Banff National Park is the most well-known park in Canada. It is renowned for its beautiful scenery, hiking trails, and amazing winter attractions. For any trip to Western Canada, it is a must-see destination.
With so many fascinating areas and things to do, planning a trip to Banff National Park can be overwhelming. To help you plan the perfect itinerary and make the most of your holiday, we’ve explored the park’s history and broken down how to organise a great visit.
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Banff National Park is the oldest and most popular park in Canada. The park covers over 1.6 million acres of wilderness. The remarkable terrain includes mountains, glaciers, forests, and more to explore.
The mountains of Banff National Park were formed over 50 million years ago when the tectonic plates shifted and pushed rock layers together. Just 5 million years ago, the entire park was covered in glaciers. Today, the ice is found solely on the mountain slopes.
The park was founded in 1885 after the hot springs were discovered. Multiple parties wanted control of the area in order to commercialise it, but the land was designated a conservation area by the government in order to protect it.
When it was founded, Banff National Park was originally called Rocky Mountains Park. It was the third park to be created in North America, following Yellowstone in 1872 and Mackinac National Park in 1875.
Throughout history, Banff National Park has been used by the Canadian government for many reasons. From the late-1800s to the 1920s, coal was mined from the mountains in the park.
During WWI, Banff National Park was used as an internment camp for immigrants from Axis countries. Today, a memorial has been created to remember those detained there. In the 1930s, the park provided employment for Canadians who were struggling to recover from the Great Depression.
Today, Banff National Park is one of the most visited places in Canada. In fact, it is one of the most popular parks in all of North America. The park sees more than 3 million visitors each year.
The Best Time to Visit Banff National Park
Banff National Park is open year-round, and there really is no wrong time to visit! Whether you should go during the summer or winter depends on what activities you want to enjoy while you’re there.
Banff National Park experiences a subarctic climate. This means that winters in the area are long and extremely cold, while summers are short and mild. This is important to keep in mind when planning your trip.
Summer is the park’s peak season, which means it will be more crowded than during winter. However, it is worth putting up with the additional crowds to experience the warm weather and summertime views.
In the winter months, Banff National Park will have fewer visitors. This may be favourable for anyone who wants to avoid the crowds, but the summer-only activities will not be available. However, the winter activities will be open and crowd-free.
How Long Do You Need in Banff National Park?
It would take weeks or even months to fully explore Banff National Park to its edges. However, a 3 or 4-day holiday should be enough to see the main highlights of the park. How long you stay depends on your available time and how much of the park you want to explore.
If you only have 1 day to visit Banff National Park, it is still definitely worth seeing. However, you will most likely only skim the surface of the park’s beauty and attractions. No matter how long you visit, you will be amazed by everything you can see and do at the park.
How to get to Banff National Park
Banff National Park is located in Alberta Providence in Canada, about 80 miles from the city of Calgary. There are multiple ways to reach the park, and which one is best for you depends on where you’re coming from and how long you want to stay in the park.
If Banff National Park is your only destination, you’ll probably start your journey from Calgary International Airport. From the airport, you can rent a car and drive to the park via the Trans-Canada Highway, a 90-minute drive.
If you are heading to Banff National Park from downtown Calgary, more transportation options are available. During the warmer months, buses take guests from the city to the park. However, this public transportation is not available from November-April.
For anyone planning a day trip to Banff National Park from Calgary, tours can be arranged from the city to the park. These tours are perfect for a short exploration of the park because the guides handle the transportation, itinerary, and times.
How to Get Around Banff National Park
There are many different ways to get around Banff National Park and see the attractions. If you’ve rented a car from the airport, you can drive around the area. This is the best way to see everything the park has to offer and reach the park’s edges.
Walking and biking around the park are also great options. Bikes can be rented from the town or hotels in the park for a fee. Although you may not be able to see as much on foot or bike, these options allow you to be more in touch with the surrounding nature.
Banff National Park provides a bus service to help guests get around the area. The bus runs to all of the park’s main attractions as well as the nearby town. This service is great for a day trip in the park or if you do not have a car available.
Where to Stay at Banff National Park
For guests staying at Banff National Park, there are amazing hotels to choose from. Some hotels are located outside the park in the town of Banff, while others are within the park grounds.
The hotels in town are perfect for anyone who wants to be central to the attractions. In addition to park access, the town has restaurants, shops, distilleries, and more. The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is luxurious – it features skiing during the winter months and a golf course in the summer.
Another stunning accommodation option in Banff is the Fox Hotel and Suites. This pet-friendly hotel will take any holiday up a notch. The hotel provides complimentary bus passes to the park and local areas and has a jaw-dropping hot pool inside a cave for guests to enjoy.
7 Things to Do at Banff National Park
1. Visit the Town of Banff
Banff Township is the perfect place to start your trip to the park. It is a touristy town full of restaurants, shops, and hotels. Banff has an upbeat and bubby atmosphere that will get any holiday off to a great start.
