Being the first National Park in Canada, Banff draws in approximately 4 million visitors each year.
Banff is a place like no other — a bustling town nestled between snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, glacial lakes, cascading waterfalls, and home to hundreds of wildlife species.
A skier’s haven in the winter and a nature’s playground for adventure seekers in the summer, this Canadian resort town, located in the province of Alberta is a year-round destination that’s worth a spot on your bucket list.
We’ve curated a list of the top things to do in Banff — there’s no way you’ll be able to check all these activities off in just one day!
– Peyto Lake, Banff
You know the saying, it’s not about the destination it’s about the journey…
…why can’t it be both!?!
Peyto Lake is without a doubt one of the most stunning destinations and is one of the top things to see in Banff National Park.
The journey to the lake will take you through the Icefields Parkway and is rated as one of the most scenic drives in the world.
So yes, you can have it all.
Peyto Lake is one of the most photographed lakes in Banff but photos don’t do it justice — you’ll have to see it to believe it.
Situated at an incredible elevation of 1800m, this lake is glacially fed year-round, leaving a spectacular turquoise hue.
There’s a relatively easy and short nature trail that leads to the viewing platform. Here, you’ll see a lot of visitors from bus tours but they generally leave after half an hour or so.
If you’re keen to dodge the crowds, you can hike further up to the Bow Summit lookout for breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding area.
Not many people will go past the first viewpoint so you’ll have a nice quiet hike up to the summit.
– Observation Deck at Sulphur Mountain
There are loads of exciting things to do in Banff but there’s no better way to take in the beauty of this town than riding a gondola that takes you over 7000m above sea level — the panoramic view from the summit is astounding.
The 8-minute scenic ride whisks you up Sulphur Mountain from where you take in some awe-inspiring views of Bow Valley, the surrounding ranges, and the quaint town of Banff.
There is a massive building at the top where you’ll find a 360-degree lookout, some eateries where you can grab some fuel, and a souvenir shop.
If you’re in the mood to explore and you’re in reasonable shape, you can hike up Sulphur Mountain and take the gondola ride down instead.
The hike is 5.5 km long and will take you approximately two hours to get to the top.
During the winter season, riding down the gondola is free!
After a long morning of exploring and weaving through dozens of nature trails, visiting Banff Upper Hot Springs is the best way to rejuvenate and completely relax as you admire the striking backdrop of snow-covered mountains.
If you visit during the winter months, there’s something magical about sitting in a hot spring while watching the snow gently cascade down.
Although the hot spring is communal, it’s well-sanitized and your sore muscles will thank you after a long day of skiing or hiking.
If you’re traveling with a more mature audience, this is one of the best things to do in Banff with seniors.
Remember to bring your swimwear and towels!
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a treat to both nature fanatics and history buffs.
This historic site was unexpectedly discovered by two Pacific Railway workers back in 1883 and is the birthplace of Banff National Park.
Located on the north-eastern part of Sulphur Mountain, the Cave and Basin is one of nine hot springs in the area and the only one that is big enough for large groups of people.
The site is complete with interactive displays and exhibits that educate visitors on the beautiful tales behind its establishment.
Before you stroll through the short tunnel en route to the main attraction, you’ll learn about the local wildlife as well as the site’s historical significance to the town.
This geological wonder is a great daytime activity and is one of the best things you can do in Banff.
For those that have a sensitive nose, the sulphuric odor can be quite strong.
Be warned that your furry pets aren’t allowed on-site.
Fairmont Château at Lake Louise is one of the most famous Banff attractions, located right in the heart of Banff National Park.
Lake Louise tourism has exploded over the years so if you like being in the middle of all the action you’ve come to the right place.
This luxury resort is one of the best places to stay if you want to explore the town and all the areas surrounding the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
From Downtown Banff to Lake Louise is only a 40-minute drive.
The rooms are lavish and boast spectacular views of Victoria Glacier and the infamous turquoise-hued Lake Louise.
After spending the day exploring the dramatic landscape of Banff, a wellness spa and an indoor pool await to pamper your weary muscles.
Being such a popular tourist attraction, it’s no surprise that the common grounds of the Fairmont Château can get extremely crowded during the day and parking is very limited.
If you’re just visiting for the day, you may have to park in the overflow lot and take a shuttle to the lake.
One of the best things to do at Lake Louise is to take a kayak out to the middle of the lake.
What’s more relaxing than listening to the gentle lapping of the water against your kayak and songbirds whistling in the distance?
Lake Louise is the most famous lake in Alberta and is definitely a must on your Banff things to do list.
If you’re searching for things to do in Banff this weekend, hiking to Lake Agnes Tea House should be on the top of your list.
This charming tea house is only accessible by foot and the trail is fairly tough, but your efforts will be highly rewarded with amazing scenery and astounding views from the high elevation.
You don’t have to be an avid hiker to conquer the trail — as long as you’re fit enough to walk uphill for approximately 3.5 km, you’ll be fine!
Arguably one of the biggest cantilevered platforms in the globe, the Columbia Icefield Skywalk is a glass-floor observation deck jutting 30 meters from the cliff and perched over 900 meters above the renowned Sunwapta Valley.
