Banff and the Canadian Rockies area is beautiful year round, but its busy tourist sightseeing season is mainly June to September. Summer is the only time the famous turquoise lakes in the region are not frozen and most roads and tours/activities are open.
25 best things to do in Banff in summer
Banff National park is an awesome destination for summer lovers and there are so many awesome things to do in Banff in summer to keep people of all ages and fitness levels occupied!
1. Ride Banff Gondola and walk the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk trail
The Banff gondola is around 12 minutes drive from Banff downtown. There is a free shuttle to Banff Gondola from the downtown and it’s highly recommended to use the shuttle during the peak summer months as parking can be limited at the Gondola.
You can find the shuttle schedule below:
You can pre-booked your Gondola time when you purchase the Banff explorer package. You can look at the combo packages at the link below.
If you are doing the Lake Maligne cruise in Jasper then go for the Jasper explorer package. If you are doing the Lake Minnewanka cruise then choose the Banff explorer package. The combo package saves around 25% as compared to buying the individual attractions.
There is a huge Starbucks at the lower station and restroom facilities at the lower gondola station.
The Banff gondola takes you up the Sulfur mountain. Each gondola car can seat four people comfortably. You can split into multiple cars if you have a larger group. The views going up on the Gondola are really mind blowing and you can see the Banff town fade away in the distance.
The upper gondola station is huge with 3 levels. There are two restaurants, a coffee shop, a theater, a souvenir shop, a cool upstairs terrace for 360 degree views, and restrooms.
Once you exit the upper station, there is an easy boardwalk trail that goes all the way to the Sanson’s peak and the historic Cosmic ray station.
The boardwalk trail is a little less than 2 miles and is worth doing because of the incredible views of the surrounding mountain peaks, Banff town, turquoise blue lakes, and Bow valley.
The Cosmic Ray station at the other end of the trail is a fascinating piece of history.
Time needed: Allow around 3 hours to ride the Banff Gondola and walk the Sulphur mountain Boardwalk trail. Riding the Banff Gondola is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
2. Soak in Banff Upper Hot Springs
Banff hot springs are right across the Banff Gondola and it makes sense to visit both of them on the same day. If you visited the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper then you can skip this one and do some hike instead or explore Banff downtown.
The waters of Banff hot springs are heated geothermally and are mineral rich. The hot springs are very crowded as people love to sit and relax in the healing and therapeutic mineral rich water. The facilities have restrooms, showers, locker rooms, and towel rental. There is also a café to enjoy some snacks afterwards.
A local tip is to visit the hot springs in the early morning instead of the evening for a more relaxing and less crowded experience.
Time needed: Allow around 2 hours for the Banff Hot Springs. Visiting Banff Hot Springs is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
3. Visit Lake Minnewanka and take the Lake Minnewanka cruise
Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake around 21 kilometers (13 miles long) and is a very popular lake in summer for hiking, biking, fishing, diving, canoeing and boating. There are canoe and boat rentals available, a café, picnic tables and restrooms. The lake waters are a beautiful turquoise color and the alpine forests around it provide the perfect backdrop.
The main attraction of lake Minnewanka is the Lake Minnewanka cruise which is a one hour guided tour that offers excellent views of the lake as well as information on the history of the lake. You can book your cruise time when you purchase the Banff explorer package.
There is parking at the lake, but you can get a free ride on a shuttle from Banff downtown if you have a cruise ticket.
Once you check-in at the gift shop ticket counter, you get pre assigned seats for the boat. The boat cruise staff are a skilled boat captain and a tour guide that will narrate all about the history of the lake, and the surrounding mountains.
The lake was called Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits) because the people respected and feared the lake for its resident spirits.
There is a buried resort town in the lake, Minnewanka Landing, which was submerged when a dam built in 1941 raised the water level by 30 meters. How cool is that! There are historic artifacts thousands of years old, buried at Lake Minnewanka shores that are protected.
The boat cruise takes you near to the Devil’s gap which is an opening between the mountain ranges. The boat has a small deck in the back and you can view the open waters from there.
