Are you thinking to visit Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies? You’re in for an amazing trip!
Banff National Park sits in the heart of the Canadian Rockies surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and glacier-fed lakes and rivers.
Whether you’re considering a trip to Banff or have begun to plan your trip, this guide will both help you plan and show you why Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies are an absolute bucket list destination!
3 Reasons to Visit Banff National Park Immediately
Setting off for a somewhat spur of the moment trip to Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies, I knew it would be pretty, but oh how mistaken I was!
It was downright unbelievable and I was completely unprepared for the stunning natural beauty of Banff National Park, the Icefields Parkway, and Jasper National Park.
Having arrived in Banff at night, I was totally unaware of the scenery all around. Starting off the next day along Banff Avenue, mountains towered all around, with the quaint town perfectly nestled among them. If you’ve never been to the Canadian Rockies, the mountains viewed from town will take your breath away before you even see an “actual” sight!
Banff National Park quietly and, quite easily, stole a piece of my heart, which is why I made a return trip to Banff in winter. If you’re wondering why you should visit Banff National Park immediately, these 3 reasons (of many!) should convince you.
1. Lakes in Banff National Park
Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, and Moraine Lake to name just a few. The turquoise blue of the glacier-fed lakes, set against the evergreen forests and the majestic mountains, will make you gasp every time you set eyes on them.
Lake Louise is the must-see crown jewel on everyone’s list. It’s about a 30-minute drive from the town of Banff, still within the national park. From Banff, be sure to drive along the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Lake Louise for a much more scenic drive than the highway. If you’re lucky, you might just spy some wildlife like big-horned sheep or even a bear!
At Lake Louise, you can horseback ride, hike, canoe, have lunch outside at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and of course, just sit lakeside and take in the natural beauty around you.
If you’re up for a moderately strenuous hike, head up the mountain, through the forest, past Mirror Lake, to Lake Agnes Teahouse, where you can give yourself a pat on the back for completing the hike with a light lunch.
Moraine Lake is only a short drive from Lake Louise. Depending on your day’s activities, you could easily see both lakes on the same day.
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake have hiking trails. Just be sure to pay attention to bear safety guidelines and alerts.
Grizzly bears feed on fish in the streams near the trails so it’s best to carry bear spray and avoid closed trails. No need to ruin a fantastic day by upsetting some of Banff National Park’s natural residents!
Lake Minnewanka may not be as famous as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake but it’s an absolute gem! The lake is just 10 minutes by car from the town of Banff and makes for an easy first stop as you begin your day.
There are hiking trails and picnic areas, as well as hour-long boat rides, where you can cruise along the 28-kilometer-long lake, learn about its history including a submerged settlement at the bottom of the lake, and capture up-close photos of the surrounding mountains. Avoid waiting in line for boat tickets and get your tickets in advance or go first thing in the morning.
Vermillion Lakes – Outside the Banff town center, near the Juniper Hotel, the Vermillion Lakes are spectacular spots to watch the sunrise.
2. Banff National Park Wildlife
Banff National Park is home to many different types of animals. Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, and river otters to name a few. Although I saw some animals during the day, I was luckiest in the mornings and just before the evening.
If you’re like me, then seeing an animal like a bighorn sheep or bear in the wild is such a thrill!
Driving or biking the Minnewanka Loop is a popular spot to search out wildlife, in particular, groups of bighorn sheep are commonly seen near the lake parking lot, on the rocky cliffs near the road, and even on the road itself!
Spotting a black bear or grizzly bear is on the top of the wildlife spotting list for most visitors to Banff National Park. This grizzly bear was not far from the road near Lake Louise. You can tell the difference between a grizzly bear and a black bear not by color, but by the characteristic hump grizzlies have by their shoulders.
As excited as I was to spot a grizzly, it was shocking to see how close people got to this bear! Remember you are in their territory. Respecting the animal is more important than getting the perfect photo. Banff National Park is serious about animal and human safety. Feeding or in any way disturbing an animal comes with high fines.
Other Places to See Wildlife in Banff: Vermillion Lakes, Norquay Road, Bow Valley Parkway, Moraine Lake, and the gondola over the Lake Louise ski area in summer. On both of my trips to Banff, in summer and in winter, I’ve been lucky enough to see bears, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk in one or more of these places.
