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Banff or Bust: 7 Things to Do in Banff That Will Change Your Life

Do you like hiking? How ‘bout turquoise lakes? Big, tall mountains? Well then you will absolutely love Canada’s Banff National Park. But with so much to do, it can be hard to know where to start. Join us as we take you through our list of the best things to do in Banff.

by Kevin McGraw

posted July 31, 2020

You know those photos you see on your social media feeds? The ones with some magnificent body of water in the foreground and jagged mountains towering in the background? You stare at it and think, that can’t be real but if it is real I need to go there and oh god I’m drooling again. Relatable? Thought so. It’s time you had some Banff in your life.

Located in the province of Alberta, Banff is Canada’s oldest national park (s/o to my 1885 babies). When you think of pristine natural beauty, you should think of Banff. You’ve got your lakes, your mountains, your glaciers, your canyons, and don’t even get me started on the wildlife. Because if you get me started, I might not be able to stop.

With such vast wilderness comes an overwhelming list of things to do in Banff. You might be wondering…Which trails should I hike? Which mountains are the most Insta-worthy? Which bears should I wave at? The easy answer to these questions is simple: all of them. But that’s not helpful, is it? We did some thinking and a whole lot of research to come up with the top seven things you have to do in Banff National Park. Let’s dive in.

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1. Get some fresh air at Lake Louise

Picture the most photogenic lake you can. Got it? Not to bash your imagination, but that lake in your mind doesn’t even come close to the beauty of Lake Louise. Once you set your eyes on its unbelievable turquoise water surrounded by sky-high peaks, you might never look at nature the same way again.

Explore the hiking trails, take a gondola ride up a mountain, or just stand in one place and stare with your mouth open (it’s not rude, we promise). And hey, taking the perfect Instagram photo is tiring. When you need a break, head over to Lake Agnes Teahouse for some tea and homemade pie, served with a side of—you guessed it—more epic views.

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2. Walk the shoreline at Moraine Lake

We can’t talk about turquoise water and not mention Moraine Lake. Located just nine miles from Lake Louise, it’s more than worth it to add a stop here during your trip to Banff. Depending on the time of year, or even the time of day, the colors of the lake look different depending on how the sun hits the water. Sounds a bit like magic to me, but I’m sure there are some scientists out there who would respectfully disagree.

The Shoreline trail at Lake Moraine is 1.8 miles round trip, and a great option for hikers of all skill levels. As you walk, keep your head up and check out some of the surrounding Ten Peaks, a series of mountains all towering above 10,000 feet. Word to the wise: go early to avoid the crowds—this place is certainly a gem, but not quite a hidden gem.

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3. Ride Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain

When you go to Banff, you ride Banff Gondola. And when you ride Banff Gondola, you’re treated with dramatic views of six different mountain ranges. Located just ten minutes from the town of Banff, this gondola should be at the top of your list of things to do during your trip. The gondola ride itself lasts about eight minutes and takes you up the side of Sulphur Mountain to an elevation of 7,486 feet. Step off the gondola, check out the observation decks, and enjoy 360-degree views of the stunning Canadian Rocky Mountains.

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4. Take a dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs

It’s not every day you get the chance to swim in Canada’s highest hot springs (5,200 ft). Oh, and would we even mention it if it wasn’t insanely scenic, too? No, we most certainly would not. So while you soak in the hot spring’s minerals and wait for the healing effects to soothe your sore legs, shift your gaze out at the oh-so-photogenic Mount Rundle. And no, you’re not dreaming. You’re just in Banff.

If you’re looking for someone to thank for this tranquil experience, look no further than our good friend, Mother Earth. And us—you can thank us for pointing it out, right?

Woman in red jacket standing on rock overlooking glacial lake next to a lush pine forest on a cloudy day

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5. Drive Bow Valley Parkway

Driving between the town of Banff and Lake Louise, you have two options. You can take the regular, boring, looks-like-a-normal-highway-because-it-is-a-normal-highway. OR you can take Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic, winding, so-breathtaking-it-will-give-you-chills road with picnic areas, viewpoints, and other smart travelers just like you who have chosen the better option.

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6. Hike through Johnston Canyon

If you want the ultimate Canadian outdoor experience, you need to check out Johnston Canyon. Hiking trails? Yep. Waterfalls? Oh yeah. Something called Ink Pots? You better believe it. You can easily spend a whole day exploring this canyon, hiking to its Upper Falls, Lower Falls, and making your way to the blue-green natural pools known as Ink Pots. If you haven’t guessed it already, Banff is home to a lot of blue-green water. (No complaints.) The Ink Pots are cold mineral springs—quite different from the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The pools have a constant temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit all year long, so we’d pass on the swimming.

Whether you’re after the workout, the waterfalls, the mineral springs, or the perfect Instagram, you won’t be disappointed by one of the most beautiful hiking spots in Banff National Park.

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7. Spot wildlife…everywhere

You didn’t really think we’d forget about the wildlife, did you? For some, animal spotting could be the main reason for coming to Banff. And for good reason. Banff is home to over 50 different species of mammals. You might see elk, deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, black bears and—the cuddliest of all—grizzly bears. Kidding about the cuddly part. Please don’t hug a bear. It’s important to keep your distance from all animals in the wild—for your safety and their protection.

Wow. Banff, Banff, Banff. Big, beautiful Banff. Did you have any idea how spectacular it was? Hopefully this was just the push you needed to start planning your trip to this incredible national park. Better yet, leave all the work to us—grab a spot on our 9-day trip, Canadian Rockies: Banff to Vancouver. We’ll take care of everything, so you can start thinking about things you can shout from the mountaintops.

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Written by Kevin McGraw

Kevin is a copywriter at EF Ultimate Break. He loves drinking chocolate milk, looking at photos of his parents’ dog, and, for some reason, running for hours at a time. His favorite place in the world is Mürren, Switzerland.

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