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Banff National Park has long been one of our favorite destinations in Canada to visit as a family. Tucked away in the Canadian Rockies, Banff is not only one of the most beautiful and picturesque places on the planet, it is also one of the world’s best outdoor playgrounds. Visiting Banff with kids is a great way for families to experience nature together, disconnect from the things that aren’t important and truly connect with the things that are. Established in 1885, Banff was the first national park in Canada and only the third recognized national park in the world. And if you’ve ever been, there’s no question as to why. There are so many incredible things to do in Banff with kids or without. You could spend weeks enjoying this natural wonderland that spans more than 2,500 square miles.
How to get to Banff National Park
Banff National Park is about a 1 1/2 hour drive west from Calgary, Alberta, which is a cool city to explore, as well, if you have time. The national park consists of 2,564 square miles of rugged terrain, ice fields, forests, and picture-perfect landscapes. Within the national park, there are two main towns, Banff and Lake Louise, both of which are popular places to stay in Banff. Just outside the national park, you will find another great mountain town worth visiting called Canmore. Canmore offers a lot of the same types of activities that you’ll find within Banff National Park but without having to pay the park’s admission fees.
Depending on where you are visiting in Banff, plan to spend roughly 1 1/4 – 2 hours in the car if driving from Calgary. The easiest way to get to Banff National Park is to fly into Calgary, rent a car, and drive. The highways in Canada are well maintained with fences to prevent wildlife from gaining access to the roadway. In winter, the roads are well plowed and accessible even after a big snow event, so driving isn’t typically treacherous, even during Canada’s icy winters.
If you prefer not to do a self-drive or self-guided visit to Banff, there are guided tours and transfer services from Calgary to Banff that let someone else do all the driving for you.
COMPARE ALL GUIDED TOURS AND FAMILY ACTIVITIES IN BANFF HERE.
Things to know before visiting Banff National Park with kids
Like any national park you visit, the primary highlight is nature itself. But with so many things to do in Banff National Park with kids, there are some important things to keep in mind when planning your trip.
Dining and lodging in Banff National Park
You will find a lot more lodging and dining options in Canmore and Banff than in the town of Lake Louise. However, all three towns have great family-friendly hotels and a variety of incredible restaurants. The time of year you visit Banff will determine your plans and activities while there. And your plans and activities during your vacation will likely determine in which town you should stay.
For example, if you plan to visit some of Banff’s surreal lakes during summer, Lake Louise is the closer lodging option. But if you visit Banff in winter, you may decide to stay in the town of Banff instead, as it is close to two of the “Big 3” ski mountains within the national park.
Entrance fees for Banff National Park
Entrance into Banff National Park will cost approximately $20 for a family admission pass (as of 2020). You will pay the fee at the entrance to the park and cannot get to the towns of Banff or Lake Louise otherwise. Both towns are located inside Banff National Park, so if you are staying in a hotel in one of the towns, you will pay an entrance fee to enter the park before you get to your hotel.
If you are staying in Canmore, you will not have to pay the park fees until the day you visit. Once inside the park, many of the outdoor activities in Banff, like hiking, are free. There are additional fees if you plan to fish or camp inside Banff National Park or visit one of the attractions like the Banff Upper Hot Springs or the Banff Gondola.
Obviously, if you plan to ski or take the gondola up at the Lake Louise Mountain Resort you will obviously pay an additional cost for a lift ticket or a gondola ticket, as well.
Best time to visit Banff National Park with kids
We have visited Banff National Park in summer, fall, and winter. It is very family friendly, however, if you or your children are not fans of the cold, I’d seriously recommend visiting sometime between the months of June and September. This is Canada, after all, and winter in Canada can be extreme. With that said, the winters are still gloriously beautiful in Banff. Snow-capped mountains and fresh white powder covering the ground makes winter in Banff look like a wonderland.
Regardless of the season in which you visit, we recommend that you always bring along warm clothing. I always pack a couple sweaters and a light jacket even if visiting in summer. We’ve witnessed it snow in May and September in Banff, and we were thankful we packed jackets just in case.
Things to do in Banff with kids
There are a TON of great outdoor activities in Banff that are perfect for families traveling with children. And while you may not get around to doing all of them, here are 25 of our favorite things to do in Banff with kids. We’ve broken down the activities by season, because as previously mentioned, the time of year you visit will determine which activities you can do in Banff.
