Banff National Park is one of the best places to enjoy the Canadian Rockies. Located on the border between Alberta and British Columbia, this out-of-the-way natural world will transport you to a place of timeless tranquillity. Whether you’re hitting the slopes in the winter or soaking up the sun, a Banff summer vacation has a lot to offer.
Are you hoping to visit Banff this summer? Check out our top 10 things to do in Banff in the summer!
1. Ride the Banff Gondola
If you want to get the best views in the area, the Banff Gondola is a must-do activity for a summer in Banff. Ride tickets fluctuate in price, but round trips range from about $50 to $65 for adults and $25 to $35 for kids without add-ons.
The gondola takes you up to the very summit of Sulphur Mountain in a private compartment. As you move up, watch out for some of the most majestic forest views in the country. Once reached the top, you are welcomed by clear sights of six mountain ranges and the Bow Valley. Overall, the Banff Gondola and summit trails will take up around 2 to 3 hours of your day, longer if you decide to spend more time exploring.
You’ll have the best experience if you go on a clear day to get the most out of your 360° gondola cabin (every gondola has a glass panel floor). Make sure you spend some time on the observation deck and the Banff Skywalk! Local tip: this is a very popular thing to do in Banff in the summer for locals and visitors alike. If you want to avoid waiting in line, go on a weekday and plan to be there before 11 AM.
2. Go for a Hike
Banff National Park was Canada’s first ever National Park, established in 1885. It’s been a favourite among hikers ever since. If you’re in the mood for some Banff summer activities, go for a walk on one of the many trails in the region.
Routes like the Cave and Basin Trail or the Upper Hot Springs Trail take you around some of Banff’s most well-known natural features: the Banff hot springs. Other popular trails include a hike up to Banff’s smallest summit, Johnston Canyon’s catwalks, and the Marsh Loop.
Local tip: The best trail in the Banff area is Parker Ridge Trail. One way takes about two hours to complete; it covers five kilometres of ground. You’ll travel up the mountain to the wide open spaces above the treeline, seeing Bighorn Sheep and other wildlife along the way.
3. Take a Banff Summer Tour
Catch a tour or plan your own and see for yourself why Banff is a world-renowned destination for some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
This summer, take the scenic drive between Banff and Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway. The trip is about an hour long without breaks, but you’ll want to stop at the picnic areas, trails, and interpretive displays on the way. Summer in Banff means the scenic pullouts will be full of wildlife. The endangered Woodland Caribou makes it home in Banff, so keep your eyes peeled for this rare sight!
If the Banff summer day turns out to be too hot, you can visit the area’s very own glacier to cool off. Tours to the Columbia Icefield are available seasonally and take you right to the Athabasca Glacier. If you’d rather get a bigger picture of the area, take a helicopter tour and see the icefields from the air.
4. Visit Lake Minnewanka
Just outside of Banff and near the eastern edge of Banff National Park, Lake Minnewanka welcomes locals and visitors alike with clear, natural glacial waters. It’s the perfect place to get away and enjoy some time in the solitude of the mountains. Pack your picnic basket and take advantage of the picnic tables and cooking shelter on the lake’s shore.
The lake is 21 kilometers long, which means there’s plenty of space for you to explore and enjoy Canada’s natural world. Hike around the lake, paddle in a canoe, or go fishing — just watch out for swimmers!
Local tip: Lake Minnewanka hides a secret beneath its waters — the Lake Minnewanka ghost town. In 1941, Minnewanka Landing was flooded when a new hydroelectric dam was built. If you’re a diving enthusiast visiting Banff in summer, this is a must-do for you. The icy temperature of the lake has preserved the town for underwater exploration.
5. Get to Know Banff’s History
European settlers have lived in Banff since the 1880s; the local First Nations have lived in the region for hundreds of years longer than that. Banff is rich with all that history! If you’re ready for a break from the outdoor activities, spend a day visiting some of the museums and historical locations around the park.
