability levels.
To get a better idea of what the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike is like you can check out this post.
23. Drive the Icefields Parkway to Jasper
One of the most iconic things to do in Banff (or the Rockies in general) is drive the Icefields Parkway.
The Icefields Parkway is 232kms of fully paved highway connecting Banff and Jasper and it’s been rated as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The trip takes round 3-3.5 hours of continuous driving to complete, however I’d recommend spending at least one full day exploring the lakes, glaciers, hiking trails, and gorgeous views along the way.
This post outlines everything you can do along the Icefields Parkway… And I mean literally everything. I’ve personally done almost everything there is to do along the Parkway, however I did lots of additional research to ensure this post was as comprehensive as possible!
When choosing what to do in Banff, make sure the Parkway is on your list!
24. Add Jasper National Park to Your Banff Itinerary
You can’t go to Banff without going to Jasper and that’s a fact.
Remember the Icefields Parkway I just talked about? Well, Jasper is on the other end of it.
Jasper offers the same spectacular views and charm as Banff with the added bonus of being a little less crowded and being home to more wildlife and more glaciers.
This post outlines everything you need to know about planning a perfect trip to Jasper, however the following are some resources you’ll definitely want to check out before visiting:
- Jasper trail guides
- Multi-day canoe trip on Maligne Lake
- Off-the-beaten path adventures in Jasper
- Best Things to do in Jasper
- Best lakes in Jasper
I visited Jasper multiple times when I lived in Banff and I can confidently confirm that every trip left me speechless. There’s something so mesmerizing about Jasper’s lakes and glaciers.
25. Walk on the Athabasca Glacier via the Ice Explorer
Revisiting this activity on the Icefields Parkway because it is truly an incredible experience. I mean when else are you going to be able to step foot on a glacier!?
The Athabasca Glacier is one of the prized gems of the Parkway, if not the Rockies as a whole. For a hefty price you can pay to take a massive ice bus up the glacier and walk around on it!
The experience is quite cool (no pun intended), however I do have mixed feelings about it. The constant traffic on the glacier is causing it to melt even quicker than expected which is a huge problem because it’s already melting at SUCH a fast rate.
Park rangers estimate that at this rate in less than 50 years it could disappear completely. I’m not saying to not do to the tour, but I wanted to bring this issue to light as I think it’s very important to be cognisant about the issue.
You can book the Athabasca tour (bundled with the skywalk) here.
Alternatively, you may want to skip the Icefields completely and opt to venture out onto the glass bottom skywalk instead. This is the only place you can get this incredible view of the Columbia Icefields/Athabasca River.
I think it’s a bit overpriced, however the view is (obviously) next level. You can book your skywalk admission ticket here.
26. Open Top Touring
Open Top touring is a fairly new attraction with the company Pursuit that takes visitors to all the top attractions in the Park via one of these vintage looking cars. The tour comes with a knowledgeable guide who will share history and information about each of the viewpoints.
27. Visit Lake Louise
If you’re in Banff, visiting Lake Louise is a must. It’s not the prettiest lake in Banff (like not even close), BUT it’s a huge bucket list item and should be a priority of your Banff travels.
From down below the lake is quite crowded and the view is “meh.” The best way to experience Lake Louise is to hike upwards – the higher you get the bluer the lake gets!
This post outlines the Lake Louise Circuit route (named coined by me). In it includes directions for Lake Agnes, the Little and Big Beehives, Devil’s Thumb, and the Plain of Six Glaciers – all the super popular hikes at Lake Louise.
Check that post out to see what hikes best suit your ability level, but I would highly recommend at least hiking to the Little Beehive and Lake Agnes. This way you can see the beautiful blue water of Lake Louise from above AND visit the mountaintop teahouse (yup, there’s a teahouse up there)!
This post from Parks Canada outlines the best ways to get to Lake Louise. I’d advise against driving as parking can be crazy/non-existent. I’d also recommend visiting Moraine Lake on the same day because it’s right down the road.
28. Rent Canoes at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake might just be my favourite spot in the Rockies. It’s less crowded than Lake Louise because it’s got a very small parking lot AND look at that view. I mean, c’mon.
There are plenty of activities to do at Moraine Lake and one of those activities happens to be canoeing! I won’t lie, renting canoes is very expensive at Moraine Lake, but I think if you’re going to splurge on something in Banff it has to be this.
