I’m gonna be real with y’all: I didn’t know Banff even existed until about a month before I went to go visit. But once I got there, I realized, “Oh. I’ve actually been wanting to come here for years.” Turns out I had been pinning images of Banff on Pinterest in my bucket-list travel folders without really comprehending where exactly these photos had been shot.
Now that I’ve been to Banff, I’m on a mission to tell everyone about this wonderful place. I ignored Canada for so long because I knew they were always next door, and I associated the country with cold weather (which I am not a fan of at all), so it had always been placed on the back-burner. Now I can’t wait to go back!
To hopefully convince you to add this place to your bucket-list ASAP, I’ve compiled a list of the top things to do in Banff. I was only there for 6 full days and tried to fit in as much as possible–below are my faves!
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1. Moraine Lake
Looks fake, right?? This is one of the most popular spots to take a photo in North America, and it’s not hard to get to at all! No hike required. There’s a parking lot next to a short trail with actual steps you can take to reach the top (should take ~10 minutes or less). You can also rent a kayak below and get on the lake! Although I love this photo, you unfortunately can’t make out the breath-taking mountains in the background because of the smoke from a nearby forest fire that cast a slight haze around the park; hopefully this doesn’t happen to you!
2. Lake Louise
Only a short drive away from Lake Moraine (yet slightly greener) and another amazing view of a beautiful turquoise lake with a mountain landscape that will literally leave you without words. Both Lake Moraine and Lake Louise parking lots are small and fill up by 7am, so if you don’t plan to get up before the sun, I recommend signing up with a planned tour that way you don’t have to worry about finding a spot. The downside of going with a tour, however, is that you don’t get to take advantage of the hikes in the area which I really want to do (all the more reason to go back); you can find a list of them here!
3. Summit Tunnel Mountain
This easy hike is literally a walk away from downtown Banff and great for people who are new to hiking, want to see a new perspective of downtown Banff, have an hour to kill and don’t know how to fill their time, or all of the above. It’s the smallest mountain in Banff, but the trek up still offers some amazing views.
Some parts of the trek can feel a little steep which is why you’ll quickly reach the peak in about 30 minutes, but overall this hike is a gentle climb to the top. Once you reach the summit, there is a lot of space up top to take in the views and enjoy a picnic.
4. Hike Johnston Canyon
The cool thing about this hike is it has different levels depending on how far you’re willing to venture. The beginning of the hike is a simple stroll down paved catwalks throughout limestone cliffs that used to only be accessible to rock climbers; you have the option to walk 30 minutes to the lower falls (a small waterfall), add an extra 30 minutes in order to reach the upper falls (a bigger waterfall), or keep going and add another hour & a half to reach what are called the ink pots.
The photo above is where the ink pots are located, conveniently next to a gorgeous stream that people like to chill at after their trek to get there. Pro tip: bring a backpack with snacks & a lunch if you plan to walk all the way here and plenty of water. You can also fill up an empty water bottle with the water from the stream!
5. Take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain
Not into hiking? No problem. The Banff Gondola ($64 per person, $32 for children) will get you to the top of Sulphur Mountain in about 10 minutes. From there you can take in the views, explore their shop for souvenirs, read about some history of Banff in the little exhibits they have below, or dine at their upscale restaurant, Sky Bistro, which surprisingly had impressive food and makes an epic date spot. They also have a bar on the roof with live music every night!
Side note: there is a hiking trail you can take up Sulphur Mountain as well; when you take the hiking route, they allow you to take the gondola ride back down for free!
6. Walk around downtown Banff
I LIVE for adorable little one-street towns that have a quaint vibe to them; sure, it’s mostly tourists, but it never felt overwhelming to me. You’ll find locals working the establishments inside, and most of them are Australian which I found interesting. Downtown Banff is basically this one main street with a bunch of restaurants, coffee & ice cream shops, bars, and clothing/toy/knick knack stores where you can find anything you want!
A few places have outdoor patios which are perfect for dining in the summer weather; they also have a brewery, bowling alley, museum, and dance club too! On Wednesdays in the summer they have a farmers’ market near the river as well. I’m making it sound like this huge place but really it’s generally pretty small! You could easily do downtown Banff in a day or less and find plenty of things to do.
7. Take a dip in Bow Falls
Bow Falls is a short bike ride or even shorter car ride away from downtown Banff near the Banff Springs Hotel; once you get to the parking area where the falls are, if you veer left you’ll find some stairs to climb to take in the views of the falls from above (where I am pictured in the photo above). If you go right you’ll be a little farther from the falls where the water spills out into the river; here is where you’ll find a chill part of the river where the water is shallow and calm enough that people like to come and swim!
8. Take in the views of Peyto Lake
It’s hard to believe, but the lake really is THAT blue! We got to this spot through a tour I went on which was a mere walk away from where the parking lot we were dropped off at. There is a small viewing deck that gets overcrowded with people all trying to get the same shot, but if you sneak off to the back of the viewing deck you can hop a small barrier and walk down to this cliff (shown above) to get an even better photo; it’s completely safe, but be careful for any loose rocks so you don’t slip!
There is an easy 3.8 mile hike you can go on as well to see an even closer view of Peyto Lake; I wish I had time to do it! Next time for sure…
Head to my Instagram & find the “banff” highlight at the top of my bio for an inside look (along with videos, more tips, more things to do, and what I suggest is not worth your time) at my trip in Banff National Park.
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