Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors
Things to Do in Banff
The town of Banff is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire province of Alberta, and perhaps even in the entire country of Canada itself. Banff National Park, where the town is located, receives around 3-4 million visitors every year and its next door neighbor, Jasper National Park, receives another 2-3 million. Though there are a variety of recreational opportunities in the area, most tourists come, at least in part, for the fantastic and unforgettable hiking trails in and around Banff. If you're planning a visit to the Banff or Lake Louise area, then here are some great hikes and a few things to do around the town site that you can't afford to miss.
Bow Falls Trail
Bow Falls Trail, located in downtown Banff, is the perfect hike for those looking for a nice, relaxing, and paved trail, but it is also a must-see for experienced hikers who nevertheless want to take in some magnificent sights while resting those legs for a longer journey. The 1.2 km trail can be found at the very end of Banff Avenue, right along the north bank of the beautiful Bow River. It begins along a calm and reflective section of the Bow and leads across the nearby pedestrian bridge. The trail then continues along the south bank of the river as the water becomes more turbulent, eventually leading to the Bow Falls viewpoint near the Fairmont Banff Springs.
Johnson Lake Circuit
Johnson Lake Circuit can be found a mere fifteen minutes outside of the Banff town site. To find it, simply head north on Banff Avenue until you leave town and come upon Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. If you follow this beautiful scenic route you will eventually come upon signs for Johnson Lake. The low-elevation, 3.5 km circuit will take you around the entire lake, offering incredible views of the water, the surrounding spruce forest, and the surrounding mountains. Because of its low elevation, this is a great trail to go on in the early season.
The 3 to 4.6 km (depending on how far you want to go) Hoodoos Trail is just a hop and a skip away from the center of Banff. The trailhead is located at the Surprise Corner Viewpoint parking lot, which can be found at the very end of Buffalo Street. The trail will take you down into the Bow Valley, around Tunnel Mountain (which was called "Sleeping Buffalo" by the Indigenous people of the area), and, if you're willing to make the trip, all the way to the curious hoodoo formations on the banks of the Bow River.
Johnston Canyon & Ink Pots
Of the four hikes on this list, Johnston Canyon is located the furthest away from Banff near Lake Louise, but it is also the most worthwhile trail to visit if you have the time and inclination. If there is any hike that you take in the area, it should definitely be this one. The hike is accessible from the Bow Valley Parkway, which is located about 20 minutes past Banff along the Trans-Canada Highway. The trail takes you through Johnston Canyon and along the powerful and rushing Johnston Creek. It takes 2.7 km to reach the Upper Falls, and another 3.1 km (for a total of 5.8 km) to reach the colorful pools known as the Ink Pots.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Banff
And, of course, there many more things to do in Banff National Park and Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies that we didn't mention, including:
- Banff Upper Hot Springs, natural hot springs that were developed in 1883 and is located near the gondola
- Banff Gondola that takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain for breathtaking views of Banff and the surrounding area
- Icefields Parkway that takes you to see Peyto Lake, Columbia Icefield (with its glacier skywalk) & Athabasca Glacier, and Moraine Lake before arriving in Jasper in the middle of Jasper National Park
- Mt. Norquay and Sunshine Village ski resorts, with some of the best skiing in the Rocky Mountains
- Cave and Basin National Historic Site located at the site of natural thermal mineral springs
- Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies which collects and preserves material related to the cultural heritage of the Canadian Rockies
- Fairmont Banff Springs in Banff and Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise - two of the nicest hotels in the area
It's clear that Banff National Park is one of the great destinations in North America to discover year-round - and it's only a 1.5-hour drive from Calgary International Airport (YYC). If you're looking for where to go on your next family vacation or even on a trip with a few of your friends, you can't go wrong with Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.
Whether you're cruising the ice explorer to the Columbia Icefield, crossing the continental divide on your road trip to Jasper, or just enjoying the natural beauty that Banff has to offer during one of your many day trips around the area, the mountain peaks and breathtaking views of Banff should make it apparent that this is a trip that deserves to be on anyone's bucket list.
Looking for more on things to do in Banff and other outdoor adventures? Try these:
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
— John Muir