Friday, April 19, 2024

The 15 Best Things to do in Banff, Canada – 2024 Guide


Dramatically situated where towering, snow-dusted Rocky Mountains meet sweeping emerald lakes and wildflower-dotted valleys, few places in Canada cast nature’s spell more powerfully than Banff National Park. Through 10 years embracing outdoor adventures across this two million-acre sanctuary – on foot, skis, bikes and kayaks – I’ve been awed repeatedly by Mother Nature’s masterpieces dotting the landscape as well as delightful discoveries found wandering beyond tourist hubs.

I’m thrilled to offer recommendations that cater to fellow adventurous souls seeking affordable luxury travel and those who relish scenic beauty without bustling crowds. From indulging in rejuvenating soaks in mineral pools nestled amidst alpine landscapes to spotting elk along secluded trails, and savoring five-course culinary delights within an actual castle, this insider’s guide unveils all essentials to craft your enchanting Banff experience.

Top Iconic Banff National Park Experiences

No trip to Banff feels complete without appreciating these classic attractions at least once. Just go early, late or during shoulder seasons to avoid the biggest masses.

1. Canoeing Glacial Lake Louise

Being able to paddle my kayak over Lake Louise’s crystalline waters backed sheer cliffs while avoiding the madding swarms jostling along the shore for photos remains one of my all-time Banff highlights.

Two excellent outfitters located right on Lake Louise offer canoe/kayak rentals:

At The Lake Louise Boathouse, friendly staff provide paddling tips before sending you off to soak up the scenery around this picturesque turquoise gem.

Just downshore, The Banff Canoe Club specializes more in tandem canoes for leisurely exploring the lake or joining their wonderful guided interpretive paddle tours revealing areas most hikers along the shoreline trails miss spotting. Well worth it!

Pro Travel Tip:

Come as early as 7am to enjoy calm waters and thinner crowds. That way you’re done when tour buses start rolling in.

2. Riding Banff Gondola Up Sulphur Mountain

If soaring to seven thousand stunning feet atop Sulphur Mountain to earn panoramic views over all of Banff sounds incredible, then hopping the Banff Gondola makes summiting this iconic peak easily accessible even for mobility-challenged visitors or those with little time.

The eight-minute smooth ride in an enclosed gondola delivers visitors to an observation complex offering exceptional vistas in all directions of surrounding Bow Valley and beyond through telescopes plus kilometers of ridge-top boardwalks perfect for short hikes. Grab lunch at the Sky Bistro or bring a picnic!

For the more adventurous, consider hiking up the 5.5 km Banff Mountain Trail then rewarding your efforts riding back down guilt-free. Just refuel first at the top!

Insider Tip:

Buy discounted tickets online in advance since lines to board do get very long midday during peak periods. Shooting for early morning or late afternoon visits helps avoid some crowds.

3. Relaxing in Upper Banff Hot Springs

As my muscles beg for relief after long days tackling mountain trails, I head to the glorious Upper Hot Springs bordering the powerful Bow River where geothermally-warmed, mineral-rich waters have soothed weary bodies and souls for over a century.

There is nothing better than slow roasting any lingering soreness away while admiring dramatic mountain vistas through steam rising off three temperature-varied soaking pools tiered on the side of Sulphur Mountain.

The main pool features accessibility improvements like a wheelchair ramp and an underwater bench encircling the perimeter so all mobility types can unwind together peacefully.

Good To Know:

This humble soaking spot remains exceptionally popular for good reason with queues forming by 9am. Arrive when gates open to maximize relaxation time. Then go enjoy Banff!

Top Under-The-Radar Banff Travel Experiences

Looking to ditch the crowds discovering some of Banff’s most spectacular scenery and quintessential Canadian cuisine? Add these insider suggestions to your bucket list!

4. Glamping Overlooking Mount Rundle

Waking up to views overlooking the majestic saw-toothed peak of Mount Rundle never loses its magic during my occasional glamping retreats at Banff Springs Campground—especially when enjoyed from a private hot soaker tub just outside my luxury tent!

These gorgeous lodging alternatives mimic upscale hotel rooms by blending plush bedding, stylish furnishings, electricity and ensuite bathrooms together with nature immersion so guests sleep surrounded only by towering pines versus vecinos.

Between gourmet campfire dinners under the stars, plus on-site activities like painting workshops or giant chess games, escaping here makes roughing luxury in Banff easy and memorable for couples or families.

5. Inspiring Sunrise Canoe Paddles

Waking early has its perks surrounded by nature’s masterpieces, especially when timed perfectly to watch the glowing oranges and pinks of daybreak spreading across icy mountain peaks while paddling across an utterly still glacial lake.

I’ve enjoyed many sunrise moments but none more magical than soloing across Lake Louise’s mirrored surface just myself and an osprey circling overhead as the first light crept down majestic slopes bristling with pines into the waters I floated within. Utterly perfect peace!

