Banff National Park is an incredibly gorgeous national park in Canada located along the Alberta-British Columbia border in the Rocky Mountains, and only one and a half hours from Calgary. The park features pristine wilderness, incredibly gorgeous natural beauty (tall snow-capped mountains and beautiful dense forests), lots of wildlife, a wide variety of hiking trails, stunning lakes and mountain views, and the charming mountain town of Banff, with historic buildings, unique local souvenir shops, a wide selection of restaurants, and beautiful scenery surrounding the town. The atmosphere was relaxing and serene. This national park is truly a breathtakingly beautiful and stunning gem in Canada!
I had camped and explored in Banff twice when I was younger during a road trip with my family, but last summer I decided to re-visit this beautiful national park on a road trip with my mother. Starting in my home province of Manitoba, we drove for 14 hours (stopping overnight in Medicine Hat, Alberta) and finally arrived in the town of Banff on our second day, shortly before noon on a beautiful, warm and sunny afternoon. We ate a delicious vegetarian lunch at Nourish Bistro and spent the afternoon wandering the town of Banff and browsing the cute souvenir shops.
Although our accommodations were in Canmore, another charming and peaceful town situated just 20 minutes south of Banff, we spent our three days exploring lots of beautiful places and going on amazing hikes in the nearby Banff National Park.
Further Reading: Banff or Canmore: Where Should You Stay?
Here is my guide to Banff National Park and the town of Banff – what to see and do and where to hike – based on my three days of explorations there. I hope this article is helpful for your travel planning and inspires you to explore the stunning beauty of Banff!
Banff National Park is located in the Canadian province of Alberta along its western border with British Columbia in the Rocky Mountains. The town of Banff is situated 128 kilometres west of Calgary and is about an hour and a half drive.
What To See and Do in Banff
Banff National Park is a gorgeous Canadian gem and there are so many interesting and unique things to see and do while you’re there. Here were some of my favourite things to do during my three days in Banff.
Explore the Charming Streets and Beautiful Nature in the Town of Banff
The town of Banff is a pleasant, bustling and charming town with tall and beautiful mountains surrounding it on all sides.
This town is the tourist hub in Banff National Park and it is where most people choose to stay. You can find stunning natural beauty and landscapes around and within the town and it’s a beautiful place to explore. There are pretty views of the Bow River while standing on the bridge that crosses over it in town.
The streets in the downtown area are lively and usually full of people and activity. It is a pedestrian-friendly town with lots of fantastic restaurant options, a variety of accommodations, clothing boutiques, uniquely local souvenir shops, small grocery stores, gas stations, and other interesting attractions and sights to see. Much of the buildings in town have a rustic yet chic appearance and the streets are very pretty and beautiful to wander and explore.
Read More: Banff or Canmore: Where Should You Stay?
Check Out the Cascade Gardens in Banff
The Cascade Gardens are a small, beautifully landscaped and peaceful garden area on the south side of Banff Avenue, behind the historic stone Parks Canada building. If you’re feeling slightly overwhelmed by the crowds in Banff, this is the perfect place to escape and enjoy a tranquil area while getting a little off the beaten path.
The gardens feature pretty pathways that lead through trees and flower beds with a variety of vibrantly coloured flowers. There are also some wood shelters and gazebos where you can sit back and relax for a little bit, as well as ponds of water, cute bridges and nice rocks. Located beside the gardens is the historic Parks Canada office building where you can find an amazing view looking down Banff Avenue while standing in front of the building.
These gardens are a lovely place to take photos and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering this hidden little area and taking the time to explore it.
Location – 101 Mountain Avenue – At the south end of Banff Avenue after crossing the bridge over the Bow River (the gardens are situated behind the Parks Canada Administration Building).
Shop for Unique Souvenirs
The streets in the central area of Banff are lined with lots of local shops where you can find unique and authentic souvenirs to remember your trip or bring home to your family and friends. In addition to the smaller shops, there are also quite a few larger brand-name stores selling outdoor gear like Patagonia, North Face, and Helly Hansen; clothing shops like Lululemon; jewelry stores; small grocery stores and health food shops and others.
I spent a few hours doing some souvenir shopping after arriving in Banff and loved browsing the shops and finding some great items to purchase!
Go for a Short Hike
There are a number of short and easy hikes that are conveniently located in the town of Banff.
I hiked the Fenland Trail on my first afternoon in Banff. The scenery was gorgeous as the trail passed through dense pine tree forests, crossed a river, and provided lovely views of the surrounding mountains. Walking this 2 km round-trip loop trail was very peaceful and lovely and there’s a good chance that you will spot some wildlife there. I felt lucky that I got to see a female elk up close and personal as she grazed in the forest!
You can find a list of the other trails within town at this link. There are some really gorgeous looking ones that I have added to my list of hikes to do during my next visit to Banff!
