18 Fun Things To Do In Banff Town, Alberta

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One of the biggest tourist destinations in Canada is Banff, and for good reason.

Banff is a charming town nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, and is the gateway to a world of adventure and exploration, from scenic hikes to relaxing in hot springs – you’ll find there are plenty of things to do in Banff to keep you occupied.

yellow trees next to turquoise bow river
Stunning colors

While most people visit Banff as a base for exploring the national park, we urge you to spend a few days exploring the town itself.

There are many attractions in Banff that are worthy of a visit, though they often get skipped in favor of the more iconic attractions such as Lake Louise.

So if you’re not sure what to do in Banff, in this guide we share some of the top attractions and travel tips, so you can come in armed with the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.

Is Banff in Canada Worth Visiting?

people walking down main street f banff with mountain at the end
Banff main street

Banff is a town known as the gateway to the Canadian Rockies with some of the finest mountain scenery you’ll find on the planet.

Banff is a charming town located within Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park, and is known for its stunning mountainous surroundings, turquoise lakes, hot springs, and being one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations.

The town of Banff has a vibrant downtown area with quaint streets, boutique shops and various cultural attractions, including art galleries and museums.

The town is a gateway to numerous outdoor adventures, such as exploring the pristine lakes, taking scenic drives, or embarking on thrilling wildlife tours.

Throw in outstanding chances to see wildlife (bears, deer, and elk in particular), and loads of activities to keep you busy during the day, followed by everything from budget to gourmet dining at night, and you will find that Banff is definitely worth visiting.

elk banff
An elk so close we could almost smell its’ breath

Things to Do in Banff Town

It’s possible to spend 1-2 days in the town of Banff and see all the highlights, but equally you could spend a month in the general area and venture out into the national park.

However, below are attractions in Banff town that you should not miss.

1. Visit Banff Upper Hot Springs

view of mountain and valley from banff upper hot springs
View from Banff Upper Hot Springs

Ease your body into the 37-40C water found at the historic Banff Upper Hot Springs, located on top of Sulphur Mountain, while you enjoy views of Mount Rundle.

The springs have been used by indigenous people for many centuries, but became popular in the late 1800s when they were used by railroad workers.

Open year round, it’s an especially soothing place to hang out on those cold, blustery days.

If you forgot to bring your bathing suit, don’t worry, you can even rent one.

2. Ride the Banff Gondola

Banff Gondola with views of mountain

If you want a view from a height, ride the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. The eight-minute ride takes you up an elevation of 2300 feet to the mountain peaks of Sulphur Mountain.

From here you can lookout over a panoramic, 360 degree view of Banff and the national park beyond.

Once on top, take a one-kilometer interpretive walk along the Banff Skywalk while keeping an eye out for wildlife.

It’s open daily in the summer from 8:30 am until 8.00 pm or 9.000 pm depending on the month.

3. Boat Cruise on Lake Minnewanka

boats at jetty of Lake Minnewanka

Take a boat tour of Lake Minnewanka, the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies.

A Lake Minnewanka cruise from Banff combines stunning natural beauty with a touch of tranquility.

Not only do you get amazing scenes from the boat, but it’s also an opportunity to spot wildlife such as grizzly bears and elk, from a safe distance.

You will also see some fo Banff’s majestic waterfalls and can learn about the history and ecology of the area through informative commentary.

If you prefer to be more active on your vacation, you can also rent a motorboat, kayak or canoe and explore Lake Minnewanka this way.

4. Visit the Whyte Museum

brick exterior of whyte museum
Whyte Museum

Head to the Whyte Museum. They feature extensive archives and library, visual art with a Canadian Rockies theme and a collection of historical relics used for skiing and snowboarding, mountaineering, guiding, packing and more.

5. Visit the Banff Park Museum

Check out the stuffed animal specimens of moose, bears, foxes and birds at the Banff Park Museum.

It’s Canada’s oldest natural history museum. Built in 1903, it uses decorative log construction and makes use of natural light.

6. Hit the Hiking Trails

caz hiking on little beehive trail

Go hiking and biking in Banff. There are so many trails to choose from that it’s worthwhile to have a chat with a Park Ranger and see what they recommend based on your ability and time frame.

Their office is on Banff Avenue in the heart of downtown.

