Summer in Banff National Park
Updated: Jun 27, 2018
Last summer, we spent a fortnight amidst glacier-clad peaks, pristine turquoise lakes, beautiful flowering valleys, wildlife, and expansive mountain ranges of Banff National Park in the heart of the Canadian Rockies — and we fell absolutely in love with this part of the world! Completely awe-struck by its beauty and wilderness to say the least.
Located in Alberta, Banff National Park's unparalleled landscape is visually stunning year-round.
In winter the landscape changes dramatically, affording a variety of activities: skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice walks, snowmobiling, ice climbing, and so much more. Being a world-famous ski destination, Banff's three popular resorts — Sunshine Village, The Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay boast about 8,000 acres of skiing. We'd definitely like visit Banff in winter, particularly during the holiday season. Christmas in Banff is bound to be magical, but we can guarantee summer is just as SPECTACULAR.
By June the frozen lakes thaw to a reveal a dazzling blue or turquoise hue; the valleys are dotted with wild flowers; views of sweeping mountains; miles of hiking trails; and breathtaking scenery at every turn of the road.
Read on to know more about what Banff has to offer during summer...
Visit: The Town of Banff
Surrounded by the wilderness of Banff National Park, the town's reputation and popularity precedes it, as it the only town in Canada to be incorporated in a national park. This scenic town has about eight thousand permanent residents and is host to four million annual visitors each year!
Bustling with tourists, downtown Banff is always lively and has so much to offer, not only food, shopping, and events, but also in terms of history and culture.
The town of Banff was founded in 1883, after two Canadian Pacific Railway workers went looking for gold and instead found hot springs at what is now The Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
In 1885, the Government of Canada created Banff National Park, Canada's first National Park, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What we liked about the Town of Banff:
First Impression: This town is so charming, and its proximity to some popular attractions completely won us over! We found people to be friendly and helpful, and genuinely happy and excited to be in Banff. Developed specifically to cater to the millions of visitors who come to the National Park every year, the Town of Banff definitely scores high on hospitality.
Accessibility: We stayed a couple nights in downtown Banff, and found it to be very accessible and convenient. The majority of shops, cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and markets are located on Banff Avenue.
Bow Falls View Point
Cascades of Times Gardens
Banff Gondola (It takes you to the summit of Sulphur Mountain.)
Cave and Basin Historic Site
Banff Hot Springs
Banff is surrounded by rugged, majestic mountains on all sides, including Mt. Rundle, Mt. Norquay, Sulphur Mountain and Cascade Mountain.
Visit: Cascades of Time Gardens
Just a few minutes walking distance from downtown Banff is The Cascades of Time Gardens, do set aside some time to spend here. The garden features beautifully landscaped pathways, ponds, bridges, gazebos, and gorgeous summer blooms and plants. The historic Parks Canada – Administration Building is located on the premises as well.
Unfortunately, we couldn't spend much time here because we found ourselves caught in a heavy downpour that afternoon. The gardens are beautiful, and admission is free. If you'd like to see photos of Cascade Gardens, you can do so here.
Visit: Ride the Banff Gondola to the Summit of Sulphur Mountain
Riding the Banff Gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Breathtaking panoramic vistas rendered us speechless as our gondola gently swayed and ascended to the top of the mountain. Open year-round, we experienced spectacular views from the summit: six mountain ranges, the Bow Valley, and the town of Banff— and all it took was an eight-minute gondola ride to reach the top of Sulphur Mountain at about 7,486 feet!
We spent a few hours here: walking along the boardwalk to Sanson's peak—the highest point in the mountain; dining at the Northern Lights Cafe; hanging out at the observation deck taking in the spectacular views of the mountains; and of course, it was a delight to photograph the stunning landscape from a vantage point.
(Also: hike to the summit of Sulphur Mountain.)
Visit: Cave and Basin Historic Site
The historic site is the birth place of Canada's first National Park, and for this sole reason, it beckons a visit. Indigenous Peoples had known of this site for thousands of years, but after Canadian railway workers in 1883 noticed the vent leading to a large cavern full of mineral rich warm water, it eventually led to the formation of the first National Park by the Canadian government.
If you are a history buff, or just intrigued to see where Banff National Park originated, then by all means make time to visit this historic site and museum. Through interactive exhibits and presentations learn more about the region's unique history, and its mineral rich hot springs (geo-thermally heated water).
A short tunnel lead us to the hot springs cavern, it was definitely interesting to see, but the smell of sulphur was too strong, and not very pleasant. We spent about an hour in total here, but only about ten mins inside the cavern. We found the interactive media presentations and exhibits very informative and enjoyable. Overall, we left with a sense of satisfaction having been able to visit the place where it all began.
(Also: walk the Marsh Loop trail and Sundance Canyon trail.)
Visit: Bow River Falls
This is an ideal place to unwind after a long day. Located close to downtown Banff, it's easily accessible by foot, just follow the trial along Bow River which starts from the south end of Banff Avenue, beyond the bridge. The scenery is beautiful, and there is ample space to just sit back and take in the view. Although, it might be hard to find a quite spot as people usually like to gather near the falls to take pictures and relax on the benches.
(Also: walk the Bow River trail.)
Banff's Glacial Lakes
The lakes and rivers in the National Park are so striking because their color comes from 'glacial flour' — a high concentration of very fine sediments, which is formed as heavy glaciers grind their way across the mountains.
