A beautiful resort town with picturesque views located within Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Travel to Banff, Canada is a must-do whether you are Canadian yourself or looking for the perfect getaway. Recently I traveled there for the first time ever, and it seriously is the quintessential Canadian trip. I fell in love with all the beautiful views. Even driving on the highway was beautiful! So to help you plan a few days in Banff, I’ve compiled my recommendations below…
Banff is only located about a 1.5-hour drive from the Calgary Airport, so you can easily rent a car and drive to Banff directly. Alternatively, you can take a shuttle bus from the airport to Banff or scope out the Rocky Mountineer train service (note this isn’t available all year round).
Don’t forget that you will need to buy a park pass for Banff National Park and have it displayed on your dash when you are visiting trails, lakes, etc. The park passes can be purchased right off the highway (there are toll booth areas) as well as at information centres. You can also purchase online but you will need to print the confirmation. The daily fees are as follows:
- Adult: $10
- Seniors: $8.40
- Youth: FREE
- Family/Group: $20
Day passes at 4pm the following day.
Once you’re in Banff, you can get around by car or by Roam Transit. Click here for their routes and prices.
What to pack
Okay, this is entirely dependent on what time of year you are visiting Banff. There can even be a huge difference from August to September. This is mountain weather after all. I visited the middle of September and I wish that I would’ve packed warmer clothes. Although I made do with a lot layering, I wish I brought my light puff jacket, and long johns for the hikes. Keep in mind as well that when you are hiking you are often going to higher elevation. It was snowing on the top of Sentinel Pass when we got there. When we took the Banff Gondola it was sunny at the bottom and a full snowstorm at the top.
My reco would be to check the weather but pack warm layers. Proper hiking boots also aren’t necessary on a lot of the easy/moderate trails, but you may want them for warmth, and also for better protection on a rainy/snowy day. Packing a hat and gloves is also great to have on hand, especially for the cold mornings and evenings.
Where to stay
The question when visiting this area is always if you would rather stay in Canmore or Banff. To be honest, both towns have similar vibes, are loaded with great restaurants, and bars, and have awesome mountain views. They have located a 20-minute drive from each other. I opted to stay in Banff itself for my first trip there but also wouldn’t hesitate to stay in Canmore on future trips! They are both great towns.
I stayed at the High Country Inn located on the main strip in Banff (Banff Avenue). The hotel was great. It was well situated in walking distance to everything, had mountain views from a lot of their balconies, and the rooms were spacious, and clean, making this the perfect home base for my time in Banff.
There are, of course, a ton of hotels in the area and on this strip ranging from lodges to hostels, to luxurious experiences (you may have seen the picturesque Fairmont Banff Springs in photos before). My reco would be to just make sure you book well in advance, the summer months and shoulder season (May/June, and September) are the busiest in this area meaning the prices can be higher, and places can book out well in advance.
Where to eat
There are a TON of restaurants in Banff to choose from ranging from fancy to quick, to the typical chains you’ll find in any Canadian town. If you can, make reservations wherever you want to eat as again, places can get busy, especially on weekends! Here were some of the spots I enjoyed and had recommended to me during my time in Banff:
- High Rollers: A fun, casual pizza spot that has a huge list of local craft beers. You can even make a reso to bowl at their bowling alley!
- Grizzly House: This is one of the most popular spots in Banff and you’ll want to make a reso well in advance. Grizzly House is a fondue spot that has been in operation since the 60’s. It is definitely a must-do for your first time in Banff. You can even opt to have exotic meats for dinner like alligator!
- Sky Bistro: Located on top of the mountains this restaurant is a gorgeous experience with panoramic views around you. Note that you must take the Banff Gondola up and you can book a table and your gondola in advance here for a package deal.
- Fairmont: I didn’t have a chance to dine at either of the two Fairmont’s in Banff but it came highly recommended. They each have a variety of restaurants, bars, and even serve Afternoon Tea with a view if that’s of interest.
- Park Distillery: A local distillery with a lengthy list of cocktails but also a great restaurant. I had their tuna salad and it was so fresh and delicious!
- Hello Sunshine: Sushi, Japanese BBQ, and karaoke. What more could you need? This was recommended to me by a friend but unfortunately we didn’t have time to go while we were there.
What are some of your recos for places to eat in Banff? Share them in the comments!
