12 Best Things to Do in Banff, Alberta Canada

12 Best Things to Do in Banff, Alberta Canada

We finally made it to another one of my dream destinations! The gorgeous city of Banff is a town in the Canadian Rockies in the province of Alberta, Canada! I cannot even begin to describe the incredible beauty of this town. Not only is the scenery incredible, but there’s a ton of things to do in Banff!

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Banff, Alberta Canada

The resort town of Banff is located inside of the Banff National Park in the province of Alberta, Canada. This huge tourist spot is famous for its mountains, hot springs, biking and hiking, among other activities. In the winter there are 3 ski resorts to choose from.

In the town of Banff there are tons of restaurants, hotels and shops, and in the surrounding 2,500 square miles of forest are hoodoos, elk and grizzlies. Just a few miles away are the beautiful Lake Louise and Jasper National Park. It is one of the most beautiful areas we’ve ever visited.

Welcome to Alberta Canada sign

Best Things to Do in Banff

The Town of Banff

Banff is hard to describe, and pictures just don’t do it justice. It is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been. The town itself is clean and quaint. It is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and parks.

This town is very walkable, with great little shops and restaurants. Just off the main street, you can take a walk on the picturesque Fenland Trail toward it’s lake that glistens in the sun and reflects the surrounding mountains. Download a map of all the trails in Banff here.

Inside the town you can find plenty of great restaurants, taverns and shops to browse. Some of our favorites were Chuck’s Steakhouse for a great steak, Eddie’s Burger & Bar for bar food, The Bear Street Tavern, La Terrazza for Italian, and The Keg Steakhouse & Bar for some great cocktails with entertaining bartenders.

Street with snowy mountain backdrop in Banff Alberta Canada


The town is also surrounded by Hoodoos, which are spire shaped rock formations naturally shaped and ever changing by water and wind erosion.

You can hike the hoodoos by accessing the trail from the town center by the Bow River. Just follow the signs for Hoodoos Loop along the River and into the forest. It is about a 3 mile hike that leads around the base of Tunnel Mountain. The trail elevates gradually but is fairly easy, and you can catch a bus back to town for just $2.00.

Blue River with Hoodoos and trees Banff Alberta Canada

Gondola Ride

While in Banff we took a Gondola Ride up to Sulphur Mountain for far-reaching vistas of the Banff National Park. The Gondola is just 5 minutes from the town of Banff. We were in a fully glass enclosed gondola looking over views of Banff, the Bow Valley and a 360 degree view of several mountain ranges.

When we arrived at the top and the observation deck, we felt like we were the only ones in the world. Well, except for the very hungry chipmunks I had to share my snacks with! At the top is a meteorological station, gift shops, restaurants, hiking trails, and even a Starbucks! And it can get very, very cold up there!! Bring layers!

The views from the top are awe-inspiring!! We could see Victoria Glacier, Tunnel Mountain, lots of really cool Hoodoos, and the incredible Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. I never wanted to leave. But, leave we did… and I’m warning you now. The ride up is very enjoyable, but the ride back down? Not so enjoyable if you don’t like heights… we both had sweaty palms!

The Gondola is open open pretty much year round. You can check out their hours here . It IS expensive, over $60 for adults and around $30 for kids 6-15 years old. Kids under 5 are free. If you get the tickets in advance, it’s a little less. But, the price is well worth it. I’ll never forget those views… I think I wore out my camera up there.

Gorgeous views from Sulphur Mountain Banff Alberta CanadaCouple posing on top of Sulphur Mountain Banff CanadaCastle in a valley Banff Springs Hotel from Sulphur Mountain Banff Alberta CanadaBow River, Hoodoos and Banff Springs Woman sitting on ground taking photos of chipmunk in Banff Canada

Tunnel Mountain

One day we hiked to Tunnel Mountain a/k/a Sleeping Buffalo, right from town. It’s a pretty decent hike, not too difficult, and the panoramic views are amazing. The hike takes about 2 hours with stops to take photos of the gorgeous scenery. The mountain is almost completely surrounded by Banff Springs Hotel’s grounds and the town of Banff.

Woman posing in front of mountain in Banff Alberta CanadaMan posing in front of lake mountain on hike through Banff Canada

Vermillion Lakes

Following our hike, we hopped in the car and took off to see Vermillion Lakes just a short drive outside of town in the Banff National Park. It’s a lovely area and we took about an hour to just enjoy our surroundings… peace and quiet, and wildlife! Other than a moose peeking through the trees, a few stray hikers and one canoe, we didn’t see anything but gorgeous wilderness.

