Strolling along Bow River early evening
Being a keen hiker and lover of all things outdoors, Banff was the perfect destination for me. Here’s my top recommendations for how to spend a few days in Banff:
Wander around Downtown Banff
The main street running through the centre of Downtown Banff is full of hiking and souvenir shops as well as restaurants, cafes and bars. There are also a couple of parks to enjoy during the day. In the evening, the town comes to life as local residents get dressed up to enjoy a few drinks. However, don’t worry if all you packed was jeans and trainers, there are many people who are still dressed casually after a day of walking – there’s a mix of everything here!
Enjoying Downtown Banff
Visit Bow Falls
The Bow River runs through Banff town, and there is a walking and cycling trail which follows the river to Bow Falls. The trail from Bow River Bridge, just outside of town, to Bow Falls is only 1.2km and takes just 20 – 25 minutes, so it’s perfect to combine with a wander around Downtown Banff. We walked this trail early evening as the sun was setting and it was just beautiful. If you want a longer walk, this trail connects to the Cave and Basin trail and the Upper Hot Springs trail.
Bow River trail to Bow Falls
Banff Upper hot springs
Positioned high near the top of Sulphur mountain, on the outskirts of Downtown Banff, the Banff Upper Hot Springs are the best way to spend a couple of hours. Relaxing in the hot pool after a day of hiking is just perfect!
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Lake Louise is one of the must-see places you think of when visiting Banff, with its iconic turquoise-blue lake and the grand Hotel Fairmont sitting on the shoreline. There are many activities to do here – you can rent a canoe at the boathouse and glide across the lake, book onto one of the horse trekking tours, walk around the Lake Louise shoreline trail to the Victoria Glacier, or set off on one of the hiking trails beyond the Lake.
One of the more popular and accessible hiking trails is the Lake Agnes tea trail, which starts from the shoreline, up to the famous Lake Agnes tea house. You can read more about hiking the Lake Agnes tea trail in my post, here.
Lake Louise is hugely popular and does get busy, so I would recommend getting there early in the day to avoid the bulk of the crowds.
The higher you climb, the bluer the lake!
Another iconic glacial lake, Moraine Lake glistens blue-green, sheltered by the snow-covered ‘Valley of the ten peaks’ that surround it. Here you can walk along the forest-covered shoreline, or rent a canoe to take out on the lake and get away from the crowds. Make sure you climb the Rockpile for stunning views over the lake.
When we visited, it was snowing and the lake was covered with cloud and fog, dulling the blue colour of the lake, but it was still beautiful despite this. Again, parking is limited here and it does get busy, so arrive early or plan ahead and take the park and ride.
View over Moraine Lake from the Rockpile
Visit Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is just a 30 minute drive from Banff and is a popular destination, so get there early to avoid some of the crowds and grab a parking spot! There are three trails you can take here: The Lower falls, Upper falls and the Ink pots, each becoming progressively harder and less busy.
This was one of my favourite places to visit in Banff, I just loved the scenery of the forest and the canyon with its falls, it really was very pretty. You can read more about hiking the Johnston Canyon in my post, here.
Exploring Johnston Canyon
The largest body of water in Banff National park, Lake Minnewanka is a glacial lake just 11km outside of Banff town. It is on the edge of one of the three ‘core areas’ for grizzly bears in Banff National Park and therefore parts of the trails around the Lake are closed off at certain times of the year and some restrictions apply.
From the entrance, walk the Stewart trail along the rocky shoreline until you reach Stewart Canyon and Cascade river. From here, you can continue onto Alymer lookout, but only outside of bear activity season, otherwise, you will have to retrace your footsteps and go back the same way. It’s an easy route with stunning views across the lake.
Taking in the views over Lake Minnewanka
Take a trip on the Banff Gondola
If you want great views without the effort, then take a trip on the Banff Gondola – the 8 minute ride takes you up to Sulphur mountain summit where you are spoilt for choice with views across 6 mountain ranges and Bow Valley. At the summit, there is a discovery centre, interactive theatre, restaurant and the Sulphur Mountain boardwalk trail to Sanson’s Peak. If you are a more experienced hiker, you can take the South East Ridge trail that runs along the ridge of the mountain, taking you to the real summit of Sulphur mountain.
The Banff Gondala with views over the Sulphur Mountain range
Tunnel Mountain hiking trail
The Tunnel Mountain trail is just outside of Banff and you can walk to the start of the trail from the main street in just 15 minutes. There are two places you can start the hike; either the lower or upper parking lot – we started from the lower parking lot on St. Julien Road. It is 2.4km to the summit and the round trip takes about 2 hours, depending on how many rest stops you have on the way up and how long you spend at the top enjoying the views.
It is a short walk but is a tough climb, with steep switchbacks the whole way up. At the top you will be rewarded with sweeping views over Banff Town, Bow Valley and Mount Rundle. We spent a while sat at the top just taking in the surrounding landscape – it is a great short walk and i’d recommend it just for the views.
Gorgeous views over Bow Valley from the top of Tunnel Mountain
Drive the Icefields parkway
Named as one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world, the Icefields parkway connects Lake Louise and Jasper, winding through both Banff and Jasper National Parks. The scenery along the parkway is stunning with plenty of stopping points overlooking Canadian Rockies, glaciers, valleys and lakes. Make sure you stop at Peyto Lake for stunning photos at the highest elevation along the route.
Driving the Icefields Parkway
Test your nerve on the Glacier skywalk
Located on the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper, the Glacier skywalk is not for the faith hearted! The cliff edge skywalk has a glass floor and rails with views over the Sunwapta Valley. The views are breath-taking, but if you have a fear of heights, perhaps this one is not for you!
The Glass walkway at the Glacier Skywalk
My Two week Canadian road trip
Two weeks is not a lot of time to see Canada but I managed to squeeze in three main destinations in my two week road trip. See my itinerary for two weeks in Canada, travelling from Toronto to Banff and then onto Vancouver.
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