A bike and hike shuttle has started up that will drop you off and pick you up from some of the nearby trailheads. You can rent mountain bikes in town from Bactrax.

7. Go Skiing at the Banff Ski Resorts

sunshine village covered in snow

In winter there are two ski resorts almost within spitting distance of Banff – Sunshine Village (fantastic when sunny) and Mt Norquay (steep) and both have shuttle buses running to them.

One of the reasons why Banff is so iconic for skiing is because you can ski for 7 months of the year, making it the longest open ski resort in Canada.

Lake Louise Ski Resort is another thirty minutes up the highway.

8. Take a Trip to Johnstone Canyon

river running through a canyon covered in snow
Heading up Johnston Canyon on ice covered ledges

I highly recommend a trip to Johnstone Canyon, about 25 minutes away – any time of the year.

It’s an easy 1.1 or 2.7 kilometer hike one way, depending on if you want to see the lower or upper falls.

In winter I’d recommend wearing crampons or Yactrax for grip on the ice.

9. Check Out the Restaurants in Banff

bakery items in cabinet
Some healthy choices from Wild Flower Bakery

For breakfast and lunch try Wild Flour Bakery Cafe, Jump Start or Timbers Food Company; all are within about three blocks of each other.

Probably the most upmarket choice would be Saltlik Restaurant, a place that specializes in beef though there are plenty of other choices.

what to do in banff
Saltlik Restaurant

Other places to try are the Eddie Burger Bar – for burgers but also poutine and deep fried pickles. You can’t go wrong with Earl’s for reasonably priced food and a great atmosphere.

Be sure to try Alberta beef and buffalo, a specialty dish in Banff.

We had a fantastic farm to table experience at this Banff Restaurant. Farm and Fire’s menu features only the freshest ingredients from local Canadian farmers, that’s slow-roasted and wood-fired.

If dining with a group, make it a shared dining experience with your meats and side dishes. We got some rotisserie chickens to share and delicious sides of mashed potato, succotash, roasted carrots, and corn bread.

10. Have a Pint at Banff Avenue Brewing

Banff Avenue Brewing is a happening spot for meals and for great beer.

This hidden gem offers a central hub where you can experience the dynamic community and draw inspiration from the majestic Rocky Mountains.

From traditional blonde ales to rich and aromatic coffee-infused brews, their craft beers are divine.

Whether you’re seeking a relaxed pub atmosphere or a cozy lodge setting, Banff Ave Brewing Co. has it all.

11. Go Shopping on Banff Avenue

street in banff

Most of the shopping in Banff takes place on Banff Avenue. Unfortunately, I see it primarily as shops catering to tourists, though there are a few exceptions.

Patagonia has a store and there are a few galleries worth poking about in – Canada House and Willock and Sax Gallery. There are lots of opportunities to pick up a T-shirt and perhaps a chocolate moose.

12. Attend a Festival in Banff

What to do in banff

The Banff Film Festival is one of the major events in Banff that takes place yearly in late October and early November.

They do have ongoing events throughout the year but it’s best to check their website for what’s coming.

The main festival draws an international crowd of writers, movie makers and adventurers.

The Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival takes place this year on the weekend of May 4th and 5th. Sample wine, scotch,beer and gourmet food prepared by local restaurants.

The Banff Summer Arts Festival takes place from June 21st to August 25th. You’ll find performing artists from across Canada and around the world including Emmylou Harris this year.

Banff National Park Dragon Boat Festival takes place on August 11th and 12th this year. With over 500 participants expected, this should be a fun weekend out on Lake Minnewanka.

13. Walk to Bow River

turquoise bow river running under bridge and framed by yellow trees
Bow River in Banff

Wander down to the Bow River; I like the trail heading off from behind the Banff Springs Hotel.

Go park yourself down on a rock by the river and enjoy the peace and serenity of the place. You may even spot an elk.

Note from Caz: On my recent Banff trip, I had seen the Bow River all day from high above on the mountains, so when I got to Downtown Banff, I wanted to get down low to that brilliant turquoise water and it did not disappoint.

It was especially beautiful with the yellow pop of color from the trees.

I turned right as I crossed the main bridge. If I turned left on the Bow River trail, I would have come across the Surprise Corner and Bow Falls viewpoint and the Fairmont Banff Springs, another popular place to stay in Banff.

