How to Make the Most of Your Time in Banff

Take advantage of the best activities, the best times and more to ensure your time in Banff National Park is fantastic.

It’s likely over the last year, you’ve gotten more mileage walking around your home and staring at your walls than ever before. We feel you. Trust. We feel you. While it seems like the word travel (definition: the movement of people between distant geographical locations) has been wiped entirely from our vocabulary, we’re coming in like the travel crusaders we are (too bold of a statement?) to restore your faith in travel and make the most of it, especially in Banff.

There are many types of vacations, but the best ones often take place in Banff National Park (again, too bold?). While at this point you’re probably thinking to yourself – prove it, we already have, here with our post about why you need to visit Banff. It’s doing the homework for you – isn’t that great?!

Below are seven steps to ensuring you make the most of your time in Banff National Park.

Exterior of Fairmont Banff Springs hotel
Winter exterior of Fairmont Banff Springs hotel courtyard

Step One: Decide When to Explore Banff

This is a great and logical place to start. There’s rarely a bad day in the Canadian Rockies – gorgeous views are in no shortage, and each season brings its own plethora of activities. From spring sightseeing, winter skiing & beautiful fall hikes, you’ll never struggle for things to do regardless of the season. The truth is the best time to visit Banff is really up to you. Can’t even decide on when to visit? Here are some tips:

Winter in Banff

Most of us are used to the 6+ months of winter we have here in Canada – snow, chilly weather etc. But don’t knock a winter vacation until you’ve tried it. You’ll be doing so many activities that you won’t notice the cold anyway. From skiing, snowboarding, tubing, hiking, skating etc., it’s all possible in Banff. Click here to learn of all the activities you can do in Banff in winter.

As always, stay safe and check trail & weather reports before heading out. 

Spring in Banff

The best of both worlds! Some days you can get a beautiful winter storm bringing in some fresh powder. Other days you’ll be hitting the many patios trying to soak up the sunshine and warm weather gracing us. Spring in Banff can provide you with all the things you love about winter and a sneak peek into what summer will bring. Click here to learn of all the activities you can do in Banff in spring.

A person stands on the edge of a rock over a lake with mountain in the background

Fall in Banff

The best of both worlds but in reverse! Fall, while a fleeting season in the Rockies, has some really cool things to see and do – most summer activities are still available to do, but with fewer crowds, and hints of what winter has in store become evident. Something that locals struggle to capture in fall – the ever-elusive Larch season; find out why here. Also here are the best things to do in Banff in autumn.

person hiking along a bridge over water with mountain in the background

Summer in Banff

The crème de la crème of visiting Banff National Park. If Banff shines in winter, it downright glows in summer. From hikes to crystal blue lakes to patios to biking and so much more – summers are unlike anything you’ve witnessed.

aerial of banff national park

Let’s pause here and genuinely offer the best piece of advice we give to travellers looking to come to Banff. In this case, this advice is so sound we provide it with family members when they decide to come out to visit (that’s how you know it’s legit) – is consider visiting mid-week.

Mid-week travel offers some really unique advantages like:

  • Lower lodging rates/better offers
  • More tours available (fewer people making reservations)
  • No wait times at the fantastic restaurants in town and our restaurants
  • Local hospitality – have you ever been to a local watering hole? You’ll be delighted by the sense of community you’ll see!
  • It’s calmer and quieter – there’s no rush, and the feeling that you have all the time in the world to explore is real on weekdays.

Step Two: Decide How Much Time You Need in Banff National Park

How long do you need to make the most of your trip in Banff is a commonly asked question and a perfect step two to address. The truth is this question has tons of different answers, three days, a week, a month, FOREVER?!? Banff, you’ll discover, is a place that you’ll keep coming back to visit over and over again. But for the sake of helping you plan your super unforgettable Canadian Rockies vacation, address how much time you can devote to a trip, and the rest will fall into place.

hikers walk on a trail through wooded area with mountain in the background
aerial of banff

Here are 2 sample itineraries for you depending on the duration of your stay and time of year, in this case, spring:

3 Days in Banff

Banff covers almost 6 641km² which is a lot of ground to cover in 3 days (or even forever in Banff National Park if we are being honest), so if you have three days, you can devote yourself to seeing this beautiful National Park.

A Week in Banff

With a little more time to explore available to you, Banff becomes a true playground!

Also, we get it; vacations are a luxury right now, but who says it needs to be a vacation? A working getaway has tons of added benefits and can help you get out of the work rut you might be in. Nothing like a change of scenery to help promote work-life balance.

Plus, the Castle in the Rockies is the perfect place to set-up a work laptop for a few days. We offer a work away from home add-on package that allows you to enjoy the Rockies while on the phone with your boss.

Need some inspiration? Check out our webcam for some incredible in-the-moment views!

Step Three: Know Before You Go

Like most vacations you take – understanding the place you are about to visit is pretty essential. Banff is no exception.

