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The Ultimate Guide to Banff, Canada — Hiking, Kayaking, and Spas!

Hiking in Banff is a magical experience. The views (and altitude) will take your breath away. The trails and turquoise glacier lakes will transport you to another place and time. Banff is brimming with history and Rocky mountain adventures! I was there for 6 days and 5 nights. While my legs ultimately got tired of all the crazy hikes we were doing, I could have stayed for much longer and continued to hike and visit Jasper nearby. Below is a summary of the highlights that I did while in Banff and the surrounding areas.

How to Get to Banff

We flew into Calgary, Alberta and then rented a car to get around. Banff is 1.5 hours from Calgary and while some shuttles can take you to different places in the park, having a car gives you much more options.

The city of Banff itself is located inside the national park. Each day you need to buy a pass for your car ($9.80 per person) which expires at 4pm the following day. If you’re just driving through (to get to Jasper National Park for example), you don’t need to get a pass. Lines can get long to buy the pass from the ranger station. You can buy your pass online and print them, or go at an off time (like 5am!) to not wait.

lake louise banff

Where to Stay in Banff

Getting a hotel or place to stay in Banff can be pretty pricey. Even hostels during peak season can be expensive! We elected to split our trip between a few nights in Kananaskis Village and in Canmore to save money and drive into the park only on days we were hiking in Banff. I also booked my hotels nearly 5 months advance. Check out the deals on Booking.com to compare hotels. Click here to sign up for Airbnb and get $55 off your first booking!

  • Kananaskis Mountain Lodge: This hotel is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection located about 40 minutes away from Banff in Kananaskis. I was able to cash in some of my Marriott points and stay in a super unique mountainy hotel. The hotel is located in a little resort with access to many hiking trails, equipment rental shops, multiple restaurants We spent an amazing afternoon lounging at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa.
  • Grande Rockies Resort: We rented an apartment in this hotel via Airbnb. It’s right off the highway and only a 20 minute drive from Banff. We had a full kitchen so we cooked breakfast and grilled out for dinner each night. After long hikes we made a point to go to the hot tub to help our sore muscles recover.
  • Fairmont Banff Springs: Open in 1888, this historic hotel is a castle amongst the mountains. Catering toward the rich and famous at the turn of the century, this luxury five-star hotel continues to wow visitors. We celebrated our 18 month anniversary at one of the many restaurants on the property. The views on the terrace are amazing and worth the visit even if you’re not staying there!
  • Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: Another historic giant constructed in 1890 to wealthy adventurers, this Fairmont is located deep inside the Banff National Park overlooking the incredible Lake Louise. A perk of staying at either hotel is getting complimentary parking at each and discounts on canoeing in the lakes. Their mantra? “If you can’t export the scenery, import the tourists!”
lake louise banff

Where to Hike in Banff

Hiking in Banff, Jasper, and Kananaskis has SO MANY options! A hiking trail is located at literally every exit on the highway it seems. We managed to get in one hike each day, but there were plenty more we would have loved to see. During the summer, trails are SUPER popular. If you want to guarantee parking and clear views, getting out to the trailhead super early is important. We were regularly out and about before sunrise and starting hikes by 6:30 or 7:00am.

Here’s some of the hikes near Banff that we did:

  • Troll Falls (Kananaskis): This was a quick 1 hour hike on flat terrain to see some waterfalls! Like most trails in the region it connected to many other trails so we could have easily extended it (had we not got rained out!)
troll falls hike kananaskis
  • Village Rim Path (Kananaskis): This trail was paved and had some pretty views next to our Kananaskis hotel.

  • Mt. Allan Centennial Ridge (Kananaskis): This hike was possibly the hardest hike we did on our trip. Pretty much the entire trail is uphill, climbing stairs until you hit the rim. We climbed up 3 miles, saw the rim and then headed down the mountain because it was crazy steep and clouds started to cover the view. We connected up with another trail on our way down and walked along the rive for a bit before looping back to the car. This hike totaled 6 miles for us.
  • Bourgeau Lake + Harvey Pass (Banff): I felt like a true hiker on this trail! It took us about 7 hours and included some tricky climbing along rocks to get to Harvey Pass. Incredible views awaited us at the top. We packed sandwiches and picnicked along the trail. We hiked 14 miles this day.
  • Lake Louise Tea House Trail (Banff): This trail is famous for a reason! Hiking in Banff along the turquoise waters of Lake Louise and to the tea houses in the park made it my favorite hike. We made it to the parking lot around 6am which was important because it fills up during the summer by 7am. First, we hiked to Agnes Tea House which was closed at 7am when we arrived before heading out to the further Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Rain began as we arrived at the Teahouse, so we popped in to enjoy a warm cup of Banff Tea and vegan chili! Built in 1927 there is still no road access or electricity to the building. Supplies are flown in twice a year via helicopter and we happened to be there on the mid-summer date drop-off date on August 15! Super cool to see helicopters dropping off propane tanks and tons of flour. The staff hike in 3 miles and work a 5 day shift. If you’re planning on going, bring Canadian Cash because they don’t have electricity to run credit cards. Somehow this ended up being another 11 mile hiking day.
  • Moraine Lake (Banff): Possibly the most gorgeous colored lake in the region, Moraine Lake is named after the “moraine” or crumbled glacier rock. All the blue lakes in the region get their color from the melted glacier water. We were lucky and found a parking spot when we arrived at 2pm after Lake Louise. We hiked the short rim trail which is about a mile along the shore, but lots of more intense trails connect up.
  • Johnston Canyon & Falls (Banff): This hike was short, but super crowded with people in the afternoon since the trail is paved and accessible to all levels of hikers. The walk is stunning though as you pass by 7 waterfalls on your way to the Upper and Lower Falls.
johnston canyon falls hike banff
  • Peyto Lake (Jasper): After doing double digit hikes for a few days in a row, we elected to do a short easy hike around the ridge of Peyto Lake. It was mostly paved, until we climbed up to an overlook. Views of the lake and Peyto Glacier were gorgeous and we did about 3 miles in this area.
peyto lake jasper

