LAST UPDATED: 4/25/23 – Banff, Alberta Canada Area Guide
I believe that the Banff, Alberta area is one of the most beautiful areas in all of North America, and I am not the only one. There is so much raw beauty stuffed into this one area of the Canadian Rockies that it is almost impossible to appreciate unless you see the area yourself. From its beautiful and majestic mountains and glaciers to its pristine and crystal-clear lakes, the Banff area has it all.
The Banff Area is a Spectacular Mountain Destination
If you are into mountains, and I am really into mountains, then the Banff area is the ultimate playground in North America. There is so much for an outdoor enthusiast to see and do that it can be a little overwhelming.
In this guide, I am going to provide you will all of the information that you need to plan a successful trip to see Banff in Canada. I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip.
I also outline all of the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are. With the information in my Banff, Alberta Canada area guide in hand, you can be confident that your trip to see one of North America’s most beautiful areas will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.
|At A Glance|
|Top Things to See|
|How to Get There|
|Best Time to Visit|
|Where to Stay|
|Where to Eat|
|Recommended Tours and Excursions|
At a Glance
Before you start making any travel plans, you need to be sure you meet the country’s entrance requirements. This includes all of the passport, VISA, and immunization requirements for Canada.
In addition, you need to make sure you have a clear understanding of what languages they speak in Canada. This way, you can plan any translation needs you may have. Not only that, but you will need to know what currency they use in Canada. Knowing this, you can plan to exchange currency before your trip if necessary.
I have included some of this key information in my Banff Alberta, Canada area guide below for you to review as you start to make your travel plans.
|Passport requirements exist. See below for details.|
|Immunization recommendations are listed below.|
|The official languages in Canada are English and French (primarily in Quebec).|
|The official currency in Canada is the Canadian dollar.|
Canada Passport and VISA Requirements
In order to be allowed to enter Canada, you must have a passport that is valid at the time of entry. You must also have at least one blank passport page available in your passport.
IMPORTANT NOTE: As a US Citizen, you are no longer able to enter Canada with just a birth certificate. You must have a valid passport now.
If you are a US Citizen, you do not need a VISA to enter Canada if you are staying for 180-days or less. If you plan on staying in Canada for longer, you will need to apply for a VISA.
If you are a passport holder for a country other than the United States, you will want to the Canadian Government site to check to see if you will require a VISA.
There are currently no travel vaccinations that are required to enter Canada. Also, the Canadian government no longer requires COVID-19 vaccination to enter the country.
However, having the standard vaccinations is always recommended when traveling. For more information on some of the standard travel vaccinations are recommended, below are some general guidelines I can pass on to you from experience.
Travel Vaccine Advice
- Most specialized travel clinics will not accept insurance so you will have to pay for your travel consultation and immunizations and then request reimbursement from your insurance company later.
- Some immunizations aren’t accepted by every insurance company, so check with your insurance provider before getting your immunizations.
- Check with your regular doctor first, as often they can do a travel consultation for you and write you the necessary prescriptions for your immunizations, even if they aren’t able to give them to you. This way you can ensure that at least your travel consultant will be covered by your insurance up-front.
- Check with Walgreens or other drug stores that give flu shots to see if they have any of the immunization shots that you require before going to a specialized clinic that doesn’t accept insurance to get them. Walgreens can give you many of the immunizations necessary for international travel, and they accept insurance up-front.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website can be a great resource for answering any travel immunization questions that you have.
Canada Vaccine Recommendations
In case you are unsure of what travel vaccinations you might need; I have compiled a list in my Valencia Spain travel guide below of some of what you might expect your physician to recommend.
- Hepatitis A & B (if you haven’t had them).
- Tetanus (if you aren’t current).
- Transderm SCōP Patch (for motion sickness) or at minimum Dramamine pills if you get motion sickness easily and you plan on getting out on the water or doing adventure activities.
- Flu Shot
Travel Packing Tips
Outside of knowing the entry and immunization requirements, there is no pre-travel task more important than packing. Don’t worry, I am here to make sure you are packed and prepared for your trip. I have included links to my packing resources in my Banff Alberta, Canada travel guide below for you to review.
|The Ultimate Travel Packing Check List|
|The Essential Carry-On Checklist|
|10 Packing Tips That Every Traveler Should Follow|
Top Things to See
There are so many amazing things to do and see in the Banff area that it is really hard to narrow it down to a short list. This list really could be very, very long. In order to help ensure that you have all of the top sights on your itinerary, I have outlined the top ten things I would recommend seeing while visiting in my Banff, Alberta Canada area guide below.
