You’ve probably seen the pictures floating around social media – turquoise blue lakes up against massive snow-capped mountains, maybe a canoe, maybe a flannel and a wide brim hat? Where else would this be other than Banff National Park, Canada and most likely the iconic Lake Louise.
It’s not hard to see why people flock to this part of the Canadian Rockies every year, year-round. Banff National Park and Lake Louise are easily accessible from Canada’s city of Calgary and its international airport. The park trails range from easy, paved, family friendly to extreme, mountaineering-skills-needed backpacking. The town of Banff ranges from budget-friendly to lavish luxury lodging and dining.
Truly, Canada’s Banff National Park is destination fit for all travelers!
Where to Stay Near Banff National Park Canada
When choosing where to stay near Banff National Park Canada, there are three main towns in and around the park to consider. Your choice should depend on your budget, aversion to crowds, and willingness to drive.
40 to 60 minutes from Lake Louise, 20 minutes from Banff National Park, the town continues to develop with new hotels and restaurants. Part of Kanaskis, Canmore has a ton of hiking options that are much less crowded than hikes around Lake Louise. I plan to stay in Canmore for my next visit to Banff National Park Canada.
- Best For: avoiding crowds and budget-friendly lodging near Banff National Park
- What to Consider: A rental car would be necessary for getting around. Also, if you’re short on time and want to spend majority of your time at Lake Louise, staying in Canmore will require an earlier wake-up call to avoid traffic.
Banff, Canada is a bustling town with lots of restaurants, shops, and tourists. Also home to the Banff Gondola which houses Sky Bistro – a panoramic venue with elevated Canadian cuisine (I highly recommend but be sure to make reservations well in advance). The town is about 40 minutes from Lake Louise with lodging options that scale from budget to luxury. It’s important to note that “budget” is used loosely here – Banff is relatively expensive especially during peak season. One benefit of staying in Banff is the public transportation that makes it easy to get around within the town and shuttles to Lake Louise.
- Best For: accessibility to tourist attractions, public transportation, shopping and food options
- Not great: crowds, parking, price tag
- Where we stayed: Rundlestone Lodge – nothing too special, a little dated but clean and away from the city center so we took the bus for a 5-10 minute ride to get dinner at night
Not really a town but equipped with all the necessities – hotels, cabins, campgrounds, two gas stations and a grocery store. Though limited facilities, the number of visitors to Lake Louise continues to grow so expect traffic. Lodging in this area is definitely the most expensive option unless you opt for camping. Most of the lodging options are not close enough to be considered walkable to Lake Louise (other than the iconic Fairmont Hotel in front of the lake, everything else is more of a hike to the main trails).
- Best For: luxury or camping, accessibility to trails, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise
- Not great: traffic, dining options, price tag
- Where we stayed: Lake Louise Inn – a bit pricey but very convenient and the hotel was renovated in 2019 so everything was new and clean. The suites also have kitchens.
What to do in Banff National Park Canada
The Canadian rockies are expansive with so many activities to explore. From hiking to fine dining, climbing to lounging in natural springs, truly there’s so much to do!
Best Things to Do in Banff National Park:
Banff Gondola is at the top of every tourist list but I think it’s worth it. The view is great and the Sky Bistro has amazing food, great service all paired with a view from the top of the mountain. If you don’t want to spend on the bistro, there’s a more casual cafe, a coffee shop, gift shop and mini museum. You can also do the short hike to the top of the mountain.
Hiking in Banff National Park Canada is a must – the park has options for all skill levels. Check out my post on the Best Hikes in Banff.
Check out the Banff National Park website and reserve a campsite for backcountry hiking if you’re looking to get even deeper into the wilderness and mountains.
Banff Hot Springs
There’s a small fee to enter the springs but they are well-maintained from what I’ve read. We didn’t get to visit due to time constraints but I plan to visit next time!
Banff National Park’s Via Ferrata
If you’re not familiar, Via Ferrata’s are established climbing routes equipped with cables and metal rungs. A Via Ferrata provides an amazing opportunity to climb routes that would otherwise require advanced climbing skills (which I certainly do not have).
Banff’s Via Ferrata has multiple routes and lengths available. I love the exposure and views you get with this kind of activity – definitely worthwhile if you have at least 5 hours and don’t mind spending a few hundred dollars per person ($150-$300 or more depending on the route).
Rent a Canoe on Lake Louise
For about $125 per hour, you can rent a canoe from the Lake Louise Fairmont Chateau and get a front row view of the lake and surrounding mountains. Important to know: the lake doesn’t thaw until around June and guests at the Fairmont get priority for reservations (and a discount). The canoe’s get rented or reserved quickly so make sure you get there early if this is something you want to do.
For another great (budget-friendly) option to get out on the water, rent from Banff Canoe Club and check out their bundled packages.
Watch the Sunrise
You really don’t want to miss an opportunity to get out before the crowds and catch a sunrise light up the mountain peaks. This was a highlight of my trip to Banff National Park.
- Two Jack Lake: watch the sun light up Mount Rundle while enjoying your morning cup of coffee (my favorite sunrise). You have a good chance of seeing some wildlife in this area during sunrise, as well. We saw a family of big horn sheep and some elk in the distance.
- Sunrise at Moraine Lake: iconic and for good reason. Definitely worth it to see but be prepared for crowds at an ungodly hour. We got to the lake at 5:15am when there were only 2 parking spots left and a line of cars behind us. Madhouse but once we got to the rock pile and cozied up to watch, it was pretty magical. Highly recommend!
Fondue at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Treat yourself after a long hike to some French cuisine at the historic hotel in front of a breathtaking view, what more could you ask for?
Nordic Spa Kanaskis
Spa day – Need I say more?
Restaurants/Breweries in and around Banff
There are lots of options from budget friendly to fine dining. Some of my favorites include Park Distillery Restaurant + Bar in Banff (must try the maple bourbon and elevated poutine, you’re in Canada after all) and the Canmore Brewing Company in Canmore.
Tips for Visiting Banff National Park
- Getting to Banff National Park: the closest international airport is in Calgary, a major city in Canada’s providence of Alberta. From there, you can rent a car and drive the 1.5 hours to Banff.
- Getting around: Once in Banff, there are plenty of public transportation/shuttle services to get to the main destinations and around town; however having a car would allow you to create your own schedule which is crucial to avoiding crowds.
- Money: while most places take credit cards, you’ll want some Canadian dollars for the cash-only tea house on the Seven Glaciers trail.
- Bear Spray: this is a must for hiking and backpacking. You can check out the local fire station or ask your hotel if they rent/sell bear spray that you can return; otherwise, you can go to the local outdoor store and pick some up.
- Parking: parking lots at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake fill up FAST. You’ll want to get there at sunrise (even earlier for Moraine which is a popular sunrise viewing spot). Otherwise, there is overflow parking down the street with a shuttle bus.
- Icefields Parkway: if you have the time, a drive up the Icefields Parkway and explore more of the Canadian Rockies. There’s also a good chance you’ll see some bears along the highway.