With a lively downtown, world-class cuisine, and accessible outdoor adventures, it’s easy to see why so many people come to Banff for a visit and then just never leave. There’s so much to see and do in Canada’s most famous national park that it would truly take a lifetime to experience it all.
Although Banff is a popular tourist destination year-round, insiders know that spring is the best time to visit. The summer crowds have yet to descend—meaning you won’t have to fight for parking or restaurant reservations. Banff’s mild spring weather gives visitors a unique opportunity to experience both summer and winter activities in the same day—think a sunrise ski session followed by an afternoon hike.
This ultimate guide to Banff National Park is designed to help you craft your perfect itinerary, no matter how long your vacation is. Make planning a snap by using Banff & Lake Louise Tourism’s travel planning tool, which allows you to save experiences, accommodations, and restaurants to an interactive map.
How to Get to Banff
Banff is a scenic 90-minute drive from Calgary International Airport, a major hub where you’ll find many direct flights from numerous cities. Once you arrive, renting a car will give you the most flexibility. There are a number of rental car agencies at the airport to choose from.
However, if you’d rather relax and enjoy the scenery rather than deal with driving, there are multiple shuttles available that will take you directly from the airport to downtown Banff and beyond.
Note that all visitors to Banff National Park will need to pay a park admission fee, which costs $10.50 per day for adults. If you’re driving, make sure you display your park pass to prevent getting ticketed.
The Best Things to Do in Banff
Banff comes alive in spring when a number of attractions reopen for the year. This is the best season for multi-sport adventures as the snow melts at lower elevations, opening up hiking trails, while the ski resorts remain open nearly to the end of May thanks to a healthy stash of powder high up on the mountains.
These are the best things to do in Banff in the spring.
Discover Banff & Its Wildlife Tour
Hop on the Discover Banff & Its Wildlife Tour when you first arrive in the national park. This scenic bus tour is the perfect first-day activity as it gives you a great overview of the area’s history and helps orient you with the layout of the area. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some of the town’s resident wildlife.
Ski Day at Banff Sunshine Village
With a seven-month ski season that runs from early November until late May, Banff Sunshine Village boasts the longest non-glacial ski season in Canada. Set in the heart of the Canadian Rockies (but just a 15-minute drive or shuttle from town), Sunshine Village offers incredible mountain views from every run. With 145 trails spread out over three peaks, you’ll never wait more than a few minutes for a lift—and on a spring day, you’ll have plenty of runs all to yourself.
Since Sunshine Village averages up to 30 feet of snow in a season, there will still be plenty of powder to play in during the spring.
Bike the Bow Valley Parkway
Under a new pilot program, a 10-mile section of the jaw-droppingly scenic Bow Valley Parkway is closed to all public motor vehicles from May 1 to May 25 and September 1 to September 30. During this time, the highway transforms into a peaceful paved path exclusive to cyclists and pedestrians.
Not a regular bike rider? Don’t let the length intimidate you. An e-bike tour will let you ride the entire path (no matter your fitness level). Book a private tour with locally-owned tour company Bikescape and you can go at your own pace (they can also come bail you out at pickup points along the road if you do get tired). Bikescape has state-of-the-art e-bikes that will let you put in as little (or as much) pedaling effort as you like.
On your ride, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings, and leave plenty of time for photo stops (opportunities present themselves around practically every bend in the road).
During springtime, hiking trails at higher elevations are still snow-covered, but you can still get a bird’s eye view of Banff on a trip up the Banff Gondola. The gondola smoothly whisks you up 2,292 feet to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, where you’ll have panoramic views of six mountain ranges.
After the gondola drops you off, head past the 360-degree observation and follow the boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak for the most breathtaking views.
Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail
Lake Louise’s world-famous emerald waters may still be hidden under a layer of ice and snow depending on when in the spring you visit, but this iconic destination is equally beautiful when frozen. Leave the crowds at the entrance behind and walk the Lakeshore trail, a just over a three-mile flat path that’s accessible year-round. You’ll be rewarded with peace and quiet, plus a different vantage point of the lake from what you normally see.
Tunnel Mountain Hike
If you want bragging rights but are short on time, a hike up Tunnel Mountain will offer you the most bang for your buck. As the smallest official mountain in Banff, the summit of Tunnel Mountain can be reached in under an hour, so you don’t have to devote a whole day to your hike. Sweeping views of Banff and the surrounding mountains are your reward for making the climb.
