Visitors can enjoy beautiful views while hiking to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. // © 2014 Tanya Koob
With millions of visitors year-round, Banff National Park is one of the most popular national parks in Canada. Established in 1885, it was Canada’s first national park and is a premier destination for local and international visitors. Spanning 2,564 square miles, the park would take years for a visitor to see every site and hike every trail in the park. For those who only have a week to explore beautiful Banff, here are the top 10 attractions to recommend for their summer vacation.
Spend a few days at Lake Louise
Popular attractions include canoeing on the lake (rentals available on site,) hiking to the Lake Agnes and the Plain of Six Glaciers alpine tea houses and hiking from Moraine Lake to Larch Valley or beyond to Sentinel Pass, which offers extraordinary views of Paradise Valley. Visitors can either camp at the popular Lake Louise Campground or stay in one of the numerous hotels nearby.
Take a snow coach tour on the Athabasca Glacier
Drive the Icefields Parkway, one of Canada’s most scenic mountain highways, from Lake Louise to the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre. The drive takes one and a half hours from Lake Louise and makes for a fabulous day trip. At the icefield center, visitors can sign up for a snow coach tour on the Athabasca Glacier which allows them to get out and walk on the glacier. They can also sign up for a tour to visit the brand-new Glacier Discovery Walk — a nearly 450-yard interpretive boardwalk with an approximately 30-yard glass-floored observation platform extending out over the Sunwapta Valley. Both tours are premier activities in the Canadian Rockies and should not be missed.
Hike the Bow Lake Trail to Bow Falls
This is another great day trip from Lake Louise, located on the Icefields Parkway. From the falls, travelers have views of the Waputik Icefield above and strong hikers can hike up to the Bow Hut to spend the night at the edge of the glacier. Reservations are made through the Alpine Club of Canada.
Spend the night in a castle
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel resembles a giant castle and looks over the town of Banff. For people who can’t afford an overnight stay, it is also a great spot to drop in for afternoon tea or a day at the spa.
Take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain
Climb 2,292 feet to the upper terminal — from here, you can hike a short distance to the summit of Sulphur Mountain on a well-maintained trail. The summit looks over the town of Banff, and the Panorama Restaurant is open for romantic evening dinners. A trip to the Banff Upper Hot Springs for a relaxing thermal spring soak makes a great conclusion to the day.
Take a boat cruise on Banff’s largest lake
Take a boat cruise across Lake Minnewanka to Devil’s Gap. The boat provides inside seating for hot days and is a great activity for the whole family. Wildlife viewing opportunities are plentiful and the lake is located only 15 minutes away from the town of Banff.
Go rafting on the Bow River
Many tour companies offer guided float trips on the Bow River between the towns of Banff and Canmore. The Bow River Safari takes two and a half hours and includes a short nature walk. Wildlife viewings are common along the banks of the river and this stretch is safe for the whole family. For more adventurous rafting tours, look into guided tours of the Kicking Horse River. Tours on this river can be arranged from both Banff and Lake Louise.
Bike the Legacy Trail from Banff to Canmore
This popular bike trail offers 16 miles of paved pathways from the Banff Park East Gate near the town of Canmore to the town of Banff and the Bow Valley Parkway. It is a great way to travel between Canmore and Banff, and shuttles are available for one-way trips. For mountain biking enthusiasts, bike the Goat Creek Trail from Canmore to Banff one way. (The Goat Creek trail is mostly downhill in the Canmore-Banff direction and shuttles can be arranged in advance.) Bike rentals can also be found in both Canmore and Banff.
(Note: Due to trail damage, these tours may not be available for the 2014 season.)
Visit the Sunshine Village Alpine Resort
For one of the best wildflower displays in Banff, take a hike to Sunshine Meadows on the Continental Divide. This route consistently ranks as one of the top hikes in Canada and is great for young children. Interpretive tours are available and shuttle bus service is provided to the resort by White Mountain Adventures.
Hike Johnston Canyon
This is one of the most popular hikes in all of Banff National Park so it is best to start early to avoid the crowds and find parking. Hike to the Lower Falls on suspended walkways over the canyon and get a close-up look at the falls from the inside of a tunnel. Continue to the Upper Falls or the Ink Pots for a longer day hike.