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Your Ultimate Guide to Best Things To Do in Banff in Summer

Your Ultimate Guide to Best Things To Do in Banff in Summer

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It’s no secret that Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places in Canada (and dare I say the world) to visit any time of the year.  While Banff is a four season outdoor playground and offers dramatically sweeping views year-round, nothing beats the gorgeous summer weather. Whether you’re interested in hot springs or hikes, canoeing or coffee shops, waterfalls or wildlife, this gem in the Canadian Rockies has it all.

If you’re planning a visit to Banff National Park in the summer (anytime between May and September), there are tons of things for you to do and enjoy the ultimate Banff experience.

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Quick Overview of Banff National Park

How to Get to Banff National Park

First, a few things you need to know before a visit to Banff National Park. The closest airport to Banff is the Calgary International Airport. From the airport you’ll have to rent a car and drive, which will take about 1.5 hours. It’s a 4 lane highway most of the way and a beautiful drive.

If you don’t want to drive, you do have a few shuttle bus options to take you there. You can take the Banff Airporter which will run you less than $100 USD for a round trip ticket.

Discover Banff Tours will also take you from the airport to Banff and other popular places nearby like Canmore and Lake Louise. Or, the Brewster Express will also take you there, and offers a discount if you book a round trip ticket.

You do need to purchase a park pass to enter any national park in Canada. You can purchase the pass at the park gates and it’s about 20 dollars per day for a group.

Transportation: How to Get Around Banff

Most of the downtown core is within walking distance from the hotels along Banff Avenue. If you have a vehicle, it can be difficult to find parking and most lots require payment.

You can also take the local transit buses, called Roam transit. I recommend taking the bus if you’re heading to the Banff Gondola or the hot springs. And there are even routes that take you to Lake Louise and Canmore!

Another great option is to purchase a Hop On Banff pass which is a one-day unlimited pass for shuttle buses to all the iconic sites in Banff National Park.

The bus will bring you to Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. This is a great option to maximize your time in Banff without the hassle of driving and parking.

Check out my tip toward the end of the post about how to score free transit passes the entire time you’re in Banff!

Which Month is the Best to Visit Banff

All four seasons provide their own perks when visiting Banff, but you still probably want to know when the best time to go is.

As far as which month is the best to visit Banff, any of the summer months will be enjoyable. I personally love visiting in June when the spring blooms are fresh and it’s not quite as busy as July and August.

May and September are equally nice, but a little chillier and more variable weather.

How Many Days Should You Spend in Banff?

The answer to this question largely depends on your schedule and what you want to see and do. As a starting point, I recommend 3 full days to fully experience it.

However, if you only have 2 days, you can still enjoy most sites. If you’d like to visit more of the surrounding areas (which are included in this list) then I recommend 4 to 5 days.

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Top Things to do in Banff National Park in Summer

Enjoy Views From Above

Visit the Banff Gondola for incredible views from the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff. In a little under 10 minutes you’re at the top and could stay up there for hours!

There are multiple viewing platforms for 360 degree views. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance to save a few bucks and avoid lineups!

If you don’t want to pay the admission fee to ride the gondola but still want the views (or if you’re in the mood for cardio) you can also hike to the top.

It will take you about 2 hours, but the trail is mostly easy switchbacks, so anyone can do it with moderately grippy running shoes.

After checking out the sights at the top, stop for a drink with a view at the Sky Bistro.

For a different view from above, head to the summer chairlift at Mt. Norquay.  

This experience offers completely different views from the Banff Gondola, and is open air and a little more cozy because it’s only 2 people per chair.

Couple riding the chairlift in the summer at Mount Norquay with views of Banff townsite. Image courtesy Banff Norquay

This is also a great place to explore if you’re looking for where to see bears in Banff National Park. Purchase your ticket in advance online and it includes transportation from Banff.

Or, head to the Lake Louise Gondola where you’re almost guaranteed to see grizzly bears (from a safe distance). And about halfway up the gondola you get to see stunning views of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise nestled between the mountain valley.

Roam Around Town

The Banff town site itself has an adorable and picture perfect main street. Stroll around town and snap a few photos from the middle meridian on main street.

And new for the summer of 2021, the main street (Banff Avenue) is closed to vehicle traffic!

Adorable Banff Avenue

Take yourself on a walking tour of Banff’s history and heritage buildings. This guide will show you where to go and provides a snapshot of the historical significance of all the buildings on the list.

Or tour the town in old-fashioned style in a private horse drawn-carriage. With Discover Banff Tours, there are many different tour options ranging from 15 minute jaunts to custom private tours.

Perfect if you’re on a romantic getaway in Banff!

