I love Banff National Park and the entire area that surrounds it. There’s no question–it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. The problem is, too many people are starting to flock to Banff all year long.
The solution? Finding new places like Banff! There is so much more to discover in the Canadian Rockies by going off the beaten path.
I love seeking out hidden gems and quiet and unknown places. The rewarding experience of finding a secret place has got to be one of the best feelings when you travel.
With the rise of Instagram and its geo-tags, this is something that some would say is getting harder and harder to find nowadays!
Understanding the importance of responsible travel and tourism and avoiding being a contributor to overtourism are important travel values of mine.
With that in mind, I’ve created a guide to help you explore other places like Banff. Visiting alternative destinations to our most popular national park will still give you the same breathtaking experiences.
You might even have better experiences because of the smaller crowds and original landscapes and images that aren’t littered all over the social media feeds you follow.
Related Post: Why Agritourism Should Be A Part of Your Next Weekend Getaway in Alberta
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We All Want To Avoid the Sea of Sameness
If you’re anything like me, you scroll through travel hashtags on Instagram and come across images of the turquoise waters of Peyto Lake or the iconic Lake Louise. Then, you start planning your trip.
But a little more research reveals that these magical places only exist in a world of those with mediocre Photoshop skills.
You don’t want the same photo that thousands of others have posted right?
While this image of Lake Louise is breathtaking, you don’t see the hundreds of other tourists taking the same photo.
Even though it’s stunning, a little of the magic is lost when you show up to some of these places not realizing how many other people you’ll have to share your goosebump moments with.
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Places Like Banff That Are Off the Beaten Path But Still in Alberta
So the question is, where CAN you go to escape the crowds and find some hidden gems? Trust me, they’re out there. You can read my list of 40 Alberta hidden gems here!
There are so many other cool places like Banff to explore!
Waterton Lakes National Park
Yes, this is still a national park, but it’s nowhere near as busy as Banff National Park – although the word is getting out, so be sure to visit soon.
It’s located in the very southwest corner of Alberta and actually extends into the state of Montana, where it’s called Glacier National Park.
I describe the landscapes in Waterton as a little like a smaller, more spread out Banff. You still get expansive mountain views of glacier-fed lakes, but you have a little more space.
There are many unique hiking trails here, like the hike to Crypt Lake. To access the trailhead, you need to take a 15-minute boat ride across Upper Waterton Lake.
And be sure to check out the Red Rock Canyon area.
Round out your summer visit with some alpine horseback trail riding and plenty of canoeing or stand-up paddle boarding.
Waterton is also an excellent area for cyclists, or try your hand at e-bike riding.
And don’t miss a visit to the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, which has been around since 1927!
In the winter, Waterton is even less busy than Banff in the winter, making it a perfect place to find some recluse in the colder months.
There are all kinds of places to go snow-shoeing, trails that lead you to frozen waterfalls and plenty of opportunities for wild ice skating.
Finally, what I love about Waterton is that there are so many unique places to stay compared to Banff.
As there’s not much of a townsite here, there are plenty of places to camp or many unique cabins to rent on Airbnb, like this adorable log cabin!
Going hiking? Don’t forget to check this day hike packing list.
This large wilderness area borders Banff National Park but is provincial land meaning it’s free to access!
If you’re looking for somewhere like Banff with both mountains and a decent-sized town, Canmore is essentially Banff’s little cousin. Be warned though, Canmore is also getting very busy, but I couldn’t leave it out of this list.
I recommend staying somewhere on the edges of Canmore, like we did in this adorable little cabin (the Rundle Chalets), and then explore the wide open Kananaskis Country during the day.
The hiking in K-country is incredible. My two favorite hikes in the Canmore area are Ha-Ling Peak and Grassi Lakes Trail (where you can find those iconic turquoise colored-lakes).
I love these hikes because they’re quiet accessible and don’t take all day but you still get those surreal mountain views.
The High Rockies Trail also a great place for hiking, mountain biking or snowshoeing. It’s 80 kms long, but you can choose sections, including one that has a suspension bridge!