The color of the lake is most vibrant in July and August when the flow of the melt water is at its highest.
Visit: Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake will engulf your senses with its natural beauty and serenity. Located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake's turquoise waters gleam, sparkle and dazzle under Banff's summer sun.
We hiked through the valley as the crisp mountain air filled our lungs, gently canoed across the lake and relaxed our feet by the lakeside. Our maiden visit to Banff wouldn't have been complete without visiting this pristine glacial lake. We loved it so much that we actually went back the next day to experience this glistening gem in the mountain one last time!
(Hike:'Twenty Dollar View'.)
Visit: Lake Louise
The majestic Victoria Glacier, the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the imposing mountain peaks, and landscapes, and its emerald waters, and fascinating anecdotes and history adds to the grandness of Lake Louise.
Located about 4kms from the Hamlet of Lake Louise, (it has a small shopping center, restaurants and accommodation options, and also a visitor information center), Lake Louise is known to be a hikers paradise, and also boasts miles and miles of cross-country skiing trails during the winter months.
(Also: visit the stunning Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park; located about 40 mins from Lake Louise.)
Visit: Bow Lake
Located at the base of Bow Summit, (a half-mile north of Crowfoot Glacier), the magnificent Bow Lake is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park. The Bow River starts here and flows past Lake Louise and Banff. This was our first stop en route to Peyto Lake. It was hard to miss the gleaming waters even from a distance, as the lake dazzled under the noon sky. Make sure to set aside ample amount of time to spend here!
As we walked along the shoreline, ripples pushed the waters inches towards us, a calm breeze disturbing the tranquility for just a few minutes. Walking through Banff National Park can feel unreal, more so when you walk towards something as spectacular as Bow Lake, it truly felt like we had stepped into a postcard!
(The scenic Num-Ti-Jah lodge is located next to this beautiful lake.)
Visit: Peyto Lake
Hands down one of the most popular attractions in Banff, and also most photographed for its resembles to a wolf's head! Easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway, the glacier-fed, turquoise colored Peyto Lake is absolutely unreal. A short hike on a paved trail starting from the parking lot at Bow Summit through the Timberline Trail, covered with sub-alpine flowers, and easily accessible interpretive panels along the way which provide insightful information, led us to the lookout high above the lake from where the views of the Peyto Glacier, Peyto Lake and Mistaya valley are unparalleled.
Visit: Johnston Canyon
We drove around 30 minutes from the Town of Banff to hike Johnston Canyon one morning. Easily accessible and open year-round, it is one of the most popular natural-attractions to visit in Banff. Extremely child friendly, our three year old son led the way as we hiked the slopes and elevations of the lower falls trail surrounded by the sounds of wilderness as the crips morning air filled our lungs; walked along high catwalks fixed on the sides of the vertical canyon as water gushed through the narrow canyon below us; ducked our way through a limestone tunnel that lead to a thunderous waterfall.
(Also: after completing the lower falls trail, proceed to the upper fall trail, which is comparatively harder. And continue to hike further to the Ink Pots— turquoise pools caused by mountain springs bubbling to the surface.)
There's a lot more to see & do in Banff...
More To See & Do In Banff
—Cycle: along the 22-km Banff Legacy Trail
—Visit: Sunshine Meadows
—Visit: Morant's Curve
—Visit: Vermillion Lakes and Lake Minnewaka
—Visit: Banff Hot Springs
—Visit: Lake Louise Gondola
—Drive: the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive
—Drive: the Bow Valley Parkway scenic drive
—Camp: camping in Banff National Park
Travel Tips Unique to Banff National Park
Peak Seasons & Weather
—Peak Travel Seasons: Summer: June - August; Winter:
December to March.
—Most lakes are frozen until June.
—June to August have the warmest weather, and it is mostly crowded during these months.
—The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, even during summer it can get quite cold. Be sure to pack accordingly.
—Wild fires during the summer months is common, so some areas may be temporarily restricted to enter.
— Prescribed fires by fire specialist from Parks Canada "help to restore healthy forests and grasslands, enhance habitat for wildlife and reduce the risk of wildfire to communities."
Wildlife & Photography
—Banff is a photographer's paradise, be sure to come prepared (extra batteries, memory cards et al).
—Be mindful of wildlife inside the National Park. You are bound to see animals in their natural habitat here, please try not to do anything that might make them feel frightened or threatened. Always photograph wildlife from a safe distance.
Accommodation & Transportation
—Although there are many b&b's, luxurious hotels, backcountry lodges and RV sites and campgrounds to cater to every kind of traveler, accommodation can get expensive in The Rockies, especially during peak season. Be sure to make your booking well in advance.
—Depending on your itineary, you could look for accommodations in these locations: Calgary, Banff, Canmore, Kananaskis, Jasper and Hinton.
—Take advantage of Banff's efficient 'Roam' Public Transit system. Also, metered taxis are easily available, especially on Banff Avenue.
—Explore Banff on two-wheels. Rent a bike.
—Banff is only 1hr 45min from Calgary via Trans-Canada Highway. The closest airport is Calgary International Airport.
—Passes and permits are required to enter the National Park.
—Speak to local experts about anything related to Banff National Park at the Visitor Centers, and information kiosks, located in Banff & Lake Louise.
All photographs taken by Maanasi & Sri.