Banff is one the best places to visit in Canada during summer.
While Banff is one of the worlds premier ski destinations, there are so many reasons to head to Banff in summer. The world-renowned scenery is brimming with natural attractions, and there’s plenty of festivals and events to make the most of the beautiful weather. There are so many things to do in Banff in the summer you just may want to stay longer than planned. We have partnered with Expedia.com.au to showcase some of our favourites.
Banff National Park
While the town of Banff may only have a population of less than 9,000, it is the Banff National Park, a designated World Heritage site since 1985 that attracts over four million visitors each year.
There is no doubt about the merits of Banff as a winter destination, but summer really is the best time of year to visit Banff National Park. The extended daylight hours, warm summer days and cool evenings from June through September are perfect for the many summer activities in Banff. Whether canoeing, hiking, camping or just taking the opportunity to dine alfresco while enjoying the spectre of the Canadian Rockies, you’ll be able to make the most of any Banff itinerary.
Hit The Water – Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoeing and kayaking in Banff is one of the most quintessential Canadian activities. A tranquil paddle offers some of the best vantage points for the most beautiful scenery in the park and excellent opportunities for wildlife encounters.
Any level of paddler may rent canoes at the canoe docks at the north end of Bow Avenue. From here you can choose to explore the Bow River and the possibility to follow Forty Mile Creek into the Vermilion Lakes.
For more experienced or adventurous canoeists, there are three popular legs of the Bow River you can explore:
- Lake Louise to Castle Junction
- Castle Junction to Banff
- Bow Falls to Canmore
You may also take the scenic drive to Lake Louise, approx 40 min and grab a canoe from there.
What better environs than the Canadian Rockies in summer for some of the most exceptional fishing in the world. Fishing in Banff National Park offers anglers of all types superb opportunities to catch some unique fish while surrounded by the worlds best scenery. Lake Minnewanka is a spectacular spot for novices to expert anglers. You can rent boats on the lake or fish straight from the shore. The Bow River just south of Banff is a favourite of both local and visiting anglers.
If you’re looking to plan a more serious fishing trip, there is the possibility of extended fishing adventures through the backcountry by horseback so you can also enjoy the mountains and a spot of camping. For the high flying fisherman, there are even helicopter tours that can take you to lakes where very few people have fished before.
Keep in mind, Banff is a National Park, so you will require a permit and make sure you are familiar with the national parks fishing regulations, possession limits, and open season. You can check Parks Canada site before planning your trip.
Ride the Banff Gondola
Banff National Park is practically unrivalled worldwide for spectacular scenery. The best way to enjoy it without any distraction is on the Banff Gondola. The eight-minute chairlift ride climbs to an elevation of 7,486 ft providing visitors with magnificent views of the Canadian Rockies and the town of Banff without the strenuous hike up to the top. You will also pass over grizzly and black bear habitats. If you’re feeling active, you can hike the 2-hour trail up Sulphur Mountain and catch the gondola down.
For an extra thrill, take a ride on the open-air chairlift on the Banff Sightseeing Chairlift at Mt Norquay just 5 minutes from downtown Banff. At the upper gondola terminal, you will find view-decks and the Summit Ridge interpretive boardwalk. There is also a bistro where you can have lunch and sample some local craft brews or a glass of wine.
Lake Louise Gondola
The Lake Louise Gondola offers a 14 glorious minute ride climbing to 6850ft, the highest lift-accessed sightseeing elevation in Banff National Park. Take either an open chair or a fully enclosed gondola for one of Banff National Park’s most magnificent views. Enjoy the panorama of the famous Lake Louise, Victoria Glacier, and beautiful displays of alpine wildflowers. There are also many wildlife viewing opportunities. As Lake Louise is one of the best places in the world to see wild grizzly bears, you can often see bear roaming below during the summer months.
At the top, you will find a Wildlife Interpretive Centre, hiking trails, guided walks and a range of dining options including a contemporary bistro and new smokehouse with a patio dining area.
Meet the Banff Wildlife
The Banff National Park is home to a myriad of iconic wildlife. Elk, bighorn sheep, moose, and of course black and grizzly bears are usually high on most visitor’s wildlife sighting wish list. And then there’s mountain goats, coyotes, wolves and the elusive big cats, lynx and mountain lion.
While some of the big ticket animals may take more luck than skill to find, you should have no problem sighting elk, deer and bighorn sheep as well plenty of the smaller residents such as Columbian ground squirrels, chipmunks and pikas. For bird watchers, expect easy sightings of Clark’s Nutcrackers, Stellar Jays, Ravens, Falcons and White-tailed Ptarmigan.
To optimise your chance of good wildlife sightings, you need to plan ahead. The best times for wildlife is early in the mornings and late afternoon or early evening when animals tend to come out to feed. There are also plenty of wildlife tours aimed at specific areas of the park or to target particular species. Experienced guides will know how to maximise the possibility of seeing wildlife and give you tips on what to look for during the remainder of your stay.
Most importantly, always be on the lookout, you never know when or where you are going to see something in Banff. You could have the best wildlife encounters during a hike or while on a scenic drive. Just remember to follow park guidelines for any wildlife interactions.