Beyond hiking, there’s excellent river rafting and plenty of guided horseback trips to enjoy. Try this 2-hour backcountry trail ride above the Kananaskis Valley.
Some noteworthy waterfalls to check out include Cat Creek Falls, Sheep River Falls and Edworthy Falls (photos coming soon)!
And one of the most unique outdoor experiences that are available in Canmore, but not in Banff, is cave tours and spelunking! Rappel down into some of the longest caves found in Canada.
And after you’re done adventuring for the day, take a dip in the Canmore Nordic Spa for the ultimate post-hike pampering.
Where to Find Places Like Banff in British Columbia
Enter the Canadian Kootenay Rockies. Situated southwest of Banff National Park and a few hours’ drive east of Vancouver, the Kootenays are the next best destination to visit.
If you’re coming from either Calgary or Vancouver, it’s only a few hours to some of the most stunning and inspiring landscapes and adventures you can dream of.
The following guide is a road trip that I’ve taken many times, in all seasons, and will continue to take for the rest of my life. It’s full of breathtaking landscapes and goosebump moments every time I visit.
Radium Hot Springs
Nestled away at the edge of Kootenay National Park is the quaint mountain village of Radium Hot Springs.
The mix of pure wilderness, peaks and valleys, untouched forest, crystal waterfalls and abundant wildlife makes it a great alternative to Banff.
Radium is bar far my new favorite hidden gem. A lot of locals now come to this area to escape the crowds of the busier national parks.
Most visitors to the town of Banff pay a visit to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. While they’re definitely worth checking out, I think there’s a better option.
In my opinion, the Radium Hot Springs are much better! I would choose to visit these ones any day over the ones in Banff.
You can get much closer to wildlife here; the big horn sheep roam around town all year round (just don’t get too close, they’re still wild animals). The town even devotes an entire festival to them called the Headbanger Festival.
There are crystal clear emerald lakes and majestic lookouts over the Columbia valley. The hiking here is also incredible and absolutely rivals the scenic hikes found in Banff National Park. Check out Bugaboo Provincial Park for some wild hikes.
While the town site is much smaller than Banff and lacks shopping, there are some incredible restaurants and adorable coffee shops. I consider this a good thing.
It’s the perfect little Canadian Rockies alpine village that emphasizes its natural surroundings instead of exploits them (ahem, I’m looking at you, Banff).
If you’re searching for other places in Canadian Rockies with striking scenery like Banff, Radium Hot Springs will check all your boxes.
This is the perfect swimming hole to hit up on hot summer day. If you’re close to the town of Invermere, head south on Highway 95 for a short period, turn left onto Windermere Loop Road, there’s gas station on the corner.
Follow the road until you see a mining operation building. Turn left and take that road which is the Westroc mine road.
Follow for another few kilometers until what looks like a parking lot on the left side of the road. Park here and walk through the path into the bushes.
The path is fairly well marked and you’ll have to walk for a little over 5 minutes passed a small creek. Finally you’ll start to see the opening of this beautiful lake at the bottom of the cliffs you’re standing on.
This lake is the perfect stop for anyone in your group. It’s cliff jumping mecca for the fearless-type. There’s several different jumping heights and there’s even a rope swing!
For the not so adventurous, bring a floatie; it’s the perfect lake to chill. Since it’s surrounded by cliffs and some large fallen trees, it’s impossible to drift away.
The water is freezing though, but refreshing. We’ve been here a couple of times, and each time there’s only a few other people.
Definitely a Canadian Rockies off the beaten path experience at this local swimming hole!
Invermere, British Columbia
Invermere is your small urban-hub. There’s a great local craft brewery and be sure to follow the signs to check out the downtown.
It’s choc full of local artisan shops which is a welcome change for those sick of the large franchised shops that now fill downtown Banff and have taken away some of the charm.
Be sure to check out Windemere Lake if you care for another dip. Head to the Kinsmen Beach access point for the best parking and change rooms and washrooms.
This is a well maintained sandy beach with lots of room for everyone. They’ve even got floating docks with water slides.
