13 Outdoorsy Things To Do in Banff, Canada
The impressive Rocky Mountains extend all the way from New Mexico in the United States into Canada and are the backdrop for some of the most stunning scenery in all of North America. Nestled in the heart of the Candian Rockies is the small town of Banff and nearby Banff National Park – Canada’s first and the world’s third national park. These two destinations are a couple of the most popular places to visit in Canada and attract millions of visitors and outdoor enthusiasts each year. No matter what your activity of choice is, you’ll find plenty of fun, outdoorsy things to do in Banff and the beautiful surrounding area.
Things to do in Banff
Banff is in Alberta, one of Canada’s ten provinces. Full of wilderness areas, crystal clear alpine lakes and waterfalls, the stunning mountain location of Banff and Banff National Park offers visitors a variety of activities. In winter, there’s skiing, ice skating and snowboarding. In the summer months, hiking, canoeing, and mountain biking are super popular.
Even those who aren’t particularly outdoorsy will appreciate the scenic town of Banff with its fine dining, shopping and vibrant arts and culture scene – including numerous art galleries, museums, and events – all in a unforgettable scenic setting. Start with these outdoorsy things to do in Banff and beyond.
1. Banff Gondola
Taking the Banff Gondola to the top of the Sulphur Mountain is a very popular Banff summer activity. The best part is that it’s only five minutes from downtown so even if you have limited time, it’s still one of the best things to do in Banff.
The ride to the top of the mountain takes only approximately eight minutes. Once at the top station of the mountain, there is an excellent boardwalk trail that has panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges and Banff town. The views alone make this gondola ride worth it.
The boardwalk trail takes you to Sansone’s peak. The top gondola station has a restaurant and a gift shop. After exploring the Sulphur Mountain peak, you can choose to hike down the mountain for some epic views or take the gondola back down.
Reservations are required to ride the Banff Gondola. During the popular summer months they sell out fast. It’s best to buy them in advance. The Banff Gondola makes the Sulphur Mountain summit accessible to people of all abilities to enjoy the amazing views from the top.
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2. Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is one of the most popular things to do in Banff National Park. It’s glacier-fed lake is a well known stop on the famous Icefields Parkway. Along the Peyto Lake Panorama Overlook trail, you’ll get jaw-dropping views of an electric blue glacial lake, surrounded by the dramatic Rockies. Best of all, it’s an easy trail, so hikers of all skill levels can enjoy the spectacular vistas.
The well-signed trailhead is about 25 miles north of Lake Louise. From here, you’ll walk along a gently-sloping paved trail that winds 0.3 mile through a dense pine tree forest and eventually leads to a wooden platform, overlooking the shockingly blue lake.
There’s typically crowds here, though, so if you want to enjoy the view all to yourself, follow the dirt path that leads through the forest and climbs uphill a bit more. Along this path, you’ll find two additional stunning viewpoints, where you can drink in the views of Peyto Lake in peace and solitude.
Hiking to the Peyto Lake Overlook is one of the best things to do in Banff in the summer and fall, when the trail is free of snow and ice. Alternatively, if you don’t mind the cold, it’s also a popular spot to stop at in the winter for snowshoeing.
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3. Parker Ridge Trail
The Parker Ridge Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Canadian Rockies and one of the best things to do in Banff. It’s a moderate 5.1 km – or a little more than 3 miles – hike with an elevation gain of 269 meters or 900 feet.
The Parker Ridge Trail is located in the north of Banff National Park next to the border of Jasper and along the stunning Icefields Parkway. The hike only takes 2-3 hours to complete which makes it the perfect stop if you’re planning on driving the Icefields Parkway in one day.
Once you’ve reached the top, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of Saskatchewan Glacier. It will blow you away, especially after a short hike. The switchbacks on the trail are not too hard for a beginner, so it’s worth a visit when travelling through Canada.
Also, look out for mountain sheep and pikas along the hike, you may hear them too!