Letting the solitude and grandeur wash over me in the precious pre-dawn hours before crowds amassed made facing the full day of exploring trails ahead infinitely more special.

6. Discovering Local Dining at The Bear Street Tavern

When seeking to truly taste regional flavors from elk tenderloin to smoked trout paired wonderfully with area wines/beers, my personal pick for best dining in Banff goes to the Bear Street Tavern. Tucked just far enough from cramped Banff Avenue, this lively two-story refuge allows lingering over menu items celebrating local purveyors.

Beyond gastro fare, you’ll find fantastic regional craft brews on tap plus a solid wine and signature cocktail list. Their enormous heated patio beckons sunny afternoons whiling away happy hour nibbling a charcuterie board. So friendly here!

Good To Know:

Reserve tables early, especially for patio seating which books up fast. Rewarding kitchen and service staff through generous tips helps ensure reasonably priced quality plates keep coming ‘round despite Banff’s steep hospitality overhead.

Top Thrilling Banff Experiences

Nature bestows no shortage of adrenaline-pumping fun for adventurous spirits in Banff ready to embrace elevated experiences (sometimes literally!). From steep hiking routes to calmer paddling excursions, try adding a few of these iconic yet thrilling suggestions:

7. Via Ferrata Iron Mountain Climbing

Clambering up sheer cliff faces while clipped securely along suspended metal rung ladders + rebar makes scaling daunting limestone walls protecting the Iron Mountain’s 2770m summit exhilaratingly doable even for novices thanks to Mountain Adventures’ excellent Via Ferrata program.

Their professional guides provide thorough safety demonstrations covering proper harness wearing, specialized gear use plus climbing techniques before tackling the 3-hour challenge. My initial hesitation vanished minutes into the vertical traverse. Such fun and what views!

Safety First:

Minimum ages 10+ but good fitness required as cliffs have very exposed sections. Check forecast to ensure dry conditions.

8. Epic Glacier Adventure Icewalk Tour on Athabasca Glacier

Trekking across icy moonscapes of the Athabasca Glacier eseasily ranks among my most unforgettable Canadian experiences made possible through Glacier Adventures’ small group tours involving transport along the Columbia Icefields aboard massive Brewster “Ice Explorers” onto this disappearing frozen wonder.

Sturdy metal-cleated boots provided traction while traversing deep blue crevasses, cascading waterfalls and utterly alien icy landscapes for a few amazing hours. With global warming rapidly shrinking this six kilometer long glacier by over 50 meters annually, book soon before accessing the powerful forces of moving ice carving jagged peaks becomes impossible!

9. Ziplining Over Kicking Horse River

Harnessing up to soar Superman-style across the powerful Kicking Horse River near Golden on an intricate ziplining course ending 180m above churning rapids makes another heart-racing experience in Banff National Park I highly recommend adrenaline junkies add to their go-list, especially families.

Eagle Valley Ziptrek Eco Tours pioneered the thrilling and sustainable forest adventure activity accessed via remote backroads concluding by an exhilarating final zip line dangling you over the rushing river far below — such a thrill yet plush bus transport back saves hiking down.

Our knowledgeable guides amazed with factoids about local animals and efforts preserving surrounding old-growth forest ecosystems – making the day both an adrenaline AND educational eco-rush! Don’t miss it!!

Top Glamorous Banff Experiences

Beyond rugged adventures, Banff also excels at elevating travel pleasures in refined ways thanks to its long history hosting global elite ever since the Banff Springs Hotel first opened in 1888. Consider adding a touch of luxury into your itinerary! Here’s where to start:

10. Luxuriating at Willow Stream Spa

Allowing my body to wholly unwind for hours absorbed in the renowned Willow Stream Spa waters tucked inside the spectacular Fairmont Banff Springs property represents my ultimate standard for pre-wedding pampering. Between grottos with hydrotherapy beds, aromatic eucalyptus steam rooms infusing calm plus expert massage therapists using locally-sourced botanicals like arnica, I floated out blissfully weightless.

The restored historical bathhouse ambiance enhanced by fireplaces, stone arches and floor-to-ceiling windows framing Mt Rundle makes relaxing utterly divine – truly Canada’s premium spa experience! I dream of their signature maple butter scrubs now…

Luxury Alert:

Given the world-class treatments and amenities, prices here remain elevated like most Fairmont wellness centers so come prepared for excellence worthy of this iconic “Castle in the Rockies” hotel.

11. Five-Course Regional Dining at 1888 Chop House

Helming the kitchens at the Fairmont Banff Springs luxe 1888 Chop House Restaurant, Chef Hans Sauterer skillfully updates regional cuisine by incorporating responsibly sourced proteins like Alberta Wagyu beef and slow-roasted prime rib paired sublimely with regional wines and clever accoutrements echoing top Napa eateries.