There is a small fee, about $10 to enter the park.

Woman standing in flower field at Vermillion Lake in Banff CanadaWoman standing on log at Vermillion Lake Banff CanadaMan sitting on log on lake at Vermillion Lake Banff Canada

Banff Springs Hotel

The Banff Springs Hotel a/k/a Castle in the Rockies is a magical looking hotel on beautiful grounds.

It’s expensive to stay there (rooms start at about $400 a night), so we opted to just go for their delicious brunch buffet where we ate way too much – omelets, waffles, crab legs! The brunch is served every Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm, and reservations are strongly recommended. The price for brunch is around $54.00 each.

Bow Falls

Behind the Banff Springs Hotel is a short hike to Bow Falls. Bow Falls are wide, low falls with the water being a unique aqua color that is just as clear as day.

Take note that you have to hit the falls at the right time. I hear they drop off busloads of tourists here a few times a day! We were fortunate to be one of the only ones there at the time. Michael and I got the sense of true wilderness in the hour we spent and the only sound we heard is the falls roaring.

Woman crouching on rocks with waterfall behind her - Bow Falls Banff Canada

Road Trips Outside of Town

Since we had our rental car, we figured we’d see as much of the area as we could. On our third day, we took a one day road trip along the beautiful Bow Parkway to a couple of places outside of town that you definitely should not miss.

Johnston Canyon

The first stop was Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park. The Canyon is a very busy place with hundreds of hikers walking along its catwalks and cliff-mounting staircases to the upper and lower falls. It’s a fairly easy hike to the canyon and is pretty accessible for just about any age.

We really enjoyed hiking to the lower falls where the water cascades into deep blue pools… just stunning!

It takes about 30 minutes to get to the lower falls and about an hour to get to the upper falls. The Canyon is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, even in the winter when they offer hikes to the frozen waterfalls.

My Tips for Visiting the Canyon

  • Go early evening or early morning to avoid the crowds, like before 8:00 a.m.
  • Dress in layers! It’s cold in the morning but warms up pretty good by afternoon.
  • Pack plenty of drinks and snacks.
  • Wear good hiking shoes (not sneakers). The paths can become very slippery with all of the water in the canyon.
  • Take your time hiking if you’re not used to the high altitude.
  • Dogs are welcome, but it’s best not to have them with you due to the crowds.
  • I saw people pushing strollers and they were pushing them pretty easily, but had a tough time through some of the narrow passageways. Put your kids in a sling or pack.
  • If you don’t have your own car, Banff has a Hop On, Hop Off bus that will stop at Johnston Canyon.

Lake Louise

Once we had hiked the canyon for a few hours we continued our drive on to Lake Louise . Lake Louise is a “don’t miss” on your trip to Alberta!

When we came around the corner and upon the lake, it literally took our breath away. It has the most gorgeous turquoise colored water and there were colorful blooming flowers everywhere. Surrounding the lake are rugged snow capped peaks and glaciers. Photos don’t even come close to showing the beauty of this area.

On the lake is the stunning Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise . This hotel is magnificent, but it’s the grounds that draw you in and capture you. Although we didn’t stay here (but would LOVE to), it was a perfect day for lunch out on the patio overlooking the lake. No better scenery while having lunch! Pure serenity!

Blue lake with snowy mountains backdrop and flowers in foreground Lake Louise Alberta CanadaHotel that looks like a castle in Lake Louise Canada

Jasper National Park & Columbia Icefield

Our last stop that day was to see the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park , the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies.

The day had gotten very cold, overcast and a little snowy by the time we reached the area, so we didn’t stay long. In fact, by the time we headed back to Banff along the Icefields Parkway, we were driving in full blown snow in AUGUST! How crazy is that?!

There are tons of things to see and do in the park, such as skiing, fishing, rafting, hiking and camping. There are also hot springs for those snowy days! For a different perspective of the park, the Skytram is the longest and highest aerial tram in Canada.

Columbia Ice Fields Jasper National Park

Takkakaw Falls

On our last day we began our drive back to Montana to catch our flight. We came upon a highway pull off to view Takkakaw Falls. Someone else at the pullout said it was just a short hike from the nearby car park to see the falls, so we took off on foot inside the Yoho National Park to see the falls. These falls drop 833 feet, making them one of the highest in Canada.