The water of Moraine Lake is the most INCREDIBLE blue of all the Rocky Mountain lakes and the view of the Valley of the Ten peaks is unmatched. Out of all the amazing things I did while I lived in Banff, simply canoeing on Moraine Lake was by far one of the best – if not the best – experience I had.
29. Go Hiking at Moraine Lake
Something else you can do at Moraine Lake is, of course, hiking. There are plenty of great trails surrounding the lake, and similar to Lake Louise, the higher you hike the bluer the water gets.
There’s a quick hike around the back left side of Moraine Lake that leads to Consolation Lakes – this one is great for all ages & ability levels. There’s also a trail called Larch Valley which features golden Larch trees in the fall. If you’re visiting Banff in the autumn months hiking to Larch Valley is a must. You can also extend this hike to Sentinel Pass which is one of the few places in the Rockies that features hoodoos!
Here’s my complete trail guide for the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass hike.
For the more advanced hikers out there, you may want to try your hand at the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel is a long and semi-technical scramble that overlooks Moraine Lake.
The entire hike spans a massive scree field full of rocks that are all different shapes and sizes. Toward the end of the hike you even have to engage in a bit of basic bouldering.
Here’s my complete trail guide for the Tower of Babel.
30. Rent Canoes on the Bow River
If you’re wanting to rent canoes, but the prices at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise are too hefty you can always rent canoes from the Banff Canoe Club (GPS). The Banff Canoe Club is located just a few minutes walk from downtown Banff and has the cheapest canoe rentals in the area.
If you’re a local and can prove you live in town you’ll get 50% off AND if you work in town, some companies have an agreement where you can get free rentals (hint: the Banff Gondola).
31. Try Horse Back Riding
Horseback riding through the mountains is kind of totally a bucket list item and is something you should definitely consider doing while visiting Banff.
There are various tour options that operate from one hour in length all the way to multiple days. Here are a few popular options:
- 1 hour Bow River Loop
- 1 hour Spray River Ride
- 3 hour Bow Valley loop – this tour is a little longer if you want more time riding
- 4 hour Sulphur Mountain Ride – this is the longest day trip in town
Alternatively if you’re super adventurous and are looking for a multi-day trip you can check out this 2-day tour to the Sundance Backcountry Lodge or this 3-day tour to the same lodge. I think this would be the ULTIMATE way to see the Canadian Rockies backcountry!
32. Go White Water Rafting
The gushing glacial streams and rapids of the Canadian Rockies make this an excellent place to try white water rafting. Actually, it makes it great because Canada is rated highly among all the destinations in the world for rafting!
The grade of rafting is separated by categories all the way from 1-6. Tour companies in Canada operate from grades 1-5; 1 is easy and good for children/families, 5 is for adventurous rafters seeking a thrill.
If you’re looking for more class 5 rapids, the best time of year to raft is early in the summer (June) as this is when the glacial melt is at its highest and the rapids will be flowing fastest.
Where’s the Best Place to go Rafting in the Rockies?
I personally think the best place to go rafting in the Rockies is on the Kicking Horse River in Golden which is about a 3 hour drive from Banff. This is where I tried rafting and LOVED IT! Here are a few tour options on the Kicking Horse:
- Kicking Horse River rafting adventure – this is the most common rafting excursion offered.
- Extreme white water rafting – this one is for the adventurous.
- This tour on the Kicking Horse is great for those new to white water rafting.
- This is the cheapest tour on the Kicking Horse.
Aside from the Kicking Horse River, other rafting destinations include: Kananaskis which is just outside of Banff (this tour offers transportation from Banff) or Jasper. There are quite a few options for rafting in Jasper, you can check them all out here.
33. Go Fishing
Another thing to do in Banff if you’re an angler is fish! There are various accessible places you can fish in local lakes and rivers, however you can up your fishing experience and actually hike to alpine lakes to fish! This might be one of the coolest experiences the Rockies offers, but there is a catch. The catch being your catch will be small! You won’t find big fish living in these cold, high elevation lakes.
The Banff website has everything you need to know about fishing in the Park, but please note you mustn’t use live bait as it harms the ecosystem.