What to do in Banff, Canada
To be honest, I’m sure there are a ton of people that come to Banff to just stay on the main strip, however, that was not the case for me and it shouldn’t be for you either. The beauty of Banff is of course, the national park. You are surrounded by endless options of hikes and outdoor adventures. I wish I had more time to explore it all!
Of course one of the biggest activities is hiking. There are endless trails to discover. I had SO many recommendations that it was hard to narrow it down to just a few to do while I was there. I can’t wait to go and explore more. Here are some of the most popular/recommended hikes you can do while in Banff. Note that I am not an expert in hiking so I haven’t included any super technical hikes below.
Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail (5.1km – Easy) – I did this hike after the Sentinal Pass and it is very easy. Any level and age can do it. The trail is flat with beautiful viewpoints of the lake.
Consolation Lake Trail (6.1km – Easy)
Eiffel Lake Trail (12.2km – Moderate)
Sentinal Pass via Larch Valley (11.6km – Hard) – This was the hike we did on our first day in Banff and it was incredibly beautiful. During the fall months the larches change colour and it makes for a beautiful (but challenging) hike. I will say that although this is marked as “hard” it is not technical. Once you get past the first 2.4km of steady uphill hiking, you’ll be on primarily flat land.
TIP: Since originally writing this post, the road and parking lots to get to Moraine Lake have closed to public access. If you still want to enjoy views BEFORE sunrise, I recommend booking a shuttle with Moraine Lake Bus Company. Given the new changes to Moraine Lake the Parks Canada bus has increased in popularity so Moraine Lake Bus Company is a great alternative. You can book here.
Lake Louise Lakefront Trail (4.5km – Easy)
Lake Agnes to Little Beehive (9.0km – Moderate) or Big Beehive (10.9km – Hard) – I did the first part of this hike (Lake Agnes) and it was a steady uphill hike, however, not too difficult at all. The reason I opted out of the Beehive extensions was due to the weather as the ladies at the Tea House at Lake Agnes said we wouldn’t be able to see anything from up there.
Plain of Six Glaciers (14.6km – Moderate)
Tunnel Mountain (4.5km – Moderate)
Johnston Canyon to Lower Falls (2.3km – Easy) or to Upper Falls (5.1km – Easy) – I did both of these in one shot and they were very easy and family friendly. Lots of people of different ages and levels on the trails. A great afternoon activity after a more challenging hike, or great for a rainy day when the mountain views are hidden.
Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots (11.7km – Moderate)
Bow Summit to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint (6.6km – Moderate) – this trail was closed when I was there for maintenance or it would’ve been top of my list
Bow Falls Viewpoint (2.7km – Easy)
Bow Glacier Falls Trail (8.9km – Moderate)
Tip! Unsure what hike to do? Download the app AllTrails. They have hiker reviews of every hike, and detailed descriptions and photos to help you choose what one is best for you.
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Other things to do
- Banff Gondola: Beautiful panoramic views of Banff. When I visited it was unfortunately a snow storm and I couldn’t see anything so I’d suggest booking tickets last minute to know the weather beforehand.
- Canoe/Kayak: Renting a canoe on one of the turquoise glaciel lakes is a must-do, however, this won’t be a cheap experience. Lake Louise charges over $130 CDN an hour, and Moraine Lake charges $95 CDN an hour. Both are first come, first serve. If you want to save money and time is on your hands, stop in Field, BC at Emerald Lake for the same experience but for $75 CDN an hour instead (photographed above).
- Upper Hot Springs: A relaxing natural pool experience. I opted out of this as it looked a little touristy for me, however, it’s an incredibly popular activity and a great one for a rainy day or for those not wanting to hike.
- Brewery Crawl: Pop by the Banff Avenue Brewery, and/or Three Bears. You can also head over to Canmore and visit Grizzly Paw, Canmore Brewing Co., or Sheepdog Brewing. If you don’t want to be a designated driver, you can also book a brewery tour through Bow Valley Beer Tour.
- Spa Day: Relax at one of the many spas in Banff. Here is a complete guide to the hot springs and spas you can visit.
- Other Outdoor Adventures: From mountain biking to white water rafting, Banff is an adventure/outdoor lover heaven.
Note: I visited Banff in the fall, and I’ve never been in the winter. As you probably know, Canada gets four distinct seasons so activities may vary during different times of the year.
Overall I fell in love with Banff while I was there. I cannot wait to return to soak in some more mountain views and incredible hikes. What are your recommendations for the area? Share below in the comments as I’d love to hear them!