If you’re hoping to see a wolf, they’re incredibly elusive. I made time for a visit to the Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary not far from Banff to learn more about wolves and wolf dogs.
3. Banff Mountains
The Banff Rocky Mountains surround the town with awesome jagged peaks that can be seen right from the town center. If you’re a mountain person like I am, visiting Banff National Park will feel as if you’ve found where you’re supposed to be.
Cascade Mountain is the peak seen as you stroll along Banff Avenue in the Banff town center. Mount Rundle sits behind the Vermillion Lakes and completes the perfect sunrise photo over the water. And at sunset, brushstrokes of colors paint the sky with the mountain as its backdrop.
To fully appreciate the mountains in Banff National Park, take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain for spectacular views of the valley in which the town of Banff sits, the mountains surrounding it, and, of course, the turquoise rivers and lakes that are part of the national park. It’s well worth your time and money to enjoy views like these!
How to Get to Banff National Park
The closest airport is Calgary. The airport is serviced by numerous airlines, with flights originating from North America and the U.K. We booked 2 round trip Saver Awards on a United flight from New York to Calgary for a total of 50k miles. For more ideas, see how you can use your points and miles to get to Banff.
It’s about an hour and a half west from Calgary to Banff National Park. The most convenient way to get to Banff is by renting a car and taking the Trans-Canada Highway toward Banff. The drive in the summer is simple to do both day and night because the route is straightforward, just follow the highway to Banff.
Banff National Park Lodging
Banff has plenty of hotels for every type of budget located along Banff Avenue and throughout the town. On my trips to Banff, I’ve stayed at the Fox Hotel and Suites and the Banff Aspen Lodge along Banff Avenue.
I’ve also stayed just 2 minutes away from the town center at the Juniper Hotel, which overlooks the Vermillion Lakes area.
All 3 hotels had comfortable, clean rooms and came with amenities like wifi, parking, and sometimes free breakfast. The Juniper Hotel stood out for its location and views. Even though you don’t have the convenience of walking outside directly onto Banff Avenue to eat or shop, the Juniper Hotel’s location puts you directly in the natural beauty of the park and town.
If you would like to use hotel points for an award stay, you have a few options.
The Best Western Plus Sliding 29 Lodge is located off Banff Avenue in town and the Fairmont Banff Springs located just outside of the town center, closer to the Bow River.
The Banff Royal Canadian Lodge by Marriott is also situated along Banff Avenue. Although reports are, available award nights may be hard to come by.
VRBO and Booking also list many available vacation rental properties.
If camping is more your style, Banff National Park camping is also quite popular. There are over 2,000 campsites. Just be sure to make your Banff camping reservations in advance and get your national park camping permit.
Are you planning to visit Banff National Park?
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32 thoughts on “3 Reasons to Visit Banff National Park Immediately”
Banff is incredible! Loved it. Nice writeup!
Thanks Holly! I see Banff stole a piece of both our hearts..
Like you, this area took our breath away from Jasper to Banff via the Icefields Parkway. We stayed at a Best Western in Banff – the BW Sliding 29 Lodge – on points, though, so you may want to update your post to reflect there is a points-related stay available. This is a beautiful property with high-end finishes and amenities, a great example of the fairly recent tiered rebrand Best Western has implemented, and a good alternative to inflated prices. Also, down the Minnewanka Scenic road just a piece from the more crowded Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake, probably the most beautiful of all the stops we made in this region. I took a memorable photo of a Tibetan monk in his scarlet and gold robe we saw on a distant lakeside path here. Still don’t know if it was real! Just amazing.
Thanks for the great tips, Betsy! I’ll be sure to update the post. So glad to hear a points option exists now!
So many big horn sheep! I would love to also see a bear. I need to go here!
Banff National Park is such an amazing place to visit, Majesta! There’s plenty of wildlife to spot!
You got to see a grizzly near Lake Louise?! JEALOUS! I lived at Moraine Lake for 4 months and never saw a grizzly! Had to go all the way to Montana to see one 🙂
Hope you get back to Banff at some day in the future!
