A popular tourist destination in western Canada, Banff is a lovely resort town packed with shops, bars, fancy dining establishments, and museums. The town is an excellent base for exploring Canada’s most visited national park, the popular Banff National Park which is well-known for its phenomenal landscapes and plenty of both winter and summer outdoor activities.
Whether you wish to walk down Banff Avenue and discover the town’s cosmopolitan vibe or explore the national park’s numerous outdoor attractions and activities, there are plenty of amazing things to do in Banff. To sum it all up, Canada’s best adventure destination offers something for every visitor.
1. Fairmont Banff Springs
Looking for a place to stay in Banff? A world-class resort, Fairmont Banff Springs is one of the best resorts in the region. With spacious and nicely decorated suites that offer stunning views of Alberta Mountain, Willow Stream Spa, and easy access to numerous ski locations, Fairmont Banff Springs is the perfect accommodation option for your Rocky Mountain getaway adventure. The resort offers ski passes and rentals, as well as a variety of relaxing massages and beauty treatments. There is also an abundance of on-site activities available such as golfing, tennis, and bowling.
2. Bow Falls
Bow Falls is a 30-foot major waterfall located on the beautiful Bow River. You may even recognize it from the famous Hollywood Movie River of No Return with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum. For best views of the waterfall, take the 1.2km trail from Bow River Bridge. Once you reach the clifftop section, you will be rewarded with impressive views of the waterfall. Keep in mind that it is not allowed to use the trail with a bicycle, as the trail has many steps that you need to climb to reach the summit.
3. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies specializes in the history of the Rockies and houses a collection of documents, paintings, and other materials gathered by the couple Peter and Catharine Whyte who moved to the town 90 years ago. There are also many water-related exhibits which focus on natural resources, as well as four log cabins and two homes where Peter and Catherine used to live. Guided tours of the museum are available daily from 10 am to 5 pm.
4. Banff Park Museum National Historic Site
Did you know that Banff is home to the oldest natural history museum in Western Canada? Welcome to the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site, a place that boasts over 5,000 both zoological and botanical specimens. If you wish to learn more about the wildlife of Western Canada, this museum is one of the must-visit spots while staying in Banff.
5. Cave and Basin National Historic Site
The birthplace of Banff National Park, the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a perfect attraction for history buffs and nature enthusiasts. See the interactive displays that educate travelers on local wildlife and learn about the history of the park during the hour-long guided Discovery Tour. The tour tells the story of how the workers discovered the hot springs and you can also touch the steamy thermal waters.
6. Surprise Corner Viewpoint
One of Banff’s best-hidden gems, Surprise Corner Viewpoint is the spot that offers magnificent views of the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Although no sign marks this viewpoint, reaching it from downtown Banff is really easy. All you have to do is drive down the avenue toward the Bow River and make a left turn onto Buffalo Street where you will see a parking space. Cross the road and continue to the platform of viewpoint. Keep in mind that the platform might be closed during the winter season because of large amounts of snow and slippery conditions.
7. Tunnel Mountain
If you wish to enjoy a short hike that leads to a summit with magnificent views of the valley and panoramas over the town of Banff, take the Tunnel Mountain Trail which is easily accessible from the center of the town. The trail doesn’t have many steep spots which make it suitable for all skill levels and although this is the smallest mountain in the area, it still offers spectacular views of Vermillion Lakes and Bow Valley.
8. Vermilion Lakes
There are many cool things to do in Banff with kids and a visit to the Vermilion Lakes is one of them. A series of lakes located west of the town, the Vermilion Lakes is an excellent spot for viewing wildlife. This 4.3 km scenic road offers breathtaking scenery and allows travelers to learn more about the cultural richness and natural wonders of the region. It’s also a great place to enjoy sunset views. Many visitors like that there are many different areas around the lake, so it doesn’t feel crowded at all.
9. Banff Gondola
Vacationers looking for relaxing things to do in Banff should hop on Banff Gondola and experience the town’s natural beauty. The ride is only eight minutes long and takes you all the way to the summit of the Sulphur Mountain where you can enjoy magnificent views of the Bow River Valley and Banff. The fee for the ride is a bit on the expensive side and costs $64 for adults and $32 for children. It is recommended to wear warm clothes when going on this extraordinary ride, as it can get cold at the summit.
10. Lake Minnewanka
Located just a short drive from downtown Banff, Lake Minnewanka is the national park’s largest lake that offers plenty of outdoor activities such as rock climbing and mountain biking. Take advantage of the walking trail that takes you along the shore and up to the mountainside. You can also rent a canoe during the summer season. If you are looking for things to do in Banff in winter, Lake Minnewanka offers winter activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
11. Sunshine Meadows
Reaching Sunshine Meadows might be a challenge, but the scenery that awaits travelers high in the Canadian Rockies is spectacular in every way and worth the effort. In case you are visiting in spring, expect to see meadows in full bloom and thousands of colorful wildflowers beneath your feet. To reach Sunshine Meadows, visitors have to take a shuttle bus from the town to the drop-off point. The next step is to decide if you want to go on a two-hour-long walk through the beautiful meadows or take the all-day hike to the Healy Pass which is a more challenging trail recommended for experienced hikers.
12. Bow Valley Parkway
A 51 km scenic road that connects Lake Louise and Banff, Bow Valley Parkway is one of the best attractions in Banff. From awesome road cycling to wildlife spotting, there is plenty to look forward to during this alternative drive from Lake Louise to Banff. Along the way, you will come across many amazing attractions including the Johnston Canyon which is one of the park’s most popular hiking areas and the lovely Mule Shoe Picnic Area where you will find picnic tables and spectacular views of the Mule Shoe Lake.
13. Banff Avenue
The heart of the town, Banff Avenue is an excellent place to chill after all these outdoor adventures at the national park. The avenue is home to many cafes and restaurants where you can try the local cuisine. The historic architecture on the main street looks impressive and is an ideal spot for taking photos. The busiest time to visit the avenue is after lunch hours when both locals and tourists are coming back from the national park.
14. Cascade Gardens
Located just a short walk from downtown Banff, the Cascade Gardens is a 4-acre park with many pathways, gazebos, water features, and stone pavilions. It’s an ideal spot to escape the busy streets of Banff Avenue on the weekends and enjoy some peace and quiet. You can have a picnic at the park and admire the beauty of the blooming flowers in late summer and early autumn. The entrance to the gardens is free of charge.
15. Banff Visitor Centre
If you need information on activities, attractions, accommodation, and events, the best place to go is the Banff Visitor Centre. Whether you wish to hear about updates on hotel availability, get to know the bus schedules, or need to purchase tickets for attractions, the friendly staff at the Banff Visitor Centre provides the latest information and is always happy to answer all of your questions.
16. Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum
The last on this list is the extraordinary Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. Opened in 1952, this museum is home to numerous exhibits ranging from historical artifacts to hunting tactics of the First Nation people who lived on these lands before the arrival of European culture. The guided tour of the museum is informative and led by one of the members of the staff. The museum is relatively small, so you should expect to spend an hour or two here.