Banff National Park is heaven for the outdoor lover. It has everything from beautiful lakes to rugged mountains to wildlife roaming freely. It is amazing that a place can feel so different depending on the season you visit. In winter, Banff National Park offers great skiing, snowboarding, and other mountain sports. In summer, canoeing, hiking, and fishing are big draws for nature lovers. Regardless of the season you plan to visit, we’ve got all the information on what to do in Banff National Park. There are a ton of fun, family-friendly activities to keep all ages entertained!
What to do in Banff National Park
There are three main ski resorts located in Banff National Park.
The largest and most popular is Lake Louise. This resort has the most developed base area and the most ski runs (145 marked runs plus the back bowls). However, there are two other mountains you shouldn’t discount. Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay both offer great skiing options.
In my opinion, Sunshine Village has the prettiest views and is only a 15 minute drive from Banff, if you choose to stay there instead of Lake Louise. It offers 115 runs, many which are above the tree line which is a truly unique experience.
Mount Norquay is much smaller, with only a handful of lifts and 60 runs, but it is a very family-friendly mountain that offers ski passes by the hour. This is perfect if you’re skiing with young children who can’t handle a full day on the slopes yet, or if you just want to get in a few runs before heading back to Calgary to catch an afternoon flight. Another big plus, it is only 5 minutes from Banff!
Check out this post for more great winter activities in Banff.
In the summer, Banff National Park is best known for its phenomenal hiking and lake activities. There are numerous hiking trails throughout the park varying in length and physical demand.
Johnston Canyon is one of the more popular hikes. It is a beautiful and easy hike, but can get very crowded. If you want to see Johnston Canyon, I recommend doing so early in the day before it becomes over-run with people. Keep in mind, it is also closed for about two weeks each fall for maintenance, so check the park’s website before you go. Two other easy, and very popular hikes are Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. For some leisurely hiking you can stay on the paths the run along the water. For more extreme or challenging hiking, there are several trail heads that start near the lakes and head into the mountains. These areas also tend to draw the crowds, mainly because of the lakes’ beautiful turquoise water. Sunshine Village is a great alternative hiking spot that is not nearly as crowded in the summer. We’ve been able to hike with our daughter when she was both an infant (in a carrier) and as a toddler (in a hiking backpack). However, if you plan to do so, make sure you stay on trails that typically do not have bear activity and take proper precautions to keep you and your little ones safe. Wildlife is very prevalent in the park – including grizzly bears. Many of the trails recommend only hiking in groups of four or more and carrying bear spray with you.
Moraine Lake is known for it’s almost unnaturally turquoise water. Canoeing is a popular activity at the glacial lake. Visitors can rent canoes on site and enjoy a relaxing ride across the calm, blue water. Photography is also a popular pass time at both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. For more amazing lakes in Canada, click here.
Pro tip: the water looks most vibrant when the sun is hitting it, so photos look best when taken in direct sunlight (around high noon) and from above.
Lake Louise Mountain Resort Gondola Ride
Whether you are skiing in the winter or just want to take in the breathtaking views from high atop the mountains, a gondola ride is a great family-friendly activity. Taking the gondola up to the top of the mountain at the Lake Louise Mountain Resort is a great way to view wildlife. You also get a much different perspective of the topography. There is a nice, little restaurant at the top where you can grab a bite to eat or have a refreshing drink on the outdoor patio. But don’t worry about the wildlife, there is an electric fence to protect visitors from grizzly bears. However, you can hike at your own risk behind the fence.
Banff is also known for its hot springs. In fact, the Banff Upper Hot Springs are actually located in the town of Banff, making it extremely convenient if you are staying in town. We did not have time to visit the hot springs, but this is definitely a family-friendly activity we will put on our list for next time. I’m sure it is quite relaxing on the muscles after a long day of hiking or skiing.
The Banff Gondola is also worth a trip, especially if you don’t want to drive all the way to Lake Louise. The short ride to the top gives you some of the best views of the Canadian Rockies and a really great view of the castle-like Fairmount Banff Springs Hotel, below. I found the area a bit more crowded, but the views really are spectacular. There are bathrooms, a coffee house, and a souvenir shop on top of the mountain, as well. It comes in handy on cold days when you want to warm up after a brisk hike.
You can check out all of our reviews from Banff and the village of Lake Louise here.