Travel Guide to Banff National Park

Updated on Apr 28, 2024 | Canada eTA

The first national park of Canada. The national park with its humble beginning started with 26 square km hot spring to now the sprawling 6,641 square kilometers it covers. The park was inculcated as a UNESCO world heritage site as part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks in the year 1984.

Locating the park

The park is located in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, to the west of Calgary. The national park borders British Columbia to its east where Yoho and Kootenay National Park are adjacent to Banff National Park. On the western side, the park shares borders with Jasper National Park which is also situated in Alberta.

Getting there

The park is accessible by road from Calgary and takes typically an hour to an hour and a half to make the 80-odd miles travel. Calgary has an international airport which services major national and international carriers that allowing convenient and hassle-free travel to the park. You could rent out a car and drive down yourself hop on a bus or take a shuttle service to get there.

The best time to visit

The park is open year-round and it offers special seasons picking of adventures irrespective of the time you choose to visit. Summer at the park is believed to be the best time to take on hiking, cycling, and climbing peaks. The greatest time to be mesmerized by the colours of the park is during the fall season when larch trees lose their needles and turn yellow.

But the unsurpassed season to visit would be winter with the mountainous landscape providing the perfect base for visitors to ski. The ski season in the park begins in November and goes all the way until May and is the longest in North America. During the winter months, other activities like ice walks, snowshoeing, and dogsled, and horse sleigh rides are also very popular among tourists.

Explore these gems

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are located about 55 km away from the National Park and the place offers stunning views of the National Park and hiking and skiing tracks. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are glacial lakes that melt by May every year. Alpine hiking in the area begins in late June and early July. The ski season takes off towards the end of November and runs until May. At Lake Louise, a visit to the lakeshore and the village is viewed as a must among tourists. Year-round is a great time to visit Lake Louise whereas Moraine Lake is best visited from mid-May to mid-October. During these months, gondola rides are quite popular amongst tourists.

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

The historic site provides one with all the information on the mountains and the start of the first National Park of Canada. You learn all about the history and the culture of the mountains in Alberta as well.

Cave and Basin Hot Springs and Banff Upper Hot Springs

This spot is now a National Historic site and has much more to offer than nature's wonders of the area. You can watch an HD movie, a bio-diversity experience in the wildlife and marshlands which will be led by a ranger and a lantern tour as well.

The icing on top of the cake is the Banff Upper Hot Springs is a stone’s throw from here located just 10 minutes away. It is a modern spa with outdoor pools for tourists to relax and dive in to forget all their worries.

Banff National Park Banff National Park

Banff Village

The village has evolved into a happening place owing to the National Park which is bustling with people and has led to the establishment of many cafes, restaurants, and the like for people to explore.

  • Banff National Park Visitor Centre- The Visitor Center is the abode of information on activities, tours, and whatnot. It is your one-stop solution for any queries and concerns you have relating to the National Park.

  • Banff Park Museum National Historic Site-The Museum is a wondrous place to visit for two reasons, it is an architectural marvel and also a storehouse of various specimens going back centuries in time.


Banff National Park offers both cross-country as well as downhill skiing. The three areas where skiing takes place in the park are Banff, Lake Louise, and Castle Junction. It is recommended that early November or late April is the best time to ski in the Lake Louise area. In the Banff area, some of the famous trails are Tunnel Mountain Winter Trail (endorsed for first-time skiers), Spray River East Trail, and Castle Junction. In the Lake Louise Area, some of the tracks are Moraine Lake Road, Lake Louise Loop, and Bow River Loop.


The national park prides itself on its over 1600km maintained trails across the length and breadth of the park. A tourist can make their pick and explore diverse routes from riverside to alpine tracks. Most routes in the park are either reachable from the Banff Village or the Village of Lake Louise. The prime hiking season in Banff National Park is in the summer months during July through September especially to witness the fall colours. Winter months until June are not recommended for hiking owing to avalanche hazards.

