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The Banff National Park Travel Guide: What to see and do

Aug 24, 2023 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Ready to venture out and discover the unspoiled beauty of nature? From soaring peaks to jewel-toned lakes, you’ll see sights that’ll leave you breathless when you join us on a tour of Banff in the Canadian Rockies. “My wife and I have been to over 120 countries, and we’ve been to all the seven continents, and I can honestly say that the Canadian Rockies rank amongst the very best in terms of being the most pristine and picturesque,” said traveler Art after taking our Canadian Rockies by Train: Banff, Lake Louise & Vancouver tour. “Stunningly breathtaking sceneries abound.” Whether you choose to explore that scenery by glass-domed train, sky gondola, river raft, or all of the above is up to you, but you’ll have your pick when you visit Banff on a trip to Canada with us. Check out our Banff National Park travel guide below to unlock its majesty.

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At a glance

Things to do

Sights to see

Packing tips

Banff National Park Travel Guide at a Glance

Where is Banff National Park? Banff National Park is located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Southwestern Alberta, near the border with British Columbia.

When is the best time to visit Banff? It’s best to visit Banff between May and September: The weather is at its warmest, the snow has melted off the trails, and the lakes will glitter under the sunshine. Setting off on one of our guided tours of Banff National Park during this time of year means you’ll have the best conditions for outdoor activities, like hiking and visiting iconic viewpoints.

How big is Banff National Park? The park sprawls over 2,500 square miles. Most of that area’s wilderness, but it also encompasses the charming towns of Banff and Lake Louise. When you join us on a tour of Banff, you’ll actually stay at a hotel within the park in one of the two towns.

What wildlife can you see in Banff National Park? Observing wildlife is one of the top things to do in Banff, Canada. You might see moose, bears, elk, eagles, osprey, and more while touring the park.

How many days do you need in Banff National Park? We recommend spending between two and five days visiting Banff and its surrounding area. Our tours of Banff will give you ample time to explore the park at your leisure, while still showing you all its major sights (as well as its hidden gems).

How can you visit Banff National Park? Most people travel by bus or car when visiting Banff National Park, and you’ll need a National Park Pass to get in. When you go guided on a tour with us, we’ll take care of all the logistics for you—including transportation, park passes, lodging, and more.

Banff travel guide fun fact: Banff National Park is part of the UNESCO-listed Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks site.

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Top things to do in Banff, Canada

From experiencing outdoor adventures to taking in gorgeous scenery, there are so many things to do in Banff National Park. Below are some of the best.

  • Explore Lake Louise. Turquoise-hued Lake Louise is one of the most iconic landmarks in Alberta, Canada. Known as Canada’s “diamond in the wilderness,” the icy lake is surrounded by lush forested mountains and offers some of the best views in Canada. When you visit Lake Louise on a tour of Banff, take time to walk along some of the glacial lake’s many trails, or head out on the water in a canoe (in the summer) or on ice skates (in the winter). “Take the hike around Lake Louise,” urged traveler Suzie after returning from our Canadian Rockies by Train: Banff, Lake Louise & Vancouver tour. “Jump on the ski lifts or the tram rides to the top of the mountains! There is more to do at the top! You can eat! You can hike! You can just sit and enjoy the breathtaking views. Everywhere you turn is another beautiful picture.”
  • See the northern lights. You may only associate the aurora borealis with places like Iceland and Greenland, but Banff National Park is one of the best places to view the northern lights on tour. Due to local laws meant to curb light pollution, it’s possible to see them year-round in the area. (The further you move away from the town’s lights, the better chance you’ll have.) However, if you want to increase your probability of viewing the aurora, book a trip to Banff in the winter months, when the skies are darker for longer hours. Even if you don’t spot them on your trip, you’ll be treated to a sky strewn with a spectacular array of stars.
  • Ride the gondola up Sulphur Mountain. Taking an enclosed gondola ride to the summit of Sulphur Mountain is an unforgettable experience to have in the Canadian Rockies. Join us on the Sulphur Mountain Gondola Ride excursion on our National Parks: Canadian Rockies, Glacier & Yellowstone tour for sweeping views of the town of Banff, Bow Valley, and the surrounding mountains.
  • Board a vintage Rocky Mountaineer train. When you join us on our Canadian Rockies by Train: Banff, Lake Louise & Vancouver tour, you’ll spend two days traveling in the glass-domed coach of a Rocky Mountaineer train and be treated to excellent service and spectacular views. “What a glorious two days; they ended too soon,” said traveler Jean Ann after disembarking. “Great food, drinks, crew, and from our dome car, we saw osprey, eagles, and bighorn sheep on the hillside, plus great photo opportunities of the beautiful scenery.” It’s no wonder we consider it one of our top scenic train ride tours.

