Everything You Need To Know About Banff National Park

Banff might just be one of the prettiest places we’ve ever been. It offers something new and different every single day, from snow showers in the summer time, to grizzly bears casually wandering along the side of the road. It’s full of bright blue lakes, snow capped mountains and some of the most scenic drives in the world.

With it’s epic hiking trails, world famous ski slopes and endless outdoor activities to try, it’s the perfect place to head for anyone looking for a break in nature. To relax, recharge and reconnect with the real things in life.

If you’re heading to Banff here’s everything you need to know to make the most of this stunning park.

canadian rockies road trip

The basics about Banff

Location: Southeastern Alberta in the Canadian Rockies

Closest major cities: Calgary and Edmonton

Size: 6,641 square kilometres

Annual number of visitors: Roughly 3.6 million

Closest airport: Calgary airport is about 1.5 hours away

Peak season: July to August during the warmer months

banff national park

Things to do in Banff

There’s an endless number of things to do and explore around Banff National Park. From hiking, swimming, fishing and boating in the summer time to snowboarding, ice-skating and snowshoeing in the winter months, there’s always something new to try to get you out of your comfort zone.

Some of the highlights that you absolutely can’t miss in Banff National Park include:

Check out the main town

The main town of Banff is just so cute. It kind of feels like the log village in the mountains that you see in movies. There are so many cute shops to check out, from antique lolly shops to year round Christmas shops and gift shops that actually sell some really cool souvenirs and gifts.

lake louise

Lake Louise

One of the biggest highlights of any visit to Banff is the iconic Lake Louise. The water in this lake is as blue as can be, surrounded by beautiful mountains and home to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, just giving you all the vibes. The village of Lake Louise is super small, just home to a few small shops and restaurants and not very much else.

The Lake Louise Gondola at the ski resort offers views of the mountains and you can kind of get a birds eye Lake Louise in the distance. Lots of reviews online say that the gondola is a great place to spot wildlife, with grizzly bears often being spotted wandering around underneath. We didn’t really rate the gondola very much (although it was quite cloudy when we visited), but the warm buffet lunch afterwards was actually so good (and only $10 with a gondola ticket)!

To get to Lake Louise by bus jump on Route 8X express from Banff or Route 8S that takes you from Banff to Lake Louise via the scenic route.

lake louise gondola

Banff Upper Hot Springs

Escape the cold with a visit to the Banff Upper Hot Springs, that sit 1,585 metres above sea level and have pools full of mineral rich water. The combination of relaxing pools and epic views make it the perfect place to spend a day or afternoon and it’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Hot Springs are open from 9am to 11pm each day and admission only costs $8.30 CAD per adult. Find out more on the hot springs website.

Banff Upper Hot Springs || 1 Mountain Avenue, Banff

Book your rental car to explore more of Banff HERE

moraine lake

Moraine Lake

Found in the Valley of Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake is another turquoise pool of water that glimmers brightly even on a cloudy day. It’s surrounded by mountains and one of the prettiest scenes you’re likely to stumble across around Banff.

Go for a bit of a walk along the lake to get away from the crowds that pile off tour buses and crowd around the car park. If you walk just a little way down the lake, you can find a spot all to yourself to enjoy the view with peace a quiet.

There are heaps of hiking trails around Moraine Lake, one of the favourites is The Rockpile Trail which is an easy short path that offers some of the most iconic views of the lake. The view from the top is actually known as the “twenty dollar view” because it was actually featured on the back of the Canadian twenty dollar bill from 1969 to 1979.

IMPORTANT TIP: The road to Moraine Lake is closed during the winter season due to heavy snowfall and a high avalanche risk. Depending on the conditions, the road generally opens between the third week of May and the first week of June, and then closes again in October after the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

canadian rockies road trip

Icefields Parkway

It might be the main road that takes you from Banff to Jasper National Parks, but Icefields Parkway is without a doubt one of the prettiest drives we have ever taken. The highway twists and turns through the mountains, giving you stunning views on both sides of the roads at all times.

There are lots of lakes you can stop at along the way, each more beautiful than the last, all with the brightest blue water. We gave ourselves a full day to drive from Banff to Jasper so that we were free to stop at any places we spotted along the way, which was the perfect way to experience the drive!