Tall waterfall in Yoho National Forest Canada

Emerald Lake

Still hesitant to leave British Columbia, we took another short hike. This time along Emerald Lake, also situated inside Yoho National Park. It was a beautiful walk, and we were wishing we’d had time to rent a canoe.

On our way back to our car we stopped at Natural Bridge. This is where erosion has cut through rock to make a bridge. Very cool, and the scenery here is stunning. And I finally got to see a wolf in the wild, which made for a perfect trip for me!!

Canoes on Emerald Lake Yoho National ForestNatural Bridge Yoho National ForestRushing river Yoho National Park Wolf Yoho National Park Alberta Canada

Top Tours for Banff

See all Viator tours for Banff.

Annual Festivals and Events

Plan a trip around one of Banff’s annual festivals and events.

Best Time to Visit Banff

The best time to visit Banff in the summer is from June to August. However, if you’re looking for a winter wonderland, then December through March is when you want to visit. Of course, as we experienced, you may event get snow in August!

How Long Do You Need in Banff

Three to five days is enough for your visit to Banff… ideally, though, I’d spend at least 5 days. This gives you plenty of time to see the adorable town, plus see a few things outside of town… the National Parks, canyons and glaciers.

Drinking Starbucks in Banff Alberta Canada

Where to Stay in Banff

Rental Property

We had made all of our accommodation arrangements at the time of our trip planning and had rented a one bedroom apartment for the week in Banff on Booking.com . Each morning when we got up and looked out our front window, we saw deer, moose, and elk in the yard! It was absolutely amazing! We were in the middle of the city, but it felt as if we were deep in the woods.

Hotel or B&B

For all other accommodations in Banff, including hotels, B&B’s and other rental property options, go to Booking.com.

Finding and Booking Accommodations

Lodging is one of the most important aspects of planning a trip. You want to find the right place for the best price. Our favorite resource when making reservations for lodging is Booking.com. They really seem to have the best deals on hotels, B&B’s and rental properties. Read more about finding and booking accommodations.

How to Get to Banff

Michael and I decided to take a long road trip through the western part of the US, including South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana’s beautiful National Parks. If we were going this far, why not go to one of my dream destinations… Banff!?

We flew into Rapid City Airport (RAP) in South Dakota, to begin our road trip. However, the closest airport to Banff is the Calgary International Airport (“YYC”). See how to get the best deals on flights.

Once you arrive in Calgary, you have a few choices for getting to Banff.

Rental Car

Renting a car is going to be your best option. It’s about a 90 minute drive from the airport to the center of town Banff. You really don’t need a car in Banff, but if you want to see some of the areas outside of the city, such as Lake Louise or Jasper, you’re going to want to hold onto your rental car. See my tips and tricks for renting a car.

On the Brewster Express bus you can sit back and let someone else do the driving from Calgary to Banff. Their buses have luxury seats, large windows to enjoy the views, and complimentary Wi-Fi. See their schedule and fees here.

Taxi or Uber

I wasn’t even going to mention this, because the ride in a taxi or Uber to Banff from Calgary is going to cost you a couple of hundred bucks. But, if you want this convenience, it is available to you.

DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT, and make sure your passport is up to date! Most countries will not permit you to enter unless your passport has more than six months remaining before it expires.

Do you need a Visa or Vaccinations?

With ivisa.com, you can check to see what documents you will need to enter Canada, and you can apply right there for expedited travel documents, including visas and health declaration forms.

Getting Around

Like I said, there’s no need to have a car in Banff, but it is convenient to have one for those jaunts outside of town. There is no Uber or any other ride-share in Banff, but they do have taxi service.

Roam Transit

The Roam Transit is an all-hybrid electric bus. This bus covers most of the town of Banff, with bus stops near pretty much any spot you want to visit. They accept a few different payment methods, including USD, Canadian dollar, Roam tokens, tickets and passes. See more information on purchasing Roam Transit tickets and passes here.

Most hotels are within walking distance to everything you’ll need in the town of Banff, and it is very walkable and easy to navigate. Here is a downloadable map of the town.

Watch This

The 1993 movie, Legends of the Fall, starring Brad Pitt, was filmed in the province of Alberta. Look for the funeral and cemetery scenes… these were filmed on the Bow River in Banff.

Share Your Travel Tips & Comments

As always, if you have any of your own travel tips to add to this post, any remarks on the article, or if my information needs an edit or addition, please leave your comments below. I value all of your input.

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