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Are you planning a trip to Banff National Park in summer and you’re looking for the best things to do? No need to worry cause I’ve got you covered!
Banff is a national treasure in the Canadian Rockies but unfortunately a lot of people only visit 1 or 2 places during their visit. The always crowded Moraine Lake and the overly famous Lake Louise. While both lakes are absolutely gorgeous and both of them should definitely be on your bucket list, there’s a lot more to see and do in Banff National Park.
With its endless mountains and tons of hiking trails to choose from the area of Banff National Park is the ideal playground for any outdoor lover.
I hope this guide will inspire you and help you in planning the perfect trip to Banff in the Canadian Rockies!
15 Best Things To See And Do In Banff National Park In Summer (Hikes, Photospots and More)
Banff National Park was Canada’s first national park and actually one of the first national parks formed in all of North America. Banff National Park dates back to 1885 when railway workers discovered a natural hot spring at the base of Sulphur Mountain.
Two years later, in 1887, Canada’s first national park was a given and was called Rocky Mountains Park.
It wasn’t until 1930 that it was named Banff National Park and is now part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From Banff’s humble beginnings as a 26 square kilometer hot springs reserve, Banff National Park now consists of 6,641 square kilometers of unparalleled mountain scenery nestled in the heart of the magnificent Canadian Rockies.
Where is Banff National Park
Before reading about what to do in Banff, let’s review where exactly it is.
The town of Banff sits at nearly 1400 meters, which makes it the highest town in Canada. It’s a rather small town, a little bigger compared to Jasper, but it’s the main base for pretty much every tourist that wants to visit Banff National Park.
Banff is about 126km west of Calgary so if you’re flying into Canada you’ll want to chose Calgary as your airport of arrival. The Trans Canada Highway will pretty much take you straight from Calgary to Banff.
How to reach Banff National Park
In my personal opinion the best way to explore Banff National Park is either by car or by camper. This will give you the freedom and flexibility to explore all of the hidden gems as well in this beautiful area.
🚘 Renting a car? I recommend getting a car from SunnyCars as they work with local car rental companies. When booking through Sunny Cars, the price already includes all insurance. Book your rental car here.
🚌 Renting a camper? Rent a camper/RV/motorhome from Outdoorsy which pretty much works like an AirBnb for campers.
I promise you, you will the freedom of your own set of wheels to explore Banff.
Driving from Calgary to Banff: This 128km drive is pretty straight forward and simply follows the Trans Canada Highway.
Driving from Jasper to Banff: This 288km route will take you along one of the most scenic drives in entire Canada, the Icefields Parkway. If you chose this option make sure not to rush it, there are a ton of beautiful stops along the Icefields Parkway that you don’t want to miss out on.
Driving from Vancouver to Banff: This is a long one and will take you about 9 hours but it can be done cause it’s exactly how we started our trip. When we arrived the weather in the BC area around Vancouver was very bad so we decided to immediately drive to Banff National Park. If this is your plan you can make a pit stop in Kamloops and grab a burger at the Red Beard Café (their brie & bacon burger is the best burger I ever ate).
Get a Parks Canada Pass to visit Banff National Park
To visit Banff National Park there is one very essential item that you’ll need and that’s a Parks Canada Pass.
Parks Canada pass prices are as follows and are only valid for 1 day
- Adult: $10.50
- Senior: $9.00
- Youth (up to 17): Free
- Family/group of 7 people: $21.00
- Day passes expire at 4 pm the following day.
I highly recommend getting your pass from before online on the Parks Canada website. You’ll receive it by mail and you don’t need to wait in line at the gate to enter the National Park. During peak summer months the waiting time can become pretty long.
Since we wanted to visit several National Parks over the timespan of 2 weeks we went with the Discovery Pass. This one is valid one year starting from the date you’ve placed your order.
A Parks Canada Discovery Pass which gets you entrance to all Parks Canada destinations for the year is only $145.25 for a family.
Discovery Pass fees are as follows:
- Adult: $72.25
- Senior: $61.75
- Family: $145.25
Since there was two of us driving in 1 single camper we went with the family pass.
All you need to do is attach it to your rear view mirror and you’re good to go!
When purchasing your Parks Canada Pass make sure to calculate in enough time for shipping. You don’t want it to only arrive in your mailbox after you’ve already left for Canada.
Best things to see and do in Banff National Park
1. Rent a canoe on Lake Louise
Renting a canoe on Lake Louise pretty much feels like a rite of passage for anyone who visits the Canadian Rockies. To be honest, Lake Louise is the most expensive place to rent a canoe but it’s also the most epic one.
