Alberta, Canada has some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world! Banff National Park is one of many national parks within the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, and has been high on my “to see” list for years. I finally got an opportunity to spend a weekend with the mountains, and I am forever a changed woman. Between the crisp mountain air, snow-capped mountains, turquoise-clear lakes, and stunning vistas…Banff, you stole my heart. <3
The easiest way to get to Banff is by flying into Calgary, Canada. Unless you are with a tour, renting a car is a necessity. From Calgary, the drive into Banff is roughly 1.5 hours.
Where to Stay
There are many places for accommodations within the park, including camping and even a hostel. For affordable accommodation, it’s best to look at Airbnb and stay slightly outside the park. For one of the nights I was in Banff, I stayed in Canmore just minutes from the park entrance, and I didn’t find it to be too much of an inconvenience.
What To Do
After spending a long weekend (3 days) in Banff, I found it quite difficult to squeeze everything I wanted to do into such a short period of time. Trust me, this place is gorgeous and you’ll want to do everything. I think I’ll just have to come back very soon!
FYI: Before hiking any trails, it’s extremely important to first check with the Visitor’s Center. For example, I was hoping to hike to the Plain of 6 Glaciers Teahouse, and as an afterthought I stopped by the Visitor’s Center only to find out the trail was closed due to several avalanches.
1. Downtown Banff
Banff’s downtown is just adorable and the perfect place to start your weekend. This is where you’ll want to be for coffee, restaurants, shopping, and the visitor’s center. There is plenty to see and do, even if just to wander down the streets and gaze up at those gorgeous snow-capped mountains. I would recommend spending at least half a day here to stroll through the many shops, cafés, and restaurants to take in the ambiance.
Even if you don’t order pizza (I went halfsies on a pizza and salad combo) literally everything on the menu is fantastic, you won’t be disappointed.
2. Lake Louise
About a 40-minute drive from downtown, Lake Louise is the show-stealer of Banff National Park. It’s the most photographed lake in the world, and it’s no secret as to why. This place is STUNNING. Often times, famous locations might not always match the hype, but this place surely does! The only complaint you might have is that it tends to be overrun with tourists because it’s so darn beautiful… everyone wants a piece of it. There is a pathway around the perimeter of the lake that’s nice for strolling, or you can go kayaking. There are also a number of hikes that start from Lake Louise.
Check out my post on tips for visiting Lake Louise
3. Castle Lookout at Lake Louise
While at Lake Louise, the 1.3km (0.8 miles) to castle lookout is definitely worth it. It’s a short hike, but still a bit steep and difficult. From here you can see amazing views of the castle-esque Fairmont Hotel Lake Louise.
4. Castle Mountain
Castle Mountain is located between Banff and Lake Louise. It is a relatively short hike, however extremely steep. I would highly recommend expending the effort for some amazing views of the Canadian Rockies.
For more info, check out my post on hiking Castle Mountain
5. Moraine Lake
Lake Moraine is similar to Lake Louise in that it’s a gorgeous turquoise-blue lake with stunning mountain ranges. Some might like it better as it’s more low-key than Lake Louise, and there may be fewer tourists. I loved it so much I actually went back twice; one for sunset and again during the day because I needed moooooore of those beautiful views.
Just like Lake Louise, you can also kayak or walk around the rim of the Moraine Lake.
6. Hiking Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is an extremely popular day hike, and is perfect for families of all levels of fitness.
You can hike the trails to Lower Johnston Falls (1.1 km or 0.5 miles) or Upper Johnston Falls (2.6 km or 1.5 miles), or continue on the trail to the Inkpots which is roughly an additional 3km or 1.8miles. There are also a number of longer hikes that continue on from the upper falls that are suitable for backcountry camping.
Check out more info on hiking Johnston Canyon
7. Gondola Rides
There are two locations to ride gondolas up into the Canadian Rockies. The most popular is the Banff Gondola located near the downtown area. At the top you can enjoy spectacular views from a 360-degree rooftop observation deck. There are also cafés and restaurants available for dining.
Another option (which is also a tad cheaper) is the Lake Louise Gondola. Here you’ll see amazing views of Lake Louise and the beautiful Fairmont Hotel Lake Louise, as well as dining options at the top.
8. Upper Hot Springs
After hiking, sightseeing, and touring all day, soaking in some natural hot springs might sound like a fantastic idea. For this, head on over to Upper Hot Springs, located near Banff’s downtown, for some relaxation.
Over to you – what are your favorite “to do’s in Banff National Park? I would love to know!