14. Visit Moraine Lake

People sitting on rock looking at view
The more open viewpoint

You only actually need a few days for Banff. The beauty of Banff lies in its’ location. It’s extremely easy to explore the surrounding mountains and lakes by day and return to Banff by night.

Picking a favourite side trip is near impossible but if you’ve never been to the area then I think you should drive the thirty minutes to Moraine Lake near Lake Louise and walk to the far end of the lake – phenomenal scenery and fantastic lake colour.

15. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway

Bow Valley parkway

This scenic drive connects Banff Town to Lake Louise and is considered a quieter road than the Trans-Canada Highway.

As you drive this 51km road from Banff to Lake Louise, you’ll be captivated by the lush forests, majestic mountains, and abundant wildlife that grace this scenic route.

Take your time to truly immerse yourself in the beauty of the Bow Valley.

Keep an eye out for the wildlife bridges. They blend in with the mountain scenery, (although easily noticeable) and provide a safe crossing cross the highway for wildlife.

See what it looks like in the reel below:

16. Visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site

View of Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Banff, Canada
Cave and Basin National Historic Site | Deposit Photos

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a mesmerizing underground cavern filled with thermal mineral waters that gave birth to the national park system.

Visitors to this natural phenomenon have the benefit of learning about the significance of this site and its connection to the natural wonders of Banff.

Be sure not to miss this site to experience the unique blend of culture, conservation, and natural beauty.

17. Check out Two Jack Lake

island in the middle of Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake is one of the lesser known lake near Banff, which is exactly why you should visit it.

With its emerald-green waters and a backdrop of Mount Rundle, this picturesque lake offers a tranquil escape from the crowds you see in the town.

It’s also connected to Lake Minnewanka, so you can combine a trip to both lakes in one hit.

18. Climb the Mt Norquay Via Ferrata

Looking for more adventurous things to do in Banff? Then enjoy the unique climbing experience of the Via Ferrata on Mount Norquay.

As you ascend the cliffs along one of the four thrilling routes, you’ll be immersed in the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, with panoramic vistas of Banff and the valleys below.

The Via Ferrata is a thrilling way to conquer the summit, though it’s not for the faint hearted.

Those who have a fear of heights may not enjoy this experience. See more about Caz’s experience on the via ferrata in her post on top things to do in Banff National Park

19. Admire Views from Mt Norquay Viewpoint

christina and caz looking at banff viewpoint
Admiring the views with Christina | Photo Krista from Our Wild Wanderers

If you didn’t get enough views of the Bow River Valley and Downtown Banff while hanging off Mt Norquay, there is a viewpoint on the drive back down from the Mt Norquay area.

After a few switchbacks, you’ll reach a stone retaining wall and a large grassy area, known casually as the Green Spot.

view of bow river running through valley
bighorn sheep on side of the road
Photo: Krista from Our Wild Wanderers

This is where you’ll pull over to park and walk out onto the grass to reach the lookout point. If you’re lucky, you might be sharing the grass with a herd of bighorn sheep that frequent the area. We saw them on the road just before we reached this Banff viewpoint.

From the parking area, you can walk out onto the green meadow for some stunning views of the Banff townsite, the Bow River, Vermillion Lakes, and the Bow Valley.

vermillion lakes in valley
Train running through valley past Vermillion Lakes

We timed it right as an extremely long freight train moved through the valley with its bright red cargo boxes. It was so striking against the yellows, greens, and blues of the natural Fall landscapes of the valley.

I’ve also heard near here is the Jupiter Hotel which is a great place to stop for a drink with a view on their patio, a meal, or even as a place to stay in Banff.

Getting To and Around Banff

building at end of street surrounded by fall trees

Fly into Calgary and then hop on a shuttle, a bus (free WiFi on Brewster buses) or rent a car.

The drive from the airport to Banff takes about 1¾ hours. Banff really isn’t close to any other major city. It would be close to a 5 hour drive from Edmonton or a 9-hour drive from Vancouver.

It’s easy to get around Banff on foot or by bike – should you have one. Here are some ebike rentals.

But there is a transit system in place and for $2 you can move around the entire town – from the gondola on Sulphur Mountain to the Tunnel Lake Campground.

Buses start running at 6:15 am and the last pickup is at 11:30pm.

Best Time to Visit Banff

Banff is actually a year round destination though my personal opinion is that it’s at its prettiest in July, August and September.

