Backpackers Guide to Banff – Canada

Things to do in Banff Canada

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Banff is a small town located within Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Banff is a popular destination for mountain activities such as hiking, skiing, snowboarding and rock climbing. If you love nature and the great outdoors, you will LOVE Banff.

Things to do in Banff

Banff Gondola: Offer incredible views of Banff and the surrounding mountains.

Banff Hot Springs: Located up Sulpher Mountain, overlooking Banff National Parks spectacular alpine scenery. A great place to relax after a day of hiking or skiing.

Drive up Mount Norquay – the view is amazing, and there is a high chance of spotting wildlife. I found these guys up Mount Norquay, look at them posing.

Things to do in Banff Canada

Party: Banff is renowned for its nightlife. Some popular clubs include Dancing Sasquatch, Aurora and Hoodoo.

Explore Bow River and Bow Falls: Bow Falls is within walking distance from downtown. You could easily spend a few hours exploring the Bow River and admiring the falls.

Explore Vermilion Lakes: Also within walking distance from Banff. The Vermillion lakes are commonly photographed with Rundle Mountain in the background.

Drive along the Bow Valley Parkway: A scenic drive connecting Banff and Lake Louise. There is always wildlife along this road and incredible scenery.

Things to do in Banff Canada

Explore Lake Louise: Located 40 minutes from Banff is the picturesque town of Lake Louise. See more on Lake Louise here. 

See The Ultimate Banff Itinerary – Four Iconic Parks in Five Days

Things to do in Banff in Summer

Hiking: Banff has endless hiking trails with views of electric blue glacier-fed lakes, rocky mountains in every direction and if your lucky, wildlife.

Recommended hiking trails around the area:

Johnstons Canyon/ Inkpots, located along the Bow Valley Parkway. Tunnel Mountain trail, in Banff, Fairview Lookout and Fairview Peak in Lake Louise and Consolation Lakes Trail, Moraine Lake.

Whitewater rafting: Banff National Park is a perfect destination to go white water rafting due to its perfect scenery and flowing glacier-fed rivers.

Explore Lake Minnewanka – About 10 km out of Banff. Hike, rock jump or hire a boat and explore for the day.  

Mountain biking: The Rocky Mountains surrounding Banff are popular for mountain biking (strictly for the daredevils).

Canoeing: Hire a canoe on Lake Louise or Moraine Lake for unbeatable views.

Horseback riding:  If you don’t feel like hiking, you can see just as much on horseback.

Things to do in Banff in winter

Skiing/Snowboarding: You can easily access 3 ski areas; Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norway, listed in order of preference.

Things to do in Banff Canada

Snowshoeing: I led snowshoe tours through this area for a winter season (13/14), it was always very adventurous and a great way to explore. Read more about my job as a tour guide. 

My favourite snowshoe adventures include:

Johnstons Canyon on the Bow Valley Parkway.Things to do in Banff Canada 

Saddleback Peak in Lake Louise.

Things to do in Banff Canada

Peyto Lake 20 minutes out of Lake Louise towards Jasper.   Things to do in Banff Canada

Lake Agnes and Fairview Lookout in Lake Louise.

Ice Skating: Nothing beats ice skating in the fresh air on a frozen lake, pond or river. In Banff, you can ice skate Downtown in the rink at Banff High School and on the Bow River… both for FREE, how good is that.

Cross Country Skiing: Not as much fun as downhill skiing, but a great way to get around hiking trails and through the mountains.

Dog Sledding: A unique experience that shouldn’t be missed if this is your first trip to the snow.

Things to do in Banff Canada

Ice Climbing: Has been on my bucket list forever. Johnstons Canyon makes the perfect place to Ice Climb, but you must take a tour as it can be extremely dangerous.

Things to do in Banff Canada


Summer: June August

Winter: December – February

Summer is Banff is unbeatable.  With warm temperatures and sunlight until 11 o clock, summer is definitely the time to visit Banff.

Winter can get really cold, however, if you are visiting to ski or snowboard this won’t bother you. Spring is a great time to ski/snowboard.

Recommended trip length

I recommend staying for 4-7 Days.

Getting to and around Banff

You can get to Banff from any location in Canada via Greyhound.

If you arrive via Calgary Airport… Brewster bus service takes you directly to Downtown Banff or your hotel.

The town of Banff is relatively small and most things are within walking distance. There is, however, a public bus service connecting the town.

During the winter, additional bus services run to help connect people to the Ski Areas. You can easily get a bus to Lake Louise Ski Area, Mount Norquay or Sunshine Village from downtown Banff.

Where to stay in Banff

For budget travellers, there are a number of hostels available:

Samesun hostel: Is centrally located, has a bar onsite and is my personal favourite. Samesun have a great activity program, free breakfast and in winter you can get a bus to the ski hill from the front door.

HI Banff: Is located 2 kms out of town (however is easily accessible via public transport). I would avoid staying at the HI due to its location, but it does have a great activity program and ice climbing wall set up during winter.

YMCA Banff: I have never stayed in the YMCA but it is central and the cheapest hostel. The YMCA offers weekly and monthly rates.

Cheap Hotels in Banff

King Edward: Located in the centre of Banff and costs around $60 a night for a standard hotel room with a double bed.

Search for accommodation options here.

Places to shop in Banff

Shopping in Banff consists of a ridiculous amount of souvenir stores. I recommend avoiding the shops in Banff and spending your money on activities instead. Take photos for souvenirs.

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Book a tour in Banff National Park

See more from Canada here. 

Disclosure: This post on things to do in Banff contains affiliate links.

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