17 Mar 8 Things to do in Banff All Year Round
With subzero winters and dry summers, finding things to do in Banff all year round can be a challenge. Even though there are a huge range of outdoor activities and attractions, most are season-specific. Luckily, no matter whether you visit Banff in winter or summer, there are many things to see and do to get the most from your visit. Counting down from our top 8, here are the best, bucket-list-worthy things to do in Banff regardless of weather.
8. Check out the Bow Falls
Bow Falls is one of the local waterfalls in Banff National Park. There are two great vantage points to take in the view – from the ground at the Bow Falls car park or from above at the Surprise Corner viewpoint. In winter, the waterfall freezes almost entirely over and you can step out onto the Bow River if the ice is thick enough.
7. Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs
The best way to spend an evening at any time of year! Watch snowflakes fall around you during Banff’s winter or catch a poolside sunset during the summer.
LOCALS’ SECRET: Although the Banff hot springs are naturally heated, they lose some of their natural wonder in their man-made surroundings. If you’re looking for something more natural, read about the #1 natural hot spring in Canada here.
6. Ride the Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola takes you on a 10-minute ride up one of Banff’s mountains (Sulphur Mountain). At the top, enjoy panoramic views over the whole town of Banff, visit the interactive museum (no extra cost) or stroll along a boardwalk to another nearby peak. The interactive museum is a great place to grab a bite to eat or warm drink on those cold winter days which is why this has made our list as one of the top things to do in Banff all year round.
LOCALS’ SECRET: Avoid the queues and steep prices in Banff’s summer season (June-August) by hiking up the mountain instead. It’s roughly 1.5-2 hours one way (1 hour if you’re used to elevation) along a defined switchback trail.
5. Shred Sunshine Village Ski Resort
A 20-minute drive from Banff, Sunshine Village is made up of 3 mountains, 9 chairlifts and 1 gondola. In winter, it’s a world-class ski resort where you can try skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in some of Canada’s best natural snow. There are runs to suit all skill levels, from green-level beginners to double black experts to backcountry explorers.
In summer, even though there’s no snow, take a ride up the gondola and then up a chairlift to explore the wildflower meadows and lakes. Tour guides will tell you it offers some of the best hiking in Alberta – don’t fall for it! It’s nice without being spectacular.
4. Hike Tunnel Mountain
For the smallest mountains in Banff, Tunnel Mountain has some of the best views! And, hey, how many of your neighbours can say they’ve hiked a peak in the Canadian Rockies? The trail takes about 30-45 minutes and will get the heart racing. Although it’s walkable year-round, it can get icy in winter so strap on a pair of cleats to your shoes for extra grip.
Read up on our top hikes around Banff here.
3. Visit Johnston Canyon
Follow a winding trail inside a canyon as it snakes along a river and past two waterfalls. The path is well defined, moderately inclined and takes between 30 and 60 minutes one way, depending on how often you stop for photos.
LOCALS’ SECRET: Drive via the Bow Valley Parkway. It’s a scenic highway with plenty of stops for photos and wildlife sightings, especially at sunrise and sunset making it one of the best things to do in Banff all year round.
2. Explore the Banff Lakes
Banff is home to 4 beautiful lakes, each within a 15-minute drive. Visiting these beautiful lakes is one of the best things to do in Banff all year round. In winter, each is frozen over and some are possible to ice skate on. In summer, each has something slightly different to offer.
Lake Minnewanka – Not only is Lake Minnewanka the largest lake in Banff, it’s also the only lake in the Banff National Park on which you can take a boat cruise in summer. There is also a walking and cycling trail that goes right along the perimeter of the shore. In summer, this is a favourite haunt for the local grizzly bears (If you spot one, keep a distance – grizzlies are dangerous). In winter the lake turns into a fantastic, frozen expanse. The best way to appreciate it? Bring a book, lots of layers and enjoy the solitude.
Two Jack Lake – Looking for the perfect place for a picnic while in Banff? Look no more. Two Jack Lake is the perfect setting for an afternoon spent eating and drinking by the water.
Vermillion Lakes – With picture-perfect reflections of the mountains in the water, this is one of Banff’s most photographed lakes all year round. In summer, you can hire a canoe from the Banff Canoe Club and paddle your way along this waterway at your own leisure. Look out for beavers in the water and elk grazing by the banks! Bonus points if you see a moose.
Johnson Lake – Finally we have the just (just!) swimmable Johnson Lake. It has a secret rope swing on the far shore if you’re brave enough to plunge into the chilly water.
NUMBER #1 THING TO DO IN BANFF ALL YEAR ROUND…
1. See the Northern Lights
Go for a DIY Northern Lights tour in Canada to catch the fantastic Aurora Borealis Canada. In Banff there are a number of places that provide optimal viewing areas for the Northern Lights. If you feel uncomfortable being outside in the middle of the night with who-knows-what hiding in the bushes then I would recommend heading to Lake Minnewanka (as seen above). Whenever the rumours start to filter through town that the lights will be making an appearance Lake Minnewanka becomes busier than Mel’s on a Friday night. This can add to the excitement – just make sure you keep your high-beams off and be aware of others or you will soon discover that photographers can be just as dangerous as some of the furrier locals in Banff.
If you are looking for a quieter vantage point with a truly iconic foreground then Castle Junction is the place to be. Just make sure you scope out the perfect position during the day so you don’t end up in trouble once the sun goes down.