It’s one of the most spectacular scenes in the entire world and even that it isn’t a cheap activity you won’t regret it!
It’s tough to find a more stunning scene to paddle through as you look out to Mount Victoria and the hanging Victoria glacier.
There’s only one canoe rental company at Lake Louise and it’s operated by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. You are however allowed to bring your own canoe, kayak or SUP but there’s is no public launching dock.
Opening hours: 8.30am to 7pm
I highly recommend getting in line 30 minute before opening time cause there are two separate lines and the one that’s reserved for hotel guests always gets first choice. Otherwise you might end up waiting a very long time before it’s your turn.
Price – 145CAD for 1 hour/ 135CAD for 30 minutes (tax not included)
An hour on Lake Louise should give you plenty of time to take in the views and canoe around the lake.
2. Watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake
Watching the sunrise at Moraine Lake is these days pretty much the only way to visit if you don’t want to depend on a shuttle bus.
Why? Well the parking lot at Moraine Lake is on the smaller side and tends to fill up at sunrise or a little after. There’s only one road leading to Moraine Lake and once the parking lot is full this road gets closed off. It’s also not allowed to park on the side of the road and it usually doesn’t open again until late in the evening.
So if you want a full day of exploring at Moraine Lake you’ll have to wake up early.
Moraine Lake is about 1 hour driving from Banff and only 20 minutes further than Lake Louise.
Moraine Lake Road closes between (approximately) October 10 to late May. The road gets covered in snow, and the avalanche risk is high.
❗️2023 UPDATE – As of 2023, Moraine Lake Road will be closed to privately owned vehicles. According to Parks Canada, access to the lake will be by Parks Canada Shuttle, Roam Transit, commercial buses and taxis from June to mid-October.
3. Drive the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road
One of my absolute favorite places to drive around in Banff National Park is actually only 10 minutes driving from the town centre.
The Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road starts close to the Trans Canada Highway exit and it’s a short loop that passes by lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake.
I highly recommend driving it early in the morning when there are no other cars or late in the evening. You can take absolutely stunning photos here and also spot a ton of wildlife.
In 1 day we saw a black bear, a grizzly bear with her cub, an ibex, a wolf and tons of deer.
4. Take a beer cruise on Lake Minnewanka
Probably the best way to see Lake Minnewanka is by taking a cruise. And what’s fun is that every day there is a beer cruise at 5pm where you get to taste 4 different Canadian beers from the area of Alberta.
Tickets for Beer Voyage start at $74 (without taxes) and the cruise departs at 5PM. Guests are asked to arrive early to check in and queue for boarding. The cruise lasts 90 minutes, making it half an hour longer than most other options.
Once aboard and seated, guests receive their beer package and an intro to the crew while enjoying some tunes played over the sound system. After a safety briefing, the vessel departs and travels all the way to Devil’s Gap — a destination that only two Pursuit cruise experiences offer.
5. Hike the Lake Minnewanka Shore Trail
The Lake Minnewanka shoreline trail is one of the best things to do in Banff National Park. And the best part about this hike is that you can make it as short or as long as you would like. It’s an out & back trail that will give you incredible views over the Lake Minnewanka reservoir and its surrounding mountains.
The first kilometer you’ll follow the paved trail next to the shore of Lake Minnewanka which will also be the busiest place cause here you’ll also find a couple of café’s and the boat house. But it doesn’t take long to leave the crowds behind and you’ll find yourself in a lush forest and crossing the Cascade river. Don’t forget to take in the views of the Stewart Canyon once you pass the wooden bridge. After that the trail leads up through the forest and eventually you’ll walk on a rocky gravel path up next to the spectacular lake.
Since this hike is on the edge of core grizzly territory, there are seasonal restrictions in place. Between July 10 and September 15, cycling is not permitted, hikers must hike in tight groups of 4 or more (carrying bear spray) and dogs are not permitted past the Stewart Canyon Bridge.
Location – Lake Minnewanka
Distance – 30km
Elevation – 300 meters
Season – June to October
Difficulty – Easy
Duration – 3 to 6 hours
Driving time from Banff – 15 minutes
6. Watch the sunset at Two Jack Lake
Two Jack Lake is located along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road and is the perfect spot to watch the sunset! It’s a 15 minute drive from the town Banff and offers fantastic views of Mount Rundle. It’s one of the best photography spots in the Canadian Rockies.
Don’t be fooled by the photo below, the water is pretty much freezing cold!
7. Visit the Cascade Ponds near Banff
Cascade Ponds is a small park located only 5 minutes away from Banff. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon picnic and capture the beautiful Mount Rundle from a different perspective.
You’ll find them right off the Trans Canada Highway on your way up to Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka.