After the cruise if you are up for it you can hike Minnewanka Lakeside trail.
Time needed: Allow 2-3 hours for visiting lake Minnewanka and taking the 1 hour long Lake Minnewanka cruise. Plan for more time if doing hiking and/or picnic at the lake. Lake Minnewanka cruise is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
4 & 5. Hike Johnston Canyon and see the lower and upper waterfalls
If you have time to do only one hike in Banff, hike the natural Johnston Canyon and see the lower and upper waterfalls. Johnston Canyon is around 30 minutes drive from Banff downtown.
This is the most famous hike in Banff and it’s very popular and crowded. The Johnston Canyon is carved by thousands of years of water erosion and the views are phenomenal.
The Johnston Canyon hike has three levels. The hike to the lower falls is 1.4 miles out and back with 344 feet elevation. This is the most easy trail and most people should be able to do this.
From the lower falls, the hike to the upper falls is another 1.8 miles and 500 feet elevation. The crowds here are much less than the lower falls trail.
After the upper falls, the hike to the Ink Pots is very strenuous with another 4 miles and around 1100 feet elevation.
Pro tip: In summers we prefer hikes in the late afternoons as the weather cools down a bit and gets more pleasant. The crowds are also lesser in evenings than in mornings on popular hikes.
The parking lot is huge and free. During the busy summer months an alternative is to take the ROAM Public Transit Route 9 from Banff to avoid parking issues.
Johnston Canyon hike to the Lower falls
Johnston Canyon hike to the Lower falls is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
The lower falls trail is paved the whole way and there is hand rail at most parts. The trail started out with an easy walk along a forest and then through boardwalks along the canyon. You can see the rushing Johnston creek next to the trail pretty much the entire time.
The lower falls can be reached in less than 30 minutes and are spectacular. There is a tunnel cut across a canyon rock to see the falls up close. There might be a line to get across the tunnel, make sure you don’t miss the view from the tunnel. The tunnel is short and takes hardly a couple of minutes. Watch your head! You will see and experience the mist from the falls up close.
Johnston Canyon hike to the Upper falls
The upper falls hike is a dirt trail and there is some incline. It can be reached in another 40 minutes or so from the lower falls.
The upper falls are really magnificent. It is quite humbling to see the water roar and drop from that height. There is a nice viewing platform built on the canyon for some great views. The mist from the waterfall is so welcoming after the hike!
The descent is fairly easy and we made all the way to the parking lot in around 30 minutes. It was a total of 2-3 hours for the entire hike. Make sure to carry enough water for the hike.
There is a restaurant at the base of the Johnston Canyon, a gift shop and restrooms.
During winter months the waterfalls and Johnston creek freeze and you can walk in the frozen canyon through guided tours.
Time needed: You will need an hour to hike up to the lower falls. To hike the upper falls you will need around 2 hours. Plan for 4 to 5 hours if you are hiking all the way to the inkpots.
6. Explore the Cave and Basin National Historic site
The Cave and Basin national historic site is conveniently near Banff downtown and is an excellent place to explore.
The Canada Discovery pass gives you free access to the site. You will still needed to get your pass checked and get a hand stamp from the gift shop. Tickets can be purchased at the gift shop as well.
The Cave and Basin has been a special place for the Banff people for over a thousand years and today the site is a museum with tours, interactive exhibits and short film presentations.
The Cave and Basin are natural hot springs heated geothermally. As the Cave and Basin are protected you are not allowed to touch the water here.
The Cave and Basin are home to an endangered Banff Snail which lives in the water. The sulfur smell is very strong in the Cave.
This place was also home to a bathhouse which is now closed. There is no bathing in the hot springs allowed at this site. You will have to go to Banff Hot Springs for that.
The whole museum can be seen in an hour. There are several trails from the Cave and Basin if you would like to explore more.
Time needed: You will need around 1 to 2 hours to explore the Cave and Basin National Historic site. Exploring Cave and Basin is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
7. Explore Banff town
The downtown scene at Banff has a really cool vibe with stunning snow covered mountains as the backdrop.
