Last updated on July 21st, 2024

Peyto Lake, Visit Banff National Park

Peyto Lake, © Can Stock Photo / Wirepec

When to Visit Banff National Park

Tourists overwhelm Banff and Jasper during the months of July and August. June and September are good options to avoid the crowds. June will have more waterfalls and raging rivers. September will have better blue colors in the rivers and lakes, if it hasn’t been raining recently. Unfortunately, forest fires have also become an issue affecting the air quality of the Canadian Rockies in early September even if there are no fires in the national parks. Regardless of when you visit,  Banff & Jasper are always beautiful though.

Lake Louise, Visit Banff National Park

Lake Louise, © Can Stock Photo / jakobradlgruber

Park Shuttles to Lake Louise & Moraine Lake

The popularity of Lake Louise and Moraine Lakes has caused the park to require shuttle services in the popular summer months. That’s because the Lake Louise parking lot fills up very early each morning despite how large it is. If you arrive when it’s full you are turned away. Meanwhile, the Moraine Lake parking lot closes completely during the summer. Everyone has to use a shuttle to get there. If you can afford the extra expense for the Fairmont Lake Louise or the Moraine Lake Lodge, you will enjoy a parking spot for your vehicle and easy access to the lakes before and after the onslaught of daily tourists.

The park service offers shuttle service through their website but it’s actually tricky to book. They open bookings at 8 am each day for spots 2 days later. By 8:05 the bookings have all been taken, so good luck! If you can’t get on the park shuttle, check out lakelouise.com for other shuttle options.

Mount Rundle, Vermillion Lake, Visit Banff National Park

Mount Rundle, © Can Stock Photo / jasoncheever

Visit Banff National Park – Banff Area

  • Visit the famous Fairmont Banff Springs, which was built at the height of the railroad era in Canada. Bow Falls and the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course are located adjacent to the hotel.
  • the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff and the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site.
  • Banff Gondola – a few minutes south of the Fairmont Banff Springs, with views over the town.
  • Mount Norquay Gondola – drive up the switchbacks on Mount Norquay, just a few miles north of Banff. Then take the gondola up for views of the valley and the Rockies.
  • Johnston Canyon is a half hour west of Banff on the Trans Canada Highway.
Bow Lake

Bow Lake

Visit Banff National Park – Bow Lake Area

  • Bow Lake and Num-Ti-Jah Lodge – about 30 minutes north of Lake Louise on the the Icefields Parkway, which continues on to Jasper National Park. Stop for lunch or stay overnight. Take an easy 3 hour return hike to Bow Glacier Falls. This is the source of the Bow River. Alternately take the trailhead to Helen Lake and Cirque Peak.
  • Peyto Lake – less than 10 minutes north of Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. This is likely the most beautiful lake in the Canadian Rockies. Peyto Lake is also one of the busiest tourist spots at the height of the summer season. Many tourists don’t make the trek a little bit farther to the second viewpoint. Across the Icefields Parkway from the Peyto Lake turn is a small parking lot where you can make the strenuous hike to Observation Peak. You will get awesome views of the Canadian Rockies if you have the stamina for the Observation Peak scree scramble.
  • Mistaya Canyon – easy access from the highway, just south of the Saskatchewan River crossing.
Lower Falls, Hiking Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon, Lower Falls

Banff National Park Hotels

Inside the park boundaries, the best options for hotels can be found in the town of Banff. The village of Lake Louise also has a few hotels. You won’t find any short term rentals in the park. Outside the eastern park gate, the town of Canmore saw a construction boom during the Calgary Olympics that added lots of accommodation options. Lodges are also found in Banff National Park:

  • Fairmont Banff Springs
  • Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
  • Moraine Lake Lodge
  • Johnstson Canyon Resort & Castle Mountain Chalets
  • Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

Visit Banff National Park – Lake Louise Area

Lake Louise & the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – an hour west of Banff on the Trans Canada Highway. Be prepared for a massive volume of tourists here at the height of summer, as this is the premier destination for organized tours of the Canadian Rockies.  Take a  day-hike up from the lake to the Plain of Six Glaciers and stop at the teahouse. Alternately visit the Little Beehive, the Big Beehive and the seasonal tea house at Lake Agnes. Both trails start right at the hotel grounds at the lake.

Banff Hiking Tour, Lake Agnes Hikers

Lake Agnes

Lake Louise Gondola operates on the opposite site of the Bow River Valley from Lake Louise. Dine at the Lodge of Ten Peaks and the Whiskyjack Lodge, at the base of the gondola. At the top, enjoy the patio views of Lake Louise from the Whitehorn Bistro. The gondola supports the ski runs in the winter. In the summer it’s actually one chairlift run with a few gondola cabins interspersed.

Moraine Lake & Moraine Lake Lodge. Moraine Lake is tucked into the next valley south of Lake Louise. Walk beside the lake on a 45 minute return hike. Dine at the lodge. Hike into the back country of the Valley of Ten Peaks and Consolation Lakes. This is one of the most common areas in Banff National Park for problems with grizzlies, so be prepared. Carry bear spray and make noise while you hike. The park service sometimes sets minimum numbers for hiking groups in order to ensure safety.

Lake Louise Gondola

Banff National Park Weather

Banff has good summer weather in July and August, but evenings are cool. Snow is possible any month of the year. Fall brings cold weather by late September. Many tourist facilities are only in operation from May to October. January and February are the height of extremely cold winter weather, making for excellent skiing. Weather can deteriorate quickly with elevation, so hikers should be prepared for sudden changes in temperature and precipitation.

Castle Mountain, Banff National Park

Castle Mountain, Banff National Park

Visit Banff National Park – Tours

  • Take the Mountain Lakes and Waterfalls Day Trip from Banff. The day trip visits Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Yoho National Park.
  • Athabasca Glacier Snow Trip from Banff.
  • Travel 2 hours west to Golden and enjoy Whitewater Rafting on the Kicking Horse River.
  • Ski Norquay, Sunshine and Lake Louise.

Get to Banff National Park

Calgary International Airport (YYC) is the access point to get to Banff National Park. Calgary is 1.5 hours east of the park. Rental car is the best way to see this area. A Banff National Park Pass can be purchased online in advance. You can also purchase tickets at the park entrance. Several tour companies also arrange bus tours through the Rockies and the Rocky Mountaineer runs through the Rockies from Calgary all the way to Vancouver.

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