The trailhead can be walked to from downtown Banff and is popular with locals—so you won’t find solitude on this hike (but you also won’t need to bring bear spray).
Getting outside in Banff doesn’t always have to involve physical exertion. If you’re looking to work out your mind instead of your body, Forest Bathing might be the experience for you. (Don’t worry, swimsuits aren’t required.) The practice of Forest Bathing originated in Japan, where people head into the woods to relax and recharge by mentally soaking in nature.
A Forest Bathing session with Forest Fix will take you into quiet areas around Banff, where you’ll be led through guided meditations to help you find your inner peace.
The Best Restaurants in Banff
You’ll find a variety of restaurants in Banff to suit every craving, from cozy takeout places serving up Canada’s famous poutine to lively distilleries pouring craft cocktails. These are the best restaurants in Banff.
Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar
If you want a true taste of Canada, order Park Distillery’s Maple Rye whiskey, made with Quebéc maple and Alberta rye. A working distillery in the heart of downtown Banff, Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar serves up some of the best cocktails in town. Enjoy a drink on the restaurant’s sunny upper patio, where you can people-watch amidst an epic mountain backdrop.
Fuel up for a day of adventures at Brazen, one of the best places to get breakfast in Banff. Brunch is served daily and includes options for a healthy start (like a yogurt parfait with homemade preserves) or an indulgent one (such as the French toast with a miso caramel drizzle and rum-soaked raisins).
If you’re out in the Lake Louise region of Banff National Park around dinner time, stopping for a meal at Deer Lodge is a must. The cozy log cabin dining room offers a farm-to-table menu that’s influenced by Rocky Mountain cuisine.
Dishes change frequently based on what’s in season—but if you happen to be there when the homemade ice cream is available, get it (trust us).
A lively restaurant with private karaoke rooms may not be where you would think you’d find the best sushi in Banff, but Hello Sunshine really does have it all. This local-favorite hotspot serves modern Japanese cuisine alongside old standbys, so you can get everything from a traditional sushi roll to lobster fried rice.
Looking for a more low-key meal? Hello Sunshine also does takeout, so you can get that poke bowl to go and then head somewhere more tranquil for a picnic.
The Chimney Corner
Is a restaurant at a ski resort really worthy of making it on a list of the best restaurants in Banff? It is if it’s Chimney Corner at Sunshine Village. This eatery is a world away from the soggy heat-lamp french fries and chicken finger cuisine you find at most ski resorts.
Chimney Corner’s elevated offerings include a protein power plate (quinoa, fried feta cubes, avocado, and roasted peppers) that wouldn’t be out of a place in a fine dining restaurant. Enjoy a meal on the sunny deck overlooking the slopes, and feel powered up (rather than weighed down) for your après-lunch runs.
Three Bears Brewery
Three Bears Brewery calls itself both a “restaurant in a brewery” and a “brewery in a restaurant,” because it puts equal emphasis on the food and the drinks. Watch the beer being made at the brewery in the back and then sample the suds as you feast on a hearty selection of eclectic cuisine, like a beer-brined chicken Caesar salad or a pizza made with a unique dough that’s reverse ice water fermented.
Where to Stay in Banff
Book a room at the Mount Royal Hotel to be at the heart of it all in Banff. With a prime location on downtown’s bustling Banff Avenue, the Mount Royal puts you within easy walking distance to all of the best restaurants, bars, and shops in town.
The hotel has on-site parking (a huge perk for Banff) and is also located right next to a stop for the town’s Roam shuttle in case you want to leave the car behind.
The icing on top of it all? The hot tubs on the Mount Royal’s rooftop, where you can soak tired muscles while taking in the mountain views.
How to Get Around Banff
If you’re visiting Banff in a busier season, such as summer, taking public transportation is highly recommended over driving. Parking spaces at many popular attractions are limited, and you could face long wait times just to get into places like Lake Louise. Smart travelers reserve a Parks Canada shuttle ahead of time to guarantee their seats.
You can get to all of Banff’s best attractions on the affordable Roam public bus, which runs on a regular schedule. The Roam bus also accepts advance reservations on certain routes.
Editor’s Note: The author of this story was hosted by Banff & Lake Louise Tourism.
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