Yes! Banff is definitely worth visiting. Recently, following a two-day luxury train excursion on the Canadian Rocky Mountaineer, we visited Banff, Alberta, Canada, for the very first time.
I fell in love with Alberta’s magnificent views, natural beauty, and wide range of outdoor activities the instant I arrived. There was so much to see and do. I am already planning my return visit to Banff and can’t wait to spend even more time exploring Alberta’s stunning landscape.
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Ten Places in Banff Worth Visiting
Here are the top 10 places in Banff worth visiting in 2023, especially for first-time visitors.
1. Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies and features crystal-clear turquoise-blue water that reflects the beauty of its surroundings.
Visitors can explore the lake by taking a scenic boat tour or hiking the nearby trails, including the 24 km-long Lake Minnewanka Trail, which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers
2. Hoodoos Viewpoint
The Hoodoos Viewpoint in Banff offers visitors a unique opportunity to view the stunning geological formations known as hoodoos. Hoodoos are natural rock formations with unique shapes that were created over millions of years of erosion.
Visitors can access the viewpoint via a short hike or drive from Banff, and once there, they can take in the breathtaking views of the Bow River Valley and the surrounding mountain ranges, while also learning about the geological history and formation of the hoodoos.
3. Banff Gondola and Sulphur Mountain
Sulphur Mountain is a prominent peak in the Canadian Rockies. It is accessible by the Banff Gondola and provides stunning views from the summit.
Once at the top, visitors can take in the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys from the observation deck. Spectacular views like this are just one of the many reasons why I believe Banff is worth visiting in 2023.
4. Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is one of the most photographed locations in all of Canada. Once featured on the Canadian $10 bill, this stunning glacially-fed lake has crystal-clear turquoise waters and is surrounded by the stunning ten peaks in the Canadian Rockies.
In 2023, Moraine Lake parking will be officially closed to personal vehicles. Visitors will have to use the park shuttles to access the area. This will require some pre-planning for those wishing to visit this spectacular location.
5. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is a stunning glacially-fed lake with emerald green waters, surrounded by towering mountain peaks, and known for its scenic hiking trails, world-class skiing, and iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel. Chateau Lake Louise is considered one of the best luxury hotels in Canada and is a “bucket list” hotel for many visitors to Banff.
Visitors can explore the lake by hiking one of the many nearby trails, including the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail, the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, or the Lake Agnes Trail, or simply take in the views from the shore.
While visitors can park their own vehicles in Lake Louise, it can be very challenging to park there, especially in the main summer months. Visitors will likely need to take the park shuttles to access the lake.
6. Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is located in the province of British Columbia and is adjacent to Banff National Park. The park is home to some beautiful waterfalls and unique attractions, such as the Natural Bridge, a natural rock formation created by the powerful Kicking Horse River that has eroded the rock to form a bridge-like structure that visitors can walk across.
7. Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake is also located in Yoho National Park. This stunning alpine lake, known for its emerald-green water, is surrounded by the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Visitors can explore the lake via a range of hiking trails, including the Emerald Lake Loop, rent a canoe, or simply take in the views from the shore.
8. Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake has now reopened after a two year closure for significant renovations. With improved parking, washrooms, accessibility, and a viewing platform, Peyto Lake is definitely worth visiting in 2023.
Once again, the stunning glacier-fed lake, known for its bright turquoise-blue colour and breathtaking views from the nearby Bow Summit lookout, makes Peyto Lake a popular destination for hiking and photography enthusiasts.
9. Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway, a scenic highway that stretches for 232 kilometres between Jasper and Banff National Parks in Alberta. The parkway offers breathtaking views of glaciers, mountains, lakes, and wildlife, making it one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The parkway takes about 3 hours to drive from start to finish—without any stops along the way!
10. Jasper National Park
As you drive along the Icefields Parkway, you will exit Banff National Park in Alberta and enter Jasper National Park, which is in the province of Alberta. Located within Jasper National Park, there are even more stunning locations with breathtaking scenery, including Maligne Lake, Athabasca Falls, and the Columbia Icefield.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you’ve seen just a glimpse of what Banff has to offer, here is some additional information that may help you finalize your trip to Banff.
Where is Banff Located?
The town of Banff is a small, picturesque community located within Banff National Park in the province of Alberta. The town of Banff is located about 150 km (or a 1.5-hour drive) from Calgary or 400 km (or a 4-hour drive) from Edmonton. Calgary International Airport is the closest airport.
Banff National Park is just one of the Canadian National Parks that are home to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Banff National Park covers over 6,500 square km. The whole area is often referred to as Banff, but it’s important to recognize that the town of Banff is actually a small resort town. Because Banff is located within the national park, the town cannot expand beyond its current size.
When is the Best Time to Visit Banff?
Visiting Banff consists of lots of outdoor activities, so the best time to visit Banff really depends on the type of outdoor activities you like to do. Winter is absolutely stunning, and many visitors come to enjoy the winter sports, particularly skiing. Temperatures in the winter, however, can get cold, and driving can be a challenge in the winter months.
Summer is a very popular time to visit Banff, and this can result in lots of tourists, waiting in line at restaurants, and challenges finding parking and accommodation. In fact, Parks Canada reported that Banff National Park had its busiest July on record in 2022.
