From swimming in alpine lakes to climbing over Glaciers, going on wilderness overnight hikes and having a beer in town, let our guide to the most EPIC things to do in Banff in SUMMER help you plan your next trip to Canada.
With the start of the 2023 summer now in full swing in the Canadian Rockies, if you’re reading this then perhaps you’re thinking of planning a trip to Alberta this year to visit Banff national park?
Well let us be the first to tell you how excited you should be for your first trip here.
And if this isn’t your first time visiting the Rocky mountains then tell the rest of our readers how monumentally epic this place is!
We return to Edmonton and the mountain peaks every year and could seriously consider moving here.
Not only do you get world class national parks with turquoise blue lakes like lake Louise and Moraine lake, downtown Banff itself is lively and vibrant right throughout summer. That’s not to say that a winter in Banff isn’t magical!
This guide to all the things to do in Banff in the summer has you covered to make sure you have the best Banff summer you can have.
READ MORE: Our comprehensive guide to planning a trip to Banff this year
Banff in Summer Quick Guide
What is the weather like during summer?
Average daily temperature in Banff is around 22 ºC (72ºF) and cools off at night to around 7-10º C. Alberta heat waves are not uncommon however so you can expect days on end to be above 30ºC
Is Banff crowded in summer?
June to August are the busiest months on the tourism calendar in Banff, aligning with school holidays. Banff national park can see up to 100,000 people over a weekend.
How do I avoid the crowds during summer?
Best advice is to wake up early and avoid the middle of the day for activities, make sure you book activities in advance, be prepared to wait in lines and pre-book your shuttle rides to the lakes early.
What’s the best month to visit Banff?
The most popular months are the summer months between June to August, with mid September quieting down a bit right before the Larch season begins again in the mountains when crowds swell up again. We always prefer the shoulder seasons from mid September to mid October right before the temperatures drop down again and the frost of -30ºC kicks in
Is Banff expensive in the summer?
Like most peak tourist seasons worldwide, Banff’s prices for accommodation, cars and activities skyrocket to the point of paying + $600/night! Crazy right? There’s still plenty of ways to spend a weekend in Banff on a budget.
Can I visit other national parks near Banff?
Of course, Banff is right next door to amazing national parks like Yoho, Kootenay, Kananaskis, Jasper, Mount Robson and Glacier national park in British Columbia
Do I need to purchase a Parks Pass?
Yes, and there are two options for this. The first is a single day pass to enter Banff national park that costs $10.50, the second is a discovery pass that gets you 12 months unlimited access to over 80 national parks in Canada for $72.25.
30 Things to do in Banff in summer
Now that you have a basic rundown of the how’s and when’s of Banff, this is the perfect time to introduce our comprehensive list of the best summer activities in Banff.
Drive the Icefields parkway
Designated by national geographic as ‘one of the worlds most stunning roadways‘, the Icefields parkway (highway 93) is a sealed road that connects the township of Lake Louise to Jasper national park and winds for 227 km for roughly 2 hours and 23 minutes non-stop.
The route is lined with incredible pine trees, surrounding mountains, dozens of easily accessible and difficult to reach lakes, canyons and glaciers like Athabasca glacier.
We’d suggest stopping at every lake and viewpoint would mean tackling the Icefields parkway over 2 days at a minimum.
If you don’t yet have a car to drive through Banff national park you can check out rental cars here.
Tip: Wildlife such as Bears, Moose and Elk regularly cross the road so make sure you keep 100 metres away from wildlife at all times, don’t leave your car to take photos and remember they are wild.
Visit Downtown Banff
A favourite of ours in the Banff summer months is taking a stroll through downtown Banff to check out the crazy Canadian tourist shops, bars and restaurants.
One of the coolest things here is the streets are named after Canadian wildlife like Bear St, Moose St, Wolf St, Caribou and Beaver street- how cool is that to say you had a beer on Bear street!
Visiting the Banff Visitor centre is always a good idea if you’d like to become familiar with certain road and park closures, or have any detailed questions about the town itself.
There are a ton of things to do in downtown Banff in summer and between the 19th of May and 13th October between Wolf and Buffalo street on Banff Avenue becomes shut to vehicles and becomes a pedestrians walkway making it fun and safe for families and kids to enjoy the summer atmosphere.