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4. Sawmill Trail
The Sawmill Trail is a great outdoor activity in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Located in the beautiful Kananaskis Mountains on the edge of Banff National Park, this hidden gem is sure to excite outdoor enthusiasts.
Whether you are looking for an easy hike in the summer, or a peaceful stroll through the fall foliage, Sawmill Trail has something for everyone. The trail is easy enough for beginners, but still provides an exhilarating experience for those looking for more of an adrenaline rush.
This 5.5km trail has minimal elevation gain and is family friendly. Sawmill Trail is particularly popular in the wintertime, as snowshoers come far and wide to traverse the surrounding trails in this beautiful region. Pack your own snowshoes, as this trail does not have any facilities where you can rent them. Enjoy views on route of Mount Chester, Mount Murray, and Hero’s Knob.
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5. Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata
Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places in the world. With its breathtaking landscapes, incredible wildlife, and world-class attractions, it’s no wonder that thousands of tourists flock here every year. But for those looking for an extra dose of excitement, a visit to the Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata is a must.
A Via Ferrata, meaning “iron road,” is a protected climbing route that offers amazing views and a thrilling experience for adventure-seekers. The route is equipped with steel cables, ladders, bridges, and other elements, which you are attached to at all times, making it a cross between rock climbing and scrambling.
Choose from a variety of courses that take you up the side of Mt. Norquay and provide you with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, and even the town of Banff.
So if you’re looking for a unique adventure, the Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata is definitely for you. The climb is challenging, but not impossible, and the guides are knowledgeable and supportive, making it an experience that’s suitable for the whole family.
The Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata is one of the best things to do in Banff and is located just 15 minutes (7.5 km) from town and is easily accessible by car. You will even find a small cafe at both the summit and the base of the mountain where you can grab a snack or use the washroom.
If you are planning to stay in Banff, there is a wide range of accommodations available, from budget-friendly hotels to luxury resorts. If you’re looking for a hotel close to the action, consider staying at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort, which is located just minutes from the Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata.
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6. Lake Minnewanka
If you’re visiting the Canadian Rockies and planning on spending some time at Banff, one place you won’t want to miss out on seeing is Lake Minnewanka! This massive lake has brilliant blue waters and is often a bit less crowded to visit than the wildly popular Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
Plus, there are plenty of activities for you to do. For example, there are a few trails suitable for hiking and biking. Alternatively, you can kayak around the lake, or even opt for a quick swim, if you have a high cold tolerance!
But if you would prefer to just relax, Lake Minnewanka is also a great place to just hang out. You can spread out your blanket for a picnic or find shade under the trees and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of this beautiful lake.
So, if you’re looking for a great outdoor spot to explore and take in the Canadian Rockies, then stop by Lake Minnewanka.
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7. The Rocky Mountaineer – One of the Best Things to do in Banff
The Rocky Mountaineer train is no ordinary train. This is a bucket-list experience, from start to finish. While there are several different routes for this train, the most popular is First Passage to the West, between Vancouver and Banff. This is a superb train, designed to provide a relaxed and luxurious journey through the Canadian Rockies.
There are two levels of service on board: Gold Leaf and Silver Leaf – whichever level you choose, meals and drinks are included on board. The scenery of the Rockies is the real reason why this train route is so special, though. The landscapes change from the flatter parts of British Columbia around Kamloops Lake, to the scenic vistas of Shuswap Lake and the jagged mountain peaks of the Rockies in Alberta.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to spot wildlife like bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and more. Don’t forget your camera – you’ll be taking lots of pictures on this rail journey! There’s lots of accommodation in Banff to choose from. Moose Hotel and Suites is a top pick for their rooftop hot tub, which boasts incredible views over the Rockies.
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8. Johnston Canyon
Visitors flock to Johnston Canyon for one of Banff National Park’s most popular waterfall hiking trails. The cantilevering catwalks in Johnston Canyon are a marvel of engineering. The out-and-back pathway is suitable for adventurers of all skill levels and ages. Since summer is the busiest time, parking and crowds could be an issue.
