Being 6,641 square kilometers in size, you can bet there are some hidden gems in Banff ready for you to discover.
Explore Banff National Park and surrounding area off the beaten path with this insider’s guide to Canada’s most beautiful region.
This travel guide includes non hiking things to do in Banff, secret swimming spots, cool and unique experiences and hidden gems in Banff in winter.
Beyond the main touristy attractions, here are the best secret spots and hidden gems in Banff.
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Tunnel Mountain Reservoir
Along Tunnel Mountain Drive, you’ll come across an open field known as the Tunnel Mountain Reservoir.
This is an insanely gorgeous and peaceful spot for a picnic, photography or to just chill.
Enjoy sweeping mountain views in a quiet area. It’s also a popular place for outdoor weddings in Banff, so you know it’s picturesque.
Mt. Norquay Lookout
Take the curvy road up to the Mt. Norquay ski area, but stop halfway at the lookout viewpoint.
Park your car and hang out in the grassy area, which gives you views of the town of Banff and the entire valley.
This is also an epic spot to watch the sunset in Banff.
Tip – you get almost the same view from here as you do at the top of the Banff Gondola – and this spot is free!
Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway is one of the best roads in Banff to spot wildlife.
It’s a quiet, scenic road that’s popular for cycling, hiking trailheads and picnic areas.
If you’re driving from Banff to Lake Louise, this road is much more scenic compared to Highway 1.
Along the Bow Valley Parkway is Morant’s Curve, arguably one of the most photographed spots in all of Banff National Park.
Many people have seen photos from this spot, but don’t know where it is.
There’s a small parking lot and if you time it right, you could catch a train pass by.
Wildlife Safari Tour
A wildlife safari is one of the coolest experiences you can have in Banff!
Wildlife viewing is one of the most popular activities in Banff National Park, but you have to know when and where to go for the best chance to see wild animals.
On this small group tour, you’ll start at sunset in search of bear, elk, moose and deer!
Bankhead Ghost Town
The Lower Bankhead is a super interesting hike just outside of the town of Banff.
It’s an easy, well-marked trail with little elevation gain/loss, and you not only get mountain views, but pass by abandoned mining building and machinery.
Many visitors miss out on leaving the main downtown area of Banff and not heading up Tunnel Mountain Road.
The Hoodoos Viewpoint & trail is a beautiful pullover area and walking path to get sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.
The first part of the path is paved and is stroller and wheelchair accessible, but it’s also the starting point to many trails to explore.
Rundle Forebay Reservoir
Along the Three Sister Parkway in Canmore (only 20 minutes from Banff) you will find the Rundle Forebay Reservoir, which is a calm, turquoise body of water where you can float, kayak or SUP in front of stunning mountain peaks.
This is definitely one of my favorite secret swimming holes near Banff. If you kayak/SUP to the south end, look for the secret waterfall.
This is a great short hike to a nice waterfall viewpoint. It’s halfway from Banff to Lake Louise and a great alternative to Johnston Canyon that’s much less busy.
This hike will take you 30 minutes or less, round trip, and is easy enough for kids.
There are some steeper sections closer to the top, but the trail is well marked.
Inside tip – stop off at the Castle Mountain Viewpoint, just down from the trailhead along the Banff-Windermere Highway.
- It’s a hidden parking lot that perfectly faces Castle Mountain, one of the most iconic rock faces in Banff National Park.
Cascade of Time Garden
The Cascade of Time Garden is located in the town of Banff, at the south end of the Banff Ave bridge.
It’s free to enter and is a beautifully lush and perfectly manicured garden with trails and walking paths.
The large black gates might seem like it’s closed to the public, but it’s open for visitors to enjoy.
Johnson Lake Swing
Johnson Lake is a popular swimming spot in Banff with a great beach area.
But if you take the trail around the perimeter of the lake, not only will you find a more quiet and secret swimming spot, there’s also a rope swing!
Secret Cave at Johnston Canyon
To find the secret cave at Johnston Canyon, continue past the lower falls towards the upper falls.
Shortly before you arrive at the Upper Falls, turn right down hill along a dirt trail through the forest for a little over 5 minutes.
You’ll have to then scramble down a much steeper section, so this trail is only for experienced hikers with the correct equipment.
Also note that access to the hidden cave at Johnston Canyon is restricted, and not accessible from May 1 to November 15 each year.
Radium Hot Springs
The drive from Banff to Radium Hot Springs is 1.5 hours, but it’s along Highway 93, which is a beautiful drive, and you’ll escape the crowds of Banff National Park.
You could do a day trip by leaving early, hitting some viewpoints along the way.
The most popular places to stop and hike at are the Paint Pots, Numa Falls, Kootenay Valley Viewpoint and Olive Lake.
End your adventurous day with a soak in the Radium Hot Springs pool – which is larger and more scenic than the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
I love the Austrian/Bavarian alpine village theme in Radium Hot Springs, and you can even dine at the Old Salzburg, which serves authentic Austrian dishes.
Read more about things to do in Radium Hot Springs here.
If you love the Banff Gondola and the Glacier Skywalk, you won’t want to miss the Golden Skybridge.
It’s 1.5 hours west of Banff, but definitely worth the views and adrenaline rush!
This is Canada’s highest suspension bridge which straddles a mountain gorge over 400 feet in the air.
Aardvark Pizza is a staple in Banff! A pizza joint open late (usually until 3am) that serves pizza by the slice.
It’s perfect if you’re getting into town late and need something to eat, or when you’ve left the bars & pubs.
Tip – they also have really cheap breakfast sandwiches and wraps (many around $5 or $6).
Hidden Gems in Banff in Winter
Ice Skating at Carrot Creek
When the conditions are just right, sometimes the lakes in Banff freeze over before the snow falls, and this is when you can go wild skating!
Many people head to Vermilion Lakes and Two Jack Lake, but Carrot Creek is a local secret spot for wild ice skating in Banff National Park.
Less than 3 kms from the Banff park gates (east entrance) is a small pullover area for Carrot Creek (the Carrot Creek Trailhead is marked on Google maps).
You’ll have to hike down about 10 minutes – down a hill and through the wildlife fence, but the views are majestic.
Gap Lake is south of Canmore and a scenic spot for skating with no park pass required. Find it along the Bow Valley Trail.
If you’re planning to visit during the colder months, here are my top tips and hacks for visiting Banff in winter.
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