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Banff National Park, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is a stunning and exciting destination to visit year round, but it’s especially intriguing in the summer when there are plenty of outdoor adventures to be had.
During summer in Banff you can spend your days hiking or biking the trails, paddling on vibrant lakes, visiting mountain tea houses, camping in the forest, and so much more. There’s definitely no shortage of things to do in Banff National Park in summer, or gorgeous views to admire, so it’s not surprising that Alberta locals and international tourists flock to Banff in summer.
To help you plan your visit, here’s a look at some of the best things to do in Banff in summer.
Things to Do in Banff in Summer
Whether you’re an intrepid adventurer, casual explorer, or nature loving sightseer, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Banff National Park in summer.
Here are the top summer activities in Banff National Park you can experience on your next trip to Canada’s first national park.
One of the best things to do in Banff in summer is go hiking since there’s a large selection of scenic trails both close to town and further into the park.
The hiking trails in Banff National Park do a fantastic job of showcasing the park’s beloved scenery from mighty mountains and glaciers, pretty alpine meadows, dazzling turquoise lakes, impressive rocky canyons, and roaring waterfalls.
While there are options for multi-day backpacking trips, most people choose to do day hikes in Banff National Park.
The most popular short hike right in town is on Tunnel Mountain Trail where you get a nice view of downtown Banff and the Bow River, plus Mount Rundle, the Banff Springs Golf Course, and Bow Valley as the trail switchbacks up to the low summit.
Other trails close to the Banff townsite you could check out are Marsh Loop, Sundance Canyon, the Spray River Circuit, Surprise Corner to the hoodoos viewpoint, the switchbacks up Sulphur Mountain, and the interpretive Fenland Loop.
Some trails that are a little farther away, but not a long drive from town, are the loop around Johnson Lake, C-Level Cirque, and Aylmer Lookout/Aylmer Pass, all of which can be reached via Lake Minnewanka Road.
Venturing west from the townsite and deeper into the park, you’ll discover many more great hikes to do during summer in Banff. You could explore the trails to Boom Lake, Taylor Lake, and Parker Ridge, just to name a few beautiful locations.
The area around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake has some especially gorgeous (and popular) hikes including to the historic Lake Agnes Tea House, Big Beehive, Devil’s Thumb, Eiffel Lake, and Larch Valley.
Kayaking, Canoeing or Paddle Boarding
Another one of the top things to do in Banff in summer is go kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding on one of the park’s pristine lakes. There’s nothing more relaxing on a calm day than floating on sparkling blue water as you gaze up at towering rocky peaks.
Some stunning lakes that you can paddle when visiting Banff in the summer are Two Jack Lake, Johnson Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Vermilion Lakes, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and Bow Lake. Each of these lakes has clean water and offers excellent views of the surrounding mountains.
If you choose to paddle Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, or Two Jack Lake, you’ll be entering into some of Banff National Park’s most iconic, postcard worthy landscapes. For a quieter experience away from the crowds, try Bow Lake or Vermilion Lakes.
If you don’t have your own boat, rentals are available at Lake Minnewanka, Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise. You’ll also find businesses in town that rent kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards.
Waterfalls are always a joy to see and luckily Banff National Park has several that you can view whether you’re on a hike, stroll around town, or scenic drive through the park.
Within walking distance from downtown Banff is Bow Falls. This single drop waterfall is wider than it is tall (about 30 m wide and only 9.1 m tall), but it’s still worth seeing, especially when the river is high and fast and the falls are raging.
One of the most popular places to see waterfalls in Banff National Park is at Johnston Canyon. Here you can do a short hike on a very busy trail to the lower falls then the 30 m tall upper falls.
To see a really powerful waterfall, head out on the Icefields Parkway to Panther Falls. This 66 m tall waterfall bursts through an opening in a cliffside, sending mist flying over to the small viewing area on the trail. From the same trail you can see the more delicate Bridal Veil Falls dropping down a rock wall across the valley.
Another notable waterfall is Bow Glacier Falls. Tumbling down as meltwater from the Wapta Icefield, this tiered, 120 m tall waterfall flows into Bow Lake. You’ll have to hike to this waterfall, or you can see it from a distance while paddling on Bow Lake.
One of the most unique summer activities in Banff National Park is via ferrata, an exciting mix of hiking and rock climbing.
During a guided excursion on the Mount Norquay via ferrata, you’ll be climbing up the mountain’s rock walls with assistance from iron rungs, pegs, cables, ladders, and of course a safety harness and carabiners to anchor yourself to the mountainside.
Depending on your comfort level, you can choose a short introductory route, or a longer, more adventurous experience that takes you to the top of Mount Norquay. On a clear day there are fantastic views of the mountains surrounding the town of Banff. You may even meet some bighorn sheep during your climb.
Another one of Banff’s summer activities you could try is horseback riding. Guided trail rides are offered near the townsite or as overnight trips into the backcountry. If you plan to visit Lake Louise during your summer trip to Banff, you can do a horseback tour to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House or some other destinations.