Lake Louise is probably the most popular lake to visit in Banff National Park and it is so pretty. This gorgeous turquoise-coloured glacier lake is surrounded by tall mountains and is situated just a ___ minute drive north of the town of Banff. Despite its popularity, Lake Louise is definitely still a must-see in Banff. The natural beauty and landscapes of the area are simply incredible. If you arrive to the lake early in the morning (like around 7 am), you will able to experience a more peaceful and less crowded environment. While you’re there, you can canoe on the lake or go for a hike along one of the trails that begin at the shoreline (I hiked the Plain of Six Glaciers and would highly recommend it, despite it being really challenging and exhausting! The views were absolutely stunning, especially as we climbed higher in elevation).
Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. Like its neighbour, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake is a vibrant turquoise-coloured glacier lake that is surrounded by mountains. The colour of the water is so blue that it almost doesn’t look real. It is located just a short drive from Lake Louise and is a MUST-VISIT when in Banff.
The scenery and landscapes around Moraine Lake are absolutely breathtaking and I was in complete awe of the incredible natural beauty there. Although this lake doesn’t see quite as many visitors as Lake Louise, it’s still a good idea to arrive there early in order to really enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.
A short hike along the Rockpile Trail starts at the shoreline of the lake and leads up a giant pile of rocks. At the top, you will find the most amazing views overlooking the entire lake and snow-peaked mountains and it’s a fantastic place to take lots of photos. Standing on the rock pile and looking to the opposite side of the lake, you will witness the gorgeous landscapes of densely forested valleys and towering mountains all around you.
While you’re at the lake, you can canoe on the peaceful waters or go for a hike along one of the trails that begins there. I also recommend taking a leisurely walk along the Lakeshore Trail which follows along the shoreline of the lake and passes through lovely pine-tree forests and allows you to get different perspectives and views of the lake. There is a good chance that you will spot some wildlife in this area as well as it is prime bear habitat – I saw a large grizzly bear walking along the highway when I arrived to the lake!
Location – 14 kilometres from Lake Louise along Moraine Lake Road.
Other attractions in Banff that I didn’t personally experience and thus are not mentioned in detail here include: The Banff Gondola, Banff Upper Hot Springs, The Mount Norquay Chairlift, The Banff Park Museum, The Cave and Basin National Historic Site, The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, Horseback Riding (here is another tour operator that offers them).
Note: Make sure to always check the updated trail conditions report at this link before you venture out for a hike in Banff. Also, remember to pack a canister of bear spray with you, as you are in bear territory.
Hiking In Banff National Park
Banff National Park is a gorgeous Canadian gem and there are a variety of amazing hiking trails in the park ranging from easy to challenging. Here are the ones that I completed and would recommend.
Plain of Six Glaciers
The Plain of Six Glaciers is a physically challenging but incredibly rewarding 12 kilometre round-trip hike in Banff that begins from Lake Louise and offers breathtaking views of the spectacular scenery including mountains and glaciers.
The hike starts by following along the shoreline of Lake Louise and then begins the steep ascent up into the mountains. The trail is a constant uphill climb almost the entire way and it leads to a rustic, charming and secluded tea house with no electricity located high up in the mountains and then continues a little ways further to the glacier fields. The scenery and views along the way are absolutely stunning and dramatic as it passes through a variety of landscapes including dense pine tree forests, narrow mountain ledges and rocky barren terrain with views of the Victoria Glacier. One section of the trail follows along the side of a mountain on a narrow ledge with a steep drop-off on one side, which was quite exciting to walk on! As you climb higher and higher, you get a bird’s eye view of Lake Louise way in the distance which provides a great perspective of how far you have climbed already.
Arriving at the Tea House was such a satisfying feeling for me and my legs were burning from all the climbing! Make sure to bring cash if you plan to buy a beverage or the meal of the day there, as they do not have electricity and cannot take cards. While I was relaxing at the Tea House, I witnessed an avalanche in a nearby mountain which was incredible to see. I was completely exhausted by the time I reached the Tea House, but you can continue another 1.3 kilometres further to an area overlooking the six glaciers. This is something that I plan to do during my next visit.
In total, the hike took me around 4.5 hours from start to finish so make sure you plan your day accordingly and don’t start the hike too late in the day. Even though the terrain was difficult and it was a challenging hike, this trail was my favourite one in Banff and I would highly recommend it.
Location – The trailhead is located along the shoreline of Lake Louise in front of the Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
Johnston Canyon is a fantastic and beautiful place to go for a hike in Banff. It is easily accessible and located along the scenic Bow Valley Parkway.
This is a popular hike in Banff so I recommend arriving to the trailhead early in the morning in order to experience solitude and serenity during your hike (around 7:30 am is a good time to start).