If you are staying in the Banff town you can stroll in the downtown area each day after your meals and browse local shops and boutiques. Some local shops worth checking out are the Rock Mountain chocolates and Rocky Mountain Soap Co. This is also a great place to do some souvenir shopping.
Time needed: Depends on the time spent strolling, shopping and eating at restaurants.
8. Take a picture at the Banff Sign
Take a picture at the famous Banff sign as a souvenir for your trip. The Banff Sign is located on the Mt Norquay Road, and across the street from the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre. Here is the exact location of the Banff town sign in Google Maps.
There can be a line depending on the time of the day but it moves quickly. You cannot park on the side of the road anymore, and will have to park in the parking lot of Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre and cross the street to the Banff Sign. The parking here is free.
Time needed: 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the waiting line.
9. Stand up paddle board at Two Jack Lake
Two Jake lake is a lesser known lake which is a convenient stop on the way to the more popular Minnewanka lake. Two Jake lake is a stunning lake with amazing reflections of Mount Rundle in the lake at sunrise or sunset. If you want a peaceful relaxing picnic area away from the crowds than Two Jake Lake is an ideal place.
Two Jack lake has picnic areas, restrooms, campgrounds, and plenty of parking. It is famous for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, but is especially known for stand up paddle boarding. Swimming and hiking are other activities enjoyed here.
It has a small beach area which is more rocky than sandy. You can sometimes spot wildlife like elk and big horn sheep when driving to the lake.
Time needed: Depends on the activity. If just stopping by to see sunset and picnic, allow an hour.
10. Catch sunrise or sunset at Vermillion lakes
The vermillion lakes are a series of lakes very close to Banff downtown, just around 5 minutes drive. You can also bike to it. The scenery at sunrise and sunset is spectacular with the reflection of Mount Rundle and the surrounding mountains in the water.
Vermillion Lakes is a popular area for canoeing, biking and hiking. Bring a picnic and enjoy the gorgeous sunset views. You can spot wildlife here in the early mornings and late evenings, sometimes even bears!
Time needed: Depends on the activity. If just stopping by to see sunset and picnic, allow an hour.
11. Horseback Riding along the Bow river
Banff Trail Riders company offers scenic horse riding adventures for beginners. There are 1 and 2 hour rides along the scenic Bow river. The stables are huge and they have a lot of horses.
The horses walk nose to tail in a line and there is no galloping. The have one staff rider in the front and one at the end of the line. The trail is nice and scenic. The later half is along the Bow river and you can see the mountains in the backdrop.
This is a fun experience especially if you haven’t tried horse riding before as it is very beginner friendly.
Time needed: Ride time plus another 30 minutes, to check-in and warm up to your assigned horse.
12. Go on a White water rafting adventure
Summer is a great time for white water rafting in Banff. Canadian Rockies is a great place to experience white water rafting with gushing rivers and epic scenery surrounding you.
There are a lot of tour companies that offer white water rafting experiences in Canadian Rockies for all ages and levels. Here you can find Class II to Class IV+ rapid experiences. Chinook rafting, Hydra rafting and Wild water adventures are some of the tour companies that have some great rafting excursions.
Time needed: Depends on the activity chosen.
13. Take a Relaxing raft float trip down the Bow River
For families with young children and seniors, white water rafting might sound too adventurous. There are tour companies that offer a relaxing raft float experience on the Bow river, just minutes from Banff downtown. Rocky Mountain Raft tours offers a float raft experience on Bow River.
Time needed: Plan around 2-3 hours for this activity.
14. Wildlife spotting in Banff National Park
Banff National Park is a haven for wildlife like bears, elk, big horn sheep, caribous, mountain goats, squirrels, bald eagles and many more. You can spot wildlife in Banff National Park just about anywhere.
Keep your eyes on the road and alongside for any wildlife spotting. If you see a car stopped on the side of the road, there is a high chance they have spotted some wildlife, so make sure to stop and look around.
You have a higher chance to spot wildlife in mornings and evenings when the animals are looking for food. Remember to keep your distance and not to disturb them in any way.