No matter if you choose an hourly ride or a multi-day trip, horseback riding in Banff lets you experience the park’s scenery as early explorers did. The guides also share some interesting history about the area and point out some notable landmarks during the ride.
Bike riding is another fun thing to do in Banff National Park in summer.
For road cyclists, a popular location for biking is the Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic stretch of road between Banff and Lake Louise. A paved, but off road option is the Banff Legacy Trail which links Banff to the nearby town of Canmore.
For mountain bikers, there are more than 190 km of trails you can explore. A very beautiful option, if you can arrange a ride to the trailhead, is the Goat Creek Trail bike ride from Canmore to Banff which makes an enjoyable descent towards the Banff Springs Hotel.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
If you’re in Banff in summer, lucky for you that’s also the best time of year to drive the Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s most spectacular roads.
The Icefields Parkway makes its way through Banff and Jasper National Parks, linking Lake Louise to the town of Jasper. The route is dotted with countless gorgeous attractions, from glaciers to canyons, so it can take all day to drive from end to end.
Even if you don’t drive the full route, there are many great places to visit within the Banff National Park portion of the parkway. Some top stops are Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Mistaya Canyon, Panther and Bridal Veil Falls, and Parker Ridge.
The town of Banff is home to a stunning golf course nestled between the Bow River and Rundle Mountain. Known for its challenging layout and panoramic beauty, the Banff Springs Golf Course is regularly ranked in magazines as one of the best golf courses in Canada.
There are two golf courses on the property- the Stanley Thompson Course and the Tunnel Mountain Course. The Stanley Thompson designed course opened in 1928 and features 18 holes with a par of 71. The Tunnel Mountain Course, built in 1989, adjoins the original course and has 9 holes with a par of 36.
If the captivating scenery of Rundle, Sulphur, and Tunnel mountains doesn’t distract you from your game, the wildlife that wander through the course just might. Don’t be surprised if you see elk, deer, or even bears while golfing this special course.
One of the more relaxed things to do in Banff in summer is enjoy a picnic. There are a lot of picnic sites at beautiful locations throughout the park equipped with tables, shelters, and fire pits for cooking.
Close to town there’s a great picnic area at Cascade Ponds with a lot of sites. Two Jack Lake, Johnson Lake, and Lake Minnewanka also have picnic sites, but can accommodate fewer people and are in high demand.
Further outside of town you’ll find picnic tables at many of the day use areas. One of the most scenic picnic sites along the Icefields Parkway is at the Bow Lake Day Use Area.
Summer in Banff is high season for camping. The park has a mix of campgrounds that take reservations and some that are first-come first-served. It’s best to reserve a campsite months in advance (or as soon as reservations open for the year) because most campgrounds fill up quickly.
The largest campground in the park, and the closest to downtown Banff, is the Tunnel Mountain campground. Between the campground’s three areas- Tunnel Mt. Village I, Tunnel Mountain Village II, and the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court- there are over 1100 campsites. Since the campground is so big, and some areas are quite open with sites that are close together, it may not feel like a true nature escape.
For a more sheltered campground that’s still close to town, check out the Two Jack Lake campground. There’s two parts to this campground- the main area with 380 sites and the wonderful lakeside camping area with 74 sites.
Some other popular campgrounds in Banff National Park are by Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise, but there are more locations to choose from as well, including backcountry campgrounds.
If you don’t have your own camping equipment, you can reserve an oTENTik (a cross between a tent and cabin) or an equipped campsite that comes with all the gear you need. The Two Jack Lake campground has equipped campsites and oTENTiks and Tunnel Mountain Village II also has oTENTiks.
Swimming and Scuba Diving
Banff’s glacier-fed lakes are quite cold for swimming, but a quick dip is very refreshing on a hot day. The best (and busiest) swimming area is at Johnson Lake where there’s also a small beach for relaxing.
Scuba divers will find a unique experience at Lake Minnewanka where there’s a submerged historic village that was flooded by the dam. When you dive down to the village you can see several house foundations, a wharf, sidewalks, wood stoves, and fireplaces.
Stroll Through the Cascades of Time Garden
An enjoyable, laid back thing to do during summer in Banff is to take a stroll through the Cascades of Time Garden.
Located at the end of Banff Avenue, by the historic Banff National Park Administration Building, this small terraced garden is a colourful oasis tucked away from the busy streets of Banff. Walkways weave around flower beds, ponds, waterfalls, and gazebos providing various vantage points to enjoy the garden’s pretty scenery.
The garden is even home to a rustic stone pavilion that is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical and architectural value.
Plenty of wildlife call Banff National Park home including elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears, grizzly bears, hoary marmots, bald eagles, and more.
While there are no guarantees if and where you’ll see wildlife- it could be while hiking in the backcountry or driving along the road- watching wildlife is always an exciting experience. Just remember to keep a safe distance and never feed the animals.
