Established in 1885 after a fluky discovery by three railway construction workers, Banff National Park has been a famed destination thanks to its myriad of ecological and geological features.
Here you will find glaciers, snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes, alpine meadows as well as hot springs, which makes it a premier spot to outdoor enthusiasts.
Situated in Alberta, one of the most scenic provinces in Canada and located just south of Jasper National Park, Banff spreads over 6600 sq. feet along the rugged peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
Banff is not only one of the oldest national parks in the country but it’s also a top favorite to countless nature fanatics across the globe.
Here’s a complete Banff National Park travel guide to make your visit as seamless as possible.
Banff National Park boasts a subpolar climate – snowy winters, temperate summers, and a significant amount of rainfall throughout the year.
However, it’s important to note that the weather fluctuates regularly based on the time of the day and the elevation you’re at, which means it’s difficult to accurately predict the weather conditions in Banff.
Bear in mind that mountains can practically create their own weather so you should be ready to face a mix of everything!
Typically, January is the coldest month averaging between 12 °F (-11 °C) at night and 23 °F (-5 °C) during the daytime, while July is the hottest at around 73 °F (23 °C).
Whether you’re planning to go snow sculpting, skiing, and snowboarding in the winter or sightseeing, hiking, and kayaking in the summer, Banff National Park is a treasure trove throughout the year.
Any time is a great time to visit Banff as each season boasts unique landscapes, events, and activities.
Choosing the time of year that best suits your travel style will draw a line between an ordinary trip and an epic getaway.
Here’s a simple guide that breaks down when is the best time to travel to Banff:
With thawed emerald green lakes and valleys engulfed by streaks of colorful wildflowers, summer is undoubtedly the most popular time to take a trip to Banff.
To no surprise, the welcoming weather leaves the quaint streets rife with hundreds of tourists which can be a bit challenging if you fancy a relaxing escape.
But if you’re willing to brave the crowds, you’ll be rewarded with astounding views of the peaks, plus access to picturesque biking and hiking trails, which are at their best conditions around this time of the year.
With most families returning home ready for the start of the academic year, it’s highly recommended to visit Banff during the fall.
The crowds of tourists are just a fraction of those seen during the peak season and most summer activities are still in full swing!
Plus, you can enjoy the month-long Lake Louise Fall Festival for discounted accommodation packages, special offers on tours, and reasonably-priced meals.
Although you can expect snowfall almost every month in Banff, December to March is the height of the winter season and the best time to visit if you’re hoping for some thrills on the slopes.
Ski vacations are pretty popular during the winter but there is so much more to do in the mountains including dog sledding, snowshoeing, and ice skating.
Another perk of visiting Banff in the winter is that the ski resorts in the Canadian Rockies are never too crowded and the ski passes are relatively cheaper compared to other premier ski destinations in the world.
May marks the end of the ski season in Banff and it can be the perfect time to catch the end-of-season bash and events.
The ski conditions are obviously variable — you might enjoy a huge dumping of fresh snow one day and have to weave through slush the next day.
If you’re not an avid skier, you can have some fun hiking with cleats or snowshoes and take in the awe-inspiring views of the white vistas.
If you’re a bargain hunter, you can snag irresistible deals by visiting during the shoulder season in the fall when the demand is lower and the crowds are fewer.
But at the end of the day, the best time to visit Banff National Park will highly depend on your preference and budget.
Does your dream vacation to Banff include waking up to powder-white snow on your doorstep?
Or does it entail spending your days lost in the trails or biking around turquoise alpine lakes?
That’s up to you to decide!
Located about 80 miles (129 km) west of Calgary, traveling to Banff National Park is pretty straightforward.
There are lots of national and international flights checking in to Calgary’s International Airport and from here, you can purchase a bus ticket that takes you straight to Banff.
As another option is to rent a car — take Trans-Canada Highway 1 (accessible from the west of Calgary) and head straight to the park.
Or if you want to take all the hassle out of planning, you can always join a group tour to Banff.
There are a couple of options to wind your way through Banff National Park and the best way depends on the amount of time you have and your pace.
Here are the best ways to get around Banff National Park:
Exploring Banff by car undeniably offers you more flexibility when planning out your route.
It’s a great way to take in the beauty of the park at a leisurely pace while accessing parts of the park that would otherwise be hard to reach with other modes of transport.
However, parking can be a bit of a hassle, especially in some of the most popular tourist spots.
Alternatively, you can ditch the stress of parking and enjoy the many benefits that come with riding a bike.
You won’t necessarily need to craft an itinerary and you get to actively enjoying the attractions in the park.
Hop on your bike and weave your way to the Tunnel Mountain Drive, take in the views of Mount Rundle, Bow River, or aimlessly ride through the streets of the charming Downtown Banff.
Renting a bike will roughly cost you $30 CAD a day.
Banff National Park is massive but you don’t have to travel tens of miles to marvel at its beauty.
Some of the most famed sites, attractions, and hiking trails are accessible from the heart of the town which means you can explore them on foot.
