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A Complete Guide for Planning a Trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada

Banff National Park is the oldest National Park in Canada established in 1885. It is nestled in the Canadian Rockies along the Alberta – British Columbia border. Banff National Park is without a doubt is one of the most beautiful national parks in Canada and the world. The park is famous for its pristine wilderness, tall snow-capped mountains, dense forest, abundant wildlife and turquoise lakes. 

The national park is a true gem that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime! Here is a complete guide to Banff National Park. We included the best things to see and do in Banff National Park and some useful information to help you plan your next adventure to Banff. Make sure to check out the best hiking trails in Banff and Jasper National Parks.

The best things to do and see in Banff in one day travel video:

How to get to Banff National Park?

The closest city to Banff National Park with an international airport is Calgary, and from there you can rent a car and drive an hour and a half to the park entrance. Renting a car in Calgary is not cheap during the summer months but it is more affordable during the shoulder season. You can also get to Banff by bus.

By Bus: On-it Regional Transit gets you to Banff from Calgary from July through September on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Once in Banff your On-It bus ticket provides a free transfers to the Roam Bus Banff Local routes. Brewster Canada offers Banff airport express for $75.00 per person and the Banff Airporter service is $65.

Greyhound also operates a route between the Calgary Greyhound Bus Terminal and the Banff Greyhound Terminal, which is centrally located in Banff. The 1.5 hour bus ride leaves Calgary daily at 7:30 am, 12:45 pm, 6:45 pm, and 10:30 pm. Once in Banff there is also a Greyhound bus option between Banff and Lake Louise.

Buses from Banff to the national park are more limiting than renting a car, but might be a more economic choice, especially during the busy summer season.

How to get around Banff National Park?

The best way to explore Banff National Park is by car as the the main things to do are not within walking distance from each other. That being said you also need to be aware that parking might not be available, especially during the summer, at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

If this is the case we recommend to park your car at the overflow parking lot and take the shuttle to those locations. The shuttles run every 20 minutes and from the parking lot to Lake Louise costs $4 CAD and from Lake Louise to Lake Moraine and back to the parking lot $6 CAD. You cannot pay in cash, only credit and debit cards are accepted. 

If you are planning to go on scheduled tours in Banff, the organizers may provide complimentary transportation. If you are in Banff for winter, and visiting one of the three ski resorts, complimentary transport is provided from many locations.

Tour operators like Brewster and Sun Dog tours also provide transit packages which include many Banff attractions. A tour service called HopOn Banff which will take you to sites in Banff Town, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise Gondola, Lake Louise, and Lake Moraine runs from June to October.

Another option is to take the public bus, Roam, which takes you to many of Banff Town attractions, Lake Minnewanka and more routes are being added to reduce car traffic.

When is the best time to visit Banff National Park?

There is no wrong time to visit Banff National Park, it just depends on what you want to see and do. The best time to visit Banff is from mid June to mid October. Try to avoid the peak season of July and August and visit the national park on the shoulder seasons.

Fall season paints Banff National Park with a golden hue and the hikes to see the Larch trees in Fall is another experience altogether. If you are planning on skiing or doing winter sports the best time to visit Calgary is during the months of mid November to mid March.

How much time should I spend in Banff National Park?

The amount of time you need to visit Banff National Park all depends on the actives you want to do, your availably and your budget. A day trip from Calgary is a fantastic way to see the main highlights of the Banff but if you want to fully experience all the nature the park has to offer we recommend to stay between two to five days, especially if you are heading to Jasper. 

Important Banff National Park Information:

Drones: The use of drones is forbidden at any national park in Canada. 

Entrance fee to Banff National Park: A one day Pass – Valid until 4:00 PM the next day. Adult: $ 9.80, Senior: $ 8.30 Youth: Free Per vehicle: (Up to 7 people): $19.60. Discovery Pass: $136.40 for up to 7 people arriving in a single vehicle – This pass is good for a year and gets you into nearly 100 National Parks, National Marine Conservation Areas and National Historic Sites in Canada. 