34. Visit Banff’s Patios
If you’re tired of hiking and participating in all of Banff’s outdoor adventure opportunities a thing to do in Banff in summer is chill and have a beer on a rooftop patio.
Banff has plenty of rooftop patios that provide killer views of the surrounding mountains. My favourite is Rose and Crown, located on Banff ave. Aside from Rose and Crown you can also check out Magpie & Stump (Mexican/taco Tuesday deal), Three Bears Brewery, The Bison, or Elk & Oarsman.
If you’re looking for THE rooftop experience in Banff, you’ll want to head up the Banff Gondola and try out the Peak Patio. The Peak patio is (what I assume to be) the highest patio in Canada. It sits atop Sulphur Mountain and provides the most insane views overlooking Banff. Here you can get all sorts of liquor and bbq style food.
This place is a must if you’re visiting Banff!
35. Taste of Banff
Banff has a variety different foods and restaurants to try out. Here’s a quick list of my favourites and a few popular places in town:
- Breakfast/lunch: Juniper Bistro, Wildflour Bakery, Uprising Bakery.
- Yummy treats: Cows ice cream, Beaver Tails, The Fudgery.
- Dinner: Sky Bistro (this is a signature Banff experience atop Sulphur Mountain), Eddie Burger (alcoholic milkshakes, YUM), Dominos (Banff has a serious pizza issue, this is literally the only good pizza in Banff), spinach dip at Earl’s, Nourish (vegan options), Magpie & Stump (Taco Tuesday), and the Bear Street Tavern.
- Drinks/patios: High Rollers, Park Distillery, Earl’s, Rose & Crown, The Dancing Sasquatch (nightclub), and Mel’s.
- Cultural food: The Balkan (Greek), Shoku Izakaya (Japanese), Hello Sunshine (Japanese/karaoke), Bamboo Garden (Chinese), El Toro (Spanish/Mexican), Magpie & Stump (Mexican), Indian; Masala, Saffron, Indian Curry House. Italian; Pacini, The Old Spaghetti Factory, La Terrazza, Ticino (Swiss/Italian).
You’ll also want to take note of Taxi Mike – this page is run by a local who is constantly updating the site with all the local food deals and hot spots. Another thing worth mentioning is happy hour at Earls. Earl’s has phenomenal happy hour deals on both drinks and food; happy hour at Earl’s is a local’s favourite.
36. Have a Picnic
A thing to do in Banff in summer is have a picnic. One of the great things about Banff is that everywhere you go is an ideal picnic spot! Whether you climb up mountains like Tunnel or Sulphur, grab a spot along the Bow River in town, or visit any of the alpine lakes.
37. Drive Through Kananaskis & go for a Hike
If you’re visiting Banff, you should definitely take the time to visit Kananaskis Country which is located only 40 minutes from town. Kananaskis is my FAVOURITE hiking destinations in the Rockies! I find the lakes, peaks, wildlife, and vegetation in Kananaskis to be even more beautiful than Banff. And that’s saying a lot because Banff is wow.
Even if you’re not a hiker, you can still drive through Kananaskis Country (via Kananaskis Way aka Highway 40) which will blow you away. I remember I actually cried the first time I drove through Kananaskis because it’s THAT beautiful.
Note that you will need a conservation pass if you plan to visit Kananaskis Country. I’ve written about all the hikes I’ve done in Kananaskis as well as provide a link to the conservation pass here.
38. Visit Canmore
Canmore is located just 20 minutes from Banff and is outside of the National Park. There are way more conveniences and less tourists in Canmore than in Banff, so if you need to buy anything or want a quieter mountain getaway Canmore is likely your best option.
Canmore is also located 20 minutes closer to Kananaskis Country. If you’re planning to primarily hike and explore Kananaskis finding accommodations in Canmore is a great option.
PS. You can often find cheaper accommodations in Canmore than in Banff!
Canmore is a super cute little town though and has the most striking view of the Three Sisters which are famous mountains in the area. Canmore is also home to the Canmore Bagel Co which is soso yummy!!
39. Go Camping at Abraham Lake
Abraham Lake is not technically in Banff, BUT it’s one of the only places you can free camp near Banff! Since Abraham Lake isn’t in the national park, you can pitch a tent or park your car anywhere along the edge of the lake. Many of the spots are quite difficult to drive to so it’s recommended you have 4×4 or a high clearance vehicle. If you have a small car, it’s recommended you drive to Preacher’s Point (GPS).