What to do in Banff in late spring, summer, or fall
Late spring, summer, and early fall are my favorite times of the year to visit the Canadian Rockies. But if you enjoy winter sports or are planning a family trip to Banff in winter, keep scrolling for a look at activities in Banff that are great during the cold weather months.
1. Canoe in the brilliant turquoise water at Moraine Lake
Lake Moraine is almost surreal looking. The water is a vibrant shade of turquoise that is so eye-catching and stunning that it appears to have been altered in Photoshop. Canoeing on Lake Moraine is a great family activity in Banff. The water is very still making it easy to paddle across the lake, even for kids.
2. Go on a peaceful hike at Sunshine Village Mountain Resort
Remember when I said we’ve experienced snow in typical “warm weather months” in Canada? The picture below was taken in Sunshine Meadows in early September, and we were very glad we packed jackets. Sunshine Meadows is an easy hike with kids in Banff National Park. Located at Sunshine Village Mountain Resort, this area has several hikes which can take you to alpine lakes and into the mountains. Portions of some of the trails are even paved, making them perfect for hiking with toddlers or kids. But be sure to have appropriate kids’ hiking gear, or otherwise you’ll end up carrying your kids part of the way.
3. Go wildlife spotting at Lake Louise Mountain Resort (watch out for grizzlies!)
Lake Louise Mountain Resort is known for 2 things… awesome skiing and grizzly bears. 🙂 But don’t let the fear of being eaten by an 800 pound brown bear keep you from hiking in this beautiful part of the country. Bring bear spray (it’s a must), hike in groups of four or more, and go on an incredible wildlife adventure. You can spot all kinds of animals at Lake Louise Mountain Resort in summer, including moose and elk. Some of them can often be seen from the gondola at Lake Louise. So even if you don’t want to hike in bear country, you can take the gondola up to the top of the fenced in area meant to keep the bears out, and have lunch with a view.
4. Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs
Located in the town of Banff, the Upper Hot Springs is a great place to relax in both summer or winter. The springs are like large outdoor, public pools fed 100% by natural thermal mineral water. There is a fee of approximately $8.50 per adult and $7.50 per child to enter.
5. Hike Johnston Canyon
Known as the most popular hike in Banff National Park, Johnston Canyon is one of the best easy hikes in Banff for kids. You can hike Johnston Canyon in winter or in summer. With raised walkways that take you along the river, by waterfalls and through canyons and caves, this hike is one of the most beautiful and accessible hikes in the park. If you want to hike Johnston Canyon, get there early as it can become very crowded, especially during the summer.
6. Drive the scenic Icefields Parkway and see glaciers up close
The Icefields Parkway takes you from Banff national Park to Jasper National Park. It takes roughly three hours to drive this scenic road that connects two of the best national parks in Canada. There are several stops along the route including Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, and the Columbia Icefield, which you can actually book a tour to walk on the glacier.
7. Have lunch or dinner in an old train station
The Station Restaurant in Lake Louise is one of our favorite places to eat in Banff National Park with kids. The restaurant is in an old, converted train station and maintains a lot of it’s original character and features.
8. Paddle board or kayak at Lake Louise
Lake Louise is probably the most visited lake in Banff National Park. Although slightly less photogenic than Moraine Lake, but still stunning, Lake Louise is easier to get to and offers a lot more activities and things to do in Banff with kids. Unlike Moraine Lake, which is closed during winter, Lake Louise is both a summer and winter destination.
9. Camp out under the stars
What outdoor adventure in Banff would be complete without at least one night camping out under the stars. There are a lot of designated camping areas in the national park that you can reserve for a small fee. If camping as a family, make sure you have the proper camping gear for kids to keep the trip safe and enjoyable.
10. Go fishing or hang out at the beach on Johnson Lake
Although one of the smaller, lesser known lakes in Banff National Park, Johnson Lake is a great place to visit in Banff with kids. It boasts the only natural beach at any of the area lakes, making it a popular place for families to hang out during the day. At Johnson Lake, you can go for a very cold swim, have a picnic, or fish from the shoreline (with a permit).
11. Visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Located in the town of Banff, The Cave and Basin is a small cave museum that teaches you about hot springs and how they are formed. The hot springs cavern is the main attraction of the museum. Be forewarned, the sulphur smell is overwhelming!
12. Take the Banff Gondola to the top for spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies
If you haven’t had enough of Banff’s striking views, head up the Banff Gondola for panoramic views of the mountains and valley below. Although the gondola ride is a bit pricey, the views are incredible.