Where to buy the Parks Canada Pass: The entry fee is paid at the entry gates, Parks Canada Visitor Information centers, or Online. 

Cannabis Consumption: Public use is allowed in Banff National Park at Registered Parks campsites but not at the Campground common areas, Backcountry and Trails. It is not allowed to smoke in public areas within the Banff town boundary.

The best thing to do in Banff National Park

Go canoeing at Lake Louise

There is a good chance if you have seen a photo of Banff National Park that it is from the popular Lake Louise with its breathtaking turquoise colored water. There is no better way to enjoy this beautiful glacial lake surrounded by mountains than in a canoe!

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers Canoe Rental right on the water with an hourly rate of $125 for non-hotel guests on a first come first served basis. An hour should be enough to paddle across the lake and back with enough time for photos. You can also bring your own canoe to Lake Louise, although you will have to carry it from the parking lot.

There are also several hikes around Lake Louise that offer more unique perspectives including stunning panoramic views from above.

Go hiking at Moraine Lake

Just a 20 minute drive down the road is Moraine Lake, one of the most beautiful landscapes in Banff. It is less popular than the busy Lake Louise but we still suggest arriving early to avoid any crowds.

This turquoise colored glacial lake offers several hikes to enjoy the landscape and natural beauty. The Lakeshore Trail circles Moraine Lake primarily along the shore line. You get fantastic views from a variety of perspectives, each with a new background. There is also the Rockpile Trail, which as its name suggests ends with a climb up a giant pile of rocks. Here you are greeted with panoramic views over the lake and surrounding peaks.

Other Spots Not to Miss near Banff

Bow Lake: There is a relaxed family-friendly hike around Bow Lake passing the Num-Ti-Jah lodge.

Lake Minnewanka: It is one of the longest lakes in the region making for amazing fishing, hiking, canoeing and even diving due to a submerged historic resort.

Emerald Lake: This lake is actually the largest lake and highlight in the adjacent Yoho National Park.

Takakkaw Falls and the Spiral Tunnels: Takakkaw Falls is the second highest waterfall in Canada at 373 meters. It is just a short walk to witness the water jet off the rock face above. Take a quick stop at the Spiral Tunnels viewing area if there is a train coming through the area.

Bow Falls: It is a short but wide falls along the Bow River located just outside the city of Banff.

Hoodoos and Vermilion Lakes: The Vermilion Lakes are within easy biking distance from the city of Banff. Here you can enjoy the views of Mt. Rundle which makes it the perfect spot for sunrise or sunset. Just east of the city is the Hoodoos trail to witness the majestic natural hoodoos.

Additional things to do in Banff if you have more time:

Explore the charming town of Banff

The small walking friendly city of Banff is often used a hub for visiting Banff National Park with many hotel accommodations. It is worth strolling through the tranquil downtown area, making your way though the local souvenir shops and charming boutiques. As the jump off point to the national park the city is normally lively with visitors enjoying their rest time.

Other attractions in Banff

Here are some other fantastic experience to take advantage of in Banff: The Banff Gondola, Banff Upper Hot Springs, The Mount Norquay Chairlift, The Banff Park Museum, The Cave and Basin National Historic Site, The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, Horseback Riding.

Go on a hike at the Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon provides beautiful hikes within Banff along the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. It is popular hike in Banff so it is best to start the hike first thing in the morning before it gets crowded. The hike heads along a beautiful canyon with several small waterfalls, with several short sections of metal walkways attached to the side of a cliff.

The highlight of the hike is the two main waterfalls along the trail: the Lower Falls and Upper Falls. You can hike to the viewing platform right under the Lower Falls, if you are ready to get wet! At the top of the Upper Falls the viewing platform brings you right to the edge were you can see the powerful water tumble over the edge. From here you can walk back or continue on for more breathtaking views.

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