Abraham Lake is located about a 2 hour drive from Banff just off of the world renown Icefields Parkway. If you haven’t read up on the Icefields Parkway yet I’d highly recommend checking out this post.
Abraham Lake is a great place to watch the stars, see the northern lights (in the winter months), and go skating. It’s actually quite famous for skating in the winter because the ice traps natural methane gas bubbles. It’s been nicknamed the bubble lake!
If you’re a climber you can also find various climbing and via ferrata routes here.
40. Try Rock Climbing
A thing to do in Banff in summer if you’re feeling adventurous is rock climbing. Rock climbing does require a lot of equipment and experience, so if you’re new to the sport I’d recommend checking out a guided tour.
In the guided tours you’ll be provided will all the necessary gear and safety equipment, a knowledgeable guide who will teach you the basics of rock climbing, and sometimes (depending on the tour) transportation.
41. Do a Via Ferrata
Alternatively, another type of rock climbing experience is a Via Ferrata. A Via Ferrata is a protected climbing route that follows secure iron cables up the side of the mountain. Via Ferratas aren’t as popular in Canada as they are in Europe, however that makes it all the more reason to do it in Banff!
You don’t need any previous climbing experience to participate in a Via Ferrata, however it is recommended that you have a moderate level of fitness.
If you’re interested in this, you can contact the Norquay ski resort. They run a tour right outside the town of Banff.
42. Soak in the Banff Hot springs
The Banff hot springs are natural (although not entirely natural) hot springs in the heart of Banff. They’re accessed via the same parking lot as the Banff Gondola.
It only costs a few dollars to use the hot springs, however there is a catch. The Banff hot springs are SUPER busy which, for most people, isn’t necessarily “the vibe.” Here you can expect to basically sit in a hot pool with 50+ other people.
I personally hated being in the hot springs and would suggest finding (actual) natural springs elsewhere.
I’d suggest visiting the Mist Mountain hot springs instead! This natural spring is actually located halfway up a mountain in Kananaskis Country. You do have to hike up to the springs, but I’m telling you the hike, the views, and the warm water are SO worth it!
If you’re interested in finding the springs, you can read more about the Mist Mountain hot springs hike here.
43. Find Banff’s Wildlife
Banff and the Canadian Rockies is kind of famed for it’s wildlife, sooooo something to do in Banff in summer (or any other season for that matter) is search for wildlife! Banff is home to black bears, grizzly bears, elk, deer, marmots, cougars (although elusive), and soooo many other interesting forms of wildlife.
Before I tell you all the tips and hot spots about finding wildlife in the Rockies though, check out this post from Parks Canada. It has all the safety tips and things you need to know about in terms of wildlife safety and respect.
Here are some tips for finding wildlife in Banff:
- Search early in the morning or late in the evening.
- Search outside of town. You’ll find tons of deer and elk roaming around the town of Banff, however the best places to find wildlife are outside of the town streets (duh).
- Some key places: Banff Springs golf course loop, Lake Minnewanka scenic route, along the Trans Canada.
- Search for elk during rutting season (end of August-mid October). This is mating season and the elk make the SPOOKIEST “bugling” noise.
If you want to almost guarantee your chances of seeing wildlife you can check out this evening safari tour in Banff. Alternatively check out this evening safari tour or this general wildlife tour in Jasper. Jasper has significantly more wildlife than Banff as it sees less tourists and is more in “the middle of nowhere.”
44. Learn About Banff’s History
If you’re a history buff or cultural enthusiast, something to do in Banff in summer is check out the museums and historic sites.
Museums in Banff include: the Banff Park Museum, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Cave and Basin (most popular museum), or the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum.
45. Take a Walk Through the Cascade of Time Garden
Located at the end of Banff ave is Cascade Gardens. Cascade Gardens has (you guessed it) lovely gardens which make for the perfect picnic location or place for an afternoon stroll.
In winter, the gardens become an interactive light display!
46. Walk Along the Pedestrian Bridge/Bow River
One of the more popular walking routes in Banff is along the Bow River to the Pedestrian Bridge (GPS). The bridge actually connects one side of Banff to the other over the Bow River and leads to Bow Falls.
