The Definitive Guide to Visiting Banff 2021
Banff is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies. This awe-inspiring destination is on many Canadian’s bucket lists. With pristine wilderness, incredible dining, and magnificent places to stay and see, Banff should be high on your list of winter wonderland adventures.
Banff and Lake Louise is known for its incredible natural beauty. Each year, the park draws millions of people to experience its picturesque landscape, seven national historic sites, and iconic wildlife. As Canada’s oldest national park, and the world’s third oldest national park, visiting Banff requires you to purchase a National Parks Pass.
Banff’s rich cultural heritage
In 1984, UNESCO declared Banff National Park a world heritage area. Banff National Park spans over 6,000km2 and is located on is an important historical and contemporary place for Indigenous peoples and others to connect with history and nature. The lands and waters of Banff National Park have been used by Indigenous peoples for millennia; for sustenance, ceremony, trade, and travel.
10 fun facts about Banff
- Banff National Park originally started as a 10 mi2 reserve around the Sulphur Mountain Hot Springs (which is also known as Upper Banff Hot Springs).
- Banff National Park is Canada’s second largest national park
- There are over 1000km of hiking trails in Banff. We’ve listed some great ones below!
- The mountains in Banff National Park are between 45 and 120 million years old. That’s older than the dinosaurs!
- You can find over 1,000 glaciers amongst the valleys and peaks of Banff’s mountains. These glaciers grow and recede with the winter and summer months.
- Banff was declared as a World Heritage Site together with Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks to form the Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site in 1984.
- Banff National Park is home to seven National historic sites: Skoki Lodge, Abbot Pass Hut, Howse Pass, Cave and Basin, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Banff Park Museum, and the Cosmic Ray Station on Sanson Peak
- Mount Forbes is the highest mountain in Banff at 11,850 ft (3,611m)
- Banff National Park’s biggest lake, Lake Minnewanka, is man-made to supply water closer to Banff town in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
- At 5,042 ft (1,540m), Lake Louise is the highest permanent settlement in all of Canada. It’s also the world’s most photographed lake.
Getting to Banff safely
Depending on the time of year you decide to visit Banff, it’s always good to know the road conditions that you’ll be driving through.
Visiting Banff in the Summer
If you’ll be visiting in the summer, regular all-season or summer tires will work, however, if you’re planning your vacation in the winter, ensure that your vehicle has snow tires.
Visiting Banff in Winter
Look for the snowflake or “M+S” symbol because snow tires are mandatory from November 1 to April 1 on mountain roads including the Icefields Parkway (Lake Louise to Jasper).
It is also very important that you tell someone your route, when you are leaving and when you plan on arriving in Banff because cell phone coverage is not reliable in the mountains, and there is no cell coverage along the Icefields Parkway.
Start early and complete your drive and make sure you have a lot of time for exploration and stops along the way, but only during daylight hours. We recommend you try and avoid driving through the evening as the roads are harder to see. Lastly, have a safety kit in your vehicle that includes a cell phone, charger, water, food, first aid kit, ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, flashlight, extra batteries, warm clothing, and blankets.
We want to ensure that you arrive in Banff safely, and have a safe trip back home as well, and following these simple steps will help mitigate any unexpected events during your travels.
Where to stay in Banff
There are many places to stay in Banff, however, these are our top three suggestions. If you’d prefer to be one with nature during your trip, there are also many camping locations available all over the national park for you to choose from.
Fairmont Banff Springs
Located in the heart of Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world-famous Banff Springs hotel stands as a landmark in the picturesque alpine town of Banff, Alberta. This is Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies,” and has been providing legendary hospitality guests for more than 130 years.
A few unique services that this Fairmont location provides are child care and storage for your bike or ski/snowboarding equipment.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course is over a hundred years old and considered one of the most beautiful in the world, according to Golf Advisor. So if you like to play golf, then this place is a must-see!
2. The Rimrock Resort Hotel
Guests absolutely love the resort’s central and quiet location. The castle-like building sits right on the side of the mountain, high up near the clouds, but still within the national park, allowing guests the privacy they need from the crowds and easy access to all the activities.
If you stay at The Rimrock Resort Hotel, you’ll be able to see the nearby slopes with cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowboarding, or check out other outdoor activities such as snowshoeing or hiking in the area.
The Rimrock Resort Hotel opened on August 1, 1993, and was awarded its first AAA/CAA Four Diamond rating in 1996, which it has held ever since. That’s 25 years of excellent guest service
3. Canalta Lodge
Canalta Lodge is a casual hotel with cozy woodsy elements. It’s centrally located within the national park and is 4 km from the iconic Banff Springs and 7 km from the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Each room features rustic wood trim with all the amenities to make your stay comfortable. There are also other rooms and lofts that you can upgrade to with fully equipped kitchenettes, and some have fireplaces and balconies.
If you’re visiting Banff with a group of up to 10 people, the Canalta Lodge can accommodate you and your friends/family all in one space so you can be all together!
What to do in Banff
There are endless things to do in Banff! Summer trails become a winter wonderland with the turn of the seasons in Banff National Park. Snow-covered pines, white-capped mountains, and wildlife tracks are just a few of the discoveries waiting for you. So go outside to explore and play!
These are our top five suggestions for you to do in Banff.