Ski season lasts from late November until May.

Where to Stay in Banff

bridge going over bow river with fall foliage and mountain the background

There s plenty of choice for places to stay in Banff across the full budget spectrum. Plus there is nearby camping at Tunnel Mountain once the snow disappears.

If money isn’t an object then I’d recommend a stay at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

The present 778 room hotel was built in 1928 and styled after a Scottish baronial castle.

It’s only minutes away from the hot spring spas too.

You may like this castle and history food tour within the Banff Springs hotel.

exterior of banff springs hotel
Banff Springs Hotel

Buffalo Mountain Lodge is another pricier lodge features post and beam construction. It’s about a 15 minute walk from downtown Banff.

At the other end of the spectrum is YWCA Banff Hotel, formerly Banff Y Mountain Lodge.

They have dormitory rooms available for a good price (for Banff) with bedding provided.

They do have private rooms too, including a family room. And the manager tells me one-third of his clientele are from Australia.

Final Thoughts

caz sitting on planter box in downtown banff

Although Banff is the most popular destination in Canada, it still boasts a relaxing atmosphere and beckons you to unplug from your computer.

I never get tired of the views and I love the variety of activities available out of one small town.

It’s all about savoring the day outside and then rewarding yourself with a great meal at the end.

We hope this guide helped you plan what to do in Banff and gave you some inspiration for your visit!

BIO – Leigh lives in Calgary, Alberta just over an hour’s drive from the mountains. She’s happiest outdoors in nature, whether it is on a hike, a bike ride or paddling her sea kayak. Follow her journey on her blog, HikeBikeTravel on Twitter @hikebiketravel or on Facebook.

Read more: Don’t miss one of Canada’s most scenic drives, the Icefields Parkway, which takes you to Columbia Icefields and Athabasca Glacier. Here are some of the best places to see in Jasper National Park and best things to do in Banff National Park and 6 hikes not to miss in the Canadian Rockies. And if you pass through Calgary, you can check out these things to do!

Tours in Banff

For those how like multiple day tours, with a splash of luxury, consider the Canadian Rockies tours offered by our preferred tour company, Globus. See their Western Canada tours here.


We’ve secured an exclusive yTravel discount: Save $100 per person on select 2024 Globus and Avalon Waterway Vacations. Use the code: YTRAVEL when booking online at the Globus, Cosmos, and Avalon Waterways websites, by calling Globus and Avalon Waterways directly, or booking with a preferred Travel Advisor. Terms & Conditions.

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Do you have any tips on what to do in Banff? Share in the comments below.

51 thoughts on “18 Fun Things To Do In Banff Town, Alberta”

  1. Thanks for the tips. I am seriously considering a trip to Banff this Summer and now I’m pretty much sold. I will make sure to check out Johnstone Canyon and Moraine Lake

  2. I have wanted to go to Banff ever since my 8th grade social studies teacher made us memorize it as an important national park on the map of North America. I just thought the name was great back then, and now I want to visit because it’s so beautiful!

  3. Thanks for running this post Craig and Caz. Anyone who goes to Banff will be inspired by the mountain scenery. I never get tired of visiting the area – and in fact there are literally years worth of hikes in the nearby mountains. I forgot to include white water rafting – which would give you a different perspective of the Banff area.

  4. I loved my time in Banff! Such a picturesque town. I noticed that there are a lot of hitchhiking travelers passing through as well.

    The little bars they have a quite fun. Older locals would always try to draw me into a political debate for some reason…

  5. Hydra River Guides (raftbanff.com) offer local easy rafting on the Kananaskis River. But for bigger thrills and the one I’d like to do this summer, you could as a day trip from Banff, head to the Kicking Horse River near Golden and raft up to Class 4 water. There are lots of companies including http://www.wildwater.com that offer that trip.

  6. I would love to go to the Hot Springs but I am a little shocked that you can rent a bathing suit! That’s different! Also – would love to see Moraine Lake. Stunning pictures.

  7. Complete background checks in Canada involve a criminal record check, verification of academic records and employment records, an investigation of credit history and financial records, as well as checking the driving records and litigation records of the individual in question.

  8. I have always wanted to visit Banff and your review is one of the best I’ve seen on it. Thanks for being so detailed! You’re giving me the inspiration to do a summer driving trip from Colorado. That shot of Lake Moraine is inspiration alone.

