If Banff National Park sparkles in the winter, it shines in the summer. With all of Banff’s critters out, wildflowers in bloom, and long summer days, there is no better time to explore some of the secret gems the park has to offer.
Here are some ways you can buck the trends as a visitor and see Banff National Park like a local.
The Bow River, which starts at Bow Glacier on the Icefields Parkway, makes its way through the national park. If you’re a paddler with whitewater experience, instead of seeing the water from the shore, bring your canoe or kayak and explore the river. If you're a less experienced paddler, consider visiting Banff Canoe Club. Rent a boat from shore and within a minute you'll find yourself with your own slice of the river. Read up about the various sections of the Bow on Parks Canada’s website and plan your route according to your time, gear and experience. Don’t forget to check Transport Canada’s rules for boating safety.
Looking for a rustic way to spend an evening away from busy downtown Banff? Head to the Cascade Ponds on the Minnewanka Scenic Drive, accessible by car or public transit (link to getting around blog). Make a campfire (in the provided fire pits), grill some smokies, and enjoy the views. When you’re done, don’t forget to put the fire out and clean up all food and garbage. For more picnic inspiration, check out our blog: Perfecting the Classic Mountain Picnic in Banff National Park.
If driving the Icefields Parkway is part of your itinerary, be sure to add Mistaya Canyon to your list of stops. Just under an hour’s drive heading northwest on the Parkway, you’ll come across the small parking area for Mistaya on the west side of the road. This is the hidden gem of the Icefields Parkway. The Mistaya River carved out this canyon gradually over millennia, and the outcome is striking. When enjoying the canyon, be aware there are no guardrails -- stay a safe distance from the water and don’t step on wet rocks. Note, the short but steep trail to the canyon is not wheelchair accessible.
Looking to relax, grab a beer and snacks, but still enjoy the views? Snag a coveted table on a patio!
At street level, you might not see the Rose & Crown patio hidden on top of their Banff Avenue location. Meander in and enjoy the views of Cascade Mountain with some refreshments.
On the other side of Banff Avenue, head over to Park Distillery, where you can sip on one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails with their own spirits and look out at majestic Mt. Rundle.
If you’re looking to get away from downtown, head up to Maclab Bistro at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity for a panoramic view of the mountain ranges from Tunnel Mountain. Sit outside and savour a glass of wine as you contemplate how you’ll add more time to your vacation.
For more patio inspiration check out 9 Patios You Need To Try This Summer In Banff And Lake Louise.
On a hot summer’s day, do as the locals do and make your way to Johnson Lake. Just a 15-minute drive from downtown Banff, follow the signs for Johnson Lake Road off of the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. The water here is far warmer than the glacial-fed lakes you’ll find in most of the park.
Heading up the Icefields Parkway? Check out Herbert Lake. As you first turn onto the scenic road, if you aren’t looking for it, you’ll miss the turnoff on your left. If it’s a hot day out, make a stop and go for a dip or bring your SUP! This small lake gets much warmer than most of the lakes you’ll find in Banff.
Feeling brave? Take a dip in one of the sparkling, turquoise lakes at the end of a long hike. Think of it more as a polar dip than a swim. Don’t forget a towel and some warm clothes - these lakes are as chilly as they get!