Banff boasts Western Canada’s oldest natural history museum: the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site. Take an indoor Banff wildlife tour to see a wide selection of taxidermy animals on display.
Discover more about the culture shaped by Banff’s unique mountain landscape when you visit the Whyte Museum. Here, you can also see hundreds of art pieces inspired by the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
6. Spend a Day in Town
Banff is a top vacation spot for its wilderness, but the day and nightlife in town are nothing to sneeze at. Downtown Banff attractions include trendy cafes, markets with locally made goods, charming souvenir shops, and delicious restaurants among many other local businesses along the main streets in Banff. You can even check out Canada’s largest Christmas store!
For relaxing afternoons and nights in town, you can’t beat a trip to Banff Avenue. While other streets in Banff are worth exploring, Banff Avenue is the heart of it all. One of the most popular spots is Whitebark Cafe, a coffee shop that serves up locally baked goods and adorable teddy bear latte art.
The best part of the street is that it points directly toward the stunning peak that rises above the picturesque town of Banff. Enjoy the view as you window shop.
7. Relax Around Vermilion Lakes
Resting placidly at the foot of Mount Rundle, the reflective Vermillion Lakes are a slice of paradise in Canada’s interior. Though the lakes are only five minutes outside of Banff, you’ll feel transported worlds away.
You could spend a lifetime exploring the beautiful area around Vermillion Lakes. Bring your bike and take a ride around the shore, go bird watching, or spread out a picnic blanket and watch the wildlife. Sunsets occur at around 9:30 to 10 PM during summer; stick around for a Vermilion Lakes sunset.
Local tip: soaking in hot springs may feel more like a winter activity, but hiking to these natural pools is a popular activity even in the summer. Dip your toes into the third lake to enjoy a swim in a natural hot spring! This lake, in particular, is not as hot as the springs in town so no need to worry about the Banff summer heat. It’s worth checking out just to see what some of Banff’s natural hot springs were like before the warm waters were harnessed for spa soaks.
8. Go Whitewater Rafting
Banff is in the heart of Kananaskis country — dare to experience why this area is among the best for whitewater rafting!
Two rivers flank Banff: the Kicking Horse and Kananskis Rivers. You can visit them on your own — they average about an hour drive, give or take — or take transport provided by river rafting companies for a fee.
Whitewater rafting is thrilling (and safe) with different levels of intensity from mild waves to rushing rapids. Spend a day on the river when the Banff summer weather is hot.
Local tip: if you’re looking for a less intense experience, pick the Kananaskis River — it offers much gentler whitewater rides.
9. Become a Mountaineer on the Via Ferrata
Norquay is known for can’t-miss skiing and fluffy powder — but you can conquer it when the sun is hot, too! Pencil in a stop to the Via Ferrata on your vacation.
Ladders, cross-suspension bridges, and an expert guide will take you through the very top of Norquay’s cliffs. The Via Ferrata — Italian for Iron Road — is perfectly secure, but the views at the top of a long drop aren’t for the faint of heart! This is a Banff summer activity for the thrillseekers in the crowd.
Routes start at 2 hours and go up to 6 hours. The Banff region is one of Canada’s most picturesque natural landscapes, so we recommend taking your time and soaking it all in.
Local tip: when you’re done conquering the iron road, stop for a bite at the Cliff House Bistro before heading back down the mountain. It’s a renovated 1950s tea room that serves up tasty treats and local sodas.
10. Rent a Cabin
Banff has some of Alberta’s most scenic views in Canada. There are endless activities in town and the wilderness.
With so much to do — we haven’t even touched on what to do in nearby Canmore here — you’ll want to spend at least a night or two in your very own mountain lodge home-away-from-home.
A secluded cabin rental in the woods will give you access to all the outdoor fun without the Banff summer crowds, while a condo rental in town will put you in the heart of Banff’s nightlife. CanadaStays has the ideal rental for your Banff vacation.