Banff National Park is famous not only for it’s beauty and accessibility, but because it is Canada’s oldest national park. The gates to the park are located a short 45 minute drive from the northern tip of Calgary, just past Canmore. Before that you can witness the Rockies from afar, as you drive closer with anticipation. The towering mountains greet you all of sudden, definitely providing a dramatic entrance of sorts. The first mountain off to the north side of Highway 1 is Mount Yamnuska, and can recognized by it’s sheer rock face that many experienced climbers use to enjoy a day of climbing. Mount Yamnuska can be hiked, but be prepared for incoming weather as the climb involves lots of scrambling and vertical that can become slick if wet.
Right before you get to the national park, you have the beautiful city of Canmore, which is home to the Canmore Nordic Centre, which is a great place to try out your mountain biking skills. There are also some great shops and restaurants there as well, all the while in one of the world’s most beautiful settings. Canmore is one of our favourites.
Finally, you will arrive at the gates to Banff National Park. You will have to stop and greet one of the parks rangers, who will set you up with a pass based on the amount of time you wish to stay. Even if you are planning on staying in Banff, you will be required to get a pass. A day pass is usually around $12. Banff NP is filled with great hikes and activities at all times of year. Check out our video below for some great ideas on traveling Canada’s first national park.
Winter in Banff (November-April)
As the snow covers the ground and trees, this is when the magic happens. All of the ski hills open up, and the hiking trails mostly close. Here is a list of the ski hills in Banff NP:
Lake Louise Ski Resort– They offer free tours of the mountain when you are there for s ski day.
Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort– They have a resort up top in the ski area that you can stay at.
Mount Norquay– The closest ski hill to Banff.
- All of the mountains offer lessons for a variety of skill levels. In addition, most have tubing hills as well for a bit of a change or that skier that needs a bit of a rest.
This time of year is when the lakes freeze over and you get the chance for a truly unique experience, skating on a mountain lake. Check out Lake Louise, as the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise maintains the lake and even provides some skate rentals! (featured in video)
If you do want to do a hike, check out Johnston Canyon (featured in video), as the waterfalls freeze over and provide an amazing experience. The hike takes about 1 hour with pictures and has a well maintained path, with washrooms at the bottom.
Summer in Banff (July-August)
This is probably the most popular time to visit Banff as this is because of the agreeable temperatures. Hiking is vast, but be careful to follow warnings and suggestions from Parks Canada. There is a visitors centre in Banff along the main road, which you should visit prior to your hike. Bears and other animals frequent the area and should be given respect. Another great activity in the summer is hiking out at Lake Louise towards the tea houses. You have a great view of the glacier there, and a nice little spot to stop for a lunch or snack. For the animal lover, you can even go by horseback. There are a variety of businesses that offer horseback riding, just make sure to ask your hotel concierge and they will set you up. If you are looking for that postcard perfect picture, either Lake Louise or the less frequented Moraine Lake will provide the goods.
Spring in Banff (April-June)
Spring in Banff can be very unpredictable. At times winter will go long and push the slushy weather longer, making it hard to enjoy the hiking and camping. If you do come and want to do some hiking, make sure to bring waterproof clothing and shoes, as with the melting of the snow, will make many of the trails muddy and slushy. Many of the ski hills such as Lake Louise and Sunshine village, will be open till late April and mid May. Be careful in the back country at this time of year, as avalanches occur more often due to the rising temperatures and is generally not the safest. You can check avalanche conditions at Avalanche Canada.ca. If you don’t know, it might be best to hire or inquire with an experienced guide.
Fall in Banff (September-October)
This is a beautiful time of year, as the Larch Trees turn yellow and provides a colourful landscape of trees against the mountains. There is a still great hiking to be had at this time of year, just make sure to come with a bag with extra clothes in case the weather changes. It is usually dry and warm at this time of year. Many of your summer activities will still be open, just be prepared for unpredictable weather.
Well, that is a quick overview of one of Canada’s special gems. Ensure you plan on a visit to Banff National Park on your next visit to Canada. If we left anything out, we would love to hear from you either in an email or in our comments section.
Peace & Love,
Tim & Marcella