Banff is a magical wonderland when seen through young eyes.
This unspoiled mountain retreat offers your little ones the chance to wander through wild forests, dip their toes in cold glacial lakes, watch the sunsets turn the mountains gold, and see deer and elk casually strolling down the street. No matter what age they are, visiting Banff with your children will awaken their sense of wonder and show them how amazing the natural world can be.
To make the most of your trip to the Rockies here are five fantastic things to do with kids in Banff.
1. Tackle a kid-friendly hiking trail
Not all hiking trails in Banff are gruelling treks up steep mountain faces – there are plenty of great trails that are doable for those with tiny legs and short attention spans.
Check out the easy switchbacks of Tunnel Mountain, the stroller-friendly paved walkways of Johnston Canyon, or the peaceful quiet of Sunshine Meadows. The Fenland Loop is a great walk for even the youngest kids – it’s flat, offers views of the river and can be completed in less than an hour.
“My kids are ages 6-14 and we are all able to enjoy many of the trails together – our favorite being Peyto Lake. There are trails that even our youngest hiker can tackle in Banff,” says Rebecca.
Rebecca goes on to explain that hiking isn’t just about physical exercise for her family, it’s an incredibly valuable learning experience. “From spotting wildlife to taking in the view to the thrill of reaching our destination, our family loves spending time together on the trail.”
“Over the years we’ve watched our kids learn about ecosystems and plant life, seasons and weather. But the real learning goes so much further than those things. What we really want them to take away are the life lessons that they wouldn’t absorb from a textbook or in a classroom or even by listening to our finest speeches as parents.”
What will you and your kids learn while exploring the trails?
2. Horse around on a guided family-friendly ride
Sometimes little legs get tired and it’s nice to be able to see the sights without having to walk around all day long. Taking a sleigh ride (in the winter) or a carriage ride or wagon ride to a steak cookout (in the summer) is a wonderfully magical way for you and your little ones to see Banff.
During the winter sleigh rides you will snuggle up under warm blankets to go exploring through the Bow River Valley, enjoying views of Sulphur Mountain and the Canadian Pacific Railway. In the summer you will ride in an elegant horse-drawn carriage with your choice between a Bow River Tour, a Downtown Tour or a Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel Tour.
During Banff’s long summer days, riding in a fairy-tale-like carriage or a sleigh “just like Santa Claus” will be a truly enchanting experience for your young kids. Make sure that you not only capture photos of the beautiful surroundings, but also of the priceless looks on their faces. For something truly unique, the whole family can even take a wagon ride to a western style BBQ cookout!
3. Soar to the summit of Sulphur Mountain
“My kids absolutely loved the gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain and then exploring the Sulphur Mountain Skywalk,” says Corrine of Have Baby Will Travel. “You can enjoy the breathtaking views of the Rockies without completely exhausting yourself or tiring out little legs.”
Make sure that your little ones are dressed warmly – it will be much cooler at the summit of the mountain two thousand metres above sea level. The awe-inspiring views from the top will give you a sense of the sheer scale of this gargantuan mountain range.
Nicole from The Passport Kids also recommends the Banff Gondola. “Kids love taking these rides above the tree line and getting a bird’s eye view of the mountains,” she says. “Anytime of the year the Rocky Mountains are a miraculous natural wonder to see.”
Want to make a full day of it? Discover Banff Tours offers a Banff Tour and Gondola Package which includes a three hour tour to some of Banff’s most iconic landmarks and viewpoints in the morning and then a transfer to the Banff Gondola.
4. Ski at nearby Sunshine Village
Nicole also highly recommends taking your kids skiing at Sunshine Village. If yours is a skiing family, everyone will have a great time at this resort – from grandpa to the youngest toddler.
Sunshine is well laid out and you can always see the village below from any slope, which is helpful for letting your older kids go off skiing together without the adults. There is a top-notch skiing school there, so you can invest in some lessons for your young ones to perfect their technique.
There is a also daycare for kids aged 19 months to 6 years old, so you can leave your youngest there to play and hit the slopes with the adults and the older kids. Afterwards, you can treat everyone to a well-earned hot chocolate at one of the many great restaurants and cafes.
5. Bum Around in Banff
Make sure that you allow at least one day in your trip for just hanging out in the town of Banff itself. If you want to take a break from hiking and exploring, just leisurely explore the town and you will find a lot to enjoy. There are a lot of interesting shops along Banff Avenue where you can pick up some souvenirs, as well as friendly cafes where you can sit and people-watch while enjoying a snack.
“In Banff there is beauty all around you and the small town is easy to navigate on foot,” says Corrine. “Even if you don’t have an adventure planned for the day you still feel like a mountain explorer hanging out at one of the many local playgrounds with a coffee in your hand.”
Nicole raved to me about the sweet treats her family loves to indulge in along Banff Avenue. “Our favourites are Beavertails, the Banff Sweet Shoppe and the Banff Candy Store,” she says, “A tradition every time we go back!”
If you get hungry and are looking for a kid friendly restaurant, Lisa from Drink, Play, Love recommends Banff Ave. Brewing Company. “I love restaurants where there are TVs broadcasting hockey games, the waiter brings crayons and a kid menu as soon as you sit down, and you don’t have to worry if your kids are loud or spill their food. And even if it all goes south… at least you’ve got seven microbrews to choose from for sorrow-drowning,” she says.