15. Bike the Banff Legacy Trail
The Banff Legacy Trail is a 12.6 mile (22 Km) bike trail from Banff to Canmore that is popular for biking and running. You can rent bikes in either Banff or Canmore, even electric bikes. There is a rest stop at about halfway point with restrooms for a lunch break picnic.
The scenery is gorgeous on the trail with mountains and wildflowers. You might also spot some wildlife along the way like elk, dear, and bears. The trail runs along the highway for the most part.
Time needed: Plan 3-4 hours to bike the Banff Legacy trail. Longer if you plan to make stops along the way. Biking the Banff Legacy Trail is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
16. Climb Mt Norquay Via Ferrata
Via Ferrata is an assisted climbing experience on the cliffs of Mt Norquay with different courses for varied skill levels. Its a great way to experience the mountains if you are looking for an adventure.
The courses involve climbing ladders and suspension bridges but you are secured by a harness to the mountain steel cable making it totally safe. There are certified guides leading the experience. Most courses are for ages 14 and up but they have couple of them for ages 12 and up.
Time needed: Depends on the activity chosen.
17. Try some great restaurants in Banff
Banff has some great restaurants with varied cuisines. Some restaurants we tried and recommend:
Magpie and Stump – Mexican cuisine. This place has a cool vibe and the upstairs patio is beautiful.
Saffron Indian bistro – Indian cuisine. Really good Indian food, satisfied our home food craving.
Balkan – Greek cuisine. They have entertainment on Thursday nights with belly dancing and plate smashing, so we went to check it out. They had good vegetarian options.
Uno pizza – Really good pizza and appetizers! Great wine selection too.
Beavertails – This is a unique Canadian pastry shop which makes fried dough pastry that is shaped to resemble a Beaver’s tail and you can customize it with your choice of sweet and savory toppings.
White Bark Café – Café with a modern vibe and really good coffee.
18. Drive on the scenic Icefields Parkway
The drive between Lake Louise and Jasper is the scenic Icefields parkway drive which is rightly named one of the top 10 drives in the world. Every bend in the road brings amazing scenery that is postcard perfect. The white snow covered jagged mountain peaks, beautiful lakes, gushing waterfalls, wildlife are some of the things you will see on this scenic drive.
The entire drive is around 3 hours without any stops, but there are so many views and vistas along the way that cannot be missed. If you start early in the day, you can make all the stops along Icefields parkway on the same day including the Columbia Icefields glacier and skywalk tour.
The Icefields Parkway has some amazing viewpoints including the Athabasca glacier, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Sunwapta falls and Athabasca falls.
Read more about all the Icefields Parkway stops in my blog post 13 not to miss stops along Icefields parkway drive.
If you plan to drive to Jasper via the scenic Icefields Parkway, plan to stay overnight in Jasper. 2 nights in Jasper would be ideal to see all that wonderful things that Jasper has to offer.
Time needed: You need a full day to drive on Icefields parkway and see all the viewpoints. An overnight stay in Jasper National Park is recommended instead of driving back the same day. Driving on the Icefields Parkway drive is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
19. Take the Columbia Icefield Glacier tour
The Athabasca glacier is along the Icefields parkway drive. It is around 2 hours from Banff and 1 hour from Jasper.
The Columbia Icefields adventure tour company runs tours from Mid May to mid October. They use Exact operating dates each year are weather dependent. For the tour you board a special Ice Explorer vehicle that has massive tires to roll on the glacier ice. The whole tour takes around 2 hours.
This is a must for anyone visiting this region as it is a very unique experience to walk on the Athabasca glacier, a 10,000 year old sheet of ice. Columbia Icefields glacier tour is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer. You can book the tour through the link below
You can read more about our tour experience here at 13 not to miss stops along Icefields parkway drive
20. Walk on the Columbia Icefields Skywalk
The Columbia Icefields adventure tour company runs a combo tour that includes the Athabasca glacier experience and the Skywalk experience.
After the glacier experience you board the tour bus again and they take you to the Skywalk experience. The skywalk has a glass floor and has jaw dropping views of the Sunwapta valley below. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking.
