The Top 5 Can’t-Miss Banff Attractions & Adventures
Banff Avenue in the Summer

There’s so much to do, it’s impossible to fit it all in during a single visit.  And yet, you don’t want to miss out on the absolute best attractions.

So that’s where this quick guide comes in. As someone who’s experienced Banff as both a local and a traveller, I have a unique perspective on which adventures you must experience and which ones can wait until next time.

So if you’re planning to explore the Rockies soon, make sure you check out these top Banff attractions.

1.  Banff Sightseeing Gondola

Banff Gondola View in the Summer

It’s hard to conceptualize the incredible scale of the Rocky Mountains from the ground, as they seem to recede up into the sky.

However, from the windy peak of Sulphur Mountain, you can see the Bow Valley stretched out below you. Gargantuan peaks dwarf the town of Banff. These jagged stone fortresses were once part of an ancient sea floor until they were thrust upward by continental plates between 140 million and 45 million years ago.

The Banff Sightseeing Gondola lifts you gently up the mountain slope. You’ll glide above the forest canopy, watching the treeline slowly thin out. It takes 8 minutes to ride to the top and once you reach the summit you can stop for lunch at the cafe or take a walk around the scenic interpretive trail.

There is a chance you might spot some local wildlife, including ravens, Clark’s nutcrackers, Gray Jays and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (but remember not to feed or approach them!).

The Banff Gondola is open all year round, offering views of a snow-covered valley in the winter and a lush-green vista in the summer with sparkling rivers and lakes. During the holidays, the visitor centre at the mountain’s peak is decorated with seasonal decor and hosts live events and programs.

If you want to make a special occasion out of your gondola experience, indulge in a meal at Sky Bistro. It offers an innovative menu made from local Canadian ingredients. For example, the gouda in the Prairie Grain Lasagne is from nearby Sylvan Lake, the beef is Alberta-raised and the peaches in the Cobbler come straight from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley.

2.  Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon Icewalk with Discover Banff Tours

Johnston Canyon was named after a prospector who discovered gold within the creek back in 1910. You probably won’t find any gold here.

However, you will see golden-hued canyon walls, emerald green trees and turquoise water. The vibrant colours and the soothing roar of the waterfalls makes this place feel like a sacred natural sanctuary. If you want to beat the crowds, go as early as possible.

In the summer months you’ll feel the spray of the waterfalls that tumble down into crystal-clear Johnston Creek. If you have the energy, you can keep walking past the upper part of the falls and continue on to the Inkpots, which are 5.8km away. You’ll discover five deep blue-green underground springs in a peaceful alpine meadow, set in an area that’s often much less busy than the main trail.

In the winter, you can walk along the steel catwalks and see the glittering frozen waterfalls up close. Climbers can often be seen scaling these enormous pillars of ice. Even though the falls have frozen solid, you will still be able to hear the sound of the water rushing below.

The Johnston Canyon Icewalk has been so popular that Discover Banff Tours now also offers an Evening Icewalk Tour. Intrepid hikers are given a headlamp and before being lead through the canyon to see the ice sparkling in the quiet darkness.

3.  The Columbia Icefield

Stand on the ancient Athabasca Glacier on the Columbia Icefields Parkway Tour with Discover Banff Tours in the Canadian Rockies
Photo Credit: Travel Alberta / Mike Seehagel

A staggeringly huge slab of glacial ice, the Columbia Icefield slowly creeps across the mountains.

Its meltwater, clear and teeth-clacking-cold, feeds into streams and rivers all over the Rocky Mountains which flow as far as the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. Many lakes you will see in Banff consist of glacial meltwater – their surreal chalky-turquoise colour is caused by the rock particles in the water reflecting the sunlight.

A tour of the Columbia Icefields Parkway is an absolute must, as it is considered one of the most jaw-droppingly scenic highways in the world. You’ll be glad someone else is driving as you won’t be able to take your eyes off the towering mountains looming all around you.

Once at the glacier, you’ll board a specially designed vehicle with tires taller than you are – designed for traction on the slippery ice surface. The Ice Explorer gives you the opportunity to set foot on the glacier itself and experience this ancient gargantuan sheet of ice first hand.

