Banff is one of the most beautiful national parks in Canada. It boasts breathtaking mountain scenery, epic hiking trails, and picturesque camping grounds and lodges. It’s the perfect getaway from the USA if you’re craving a Swiss-style skiing vacation, but don't want to fly across the Atlantic. Whether you’re looking to re-connect with nature, up your photography game, relax in a mountain resort or canoe across the pristine Lake Louise, Banff is an absolute dream. Here is my ultimate guide to Banff National Park!
What to Expect in Banff
Currency: The official currency used is the Canadian dollar. However, it’s a good idea to make sure your credit card is authorized for overseas purchases as some restaurants in Banff only accept credit cards.
Climate: The weather in Banff is extreme. In the winters, the icy wind can make the temperature feel much colder than the thermometer reads. It’s not uncommon for snow to arrive at any time of the year or for warm chinook winds to bring in summer temperatures between the colder months of January to March.
Peak Season: The summer months are peak season in Banff. From June to August, the lakes are at their best and the weather is perfect for all of the outdoor activities. Book your hotel in advance to avoid the rush and look for one that will give you easy access to the hiking and biking trails.
Best Time to Visit: If you’re heading to Banff for a skiing vacation, the best time to visit is between December and March. But if you’re hoping to see top sites like Moraine Lake, plan your trip for the summer months when the roads are clear and the ice has melted. Don’t miss my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Banff National Park in the Winter if you’re traveling between October-March.
Getting Around Banff
Car: Hire a car to explore Banff. It’s the best way to see the national park and explore far to reach spots. Just keep in mind that you will have to purchase a Park Pass to enter Banff for $9.80 CAD.
Bike: Hire a bike from your hotel or in town for $30 CAD per day. Make your way down Banff’s scenic trails and stop by the Hoodoo Lookout, Vermilion Lakes and cycle the Sundance Canyon Access Road.
Bus: Banff has a public bus service that runs to all the main attractions in town. You can also catch bus Route 6 to explore sights further afield like Cascade Ponds and Lake Minnewanka. You can also get a shuttle pass for the day for $5 CAD.
Where to Stay in Banff
When visiting the National Park, there are a few areas that are great to stay in. My first choice would be to stay in the town of Banff—there are hotels, restaurants, activities, and breweries, and you can easily access the park and hiking trails. That being said, it’s not generally inexpensive to stay in the town. The second best place to stay around is Lake Louise! There’s a small village, just a few minutes from the lake, with accommodation—it’s perfect for those looking to escape, and have a peaceful mountain getaway without any distractions. Here are the top hotels around Banff!
Located in the heart of Banff, the luxury Fairmont Banff Springs hotel offers a championship golf course, fishing, river rafting, horseback riding, and more. It’s been coined as “The Castle in the Rockies” due to its incredible exterior. There are 764 cozy rooms and suites, some offering sweeping views of the Alberta mountains.
Want to wake up to incredible views of Banff National Park? Book a stay the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s located right on the lake, and the best rooms look out onto the tranquil turquoise water. When you add in all the extra amenities and luxury furnishings, it’s not hard to see why Fairmont is considered one of the top hotels in Canada.
Ever wanted to wake up inside a cave with a basin-themed hot pool? That’s what you can expect from Fox Hotel and Suites. Besides your incredible room, you’re treated to a delicious complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, roam bus passes, and bike rentals. The hotel will even spoil your pets with special treats, toys, and a comfy bed.
Tucked away in the mountains, this luxurious ski resort is just a 15-minute drive away from Banff and is an excellent option for traveling families. If you’re getting cabin fever, you can book a helicopter flight for two, or spend the day working on your golf handicap.
The Rimrock Resort is a large mountain resort located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. There are 343 guest rooms, two restaurants, two lounges, a coffee shop, and a luxury spa. It offers some of the best views in Banff National Park!
Where to Eat in Banff
Banff has quite a few restaurants and cuisines represented, compared to other mountain towns in North America. You’ll find a great range of choices for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in and around Banff! I’ve outlined some of my favorite places to eat in Banff below.