21. Visit the famous Lake Louise
This is the most famous lake in the Canadian Rockies and rightly so with its turquoise blue waters and view of the surrounding mountains that feed glacier water to the lake. The Fairmont Chateau at the banks of Lake Louise almost gives it a fairytale feeling. .
No trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada is complete without a visit to the postcard perfect Lake Louise. Lake Louise is only 40 minutes drive from Banff making it very easy to do a day trip from Banff.
In the busy months of July and August parking fills up very early in the morning.
There is a shuttle service that runs between the Lake Louise Park and Ride and the Lake Louise And Lake Moraine. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made on the Parks Canada website.
Read more about visiting both Lake Louise and Lake Moraine in my blog post Visit the breathtaking Lake Louise and Lake Moraine in one day.
Time needed: Allow 2-3 hours for Lake Louise, longer if you plan to do the Lake Agnes hike or dining at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Visiting Lake Louise is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
22. Indulge in high tea at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The afternoon high tea at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is an indulgent once in a lifetime experience where you feel like royalty.
Enjoy soul warming tea and delicious assortments of sweet and savories while looking out to world class views of Lake Louise. What an excellent way to spend an afternoon!
They have a regular menu, vegan menu and children’s menu to choose from. Advance recommendations are recommended.
Time needed: Allow 2-3 hours for the high tea experience at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
23. Hike the Lake Agnes trail and visit the Lake Agnes Teahouse
If you are up for a more moderately challenging hike, the Lake Agnes trail that leads to the Lake Agnes teahouse is a very popular trail in Lake Louise.
The trail starts from Lake Louise lakeshore area. It is around 5 miles out and back with 1,427 feet elevation. Skip the Lakeshore trail if doing this one, as you will need time to visit Moraine lake later in the day.
The teahouse is very busy during the summer months and there are lines out the door!
Time needed: Allow 3 to 4 hours for the Lake Agnes hike. Lake Agnes hike is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
24. Catch sunrise or sunset at Lake Moraine
Lake Moraine is around 30 minutes drive from Lake Louise. This is another glacial lake at a higher elevation and it melts much later in the season than Lake Louise. Lake Moraine is famous among photographers due to the gorgeous views of the lake and the surrounding mountains at sunrise and sunset.
If you are staying overnight in Lake Louise, and are up for waking up super early like around 3-4 am, many folks go to lake Moraine at sunrise to take pictures. It gets very crowded and people are waiting with tripods everywhere to take the perfect sunrise shot.
There is a rockpile at one end of the lake which can be climbed for dramatic views and pictures.
Time needed: Allow 1-2 hours for Lake Moraine. Visiting lake Moraine is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
25. Visit Jasper National Park
If you are in Banff region, it might be a great idea to spend a couple of nights in the nearby Jasper National Park. As most people visiting Banff drive the scenic Icefields parkway, staying overnight in Jasper National Park is common in everyone’s itinerary. Visiting Jasper National Park is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer.
There are a lot of amazing things to do in Jasper National Park like –
- Riding the Jasper Skytram for amazing views from the Whistler mountain.
- Hike the Maligne Canyon and see the spectacular limestone canyon created by waterfalls.
- Take the Lake Maligne cruise and see Spirit Island.
- Soak and relax in the Miette Hot Springs.
- Hike the valley of the five lakes.
You can read about my experience in Jasper National Park in my blog post Ultimate 7 days in Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper: Complete Canadian Rockies itinerary
Which summer month is ideal to visit Banff
June and September are the shoulder months, with the busiest tourist months in Banff being July and August.
Accommodations are easier to find and a little cheaper in the shoulder months of June and September. Tourist attractions are also less crowded and finding parking is easier.
If you want to make it more affordable and want to beat the crowds then mid-June or September is a great time to visit Banff.
Banff weather in summer
Banff National Park enjoys pleasant summers with sunny days and cooler nights. July is the warmest month. The daytime temperatures are moderate and average around 72 degree F, while night time temperatures are cooler and average around 45 degree F.
