You’re out for a stroll along the Bow River with your family when you come across an inviting bench sitting there beside the river bank, beckoning you to stop, to soak in the tranquility of the moment, and to breathe. Fortunately you thought ahead to pack a picnic lunch with you – just in case you found a spot that inspired you to pause and take a break. The children are happy because you also packed a few toys and you thought to include some freshly baked cookies from a bakery that you visited earlier. A short stroll turns into a couple hours and you arrive back at your hotel refreshed and rejuvenated.
Accessible Picnic Destinations for the Whole Family
Central Park is conveniently located in downtown Banff with easy access to parking. Stop by the Wild Flour Artisan Bakery or the JK bakery and cafe on Bear Street to pick up sandwiches made with fresh baked bread, pastries and other bakery goodies, soup, or coffee-to-go. You’ll also find a good assortment of wheat- free menu items at either bakery, and JK’s sandwiches can be ordered ahead of time for easy pick up.
Once you’ve picked up your lunch, head over to the park, a short walk away along the scenic paved Bow River Trail. In Central Park you’ll find a natural playground for the children with a big play rock, slides, and small climbing wall. You’ll also find green space in abundance for the kids to run around in.
Other popular picnic spots:
The Banff Recreation Grounds – Located on Sundance Road across the river, you’ll find a large parking area, the biggest playground in Banff, and small bike park. There are also grills for barbecuing here (bring your own wood) and picnic tables, making this a great location for a picnic with friends or family.
Cascade Gardens – Located opposite the bridge over the Bow River, you’ll find these beautiful flower gardens tucked in behind the Banff Administration building. Couples will find several cozy gazebos, and shelters to sit in for a romantic picnic with views of Cascade Mountain. (Re-opening this summer.)
Cascade Ponds - Just across the highway at the start of the Minnewanka Loop you'll find Cascade Ponds. Cook your lunch over a campfire or take shelter in one of the covered cooking areas. There is a woodlot for firewood, so just bring a small hatchet and you'll be all set.
Assembling your Picnic Lunch:
Banff has no shortage of bakeries and cafes willing to pack you a gourmet picnic lunch. You can also check with your hotel to see if they can pack you a boxed lunch to go. Many restaurants will also pack you lunches while you enjoy your breakfast.
The Whitebark café in the Banff Aspen Lodge on Banff Ave. is ideally situated for a quick stop on your way out of town. Stop in for cookies, muffins, or other baked items to fill your day pack for adventures ahead.
Picnics with a View!
Looking for a view and perhaps a bit of exercise before you enjoy your picnic? There’s no better setting than on top of Banff’s Tunnel Mountain, overlooking the entire Bow Valley. A short 4 km round trip hike (300 metres of height gain) takes you to the summit of this grand viewpoint.
Other Views that can’t be beat for your Rocky Mountain Picnic:
Johnston Canyon – located along the Bow Valley Parkway near Castle Junction, I recommend packing up some cinnamon buns, a thermos of coffee, and some fresh fruit for a trail breakfast to beat the crowds. Aim to reach the Upper Falls, 2.7 km one way, early enough to soak in some solitude before the rest of the day hikers hit the trail mid-morning.
Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows – A scenic gondola ride will whisk you to the upper village of the Sunshine Village Ski Resort followed by a chair lift ride to the Standish Viewpoint overlooking three gorgeous alpine lakes. Hike down to Rock Isle Lake and do the circuit around Grizzly and Laryx Lakes. There is no shortage of prime picnic spots, trail side benches, or viewpoints from which to enjoy your packed lunch.
The gondola operates on Fridays through Mondays with mid-week shuttle bus access to the village. The chair lift runs seven days a week.
Bow Lake, Icefields Parkway – While there are many jaw-dropping viewpoints along the Icefields Parkway, Bow Lake has always captured my imagination with its clear reflections and tranquil setting. I like to hike along the lakeshore trail looking for a rock to call my own. Bring a picnic lunch and spend some time reveling in the sight of distant glaciers, remote peaks, and wilderness that is home to the Wapta Icefield above.
Travelers coming from Lake Louise can stop by Laggan’s Bakery in the Village to pick up sandwiches, fresh baking, and other delectable items to go. And I highly recommend the cookies!
For a guided tour, join Discover Banff Tours on their Columbia Icefields Parkway Sightseeing Tour. You’ll enjoy an alpine picnic lunch at Peyto Lake, famous for its milky turquoise color.