Tip: Be careful though as in late-July the lake becomes prone to swimmers itch.
There are free showers to use after you exit the lake, but the most helpful thing I found to avoid this awful rash is to use a natural body butter with something strong scented like citrus, lemongrass, mint, peppermint or a combination of those.
I used this body butter and didn’t catch anything. My husband, on the other hand, picked up the nasty itch. We were in the water for the same amount of time and both showered right away so anything helps.
Fairmont Hot Springs
I will never forget the first time I discovered this spot. Something about it triggered all the dopamine chemical reactions because as I took it all in, everything felt just perfect.
If you’ve googled this place before, you’ve likely found information about the commercially developed hot spring with the large resort, golf course and RV park attached.
There are 2 amazing spots on this property that are completely free and a way better experience than paying to sit in a lukewarm bathtub shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of other people.
First, check out the original source of the hot springs. Go ahead and park where you normally would for the main commercial pools.
Then start walking back to the entrance gate where you came in, and you’ll see a moderately-sized hill. There should be a few foot paths carved into the hillside.
Hike up to the top (3 minutes). Up there you’ll find the still-standing original bath houses that were built to utilize the hot springs.
The property still let’s the public use these baths for free as they divert water from the original thermal source into three separate small baths, they fit about 2-3 adults.
If you continue walking more upwards, you’ll find a bench with a standard bathtub size mineral water pool.
You can see that this is where the water comes in. Caution, hot! Most people can only dip their toes and feet, go check it out and see if you can handle it!
Second, and the best kept secret of this whole list. This isn’t just another place like Banff, I think it’s better! It’s the run-off area behind and underneath the main pool. Head toward the RV park. But just before you enter the park, turn right.
You’ll see a gravel path heading down, under the pedestrian bridge and follows a creek. Head this way.
Bonus tip – there will likely be a small barricade blocking the entrance to the trail that mentions there is a bear in the area. While you should always be bear aware and take necessary safety precautions, it’s ok to go passed the sign.
After walking for about 5 minutes, you’ll come to the first spot. There’s some overflow from the pool above that’s made some beautiful miniature mineral pools carved into the rock.
This is a popular spot to bring some stable lawn chairs and maybe a beverage (no glass and bring your garbage with you please!) and watch the sunset.
Search For the Warm Waterfall
But if you keep going another minute or two around the corner, this is where the real surprise is. It’s a warm waterfall! You’ll have to shimmy across some fallen tree trunks to get across.
Once you cross, you can play around in the warm natural mineral water, splash around under the waterfall and let it hit your back for a natural hydro massage. Careful though; the rock is extremely slippery, so move slow and cautiously.
Where to Stay Near Fairmont Hot Springs
If you’re planning to hit any of these places on your travel adventures, I recommend staying somewhere near the small village of Fairmont Hot Springs, since it’s quite central.
While there is a resort here, it’s expensive and you can find way better places to stay nearby.
I recommend Fairmont Mountain Bungalows because you get your own private cabin that’s been fully renovated, and they’re pretty inexpensive. Staying here puts you within minutes of the Fairmont Hot Springs and about 40 minutes from Lussier Hot Springs.
Lussier Hot Springs
Probably the most well-known place on this list is Lussier Hot Springs. This free, natural hot springs is maintained by the BC provincial government. It’s located on google maps, about 20 minutes off the highway down a forestry road.
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It’s quite bumpy in the summer, and as you gain more altitude the road narrows a bit and the cliff drop off is no joke. However, once you arrive at the parking lot, it’s all worth it.
Put your swimsuit on in the car, or there are 2 outhouses at the parking lot. Or feel free to change with a towel around you down at the springs themselves.
I’ve heard stories of some folks who enjoy Lussier Hot Springs in the nude, but in the half a dozen times I’ve been there, everyone had suits on.
This is an amazing spot to spend an hour or two and everyone who visits is super chill. Try to visit in the off season and early in the morning for the least amount of visitors.