Moraine Lake might be the prettiest place in Banff National Park. At least, we think it is. And that really says something because Banff National Park and the surrounding area might be the prettiest place in the entire continent of North America. If it’s not, it is in the top 5.
Moraine Lake is located in what is called the Valley of the Ten Peaks. It gets this name from the ten mountain peaks that sit behind the mountain. These mountain peaks, with Moraine Lake’s crystal blue waters, make for some absolutely drop-dead gorgeous photo opportunities.
To get the best shot of the lake, make sure you climb to the top of the look-out (or you can use the gradual path in the back). A climb to the top is well worth it because it will give you views like you see below. Prepare for your jaw to hit the floor.
If you are traveling on a budget, you probably won’t want to stay within Banff National Park because all of the lodges are fairly pricey. However, if you do want to splurge for a night the Moraine Lake Lodge is more reasonably priced than the Chateau Lake Louise. It may not be as glamorous as Lake Louise’s Chateau, but the views are equally spectacular.
Moraine Lake Lodge
Emerald Lake is another absolutely stunning lake that is located in the Yoho National Park in the Banff, Alberta Canada area. There is a beautiful lodge, the Emerald Lake Lodge located on the lake that you can stay in. There is also an assortment of hiking trails, canoe rentals, and other activities that you can enjoy.
Emerald Lake Lodge
When most people think about Banff, they think about the mountains and the crystal blue, glacier-fed lakes. And no lake in Banff National Park is more famous than Lake Louise.
Part of the allure of Lake Louise is that it is a drop-dead gorgeous lake that is surrounded by stunning mountains. This is all true. However, part of the allure is also the drop-dead gorgeous chateau that sits on the edge of its waters.
There is a path that goes half-way around the lake and offers some fantastic views of the chateau from across the lake. There are also some amazing hiking trails in the area that are worth exploring if you are into hiking. Just make sure you bring bear spray if you do decide to wander into the wilderness.
There are also canoes available to rent at both Lake Louise, Emerald Lake, and Moraine Lake. If you don’t mind a little exercise, is a great way to get a better look at the lake and the surrounding area. However, be aware that these get rented pretty quickly, so make sure you get down to the dock early in the morning if you would like to hit the lake.
The Chateau Lake Louise
The Chateau Lake Louise, which just might be the most beautiful hotel in North America (we think it is), is a grand hotel that sits on Lake Louise inside Banff National Park. In fact, this hotel is so grand that it itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As you can imagine, rates at the hotel are pretty pricey. However, you don’t need to stay at the hotel to drop by to enjoy the beauty of Lake Louise and the chateau. Even if you aren’t planning on spending the night, we would absolutely recommend that you drop by.
Banff Shopping and Restaurants
If you need a break from checking out the absolutely stunning landscape in-and-around the Banff National Park area, the city of Banff is a really great place to stop for a bite to eat. There are some really neat shops to look thru and some fantastic restaurant options.
The Banff area is also where you will find a majority of the area’s hotel options. If you are looking for some restaurant or hotel recommendations, I have included some great tips and suggestions for both later in this Banff, Alberta Canada area guide below.
Banff Gondola Ride
No trip to the town of Banff is complete without a ride on the Banff Sightseeing Gondola. The Gondola gives you a 360-degree view of the amazing mountain ranges and the beautiful Bow Valley. At the top you can choose to tour the Banff Skywalk, which is a self-guided scenic tour, or just relax with a cup of coffee or lunch and enjoy the amazing views. Either way, we absolutely recommend that you check this out.
The Natural Bridge is something that we kind of stumbled upon by accident in our explorations, but it ended up being one of our favorite sights on the trip. It is a natural rock formation that spans the Kicking Horse River in Yoho National Park.
It is amazing to stand on the bridge and watch the flow of water right below your feet. It’s pretty easy to access, so a lengthy hike to get there isn’t necessary. However, you are probably going to want to explore the area a bit. The area is breathtaking.
