As a destination, Banff National Park is already positioned in a category of its own, known worldwide for its jaw-dropping vistas of alpine lakes and rugged peaks enveloped in snow and ice. But beyond these postcards views, there’s even more than meets the eye in Canada’s first national park – a range of experiences you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
If you’ve got a bucket list going for Banff and Lake Louise, here are 16 unique experiences to add to the roster, cleverly sorted to make it easier to plan your next trip:
A GLACIAL PACE
1. Urban life moves at a quick clip. Slow it down with an experience like no other: walking on the ancient ice of a glacier. Take the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure and disembark on the Athabasca Glacier where you can feel the ice beneath your feet and even sip from a glacier-fed stream.
2. For the super-adventurous with a climbing background, plan a guided trip onto the Wapta Icefield with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures or Alpine Air Adventures. This massive icefield links together a variety of alpine huts and mountaineering objectives.
3. “Mix and Match” is the name of the game here. With so many activities at your fingertips, you don’t need to choose just one for a day. Plan a morning hike and an afternoon paddle or a day of skiing followed by an evening of ice skating. The options are endless!
4. Even more brag-worthy: Get here in late Spring and you can hit the ski slopes in the morning and head down for rock-climbing at lower elevations in the afternoon.
5. Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity has an ongoing series of concerts from world-class artists. What’s even more unique, though, is the Shaw Amphitheatre, where you can take in spectacular live performances outdoors, with mountain views dominating the stage background. Check their calendar to see what’s coming up. For some more inspiration, check out 6 Great Summer Events At Banff Centre.
6. Watch the mind-boggling process of ice carving at Ice Magic, an annual festival that attracts the best ice carvers from around the world. The action goes down on the shores of Lake Louise – the perfect backdrop to this incredible display of artistry.
7. Climb a mountain without the know-how of a seasoned climber. Mount Norquay offers Via Feratta – guided climbing with the safety of a harness, ropes, cables and ladders – to get you up into the alpine. Choose from 2.5-, 4-, 5- or 6-hour routes.
8. One glass floor. One 918-foot drop. Head on up the Icefields Parkway to take in the the Glacier Skywalk, a one-kilometre walkway suspended over the Sunwapta Valley.
FEAST YOUR EYES
9. Fondue with a view? It’s as amazing as it sounds. Join Great Divide Interpretation for this one-of-a-kind experience of hiking to enjoy some expansive views and a chocolate fondue.
10. It’s tough to find a place more beautiful than Banff National Park that is also home to an extensive list of top-notch restaurants and award-winning cuisine. Make the most of this with Banff’s annual food festival, Taste for Adventure, that lets you tap into well-priced three- or four-course menus.
THE (AUTHENTIC) WILD
11. A thousand kilometres of trails wind their way through Banff National Park’s wild backcountry areas. Get off the beaten track to experience life on the trail, where you can link together backcountry campgrounds, and hike for days. Check out 9 Bucket List Hikes in Banff National Park or Backpacking Banff: A Fall Trip On The Skoki Loop for more backcountry ideas.
12. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway (mind seasonal closures) or the Lake Minnewanka Loop for a solid chance of seeing some local inhabitants, such as elk, bears and bighorn sheep. Check out Wildlife of Banff National Park for more inspiration.
Consider joining a local company, such as Discover Banff Tours or Banff Adventures, that offers a wildlife watching tour. Remember: Do not stop your vehicle. Simply slow down, and always keep a good viewing distance.
BIRD’S EYE VIEW – THE EASY WAY
13. Climbing a peak certainly has its rewards, but it’s not always a feasible means of getting up high. Get those lofty mountaineers’ views with the help of the The Banff Gondola, The Lake Louise Sightseeing Lift, Gondola & Interpretive Centre, the Sightseeing Chair at Mount Norquay or gondola access to Sunshine Meadows.
QUINTESSENTIAL MOUNTAIN LIFE
15. True disconnection – from everyday life, the Internet or a cell signal – has become a rare experience. Hike, ski or snowshoe into one of Banff National Park’s backcountry lodges to enjoy life as it was in a bygone era – complete with a crackling fire place, oil lamps, reading nooks, cozy beds, gourmet cuisine and little connection to the outside world.
16. Get a taste of backcountry lodge life without the long trek thanks to the Lake Agnes teahouse at Lake Louise. A moderate hike brings you to the doorstep of one of the best traditions in the area and a lovely menu of teas, coffee, pie, and more.