If you’re visiting Banff, all you’ll be doing is enjoying some of the best skiing and hiking in the Canadian Rockies, right? Not quite. There is so much more to this spectacular town and its surroundings than just trails!
Banff National Park boasts the kind of mountains, forests and clear air that Heidi would treasure, along with glacial lakes of glowing turquoise which will stay in your memory for a long time. This fantastic national park offers you everything from horseback riding to bike riding, canoeing the lakes to sleigh rides on the lakeshores, rock climbing to yoga. And Banff has adventures for every season.
Along with food festivals and beer festivals, world cup skiing, and yoga festivals, Banff hosts the global Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, a tribute to the world’s best adventure film-making, whether thrilling or spiritual.
There is a reason that magical Banff is home to all of these events and activities. Here’s why…
Three Ways to Get Your Sun on in the Banff Summer
1. Like a Canadian Goose to Water: Banff Summer Lake Fun With Canoes and SUPs
Blessed with a multitude of tranquil, azure lakes, winding rivers, and abundant wildlife, Banff in the summer is ideal for exploring by canoe. This quintessential Canadian craft, with its long history of practicality and craftsmanship, is a great way to slip along quietly in the fresh air. You’ll float along to the sound of loons, dwarfed by the Rockies, always making sure to keep an eye out for wildlife.
Canoes are allowed on all lakes in Banff National Park and many have picnic areas, beaches and swimming spots, which means that canoeing is the perfect all-day activity. You can a canoe from Banff Canoe Club, five minutes from downtown Banff. The Bow River (near downtown Banff) and Lake Louise are both magnificent. For something a little less popular but which still has spectacular mountain views, opt for Johnson Lake or Two Jack Lake. If you’re a canoeing novice or just want to get a deeper appreciation for the surroundings, book a guided canoe or kayak tour with Banff Canoe Club or Rocky Mountain Raft Tours.
To get a bit of a different perspective on the water, try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding (SUPing). Head out at dawn and watch the mountains turn pink around you as they’re doused in the first light of the morning. You are spoiled for choice when it comes to locations. The Bow River from Banff to Canmore will definitely get the pulse racing, while smaller lakes like Two Jack are a little less intimidating. Chat to Bow Valley SUP, Radventures, or SkiBig3 Adventure Hub about rentals and be sure to enquire about renting an inflatable SUP—it will be way easier to transport if you’re thinking of heading slightly further afield.
2. Head for the Hills: Banff’s Bike, Horseback and Rock-climbing Adventures
Banff National Park in summer is biking heaven. Fine weather, spectacular scenery, and well-maintained trails and roads offer almost endless opportunities for exploring. Novices can potter around a lake listening to bird song, while the more advanced—or adventurous—can grind it hard on challenging uphills before racing down single-track downhill belts through the forest. Don’t worry if you prefer tarmac to trails, Banff is perfect for road cycling, too. Pop in at Bikescape, Banff Cycle, or White Mountain Adventures and chat to the team about routes, rentals, guides, and snacks! And remember they do winter fat bike tours too.
If you’d rather live out your backcountry cowboy fantasies, horseback riding is sheer joy on a Banff summer day. Picture splashing through streams, slipping through forests, crossing wildflower filled meadows, and summiting passes to find spectacular vistas on your trusty steed. Banff promises once-in-a-lifetime rides. Consider an overnight trip in the backcountry, waking to horses whickering as you lie in a tent or rustic cabin. To book your western adventure, chat to Banff Trail Riders or Brewster Adventures in Lake Louise, 45 minutes from Banff.
Banff National Park is to rock climbers what honey is to bears. Blessed with dramatic limestone spires and towering cliffs, this is the ultimate playground for the Spidermen and -women among us. And you don’t need to be Alex Honnold to climb here, although he has! Sport climbing with experienced guides is a great way to start. Chat to Yamnuska Mountain Adventures or Alpine Air Adventures. You might also want to try Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay. The name is Italian for iron-road, and it is essentially a vertical rock tour using cables, steps and rungs with the help of a guide. It’s only 10 minutes from the town of Banff and they cater to all abilities.
3. Find your peace: Yoga in the mountains
If yoga is about breathing and recalibrating mind and body in the pursuit of wellness, then Banff is the place to do it. Up here the air is pure and crisp, and the lake-side settings and mighty mountain views are ideal for shifting perspectives.
