Banff National Park is famous for its soaring mountain peaks, turquoise glacier lakes, and wildlife. It is Canada’s first national park and is recognized as a UNESCO World heritage Site attracting millions of tourists each year from around the world.
Banff National Park covers a vast area. Located at the heart of Banff National Park is the town of Banff. The town of Banff has all the comforts and amenities of your home. Very modernized and ski cottage picturesque.
Connecting Banff National Park too Jasper National Park is the Columbia Icefields. According to Parks Canada, the Columbia Icefields, ” is one of the top scenic drives in the world.”. To explore the Columbia Icefields, take The Icefields Parkway, Highway 93N. The road stretches for 230 kilometres. It is roughly a 2- 3 hour car drive to cover and explore this stretch of highway.
Let gets started with your top attractions of things to do in Banff National Park.
1. The Town of Banff
There are so many things to do in Banff, that picking is hard to do. So I came up with a few that are a must while in town. If there were two of the things to see, they would be Upper Hot Springs and Sulphur Mountain. I would strongly recommend taking the gondola up Sulphur Mountain, to get a view of the mountains. It will leave you breathless.
Within the vicinity of the town of Banff and great for picture-taking is Mount Norquay which gives you an overlooking viewpoint of the town of Banff from above. After finishing that, continue on to Lake Minnewanka, which is not too far from the town of Banff, and take a boat ride exploring the area. All these places are accessible and are near and around the town of Banff. You will need a car, however, everything is roughly in the same area.
2. Lake Louise/Moraine Lake
Lake Louise, once a wild outpost in the 1890’s, is now famous for the beautiful mountain setting and home to Fairmont Chateau Hotel. Start off the day with picture taking at Lake Louise earlier in the morning, have breakfast at the famous Fairmont Hotel and head for a morning hike, avoiding the afternoon crowds. I would recommend Lake Agnes hike which is roughly a 6.4 kilometer hiking trail back and out (roundtrip). Once you reach the top, order a tea at the famous teahouse, and soak in the views. I suggest you watch the YouTube video below on Lake Agnes Trail/Little Beehive Trail. This will give you an idea of what to expect. The Lake Agnes Trail goes to the teahouse and then turns around. Little Beehive Trail continues on further for another kilometer resulting in a view of the famous Fairmont Chateau Hotel. Make sure to bring some warm clothes. It gets cooler in the mountains. Once you are ready to descend, I would suggest you head over to Moraine Lake.
Moraine Lake is very close to Lake Louise, situated in the valley of Ten Peaks. This iconic photo is known throughout Banff and the world. The beautiful glacier fed lake is turquoise blue, surrounded among the mountain peaks. For the best views for photography, take pathway to your left. It is a rocky incline till you reach the top. There you will have different heights and angles to take your pictures. Once you are done taking in the views, and as you head back into the town of Banff, I would suggest visiting the Upper Hot Springs in town.
Lake Louise and Lake Moraine are roughly half an hour from the town of Banff. You will need a car. Just remember to park in the parking lot before 6:30 am. Parking lot fills up quickly. I was usually their around 6am. If you do not have a car, there is a Parks Canada shuttle, however, you are required to get make reservations in advance. Walk up seat sales are not allowed.
You also have the option of traveling on Banff’s own public transportation. Roam route 8 will take you to Lake Louise. One day pass will run you $5. Children 12 and under are free.
3. Hike Johnston Canyon
If you are interested in hiking and seeing waterfalls, ridges and ‘ink pots’ you might want to explore Johnston Canyon. It is a fairly easy hike and probably one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park. The trail inclines gently, making it the perfect choice of families. The Johnston Canyon trail consist of both the Upper and Lower Johnston Falls. The Upper Johnston Falls is roughly 5 kilometers in length, back and out, and you should note that it is heavily trafficked. The distance to Lower Johnston Falls is roughly 1.1 kilometers one way. I would suggest arriving earlier as this hiking trail is famous and heavily visited in peak season.
Those who are interested in the ink pots the distance is roughly 5.8 kilometers back and out, from Johnston Canyon Resort.
Parking along the side of the road
Arrive earlier to avoid visitors. Long lineups for photographs.
Roughly a 25 minutes car ride from the town of Banff to Johnston Canyon
4. Columbia Icefields and Parker Ridge Trail
Everybody has heard or is familiar with Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, however, when I mention Columbia Icefields they look puzzled. The Columbia Icefields is located on Icefields Parkway, (Highway 93N), and is a must if you want to experience the true Canadian Rockies. The mountain peaks are jaw-dropping. You can explore by hiking the Park Ridge Trail, or visit Athabasca Glacier Tour where you can walk, feel and drink from the Athabasca glacier and also, walk along the cliff’s edge, using the Skywalk. This will be a full day and you will thank yourself for doing it.
I would suggest you watch this short video of what to expect of Parker Ridge Trail. This will give you an idea how magnificent the views are. Other interesting places along the way to Parker Ridge Trail, is Bow Lake and Peyto Lake. Both lakes are located next to each other, have the turquoise glacier fed water, and have soaring mountain peaks. Truly a magnificent site to see, as well as, great for photographs.
The parking lot in Peyto Lake was full of potholes, however, that might have changed.
It’s only a short walk from the trailhead to Peyto look-out. Peyto Lake is a must while exploring Columbia Icefields, Alberta.
Parker Ridge Trail has many switchbacks, however, when you reach the top, it is rather flat and quite enjoyable.