Banff National Park Travel Guide

Banff National Park has been on my bucket list for quite some time.  The moment I saw the crystal blue waters of Lake Louise and Lake Moraine in a picture all of those years ago I knew I needed to go to Canada and see Banff for myself. Here is my travel guide for Banff National Park!   Originally this trip was just supposed to be John and me, but delta was running a flash sale and the rest of the family got major FOMO and the trip quickly became a family affair. So our group included with my parents, my sister, Meredith, and her boyfriend, Alex.

Where is Banff and how do I get there?

Banff is in the Provence of Alberta in Canada, and is considered part of the Canadian Rockies.  The closest commercial airport is Calgary (YYC).  Calgary is about an hour and a half by car to Banff National Park.  There are several shuttle services from Calgary to Banff and it will cost you about $50 each way to get back and forth.  We rented a large SUV since we had so many passengers. Even if you don’t have a lot of passengers I highly recommend renting a car because it gives you a lot more flexibility to explore once you get in the park.

When to go to Banff:

It really depends on what you want to do.  Banff is the hub for both winter and summer activities in the Canadian Rockies. According to the locals, the best time for summer activities are May and September because the majority of tourists visit during June, July and August when kids are out of school.  May and September are supposed to still have fairly mild temperatures, however the first two days we were there it snowed close to eight inches. I love the snow, but I was not a happy camper about the lack of mountain views. The last three days, it was absolutely perfect weather! The best month for skiing and winter activities is March.  Unless you are very used to being in arctic climates the locals say the sub-zero temperatures in January and February make for VERY cold skiing.

What to Pack?

Let me just say that even in September we froze our little Georgia hineys off. Definitely pack lots of layers because you are up at elevation. Most days we always had on a base layer/ long underwear, jeans or hiking pants, heavy sweater or pullover, and coat or puffer vest.  Make sure you have a great pair of waterproof hiking boots as well.  Here are a few of the exact items that I packed:

Where to Stay in Banff:

View of the hot tub at our Air BNB

There are several great lodging options within the town of Banff. Fun Fact, Banff is the name of a town as well as the National Park as a whole.  Since we were staying with a group of six and wanted some communal space with a kitchen for coffee, breakfast and snacks we opted to go with an Air BNB.  Bonus, our Air BNB even had a great wood burning fire place that we enjoyed in the cool fall temps.  If it were just John and I staying, I think we would have opted to stay at either the Mount Royal in the heart of Banff or Fairmont Banff Springs.

What to Do in Banff:

  • Lake Louise and Lake Moraine: I highly recommend taking a day trip up to Lake Louise and Lake Moraine.  It is about an hour drive north into the park but well worth it.  The Fairmont Lake Louise is the only lodging actually on Lake Louise and offers a great home base while in the area.  The rest of the fam hiked up to the Lake Agnes Tea House  that sits above Lake Louise while I hit up the spa for a massage. To each their own, right? They really enjoyed the hike and I enjoyed my massage. I will say that it was definitely tourist pricing at the spa and I did see better pricing in Banff. Typically you can take canoes out into Lake Louise but they weren’t renting them that day because of the foggy weather. 
  • Hikes around Banff (town) : There are several great hikes that you can take right from the town center in Banff, one of our favorites was Bow Falls.  It is a moderate hike with great views of the falls at the end. There are plenty of benches to sit and enjoy the scenery and it made for a really relaxing afternoon. Don’t be surprised if you see lots of wildlife even in and around town. It’s perfectly normal to see deer, elk, and mountain goats! 
  • Via Ferrata: Let me preface this by saying, I did not do Via Ferrata but my parents, Meredith, and Alex did. They all said it was a breathtaking experience with fantastic views. They would all highly recommend as long as you aren’t afraid of heights. 
  • Lake Minnewanka: This is one of the closest Lakes to the town of Banff and a great place to get some great views and pictures without a lot of hiking. They also have boat tours to take you around the Lake.
  • Meet up with a local photographer for an adventure session: John and I love to spend a couple of hours with a local photographer most places we travel. They always know the best photo spots and it’s a great way to remember your trip. We met up with Megan Steen and really enjoyed our afternoon and love the photos of our memories. I usually find photographers when I travel by searching instagram hashtags, for instance I found Megan by searching #banffphotographer.
  • Glacier Tour: Unfortunately we did not have time to take a glacier tour but it is on our list to hit next trip.

Where to Eat in Banff:

Y’all know John and I love scoping out yummy food when we travel. Banff is such a great foodie town and we were SO pleased with the service and gluten/dairy free options for me!

  • Park DistilleryWe ate here twice for lunch because we enjoyed the offerings so much.  They are a restaurant and distillery so it’s really unique to see the distilling process. The menu has something for everyone and I loved their dairy free tomato soup! John’s beverage recommendation is an Observation Peak, which is Park Glacier Rye, Flor de Ca ñ a 7yr, Amaro Montenegro, cherry liqueur, Park orange bitters, and a smoked cedar square.
  • Saltlik: The whole family ate at Saltlik and we all really enjoyed it! The service was outstanding and they have lots of great seating options to accommodate larger groups. I had the steak cobb salad without any of the good blue cheese or ranch dressing. John had the Double Cut Pork Chop served with roasted pear chutney. He liked it so much he said it would have eaten it every night of vacation.
  • Juniper Bistro:  Juniper Bistro is located in the Juniper Hotel just a little ways out of town. We ate here for breakfast twice.  We loved the stunning views from every table in the restaurant and their eclectic breakfast menu.  Both times I had the Shakshuka with gluten free toast and John had the Juniper Benny which was a braised rabbit and poached eggs dish.  My Mom had the Huevos Rancheros and said they were also delicious!
  • High Tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs:  We did afternoon tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs after we hiked bow falls.  It is a little bit pricey but definitely worth it for the experience. My recommendation is to make reservations and do not eat lunch beforehand. One thing I loved is that they were able to customize the entire menu to include gluten and dairy free options for me that were DELICIOUS! Our server, Amy, was from England and truly made our experience memorable.
  • The Bison: We ate here on our last night and I was suffering from a cold so I didn’t have much of an appetite. John and my parents each had an Alberta Raised Bison Ribeye.  They all said it was delicious. I loved the atmosphere and the casual yet elevated decor. Their wood fired grill also made the entire dining room cozy.
What do you think? Have you been to Banff and have something to add to my list? Let me know in the comments what you want to do if you visit Banff!

mm