During the summer months, Banff becomes bursting with life. Tourists fill the streets to stock up on essentials, and the nightlife scene booms. The town also hosts multiple museums and other attractions perfect for a rainy day during your visit.
2. Go Hiking
Banff National Park is one of the best destinations in Canada for anyone who enjoys hiking. It is the most popular activity in the park during summer, and there are multiple different trails and paths to choose from.
Although every hiking trail is worth exploring, it would be impossible to do all of them in one trip to the park. Instead, here are 4 of the best trails at Banff.
Bourgeau Lake Trail
Bourgeau Lake Trail is one of the lesser-known trails at Banff National Park. The path is just under 7 kilometres long one-way and leads to the beautiful Bourgeau Lake. This path is considered an intermediate-level trail, so beginners should hike with an experienced partner.
At the end of the Bourgeau Lake Trail, hikers can continue onto Harvey Pass. This trail features stunning views of the Sunshine Ski Village, Mount Assiniboine, and the Sunshine Meadows.
The Tunnel Mountain hike is one of the oldest trails at Banff National Park, and it is also one of the most popular. This trail is beginner-friendly and perfect for families who are exploring the park. A round-trip hike on this path is just under 3 kilometres long.
Plain of Six Glaciers
Another amazing hiking trail at Banff National Park is the Plain of Six Glaciers. The trail begins at Lake Louise and takes hikers uphill to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Here, visitors can relax and grab something to eat and drink.
What makes this trail spectacular is the view. Huge glaciers along the mountain slopes and occasional avalanches can be seen from the teahouse. The route is 11 kilometres long round-trip.
Johnston Canyon is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Banff National Park. It is a longer hike, taking about 2.5 hours to complete a round-trip. However, the views of the surrounding forests and cascading waterfalls make it more than worthwhile.
3. Explore Sulphur Mountain & Take a Gondola Ride
Sulphur Mountain is one of the most popular areas at Banff National Park. The mountain was named after the hot springs on its slopes, which contain sulphur. To get to the peak of the mountain, there are 2 options: hike to the top or hop on a gondola.
The hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain is considered of moderate difficulty. It is 5 kilometres long one-way and takes hikers up nearly 2,500 metres in elevation. Although it is more strenuous than the gondola ride, the views from the trail are amazing.
Taking the gondola to the peak of Sulphur Mountain is the more popular option. Tickets for the gondola are around CAD $50, which can be pricey for some guests. However, it is a unique experience with a fantastic vista at the top.
4. Visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Upper Hot Springs were discovered in the 1880s and are what led to the park’s creation. The waters are kept around 38℃ all year, making the hot springs a great place to relax during your visit to Banff National Park.
The pools are open 7 days a week. Opening at 10 am daily, they close at 10 pm Sunday-Thursday and 11 pm Friday-Saturday.
5. Camp Under the Stars
Camping is a very popular activity in Banff National Park. Not only does it help visitors connect with the nature around them, but it is also less expensive than booking a room in a nearby hotel.
In total, the park features 14 different campgrounds for guests to choose from. Across them all, there are nearly 2,500 campsites available. While that may seem like a lot, they can fill up quickly in the summer, and booking the sites ahead of time is required.
Campsites are available in the front and backcountry of Banff National Park. Most campgrounds are only open during the summer months, but a couple are available in the winter for anyone with an RV.
No matter where you choose to camp at Banff National Park or what time of year you visit, ensure you are prepared. The weather can change rapidly and be unpredictable at the park. Extra clothes, blankets, water, and sun protection are always good to bring.
6. Go on a Helicopter Ride
While Banff National Park is a wonderful area to explore and experience from the ground, seeing it from the clouds provides a completely new perspective. Helicopter rides above the park are available to be booked from local companies.
The helicopter tours last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Guests are taken to the skies and are flown past high mountain peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, forests, and lakes.
7. Check out Some Winter Activities
In addition to the hot springs, hiking trails, and scenic vistas, Banff National Park has seasonal activities available only during the winter months. Ice climbing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing are popular winter activities, among others.
Banff National Park also features 3 premier ski resorts. Passes can be purchased which provide access to all 3 resorts. In total, there are over 8,000 acres of ski slopes at the park.
Banff National Park is a Breathtaking Destination
Banff National Park is an iconic area full of beautiful Canadian wilderness. Since it was founded, visitors have enjoyed the park’s mountains, lakes, glaciers, and more. With so much beautiful scenery, there’s much to explore.
Whether you are taking a hiking holiday and getting closer to nature or are on a relaxing retreat with hot spring soaks, there is something for everyone at Banff National Park. No matter how you spend your visit, you will never forget it.
If you’re planning a holiday in Canada, check out our list of Top Places to Visit in Canada.