Ideally, travel in May, June, September, and October would be the best travel options in terms of weather, ease of transportation, and cost.
Where Should I Stay in Banff?
The hotel capacity in Banff is roughly 4,000 rooms. There are excellent hotels in every price range, as well as Airbnb and VRBO possibilities. However, if you want to indulge, I definitely recommend staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
The hotel, known as the “Castle in the Rockies,” has a rich history and a variety of amenities, including a championship golf course, a world-class spa, two heated pools (indoor and outdoor) year-round, and several dining options.
If you do not wish to stay in Banff, the town of Canmore is the next closest choice. Canmore is located just outside of Banff National Park, making it a little more affordable. Canmore, on the other hand, is a 20-minute drive from Banff and will almost certainly require a vehicle if you choose to stay there.
What are the Best Ways to Get Around Banff?
To fully appreciate all Banff National Park has to offer, you must be able to travel from one spot to another. Travelling from Banff to Lake Louise, for example, is a 45-minute trip along the Trans Canada Highway. Travelling by car, public transportation, shuttle buses, bikes, and/or private tours are all options in Banff.
The Pros of Driving in Banff
- Having a vehicle will help if you are flying into the Calgary or Edmonton airport. The Calgary airport is about a 1.5-hour drive from Banff. Without a vehicle, you will need to book an airport shuttle.
- Driving the Icefields Parkway through Banff National Park is one of the most scenic routes in the Canadian Rockies. Having your own vehicle provides flexibility to change itineraries or to stop and admire an unexpectedly spectacular view or some wildlife.
The Cons of Driving in Banff
- The biggest challenge with driving is parking.
- For example, Moraine Lake is now closed to private vehicles, and parking lots are often full by 7 a.m. at Lake Louise. The only way to access these picturesque locations will be by shuttle, tour, or taxi.
- Trying to find parking can become chaotic at popular tourist locations and can really impact your enjoyment in visiting these sites. I’ve actually witnessed drivers get into heated arguments over parking spots!
- Depending on the time of year, some of the roads can be tricky to drive, particularly if there is snow or ice.
Using Public Transportation and Shuttles
Parks Canada shuttles and Roam Public Transit are the easiest ways to see the park’s top locations between Banff and Lake Louise. Roam offers several routes that allow visitors to see many of the top locations. A 10-ride pass costs $17.50 CAN for adults, so it’s a very reasonable travel option. Parks Canada shuttles are available for Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Shuttle tickets can be reserved online prior to your trip.
Booking Guided Tours
A private tour business is another fantastic way to experience travel throughout Banff National Park (and beyond). While there are other possibilities, private excursions are an excellent choice. They are fantastic tour options, and the guides are skilled storytellers.
The advantage of travelling with a tour operator is that you get first-class access to all of the excursions, you don’t have to worry about parking, and you can enjoy the picturesque park drives from the comfort of a luxury bus.
What is the closest Airport to Banff?
Calgary International Airport
The Calgary International Airport is about 150 kilometres from Banff. This is roughly a 1.5-hour drive (traffic-dependent, of course). Most major airlines fly into Calgary airport, providing lots of flight options for travellers.
The drive is very straight-forward along the Trans-Canada Highway. Flying into Calgary is a great option, as it’s easy to rent a car from the airport. There are also shuttles and private car companies that provide transportation to and from the airport to Banff.
Edmonton International Airport
Edmonton International Airport is about 380 kilometres north of Banff. This is roughly a 3.5–4-hour drive. The route is also along another major highway, making it a direct route to Banff. Similar to Calgary, Edmonton is an International Airport, so most major airlines fly into Edmonton too.
What about Vancouver International Airport?
For those that may be interested, Vancouver International Airport is about 850 km from Banff, or a 10-hour drive. It is an excellent road trip for those who want to take the time to explore a little more of western Canada. If you are going to do this road trip, I recommend detouring through Whistler, British Columbia. This will add about 100 kilometres to your trip, but it’s well worth the side trip.
I also recommend splurging and staying at the luxury Fairmont Chateau Whistler Hotel if you decide to travel this route!
Do I Need a Banff National Park Pass?
Yes! You will need to purchase a park pass to visit any of the national parks, including Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and Yoho National Park. You also need a park pass to drive along the Icefields Parkway.
A park pass must be purchased by each individual entering the park, including those on organized tours. One of the advantages of travelling with an organized tour, such as the Rocky Mountaineer Train Journey, the tour company takes care of all the park passes, admissions, and parking.
If you are driving, you will need to display your park pass on the windshield of your car. Passes can be purchased online, at the entrance to each park, or at the visitor centres in Banff and Lake Louise.
Final Thoughts: What makes Banff so Special?
What makes Banff so special is its unparalleled natural beauty. From the snow-covered peaks of the Canadian Rockies to the crystal-clear waters of the glacial lakes, the scenery in Banff is simply breathtaking.
Banff offers visitors a wide variety of activities, including hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and hot springs. Banff is also home to a rich diversity of wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.
The town of Banff itself is a charming community with a rich history and vibrant culture, offering visitors a chance to experience the best of both worlds – the natural beauty of the park and the warmth and hospitality of a small town. All of these factors combine to make Banff a truly special place worth visiting.
Read More About Western Canada
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