Banff's Best Tour and Activity Deals

Afternoon Icewalk + Banff Gondola

Combo Package; spend an afternoon exploring a frozen canyon of ice, then soar to a mountain summit for views over
8+
Nov-Apr

Horseback + Gondola + Hot Springs

Combo Package; saddle up for a riverside ride, soar up to a mountain summit and soak in mineral hot springs. 
8+
Apr-Oct

Horseback + Gondola + Lake Cruise

Combo Package; saddle up for a riverside ride, soar up to a mountain summit and cruise on Banff's largest lake. 
8+
May-Oct
See Lake Louise with Discover Banff Tours
Most Popular

Banff + Lake Louise Tours

Combo Package; experience the picture perfect viewpoints of Banff and the world-famous Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.  Included: Discover Banff
All Ages
Apr-Oct
Sightsee over Banff from the Mount Norquay Banff Sightseeing Chairlift in the Canadian Rockies
Most Popular

Horseback + Chairlift + Hot Springs

Combo Package; saddle up for a riverside ride, soar to 7,000' on an open-air chairlift and soak in hot springs.
8+
Jun-Oct
Great Divide Dogsled Tour in Lake Louise, Alberta
Limited Space

Lake Louise + Dogsledding

Combo Package; spend a day ice skating, snowshoeing and exploring Lake Louise's winter wonderland, with an iconic dogsledding experience. Included:
All Ages
Dec-Apr
See Banff's winter beauty on a group sleigh ride
Family Fun

Sleigh Ride + Hot Springs + Gondola

Combo Package; cuddle up on a sleigh ride, soak in mineral hot springs and soar to the mountain top. Included: Sleigh
All Ages
Dec-Mar
Try ice skating on a frozen lake on the Discover Lake Louise winter tour with Discover Banff Tours in the Canadian Rockies
Most Popular

Banff + Lake Louise Tours

Combo Package; experience the picture perfect viewpoints of Banff and Lake Louise as they transform into a winter wonderland.  Included:
All Ages
Dec-Apr
Try tubing at Alberta's largest tube park at Mt Norquay in the Canadian Rockies
Family Fun

Tubing + Hot Springs + Sleigh Ride

Combo Package; slide down snowy slopes, soak in mineral hot springs and cuddle up on a sleigh ride. Included: Tubing at Banff
4+
Dec-Mar
Johnston Canyon Icewalk with Discover Banff Tours
Most Popular

Morning Icewalk + Banff Gondola

Combo Package; explore a frozen canyon of ice in the morning, then soar to the top of Sulpur Mountain for
8+
Nov-Apr
See winter views over Banff at the gondola summit
Family Fun

Banff Tour + Gondola

Combo Package; tour the must see highlights of Banff, then soar to the mountain peaks for more elevated views. Included:
All Ages
Dec-Apr

Banff Tour + Icewalk

Combo Package; tour the highlights of Banff while looking for animals, then explore a frozen canyon of ice. Included: Discover
8+
Dec-Apr

4.  Lake Louise

Visit Lake Louise in the evening on the Deluxe Lake Louise Tour
Photo Credit: Banff and Lake Louise Tourism

This iconic, glacier-fed lake is incredible year round, with its famous turquoise water in summer and ice skating in winter. No matter what time of year you visit Banff, Lake Louise is a must see! For summer visitors, Moraine Lake is another incredible lake that shouldn’t be missed.

With limited parking we recommend planning ahead with transit, visiting during off-peak hours or joining a guided tour. In summer take a half-day tour or extended evening visit, or get the picture perfect photos on the new Instagram Tour. In winter, spend a full-day at Lake Louise for a true winter wonderland experience with sleigh rides, snowshoeing, skating on the frozen lake, ice sculptures and more.

5.  Banff Upper Hot Springs

Enjoy the Banff Hot Springs in Winter
Photo Credit: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism / Noel Hendrickson

Last but not least, when your body is tired from all of this hiking and exploring it’s time to relax and soothe your aching muscles with natural geothermal heat.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs are filled with gloriously steaming mineral water. And they have been visited for over a hundred years by those who sought the healing effects of “taking the waters.”

The water in the springs is between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius, the perfect temperature for aching muscles. It also contains minerals such as magnesium, calcium and sulphate. Before the Canadian Pacific Railway Workers came across it in 1883, the First Nations people considered these hot springs a sacred place. The Upper Hot Springs bathhouse was opened in 1932, designed in the style of the luxurious spas of Europe.

Are the Banff Hot Springs suitable for the entire family? Absolutely. Jody Robbins from TravelMamas.com explains why it is a great kid-friendly activity.

“The water’s not too hot, so kids can happily bob about in the shallow area, and they rent bathing suits and towels in case you forget yours.”

The Banff Upper Hot Springs are open year-round, with different opening hours depending on the season. The entrance fee is $8.30 for adults and $6.30 for children. You can find out more information about their hours and location on the website.

Have you been to these Banff attractions? Which other Banff experiences would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

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