13. Drive the scenic Bow Valley Parkway
Like the Icefields Parkway, the Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic drive. It runs between Banff and Lake Louise. The parkway runs parallel to the highway on the opposite side of the Bow River. It’s a great place to spot wildlife grazing in the meadows or hanging out by the river.
14. Take a half day horseback riding tour
Horseback riding is great way to explore any wilderness area. It gets you out of the car and more connected with nature. Luckily, there are some great tour companies that offer horseback riding tours in Banff.
Winter/ Early Spring
Although much colder and typically covered in snow, winter and early spring in Banff is equally as beautiful as summer and fall. Banff truly is one of the most beautiful winter wonderlands in the world. Here are a few ideas of things to do in Banff with kids during the winter and early spring months.
15. Stroll through downtown Banff and shop
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors. The streets of downtown Banff are beautiful year-round. When you start to get cold, there are lots of shops selling unique things for the whole family that you can duck into and look around while you warm up.
16. Take a snowmobiling tour
Snowmobiling is a lot of fun, and for those who live in winter climates, it is a common form of transportation. Snowmobiling with kids is possibly but it requires an adult who is comfortable on a snowmobile to drive with the child on the back, and a child old enough to hold on tightly to not fall off.
17. Enjoy a hot cocoa at a downtown coffee shop
What kid doesn’t enjoy a nice, rich hot cocoa when it is cold outside? While exploring downtown Banff, pop into Little Wild Coffee by Wild Flour for a homemade cocoa. For a vegan or gluten-free cocoa, check our Nourish Bistro instead.
18. Ski the Big 3
Banff is a winter playground for skiers and snowboarders, and there are three ski resorts in Banff National Park to choose from. Skiing is one of the best outdoor winter activities in Banff. Lake Louise is by far the largest of the three ski resorts in Banff, followed by Sunshine Village, then Mount Norquay. If skiing with kids or teaching young children to ski, Mount Norquay is a great mountain to start, as you can buy a lift ticket by the hour. They also have a small tubing hill that is fun for after your kids are tired of skiing.
19. Go dog sledding
If you’re looking for a winter adventure that kids will love, dog sledding is the perfect family activity. It is such a bonding experience for families and for your children with the animals. Unlike many animal activities, dog sledding is fun for the animals as well as the humans. The dogs get so excited when they’re picked to go sledding.
20. Stay at a hotel that looks like a castle and enjoy their heated outdoor pool
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is one of the best places to stay in Banff National Park. The hotel is nicknamed the castle in the Rockies, and it’s easy to see why. This world-renowned hotel is nestled at the foothills of the mountains looking majestic and picture perfect from afar. One of the best things to do in Banff with kids if staying at the Fairmont is to take advantage of their massive, heated indoor-outdoor pool and swim the stars on a cold winter night.
21. Ice skate at Lake Louise
While Lake Louise may be a surreal shade of blue during the summer, it is typically covered in a sheet of ice and snow. The Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise maintains an outdoor ice skating rink on Lake Louise, which is a great place for families to skate together and make winter memories.
22. Visit an actual ice castle at Lake Louise
Ice can be a beautiful building block for art, and at Lake Louise ice is on full display in winter, particularly during the Ice Magic International Ice Caving Competition. Ice carvers create elaborate sculptures built entirely from ice, and even build a small ice castle in front of the Fairmont Chateau. Although not as big or elaborate as some of the other ice castles in North America that we have visited, this cute creation is definitely fun for kids.
23. Go on a sleigh ride
Much like dog sledding, a horse-drawn sleigh ride is a fun and ethical animal experience. There are several places in both Banff and Lake Louise where you can book a sleigh ride through the meadows. Tour operators provide blankets to cuddle up under to stay warm as you explore the snow-covered terrain.
24. Go snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is a fun activity that you can adjust to you and your kids’ ability level. Whether you want to start out snowshoeing on a flat terrain or go for something more challenging, snowshoeing can be a workout, which keeps your body warm even when out in the elements.
25. Try to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights which occasionally are visible in the park
If you’re lucky, there is a chance you’ll be able to see the Northern Lights in Banff National Park. They aren’t always visible from the Alberta park, but your odds are better in winter than in summer. It’s challenging to predict when the aurora borealis will be visible in Banff, but on clear, dark nights, you have a really good chance.
Make sure you check out our guide to outdoor activities in Banff for a more detailed look at some of these awesome things to do with kids.
Have a question or comment about any of these things to do in Banff with kids? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.