The Best Things to Do in Banff for First-Time Visitors

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If visiting Banff in Alberta, Canada, for the first time, you’re in for an incredible time. With so many things to do in Banff, deciding where to start is hard.

Many guests feel overwhelmed and frustrated while planning their trip. Luckily, you don’t have to experience these feelings because we have rounded up some options.

Today, we’re using our experience to share some of the best things to do in Banff for first-time visitors. Let’s get started!

About Banff National Park

With snow-capped peaks, turquoise glacial lakes, and thick forests, Banff National Park is a premier Canadian experience. The massive mountains provide the perfect backdrop for whatever type of adventure you want to enjoy. It’s an outdoor enthusiast and photographer’s dream.

The park is in Alberta, Canada, and was established in 1885. It is the oldest and most visited Canadian national park. It has approximately 2,500 square miles of epic landscapes and exciting wildlife. You can spot elk, bighorn sheep, and possibly a grizzly bear.

During the warmer months, the most popular activities in the park include canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. However, during winter, the area offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. 

As we said, picking a place to start can be challenging due to its natural features and many recreational opportunities.

What Is the Best Month to Go to Banff?

While there’s never a bad time to visit Banff, the best month to go is September. Temperatures aren’t too warm or cold to enjoy hiking and exploring the park. It may be too cool to swim, but you can still enjoy most other aquatic activities.

In addition, crowd levels are substantially lower during this month. Most families have gotten back into their school routines and are less likely to take vacations. You can enjoy trails and other activities without noise from others or having to wait in line.

If you plan your trip towards the end of September, you can enjoy the fall foliage. This can be a breathtaking experience as the landscapes naturally transform with brilliant colors. You can expect to see bright yellows and fiery oranges throughout the park.

How Many Days Do You Need to Explore Banff National Park?

With so many activities to enjoy, deciding how many days you need to explore can also be tricky. Typically, you’ll need at least three full days to experience the park. However, if you don’t want to feel rushed or want to take your time, you can easily spend five or six days.

Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most guests, we recommend spending as much time as possible. This can allow you to be flexible and adjust your plans for the weather or how you feel.

Activities can be physically exhausting, and you may require time to recover before another epic hike or adventure.

Best Things to Do in Banff

You’re not going to have a hard time trying to find things to do in Banff. What things should be on your itinerary for your first trip? Here are some great options!

Stroll Around Lake Louise

The 2.7-mile hike around Lake Louise is a relaxing way to experience the beauty of Banff. You can take your time snapping photos and appreciating the wilderness. 

The lake’s turquoise waters contrast with snow-capped mountains and bright blue skies. While you don’t have to complete the entire loop, if you’re anything like us, you’ll lose track of time and finish it before you know it.

Soak in Upper Hot Springs

One of the things we were most excited about during our visit was soaking at Upper Hot Springs. These mineral-rich waters made the perfect way to soothe tired muscles and aching bones. 

In addition, the views of the Rockies add to the tranquil and picturesque environment you’ll experience. Your stress and worries will melt away no matter when you visit.

Grab a Drink at Banff Ave Brewing Co.

Banff Ave Brewing Co. started in 2010 and has become the go-to place to enjoy a bite to eat or a cold adult beverage. If you have yet to experience it, this is an excellent opportunity to try poutine, a Canadian favorite. 

However, everything on their menu makes our mouths water just by reading the descriptions. The atmosphere makes it easy to meet other travelers and plan your next excursion.

Shop on Banff Avenue

We know some of you enjoy a little retail therapy now and then. If that’s you, you’ll want to spend some time on Banff Avenue. The street has various boutiques, galleries, and specialty stores. 

Whether window shopping or wanting to spend your hard-earned money, this is the place to do it. You’ll find plenty of gift shops to grab a souvenir or two to remember the trip.

Ride the Banff Gondola

The Banff Gondola is a must to experience the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and town. In the gondola, you’ll climb over 2,200 feet in eight minutes. For those of you with a fear of heights, you’ll want to prepare yourself. 

However, the 360-degree view from the rooftop of the observation deck makes it worth it. The family experience is an excellent way for all ages to learn about the area.

Tour the Cave and Basin National Historic Site

If you have two or three hours, use them to tour the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. Indigenous people have inhabited this area for thousands of years. Here you can learn about the unique connection between the people and the land over thousands of years. 

You’ll find interpretive displays that can help you to learn about the delicate ecosystem and geology. These are some of the features that make this area a one-of-a-kind experience. Walk on a boardwalk or trail to further appreciate the natural beauty.

Hike, Hike, Hike

With more than 1,000 miles of maintained trails, plenty of hiking opportunities exist. With so many options, we suggest using the AllTrails app to help you to pick a hike that fits your needs.

However, a few popular trails include Lake Agnes Trail, Tunnel Mountain Summit, and Johnston Canyon to Upper Falls. However, if you’re looking for an easy hike, we suggest sticking to Lake Louise Lakeshore and Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station.

But first, do an honest assessment of the capabilities of everyone in your group. You won’t have fun if you push your body to the limit, especially if it’s the start of your trip.

Keep in Mind: Are you planning a trip to Banff in the summer? See Our Favorite Banff Summer Activities!

Picnic at Bow Falls

One of our favorite things to do at any park is to find a relaxing place to enjoy a picnic. When at Banff, the best spot is Bow Falls. The views from here are stunning, and the sounds of rushing are the perfect background music for your meal. Bring a blanket for the ground and clean up after yourself when packing.

When finished, several pathways allow you to get an up-close view of the falls. You can get so close that you’ll feel the mist from the falls. It’s an excellent opportunity to capture pictures and spot wildlife. 

It’s a popular spot for sightings of wildlife like otters and birds. Keep your eyes on the skies, as the area has a healthy population of bald eagles that frequently appear.

Walk Through the Fairmont Banff Springs

The Fairmont Banff Springs, known as the “Castle in the Rockies,” has welcomed guests to the hotel since 1888. It’s a combination of history, luxury, and incredible architecture. The intricate woodwork, elegant chandeliers, and luxurious furnishings reflect the history of the times. 

If you want to step back in time and see what it would have looked like to live in the late 1800s, this is your chance.

While it’s not cheap, you can take it further and stay the night in one of the 739 guest rooms and suites. However, if you’ve already got a place to stay, the hotel has 12 restaurants. The menus are as fancy as you’d expect from a site with tremendous luxury.

Keep in Mind: Did you know that Canada has Two Official Languages? Click the link to see why and what they are!

Drive the Icefields Parkway on Your Way Out

The Icefields Parkway runs approximately 140 miles between Banff and Jasper National Park. This scenic drive provides some of the best views of the area’s mountains, glaciers, and turquoise lakes.

A typical trip takes approximately three hours, depending on how often you stop to take pictures. However, we suggest you spend at least two days exploring the sights along this route. There’s so much to see and do that you want to take your time. Explore Peyto Lake, Athabasca Falls, or the Columbia Icefield, and watch out for wildlife.

Stay Busy While Exploring Banff National Park

As you can see, you shouldn’t have a problem finding things to do in Banff to fill your schedule. Whether you want to experience a heart-pounding hike or a breathtaking scenic drive, you can find it.

So do yourself a favor and use our list of things to do in Banff to help you create the perfect itinerary for your unforgettable adventure.

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