More Banff Summer Activities
Here are a few more ideas of things to do in Banff in summer:
- Ride the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain
- Go on an interpretive boat cruise on Lake Minnewanka
- Walk along Bow River Trail and enjoy the view of Cascade Mountain from the Banff Pedestrian Bridge
- Go rock climbing on Tunnel Mountain
- Go fishing (a national park fishing permit is required)
- Take part in a Parks Canada interpretive program
- Savour a delicious meal and drinks on a patio
- Soak your muscles at the Banff Upper Hot Springs
Review of Banff National Park in Summer
There are so many outdoor activities in Banff that can be enjoyed during the summer from hiking and kayaking to camping and golfing. Since there’s such a great selection of things to do in Banff in the summer, you could make several trips and still discover new places to visit and activities to try.
With all these fun things to do, plus warm weather and bright sunny scenery, it’s no wonder that summer in Banff is peak season for tourism. If you don’t mind the crowds and higher prices, then visiting Banff in the summer can be a positive experience. If you’re not a fan of mass tourism, you’ll still be able to have a satisfying summer trip to Banff if you spend less time in town and explore beyond the typical tourist trail.
Tips for Visiting Banff in Summer
Location: The town of Banff in Banff National Park is located about 127 km west of central Calgary, 288 km southeast of Jasper, and 414 km southwest of central Edmonton.
Getting There: Banff National Park can be reached by Highway 1 from Calgary and Highway 93 (the Icefields Parkway) from Jasper. If coming from Edmonton the fastest route is via Calgary.
- Banff National Park has no airport. The closest international airport is in Calgary.
- Bus transportation from Calgary to Banff is available on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays from late May to mid-September. More information and schedules can be found here.
Getting Around and Public Transportation: For the most part, it’s easiest to get around Banff National Park by car, especially if you plan to go hiking. The downside of using a car in Banff is that finding a parking spot in town and at many of Banff’s summer attractions can be challenging. You also have to pay to park at Lake Louise and in some areas of the townsite (there’s free parking at the train station).
- There are two public transit options available in Banff National Park- Roam Transit and the Parks Canada Shuttle. These buses provide transportation to some of the most popular places to visit in Banff in summer, but are not useful for people who want to hike on trails outside of these areas.
- Roam Public Transit buses provide service in and around the townsite, along Lake Minnewanka Road, and to Johnston Canyon, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and the town of Canmore.
- The Parks Canada Shuttle provides service to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake from the Park and Ride lot at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. Shuttle reservations are mandatory and should be made well in advance if you have specific dates and times you want to visit. Limited tickets are held for last-minute reservations and are released at 8:00 a.m. two days before the scheduled departures. Reservations can be made here. If you don’t make a reservation in advance, walk-up seat sales can be purchased at the Park and Ride on a first-come first-serve basis.
Admission and Fees: A park pass is required to visit Banff National Park. At the gate you can buy a single day pass or a Parks Canada Discovery Pass (provides admission into all Parks Canada sites in the country for 12 months).
- Additional fees are charged for camping, firewood, parking at some locations, and shuttles/buses.
Best Time to Visit: Summer is the most popular time to visit Banff National Park so you can expect big crowds in July and August, especially at the most well known locations (the townsite, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon, and the Lake Minnewanka Loop area). To try and avoid some of the crowds, visit during the week and avoid the holiday long weekends in July, August, and September.
Camping: Camping in Banff National Park is permitted in designated areas only with a valid camping permit and park entry pass. It’s recommended to make campsite reservations months in advance due to high demand in the summer. You can see a list of campgrounds and their operation dates here.
Watercraft Permits: Banff National Park requires that all non-motorized watercraft and water-related gear have a self-certification permit declaring that the watercraft and gear has been cleaned, drained, and dried for 48 hours if last used within Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, and Northwest Territories (30 days dry time for other destinations). If your watercraft and gear doesn’t meet the self-certification requirements, you should visit a Parks Canada watercraft inspection station at the Lake Louise overflow parking lot (non-motorized watercraft only) or at Lake Minnewanka.
- Permits are available at self-serve kiosks at water bodies, visitor centres, Parks Canada watercraft inspection stations, and online here.
- For motorized boats heading out on Lake Minnewanka (the only lake motorized boats are allowed in the park), a Parks Canada Inspection Permit is mandatory. There’s an inspection station at Lake Minnewanka for motorized and non-motorized watercraft.
Visitor Centres: For more information about visiting Banff National Park, stop in at the Banff Visitor Centre (on Banff Avenue) or the Lake Louise Visitor Centre (next to Samson Mall in the village of Lake Louise). You can get maps, brochures, current trail conditions, make backcountry reservations and obtain permits, and browse interpretive exhibits.
Accommodations in Banff National Park
For your convenience, here is a list of HOTELS IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK. Please consider booking your Banff accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!
More Places to Visit in the Rocky Mountains
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