Banff National Park is a massive place with a ton to see and do. Much like picking 5 awesome things to do in Jasper, picking 5 awesome things to do in Banff National Park is nearly impossible. However, I have narrowed it down to 5 of my favorites. So without further adieu, here are my 5 awesome things to do in Banff National Park!
1. Icefields Parkway and Columbia Icefields
Heading south from Jasper on Alberta Highway 93 is an amazing experience. Traversing both Jasper and Banff National Parks, the world-class route offers views and access to a spectacular wilderness of pristine mountain lakes, ancient glaciers and broad sweeping valleys.
There are majestic viewpoints almost the whole road and it is difficult to not take pictures-even when you’re driving! However, there are several places to stop and take photos so please be safe!
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful roads I have ever driven and right in the middle of the drive between Jasper and Banff are the Columbia Icefields.
This may have been the most picturesque area of the drive and certainly the most commercialized. From the visitor center, you get a great panoramic view of the Icefields and the Athabasca Glacier.
From the visitor center, you can also get tickets for the Brewster Ice Explorer; which is one of the most unique attractions in the Canadian Rockies. These massive, specially designed machines you see here, take you on an 80-minute tour of the Athabasca Glacier.
At the midpoint of the tour you can get out and walk around the glacier for 20 minutes or so and take pictures, drink the glacial water and just explore. It is pretty neat but not exactly strenuous so it’s safe and appropriate for anyone-even elderly people.
Make sure to use the restrooms at the visitor center because there is nowhere to go between the Columbia Icefields and Lake Louise and just make sure you enjoy the beautiful scenery!
2. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is by far the most famous lake in Alberta and in the Canadian Rockies. There is good reason for that-it is gorgeous. The alpine setting is incredible, flanked by mountains on each side and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise at the base.
The Chateau itself did not impress me so much and I thought it was well overpriced for what it is. However, the views from the room are of course fabulous; which is what you are paying for. On the other hand, I did love The Walliser Stube in the Chateau. The fondue restaurant was excellent and the short rib was to die for.
Aside from views and the hotel, Lake Louise is great for the hikes surrounding the lake. As my time was limited at Lake Louise, my friend Mike and I decided to do the Tea House hike; which is the most famous hike.
It’s called the Tea House hike because you actually hike up to a teahouse; which sits above Lake Louise and at the base of Lake Agnes. It is actually really cool and you are thankful for the hot tea and food when you arrive-especially if you have bad weather as we did.
The hike itself was not that challenging. It took us about 45 minutes to get up to the teahouse walking quickly, or normally as I see it! It is a steady incline that can get pretty muddy when it rains as it actually poured and sleeted on us. The only other issue is that about 3/4 of the way up, you intersect the horseback trail so then there because the added issue of horseshit on the track. So it becomes even more slippery when wet. Just keep that in mind, as they don’t tell you that in the brochures!
Along the way you pass Mirror Lake and a few other really cool photography spots. Sadly for us, the clouds made Mirror Lake just a lake but it was still pretty as you can see.
That said, there are several other hikes to choose from as well and you can go higher than the teahouse if you choose to as well. If it was sleeting and freezing, we certainly would have. Next time for sure!
3. Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is the lesser-known sister lake to Lake Louise. However, in my view it is just as beautiful and in many ways, even more so. It is about 10 miles or so down a windy road from Lake Louise but definitely worth the excursion or a few nights.
We stayed at the Moraine Lake Lodge. The Lodge is literally on the lake and is a great value and gives you a smaller rustic feel unlike the much larger Fairmont in Lake Louise. The staff is also very helpful and personable and the cabins are top notch.
The views and pictures of Moraine Lake are actually more often used in Alberta Tourism brochures than Lake Louise believe it or not and I have to say, it is just as picturesque if not more.
Moraine Lake also has a lot of hikes of varying lengths and difficulties. We took the hike around the lake and focused more on photography at Moraine Lake as the more arduous hikes are at Lake Louise.
Another thing that is really popular at Moraine Lake is canoeing and canoes are free for guests of the Moraine Lake Lodge but it is also open to the public-and the public does come!
Banff National Park is massive as I mentioned but Banff Town is not. However, it is a great little town to explore and definitely amongst the things to do in Banff National Park.
We stayed at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge. The Lodge is about a mile or two up Tunnel Mountain above Banff. You need to have a car or not mind walking or biking a steep hill to get to and from town. However, the accommodations are stellar.
Aside from great cabin style, large rooms; the best part of the lodge was the massive hot tub. It is the perfect place to recuperate after a long day hiking, biking or golfing.
Down in town, walking along stunning Banff Avenue is a trip. It is the ultimate Canadian tourist town. There are more tourist stores on one road than I think I have ever seen. All pretty much selling the same stuff more or less. I have no idea how they all stay in business and make money. But I am no expert on cannibalization. I still don’t get how some cities have a Starbucks on every corner and all seem to make money!
Banff is also the mecca for nightlife in the Canadian Rockies. There are a ton of bars and restaurants all along the main drag and the newest and hippest place is called the Dancing Sasquatch. Yes that’s really the name and yes they actually have a man dressed up as a big Sasquatch dancing around the club taking pictures with people. It’s fairly clever and very Canadian.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course boasts one of the nicest courses in Canada. To be honest, it’s one of the most scenic courses I have ever played and have played golf in some amazing places like Maui, Lanai, Fiji and many others.
Banff Springs is truly a captivating and challenging course where you can easily be both intimidated and distracted by the massive mountains surrounding the course. Mike and I would just sit in awe of some of the views, especially the view from the 15th tee box.
Located right next to the fabulous Waldhaus Restaurant and Pub, the signature tee shot is something special-that is if you can clear the water and get it in the fairway! Easier said than done from that elevation.
We happened to play on a Sunday so it moved pretty slowly but we didn’t even mind because of the views and because of how well manicured the course is. The drink girls coming around in the carts often didn’t hurt either!
If you love golf or even if you simply just appreciate great views, you’ll love playing golf at Banff Springs. It’s a great way to spend a day in the sun but do remember sunblock or you’ll end up friend like my friend, Mike!
Oh, and when you’re done playing and walking to Waldhaus for dinner or drinks, watch out for wildlife!