If you type “Canada travel” into Google image search, guess what you’ll find? Images of the stunning, blue-green lakes and snowcapped peaks of Banff National Park. People all over the world envision Banff and Lake Louise when they think of Canada – a destination that inspires the ultimate Canadian holiday experience.
1. Visit Canada’s first national park
It all started in 1883, when three Canadian Pacific Railway workers stumbled upon an exquisite hot spring cave on Sulphur Mountain. They tried to claim ownership of the springs, sparking a chain of events that led to the formation of Banff National Park in 1885 – the first reserve of natural beauty in Canada.
2. Sip on spirits from the world’s only distillery located in a national park
Park Distillery uses glacier fresh water to ensure its small-batch gin, vodka and rye divulge the true flavours of the mountains. Stop by to sample the proprietary maple rye, bird’s eye chili vodka or alpine dry gin, but don’t leave without trying Shaft on Draft; a coffee-laced delight that locals were drinking long before espresso martinis were a thing.
3. Explore First Nations heritage at the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum
Dive into the world of the Buffalo Nations people, who once moved their camp seasonally through the stunning landscapes of Banff National Park, following the great buffalo herds. From richly ornamented regalia to unique hunting equipment, explore a mesmerizing cultural celebration of Banff and Lake Louise.
4. Embrace Alberta’s cowboy spirit on a trail ride
Saddle up partner, you’re headed out on a horseback adventure through the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Banff Trail Riders can take customize your experience, taking you on a leisurely carriage ride through town or whisking you into the wild on a multi-day horseback campout or lodge stay.
5. Jump on the chance to spot Canada’s favourite wildlife
If you visit at the right time of year it’s highly likely you’ll spot a bear in Banff National Park, but these furry favourites are just the beginning. Elk and deer are a common sighting on the streets of Banff and Lake Louise, and mountain goats and big horned sheep are often seen on the roads to the ski resorts.
You may even be lucky enough to spot a moose, or hear the slap of a beaver’s tail on the waters of the Bow River. Remember to keep your distance and help keep our wildlife wild.
6. Get up close and personal with some of Canada’s most beautiful water
We’ve all experienced FOMO thanks to that iconic image of the red canoe paddling across aqua coloured waters, but in Banff National Park it’s easy to put yourself in the picture. Rent a canoe from the Banff Canoe Club and paddle along Banff’s Bow River, launch a SUP onto the glowing waters of Bow Lake, or dare yourself to take a polar bear plunge into Two Jack.
7. Stay in a mountain cabin
Here’s another chance to put yourself in a scene from a Canadian postcard; stay at a rustic cabin nestled amidst the soaring evergreens of Banff National Park. We love Baker Creek Mountain Resort, Castle Mountain Chalets and Storm Mountain Lodge, as well as Banff Log Cabin B&B and Emerald Lake Lodge. These cozy cabins are accessible by car but worlds away from reality. For a picturesque cabin stay close to the unforgettable shores of Lake Louise, choose Paradise Lodge & Bungalows. If you’re feeling adventurous, ski in to Skoki Lodge or hike to Sundance Lodge for a backcountry experience.
8. Visit Canada’s highest alpine community
Feel like getting high? Wander through the hamlet of Lake Louise, the most elevated community in Canada. With the Lake Louise Ski Resort and Summer Gondola in one direction and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the other, you really can’t go wrong in this gorgeous mountain town.
9. Wander a pedestrian-only section of Banff Avenue in summer 2020
For summer 2020, two blocks of Banff Avenue are closed to vehicle traffic creating a pedestrian-only haven in the heart of town. You’re invited to stop in at one of many pop-up patios for a bite to eat, browse local vendors, or get the essential Cascade Mountain selfie without dodging traffic.
10. Sample a top-notch Caesar
There’s nothing like the celery-salted perfection of a well-made Caesar, which is somehow enhanced by the addition of mountain views. Try the Bacon Caesar at Whitehorn Bistro at the Lake Louise Ski Resort and Summer Gondola. Whether it is summer or winter, you’ll be treated to views as iconic as your tasty Canadian cocktail.
11. Eat Canadian food at its finest
Whether it’s squeaky poutine at Banff Poutine, delectable desserts from Beavertails or prime Alberta Beef at Chuck’s Steak House, you can eat your fill of Canadian favourites in Banff National Park. For a true taste of farm-to-table freshness, dine at Farm & Fire, a new restaurant with a focus on locally-sourced flavours.
