The Top Things to Do and See in Banff

Bow Falls in Banff is the perfect spot to enjoy Canada’s natural beauty
Bow Falls in Banff is the perfect spot to enjoy Canada’s natural beauty | © Michael Wheatley Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Harriet Myers

Located within Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park, Banff is a resort town that attracts visitors from across the world. Marvel at the area’s incredible natural beauty, from sublime mountainscapes to beautiful lakes and trails. If you’re planning a trip to this scenic region, be sure to consult our list of the 12 best attractions that you can’t miss.

Lake Louise

The true jewel of the Banff National Park region is the beautiful Lake Louise. During the wintertime, this area is one of North America’s largest ski resorts, which is incredibly popular with both skiers and snowboarders, as well as those wanting to try other winter activities such as snowshoeing, dog sledding, and tubing. For a particularly magical experience, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow. In the summer, the lake is arguably even more spectacular and can be reached by a variety of hiking and biking trails, offering scenic views of the Canadian Rockies.

Banff Gondola

For a more relaxing way to experience the area’s impressive views, Banff Gondola is a fantastic option. Situated just 5 minutes outside of Banff, the gondola takes you 2,281m (7484ft) above sea level to an observation point overlooking six mountain ranges and the Bow Valley. Once at the top, you’ll find a small range of other attractions, including a self-guided 1km (0.6mi) walkway, several restaurants and the Sanson Peak Meteorological Station, where you can track the region’s weather patterns across the last 30 years and learn more about Banff National Park.

Moraine Lake

Another one of Banff National Park’s most famous lakes is Moraine Lake, which is situated in the rugged Valley of the Ten Peaks. Entirely glacier-fed, the body of water is a fantastically bright shade of turquoise blue, making it one of the most photographic spots in Banff. The lakeside area is surrounded by several hiking and biking trails, from which you can witness the ‘Twenty Dollar View’ of the lake, known for its appearance on the 1969 and 1979 issue Canadian twenty-dollar bills.

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Specializing in the history of the Rockies and their inhabitants through the ages, the Whyte Museum provides a great introduction for visitors to the area. Many of the exhibitions are water-related, focusing on the importance of this natural resource throughout civilization. Others are dedicated to specific artifacts and documents related to the region. Knowledgeable and informative staff are more than happy to answer questions and also lead daily guided tours through differently themed areas of the galleries.

Bow Falls

If you’re looking to appreciate Banff’s natural beauty but want to avoid the crowds or a particularly arduous hiking trail, head to Bow Falls. This area is especially popular with film fans, with many recognizing it from appearances in Hollywood movies, such as Marilyn Monroe’s River of No Return. This impressive waterfall occurs just before the junction of the Bow and Spray Rivers, making it accessible by car as well as via a relatively short trail – 1.2km (0.7mi) from Bow River Bridge.

Upper Hot Springs Pool

Nestled into the Rocky Mountains at an elevation level of over 5,000ft (1524m) is Canada’s highest natural hot mineral springs, Banff Upper Springs. With the amenities you might expect from an outdoor spa, this completely natural pool, which was discovered in 1883, is naturally heated to a temperature of close to 40C (104F). Both an invigorating and relaxing experience, the springs are best enjoyed during the quieter morning hours when the peaceful atmosphere is even better for enjoying your scenic surroundings and you can look across the valley to Mount Rundle.

Banff Centre

Founded in 1933, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is a cultural venue in the region, which describes itself as ‘the intersection between art and ideas.’ Through innovative programs, the center aims to inspire everyone who visits to unleash their creative potential. It’s worth keeping an eye on its website for a multitude of events, including music, dance, film and theater performances, as well as information on the scheduled program of annual festivals, such as the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Banff Mountain Festival, celebrating local literature and film.

Columbian Icefields

Situated in the northwestern area of the Banff National Park you’ll find the Columbian Icefields, the largest single icefield in the Rockies. Brewster Adventures offer a 90-minute ‘Glacier Adventure’ tour where a specially designed vehicle will drive you onto the icefield’s surface before you disembark directly onto the Athabasca Glacier – one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. The Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre also houses a small factual display on the glacier’s history, as well as a glass-bottomed Skywalk, a 1km (0.6mi) walkway providing incredible views from 280m (919ft) above.

Tunnel Mountain

Located in the Bow River Valley of Banff National Park lies Tunnel Mountain, the region’s smallest summit and one of the best hiking options for novices all year round. Despite its relatively easy incline, the mountain offers expansive views of the Bow and Spray River valleys, the Banff Springs Golf Course, and Banff Hot Springs on Sulphur Mountain. The highway that traverses the mountain is currently also used as the main access route into Banff and makes for an exceptionally scenic drive and introduction to the area.

Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum

An attraction that seeks to pay respect to Banff’s indigenous heritage is its Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, one of Alberta’s oldest museums. The compact, but well-crafted, exhibition uses historic artifacts, documents and works of art to piece together what life was like for First Nations peoples in the area before the arrival of European settlers. As the museum’s name suggests, you’ll also learn about the return of the buffalo — an important part of the indigenous culture — to Banff National Park. Included in the admission price is an informative guided tour, led by the expert volunteer staff. Opening hours: 10am-7pm from Sunday to Thursday, 11am-10pm from Friday to Saturday

Lake Minnewanka

Located 5km (3mi) outside of Banff, Lake Minnewanka is the largest body of water in Banff National Park. This glacial lake — coined ‘Water of the Spirits’ by First Nations tribes — has a rich history, with people camping and hunting along its shores for over 100 centuries. It’s a popular spot year-round, offering an abundance of summertime activities, including mountain biking and diving, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during winter. Keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears who flock to the area to feast on berries.

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

After three railway workers stumbled upon this cave and its hot springs in 1883, Canada’s national parks system was founded, and this National Historic Site became one of the country’s most significant landmarks. Learn more through a series of interactive exhibits, including a four-screen visual experience showcasing Canada’s network of protected places, or take a guided tour of the original cave where you’ll hear about the history and culture of this historic area. Lantern Tours are also offered for those keen to experience the cave’s after-dark allure.

Additional reporting by Emma Gibbins

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