Wild Flour BakeryBakery
Wild Flour is a homey bakery and cafe in downtown Banff—they showcase local art and have an amazing selection of baked goods, croissants & baguettes. And coffee, of course!
Serving up great espresso drinks, baked goods, hot foods, and bowls, Good Earth is a great stop if you’re heading in or out of Banff National Park.
The Maple LeafSteak, Seafood
The Maple Leaf serves up some of the best Canadian food in Banff. The restaurant’s menu features wild game dishes, steak, and fresh seafood. Its wine list boasts vintages from vineyards across Canada as well as a few international selections.
EdenFrench, Fine Dining
Eden is one of the top restaurants in Banff. For over 10 years it’s received the AAA/CAA Five Diamond award for its delicious French-influenced cuisine. Set inside Rimrock Resort, you’ll have incredible views of Rundle Mountain and Spray Valley as you tuck into their a la carte menu.
What to Do in Banff
Banff National Park has something to do every time of year! In the summer, you can find endless options for hiking, fishing, rock-climbing, sightseeing, and just relaxing around mountain resorts. During the winter months in Banff, you have a winter wonderland to play in! Try your hand at skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snow shoeing, and more.
Another picturesque lake is Lake Moraine. Here you’ll find excellent canoeing conditions, hiking trails, horseback riding, and gondola rides to the top of the mountains.
During the summer, you want to take advantage of the incredible lakes inside Banff National Park. Lake Louise is one of the most popular options and is home to a ton of summer activities. Rent a canoe, go horseback riding along the water’s edge, conquer a nearby hiking trail or tackle the lake’s bubbling rapids.
Whether you prefer fly fishing, spin casting, or relaxing on the boat, Banff will set the scene for a fishing trip to remember. Before you head out, you will need to obtain a fishing license from a local fishing outfitter. If you don’t have gear already, you can stop by Wilson’s Mountain Sports or Snowtips-Backtrax. There are also all-inclusive tours that you can book.
One of the best ways to take in the natural scenery is with a helicopter ride. The trips last about 30-55 minutes long, and you’ll fly past incredible glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, and the towering mountains.
Discovered in the late 1880’s, the hot springs are what put Banff National Park on the map. The water contains soothing minerals and is kept around 37 to 40 degrees Celsius year round. They’re open Sunday to Thursday from 10 AM to 10 PM and Friday to Saturday until 11 PM.
Grassi Lakes: The Grassi Lakes trail is an easy 3.2 km hike. It’s a great option for families and winds past waterfalls, panoramic views, and two majestic lakes.
Rockpile Trail: If you’re looking for something short that still offers amazing views, walk up the Rockpile Trail. It’s one of the best places to view Moraine Lake. Parking can be extremely hard to find though so you’ll want to get there early.
Tunnel Mountain: The Tunnel Mountain hike is one of the oldest and most popular trails in Banff National Park. At 2.7 miles round-trip, it’s another easy hike for all levels. Just don’t let the name fool you – there is no tunnel in the mountain.
Peyto Lake: Peyto Lake is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The hike up to Peyto Lookout is only 10-15 minutes but gets extremely busy. If you want to avoid the crowds, continue walking uphill towards the quieter Upper Peyto viewpoint.
Johnston Canyon: With waterfalls and forests surrounding you, the Johnston Canyon is a scenic hike through Banff. The trail will take 2.5 hours to complete and takes you to a canyon formed after thousands of years of water erosion. You can also hike up to the ink pots which are seven pools of green colored mineral springs!
Vermilion Lake: If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Banff, head up to Vermilion Lake. It’s one of the best spots to watch the sunrise and spot some of the park’s wildlife. You can also explore the Fenland Trail. It’s a leisurely 1.2-mile loop that winds around the banks of the Forty Mile Creek.
With six mountain ranges and sweeping views of the valley, there’s so much to see by taking a gondola ride to the top of the mountains. Once you reach the summit, have lunch at one of the three restaurants and follow the boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak.
Located just 6 km (about a 10-minute drive) away from Banff, this lookout is a great free alternative to the gondola. The road is steep and winding but in good condition, even if there’s snow. Go at sunset for some unforgettable views.
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