  9. The Canadian Rockies are high on my bucket list, so I was thrilled to read you can get around Banff with public transportation and that there’s a shuttle to the trails. Any chance I can get to other Rocky areas by public transportation as well?

  10. Great article on Banff and for the readers who are wanting more info on Banff. Banff is a place i visited many times as I live only a hour away and can not get enough. It’s a bit chilly but if you dress warm you can enjoy your stay there.

  11. Wow Leigh, this is AWESOME!!!! Best comprehensive guide I’ve ever read on Banff. I can see why you’ve gone so many times. I’ve seen the photos of Moraine Lake many times but didn’t realize there was so much more to Banff. I hope to make it there one day and this post inspired me to go more than ever. Thank you for this – I am going to bookmark it for the future. Great information!

  12. Great blog. I lived in Banff for a year and a half and it’s a fantastic place with lots to do outdoors. Just take in the beautiful scenery!

  13. Another good daytrip from Banff is the Icefield Parkway and if you have time, spend a few nights in Jasper National Park.

  14. Hi.

    How can I get to Moraine Lake from Banff town if I’m not driving? Preferably by bus or shuttle?


    1. We’re not sure. Perhaps search the local tourist boards online or the Lonely Planet. You should find the answer easily.

  15. Just planned my trip to banff and i am STOKED! im gathering some tips so i know better when i get there. thanks!

  16. thank you so much for an unbiased review of what to do and where to go. I am in the beginning stages of planning a trip for my 25th anniversary next June and am overwhelmed at all the choices.

  17. Thanks so much for the info!

    I’m looking at flights to Banff for five days in mid October (just two weeks away!). I was going to go to hawaii with a friend but we’re feeling a bit more adventurous. Is this still a good time of year to go, or will the weather be bad? I don’t mind cold so much as rainy/gloomy… I want to see the beautiful views!

  18. Thank you so much for this wonderful information! I’ve heard that there are some small towns around Banff where the lodging is quite nice and a bit less expensive than the most expensive hotels in Banff. Could you comment on that, please?

  19. Banff looks gorgeous. And that hotel!!! Like a weird fairy tale castle 🙂 So wanna tour the US and all national parks one day. But I guess i’d need more than a week off then. Banff, elchs, snow..it all sounds so magical!

  20. Dear Leigh,
    I’m travelling to Canada for the first time in July this year. I’ll be in Ottawa for 4 days for a friend’s wedding and then I have 15 days to travel. I’m travelling solo and confused on how to make the best of my very limited time in Canada… Any suggestions would be very helpful.

  21. Cool ideas. Anybody visiting Banff should definitely visit Johnston Canyon to go to see the waterfalls but if they are really keen hikers they should check out Mount Saint Piran near Lake Louise. Banff is also a great national park to spot wildlife too, along the Bow Valley Parkway, the Minnewanka Lake Loop or on many stop on the Icefields Parkway. Can’t wait to go back there in the summer.

  22. My husband and I will be visiting Banff end of July this year and we’re extremely excited! However, I am petrified of encountering bears while hiking or biking; could you please provide information and tips for my concerns? Thank you!

    1. So funny you wrote this. I was visualizing a road trip this morning and suddenly started getting really scared about encountering grizzly bears!! I can’t give you any tips or wisdom I’m afraid as it’s not something we’ve encountered. I know I may look into doing guided hikes etc when we go up that way just to feel a little safer.

  23. I am disappointed to see that my website name was removed as was the do-follow link which was all part of the deal when I wrote the post. I’d really appreciate that you put that back in – and take the “s” off McAdams as its McAdam. And the website is https://hikebiketravel.com/ – or any link to a Banff post.

    1. Is there any reason you didn’t reach out to us via email about this? This is a very old post and we have people editing our posts all the time. So things can happen. Not only that if the robots pick up links that are broken they’ll remove them, which is what might have happened. We’re very reasonable people and can sort any issues out so please approach us in that manner. Bear in mind, nothing is ever locked in as permanent as our site is allowed to change and if things don’t work any more we will adapt. As far as I can see we have a link to your site in the bio which is do-follow, so I’m not sure what you are talking about. It is impossible for me to remember what links you had in a post that is 10 years old. We allow one link in your bio and one within the post.

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