Trails range from Easy, Moderate to Difficult. Some of the easy and short-day trails are Johnston Canyon they take you to both the lower and upper falls, Sundance Canyon, on this trek you can marvel at the beauty of the Bow River, Spray river track is a loop track that takes you alongside the river, Lake Louise Lakeshore, alongside the famous and beautiful Lake Louise, Bow river loop, it is a long but easy stroll alongside the Bow River. Some moderate and longer tracks are Cascade Amphitheatre is a track which if you give an entire day will give back all of its beauty to you, the best time to take this track is between July to August where you are welcomed by a carpet of flowers, Healy Creek this track offers the best view and experience of the fall colours of the larch trees, Stanley Glacier this track offers you breathtaking views of the Stanley glacier and a falls situated right near it.

Some of the difficult and long tracks are Cory Pass Loop which gives you a great view of Mount Louis and is strenuous due to the uphill climb. Fairview Mountain and Paradise Valley and Giant steps both are tracks where one has to take on climbing uphill.

Mountain Biking

Banff National Park boasts over 360km of bicycling track which is an excellent way to explore the park. Primetime for biking is considered to be in the summer between May to October. Mountain Biking tracks also range from Easy, Moderate to Difficult. There are tracks in the Banff area and the Lake Louise area. There are specifically curated family-friendly trails that allow a family to explore the park in a safe and fun manner.

The park has many more activities, adventure sports to offer, watching the over 260 species of birds in the National park and the best time to go on the lookout is from 9-10 am. The lower Bow Valley is the best spot to go bird-watching. The park is a place to enjoy boating in Lake Minnewanka. The park is also famous for its winter walking as avalanche season makes many trails unsafe during winter months but they are drawn up to ensure the safety of tourists in new tracks during winter months. Some of the winter walk trails are Tunnel Mountain Summit, Fenland Trail, and Stewart Canyon.

The park is also famous for two water activities paddling and canoeing. Paddling is taken on by tourists in the Banff area, Lake Louise Area, and Icefield Parkway in lakes like Moraine, Louise, Bow, Herbert, and Johnson. For experienced canoers, the Bow River is the place to go for the best experience of canoeing. In the winter Snowshoeing is also a favourite amongst tourists here and there are specially designed trails in the Banff and Lake Louise area.

The Banff also has a special Red Chair experience, where red chairs are placed at various scenic locations for people to just sit back and relax and be at one with nature and enjoy the experience of living in the mountains in its purest form.

Staying there

  • Banff Springs Hotel is a historic national property and an iconic place to have a luxurious stay in the heart of the National Park.
  • Chateau Lake Louise is a popular place frequented by travellers as it overlooks the famous Lake Louise. It is located about 45 minutes away from the National Park.
  • Baker Creek Mountain Resort is well known for its log cabins and rustic outdoorsy suites.

The National Park is also home to many campgrounds to house campers and those looking to live in natural surroundings. Some of them are Rampart Creek Campground, Waterfowl Lake Campground, and Lake Louise Campground.

Where to dine?

Banff is a picturesque town that is pretty diverse when it comes to the representation of different cuisines and foods. Here, Visitors can enjoy a wide range of breakfast, lunch, and dinner delights at some of the most stunning restaurants in Canada. Confused about where to dine in Banff? Here are some great suggestions -

  • Wild Flour Bakery is a homely bakery cum cafe. Here, there is a representation of local art and designs. Visitors are advised to try their buttery croissants and crunchy baguettes, served with one of their signature coffees, for some of the best breakfast options!
  • Good Earth Coffeehouse is one of the best coffee locations in Banff where the espresso is a local favourite! Along with mouth-watering coffee, visitors are recommended to get their baked cuisines, hot dishes and lip-smacking bowls. The Good Earth Coffeehouse is a must-visit around the Banff National Park.
  • The Maple Leaf is a stunning dining destination in Banff that serves some of the most exquisite Canadian local foods. The Maple Leaf is incredibly good at serving indulgent steak dishes, wild game foods, freshly prepared seafood delicacies and much more! To enjoy a refreshing drink on the side, we recommend visitors try their vintage wines.

Interested in skiing? Canada has plenty to offer, learn more at Top Skiing Locations in Canada.

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