Giant Steps Waterfall
The Giant Steps Waterfall is another must-see sight if you are visiting the Banff area. It is located just east of Moraine Lake, and requires a short hike in to access. It is well worth the hike because the waterfall is stunning. As you hike in to view the falls, make sure you keep an eye out for wildlife. We saw a ton of deer and a black bear as we hiked in. There is a ton of wildlife all over the Banff area, but we saw the most in this area.
Icefield Helicopter Ridge
If you are looking for a little adventure for the trip, our top recommendation would be a helicopter tour. They used to be called Icefield Helicopter Tours when we visited, but they have since changed their name to Rockies Heli Canada. The do an absolutely fantastic job and have very great review on TripAdvisor.
It is a little bit out of the way, but it is an adventure you will remember for the rest of your life. The helicopter pilot takes you up-and-over the Canadian Rockies to get an up-close-and-personal look at the beautiful mountain ranges and glaciers in the area. Make sure you bring your camera!
The Spiral Tunnels Train Tracks
If you are interested in learning how they are able to get trains up and over these huge mountain passes, then the Spiral Tunnels are something that you are definitely going to want to explore. These tunnels enable trains to slowly climb the pass by providing a switchback in the tracks that includes tunnels thru the mountains.
There are two viewpoints from which you can watch an average of 20-30 trains pass thru the tunnels daily, though the trains do not run on a set schedule. So, if you want to see a train pass thru, you might have to plan on spending a bit of time at the lookouts (or just get really lucky).
There are a number of really scenic roadways in the Banff National Park area. These include the following popular drives:
- Icefields Parkway
- Trans-Canada Highway
- Bow Valley Parkway
- Tunnel Mountain Drive
- Vermilion Lakes Road
One of the really neat things that we saw when we were in Banff was the abundance of wildlife overpasses. These fantastic pieces of engineering (an example of which you can see pictured above) allow wildlife to cross over roadways so that they aren’t hit by traffic. Wildlife is funneled to these overpasses by fencing along the roadways and sensors, cameras, other instruments are used on the overpasses to collect important information on which animals are using them.
Speaking of wildlife, there is an abundance of wildlife to view in the Banff area. Grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, deer, wolves, mountain lions, wolverine, and many other fascinating animals call the Banff area their home. So always have your camera ready because you don’t know when you will see some wildlife.
How to Get There
The Banff, Alberta Canada area is actually made up of three national parks that are in close proximity to one another, much like Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton National Park in the United States are. In this case, Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and Yoho National Park make up one of the most beautiful park areas in North America.
These parks are in very close proximity to two of Alberta’s largest cities. Calgary, which sits just 109km (about a 1 hour drive) to the West of Banff National Park, is probably your best launching point for a trip to the area. If you want to get to Jasper National Park from Calgary, it is roughly a 305km trip (about a 3.5 hour drive), so the distance is a little further.
If you are coming from Edmonton, you are still fairly close to the parks, but it is a bit further of a drive than it is from Calgary. To get to Jasper National Park from Edmonton it is roughly a 313km trip (about a 3.5 hour drive). Banff National Park is a little further from Edmonton, as it is a roughly 396km trip (which is about a 4 hour drive).
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit the Banff area are undoubtedly during the shoulder months of Spring and Fall. During the summer months (June thru August), temperatures in the Banff area are warmer, but the hotels can be incredibly expensive.
During the peak ski season, you can find some pretty good rates on hotels (except around the holidays), but the weather can be incredibly cold. If you are visiting to ski or snowshoe, this may be alright, but if you are coming to sight see, you might want to wait until the Spring or Fall.
Although it can snow pretty much year-round in the Banff area, typically you will see the warmest temperatures between June and August. Beginning in late September, the average highs and lows will start to fall. Then beginning in late May, the average temperature will start to climb again.
Average Temperature (°F)
Although the summer months in the Banff area are typically the warmest, they are also typically the wettest. The months of May thru August have the highest average rainfall throughout the year, which means you should be prepared for a rainy day if you plan on visiting the Banff, Alberta Canada area during the summer months.
Average Rainfall (Inches)
While you won’t need to worry much about rainfall during the winter months, you should be prepared for snow. In fact, outside of July, it is possible to see snow in Banff almost year-round. However, the months that typically see the highest snowfall during the year are undoubtedly November and December. If you are planning to visit during these months, be prepared to drive in the snow.