However, in winter, the trail turns into a winter wonderland, void of people. Most who make the trek turn around at the lower falls. This option makes it a 2.3 km (1.4 miles) roundtrip hike. The 5.1 km (3.2 miles) return hike to the upper falls provides a more scenic option. It’s advisable to take crampons or shoe spikes as the slopes become a slippery hazard in winter.
Should you decide to venture onto the Ink Pots – a group of stunning blue and green pools of water – you’re adding another 6.6 km or 4.1 miles to your hike. In winter, it’s only possible with snowshoes and hiking poles since the canyon receives significant.
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9. Moraine Lake
One of the most spectacular things to do in Banff is Moraine Lake. With its vibrantly colored blue water and breathtaking towering mountains as a backdrop, Moraine Lake looks like it is straight from a postcard. It is one of the most beautiful lakes not only in Canada, but in the world!
Moraine Lake can only be accessed during the summer months of June to September due to heavy snowfall throughout the rest of the year. And to reach Moraine Lake you can take the bus, Parks Canada shuttle bus or a taxi. Personal vehicles are no longer allowed at Moraine Lake to prevent overcrowding.
The picture perfect view can be found from the rock piles to the left of the lake. There are several boulders here although the climb is very easy and short. You can get some spectacular photos of Moraine Lake from here, so don’t forget to upload them to social media with the perfect Banff captions!
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Things to do Near Banff
The advantage of vacationing in the Canadian Rockies is that there are so many things to do in right in Banff and Banff National Park but if you want to see more of the area, you can base yourself in Banff and day trip to explore other nearby public lands.
Besides Banff National Park, there is Kootenay National Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park and Bow Valley Provincial Park all within about a 100 mile radius. Even some activities and hikes in southern Jasper National Park aren’t too far for a day trip. Here’s a few more recommendations to do in the area.
10. Radium Hot Springs
80 MILES FROM BANFF
Radium Hot Springs, located in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, is the perfect place to relax, rejuvenate and feel restored on a road trip through the Canadian Rockies. Whether you are coming from the east and driving through Kootenay National Park or from the west from the small village of Radium, the scenery is stunning.
As a year round venue, Radium Hot Springs makes for a delightful dip in the summer or winter months. The temperature in the hot pool ranges from 98° to 104°F (37° to 40°C) with water that is naturally heated and filled with a holistic blend of “scentless” minerals.
Kids will love to swim and dive in the cool pool while parents relax their cares away in the hot pool surrounded by a magnificent rock face.
PS If a visit to the hot springs isn’t on your travel itinerary when you happen to drive by, stop anyway. Swimsuit and towel rentals are available.
Recommended by Jolayne from simplyjolayne
11. Marble Canyon
30 MILES FROM BANFF
Marble Canyon is one of the easiest, yet most amazing hikes to do when visiting the Canadian Rockies. It’s a 1.4 km (0.9-mile) out-and-back trail in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia.
It’s easy to get to Marble Canyon on a day trip (even a half-day trip) from Banff and Lake Louis. It’s only 40 minutes away from downtown Banff and 15 minutes from Castle Mountain Junction.
The Marble Canyon hike is an easy hike, but it’s not a wheelchair or stroller-accessible hike. There are a few stairs and some wood bridges to pass.
Throughout the trail, you’ll follow the canyon and have breathtaking views of the canyon, turquoise water and the surrounding mountains. In the wintertime, you can even watch some ice climbers perform… which is pretty impressive.
Make sure to pack a lunch and enjoy the small rocky sitting area at the start of the trailhead.
If you wish to continue for a longer hike, don’t miss the Paint Pots trail. You can either use the marked trail from Marble Canyon to Paint Pots or drive a few minutes on BC-93 South to the Paint Pots parking lot.
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12. Brazeau Loop
141 MILES FROM BANFF
Backcountry hiking, like the popular Brazeau Loop, is a favorite activity in the Canadian Rockies. The hike’s trailhead (Nigel Pass) is at the northern edge of Banff National Park and soon enters Jasper National Park.