Picnic at the three Lakes
Visit Lake Louise and see how breathtaking it is. Whilst it’s the world’s most photographed lake, the pictures don’t do any justice. There is so much to do in this pristine wilderness destination. We can suggest kayaking along the water in the summer, or ice skate during the winter.
Fun Fact about Lake Louise: Lake Louise was originally called Emerald Lake. But, the lake was renamed as “Lake Louise” after Princess Caroline Alberta Louise who was the daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of Canada’s Governor-General.
Moraine Lake is a 25-minute drive from Lake Louise and is one of the best lakes to watch the sunrise. Make sure you get there extra early because the parking lot fills up fairly quickly, even at 6 am!
Fun Fact about Moraine Lake: Known as Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake was first featured on the Canadian 20 dollar note in 1969. This has given the vista the nickname of “the 20-dollar view”.
Peyto Lake is one of Banff National Park’s most popular destinations for backcountry ski touring. The real magic of Peyto Lake is from a distance, with the whole landscape in view.
Where does the color of Banff lakes come from?
The color of each of these three lakes comes from the glaciers that surround them. If you plan on visiting Banff in the springtime and early summer, melting glaciers run into the lake. This process deposits fine rock “flour”, which has been ground down by moving glaciers. This is which in turn refracts the sunlight. The color can change daily depending on the light, but in general, you can expect these lakes to always sparkle with a spectacular azure in the summer.
Hikes to do near Banff
Banff is renowned as a spectacular hiking destination. In fact, hiking is one of the best ways to experience Banff. There are a vast amount of hikes to choose from, ranging from easy (so that you can bring your kids, or pets) to very difficult. Depending on the hike you choose, make sure you’re prepared and fully equipped. We recommend you check the weather the day you decide to hike and bring lots of water!
Tip on Trail Etiquette: Share trails, wave hello, and make eye contact to acknowledge the need for safe spacing.
Fun Fact about Hiking in Banff
You can go on a Parks Canada guided conservation hike and learn how species at risk and their habitats are connected. Visit this website for more information about going on a guided hike.
Take a trip on the Banff Gondola
If you aren’t afraid of heights and love the thrill of being up high in the sky, then we encourage you to visit the Banff Gondola!
You can discover breathtaking views of the six mountain ranges, the Bow Valley, and the charming town of Banff from the Sulphur Mountain summit.
Once you’re at the top, you can begin your adventure by strolling the boardwalk to the Cosmic Ray Station and Sanson’s Peak and learning about Canada’s first national park. Then, head inside to explore our world-class mountaintop discovery center.
Fuel up on grab-and-go fare at Castle Mountain Coffee or enjoy an elegant meal at the award-winning Sky Bistro. In the summer, think nightly live music, rooftop patio sips, and dazzling sunsets.
Join us for the best of summer here in the mountains!
Visit Mount Norquay for Winter Activities
It’s no secret that the Canadian Rockies get a lot of snow. The powder starts to fall as early as September.
If you’re on the hunt for photographs that look like the inside of a snow globe, the best time to visit Banff National Park is in November.
Mt. Norquay Ski Resort first opened in 1926, with the lodge itself opening n 1929. Banff Sunshine Village and Lake Louise have their opening days set for another fabulous ski season in the Canadian Rockies.
There are a plethora of activities to choose from on Mount Norquay. Whether you are visiting Banff in the summer or winter, there’s something for everyone at Mount Norquay in every season. However, we think that Mount Norquay really shines during the colder season.
Winter activities can start from sightseeing, snowshoeing, tubing, skiing, snowboarding, dining, and even daycare for your littles if you want to have some fun yourself.
Take a Dip in Banff’s Upper Hot Springs
Banff Upper Hot Springs is located near the top of Sulphur Mountain.
While you are in the area, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the deck overlooking the hot springs.
You can purchase a Thermal Waters Pass and enjoy entry to Banff Upper Hot Springs as well as the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Sky Bistro is a unique dining experience to Banff National Park that incorporates an adventure at the Banff Gondola.
Spend your time exploring the mountains before having lunch or dinner at Sky Bistro while overlooking the surrounding mountain peaks.
Hot Tip: Go for dinner in the colder months when the sun sets early, and witness a Rocky Mountain sunset from the top of Sulphur Mountain through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the restaurant. Trust us, the views are incomparable.
Wine, dine, mix and mingle over Rocky Mountain-infused craft cocktails.
Lakeview Lounge is the Fairmont Resort’s iconic restaurant and bars with amazing views! Enjoy delicious foods as you take in the full view of Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier.
During the summer months, you can soak up the fresh mountain air and surrounding beauty from one of the most scenic patios in the Canadian Rockies.
Why you should visit Banff!
There’s something for everyone at the Banff National Park! From the youngest to the eldest, all can enjoy their vacation and have fun within arms reach of their home base.
From all of the seasonal activities, the food, and the amazing views and sounds of nature, there’s no better place in Canada to be enjoying a relaxing vacation. There’s just something about spending time in nature that rejuvenates and refreshes everyone.
In case you didn’t know, Moola can also help you save money on restaurants, groceries, gas, and more. By purchasing discounted gift cards, you can stack your savings to some of the top hot spots in Vancouver and across Canada. After all, if you can stretch your money further you can do more of what you love.