This makes Banff the ideal summer destination to enjoy outdoor activities in Banff like hiking, rafting, canoeing, paddle boarding, sight seeing, etc. Its always the perfect summer weather to be outdoors in Banff!
Where to fly into for Banff
Flying in and out of Calgary airport will be the fastest way to get to the Canadian Rockies. From there you can drive to Banff, and also to Lake Louise and Jasper.
- Banff is around 1.5 hours drive from Calgary over the scenic Trans-Canada Hwy AB-1.
- Lake Louise is around 40 minutes drive from Banff.
- Jasper is around 3 hours drive from Lake Louise.
- The total drive from Calgary to Jasper will be around 5 hours without any stops.
How many days are needed for Banff
If you want to just visit Banff, then 3-4 days is enough but mostly people combine their trip to Banff with Lake Louise, IceFields parkway and Jasper National park. Especially if you are not local to Alberta, you might want to make the most of your trip and visit Banff and Jasper together.
As you would need a few days in both Banff and Jasper and a day to drive the Icefields parkway, between 6 to 8 days is ideal if you just want to cover Jasper-Lake Louise-Banff. If you plan to do longer hikes or visit the nearby national parks then you will need a few extra days.
Where to stay in Banff
There are several accommodation options in Banff ranging from luxurious to affordable hotels. The Banff downtown area has plenty of hotels and is the most convenient place to stay as you can walk to all restaurants and shops. Also many attractions offer shuttle service from Banff town area.
Luxurious resorts: Fairmont Banff Springs and Rimrock resort hotel. These resorts are a little outside of the Banff town area so you will have to drive to Banff downtown for restaurants. There are plenty of restaurants within these resorts as well if you decide to stay in, but do make a trip to explore Banff town.
Mid range hotels: Moose hotel and Suites is a great option to stay in Banff and this is where we stayed. It is in an excellent location and very accessible. Peaks hotel and Suites is another great hotel.
Economy hotels: Best Western Plus is a good budget friendly option and yet close to all the action on Banff Avenue. But for more savings look at accommodations in Canmore as well.
Staying in the town of Canmore instead of Banff is a budget friendly alternative if you do not mind the extra 30 minute drive to Banff attractions. Canmore accommodations can be cheaper than Banff. If you like to be in the middle of the hustle bustle choose to stay in Banff town.
Spending a night in Lake Louise area is a good idea, especially if you want to stay to see sunrise or sunset at Lake Louise or Lake Moraine.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the ultimate resort if you want to splurge for a once in a lifetime experience.
Another affordable option is staying at the Lake Louise Inn where we stayed. We were pleasantly surprised as Lake Louise Inn was a great hotel. The lobby was impressive and it has several restaurants for dinner and a breakfast restaurant with a great breakfast buffet spread.
Day pass or annual pass for Banff National Park
The entire Banff and Jasper area including the downtowns fall under the National parks and you need a permit to enter. You can purchase a day pass or an annual pass at the entry checkpoint into Banff.
You can also purchase it from the Parks Canada website but they add shipping cost as they ship the actual physical pass to you. Its easiest to just buy it at the gate when you enter Banff National Park.
The Discovery annual pass is good for a year for up to seven people in a vehicle. We bought the Discovery annual pass as we were going to be there for 7 days and it turned out to be cheaper than the daily passes.
Just remember to bring it back with you and not forget it in your rental car! You can reuse it if you plan to visit any other national parks in Canada in the one year timeframe.
What to wear in Banff in summer
Banff has pleasant summers days and cooler nights so its best to dress in layers. Jeans, shorts, hiking pants, half sleeve and full sleeve shirts, hoodies are all good items to pack.
It rains quite a bit in June and July so having a good weather proof jacket is a must.
Also good hiking shoes are recommended as visiting most places will involve some amount of walking/hiking.
Do not forget to always carry sunscreen, bug spray and water.
Wrap-up of Things to do in Banff in Summer
Banff National Park is truly an amazing place to visit solo or with family and friends. There are endless options of things to do in Banff in summer. I hope you have a great vacation!
Check out other posts from my trip to the Canadian Rockies: