Banff National Park is nestled in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Offering a wealth of incredible natural beauty, it is home to a wide range of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolverines, elk, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, marmots, and Columbian ground squirrels. In addition to visiting the park, you can explore many of the other notable attractions in the area, including historic sites, beautiful scenic drives, and even a glacier.
For an incredible bird's eye view of the Banff region, take a ride up the Banff Gondola. The parking lot and starting point for the gondola are located about five kilometers (five minutes driving) south of Banff town centre.
Each gondola cabin seats up to four passengers, taking about eight minutes to get to the summit of the mountain at an elevation of 2,281 meters above sea level. From there, visitors can enjoy 360-degree views of six mountain ranges from the indoor comfort of the visitor's center. There are also trails to explore along the Summit Ridge interpretive boardwalk.
Round-trip tickets on the Banff Gondola cost $35.95 for adults and $17.95 for children aged six to 15 years. Admission is free for children aged five and under.
Icefields Parkway and Bow Valley Parkway
You'll find multiple scenic lookouts with beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and rivers throughout Banff National Park:
- Highway 1/1A - While driving along either the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) or the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) between Banff and Lake Louise, keep your eyes out for signs on the side of the road for these scenic stops.
- AB-93N - From Lake Louise to Jasper in the north, take the Icefields Parkway (AB-93N) to find similar lookout areas that are perfect for taking photos. Of particular note are Bow Lake and Bow Glacier, the source for the turquoise blue water of the Bow River that runs through Calgary. Note that this parkway can and does close in the winter during inclement weather conditions.
The wide and short Bow Falls are just a short distance from Banff city centre:
- Cross the main bridge from town.
- Turn left onto Spray Avenue.
- Take a left on Bow Falls Drive.
You can also follow a marked trail to and from town. This is a great spot for an afternoon picnic, and the wild elk frequent the area.
For a scenic respite just five minutes west of Banff, try Vermillion Lakes Drive. This 4.3-kilometer road offers multiple areas to take in the scenery and view the natural wildlife. The surrounding mountains, including Mount Rundle, serve as a breathtaking backdrop to the lakes, and this is a great place to take in the sunset. Multiple self-guided interpretive panels line the area, offering information about the geology, ecology, and human presence. Picnic tables are also on-site.
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site
This amazing site commemorates the birthplace of the National Park system of Canada. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site offers interactive displays and exhibits that explore the rich history of Canada's national parks. As its name implies, the site also includes natural warm mineral springs inside the cave. General admission is $3.90 for adults, $3.40 for seniors, $1.90 for youth, and $9.80 for families.
Located about 35 minutes north of the town of Banff, Lake Louise operates as a ski resort during the winter months and offers a number of summer activities as well. There is a town centre, but the main draw will be the breathtaking lake itself, backed by snow-topped mountains.
The view of the lake is best found adjacent to the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a luxury resort with year-round activities, tours, spa services, and fine dining. Chateau Lake Louise is also home to Marcus, a Golden Labrador Retriever who acts as the Canine Ambassador and "Director of Pet Relations." You may find him relaxing and socializing in the hotel lobby area.
Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Glacier
The adventure continues almost two hours north of Lake Louise at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, which is only open from the middle of April until the middle of October each year. While you can simply view the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier from this vantage point, Brewster Travel Canada offers two great activities that bring you much closer to the action:
- The Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure transports visitors from the Discovery Centre to the glacier itself in an Ice Explorer, a specially-equipped massive bus-like vehicle built specifically for glacial travel. Passengers can descend from the Ice Explorer upon arrival and walk right on the glacier. They are then taken back to the Discovery Centre. Prices start at $49.95 for the 80-minute tour.
- Alternatively, the Glacier Skywalk takes visitors to a semi-circular, glass-floored observation platform that overlooks the Canadian Rockies from a vantage point of 918 feet. Prices start at $24.95 for the one-hour experience.
Located in neighboring Yoho National Park to the west, Emerald Lake gets its name from its amazing greenish turquoise color. This is most visible in July following the surrounding snowmelt that brings in limestone powder from the mountains.
Canoe rentals are popular in the summer while many people prefer cross-country skiing as a winter activity. The high end Emerald Lake Lodge sits on the edge of the lake, and a five-kilometer hiking trail encircles the lake.
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
To learn more about Banff and the story of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Whyte Museum at 111 Bear Street is worth a visit. It contains several exhibits, galleries, and archives about the art, culture, and history of the area. There's also a gift shop for souvenirs. Admission is by donation.
Enjoy the Natural Beauty
The Town of Banff and Banff National Park are incredible places to visit at any time of the year, offering a wealth of attractions and activities for people of all ages. The natural beauty of the area is the biggest draw, offering lush greenery, tranquil lakes, impressive mountains, and breathtaking vistas with snow and ice.