Of all the wilderness resorts in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Banff is one of the most captivating. Snow-capped peaks keep watch over the historic town, while grizzly bears and elk forage for supper in the surrounding parklands.
We’ve rounded up all the best things to do in Banff so you can choose which to include in your itinerary. Will you be paddling the turquoise waters of glacial lakes, or is a helicopter tour over the endless forests more your idea of fun?
1 – Ascend Sulphur Mountain on the Banff Gondola
You don’t need to hike for hours to enjoy the splendor of the Canadian Rockies. Just jump on the Banff Gondola and be whisked off up the slopes to the top of Sulphur Mountain.
From here you’ll see six different mountain ranges, as well as rivers snaking through enchanting evergreen forests. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the summit boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak before gliding back down into the valley.
2 – Encounter elk and bears on a wildlife tour
Head into the wilderness with a guide and hunt for creatures great and small. As you ramble alongside lakes and creep through forests, keep your eyes peeled for signs of life.
This is the domain of bears, elk, and bighorn sheep, as well as deer and the occasional moose. Venture out at dusk and see them in action as they snuffle around in the undergrowth and play on riverbanks.
Banff National Park
3 – Embrace nature at Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is as lovely as it is vast. This Banff National Park gem epitomizes the Canadian Rockies in one easy sweep and boasts some of the best hikes in the country.
Indigenous First Nations people believe that spirits are resident here, and it’s easy to see why. Sit quietly on the shoreline and watch as sheep and deer come down to drink. Meanwhile, back in the forests, birds sing in sun-dappled glades.
4 – Hike down Johnston Canyon
Delve deep into Johnston Canyon and discover a hidden world that is thousands of years old. Follow the trail beneath overhanging cliffs and along the sparkling blue river. It’s mysterious and magical in the same breath.
Linger beside the deep pools of Johnston Creek and feel the spray on your face as you stand beside plunging waterfalls. Come in winter to try a spot of snowshoeing or ice climbing!
5 – Be awed at Moraine Lake
When it comes to dramatic scenery, Moraine Lake is in a league of its own. The glacier-fed turquoise water looks almost unreal, while the plunging mountain slopes provide a breath-taking backdrop. Go in June for the best colors.
Get your heart pumping on the local trails. Then pop up to the Valley of Ten Peaks overlook for an aerial view of the lake. Make sure those camera batteries are fully charged!
6 – Walk on the Athabasca Glacier
Sprawling 6 kilometers down a remote valley between Banff and Jasper, the Athabasca Glacier will take your breath away. Go visit before it disappears!
The icy tendrils are super accessible, making this the most-visited glacier in North America. Get your bearings and enjoy the views from the Skywalk at the head of the valley.
Want a closer encounter? Then hop on board the Ice Explorer buggy and trundle over the shiny white tongue.
7 – Drive along the Icefields Parkway
Cruising along the Icefields Parkway is one of the most iconic things to do in Banff National Park. This panoramic route links Lake Louise with Jasper and has been hailed as one of the most spectacular road trips in the world.
Keep your camera close by as you travel the 232-kilometer highway, where sweeping mountainsides, vast icefields, and lush green valleys all vie for your attention. Stop at viewpoints for some enviable vacation snaps.
8 – Chill out at Two Jack Lake
Some of the best views of Mount Rundle can be enjoyed from the shores of Two Jack Lake. Particularly mesmerizing at sunrise or sunset, this peaceful pool is just moments from Banff.
Spend the day kayaking, swimming, or hiking, then relax on the pebble beach and soak up your surroundings. For the ultimate thrill, visit during winter and go ice skating on the frozen lake. Come during the week to avoid the crowds.
9 – Explore Lake Louise
Lake Louise has earned its place as Banff National Park’s crowning jewel. The waters are brilliant turquoise, and the evergreen forests whisper of adventure as they sway in the breeze.
Go hiking or canoeing, either way, you’ll feel the pull of this enticing rugged wilderness. In winter the Lake Louise Ski Resort comes into its own, with snowboarding and tubing stealing the show. The gondola operates year-round, transporting you into the heart of the bear country.
10 – Relax at Johnson Lake
There are lots of lakes in Banff National Park, but this is one of the most accessible for families. You can chill out on the sandy beach, eat lunch in the picnic area, and even go for a swim during the height of summer.
The views here are almost alpine, and best appreciated from a kayak out on the water. Back on dry land, you can stretch your legs on the child-friendly Johnson Lake trail.
11 – Photograph Castle Mountain
Castle Mountain is one of the most recognizable icons in Banff National Park. Standing imperiously between Banff and Lake Louise, the peak is a popular photo stop on many sightseeing tours.
Reaching high up into the clouds, this towering mass looks rather like a fortress keeping watch over the Bow River below. Experienced hikers can tackle the challenging trail that ascends through the forest, with plenty of scrambling to reach the upper ridges.
12 – Hunt for spirits at Bankhead Ghost Town
Get your ghoul on as you creep around the spooky ruins of Bankhead Ghost Town. Hidden in the mountains of Banff National Park, this former coal mining settlement was abandoned in 1922 and is slowly being taken back by the forest.
You’ll see timber cabins, rail tracks, and even an old air-powered locomotive as you wander around this creepy site. Keep an eye out for the shades of disgruntled miners!
13 – Get active on Mount Norquay
Mount Norquay is a year-round adventure playground, not far from Banff. During summer you can ride the chairlift to the summit and enjoy some epic national park views.
There’s also a Via Ferrata which is one of the most breath-taking things to do in Banff. It’s a must for anyone with a head for heights.
Embrace the winter snowfall by strapping on some skis and zooming down the slopes. Lessons are available for beginners.
14 – Enjoy a scenic drive on the Bow Valley Parkway
Another highlight of Banff National Park is the spectacular and quiet Bow Valley Parkway. Taking scenic drives to a whole new level, this meandering 48-kilometer route rolls through the countryside between Banff and Lake Louise.
There are plenty of pull-offs so you can admire the stunning views at leisure. You’ll see the iconic Castle Mountain looming up ahead, while flower-filled meadows line the highway during summer.
15 – Breathe the fresh air at Vermilion Lakes
You’ll find the Vermilion Lakes in Bow Valley, just a short drive from Banff. The lush marshlands are an easy escape from urban life, and perfect for anyone after a quick burst of wilderness immersion.
Come at sunrise to see wildlife at its most active, or bring a picnic and settle down for a relaxing afternoon on the shore. Feeling energetic? Then rent a bike or hire a canoe to explore deeper.
16 – Go fishing in the Rocky Mountains
Cast your line and cross your fingers as you wait for a trout to bite. The anticipation is half the fun, but don’t forget to soak up the scenery while you wait.
Lake Minnewanka is a popular spot, where you’ll be in the company of local anglers. As the line begins to dance, keep calm and reel in your catch. Pose for photos with your prize before releasing it back into the water.
17 – Take a bus tour
See the highlights of Banff and the surrounding countryside on a fun hop-on hop-off bus tour. It’s a flexible and hassle-free way to visit places that aren’t easily accessible without wheels.
You’ll be swinging by Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and Samson Mall, as well as exploring closer to home in Banff town itself. Whether you’re into hiking and hot springs or gondolas and glaciers, a bus excursion is the answer.
18 – Ride a horse into the wilds
Sit back in the saddle and practice your yee-haws as you explore the backcountry by horseback. Your trusty steed will carry you through some of Canada’s most stunning landscapes – keep your camera handy!
Feel like an intrepid explorer as you trot along rugged trails through dense forests. The only life you’ll encounter here is wild! This is the realm of majestic elk and busy beavers who build their homes down at the lake.
19 – Enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride
Banff isn’t just a summer destination. In fact, during the winter months, it transforms into something even more magical. With snow carpeting the landscape, it’s time to jump in a horse-drawn sleigh and explore in style.
Cozy up under woolen blankets as you journey through the mountain meadows and stop to toast marshmallows over a backwoods campfire. There are lots of romantic things to do in Banff, but this tops them all.
20 – Swish through the snow at Banff Sunshine Village
As winter descends and the mountains turn from black to white, a new side to Banff is unveiled. Love skiing or want to try snowboarding? Then head to Banff Sunshine Village and let loose on the slopes.
With the wind in your hair and the sun on your back, carve new tracks as you fly down the pistes. Stay at the ski-in ski-out lodge to make the most of your visit.
21 – Stay at Fairmont Banff Springs
Looking for an indulgent hotel in a setting to die for? The Fairmont Banff Springs is nestled in the heart of the national park, emerging like a castle from the forested mountain slopes.
Play a round of golf, relax with a massage in the Willow Stream Spa, then slumber luxuriously in a room with a view. When it comes to dining, you’re spoiled for choice, but the Lookout Patio is always a good bet.
22 – Discover the Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Travel to the birthplace of Canada’s national parks and enjoy a lesson in cultural and natural heritage. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site has several trails and boardwalks to explore, taking you into the heart of the wilderness.
Tours are available if you want to delve a little deeper into the natural world. Take a dip in the hot springs that bubble up from the rocks at the end.
23 – Feel the thrills on a rafting expedition
Of all the things to do in Banff, rafting is perhaps the most exhilarating. Feel the power of the water as you paddle down the famous Kicking Horse River, watching as the scenery rushes by.
Hang on tight as you plunge through the rapids, where getting wet is all part of the adventure. Relax again as you emerge unscathed from the white water, and watch for wildlife pottering about the shore.
24 – Visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
At the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, you’ll discover how local people have learned to live in harmony with nature. Travelers come here from miles around to hear stories of those who have forged an existence in this mountain wilderness.
Check out the exhibitions and explore heritage homes to appreciate what it means to thrive here. Old photographs and diary entries really bring the pioneering age to life.
25 – Canoe down the Bow River
Dip your paddle into the water and pretend you’re one of the first explorers as you canoe stealthily down the tranquil Bow River. You’ll be surrounded by wilderness on all sides, making this foray into the great unknown feel truly intrepid.
Listen as your guide entertains with intriguing tales of local history, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the riverbanks. Will today be the day you spot a moose?
26 – Discover the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site
Get up close and personal with Rocky Mountain wildlife at one of the oldest natural history museums in Canada. Built in 1903, the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site is one of the oldest federal buildings on Canadian soil.
There are over 5000 zoological and botanical exhibits to discover in this Victorian-era collection, with everything from stuffed grizzlies to vintage bees. Don’t miss the mighty bison or the lifelike cougar!
27 – Explore the Cascade of Time Gardens
Escape the bustle of Banff and enjoy some magical moments of peace in the Cascade of Time Gardens. This terraced four-acre park is set into the hillside, with pathways winding up and down the slopes where water features punctuate the beds.
The blooms are at their best between May and September, but it’s fun to visit at any time of year. Stop in one of the timber pavilions for a picnic.
28 – Soar above the mountains on a helicopter tour
Take to the skies above Banff National Park and watch in awe as the landscape unfolds before your eyes. You’ll enjoy a bird’s-eye view of glimmering lakes and dramatic peaks, with carpets of green hugging the mountainsides all around.
See the sun reflecting off glaciers that snake down the valleys, and watch for wildlife emerging from the forests. Some flights include a landing and a remote hike to scenic viewpoints.
29 – Stroll along the Marsh Loop Trail
The 3.4-kilometer Marsh Loop Trail is another fabulous hike in Banff National Park. Popular with birders, the path is super easy and ideal for families or those looking for a mellow meander.
Boardwalks and bridges add a little extra fun and there’s a wildlife viewing platform tucked away in the marsh.
You don’t need to put in much effort for the incredible vistas of Bow Valley that await around each corner.
30 – Try stand up paddleboarding
Glide along the still waters of some of Banff’s most spectacular lakes on a serene stand up paddleboarding tour. It won’t take you long to master the technique, and you’ll soon be slicing through the emerald water like a pro.
Drink in the majesty of the mountains as you drift into hidden bays and be at one with nature. Feeling hot? Then just jump overboard for a refreshing swim during summer!
31 – Meet Boo at the Grizzly Bear Refuge
You can’t visit the Rockies and not see a grizzly bear – it’s one of the most iconic things to do in Banff!
Coming face to face with Boo, the resident of the Grizzly Bear Refuge, is definitely one of life’s “moments”.
He was rescued as a cub and now lives the high life up on Kicking Horse Mountain. Watch as he patrols his wild domain, hunting and foraging for his next meal.
32 – Walk the Bow Falls Trail
Want a bit of waterfall action in your vacation photo album? Then hike along the beautiful Bow Falls Trail that winds along beside a fast-flowing mountain river. This 2.7-kilometer linear route is mostly flat and ideal for families.
Once you reach the roaring rapids, you’ll know that Bow Falls is just around the corner, so get choosing your poses. Keep an eye out for coyotes and bears between Spring and Fall.
33 – Go snowshoeing in the backcountry
Crunch through the sparkling snow as you trek deep into pine forests and remote canyons on a winter wilderness adventure. You’ll soon get the hang of snowshoeing, just remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other!
Stop for a moment to gather your breath and appreciate the silence. Maybe you’ll come across moose or wolf tracks as you leave your own footprints in the crisp white powder.
34 – Have a blast at Calaway Park
Hold on tight as you take on the twists and turns of the Vortex at Western Canada’s largest theme park. Just an hour from Banff, Calaway Park has 32 attractions to enjoy, with everything from white-knuckle thrills to gentle family-friendly rides.
Little adventures love spinning around in the teacups and off-roading in the mini Baja Buggies. Visiting during summer? Then splash around on the Bumper Boats or plunge down the refreshing Timber Falls.
35 – Explore Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park is a bit of an insider secret, so if you want to escape the crowds, this is the place to come.
Conifers stand like sentinels on the shores of turquoise lakes in this hidden kingdom. All around, the mountains thrust skyward with peaks that are often dusted with snow.
Lace up your boots and explore the trails, then reward your exertions with a relaxing dip in the Radium hot springs.
36 – Have a mountain biking adventure
Get on your bike and hit the trails to discover parts of the national park that few visitors get to see. Families will enjoy cycling along the Sundance Trail, with its sweeping panoramas and scenic picnic area.
Meanwhile, adrenaline junkies can crank up those gears and take on the narrow Stoney Squaw Trail. For waterfalls and pine forests, pedal the Hoodoos Trail and take a breather at “Surprise Corner” for picture-postcard views.
37 – Scramble up dramatic canyons
Muster all your courage and get ready for the thrill of a lifetime as you take on the precipitous canyons of Banff National Park. Climbing up secluded gorges and rappelling down plunging waterfalls is all in a day’s work on a canyoning adventure.
Don’t worry if it’s your first time, the experienced guides will be there to keep you safe. Just go with the flow and don’t forget to admire the scenery.
38 – Discover the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum
Visiting the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum is one of the best cultural things to do in Banff. You’ll learn about the traditions of the First Nations people and their relationship with trade.
It’s a real eye-opener to discover how they lived off the land and adapted to the environment. The weekly storytelling show draws you into a world of music and dance, with all the bison facts you could ever wish for.
39 – Get a hole in one at the golf course
One of the best things about golf is the scenery, and there’s nowhere more majestic to play than the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. The setting is jaw-dropping, the layout is challenging, and the welcome is warm.
Keep your eye on the ball as you tackle the obstacles and don’t get distracted by the views. There are 18 holes to negotiate so take your time and enjoy the ambiance.
40 – Hike along Grotto Canyon
Venture into the backcountry as you trek down the mysterious Grotto Canyon. Only accessible on foot, this dramatic ravine puts you in the heart of nature.
In summer you can hike through the narrow-walled gorge and be rewarded for your efforts with a tumbling waterfall. See if you can spot the Hopi pictographs on the ancient rocks.
Winter brings a whole new adventure where you’ll walk on the frozen creek and see glittering icefalls.
41 – Devour farm-fresh food at the Bison Restaurant
Chow down on Canadian farm-to-fork specialties at the renowned Bison Restaurant. Tucked away in downtown Banff, this rustic eatery has an open kitchen so you can see the chefs in action.
Sit out on the terrace and enjoy a side of mountain views with your bison ribeye steak or your grilled Arctic char. Save a bit of room for some candied orange chocolate cake if you have a sweet tooth!
42 – Visit the Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar
Ever wondered how vodka is made? Take a tour and discover the secret recipes and processes that go on behind the scenes at the Park Distillery.
Linger longer with a scrumptious campfire-style meal at the atmospheric onsite restaurant. The smoky, savory flavors are unique, with bison burgers and rotisserie chicken that melts in the mouth.
Toast the day with a glass of botanical Alpine Gin or some Wild Turkey Bourbon.
43 – Try rock climbing
If you’re looking for exhilarating things to do in Banff, why not give rock climbing a go? Experience the adrenaline of ascending dramatic cliffs while surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. Rappel back down to earth when you’re done.
No experience is necessary – your guide will tell you where to put your feet!
Visiting during winter? Then strap on those crampons and scramble up a frozen waterfall on an ice climbing adventure for spine-tingling thrills.
44 – Enjoy a picnic at the Cascade Ponds
Under the watchful gaze of the nearby Cascade Mountain lies a series of serene pools that make a great setting for picnics. Located just off the Trans-Canada Highway, the Cascade Ponds are super accessible and oh-so-scenic.
Stroll between the little lakes using the photogenic bridges or take to the water by paddle board for a closer look. If you’re visiting during Fall, this is a beautiful spot for leaf-peeping.
45 – Feast at the Banff Ave Brewing Co.
Enjoy a rip-roaring night out at the Banff Ave Brewing Company. Using spring water from the Canadian Rockies, the in-house beers are the finest in town. For citrus tones, go for the White Wit, or for a malty flavor, opt for a Black Pil.
The food here is fab too, with pub-style grub to soak up the ale. Get your chops around a juicy burger or try poutine and fried chicken wings.
46 – Dine at altitude in the Sky Bistro
Ascend high into the clouds on the Banff Gondola and take your seats at the panoramic summit station restaurant. This aerial sanctuary serves up fine Canadian cuisine right on top of Sulphur Mountain.
The Sky Bistro is one of Banff’s top eateries, with locally sourced artisan specialties served with a generous helping of wilderness views. It’s super romantic too, and the ideal spot for proposals as well as honeymoons!
47 – Soak your weary limbs in Banff Upper Hot Springs
Lie back and let the warm water caress your body as you take a dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. People have been coming here to “take the waters” since the 1900s, and it’s still popular today.
The mineral-rich geothermal pools lie across the valley from Mount Rundle so you’ll feel totally immersed in the wilderness. Gaze up at the sky and let the soothing water work its magic.
Do you know where you want to stay yet? Banff hotels do book up fast so make sure you reserve your room well in advance.
We hope you have enjoyed our selection of things to do in Banff. Do you wish to recommend other places in Banff? Please comment below.
As always, happy travels!