This is a beautiful spot for sunset (clearly) and there are lights along the handrail at night which makes it quite the attraction!
47. Have a Bonfire/BBQ
Just outside of town you’ll find Cascade Ponds along the Lake Minnewanka scenic route. The Cascade Ponds area has picnic tables, walking routes, fire pits, and as little pond which is perfect for floating in on hot summer days.
If you’re looking for something to do in Banff after a big day of adventures, a chill evening bbq’ing and roasting marshmallows over the fire at Cascade Ponds is ideal.
48. Take a Day Trip to Yoho National Park
An absolutely BEAUTIFUL national park located just outside of Banff is Yoho. Yoho is home to the most magnificent waterfall in the Rockies and so many big mountain peaks. If you have an extra day in Banff, I’d highly recommend taking this day-trip to Yoho National Park to check out the gorgeous lakes, thundering waterfalls, and picturesque alpine beauty.
Yoho is truly magical.
49. Hike in Kootenay National Park
Adding to the list of national parks near Banff, you may also want to consider visiting Kootenay National Park; the most underrated of the 4 Rocky Mountain National Parks.
Kootenay is located only 40 minutes from Banff on the way to Radium hot springs and features a burn scarred landscape full of blackened trees and booming wildflowers. Two very popular hikes and attractions in Kootney are the Paint Pots and the Stanley Glacier hike. The Stanley Glacier hike is one of those hikes that “has it all.” You can find HUGE waterfalls, a glacier, caves, and fossils on this trail.
50. Go Golfing
If you’re one for golf, something you’ll want to do in Banff in summer is check out the Banff Springs golf course.
To play a round of golf is quite expensive (around $200 for 18 holes), but the experience is like none other. You’re golfing with stunning views of Banff’s famous mountains; Tunnel and Rundle. Plus you have a very high chance of seeing wildlife wander onto the course! My friends actually saw a grizzly while they played a round.
If that price seems too steep, you may want to check out the driving range. This is more cost effective, and in my opinion, even more fun than a lengthy round of golf.
51. Play Frisbee Golf
If you like to play the other type of golf, “frolf” as I like to say, head on over to Canmore. Canmore has two frolf courses; the Canmore Nordic Centre and the Three Sisters. I prefer the Canmore Nordic Centre, but each are great and I know for a fact that it’s free to play at the Nordic Centre.
If you don’t have frisbees with you, don’t stress. You can rent them cheap at the centre.
52. Treat Yourself to the Spa
And finally, the last thing I’ll suggest to do in Banff in summer is treat yo self! Banff has numerous spas at various hotels and establishments around town.
A few notable spas are the Willow Stream spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs, the Red Earth Spa at the Banff Caribou, the Grotto Pool and Spa at the Royal Canadian Lodge, and the spa at Chateau Lake Louise.
An Intro to Banff in Winter
Now that we’ve gone over all the fun things to do in Banff in summer, let’s talk about all the fun things to do in Banff in winter!
Most people think of Banff as being solely a summer destination. I’m here to tell you that’s certainly not true!
Banff becomes a living winter wonderland in the colder months of the year. Banff sees massive amounts of snow, frozen alpine lakes, northern lights, and of course some of the best ski hills in Canada. In fact, Banff’s Sunshine Village has the longest ski season in Canada which starts early in November and finishes at the end of May; 7 whole months of skiing!
Here are a few posts to get you excited about winter in Banff:
- 30+ epic things to do in Banff: winter edition
- Step-by-step: plan your trip to Banff
- Best Banff ski hills
- A local’s guide to skiing Sunshine Village
- Best ski resorts in Alberta
- Best ski resorts in British Columbia
Like This Post?
Share with friends or save it for later!
About The Author
Hey! I’m Taylor – the voice behind The Holistic Backpacker.
After moving to Banff National Park in 2020 I became an outdoor adventure enthusiast and vowed to never stop exploring.
I’m now focused on travelling the world and seeing everything our beautiful home has to offer.
I created The Holistic Backpacker so I could share my adventures and help connect people like you with the same amazing experiences.
I am also an advocate for the environment and do as much as I can to take care of our planet.
Get to know me and my story more here 🙂
I can’t wait to share my adventures with you!