Banff and the Canadian Rockies are one of my favourite places in all of Canada. The soaring snow capped mountains, colourful lakes, iconic wildlife and outdoor activities are magical. Banff National Park and the other Parks in the Rockies offer a taste of the Canadian wilderness that you find on brochures of Canada. Luckily my brother lives in Canmore and we have a frequent excuse to visit. In fact, every time we are there I contemplate moving out there.
We wanted to share our top things to do in Banff in summer with you. For this article, I consulted my brother who lives in the Bow Valley for a local’s perspective and insider tips on what to do in Banff. We travel with three kids, so we also provide info about the suitability of each of the Banff activities we mention.
The Rockies are well and truly on the tourist route and are very busy in the summer. If you can visit in the shoulder seasons (May, June, and September), you will face much less crowds. That being said we have visited in July and August and still had a fabulous time.
I recommend having a rental car to truly experience the area as many of the highlights are located a short drive from the town of Banff. We have had great success booking cars with Expedia. Check their latest prices here.
- 1 Top Things to Do in Banff in the Summer
- 2 Where to Stay in Banff
- 3 Where to Eat in Banff
- 4 Where to Shop in Banff
Top Things to Do in Banff in the Summer
See the Iconic Lakes
The most photographed lake in Canada has to be Lake Louise and it is for good reason. The turquoise lake backed with glacier mountains is beautiful. Whenever I am in the Rockies, I make a visit to Lake Louise and the allure never diminishes. If visiting in the summer, you will want to arrive early because the car parks fill by 10am or earlier as this is one of the top Canadian Rockies attractions. There is an overflow parking lot and shuttle service, but it isn’t very convenient. Lake Louise is a 40 minute drive west of Banff, in Banff National Park.
One of our favourite things to do in Lake Louise is the 3.6 km hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. The teahouse was built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and all supplies are helicoptered or carried in by the staff. The hike is a moderate hike with a consistent uphill grade. It is a well trodden path with lots of other hikers. You will be rewarded with views of Lake Louise and the Chateau Lake Louise Hotel as you ascent to Lake Agnes. If you are patient, you can wait to enjoy tea and a light lunch at the teahouse or better yet, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top. Before you head up to Lake Louise, stop at the Trailhead Cafe for awesome wraps and bagels to go. If you have more energy, I recommend continuing around Lake Agnes and up to the Beehive for even more spectacular views of Lake Louise.
WITH KIDS: We have done this hike with our kids when they were in carriers and most recently, on their own (ages 5-9). We distract them with conversation and reward them with a treat at the top. This year we encountered piles of snow at Lake Agnes and they loved having snowball fights.
There is another equally beautiful lake nearby that you will want to visit as well. Moraine Lake is accessed from the same highway exit, but via a different road and is another Canadian Rockies must see. Its parking lot also fills quickly and the most popular hike is the short Moraine Lake Rock Pile hike (3km return) for beautiful views of the lake.
Yet another lake that you will want to check out is Minnewanka. You can drive up and walk around the Minnewanka Lake trail or you can do the Lake Cruise through Brewster. Tickets purchased in advance are $54/adult, $27 (5-15) and free for under 5s. You can save by bundling your ticket with other attractions, like the Gondola. This is one of the most popular Banff tours.
Another lake that you will want to visit is the Vermillion Lakes, just 2.5 km outside of Banff. There are lots of scenic lookouts and good hiking in the area.
We always manage to see some wildlife while we are in Banff National Park, but don’t expect to see all the quintessential Canadian animals in one trip. I have only ever seen one moose in my whole life (and that was in nearby Kananaskis country). We have seen bears in Banff National Park and you will often come across groups of cars pulled over watching a bear. This year there have been lots of media stories about tourists feeding bears. Please remember that bears are wild animals and you definitely shouldn’t get too close to them, much less feed them. While we are on the topic, please remember that if camping or hiking in the Park, it is advisable to carry bear spray. This isn’t necessary on popular hikes like Lake Louise and Lake Agnes, but should be used on most hikes.
You can usually see mountain goats and sheep in the summer, especially on the road to Lake Minnewanka and up to Norquay. We find we see more elk in the winter in the area, but you can usually see deer in the summer.
WITH KIDS: kids will love looking out for wildlife as you drive and walk around the area and this is one of the most popular things to do in Banff National Park.
There are so many amazing hikes to do in Banff National Park for novices and advanced hikers. These are great free things to do in Banff. We already mentioned the Lake Agnes Teahouse hike at Lake Louise. Another one of the best hikes in Banff is Johnson Canyon, which is 25 km from Banff. You hike 2.7 km along the canyon to reach the Upper Waterfalls, which is probably the busiest trail in the Rockies. The hike is on paved boardwalks that cling to the canyon walls and suitable for all levels.
Minnewanka Trail is a lovely walking trail and is fairly close to Banff.
Tunnel Mountain is an easy 4.3 km round trip hike that you can start from downtown Banff. It is a great introduction to the area and provides great views of the town, Bow Valley and Mount Rundle.
You can take the Sunshine Gondola and chairlifts on weekends (during the week they run a bus and chairlift combo) to the Sunshine Meadows, which is a beautiful spot especially during wildflower season. $35-42/adult, $19-21/child (6-15), extra if you require transportation from Banff town (20 minutes away). There are a variety of trails for all levels.
With Kids: All of the trails listed here are suitable to do with children. Remember on less busy trails, you should always hike in groups of 4+, make lots of noise while walking and carry bear spray. Don’t let young children get too far ahead; remind them to stay with the group.
Explore the Canadian Pacific Railway Heritage Hotels
Even if you aren’t staying at one of these beautiful hotels from a bygone era, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them. Walking through the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a must when in Banff. This hotel was built in 1888 along the Bow River and is in walking distance to the town. It is lovely to walk through the hotel grounds and imagine spending your summer at the hotel in the 19th century. Walk through the Heritage Hall and see photographs of the hotel when it opened and read more about the history of the hotel. There are lots of lovely restaurants to have lunch and get your fill of this classic hotel.
For a beautiful view looking back at the Banff Springs Hotel, follow the signs to Tunnel Mountain Road to Surprise Corner.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is also a classic heritage hotel. You can’t beat the location of the Chateau and it is definitely worth wandering through the hotel when at Lake Louise.
WITH KIDS: Our kids find the history of these hotels really interesting, especially if it involves a lavish buffet breakfast or high tea after looking around.
See the Mountains from Above
The Banff Gondola at Sulphur Mountain has recently undergone an extensive refurbishment and is a great thing to do in the Canadian Rockies. The panoramic views from the top are the same, but the dining options have been taken up a level. Brewster Canada runs this attraction along with many other activities in the area. You can purchase bundled tickets that give you access to multiple attractions. This mountaintop experience takes you 2900 feet above Banff for incredible views of the Canadian Rockies. The Sky Bistro offers up top notch food with those spectacular views and is definitely worth a splurge.
Gondola tickets are $56/adult, $28/child (6-15) and free for kids under 6 when purchased in advance.
If you aren’t going to do the Gondola, head away from the town of Banff up to the Norquay ski area for great views over Banff. It won’t match the views from Sulphur Mountain, but it is a lovely relaxing spot to take in the mountains. You can even get an Instagram worthy photo of the iconic Canadian red chairs with Banff in the background.
WITH KIDS: our kids loved the views from both of these spots and of course taking a gondola is always a hit with the kids.
Soak in the Hot Springs
The Canadian Rockies offers up lots of natural hot springs that locals and visitors have been enjoying since the 1800s. I love the hot springs in the winter, but they are also a great summer activity. The Banff Upper Hot Springs are 100% fed from the spring and is a great low cost activity (entrance is $7.30/adult, $6.30/child and $22.50/family (2+2)). The indigenous people have used the hot springs as a sacred place before they were discovered by Europeans and developed. You can read more about the history and see photos of the Springs over the years. Be warned that the springs look more like a pool then a natural hot springs, but are still very enjoyable.
There are also hot springs run by the National Parks at Radium and Miette. If you want a completely undeveloped hot springs, check out Lussier Hot Springs, a 3 hour drive into British Columbia.
WITH KIDS: the temperature of the hot springs varies by season, however, our kids love going. Just make sure to have them pop out for a few minutes once in awhile to cool their core temperature down.
Get Out on the Water
Canada is known as a land of lakes and rivers and canoeing should definitely be added to your Rockies itinerary. You can rent canoes at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake for that classic experience. Rental prices are a steep $65/hour for resort guests and $105/hour for non-resort guests. You can also rent canoes, kayaks and SUPs from the Banff Canoe Club and paddle the Bow River right in Banff or out to the Vermillion Lakes.
You can get out on the water at Lake Minnewanka on the Lake Cruise run by Brewster Canada. Remember to get a combination ticket if you are also going to do the Banff Gondola. See the Lakes section above for more information.
For the more adventurous, white water rafting will be a sure way to get your heart rate up while having a back country wilderness experience. This is one of our favourite Banff adventures. Read our full post on white water rafting in the Rockies.
WITH KIDS: canoeing and the lake cruise are both great activities that will keep the kids interested and engaged. We were so happy to find Chinook Rafting, a white water rafting company where kids from 5 can go white water rafting.
Rebound Cycle provides bike rentals to explore the region. One of the most popular rides for all levels is the Legacy Trail between Banff and Canmore which is 27km. The ride is paved and mostly flat only gaining 30m in elevation. If you don’t want to bike both ways, there are shuttle services you can pay to use to take you back to either Banff or Canmore. Rebound also runs guided bike tours for those that want a more customized ride.
WITH KIDS: older kids will love the challenge of biking through the Bow Valley. You can easily rent bikes for kids and Chariots and stick closer to Banff with younger kids.
Where to Stay in Banff
Staying in Banff National Park is an amazing way to experience the Rocky Mountains and allows you to easily explore the region. Here is our list of the best hotels in Banff. The demand for Banff hotels in the summer far outpaces the supply, resulting in higher prices. Try to visit in the shoulder season or consider staying nearby in Canmore, a 30 minute drive away, with a wide range of accommodation. Click here to check the latest prices of accommodation in Canmore.
