Banff is an outdoor lover’s paradise in Canada’s Alberta province. The town of Banff is a major ski destination, and has become a premiere summer destination as well. With towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies, posh amenities you expect from a ski village, and national parks nearby, there is something for everyone who visits Banff, Canada. Here are just a few things you can do when you visit Banff.
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Between Banff and nearby Lake Louise, there are three world-class ski resorts in this area. You can purchase a combo lift ticket and ski all three, with free transportation between the resorts. Banff Sunshine Village is just 15 minutes from downtown Banff and boasts up to nine meters of snow each season, and has the longest non-glacial ski season in all of Canada.
Mt. Norquay Ski Resort offers the only night skiing in the area and is best known as the training ground of Olympic and World cup athletes. Not to worry, as Mt. Norquay also offers great terrain for beginners, too, so the whole family can enjoy this resort. Lake Louise Ski Resort has a wide variety of terrain and has been named one of the top three freestyle resorts in the world. Set amidst Canada’s first national park, the scenery at Lake Louise can’t be beat.
Even non-skiers will want to put Lake Louise on their Banff vacation itinerary. Chances are, you’ve seen photos of Lake Louise’s surreal-looking turquoise waters butting up against majestic mountain peaks. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise sitting at one end of the lake is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a beautiful destination on its own.
In the summer, you can rent canoes to paddle around the glacial lake, and in winter, there is a skating rink on the ice. There are hiking trails around the lake, with the hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House being very popular. This mountaintop tea house has amazing views of the area and serves sandwiches, desserts and tea to hungry hikers.
Not far from Lake Louise is the equally stunning but lesser visited Moraine Lake. About half the size of Lake Louise, Moraine Lake has the same surreal turquoise water fed from glaciers, surrounded by snow-capped peaks of Banff National Park. The road to the lake is closed in winter, and winter can last a long time up here, so be sure to check ahead before planning your trip to Moraine Lake. There is a lodge at the lake, as well as several hiking trails to enjoy and a canoe rental on site.
For the best aerial view of Banff and the surrounding mountains, take a ride in the Banff Gondola. At the top of the scenic cablecar ride, you can access hiking trails on Sulphur Mountain, or visit the Banff Mountain facility at the summit. At the top, you’ll find a 360-degree observation deck, three restaurants ranging from a coffee shop to a world-class restaurant, an interpretive center, and the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk. Gondola prices are somewhat expensive, but you can save a few dollars by ordering your ticket online and checking out some of the package options that include other local attractions.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Visiting a hot springs pool is a quintessential Canadian Rockies experience, and Banff Upper Hot Springs is a great place to do it! Hot water bubbles out of Sulphur Mountain and has been harnessed as a health aide since the late 1800’s. These hot springs are part of what made Banff a popular resort town.
Today, the Banff Upper Hot Springs are the last remaining springs that are open to the public. There is a large hot springs pool, a cafe and you can even rent swimsuits, towels and lockers. If you want to make a road trip tour of hot springs, you can also visit Radium Hot Springs which is about 90 minutes from Banff, in British Columbia’s Kootenay National Park.
The Icefields Parkway is a scenic drive that follows the Continental Divide and stretches over 230 kilometers from Jasper to Banff. Passing through Jasper National Park and Banff National Park, this is one of the world’s most scenic drives. One stop you’ll want to make is at the Columbia Icefield, which is the largest ice field in the Canadian Rockies. Nearby, the Athabasca Glacier is the most visited glacier in North America. You can also stop at the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-bottom horseshoe-shaped skywalk that extends out over a 280 meter drop into Sunwapta Valley. Peyto Lake is another popular stop along the Icefields Parkway, with turquoise waters against Rocky Mountain peaks.
A Rocky Mountain vacation is not complete without a whitewater rafting excursion. There are several outfitters in Banff, offering guided tours of many area rivers. You can choose a gentle scenic float trip or an adrenaline-pumping Class IV rapids on a Horseshoe Canyon trip. Wondering what to wear whitewater rafting?
Horseback riding is a great way to experience the backcountry of Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies. In the winter, you can opt for a sleigh ride through snowy trails. In summer months, choose an easy half-day ride for the family, or a multi-day backcountry horsepacking trip. As with the whitewater rafting, there are several horseback riding outfitters to choose from in Banff.
Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake about 5 kilometers from Banff. This is the second largest lake in in the Canadian Rockies, and it offers many recreational activities. An interpretive boat tour is a great way to see the lake and look for abundant wildlife along the shores. There is a hiking and mountain biking trail around the northern shore of the lake, as well as six backcountry camping sites for the extra adventurous visitors to Banff. The lake is made from a dam that was built in 1941 which flooded the resort village of Minnewanka Landing, and the submerged townsite is now popular with scuba divers.
Yoho National Park
Just an hour from Banff is British Columbia’s Yoho National Park. Yoho has more stunning Canadian Rockies scenery, and is a popular destination for campers and hikers. There are four campgrounds, two dozen peaks that exceed 3000 meters, and over 400 kilometers of hiking trails. Emerald Lake is the largest in the park, and one of the most popular with tourists. You can rent canoes at Emerald Lake, or strike out on one of several hiking trails. Lake O’Hara features a backcountry lodge for overnight hikers.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is the birthplace of the Canadian National Parks system, which started with Banff National Park in 1885. You can choose from a variety of cave tours, including Saturday night lantern tours, or explore the historic site on your own. The site features interactive exhibits, mineral pools where you can feel the warm water coming from the ground, walks and boardwalks through the caves and nearby woods and marshes, plus a gift shop and a snack bar.
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
The Whyte Museum in Banff is dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the Canadian Rockies. It is the largest privately funded museum in Canada. Opened in 1968 by a local artist couple, this four acre site has art galleries, a heritage gallery, museum shop, plus six log homes and cabins that are open to visitors in the summer. The Heritage collection has artifacts from the Aboriginal people to explorers and important Banff pioneers and residents.
Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum
For a glimpse of First Nations history, check out the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. Housed in a fort, this is one of Alberta’s oldest museums, and has been educating visitors on indigenous Canadian culture since 1953. Alberta’s original Aboriginal people included the Blackfoot, Blood, Cree and Stoney tribes. Here you can see costumes such as feather headdresses, hunting tools, ceremonial displays and special events such as smudge ceremonies, feather painting and beading workshops. There is a museum gift shop as well with a selection of unique gifts from First Nations and artisans.
Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail
Stretching from Banff to the nearby village of Canmore, the Legacy trail is a 22 kilometer paved trail that is popular with cyclists and hikers. Following the Trans Canada Highway, you can also use public transportation to complete the loop with your bike. You can rent a bicycle in Canmore, or sign up for a tour that includes lunch and transportation. The trail is a great way to see the Canadian Rockies, with many scenic viewpoints along the way.
Banff Park Museum
This small museum is housed in a 1903 log house right in downtown Banff. This is western Canada’s oldest natural history museum, where you can see stuffed bears, birds and sheep as well as mineral displays from the local mountains. This Victorian-era museum has over 5,000 specimens in total. The Banff Park Museum makes for a fun stop as you stroll through the streets of Banff.
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