Banff National Park boasts some of the most spectacular hiking in the world. From scenic strolls to epic hiking adventures through the rugged backcountry, Banff has the lot. There are many great hiking trails within walking distance from Banff townsite including the 2hr Sulphur Mountain hike for one of the best views in the Banff area and the Rockies.
Moraine Lake, about an hour’s drive north of town, is the obvious must-see of any Banff trip. Situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake offers postcard views of the surrounding snowcapped peaks mirrored in crystal clear water. The area is surrounded by backcountry hiking trails. The easiest, the flat Moraine Lakeshore path is a 45-minute round-trip which starts near Moraine Lake Lodge. This hike will give you stunning views of Mount Fay and the Fay Glacier.
For something a little more active; consider the 3.2 km Consolation Lakes trail. The round trip will take approx 2 hrs and will reward you with views of the high alpine meadows, talus slopes and the Quadra Glacier. Mid to late summer is the best time to go as the Moraine Lake Road is closed from mid-October to mid-May due to avalanche risk.
You can pick-up a free trail map at the visitor centre for self-guided hikes, but guided hikes are also a great option. A local guide can take you on the best trails for your abilities, show you the best viewpoints, and teach you all about the natural history of the area.
If you do opt for self-guided hikes, check the trail reports with Parks Canada before you go for a trail conditions report and any bulletins which list bear warnings or area closures.
Take the Waters at Banff Upper Hot Springs
Visitors have come to take the waters at the historic Banff hot springs spa and bathhouse for more than a century. Set against a backdrop of spectacular alpine scenery, you can luxuriate in the steamy hot mineral water of the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
At an elevation of 5,200 feet, Banff Upper Hot Springs is the highest operating hot spring in Canada. The thermal waters are pushed vertically over 6,500 feet through a big crack in the layers of rock, called the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault.
Each Rocky Mountain Hot Spring has a unique blend of minerals, gases and temperature. The different hot springs on Sulphur Mountain all show variations in mineral content and temperature. With a soothing blend of Sulphate, Calcium, Bicarbonate, Magnesium and Sodium, Banff Upper Hot Springs is the hottest of these springs. The Banff Upper Hot Springs is an all-year-round authentic heritage experience. A favourite with both visitors and locals.
Head Down Banff Avenue
Downtown Banff instantly endears visitors. Banff Avenue has a fabulous selection of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and craft breweries surrounded by the stunning mountainous vista of Banff National Park. It is a unique and exciting place to be.
The long days of summer are perfect enjoying the Banff patio scene. Take the opportunity for a long lunch or enjoy a beer after a days hiking. You’ll find many of the restaurants and cafés in town have patios to soak up the sun and the view. Try the popular Park Distillery on Banff Avenue for house-made spirits and wood-fired, spit roasted, campfire inspired meals. Take a free distillery tour while you’re there to see the process behind their award-winning spirits. Tours run daily at 3.30 but book in advance. Stop in at the popular Banff Ave. Brewing Co for some premium handcrafted beer and “thoughtful pub fare.”
Every Wednesday from May to October you can enjoy the Banff Farmers Market in Banff Central Park. You’ll find fresh local produce and foods, locally made arts-and-crafts and a fabulous local atmosphere.
Accommodation in Banff National Park
The town of Banff and the small hamlet of Lake Louise have a full range of accommodation options for all budgets. Choose from the luxury of the Fairmont Banff Springs with views of the famous Bow Falls or The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on the shores of the famous Lake Louise. Charming boutique hotels, romantic B&B’s or a family size condo or chalet. Perhaps a cosy log cabin might be more your style? There is plenty of options to suit any style of Banff itinerary and budgets.
Camping in Banff
Camping in Banff is a unique experience. There is an extensive network of campsites in Banff National Park so you can experience the parks natural wonders not seen by most park visitors. For those who want to stay close to town, there are camping spots close to the Banff townsite such as Tunnel Mountain Village and Two Jack Lakeside. Or, if you want to get back to nature and have a genuine wilderness experience, consider a hiking and camping combo. The beauty of camping at one of Banff’s backcountry sites is there are lots of backcountry trails to choose from, so you don’t have to hike too far to get away from the crowd.
You will require a park permit and a camping permit to camp in Banff National Park. You will also need a separate fire permit if you want to have a fire. Be aware that during summer, campsites book up quickly, especially on weekends, so book early or look for dates midweek.
Other Things to do in Banff in Summer
It goes to show, summer really is the best time to visit Banff. This is just the tip of what there is to do in Banff in summer. If none of this tickles your fancy, how about the full calendar of summer events – outdoor music concerts, sporting events, and special Canada Day celebrations. Horseback riding, climbing, scenic drives, whitewater rafting, sky diving, caving… The list goes on.
Getting to Banff
Banff National Park is located on the TransCanada Highway. The TransCanada is a well-maintained road that winds its way through the Canadian Rockies and is open all year round. If you are driving, you will need to purchase a Parks Pass to enter Banff National Park.
Car Rental is available from Calgary Airport.
Banff National Park is best accessed from Calgary International Airport. From the airport, it is 90 minute, 140-kilometre drive to Banff & Lake Louise. Regular shuttle buses run from the airport to Banff and Lake Louise.
There are scheduled bus services from Calgary International Airport and downtown Calgary to Banff and Lake Louise.
The Rocky Mountaineer has regular train services that stop at Banff.