Restaurants run patios on the sidewalk creating such a buzz and vibe to Banff ave.
Tip: Head to Bear street tavern for the best pizza in Canada – go for the honey and chilli sauce on top of your pizza, it’s a must!
Visit the Banff Upper hot springs
The best way to experience Canada’s highest geothermal hot spring location is by driving up Mountain avenue to the base of Sulphur mountain.
Sitting at 1585 metres high it is the only accessible hot spring in all of Banff national park aside from the Cave and Basin which is closed to public bathing of course.
Hot springs worldwide are renowned for their healing and therapeutic properties which is why this is an important and unique attraction in Banff to visit.
The hot springs in Banff are open daily from 10am to 10pm and cost $16.50 for adult entry.
Stroll through Banff farmers market
Since 2011 the locals of the Bow Valley have been visiting the farmers market in the parking lot of Central Park enjoying a wide selection of quality, locally made products from vendors from around the region.
The 2023 season starts on the 24th of May and runs every Wednesday from 10 am till 6 pm until the 4th of October.
Live music makes for an eclectic vibe and you get the benefit of enjoying local products in an incredibly beautiful scenery.
When visiting Banff for the farmers market, if you have time you should also try and head out into Canmore back towards Calgary as they run a very similar farmers market just off Railway avenue every Thursday 10 am till 6 pm at Elevation Place.
Have a beer in Banff
Wondering what to do in Banff in the summer on a hot day? Why not head to one of the many breweries scattered on the main street.
Any google search will bring up these two famous breweries in Banff; the Banff Avenue Brewing Co. and Three bears brewery & restaurant.
The two are less than 400 metres apart so you could quite easily have a pint at one and walk to the other afterwards.
The Banff avenue Brewing Co was opened by Jasper Brewing Co who in 2005 opened the first national park brewery. These guys do great poutine, burgers, steaks and pasta in their large 2 storey brewpub.
An alternative we loved drinking at was the Grizzly paw tap room just off old Canmore road, they have a great two storey pub and restaurant with merch and an awesome vibe here too.
After a long day of hiking or biking around we think one of the best things to do in Banff in summer is to enjoy a cold, cold beer on a patio in the sunshine; seriously, could it get any better?
Camping in the Rockies
Of all the Banff activities in summer you can try, there is literally nothing more awe inspiring, soul awakening and reconnecting than camping in the Canadian Rockies under the stars.
If you have ever visited Banff in the summer you’ll know that staying in hotels gets old after a while when you can see the surrounding mountains and beauty around every corner.
The Parks Canada season can get very busy for camping year round, with some of the more popular sites like lake Louise and Tunnel mountain campground booking out fairly early.
There are two types of campgrounds here; front country camping and backcountry camping.
Front country camping are accessible by short walks in or a short drive as opposed to back country that require longer, more difficult terrain hikes and more often than not involve overnight hiking trails.
Tunnel mountain has over 700 campsites across 3 main areas just outside of Banff town so it can get a little overwhelming at times but it’s also a great place to spot wildlife at times like Elk, Deer, Bears and the occasional passing of the Bow valley wolf pack that was last sighted in 2021 on a frozen lake Minnewanka.
Ride the Banff Gondola up the mountain peaks
One of the best summer activities in Banff is to take the Banff gondola to the top of Sulphur mountain. The best way to get here is to drive along Mountain Avenue to the parking lot outside of the Banff gondola.
The Banff gondola experience will begin at the lower terminal and slowly rise 8 minutes up the mountain reaching to the upper terminal at 2281 m above sea level where you’ll find the Sky Bistro and the Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen.
Impressive sweeping views of Banff national park from the top of Sulphur mountain out towards Cascade mountain, Mount Norquay and Mount Rundle and see why this activity has had almost 1000 positive reviews!
The lake Louise gondola is known to be one of the best places to safely view Grizzly bears, Black bears, Moose, Mountain goats, Lynx and all sorts of other wildlife from the safety of a gondola or chairlift as they graze on the field of wildflowers in the alpine meadows below,
The only way to get to this Banff gondola is to drive up Whitehorn Drive to the end of the parking lot where you can buy your ticket for $60 to reach an elevation of 2101 metres.