Banff Yoga Practice and Flow State Yoga offer a wide range of classes, including aerial yoga. Plus, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers transformative yoga and wellness retreats led by renowned facilitators. There are loads of other wellness-oriented things to do in Banff, too.
Time your visit for one of Banff’s summer festivals and organized experiences
- Art in Nature Trail: A salute to the revitalizing powers of nature, this series of art installations by regional artists follows the Bow River from July to August.
- The Banff Marathon: A bucket-list run that follows the Bow River and the spectacular Vermillion Lakes. A half marathon and 10K are options too.
- The Banff Yoga Festival: This three-day wellness festival in May specializing in self-care, yoga, meditation, outdoor activities and green foods.
Loving the Snowy Wonderland That is Banff in Winter
1. Live Your Quintessential Canadian Winter Fantasies with Dog Sledding and Snowshoeing
Dog sledding has got to be one of the most fun Banff National Park winter activities. Once the transport of Inuits and backwoods trappers, these dogs are all about running. By turns chaotic and noisy, wildly exciting and serene, this is such a great way to enjoy the silence of snowy forests. Dog lovers will relish meeting the husky team and taking a bash at mushing.
Kingmik Dog Sled Tours offer anything from their short Narnia forest trips to the 10-mile (16-kilometer) quest up to Kicking Horse Pass on the Great Divide. Snowy Owl Dog Sled Tours operate out of Canmore and have a range of options, including an overnight backwoods tour.
Snowshoes are to the Banff winter adventurer what splayed feet are to the desert camel—your ticket to the snow-blanketed world of Narnia’esque forests, glittering marshmallow meadows and ice-bound lakes. You can rent or buy snowshoes in Banff or Lake Louise, but White Mountain Adventures, Great Divide Nature Interpretation or Lake Louise Ski Resort know where the best powder is for an unforgettable snowshoe trek.
2. Sing ‘Jingle Bells’ as You Slide Down a Hill on a Snowy Sleigh Ride
This gentle way to explore Lake Louise to the jingling of sleigh bells takes you along the snowy lake shores, passing icefalls and towering peaks, while you sit snug under blankets, like someone from Doctor Zhivago without the drama. At night Brewster Adventures head out under starry alpine skies, enjoying the magical lights of the fairy-tale worthy Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Back in Banff, Banff Trail Riders do excursions to scenic mountain meadows.
3. Opt for Something a Little More Traditional With Skiing, Snowboarding, and Ice Skating
If there’s one thing that Banff is known for, it’s snow. And with so much of it falling here each year, it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that snow-focused mountain adventures are simply superb.
Surrounded by three world-class ski resorts—Mt. Norquay, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Banff Sunshine Village—there’s a trail for skiers and snowboarders of every ability. Plus, cross-country skiing is a great way to explore Banff’s backcountry when there’s snow on the ground. (If you need a bit of practice before heading onto the scenic trails, the flats of Lake Louise are the perfect place to start.)
Speaking of Lake Louise, it’s home to one of the world’s most beautiful ice skating rinks. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise clears and maintains the rink regularly to allow visitors to enjoy the water even during the chilly winter months. If ice hockey is more your speed, visit the rink near the Nordic Stop on the lake’s shores.
Banff’s winter festivals and events
- Banff Christmas Market: Held in the charming Warner Stables as part of Banff’s Christmas programming, you can pick up artisan gifts, Christmas tree decorations and cute mementoes.
- Alpine Ski World Cup: Cheer on some of the world’s fastest skiers as they battle it out on the slopes in Lake Louise in the first of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup speed circuit winter season.
- SnowDays: The best of traditional winter fun, Banff and Lake Louise’s SnowDays celebration in January brings the two towns to life with snow and ice sculptures, the thrilling tricks of horseback riders and skiers skijoring, snow play zones and so much more.
- The Banff Craft Beer Festival: Held in early December in honor of the golden brew, this festival invites more than 30 vendors and local brewmasters to celebrate Alberta’s craft brewers.
Although you can’t go wrong with getting outside, there’s more to Banff than just skiing or hiking. Check out our Banff Travel Guide for more planning and travel tips.