Our favourite stop along the way was definitely Bow Lake, but there are lots of different places to pull in, stop and explore throughout the drive.

colombia icefields

Glacier Skywalk

The Glacier Skywalk is found along the Icefields Parkway and is a glass-floored observation deck that offers views over the Sunwapta Valley. The only way to check out these views is from the Glacier Skywalk, and the 360 degree viewing deck definitely offers a unique view point. During the winter months when the snow is falling you get great views over the valleys incredible glaciers as well.

As part of the Colombia Icefield, the Glacier Skywalk changes their hours of operation throughout the year so make sure you check out their website before you go. Tickets cost $37 CAD per adult and there’s a 10% discount if you book online in advance.

Head to the Colombia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre to check in and then you’ll be taken down to the skywalk by shuttle bus. The bus leaves every 15 to 30 minutes and tickets can book out quickly so it’s a good idea to book in advance and reserve your time.

Find out how you can actually walk on the glaciers in Colombia Icefield!

bear in banff national park

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife

Banff is absolutely overflowing with wildlife and if you keep your eyes open while you’re driving around you’re sure to spot all kinds of animals along the side of the road.

A great place for bear spotting, Banff is home to both black bears and grizzly bears and you can regularly spot them in the countryside as you’re driving along. The bears in the park seem unbothered by the cars on the highway and can often be found wandering along the side of the road as you’re driving past.

In addition to bears Banff is also home to elk, deer, moose, mountain goats and small little animals like squirrels, beavers and porcupines and they are often spotted by visitors as you drive through the park.

If you do come across any wildlife make sure you always respect that this is their home and natural environment. Stay in your car if their are bears around and drive very slowly as they can change their path and often wander across the road without warning. Don’t try and touch or feed any wildlife you come across in the park.

snowman in banff

Hit the ski slopes in winter time

If you’re coming to Canada for a skiing holiday you’re not going to be disappointed. The mountains in Banff offer some of the best ski conditions in the world, with three mountain options – Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay.

You can purchase a ticket from each of the mountains individually or if you’re planning to visit all three of them you can grab a combo ticket from SkiBig3 and save up to 15%. Lift tickets come with a bunch of extra perks including a free shuttle bus and entry to other attractions around Banff (depending on which ticket you choose), so check out the website before you make any other plans.

lake louise

Getting around Banff

Without a doubt the best and easiest way to get around Banff is by renting your own car. Renting a car gives you the freedom of exploring at your own pace, seeing whatever sights you want to see, and the best part – not having to wait outside in the freezing cold for public transport.

Driving around Banff is very easy. The roads are wide and easy to drive on, and relatively quiet with not too many other cars on the road. Rental cars can start from as little as $30 CAD for a small car and they definitely just offer you so much freedom!

If you’re not comfortable driving overseas there’s also a bus service called the Roam Public Transit. There are eight different routes that run around the park, getting you to all the hard to reach places as well as the main highlights like the town of Banff and Lake Louise.

A bus pass costs $5 CAD for a full day pass or just $2 CAD for a one-way fare. You can buy your ticket from the driver when you get on the bus.

READ MORE:
The Ultimate Canadian Rockies Road Trip Guide

Banff Parks Pass

As with many national parks around Canada you will need to purchase a parks pass to access Banff National Park. There are a couple of different options, you can either purchase a day pass or a discovery pass depending on what the rest of your trip to Canada looks like.

Day pass – the day pass provides entry into Banff National Park until 4pm on the day you purchased. You can buy one at the little kiosks right on the freeway which is so easy. A day pass costs $9.80 CAD per adult or $19.60 CAD for a family or group all in one car (up to 7 people).

Discovery pass – if you’re spending a little while exploring the national parks around Canada then the discovery pass might be a better option for you. The discovery pass costs $67.70 CAD per adult or $136.40 CAD for a group and gives you unlimited access to over 80 Canadian parks for a full 12 months. Definitely a good option if you’re spending more than a week exploring Canada.

lake louise ski resort

Best time to visit Banff

Banff sees some pretty extreme weather patterns. In the winter time it’s extremely cold, almost always snowing and an icy wind that just never lets you forget that it’s winter time. In the summer months the national park can be quite warm, even hitting temperatures of more than 30°C.

It is common however for snow to fall all year round in Banff, you can’t really guarantee warm weather at any time of year. During our visit we actually got to experience a snow shower and temperatures of around 6°C even though we were visiting during June (normally a summer month in Canada), and then the following weekend was going to be 27°C. You really do need to prepare for anything!

The peak season in Banff are the summer months between June and August. This is absolutely the best time to visit because even if it’s not reliable the weather should be a lot better during this time, when lots more outdoor activities are on offer, hiking trails are opening again and the wildlife is coming out of hibernation!

If you’re coming for a winter wonderland though and more of a ski holiday, December to March are considered the best months to visit. The mountains are in full swing during winter, with all the ski lifts running, trees covered in a layer of snow and chalets serving up tasty hot chocolates all day long.

banff village

Where to stay in Banff

The village of Banff is the main town and area to stay for most people exploring Banff National Park. There are many different accommodation options around Banff, from hotels and apartments to hostels and backpackers stays.

If you’re hoping to stay in the actual town of Banff during peak season you absolutely need to book in advance. We cannot stress this enough! The number of accommodation options is limited and they completely book out months and months in advance.

Prices can also get super expensive during peak season, even for some very average options. To avoid any disappointment start researching your accommodation about 9 months to a year before your trip. If you’re really struggling to find any options, check out banfflakelouise.com/accommodation for all the different options as many of them aren’t actually listed on booking websites. For the most accurate information it’s a good idea to just contact some of the places directly.

Camping is also a popular way to explore Banff, giving you the chance to spend a bit more time in each area and explore more of the national park. There are fees to camp at different sites, so make sure you know what’s going on before you set up camp to avoid any issues. Make sure you check out the camping page on the Canada Parks website for all the info.

Find the best deals for your stay in Banff

canmore alberta

Canmore

Unexpectedly, one of our favourite places in the Canadian Rockies was actually the first town we stayed. The sleepy little town of Canmore, which sits at the very beginning of the Rocky Mountains and Banff National Park, only about an hour out of the city of Calgary.

When we stared booking our trip to the Rocky Mountains we quickly found out that there are not a lot of places to stay for a group of 6 adults. There are even less places that allow for 6 people and are affordable. We probably could have found some wonderful places to stay if our budget exceeded a thousand dollars each night.

Instead we came across Canmore, a very cute little town in the Bow Valley. Sitting along the southeast boundary of Banff National Park, Canmore actually turned out to be one of our highlights from our whole stay in Canada.

In all honesty, our primary reason for staying in Canmore was due to the limitations of accommodation in the town of Banff. Travelling in a group of 6 we wanted to stay in an apartment or house, where we had a lounge room and kitchen facilities so we could hang out at the end of the day, rather than splitting up to go to our own hotel rooms.

Canmore is only 20 minutes out of Banff’s main streets. The town is cute and a little quieter than Banff, and accommodation prices are significantly cheaper with much more availability. We couldn’t believe the jackpot accommodation we found right in the heart of Canmore.

Check out the best places to stay in Canmore

basecamp resort canmore

Basecamp Resort

This is not a sponsored post or a collaboration of any kind, but when we just couldn’t believe how good the accommodation was at Basecamp Resort. We were booked into a three bedroom apartment and it was absolutely beautiful. Practically brand new inside, with a huge kitchen, dining and living area downstairs and then three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a laundry cupboard upstairs!

Staying at Basecamp Resort in Canmore cost us literally half of what it would have cost us to stay in Banff and the town had everything we could need for our stay. Right next door to our apartment was Rocky Mountain Bagel Co. where we could grab a delicious bagel each morning before we took off to explore for the day. They had some epic bagel combinations including nutella and strawberries or cream cheese and multigrain.

Find the cheapest deals for your stay at Basecamp Resort

bear in banff national park

Fun facts about Banff

Banff National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Established in 1885, Banff was Canada’s very first national park and the third national park established in the whole world.

Banff National Park has more than 1,000 glaciers throughout the park.

The mountains in Banff National Park are 45 to 120 million years old.

Banff and Lake Louise have been ski destinations since 1909 when skiing was introduced by Swiss and Austrian mountain guides.

The largest lake in the park, Lake Minnewanka is actually man made.

Banff National Park is home to seven national historic sites including Skoki Lodge, Abbot Pass Hut, Howse Pass, Cave and Basin, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Banff Park Museum and the Cosmic Ray Station on Sanson Peak.

Find the craziest flight deals to Canada HERE!

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Everything you need to know about Banff National Park   Everything you need to know about Banff National Park

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Emma is a travel photographer and blogger, living in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Thom in between adventures. She started Explore Shaw to share her experiences, travel tips and destination advice, and to inspire others to travel the world and their own backyard whenever they can.

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Just two twenty-something married Aussies, visiting as many places as we can in between normal life, and hoping to inspire and offer advice for your travel planning.

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