An excellent option if you’ve only got one day in Banff and want to check out all the highlights at your own pace.
The Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Pass is valid for one day and will take you to all the major attractions, saving you time as you won’t have to look for parking.
Better still, you can park your car in town and catch a shuttle bus offered by Parks Canada to Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Lake O’Hara.
For your visit to Banff National Park, a Parks Canada Pass is required and can be purchased in advance online or in-person at select locations.
The park pass provides entry into multiple national parks, including Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Park.
The pass must be printed and displayed clearly on the left side of your car’s dashboard or else you run the risk of getting a ticket!
The daily park pass expires at 4 PM the following day.
It costs $10 CAD per adult (18-64) and $8.40 CAD for seniors (65+).
Youth that are 17 or under can access the park for free.
A $20 CAD family/group pass is available for groups up to 7 people that are visiting in one car.
The Discovery Pass provides access to the parks for one year and costs about $60 to $140 CAD, depending on if it’s for a single person or a group pass.
The added benefit of buying the Discovery Pass is that it also includes admission to national historic sites and marine conservation areas that are operated by Parks Canada (not included in the Day Pass).
Banff National Park is massive and definitely requires some prior planning before visiting.
If you’re not hiring a tour guide to take you around, mapping a proper trip itinerary to Banff should be the most important thing to do before heading here!
It makes sure you’ll have ample time and freedom to explore the park without scrambling around last minute for an itinerary.
If you want to avoid the hassle of booking everything and following an itinerary by yourself, tour companies and guides are the best options, and it’s a great way to unveil hidden gems that only the locals know of!
Whether you want a simple guided tour across the streets of Banff or you’re eager to marvel at the mesmerizing glacial landscape in the Columbia Icefields, there are dozens of tour operators that are ready to make your Banff National Park experience unforgettable.
Depending on where you want to go and the type of excursions you’re hoping to take part in, your daily tour budget can wildly vary.
Typically, you can expect to pay between $50 and $150 CAD for day trips.
For instance, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake tours, which takes roughly 4.5 hours may cost you $80 – $150 CAD depending on the season.
There are so many activities to do and lots of attractions to visit in Banff!
Some of the highlights include:
Running out of things to do is nearly impossible with so many beautiful attractions and national historic sites in the Banff area!
These are the most popular points of interest in Banff that you should definitely include in your itinerary:
There’s no better way to start your trip than at the historic site where it all started. Explore the amazing cave and hot spring then immerse yourself in the history of Banff.
A great place to hike featuring some incredible trails and the most amazing waterfalls in the summer. In the winter it’s equally enthralling with frozen waterfalls and snow-covered scenery.
The most gorgeous lake in Banff National Park. You’ve likely seen this view before but no picture can do it justice. Want to avoid the crowds and get an even better view? Take a hike via the Caldron Peak Trail.
A great place to spend a day with the family or have some alone time exploring with your significant other. Almost any outdoor activity you can think of is available here including fishing, kayaking, hiking, and biking with the most incredible surroundings.
Lake Louise’s more beautiful lesser-known sister. Take a leisurely hike around the bluest alpine lake you’ve ever seen. Kayak rentals are also available if you want to get out in the water to get up close and personal.
Through many trips to Banff, you’ll discover that there’s many spectacular dining experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Decadent contemporary west coast cuisine meets exceptional service paired with the most phenomenal views on the peak of Sulphur Mountain.
This restaurant is a must-visit in Banff as the experience is unbelievable.
Your dining experience at Eden will be amazing from beginning to end.
As soon as you step in, the restaurant screams class and elegance.
Sit down and you’ll be greeted with sublime views of Bow Valley and the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.
The food here is as remarkable as you’d expect, featuring the freshest west coast cuisine represented as art on a plate.
Are you really experiencing Alberta at it’s fullest if you haven’t tried some famous Alberta beef?
If you’re looking for the perfect steak then look no further!
This is the best spot in Banff if you’re craving a mouth-watering steak.
You may be paying a little extra here but it’s well worth the price.
The Alberta-raised Wagyu steaks may be the best you’ll ever have — get ready to set your bar really high!
Everyone’s been to Lake Louise, but have you ever had a fine dinner with a breathtaking lakefront view?
This one is more about the experience than anything.
Unwind and feast on some delicious food on the most scenic patio in the world.
The town of Banff is packed with a great selection of accommodations for all sorts of travelers, ranging from luxurious hubs and family-friendly hotels to cozy chalets and budget hostels.
If you’re a camper and prefer gazing at the stars at night in canvas tents or an RV, the park boasts a wide selection of great RV sites and campgrounds.
Here are a few of the top hotels in Banff that are well-loved by past travelers:
If you’re tired of hotels and prefer a more personalized space, check out these amazing vacation rental deals on VRBO.
With so much to do and so much information scattered across the internet, planning your Banff National Park vacation can get pretty overwhelming.
Hopefully, this travel guide has all you need to get the ball rolling on making your trip to the Canadian Rockies an unforgettable one!