Cradled among the soaring, snowy-peaked mountains of Banff National Park, the town of Banff has always been a gateway to the Canadian Rockies. It was here that Canada’s national park system first began, when railway workers discovered the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in 1883. You can visit this geothermal site, along with the park’s forested hiking and biking trails and emerald lakes. You can also browse museums and galleries celebrating the area’s wildlife, landscapes and culture.
Your time in Banff is likely to revolve around exploring the great outdoors. Banff National Park has around 1,500 km (932 miles) of hiking trails leading to lakes, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls and summits. They range from short, gentle strolls to steep ascents.
Several trailheads are close to town. The Fenland Loop Trail, a 2 km (1.2 mile) route, takes you through spruce woodland along the banks of Forty Mile Creek. Look for beavers, bald eagles and osprey as you walk.
You can also take a steep 2.3 km (1.4 mile) hike to the top of Tunnel Mountain for panoramic views over Banff, the Bow and Spray River valleys, and surrounding peaks.
For the best elevated views, take the Banff Gondola or follow a 11.4 km (7.1 mile) zig-zagging path to summit Sulphur Mountain. From its crown you can gaze over the town below, which seems dwarfed by the adjacent mountains. A visitor centre with interactive exhibits tells you about the park’s ecosystem and history.
For cyclists, there’s the Banff Legacy Trail, which runs parallel to the TransCanada Highway between Banff and Canmore. The 4.5 km (2.8 mile) pathway is dotted with interpretive signs detailing the national park’s history and wildlife.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, you can join a guided horse ride. You set off in a line through forestland, mountains slipping by as your guide talks about Banff and its wider national park.
Banff’s many outdoor pursuits companies offer canoes for rent. You can paddle along the calm Bow River or follow Forty Mile Creek to the Vermillion Lakes. There are also gentle float trips which lend themselves to spotting wildlife, including beavers, elk and birds of prey.
Meanwhile, white-water rafting trips depart from Horseshoe Canyon, on the Lower Bow River.
Museums in Banff
Banff National Park first bubbled into being when the McCardell brothers and Frank McCabe discovered an underground hot spring. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is now a museum narrating the find. You can visit the site where the men first noticed steam rising from the ground, and enter the cave to see (and smell) the natural thermal spring.
The museum tells the story of the spring’s reincarnation as a public swimming pool during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Boardwalks lead through the encircling trees to nearby marshland. Meanwhile, a separate building documents the site’s role as an internment camp in World War I.
Then there’s the Banff Park Museum, Canada’s oldest natural history museum (it first opened in 1903). The log-built structure houses over 5,000 botanical and zoological specimens. Think stuffed bears, bald eagles and moose, plus minerals collected within the national park.
The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum showcases the history of First Nations people in the Canadian Rockies and Northern Plains. Traditional costumes, decorated tipi, hunting equipment and native arts are among the museum’s displays. There are often art classes and workshops, from feather painting to beading.
Best time to visit Banff
For the warmest, driest conditions, visit between mid-May and mid-September. Some of the region’s lakes remain frozen into mid-June, and some of the higher-altitude trails could be closed if it’s still snowy, though there’ll be fewer crowds. It’s also possible to visit Banff during Canada’s winter months when you can enjoy a range of wintry outdoor activities.
Suggested itineraries featuring Banff
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Banff, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Banff
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Banff
- Canmore 19 kilometers away
- The Kootenays 41 kilometers away
- Lake Louise 51 kilometers away
- Yoho National Park 65 kilometers away
- Field 69 kilometers away
- Calgary 107 kilometers away
- The Purcell Mountains 123 kilometers away
- Fernie 190 kilometers away
- Claresholm 191 kilometers away
- Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump 214 kilometers away
- Jasper 256 kilometers away
- Waterton Lakes National Park 264 kilometers away
- Dinosaur Provincial Park 291 kilometers away
- Edmonton 298 kilometers away
- The Cariboo 315 kilometers away
- Naramata & Okanagan Valley 336 kilometers away
- Wells Gray Provincial Park 351 kilometers away
- Writing-on-Stone Provinical Park 366 kilometers away
Accommodation choices for Banff
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Banff. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing Banff
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Banff, and which use the best local guides.