Read Next: 16 Places for a Romantic Getaway in Alberta

Head to the Bow Falls Viewpoint for waterfall viewing right in town. You can either walk from town or drive as there’s a small parking lot there. You can often find elk around here as well!

Need some Summer holiday inspiration? Check out these epic local swimming holes to add to your bucket list!

Then, across the river you’ll find the ‘Surprise Corner’ which is a great spot for photos and more majestic mountain views. It’s a great place to snap some photos of the Banff castle.

Again, parking around here can get tricky when it’s peak season, so if you don’t find a spot, continue driving up to the Banff Centre and then walk down.

Then take a drive or a bike ride down tunnel mountain road to the Hoodoo viewpoint. Here you can check out the ‘hoodoos’! What’s a hoodoo you ask? They’re neat formations of rock with different layers of sediment.

Parks Canada has placed their red Adirondack chairs here for a great place to rest and take in the view. You can choose to go for a nice hike, or just relax.

Along the Hoodoo Trail in Banff

Hit the Hot Springs

First, check out the Cave and Basin Historic Site. This is where Banff and the birth of Canada’s national parks.! Back in the late 1800s, railway workers first discovered the cave full of hot mineral water.

After learning about the fascinating history, head on up to the Banff Upper Hot Springs where you can sit and soak up the natural mineral water. Try first thing in the morning or an hour before closing to avoid the crowds.

Banff Upper Hot Springs – Image courtesy Travel Alberta

Learn About Banff’s Indigenous and First Nations History

Banff National Park is rich with Indigenous history. In fact, the Indigenous people were the first to discover the natural hot springs here and had been using the healing waters long before the railway workers discovered them.

Head to the Banff Indian Trading Post to learn about First Nations history and shop for authentic handmade Indigenous items like jewelry, moccasins, and mukluks.

Enjoy Some Quiet Time in Colorful Gardens

Stop and smell the roses at the Cascades of Time Gardens. As you walk towards the Banff Springs Hotel and cross the bridge, you’ll find an old stone building which is actually the town’s administration building.

But through the iron gates is one of the most beautiful gardens you can visit. Totally free and open to the public, it’s a great spot to relax and take some photos.

Pro tip: this is a great Banff Instagram spot if you stand with your back to the gates and the bridge.

During your walk around town, one block off main street on Beaver Street you’ll find the Historic Luxton Home. The heritage home is a registered museum and tells the story of one of the first families that settled in Banff.

Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy the garden or play a game of croquet!

Experience the Vibrancy of the Glacier Blue Mountain Lakes

Vermilion Lakes

This is the place to go to capture gorgeous sunrise and sunset views. It’s about 1.5 miles from the center of town, so you could walk here in about 30 minutes, ride a bike or drive.

Photo Credit: Noel Hendrickson via Banff Lake Louise Tourism

Johnson Lake

Not too far outside of town is Johnson Lake. This is one of the warmer lakes to swim in if you want a refreshing dip! A big parking lot, washrooms and picnic tables are on sight here.

Enjoy a nice walk around the whole lake, have a picnic, go for a canoe or a kayak.

Lake Minnewanka

If you want unobstructed views of the most perfect turquoise lake, visit Lake Minnewanka instead of Lake Louise. It will be less busy, plus you can canoe here for much cheaper!

Photo Credit: Paul Zizka via Banff Lake Louise Tourism

Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake is a great spot for photos, a picnic and wildlife viewing. There’s a parking lot and the lake is very accessible and doesn’t require any hiking.

Flip flip or thong sandals will work here! Mountain sheep and goats seem to hang out here quite often!

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is synonymous with Banff National Park, I mean just look at the photo! The glassy cyan-colored water is outrageously gorgeous. Enjoy stunning views of the jagged mountains from the infamous Valley of Ten Peaks viewpoint.

Beautiful turquoise waters of the Moraine lake with snow-covered peaks above it in Banff National Park of Canada

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is a must see spot if you’re in the area. This beautifully blue-green lake is wedged between two mountains and a glacier and will take your breath away every time you visit.

Here, you can enjoy multiple hikes, go canoeing, or enjoy a classy beverage at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Keep in mind it will be a 40 minute drive from Banff to Lake Louise, and if you don’t have your own vehicle you can grab a shuttle bus!

As always, in the peak of the summer it’s best to arrive early or mid-week to avoid crowds as much as possible.

Another great option is to hop on a Lake Louise and Moraine Lake sightseeing tour.

It’s a great way to see both lakes without having to drive yourself and worry about parking (which can be a nightmare in the peak summer season)!

You can book your tour with Discover Banff Tours, one of the most popular tour companies in the area.

Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

All the icy blue lakes means there are waterfalls to be found all around Banff National Park.

Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular spots to visit, and for good reason. There’s parking, washrooms and a boardwalk through the canyon making it very accessible for most people.

For a quieter experience, head to Silverton Falls. On your way to Lake Louise, take the turn at Castle Junction and head toward the Rockbound Lake trailhead.

From the parking lot it’s about a 10 minute moderate hike on a nice gravel trail. In the summer you’ll often find people rappelling down the falls!

For a little more adventure, check out Takakkaw Falls. This is where the natural beauty of Banff and Canada really shines. The falls are named after the Indigenous Cree language term for ‘magnificent’ which is the perfect description here.

The power of the water as it plummets 1000 feet over the cliff is an exhilarating feeling. It’s a relatively short and easy hike, about one mile from the parking lots.

I would plan to visit here on your Lake Louise side-trip, or as part of a trip up the Icefields Parkway.

Banff travel tip: if you don’t have time to experience the infamous scenic drive along the Icefields Parkway, the drive to Takakkaw Falls is a great substitute. It’s a winding road with plenty of switchbacks and a bit narrow in some sections, but complemented by stunning scenery.

Check out these 6 Iconic and Unique Alberta Road Trips (including the Icefields Parkway)

Search for Abandoned Mining Structures

In Banff’s early days, coal mining was prominent in this area, and there are a lot of abandoned structures (and even train cars) left in the forest. If you drive down the road to head to Lake Minnewanka, you’ll find the Bankhead trail head.

What to Do in Banff in the Evening

Grab a pint, pizza and some pins at High Rollers! With dozens of craft beers on tap and live music and DJs, this is probably the most fun you’ll have bowling!

Tommy’s Neighborhood Pub is a great place to have a few fun beverages and try your hand at some darts!

Or head over Mel’s, the bar & pub above the Melissa’s Missteak restaurant. On a recent trip to Banff we asked where the locals hang out on Saturday nights, and everyone told us to go to Mel’s. Great music, great vibes and cheap beer!

Interested in things to do in Banff in the summer but want to escape the crowds? Check out my list of 8 alternatives to Banff.

Where to Stay in Banff National Park

There are lots of hotels and cabins to choose from in and around Banff. However, Banff hotels are very expensive because it’s one of the most visited national parks in Canada.

That being said, Even with the high price tag on many hotels, there are some added benefits that can make the cost seem a little more worth it.

Best Value

If you’re on a budget, the Ptarmigan Inn is a great spot. I’ve stayed here lots because of the lower prices, free breakfast and central location. It’s about a 5 minute walk from downtown.

If you book one of the cheaper rooms it will be on the interior of the hotel meaning you don’t get a window to the exterior. The breakfast isn’t of the highest quality, but it is a hot breakfast consisting of toast and pastries, eggs, bacon or sausage and some cereals.

Best Mid Range

Lately my favorite place to stay in Banff is the Fox Hotel and Suites. It’s a little further from downtown compared to the Ptarmigan, but still under a 15 minute walk.

The best part about this hotel is the underground hot tub. It was built to look similar to the cave and basin historic site. As an added bonus, breakfast is also included here. There’s a waffle machine, hard boiled eggs, yogurts, fresh fruit and cereals.

For another great hot tub, the Moose Hotel and Suites is one of the newest hotels and has two awesome rooftop hot tubs with views that can’t be beat.

Best Luxury

If you can afford it, staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs is an incredible experience. You feel (and are treated) like royalty here and you almost feel like you’re transported back in time.

As the hotel is over 100 years old, there is tons of history to be found throughout the hallways and corridors.

Best Budget Friendly

The Inns of Banff is a great choice if you’re on a budget, as it’s one of the less expensive places to stay in Banff these days. It’s dated and one of the furthest spots from downtown, but perfect if you’re on a budget.

How to Score Free Transit Rides in Banff

As an added bonus, if you stay at any of the Banff Lodging Company properties (the Ptarmigan, Fox, Moose and Inns of Banff mentioned above) you get free Roam transit passes for the length of your stay. Just ask the front desk staff for your complimentary passes.

The other hotels include: Hidden Ridge Resort, Banff Rocky Mountain Resort, Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa, Bumpers Inn, and the Tunnel Mountain Resort.

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A visit to Banff in the summer is an incredible experience. If you have more time to explore Alberta, check out this list of 27 incredible things to do.

Or, head west to Yoho National Park and visit the Radium Hot Springs. Another option is to head north along Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway and (arguably) Canada’s prettiest drive.

Alternatively, spend some time 20 minutes outside of Banff in the neighbor town of Canmore, Alberta. Wherever you go, I promise you’ll love it!

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