Here are the top 5 things you should know before coming to Banff:

  1. Banff is a national park; if we are specific, Banff is Canada’s first national park. This, therefore, means that when you drive into the park, you will be required to purchase a Park Pass, which you can do so here.
  2. The weather in Banff National Park – Mountain weather is unpredictable, and being prepared by bringing layers will save you from being chilly one day to being hot the next.
  3. Know the landscape – Banff is home to some incredible wildlife, and if you are inexperienced with hiking and the Rockies – preparing yourself for those encounters can be vital. If you are planning on doing some hiking that is not known as a well-travelled trail – be prepared with bear spray and research some bear safety tips. Bring bug spray and never leave home base without enough water. Parks Canada is a great place to start before you head out on an adventure.
  4. Make Reservations in advance – this is good practice regardless of the season, especially if you are travelling over weekends.
  5. Consider mid-week travel – fewer crowds will allow you to do and see more.

Step Four: Welcome to Canada’s Castle in the Rockies

The birthplace of Canada’s National Parks – Fairmont Banff Springs has a long history and something that can’t be missed when travelling to Banff National Park. Lovingly know as Canada’s Castle in the Rockies, Fairmont Banff Springs has often been the home base to many mountain adventures over the decades. Today the 757 roomed castle is home to some truly unforgettable experiences. Those include:

Two golf courses – internationally renowned and an exhilarating play, The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course opens mid-May and stays open till October.

Fairmont Spa – all adventures require some downtime, and the Fairmont Spa in the heart of the Castle provides just that – featuring indulgent services like massages and facials, a nail & hair salon as well as mineral pools, hot tubs and more, you won’t find a better spot to escape than the spa.

woman in a lounge chair at the spa
empty nail and hair salon

Restaurants and Bars galore – over the last couple of years, Fairmont Banff Springs has really invested in bringing a robust culinary scene to our sleepy mountain town.

Lead by the incredibly redesigned Rundle Bar that serves the most delicious cocktails in a remarkable, vibrant space, you won’t need to go into town to have some incredible food and drink.

Our newest addition is unlike anything else you’ll get in Banff – our 360 Dome features an exquisite menu for brunch or mid-afternoon charcuterie and wine or a glorious 5-course dinner. Hop to it before someone else does and make reservations here.

dome lit up at night

Resort Activities – where do we start with the resort offerings at the hotel…by stating that these incredible offerings are available all year round!

From a new brewery tour, cocktail demo to sunrise hikes and winter stargazing, activities available at the hotel will save you the headache of booking with a third-party vendor.

a couple hiking through a flower field
family playing hockey

PS- Click here to start booking & avoid disappointment!

Step Five: Car or No Car

Deciding on whether you need a car to get around in Banff National Park can be a fiercely debated topic. To make it easier for you, we’ve listed out some things to consider before deciding one way or another!

  1. Your arrival – shuttle buses run from the city centre of Calgary and the Calgary International Airport. This ensures that after a flight, you don’t have to deal with renting a car, grabbing directions and navigating through an unfamiliar city. Shuttles also allow you the opportunity to catch glimpses of the Canadian Rockies while someone else does the driving. The length of time from the airport to Banff is roughly 1.5hrs
  2. The Town of Banff – Fairmont Banff Springs is located 2km just outside the town of Banff, and the walk is a very scenic one into the town- it will take you about 15 mins to walk- Fairmont Banff Springs also offers free public transportation via Roam Transit to guests of the hotel. Not having a car during hectic tourism months will save you from the stop-and-go traffic that can sometimes plague the town.
  3. Your must-see list – when you decide to visit Banff National Park, you probably created a list of places you want to see and while most tour companies offer tours to hot spots like – Lake Minnewanka, Surprise Corner, the base of the Gondola etc. Having a car can have some advantages. Based on how long your trip is – chances are you want to see some other things during your time in Banff, like Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Emerald Lake etc., and while tours can make stops here, it is usually part of a larger organized plan. Meaning you might get a few minutes at each spot to take photos before it’s off to the next stop. Having a car will allow you to do things on your own schedule and without so many people around. We do have to add a disclaimer here – spots like Moraine Lake and Lake Louise are incredibly busy year-round and your chances of going to see them hassle-free increase if you take a shuttle/tour bus. Our best advice is, research the spots you want to see before heading out.

Step Six: Become a Documentarian

We’re not saying to produce an Academy Award-worthy movie about your experience in Banff but don’t forget your camera. There are just so many incredibly beautiful spots here that you will kick yourself for not having captured any images. Plus, if you don’t Instagram your vacation did it even happen?

You can find our blog post about the best photo spots in Banff National Park, here. In addition to this list, we’ve added some spots we think you have to see for yourself.

blue lake surrounded by green trees and mountains
View of Fairmont banff springs luxury hotel with illumination in valley and river at National Park
Panoramic View of Lake Louise and Lake Agnes in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Step Seven: Do It All Again

We are going to keep step seven nice and short. Have you ever read the back of a shampoo bottle and it says, rinse and repeat? We’re taking the same approach here. Follow steps one through six, have an awesome time in Banff and plan to do it all over again.

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