These places to stay in Banff all provide cozy, mountain styled accommodation with great views of the Rockies.
Fairmont Banff Springs (Luxury) – there is no better place to stay in Banff then this luxurious 19th century grand railway hotel. The location is absolutely spectacular with incredible views of the Rocky Mountains, but still within walking distance to the town centre. Soak up the rich history of the hotel while enjoying the many fabulous restaurants and hotel grounds. This is the premier lodging in Banff. WITH KIDS: They have great activities for kids through their kids club and youth programming. 405 Spray Ave, Banff
The Rimrock Resort Hotel (Luxury) – this hotel consistently gets great reviews and many prefer its quieter setting 5 minutes outside of the town of Banff. This Banff lodging provides amazing views, classic elegance and there is a shuttle service into town. 300 Mountain Ave, Banff
Samesun Banff Hostel (Budget) – this is a great budget option located right in the centre of Banff. Hostels aren’t just for backpackers and Samesun offers clean and quaint 8 bed dorms. 433 Banff Ave, Banff
Banff Hidden Ridge Resort (Mid-Range) – this property provides good value with their condo style Banff accommodations with full kitchens, fireplaces and great views just outside Banff. Great views and the opportunity to spot wildlife, along with a great pool and hot tub will make the whole family happy. There is no restaurant on site, but you can make your own meals or walk 20 minutes in to town. ***Great Family Option*** 901 Hidden Ridge Way, Banff
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (Luxury) – another one of the iconic Canadian hotels set right beside beautiful Lake Louise. The Chateau also has a rich history and will impress with its service, facilities, luxurious rooms and incredible views. In the early mornings and evenings after the tourists have departed you will have the Lake to yourself. Don’t choose between Banff Springs and the Chateau; try to do a few days at both because they offer such different experiences. WITH KIDS: they offer a kids camp and family activities in addition to inter-connecting rooms for families. 111 Lake Louise Dr, Lake Louise
Where to Eat in Banff
If you are looking for fine dining, the best coffee or delicious pub fare, we have you covered. Here is our list of the best places to eat in Banff.
Bear Street Tavern – we love the pizzas here and the best part is they serve it with honey on the side. Try it, it is amazing! Located right in the town of Banff, this place can get busy. 211 Bear St, Banff ***KID FAV***
Park Distillery – one of the hottest tables in Banff at the moment, Park Distillery serves crisp and clean flavours with their signature craft alcohols. 219 Banff Ave, Banff
Nourish – Banff’s vegetarian oasis, this farm to table restaurant serves lots of creative options. We love the Num Num Nachos, a classic with 29 toppings including strawberries and dill pickles. A must try! 110, 211 Bear St, Banff
Sky Bistro – this newly refurbished and redesigned restaurant on the top of Sulphur Mountain is accessed by the Banff Gondola. In addition to having the best views in Banff, this restaurant serves up delicious bistro food.
Chuck’s Steakhouse – for a first class splurge, sample the best beef Alberta has to offer. Even the side dishes are fabulous at this cozy restaurant. 101 Banff Ave, Banff
White Bark Cafe – this is the best coffee in town and serve pastries and healthy sandwiches. 401 Banff Ave, Banff
High Rollers – the bowling alley reinvented! Serving yummy pub grub served right to your lane, a DJ putting out great tunes and a hopping bar, this is a great evening or rainy day activity. 110 Banff Ave, Banff ***KID APPROVED***
Beavertails – this Canadian class pastry is a must try when visiting Banff. Choose from a variety of toppings, but I like mine plain-jane with just cinnamon sugar. 2 locations: 120 and 201 Banff Ave
Where to Shop in Banff
Banff Avenue is the main street in Banff and there can’t be a more picturesque place to shop.
Banff Tea Co – we love their high quality loose tea from all over the world. Try the Banff Rocky Mountain Blend or Black Bear. Best of all 25% of their profits are donated to charity. You can also order online. 208 Caribou St, Banff
Rocky Mountain Soap – we love their products so much and always stock up when in Banff or Canmore. 100% natural, toxic free soaps and beauty products make perfect gifts for friends or yourself! You can order online too. 204 Banff Ave, Banff and 820 Main St, Canmore
Cabin 108 – cute clothes and jewelry at affordable prices, I always stop by this shop. 108 Banff Ave, Banff
Branches Marketplace – a beautiful store showcasing local artist’s work, we love their home decor, jewelry and unique souvenirs. 202 Wolf St, Banff
Roots – there isn’t a more Canadian retailer than Roots and you will want to stop by here to pick up your cozy cabin socks and plaid shirts. 227 Banff Ave, Banff
Cool As A Moose – this is a tourist shop but a good one! They have lots of Banff memorabilia with a great selection of kids stuff. 115 Banff Ave, Banff
Banff Market – every Wednesday 10-6 from June-September in the Bear Street parking lot. Pick up delicious fresh produce and food and browse the artisan’s works.
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