I did, Conor! It was actually along a road heading to Moraine Lake. I couldn’t believe it! I’m really shocked to hear that you didn’t get to see one in 4 months! I’d absolutely love to return to Banff! It’s such a gorgeous part of the world. Thanks for your comments.
Is it possible to swim in any of these lakes?
There are some dive spots in Lake Minnewanka, Sonal. Typically, there’s no swimming because the lakes are glacier-fed and too cold to make for a comfortable swim.
OMG i fell in love with the lakes !
I’m a nature lover and this is such a beautiful place I would love to see it…it looks so peaceful just what I need
Amazing photos! Thanks for sharing 😉
I know how you feel, Lucy! Those lakes are to-die-for!Hope you can make it up there soon. Thanks for your comment.
We are so lucky because my daughter lives in Calgary, just an hour from Banff. So we have seen the spectacular beauty of this town several times over and we will not tire of it. Plus Jasper and Icefields Parkway!
Very lucky, indeed, Carol! I would love to go back, this time with my husband. 🙂
oh, you don’t have to convince me, I’m in! 😀
It’s funny, because a few days ago I was talking with my husband what can we visit next year, and Canada with Banff National Park is on the top of our list!
And I want to see band of Bighorn sheep! 😀
Excellent! You are sure to love it! We saw the herd of bighorn sheep in and around Lake Minnewanka and the Minnewanka Loop. That herd had been spending a lot of time there and we were lucky enough to time it just right! 🙂
How lucky you were with the wildlife and weather. I love that area and it is mind-bogglingly beautiful. The big horn sheep cracked me up. Excellent pictures.
Those sheep had such great expressions, Elaine. I couldn’t help but personify them and imagine what they must be thinking about all the people watching and taking photos. Mind-bogglingly beautiful is the perfect way to describe the area.
Banff is high on my list of places I want to visit. Everything about it looks great. The amount of wildlife you saw is amazing and the town itself looks so cute!
I went very last minute, Alexa. As you can see, it didn’t disappoint. You are sure to love it.
The mountain scenery there is absolutely stunning. Just that makes me want to go. Very cute pics of the bighorn sheep – are they aggressive?
The bighorn sheep seem pretty used to having people around, so I never felt in danger, Stefan. I think it’s important to remember, though, you’re in their territory so don’t get too close and be aware. You never know who’s behind you!
I can’t even tell you how long I’ve been wanting to go to Banff. Stupidly, we moved to Seattle 6 years ago and still haven’t been. The beauty is just immense and I would die to see a bear on the side of the road, or any of those long-horn sheep for that matter. What an awesome place.
Sometimes the closest places are some of the most difficult to get to… But oh, you just have to make it, Laura! Animal sightings are so thrilling and something I seek out. In Banff and the Canadian Rockies, though, they are just there. It’s only a matter of time.
Have I ever taken a last minute trip without having done much research? Always! Ha ha! Unfortunately, I can’t do that with Canada because that would require me to fly half-way across the world. So would need a proper plan for it. Having said that, Canada is definitely in the bucket list. Would love to travel across the country to see its landscape and Banff is definitely one of the many cities/stops in the itinerary!
Flying across the globe without a plan could work, but it wouldn’t be ideal..lol. I guess it was more that I had no idea how epic the Canadian Rockies would be. Hope you make it up to Banff. You are sure to love it! 🙂
We absolutely love Banff! We visited twice this past summer and this makes me want to go back right now!! Love the lakes, especially Moraine Lake! We didn’t have much luck with wildlife though–you seemed to have seen quite a bit! Looks like you had a great time!
I think we did get lucky, Jenna. 😉 Glad to hear you loved Banff! What’s not to love, really?! I can’t wait to return, as well!
All three reasons seem to be good if you love taking photos, although I would be a bit scared because of bears 😉
Indeed, Monica. I think it would be hard to find a time when it wasn’t nice to visit. I would love to go back in winter to ski and take in the winterscape.
Thanks for the detailed and well written post. I’ve always wanted to visit Banff and this details what to expect:) Thank you.
Thank you, Rosemary. You can’t go wrong with a trip to Banff. It’s just gorgeous.