If you love the adrenaline rush and you prefer living your life on the edge, visiting this engineered-wonder will be among the most thrilling things to do in Banff.
The skywalk platform overlooks mountain vistas, glaciers, and unrivaled beauty of the valley below.
This experience is usually part of a tour where you’ll learn more about the geological history and wildlife in the area.
You’re probably wondering what to do in Banff after exploring every nook and cranny in nature’s backyard.
Spend a lazy afternoon strolling around the town of Banff!
The bustling streets of Downtown Banff are filled with lively bars and restaurants, quaint shops, museums, and a wide selection of art galleries, making it a great break away from nature and a chance to interact with fellow travelers.
Sample the social scene in one of the many bars and lounges dotted across the town.
Not your thing?
You can try out the local Rocky Mountain Cuisine or head to Bear Street and Banff Avenue for a shopping spree.
No matter what you decide to do, you can be sure you won’t have a dull moment here.
Ranked among the most beautiful drives in the world, the Icefields Parkway is a scenic stretch of road between the stunning Lake Louise in Banff and Jasper National Park.
The 232 km long road is graced with over a hundred glaciers, weaving through dramatic rock formations, waterfalls, and emerald lakes tucked in sweeping valleys and forests.
Enjoy the freedom of exploring the Icefields at a leisurely pace by renting a car — there’s plenty of wildlife encounters along the way!
The mini road trip will take you at least three hours to get through, and that’s not factoring in any spontaneous stops along the way.
If you want to explore this area thoroughly, make sure you set aside enough time!
Gliding through the spectacular waters of Moraine Lake in a canoe is a top choice for things to do, especially if you want to enjoy smaller crowds — about half of what you would find at Lake Louise!
Located in the Valley of Ten Peaks and standing at an elevation of 1885m, this glacier-fed lake sets you perfectly between the sparkling turquoise water and the slopped rugged peaks of the surrounding mountains.
Located on the border of Jasper and Banff National Park in the Columbia Icefield, the Athabasca Glacier is one of the most famous and most visited glaciers in North America.
This attraction is easily accessible with a tour that will take you aboard an Ice Explorer, engineered specifically to ride over glaciers, before dropping you off to take a walk on the glacier.
This guided tour of Athabasca will cost a pretty penny but the experience is totally worth it.
If you‘re traveling on a tight budget you can hike to the Toe of the Glacier, a trail that leads you right to the foot of Athabasca — equally fascinating and it’s free!
This tranquil riverside trail is located just a few miles from Downtown Banff which makes it a great spot for an afternoon or early morning adventure.
The trail stretches along both sides of the scenic Bow River and boasts breathtaking views of the mountains.
The trails are pretty easy to access, beginner-friendly, and straightforward enough for anyone not to lose their way.
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Banff, famous for its meandering trail offering dramatic waterfalls, deep gorges and cliffs alongside glacier reservoirs.
If you’re a nature lover, you’ll enjoy visiting this limestone canyon formed from years of erosion.
Johnston Canyon is divided into different sections and the out-and-back trail will lead you to three dimensions of absolute beauty: the Upper Falls, the Lower Falls, and the Ink Pots.
The trail gets more rugged as you make your way closer to the Upper Falls, where you’ll see the waterfall cascading down over 30 meters.
The hike to the Ink Pots is just under 6 km long and moderately difficult with an elevation gain of 335 meters.
These five mineral pools are tinted varying shades of aquamarine and remain at a constant temperature of 4°C throughout the year.
Even though Johnston Canyon gets pretty busy especially during the summer, it’s well worth the visit!
Travel 5 km from the town of Banff and experience a day in the Canadian Rockies!
Lake Minnewanka stretches an eye-popping 21 km in length and is home to wildlife such as the bighorn sheep and deer.
It’s not just about the scenery, this destination also offers a variety of activities to fill your day such as picnicking, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, fishing, canoeing, and boating.
Fun Fact: This is the only area in Banff National Park that allows powerboats and you can rent one on-site!
Spend a day here and it’s not hard to see why it’s one of the top things to do in Banff.
When the snow starts falling, so do the prices and crowds.
Banff and Lake Louise along with the rest of the Canadian Rockies transform from nature’s vibrant playground to a winter sports wonderland.
If you loved Johnston Canyon in the summer wait till you see it in the winter! Princess Elsa would be proud to call this place home.
Looking for an adrenaline rush? Spend the day skiing or boarding at Sunshine Village Ski Resort.
If you’re feeling festive nothing beats a sleigh ride — this guided tour will take you on an adventure through the snow-covered landscape.
Be prepared for wintry conditions as the only constant with the weather here is the unpredictability.
A warm down jacket rated for -40°C or below is recommended.
If you’re renting a car or planning to drive, be sure to get an all-wheel-drive vehicle with snow tires.
Banff represents what Canada is all about.
World-class hospitality, unforgettable sights, and countless outdoor activities among the Canadian Rockies.
Whether you’re visiting in the summer, spring, fall, or winter one thing remains true — you won’t be disappointed.
We hope this guide has helped you plan out your Banff to-do list or crossed out some items on your bucket list!
What activity are you looking forward to doing in Banff?
Let us know in the comments below 🙂