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Perfecting the Classic Mountain Picnic in Banff National Park

Published Date
Mar 31, 2019
Campfire at Two Jack Campsite

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 JK bakery and cafe on Bear Street to pick up sandwiches made with freshly 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 pickup.

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.

40 Mile Creek, Banff National Park40 Mile Creek, Banff National Park40 Mile Creek, Banff National Park

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. Please note that wood should be purchased from gas stations and not taken from the park.

Cascade of Time 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.)

Two Jack Lake, Banff National ParkTwo Jack Lake, Banff National ParkTwo Jack Lake, Banff National Park

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.

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 (2.5 mi.) round trip hike (300 metres of height gain) takes you to the summit of this grand viewpoint.

Tunnel Mountain, Banff National ParkTunnel Mountain, Banff National ParkTunnel Mountain, Banff National Park

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 (1.7 mi.) one way, early enough to soak in some solitude before the rest of the day hikers hit the trail mid-morning.

Family Hiking Johnston CanyonFamily Hiking Johnston CanyonFamily Hiking Johnston Canyon

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 chairlift ride to the Standish Viewpoint overlooking three gorgeous alpine lakes. Hike down to Rock Isle Lake and do the circuit around Grizzly and Larix Lakes. There is no shortage of prime picnic spots, trailside 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 chairlift runs seven days a week.

Sunshine Meadows, Banff National ParkSunshine Meadows, Banff National ParkSunshine Meadows, Banff National Park

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 revelling in the sight of distant glaciers, remote peaks, and wilderness that is home to the Wapta Icefield above.

Travellers coming from Lake Louise can stop by Laggan’s Bakery of Trailhead Café in the Village to pick up sandwiches, fresh baking, and other delectable items to go. And I highly recommend the cookies!

Bow Lake, Banff National ParkBow Lake, Banff National ParkBow Lake, Banff National Park

For a guided tour, join Discover Banff Tours on their Columbia Icefields Parkway Sightseeing Tour and enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the stunning turquoise lakes along the way.

Tanya Koob

Tanya Koob is a Calgary-based writer that loves exploring the mountains with her family. You can follow her adventures at