Top 12 things to do in Banff National Park

So you’ve landed in Canada, eh? Well make sure you swing by Tim Horton’s on your way out the airport and ask for a medium Double Double. Ok, got your coffee? Good, now make your way straight to Banff National Park.

1. Banff Town-site

Banff Avenue

Banff Avenue

With a recorded population of only 7,500, you’d think this small town in the heart of the Canadian Rockies would be quiet and sleepy; you’d be very, very wrong. Banff is a bustling and beautiful town and I will forever refer to this place as my true home. Towering all around are the peaks of Mt. Rundle, Mt. Cascade and Mt. Norquay. The centre of this town is Banff Avenue which features stores, restaurants, quaint hotels and cafes. On any early morning before the crowds appear you can share Banff Avenue with deer and the occasional Elk. If you find yourself here make sure you head to one of the many restaurants to fill up on local cuisine.

3. Vermilion Lakes

Vermilion Lakes and Mt. Rundle

Vermilion Lakes and Mt. Rundle

Hugging the outer edges of Banff Town are the Vermilion Lakes. These 3 lakes are shallow and home to a variety of wildlife. Luckily you can rent a couple of canoes along the bow river and spend a few hours exploring this beautiful area. There’s several shops in town that will rent out bikes. The one way cycle around the edge of the lakes is flat.

4. Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

This glacial lake freezes completely over during the winter and during the summer offers visitors a stunning opportunity to enjoy crusies or cycle and hike along it’s edges. Lake Minnewanka does have some interesting locals including black and grizzly bears, elk, mountain sheep and cougars. If you are hiking in this area make sure to take adequate protection with you (bear spray) and always travel in groups 4+. The tiny resort of Lake Minnewanka Village was submerged by a damn in the 1940’s. This little bit of history is very popular amongst divers.

5. Moraine Lake

Stunning Moraine Lake

Stunning Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is perhaps the most iconic lake in the whole of Canada. This lake in the valley on the ten peaks has even featured on the Canadian $20 bill. The site is very close to the Lake Louise townsite and as such gets pretty busy. This photo was taken at around 8am and we had the place to ourselves. Moraine Lake is closed to cars during the winter season. This long stretch of road can be accessed by cross country skiing however this should only be undertaken by the hardiest of outdoor mountain extremists! It’s been suggested that Fall is the best time to view this Lake as the local larch trees add a splash of phenomenal colour.

6. Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

An artists dream and a wonderful base for hiking and adventures, Lake Louise is a 40min drive from Banff (or an hour if you take the recommended 1A route). From here you can have lunch in the Chateau Lake Louise or rent canoes and paddle to the other side. Personally, I prefer the day hikes that surround the lake. It can be quite busy in the summer so as with all activities, it’s best to start early and spend the afternoon enjoying the view.

7. Johnston’s Canyon

Johnston's Canyon

Johnston’s Canyon

Johnston’s Canyon is a tributary of the Bow River and boats stunning natural architecture. The water is clear and the waterfalls vast. This spot is particularly busy almost at any time of the year. We definitely recommend getting here before 8:30am to enjoy the location in peace and quiet! Beyond Johnston’s canyon you can press on to the delecate Ink Pots. This tiny brightly coloured pools were almost lost due to human presence. Luckily these are now protected, just make sure you only leave footprints and only take memories with you!

8. Bow Lake

Bow Lake

Bow Lake

A huge lake along the edge of Highway 93 which cuts through the Rockies. Although a lot of tour buses stop here it isn’t nearly as busy as some other sites as most will pass it by on the way to Jasper. Make sure you stop by on the way through, preferably to have a picnic along its shores.

9. Lake Louise Gondola

Lake Louise Gondola

Lake Louise Gondola

Had enough of large bodies of water? Lake Louise gondola (Lake Louise ski resort in the winter) has stunning meadows and flowers. If you’re lucky and monitor the bear activity over the few days before you go you stand a good chance of seeing Grizzlies completely in the wild as you ride above them on an open chair lift. The grizzlies frequent the area despite the crowds as the pistes cleared for skiing make excellent foraging grounds.

10. Icefields Parkway

Skyline walkway

Skyline walkway

On the way to Jasper? You’ll pass through the Icefields parkway. This stretch of road is flanked by numerous glaciers and smack in the middle is the large Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre owned and operated by Brewster. Ensure while you are here you stop by the center and do something touristy – book yourself onto the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure. You’ll be driven onto the Athabasca Glacier (a glacier as thick as the Eiffel tower is tall) and get to drink fresh glacier water. (Make sure you take an empty water bottle with you!). A new feature here is the Glacier Skywalk. Modelled on the grand canyon attraction but with customer feedback taken into account. The observation platform is 918 feet (280 metres) off the valley floor and offers fantastic views. If you buy both these adventures together you’ll save a few pennies. It’s worth it, trust us!

11. Sulphur Mountain – Banff Gondola

View from Sulphur Mountain

View from Sulphur Mountain

I was fortunate to work at the top of this mountain for almost 18months and I promise you every trip is worth the fare. For those of you a bit fitter than most you can hike up the wide access road in about 1hr30mins (5km). It’s a gentle climb and if in the summer you get there and want to head down on the gondola BEFORE 11am or AFTER 6pm, the ride is free (This was true at the time of writing). I have seen this mountain and view in rain, snow and sun and I took pictures almost every day. At the top of the mountain is a boarded walkway to take you to the historic weather station along Sulphur’s ridge.

12. Banff Hot Springs

Banff Upper Hot Springs

Banff Upper Hot Springs

Simple and humble, the Banff hot springs isn’t usually on everyone’s to do list however this tiny outside pool is council owned and at the time of writing the tickets cost only $7.25. The water hovers around 39C and is best enjoyed outside of the hot August weather. Fantastic for those sore legs, plus the views are stunning. Just a shame you can’t take a cocktail in with you!

Make the Candian Rockies your top priority when visiting North America!