Alces Lake is 5 minutes passed Lussier on the same forestry road. Pull into the first entrance for the Alces Lake campground. This is a great unserviced campsite or a great spot to spend the day.
There’s a beautiful large public access dock from the middle of the campground. Bring some floaties and hang out. The water is the most pristine, crystal clear, and super warm.
If your searching for places like Banff in the summer, this spot is a great option. You can swim in the water because it’s not a freezing cold lake, and you still get the great mountain-like views in the background.
This whole area defines the term ‘nature’s playground.’ Located in Premier Lake Provincial Park, Quartz Lake is also known as Rockbluff Lake. Do you want those memorable moments that take your breath away?
Do you want to be able to point your camera anywhere, from any angle to get the perfect shot every time? This is the place.
Be warned, it’s going to feel like you’re lost. It’s going to feel like you’re in the wrong place. Read on and you’ll be reward with a magical destination. Plug premier lake provincial park into your maps.
Follow Premier Ridge Road for a long time. You’ll gain altitude and catch some amazing views. You’ll eventually come to a bit of a fork in the road with directions for either premier lake or quartz lake, take the quartz lake.
It looks like more of an ATV trail and not a road, but trust me, that’s the one you want. It’s going to be rough and bumpy and you’re going to want to turn around several time.
Keep going. Eventually you hit the main access point, lot’s of natural parking, a couple outhouses and open areas for picnics.
The whole area near skookumchuck is incredible. It really feels as if you’re in a different world than where you are. There isn’t much of a town site here, just the open roads and new places to discover. You will definitely feel like you’re off the beaten path here!
To get here, stay at this remote cabin for the ultimate secluded getaway and then walk down to the river.
Ram Creek Hot Springs
I’ve saved the best for last. If you’re looking for experiences in the Canadian Rockies off the beaten path, this place is it! On your hunt for places like Banff, this secluded area needs to be on the top of your list.
I should mention Ram Creek Hot Springs are considered more of a ‘warm spring’ as the water is close to bath tub temperature.
After a short hike through the forest, a small clearing opens up and reveals 3 natural rock pools, an incredible sight.
These natural hot springs overlook a valley and are much less busy than Lussier Hot Springs, but for a reason. Access isn’t the easiest, but if you’re at Lussier and have a lifted or 4×4 vehicle, it’s worth the adventure.
These springs are not the easiest ones to get to, but if you commit to the experience, you will be highly rewarded!
Follow the gravel road passed Lussier Hot Springs on the Whiteswan Lake Forest Service Road. After about 30 minutes you will come to an ‘intersection’ of a few gravel roads. Turn right on to White Ram road.
Drive as far as you can. It will look like more of an ATV or quad trail most of the way. If you can make it all the way, the road will end and that’s where you start your hike, about a third of a mile. There’s enough room to turn your vehicle around and park it.
We ended up leaving our vehicle parked on the side of the road and decided to hike in the rest of the way, about 2.5 miles. The rocks on the road were getting to big and sharp for our liking.
Places Like Banff Bonus Mention!
I’ve got one place to mention as a bonus. It’s not on the list above because I haven’t personally been to it yet, but plan to the next time I’m in the area. Have you been to this place below? Leave a comment below with any tips or stories you have!
Buhl Creek Hot Springs
If I haven’t lost you yet and you’re up for an adventure, try and find these springs. I haven’t searched these out, but in my research reading other blog posts of fellow hot springs savants (like the Ultimate Hot Springs Guide) they’ve mentioned they’re worth finding.
As a regular visitor to the mountains in Alberta and British Columbia, these are my favorite places like Banff that I love sharing with others! I hope this list helps you build a great itinerary for your next road trip to the Canadian Rockies off the beaten path.
By exploring the East Kootenays or visiting somewhere lesser known, you’re getting so much more of the authentic Canada.
I’d love to hear about your stories, experiences, tips or anything else that would be a great addition to the list!
>> P.S. If you’re looking for places that are similar to Banff – Check out Revelstoke (about 3 hours west) – mountains, hot springs and a super cute mountain town.
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