Between the gracious grandeur of the historic stone-walled venue once serving railway passengers to servers flawlessly describing cooking techniques for each artful dish, sinking into white glove pampering at 1888 after hikes makes travelers feel wonderfully special. Just perfection!

Good To Know:

Smart casual dress code here so leave parkas back at the lodge and book dinner reservations beginning when you confirm hotel stay. Then arrive hungry!

12. Iconic Banff Scenic Helicopter Tour

Witnessing Banff’s full spectacle of glacier-carved peaks and vivid turquoise lakes from inside a private helicopter makes for THE ultimate elevated perspective perfect for popping the question, celebrating monumental birthdays in style or simply gifting your parents/kids an eye-popping experience.

I’ve taken the thrilling Rockies Heli Canada scenic tour multiple times now since crew chief Wendy always selects different mountains and valleys for us to admire based on optimal visibility, fall colors and wildlife movements. Floating through the sky with walls of white giants surrounding outside makes you feel wonderfully small and blessed!

Pro Travel Tip:

Book on sunny days for best mountain viewing with plenty Plexiglas for photography. Seats up front beside pilots feel most thrilling. Surprise add-ons like champagne welcomes or decadent concerned picnic stops also available.

Top Areas Near Banff Worth Exploring

With so much incredible mountain scenery packed around quaint Banff, some equally spectacular nature sanctuaries lie just beyond park gates should extra time allow:

13. Miette Hot Springs

As much as I enjoy soaking sore muscles amid natural thermals, seeing crowds dampens my zen. For more intimate hot spring experiences, visiting Miette Hot Springs near lesser-visited Jasper National Park makes an exceptional alternative.

Unlike Banff’s jammed springs, maximum visitor limits better preserve the chilled vibe inside while four less aggressive sulfuric pools set along mountainous landscapes stay wonderfully tranquil for reading or enjoying a glass of chilled local wine.

Good To Know:

Park gates close at certain hours so confirm schedules to not get locked in! Bring towels, flip flops and swim caps for best experience.

14. Yoho National Park: Takakkaw Falls

Spellbinding sights like massive glacier-fed Takakkaw Falls plunging 384 meters near Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park should be on every Banff visitor’s bucket list, ideally reached by the scenic Iceline Trail route starting from Whiskey Jack Hostel passing glaciers and wildflower meadows.

This challenging full-day hike undulating 8 miles covering serious elevation gains shows off the true majesty of British Columbia’s backcountry for outdoorsy wanderers wanting to escape selfie sticks.

Just be prepared for changeable weather on this remote route far from town amenities and know your limitations.

15. Icefields Parkway Scenic Drive

Lastly, no first Banff trip feels complete without making time for an unhurried self-drive or coach tour along the breathtaking Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) connecting Banff and Jasper national parks.

This 137-mile route paralleling the Continental Divide offers staggering lookouts for wildlife viewing, lakes that vividly shift from emerald tones to dazzling cobalt and plenty of picture-perfect roadside cascade waterfalls tempting you to stop and put feet in frigid waters every kilometer.

Just don’t rush it! Allowing 2 to 3 days for wandering hidden hikes and random larch viewings makes Icefields utterly magical.

Final Banff Travel Tips & Resources

To help ensure your Rocky Mountain wanderings deliver maximum awe versus hassles, keep these pro ideas top of mind:

Best Times To Visit:

Expect four very distinct seasons in Banff with July/August summer crowds peaking, road access limitations during winter plus avalanche risks and bug swarms in June. My favorite times are September’s golden larch colors or April for spring skiing when snow sticks.

Driving Tips:

Roads remain very congested along Banff Ave through town plus watch for sudden wildlife like elk crossing roads especially at night. Add extra drive time for any excursions. Having basic winter tires helps greatly during snow months.

Staying Safe:

Always hike, camp, ski or climb with a partner plus consider packing bear spray for trails through dense brush just for extra peace of mind. Backcountry update services regarding conditions prove invaluable for skiers and climbers.

Reducing Environmental Impact:

Supporting sustainable tour partners plus sticking to marked trails prevents damage plus disruption of fragile alpine ecosystems and wildlife habitats for everyone’s benefit. Avoid littering plus pack out all trash.

No matter your interests or budget, Banff happily accommodates outdoor enthusiasts to indulgent sybarites through enchanting ski towns and everything in between. Hopefully these tips give you ideas to begin crafting your own magical escape in one of the world’s most spectacular wilderness wonderlands! Just don’t get so smitten you never leave…like me!

Please feel free to add any suggestions I may have missed down below to help fellow travelers discover the best of Banff’s beauty like the friendly locals do!

Leona D. Hansard
Leona D. Hansard
Leona D. Hansard is not just a travel writer; she's a storyteller weaving adventures through her words. With a passport in one hand and a pen in the other, Leona explores the world, capturing the essence of each destination with vivid descriptions and immersive narratives. Her passion for travel is matched only by her love for discovering hidden gems and sharing them with fellow wanderers

Read more

Local News