We love exploring U.S. National Parks and decided it was time to head north of the border to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada for beautiful scenery and hiking. We booked our trip to have three full days in the park, which we recommend as a minimum trip length to experience the park and increase your odds of having some good weather. As Banff is located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains the weather can be hard to predict and plan for (see below for some of our trip tips!). We visited in mid-late June and had a mix of sun, rain, and snow. We made an effort to start our days early to find parking and get on the hiking trails and were in awe of the beauty and serenity of the park.
Top Things to do in Banff National Park
The town of Banff is located in the National Park and has a cute downtown, making it a great place to stay during your park visit. There are several great hotel and restaurant options right in town. There are also some lodging options outside of downtown Banff (e.g., Fairmont Lake Louise, Moraine Lake Lodge).
Bow Falls & Bow Falls Viewpoint
Any easy walk from downtown Banff, you can walk along the Bow River to Bow Falls Viewpoint. Wonderful in the evening before or after dinner!
Surprise Corner & Hoodoos Trail
Surprise Corner is a nice viewing platform of the Bow Valley and the Fairmont Banff Hotel. There are a few hiking trails nearby like the Hoodoos Trail along the Bow River.
One of Banff’s popular lakes, Lake Louise boasts beautiful teal water, a lakeshore path, and canoeing. There are several other trails you can access from the lake, including the Fairview Lookout, the Lake Agnes trail to Lake Agnes and Mirror Lake, and the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. You can rent canoes from the Fairmont right on the lake, but be mindful it is quite expensive ($100-150CAD). We opted to canoe on the quieter Lake Moraine instead.
Lake Agnes Tea House
From Lake Louise, you can hike about 3.6km one-way (2.25mi) up to Lake Agnes Tea House, a historic tea house dating back to 1905, perched on the mountain edge. This small lodge is a great spot for grabbing some tea to warm up and grab lunch. Despite it being June, it was actually snowing at the top when we arrived! They have items like soup, sandwiches on homemade oatmeal bread, and biscuits, and offer a variety of loose leaf teas served in silver steel teapots.
Tips: Be sure to stop at Mirror Lake on your way to the tea house. You can also continue to hike and walk out to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
Our favorite lake we visited, Lake Moraine is flanked by several peaks and glaciers, giving it a dramatic and majestic feel. We rented canoes one morning and enjoyed the peaceful and serene atmosphere. There is a popular viewpoint overlook as well as a diverse array of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. We hiked Larch Valley from Lake Moraine, which is approximately 11.6km (7.2mi) round trip. The views of the Valley of Ten Peaks are amazing, but be ready to climb up the 11 or so switchbacks on the initial part of the trail!
Tips: The road from Lake Louise Dr to Lake Moraine (Moraine Lake Road) is closed in winter. In the summer high season, the road can close in the morning to the afternoon when the parking lot gets full, so make sure to arrive early (before 8-8:30am). Seriously, they close off the road so you can't even drive up!
Johnston Canyon is a deep canyon, formed over the years by the Johnston creek. The hike to the Lower Falls and Upper Falls is really neat as you traverse through the ravine. The trail is another popular destination for visitors, so make sure to arrive early to find parking (by 8-8:30am). We also hiked to the Inkpots (pictured), which are small mineral spring pools of varying aquamarine colors. This moderate hike is about 5.8km one-way (3.6mi) from the parking lot and about 2 miles beyond Upper Falls.
Bow Lake is another picturesque lake in Banff National Park. It is located on the Icefields Parkway (Alberta 93), which is about a 30 minute drive north of the Lake Louise exit on the Trans-Canada Highway (Rt 1).
Peyto Lake is another 10 minutes or so north of Bow Lake. The viewpoint is located at a higher elevation than the lake, offering sweeping views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, when we visited the clouds blocked our view of the lake, but it was fun to walk through all the snow along the path to the viewpoint!
Tip: Weather just 30 minutes north of Lake Louise can be much different and colder, so make sure to plan accordingly and bring layers. There was 6 inches of snow on the ground when we visited!
Food and Drink in Banff
Waldhaus Restaurant & Pub
Located on the Fairmont Banff property, the Waldhaus is a fun German-Austrian style restaurant. They also have a downstairs pub. Self contained in a quaint cottage, the restaurant serves delicious lagers (you can get a boot of beer!) and German-Austrian food like sausage and schnitzel.
Head to this hip, tiny restaurant for Asian-fusion style cocktails. They also have Asian tapas style small plates.
The Bison Restaurant
The Bison Restaurant is located in downtown Banff and is a nice option if you’re looking for meat and fish dishes. They also have a lovely terrace for enjoying a drink or a meal. Dinner reservations book up early so make sure to plan in advance.
Where to Stay in Banff
Mount Royal Hotel
Located in downtown Banff, the Mount Royal Hotel was a great spot for exploring Banff and trying out some of the local bars and restaurants. A good number of the rooms offer views of the surrounding area and the hotel has a nice lounge and terrace hot tubs on the top floor.
Other Things to do in Banff
You can ride the Banff gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for views of Banff and Bow Valley. There is also a hiking path to Sulphur Mountain, so one option is to hike up and take the gondola down (or vice versa).
Tip: Be sure to book your gondola ride times in advance. Mornings are best to avoid crowds.
Visit Yoho National Park
Located next to Banff National Park, Yoho is another beautiful park in the Canadian Rockies (located in British Columbia). Be sure to check out Emerald Lake if you visit.
If you fly in or out through Calgary and have some time, check out this clean and young city; it is actually ranked the 4th most “livable” city in the world. Spend time walking along the riverwalk, check out the shopping district, or grab some pizza at Without Papers in Inglewood.
Tips to Plan Your Visit
We recommend the following essentials when packing for Banff:
- plenty of layers!
- rain pants and jacket
- hiking pack (and rain cover)
- hiking boots
- sun protection (sunglasses, hat, sunscereen)
Make sure to set your alarm early so you can ensure there is parking available when you arrive. Most of the lots we parked in were crowded before 9am.
- Plan your itinerary in advance and research hikes
- Check for road closures on Canada’s 511 website (93 north towards Jasper is not always open)
- If you rent a car, choose an option with 4-wheel drive if you're visiting outside of late June through September
- During the summer season, book your Banff dinner reservations in advance
Bring water & snacks with you; most of the popular areas also have a cafe where you can also purchase food, but the selection is usually pretty limited. We stopped at the grocery store in Banff to stock up.