The 80-kilometre (50-mile) trail, which can be completed in 5-7 days (backcountry camping reservations required), passes mountain peaks, a glacier lake, and wildflower fields if you time it right. In terms of wildlife sighting, there is potential to see bears, wolves, cougars, and other mountain animals.
Nearby the trailhead, just a few kilometres north on Highway 93, is the famous Columbia Icefields. The massive icefields (about 325 square kilometres or 125 square miles in area) receive about 7 metres (280 inches) of snowfall each year and creep forward a little bit each day.
A fun family activity is to view the icefields from the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, a glass-floor platform high above the valley floor. Visitors can also take tours of the icefields on all-terrain vehicles.
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13. Athabasca Glacier
114 MILES FROM BANFF
Athabasca Glacier is an adventurous, adrenaline pumping experience for those who want an alternative activity apart from hiking while in The Canadian Rockies. Located in Jasper National Park, this glacier is one of the more accessible sections of the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies.
To experience Athabasca Glacier, most will opt to join a glacier walking tour. These tours will safely guide you onto and around the glacier, all while explaining its history and how it came to be what it is today. You’ll marvel at the intricate shapes and textures carved into the glacier, look into deep cracks and crevices, and even encounter a glacial waterfall, if you’re lucky.
It’s a truly unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience to walk on a glacier of this size. Sadly, the glacier is melting at a very fast rate, so all the more reason to tick it off the list while you can!
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Things to do in Banff Quick Tips
How to Get to Banff
To enter Canada, United States citizens need proof of citizenship and identification. Approved documents include a U.S. passport, a U.S. passport card or a NEXUS card, if you are driving. No visa is required as long as you aren’t planning on staying more than 180 days. Most major U.S. airlines have direct flights to larger Canadian cities. Calgary (YYC) is the closest airport to Banff (90 miles) and Banff National Park.
From there, you can rent a vehicle. Canada recognizes U.S. driver’s licenses so you won’t need an international drivers license. To compare prices and different types of rentals, use RentalCars.com. Another plus about renting a vehicle in Canada is that autos drives on the same side of the road as the U.S.
However, if you prefer to let someone else do the driving, Banff is accessible by private shuttle or the popular Brewster Express, providing service to Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Kananaskis, and Jasper. The Banff Airporter also has direct service to Banff via one stop in Canmore.
Best Time to Visit Banff
Overall, the best time to visit Banff National Park depends on what you want to do and see. Each season offers a unique experience, so consider your interests and plan accordingly.
Summer (June to August) is the most popular time to visit Banff. This time of the year is when the weather is the warmest and the hiking trails are open. The downside is it can also be very crowded during this time.
Fall (September to November) is a great time to visit if you prefer cooler weather and fewer crowds. The changing colors of the leaves make for a beautiful landscape and the wildlife is also more active during this time
Winter (December to February) is ideal for those who love winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Banff is transformed into a winter wonderland during this time, but be prepared for much colder temperatures and less daylight hours.
Spring (March to May) is a quieter time to visit Banff and the weather starts to warm up. Some hiking trails may still be closed due to snow, but the ski resorts are still open for skiing and snowboarding.
Where to Stay in Banff
Banff offers a variety of hotels, lodges and homestays in town. If you still aren’t sure what kind of property you want to stay in, use the interactive map below to browse both hotels and VRBO properties in Banff and the surrounding area. For the budget minded, there’s even a few hostels in town. Off course Banff has an impressive amount of ski resorts in the area as well.
Things to do in Banff Round Up
Banff is a breathtaking destination that offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience Canada’s beauty and nature. With its stunning mountain views, crystal clear lakes, and abundant wildlife, Banff National Park is truly a nature lover’s paradise.
Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, Banff has something to offer everyone. So why not plan your visit to Banff today and experience the magic of this remarkable destination for yourself? For convenience, I’ve included a Google Map that can be added to your own Google account to save for later.
See you on the road!