Located within the breathtaking Banff National Park, Banff is a resort town that attracts visitors from across Canada and the world, who come to marvel at the area’s stunning natural beauty. If you’re planning a trip to this scenic region, make sure to consult our list of the 10 best attractions you simply can’t afford to leave off the itinerary.
The true jewel of the Banff National Park region is the beautiful Lake Louise. During the wintertime this area represents one of North America’s largest ski resorts, which is incredibly popular with both skiers snowboarders, as well as those wanting to try snowshoeing, dog sledding or horse-drawn sleigh rides. In the summer, however, the lake is arguably even more spectacular and is served by a variety of hiking and biking trails, which offer incredible views of the Rockies scenery.
For a more relaxing way to experience the awe-inspiring views, Banff Gondola is a fantastic option. Situated only a five minute drive outside of Banff town, the gondola takes you 2281m above sea level to an observation point overlooking the whole of the Bow Valley. Once at the top, there is also a small range of other attractions, including a self-guided 1km walkway, several restaurants and the Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station, where you can track the region’s weather patterns across the last 30 years.
Opening Hours: 10am-5pm daily from October to April, 8am-7pm daily from April to May, 8am-9pm daily from May to September and 8am-7pm from September to October
Another of Banff National Park’s most famous lakes is Moraine Lake, which is situated in the 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 are able to witness the ‘Twenty Dollar View’ of the lake, known for its appearance on the 1969 and 1979 issue Canadian twenty-dollar bills.
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. Of the several exhibitions, many are water-related, focusing the importance of this natural resource throughout civilization. Others focus on 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 different themed areas of the galleries.
If you’re looking to appreciate Banff’s natural beauty but want to avoid the crowds or a particularly arduous hiking trail, Bow Falls is a perfect place to visit. This impressive waterfall occurs just before the junction of the Bow and Spray Rivers, making it accessible by car as well as from a relatively short trail – 1.2km from Bow River Bridge. Definitely worth a visit for film fans, as many eagle eyed visitors will recognize the falls from their appearance in Hollywood movies, like Marilyn Monroe’s River of No Return.
Nestled into the Rocky Mountains at an elevation level of over 5000 feet 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 is naturally heated to a temperature of close to 40°C. Both an invigorating and relaxing experience, the springs are best enjoyed during the quieter morning hours, where the peaceful atmosphere is even better for enjoying your scenic surroundings.
The Banff Centre, a central cultural venue in the region, describes itself as ‘the intersection between art and ideas.’ In reality, this mission statement relates to local importance, as part of Alberta’s creative, educative and leadership environment, all of which benefit from its support of original programming and progressive initiatives. It’s worth keeping an eye on its website for a multitude of events, including music, dance, film and theatre 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.
Situated in the north-western area of the Banff National Park is the Columbian Icefields, the largest single icefield in the Rockies. Tours run by the Brewster adventure company offer a 90 minute ‘Glacier Adventure’ where a specially-designed vehicle will drive you onto the icefield surface and allow you to disembark directly onto the Athabasca glacier. The Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre also houses a small factual display on the glacier’s history, as well as a indoor viewing platform.
Right at the heart of Banff town is Tunnel Mountain, the region’s smallest summit and thus one of the best hiking options for novices. Despite its relatively easy incline the mountain offers expansive views of Banff itself, as well as the Bow River valley. The highway that traverses the mountain is currently also used as a main access route into Banff and makes for an exceptionally scenic drive and introduction to the area.
An attraction that seeks to pay respect to Banff’s indigenous heritage is its Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. 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. Included in the admission price is an informative guided tour, led by one of the expert volunteer staff.
Opening Hours: 11am-5pm daily in October to April, 10am-7pm daily in May to September