12. Cycle a car-free stretch of the Bow Valley Parkway
A section of the Bow Valley Parkway has recently been closed to cars, meaning cyclists and pedestrians can explore this scenic stretch of road at their leisure. It’s a renowned wildlife sighting hotspot, so keep your camera handy.
13. Kick back on rooftop patios with views of the Rockies
Kick back on one of Banff’s rooftop patios, sip a locally-brewed beer, and marvel at the towering peaks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Local favourites include the patio at Mexican-themed Magpie and Stump, the beautifully renovated rooftop at Rose and Crown, and the festive space atop the Elk & Oarsman.
14. Relish locally-brewed beer
There’s nothing like an ice-cold pint after a day in the mountains. You’ll find locally-brewed beer proudly featured on most Banff and Lake Louise menus, but head to Banff Ave Brewing Co. for a comprehensive tasting experience.
15. All are invited to enjoy awe-inspiring moments
You don’t have to be an extreme adventurer to enjoy Banff National Park. The powerful beauty of this place is easy to experience, whether you’re goggling at Castle Mountain on a scenic drive, taking an easy paddle on blue-green waters, or browsing the shops and galleries of Bear Street.
16. Experience all-season experiences that suit an all-weather country
In Canada we don’t let the weather stop us from having a good time - in fact, we use it to our advantage. In Banff and Lake Louise we love the winter and its invitation to snowy adventures, but fall is a locals’ favourite thanks to the flaming gold of the larch trees. Spring is perfect for early-season hiking and lingering après-ski sessions, while summer invites you to play on the gorgeous waters of the glacial-fed lakes.
17. Golf at one of the most scenic courses in the world
The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course is commonly listed among the most beautiful golf courses in the world. As you tee off towards Mount Rundle or drive your cart beside the rushing Bow River you can’t help but agree. Wrap up your day on this designer golf course with a drink on the balcony of the Waldhaus Pub & Biergarten.
18. Get your adrenaline or relaxation fix on Mt. Norquay
Adrenaline seekers will love the ladders and suspension bridges of Mt. Norquay’s Via Ferrata, while those more inclined to relaxation will love a stop at Cliffhouse Bistro, originally a 1950s teahouse. Savour outstanding Canadian cuisine and unbeatable views over Banff National Park.
19. Visit the Castle in the Rockies
The spires of the Fairmont Banff Springs rise above the tops of the evergreens like those of a fairytale castle. You can book a suite at this luxurious hotel, or visit for the day to take a foodie tour, explore the haunted staircase and browse a range of shops and art galleries.
20. Marvel at the phenomenon of alpenglow
Catch the Banff Gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain for the ultimate sunset experience. In summer you’ll be treated to live music as you marvel at the mountain views, but the wonder of alpenglow is yours to enjoy all year round. Check sunset times before you visit, as it can vary from 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. throughout the year.
21. Immerse yourself in Canadian Rocky Mountain heritage at a local museum
Learn about the fascinating history and unique culture of the Canadian Rocky Mountains at the Whyte Museum. Opening for summer 2020 on July 1, the Whyte Museum is more than just a collection; it’s a place that inspires an exchange of knowledge and ideas through exhibitions and special programs.
22. Ski at one of three ski resorts uniquely located within a national park
Hit the slopes at one of three, world-class ski resorts in Banff National Park. Mount Norquay is just a 15-minute drive from the town of Banff, a great stop for families that boasts terrific views over the valley. Banff Sunshine Village Ski Resort is famous for the quality of its champagne powder snow, which falls in such high quantities that the resort has no need for man-made flakes. In 2019 the Lake Louise Ski Resort was voted Canada’s Best Ski Resort in the renowned World Ski Awards, the sixth time the family-owned resort has been awarded for its awesome terrain and facilities.
23. Cruise one of the largest lakes in the Canadian Rocky Mountains
Deep blue waters and a horizon ringed with majestic peaks are the calling cards of Lake Minnewanka, or Lake of the Spirits. For an unforgettable perspective, enjoy the smooth sailing of a Lake Minnewanka Cruise, offered every day in the warmer months of the year.