Average Snowfall (Inches)
Where to Stay
The Banff, Alberta Canada area is incredibly beautiful, but it is also incredibly expensive. If you are looking for accommodations in the immediate Banff area, it is going to be expensive (especially during the busy summer months). The best way to save money is to plan your travel during the shoulder months of April – May and October – November. You will be able to book hotels that might cost you $300+ in the summer months for a third of the cost.
If you have your heart set on visiting during the summer, another way you can save some money is by staying in the Calgary area and commuting, or by staying in Calgary some of the days and then staying around Banff for the remaining part of your trip.
You can also try checking on AirBnB to see if someone has a room or house for rent in the area for a reasonable price. I have laid out some of the options you have for hotel accommodations in my Banff, Alberta Canada area guide below to assist you.
Where to Eat
When most people plan a trip, the primary focus is on how to get there, where to stay, and what is on the list of things to see and do. What many travelers neglect to plan, is where to eat when you are there. Granted, it is sometimes fun to be spontaneous when choosing a restaurant while traveling, and it is always smart to get recommendations when you arrive.
|Sky Bistro||Contemporary, Fusion, Healthy||$$-$$$|
|Hello Sunshine Banff||Japanese||$$-$$$|
|The Juniper Bistro||Canadian, Veggie, Vegan||$$-$$$|
|1888 Chop House||Steakhouse, Canadian, Gluten Free||$$$$|
|Maple Leaf Steak & Seafood||American, Canadian, Veggie||$$$$|
Recommended Tours and Excursions
Not only is there a wealth of things to see in the Banff, Alberta area, but there are a ton of fun activities as well. If you are in the process of planning your trip to the Banff area, you are in luck. I have included some highly recommended tours, excursions, and activities below.
|Nature and Wildlife Tours|
|Food, Wine and Nightlife|
|Family Friendly Tours|
Banff Photo Gallery
We absolutely loved our time in the Banff area, and it shows in the number of great pictures we were able to take. We have listed some of our favorite below for you to enjoy.
If you would like to view some more of my top photos from this trip, as well as photos from some of my many other travel adventures, make sure you are following me on Instagram as well!
This gave me goosebumps because I am literally planning to go to Banff next year! Coincidence? Haha but great post! Will keep this guide in mind when making plans!
Awesome!! It is a stunning place! Have a blast!
Thank you for the wonderful Canada shout-out! I’m from Toronto and have been to Banff a few times. It’s such a beautiful part of the country. If you ever go back, I highly recommend taking a visit to Canmore and doing some of the local hikes there. Three Sisters Mountains is one of the more popular ones.
Awesome!! Thank you for the great tips Matthew! I definitely plan to go back!
I completely agree with everything you’ve written. We’ve been to BC 3 or 4 times and it’s incredible every time. I know there are so many unbelievable places to see, but if you missed Peyto Lake, you missed a jewel.
Thank you for the fantastic feedback!! I will have to check out Peyto Lake on my next visit. Thanks for reading!
Thank YOU for the great posts! Here’s my view of Peyto Lake. Hwy 93 is on the right, running through the valley. https://sprawly.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/peytolk9.jpg
WOW !!!! That is fantastic!!!! Great shot!! 👍👍
Thanks! It wasn’t me… the landscape did all the work. 🙂
I know that feeling 😀👍
There is nothing that takes my breath away more than Banff. I am in Maui right now and we were discussing how Banff is more awe inspiring. Great guide!
Thank you so much for the kind words! Enjoy Maui!
Stunning photos and a lot of great info here. Thank you!
Thank you for the kind words and thank you for reading Diana!
We didn’t have near enough time when we visited some of the Canadian NP’s. This will be a useful guide when we return. Thanks so much Josh!
Thanks for reading LuAnn!
Really great post! Will definitely use on our trip in July!
Thank you! Have a great trip!
What a Superb Banff National Park Visitor’s Guide & Beautiful Photos! We are fortunate enough living in British Columbia to travel and camp in the Park often. It really is a special place to visit in Canada. Spotted your post on twitter and have bookmarked and shared with others! Great Post! 🙂
Thank you so much for the kind words Robert!! It is such a beautiful area. Definitely one of my favorite spots in the world! 😀