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Stunning things you’ll see in Banff National Park

If you’re looking for more things to do in Banff, Canada, all you need to do is look up at your surroundings. There are so many spectacular natural wonders to discover, you’ll never be at a loss for what to do.

  • Moraine Lake. Possibly even more stunning than Lake Louise, Moraine Lake is a glacial lake nestled into the Valley of the Ten Peaks. 10 snow-capped mountains encircle this azure lake, which gets its spectacular color from the fine rock dust deposited in the water by nearby glaciers. “The color of the lake was unbelievable,” said traveler Rebecca after returning from our Canadian Rockies by Train: Banff, Lake Louise & Vancouver tour. “The water really is bluer in Banff!” (Please note: The road to Lake Moraine is only accessible from June through September.)
  • Bow Falls. Located a short walk from the town of Banff, Bow Falls is a short, wide waterfall formed by the winding Bow River. The falls are accessible year-round and are equally arresting when they’re frothy in the summer as when they’re frozen in winter. Fun fact: Bow Falls was used as a filming location for the Marilyn Monroe movie River of No Return.
  • Cave and Basin National Historic Site. The discovery of Cave and Basin’s natural thermal springs sparked the founding of Canada’s first national park: the Rocky Mountains Park of Canada, which eventually became Banff. When you visit on a tour of Banff, walk through the tunnels to see the hot springs, which are heated by geothermal activity. You can’t bathe in the pools, but you can head to the nearby Banff Upper Hot Springs during your free time to soak in the mineral-rich waters while enjoying a mountain view.
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What to pack for a trip to Banff

One of the most important things to remember when packing for a trip to Banff is that the park is located in the Rocky Mountains—and that means you’re going to want to pack for changing weather and higher altitudes. Most people in Banff dress for comfort and utility, so you can leave your formal attire at home.

  • Lightweight, layerable clothing, including a waterproof jacket. This wouldn’t be much of a Banff travel guide if we didn’t tell you how to dress! The weather changes quickly in the mountains, and it’s not unusual to experience multiple “seasons” within a few hours. Take a tip from traveler Tracey, who, after returning from our Canadian Rockies by Train: Banff, Lake Louise & Vancouver tour, recommended to “pack for unpredictable weather, as even in June we had 75 degrees and sun, snow, and rain!”
  • Comfortable walking shoes or light hiking boots. You won’t need anything too heavy-duty, since many of the trails you might want to explore around Banff are well-maintained and suitable for all skill levels. We recommend packing footwear that is lightweight and comfortable with a good grip—and don’t forget to include high-cut, cushioned socks to keep your feet happy and protect your ankles from bugs and scratches.
  • Sun protection. UV exposure gets stronger at higher altitudes, so be sure to pack plenty of sun protection for your trip to Banff. Sunscreen, a brimmed hat, and sunglasses are always a good idea. We also recommend lip balm with SPF and lightweight, long layers, even in the summer.
  • A camera. Sure, you could just use the camera on your phone, but to really capture the Canadian Rockies, you may want to consider bringing along a DSLR. From stunning landscapes to iconic wildlife, you’ll want to capture it all, if only just to brag about your adventure to your friends back home. One of our best Banff travel tips? Make sure to look up from the viewfinder once in a while: The majesty of Banff is beautiful in photos, but even better in person.

Ready to plan your trip to Banff National Park? See its breathtaking beauty when you join us on a Banff tour!

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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