What to Pack for Hiking

Weather in Alberta can change dramatically throughout the day. The mountains create all sorts of mini sub-climates and in one day we’d see temperature shifts of 30 degrees, rain, wind, and blinding sun. Packing lots of layers and anticipating the weather to get cooler and sun to get stronger as you go hiking in Banff is important!

What we wore:

What we packed:

  • Hand sanitizer – camp bathrooms are gross. I like this natural option!
  • Sunscreen – the higher the altitude the stronger the rays. Coola White Tea Face Sunscreen is my favorite.
  • Tissues – again camp bathrooms.
  • Chapstick
  • Bear spray – rented from the hotel
  • Snacks – PB&J sandwiches, trail mix, fresh fruit
  • Water bottle — I love my Swell that insulates! Sometimes I put hot tea inside to drink when I’m cold.

Where to Eat in Banff

We tried to save money while we were hiking in Banff by grocery shopping and grilling, but occasionally we went out and enjoyed ourselves! We found free parking in downtown Banff for 3 hours. Below are some of our favorite places where we dined.

Breakfast

  • Wild Flour (Banff): It’s a super cute bakery with solid breakfast options and vegan sandwiches and baked goods like brownies, granola, and muffins. I loved the grilled cheese on homemade bread made fresh in the bakery.
  • Whitebark Cafe (Banff): This coffee shop had awesome breakfast options like seasonal quinoa, vegetable frittata, and bacon apple cheddar scones. I loved the tea selection!

Lunch

  • Charbar (Calgary): Part bar, part coffee shop and bakery, and part Argentinian restaraunt, Charbar is located on the Bow River Park (aka the Buffalo Bayou of Calgary). It’s in a rustic building from the early 1900s. We relaxed here and had a beer before going to the airport.
  • Nourish Bistro (Banff): This vegan bistro is loved by all types of omnivores and known for its world famous nachos. I loved the “Cesar master” (aka Bloody Mary!) that could be made vegan and extra spicy. I also tried the vegan poutine –so Canadian–and Moroccan cauliflower!

Snacks

  • Canmore Brewing (Canmore): We grabbed some beers from here to enjoy after our hike while we grilled!
  • Banff Tea Co. (Banff): Located in downtown Banff, this small shop has hundreds of varieties of tea! I picked up a few packets as a souvenir. You get a discount on purchases if you visited the tea house.
  • Beaver Tails (Banff): Open since 1978, this shop sells whole wheat Canadian pastries that are handstretched to resemble the tail of a beaver. They are served piping hot with sugary toppings of your choice.
  • Six Plains Tea House (Banff): You have to hike a few miles to get here, but it’s SO WORTH IT. Be sure to bring cash so you can warm up with some Banff Tea, fresh biscuits and vegan chili at the cabin.
lake louise banff teahouse hike

Dinner

  • The Bison (Banff): We didn’t eat here, but it caught my eye. It serves Canadian regional and seasonal dishes and a brunch menu with bison and elk dishes.
  • Magpie & Stump (Banff): Not sure why you’d be craving tacos in Banff but if you are, or if you just want tequila and a nice rooftop, Magpie’s is pretty colorful and fun!
  • Castello Ristorante (Banff): This restaurant serves Italian food inside the Banff hotel. We celebrated 18 months here! Definitely make a reservation before you go and arrive early so you can walk around the property and learn about the history.

What to Do in Banff

  • Rocky Mountain Flannel Company: I wanted flannel from Canada as a souvenir! Seem appropriate right? I bought mine at Roots, Canada’s outdoor lifestyle brand. But this small shop seems like a much better option that’s local to Banff!
  • Kananaskis Nordic Spa: This Scandinavian spa is a luxury escape in Alberta. We got day passes and rotated between the hot tubs, saunas, warm pools, and ice baths. It’s entirely outside and invigorating to walk around the pools in thick flannel robes with mountain views. The spa is super popular though so definitely book ahead of time! It’s the perfect way to relax after hiking in Banff.
  • Icefields Parkway: The drive between Banff and Jasper National Park is absolutely breathtaking. I stopped multiple times just to gaze and take pictures on our way to Peyto Lake. It’s well worth the detour.
  • Banff Hot Springs: The natural springs are what caused explorers to pause in this region for in the first place! We didn’t have time to visit, but I’d definitely try to go should I return. After hiking in Banff, imagine how nice the warm water would be! Like most things, the locals go early in the morning before the crowds hit.
  • Sulphur Mountain Gondola: We didn’t have enough time to do this, but you can hike up the mountain and take the gondola down.
  • Banff Canoe Club: Kayak through the Vermillion Lakes in Banff. We booked a kayak for $45/hour and had amazing mountain views. (FYI renting canoes from the Fairmont at Lake Louise or Moraine Lake are pretty pricey and can be $125/hour!)

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Have you been hiking in Banff? What are you most excited about? Leave a comment and share!

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