Cascade Ponds are a series of ponds that lie under Cascade Mountain and they’re beautiful to visit year round. But in the summer you can hold a bbq here at one of the picnic tables.
8. Hike up to Lake Agnes Teahouse at Lake Louise
The Lake Agnes Tea House hike is one of the most popular short hikes in Banff National Park and its start is located right next to the spectacular Lake Louise. Now to get to Lake Agnes there are a two options. The shortest way up starts right next to the lake but this trail is also pretty boring and simply goes up through the trees without any spectacular views.
In my opinion the best way to hike up to the Lake Agnes Tea House is by taking a little longer route but one that will take you along incredible vista’s! Simply start by following the trail towards the end of the lake and then follow the signs that lead to the junction trail. This way you will have stunning views over Lake Louise, the enormous glacier in the back and the surrounding mountains! For the way back follow the signs to Mirror Lake and then hike back towards the parking lot. This way you’ll make a much more fun loop trail than the boring out & back trail.
Don’t expect to have the tea house to yourself since this is a very popular trail and if you want to grab a drink you’ll need to have cash with you.
Location – Lake Louise
Distance – 8km
Elevation – 378 meters
Season – June to October
Difficulty – Easy
Duration – 2,5 hours
Driving time from Banff – 40 minutes
9. Admire the view over Lake Louise from The Little Beehive
The hike up to Little Beehive actually starts at the exact same spot as the Lake Agnes Teahouse Trail and will add 3km extra to your hiking adventure but is very much worth the little extra effort. The view over Lake Louise and the surrounding mountains is absolutely breathtaking and there’s a perfect spot to take photos in a safe way!
Location – Lake Louise
Distance – 11.5km
Elevation – 535meters
Season – June to October
Difficulty – Easy
Duration – 3,5 hours
Driving time from Banff – 40 minutes
10. Visit the elusive Peyto Lake, my favorite lake in Banff National Park
Peyto Lake is one of the most popular lakes in Banff National Park and you can find it along the Icefields Parkway. Thanks to its shape like that of a wolf/fox it’s one of the top sights to see in Banff National Park.
It’s parking lot is however a little tricky to find cause the sign on the road doesn’t say Peyto Lake but Bow Pass. There are two parking lots and the one for cars and RV’s is the first one on your right that you’ll see.
From there it’s a 10 minute hike up to the viewpoint. They’ve created a platform from where you can stand but if you go through the bushes just a little before that you’ll arrive at these rocks where you can take better photos.
11. Photograph the reflections at Bow Lake during sunrise
Bow Lake is a must stop when you’re driving the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper or vice versa. It was one of my favorite stops on this scenic drive and if you can time it make sure to arrive here for sunrise.
The reflections here are absolutely breathtaking and definitely worth the early wake up call.
12. Walk around Herbert Lake, an off the beaten path place in Banff National Park
Herbert Lake is an easy to miss stop when you’re driving through Banff National Park but this beautiful emereald colored lake is definitely worth a visit.
There’s a small parking lot right next to the road and it’s also from here that the hiking trail around the lake starts.
13. Try Canada’s National dish: poutine, the yummiest thing to do in Banff
It might not look it but damn, poutine is delicious as hell! I mean what’s not to like about it? It’s curly fries topped with a gravy sauce and cheese curds.
For my fellow Belgians, it’s a bit like ‘stoofvlees met friet’!
We tried ours at a diner near Lake Louise together with some beer, wine and mozzarella sticks. not the healthiest meal but oh well, can’twin them all.
14. Visit Mistaya Canyon
The incredibly picturesque Mistaya Canyon is one of the many stops along the Icefields Parkway. If you’re staying in the neighborhood know that it’s an excellent spot to photograph the sunrise in the Canadian Rockies.
During the day Mistaya Canyon can become pretty crowded but it’s pretty easy and straight forward to a photo like this here. There’s no dangerous rock climbing involved!
15. Photograph wildlife, one of the top things to do in Banff National Park
During our 2 week road trip through Canada we saw a ton of wildlife and in all honesty, it’s not that hard to see a bear in Canada. Before our trip I was a little scared that we wouldn’t see any but in total we saw over 15 bears!
Some precautions you must make when photographing wildlife:
- Keep a safe distance: that means at least 200 meters between you and the bear. So make sure to bring a good zoom lens!
- Don’t feed wildlife, not even a chipmunk!
- Don’t disturb them in their habitat. Take a photo and move on.
- Mind the traffic around you. A lot of times you’ll simply see a black bear walking next to the road. If it’s just you on the road you can slow down to take a look but please don’t do this in the middle of the day. You can cause an accident or what they call bear jam.