The hike starts out on a wide and well maintained paved pathway which follows alongside the deep and gorgeous canyon, with water flowing through it and a number of small waterfalls over the rocks. There are some sections of the trail where you walk along metal catwalks fixed to the side of a vertical cliff wall, which is exciting! The trail also passes through beautiful forested sections and it is very scenic along the entire way. There are some gradual inclines but is overall, a pretty flat and easy hike.
There are two really gorgeous waterfalls along the trail – the Lower Falls and Upper Falls. The Lower Falls are kind of hidden behind the tall rock cliffs but you can get great views of them by standing on the bridge which crosses the canyon to the other side. You can also walk through a tunnel in the cliff which leads to a small viewing area where you can get up close and personal to the waterfall. Be prepared to get wet though!
From there, the trail continues to the Upper Falls. The scenery along this section of the hike is absolutely gorgeous. There is a metal catwalk which extends over-top of the canyon leading to a small platform at the end, which is where you will be able to see the incredible and tall Upper Falls as the water flows off the edge of a cliff. From these falls, you can choose to either continue hiking a ways further to see the unique Ink Pots (water bubbles on the surface of the ground) or hike back to the parking lot along the same trail.
Whichever option you choose, hiking along the Johnston Canyon and checking out the waterfalls and amazing natural scenery is very rewarding and this hike is well worth it.
Location – The trailhead and parking lot for Johnston Canyon is located along the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) which runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway through Banff National Park. The trail is well-signed along the highway.
Other hikes that I plan on completing on future trips to Banff include: Tunnel Mountain, The Cave and Basin Trail, Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots, Sulphur Mountain Trail, Consolation Lakes, Lake Agnes (and Little Beehive), Larch Valley, and Eiffel Lake.
Banff is conveniently located only 90 minutes from Calgary and its international airport, making this beautiful park very easily accessible.
Car rentals are available at the Calgary Airport and elsewhere in the city or you can take a road trip (like I did!) and drive you own car to Banff from wherever you are in Canada. I highly recommend having a car to explore Banff as it will allow you the freedom to access to areas of the park where public transportation does not go.
There is a combination of street parking and a few larger parking lots in the town of Banff, all of which are free. Check out this document to see where you can park in Banff and click here to view a list of the parking lots in Banff and how many spaces they currently have available.
Greyhound operates buses from Calgary to the town of Banff leaving from the Calgary Greyhound Bus Terminal and arriving at the Banff Greyhound Terminal, which is centrally located in the small town. There are four buses daily which leave Calgary at 7:30 am, 12:45 pm, 6:45 pm, and 10:30 pm with the journey taking 1.5 hours (make sure to check the official website for updated schedules before you go). If you take a bus though, your options for exploring further in the national park are very limited as there are few options for public transport to some of the attractions and hikes. There are also Greyhound buses which travel between Banff and Lake Louise with a travel time of between 45 minutes and 1 hour.
There are also regular public buses which travel throughout the town of Banff called “Roam,” however their service is limited to various destinations within the park.
The Brewster Banff Airport Express offers service between the Calgary Airport and Banff (as well as Canmore and Lake Louise) on a large bus. You can find the schedule and prices on their website. You can also take a comfortable shuttle van with Banff Airporter which travels from Calgary to Banff and offers an extensive schedule.
Things To Know Before Traveling in Banff National Park
- You will need a Parks Canada Pass to enter the national park. You can choose to pay for daily passes or a weekly pass and can purchase them at this link or when you arrive to the park.
- Make sure to stop by the Visitor Centre in Banff (located at 224 Banff Avenue) to pick up brochures, maps and information about the park and town and ask for advice and tips from the staff there.
Banff National Park is an absolutely gorgeous national park in Canada and has some of the most beautiful scenery and natural landscapes including mountains, glacier lakes, forests and rivers, that I have ever seen.
If you’re traveling to Alberta, Canada, this park is definitely a must-visit. I thoroughly enjoyed my three days of exploring there during this past summer and cannot wait to return again to discover more!
Planning Your Next Adventure?
Here are some helpful links if you are currently planning your next travel adventure!
Compare prices and book your flights using Momondo. I love the user-friendly design of this website and how easy it is to filter your flights by price, duration, etc. It’s a great place to find the best flight deals!
Use Hostelworld to book a private room or dorm bed at a budget-friendly hostel and browse through listings across the globe. Use Booking.com to find a huge inventory of independent hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, hostels and chain hotels around the world and for every budget. And if you’re looking for a more authentic and unique experience of staying in a local’s home at your destination, then book your stay using Airbnb (sign-up using my link and get a discount off your first stay).
Click here to read more of my posts about Alberta to help with your trip planning!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a travel booking on any of the websites I have recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I use all of these websites for booking my own travels and would never recommend something that I don’t already love.
Have you been to Banff National Park in Alberta? Where were some of your favourite places to explore and hike?
Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!
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