When you reach the top you could try one of the hikes in the area such as the 2.5 km round trip on the Pika Trail, the 1.7 km round trip to the Kicking Horse Pass viewpoint or the 3.4 km round trip to the Ptarmigan valley viewpoint.
Tick off one of your bucket-list ideas and ride this once in a lifetime experience; the Sunshine gondola the largest in the region with each carriage holding up to 8 people – this is the best option if you plan on doing some hikes around sunshine meadows.
Of all the places to visit in Banff in summer you have to include a trip to Moraine lake at the top of that list.
Easily one of Alberta’s most iconic lakes and certainly one of the best lakes in Banff in the summer to visit, Moraine lake is a beautiful blue turquoise lake that sits at the foothills of the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Before 2023 this lake attracted so much attention that its popularity exploded to the point that the car park became so full, Parks Canada were forced to close the parking lot to private vehicles.
In its place is a system of public bus routes and private companies that run shuttles to and from Banff, Moraine lake and lake Louise.
To make the most of the opportunity to see these lakes theres a convenient and affordable reserve now, pay later option with flexible cancellations the take an Open-Top Shuttle to Moraine and lake Louise on an 8 hour experience. You even get to skip the line too !
Moraine lake is one of the best lakes in the Canadian Rockies for good reason; its abundance of hiking routes, the lakeshore trail for instance is a beautiful short hike you can reach from the carpark.
The drive from downtown Banff to Moraine lake will take you just under an hour along the Trans Canada highway normally, however your other option now is to drive to the Park and Ride at the lake Louise ski resort on Whitehorn Drive which will take you 36 minutes.
The best views here are the ones from the rockpile to the left of the carpark and if you get here for sunrise this is the best time to visit Moraine lake.
Read Next: New Rules for getting to Moraine lake
Hiking trails around Moraine lake
Moraine lake is a great starting point for many awesome short day hikes, like many other lakes here including lake Louise, lake Minnewanka, Johnson lake and two jack lake there are a number of options to choose from.
The first is the Moraine lakeshore trail, a 2.9 km return hike that will take you no more than an hour to do.
The best access is by the canoe docks along the flat trail. Another great option and very popular amongst locals and instagram is Consolation lakes trail, a 5.8 km return hike which can be done in less than 2 hours.
The Eiffel lake trail begins at the canoe docks also however this Banff hike is a little longer at just under 11.8 km this will take you anywhere from 3.5-4 hours return with 570 m of elevation gain.
The views here are legendary though over the Ten peaks glaciers. The fourth hike continues onwards from Eiffel lake into Wenkchemna pass at 19.4 km long over 6 to 8 hours of fairly challenging hiking terrain and elevation gain.
These are of course but a few of the best things to do in Banff in summer so we recommend getting acquainted with the trails and landscape before attempting any overnight hikes.
Athabasca glacier tours
You might be surprised to see a glacier tour on a list of what to do in Banff in summer, but this is an insanely epic adventure that we highly recommend to anybody who visits Banff national park.
Along the icefields parkway pass lake Louise and Moraine lake is the Athabasca Glacier that spans the continental divide along the provincial lines of Alberta and British Columbia.
Referred to as one of the ‘toes of the glacier’ is the Columbia Icefield where big, heavy Mercedes Benz trucks with tyres as big as two men tall crawl their way up the ice sheet where you get to experience walking on a part of the glacier.
We had such an incredible time up here, although make sure you pack for any weather conditions as it was a relatively sunny day below, yet cold, rainy, windy and miserable up top; weird for Banff in July right?
Yet it still made our list as one of the most fun summer activities in Banff, and you can check out the experience and pricing below.
Columbia Icefield skywalk
Jutting out from the side of the mountain is a glass bottomed observation platform revealing impressive views over the Sunwapta valley.
279 metres above the ground makes for amazing wildlife photographing opportunities, panoramic shots and is simply a must do when visiting Banff.
This part of the Canadian Rockies is technically considered Jasper national park but we couldn’t leave it out of this list!
The skywalk is also part of your Columbia Icefield tour package when they drive a normal bus up the road for 6 minutes or so to reach the platform hence this option is already included in the cost of your ticket.
Go for a walk around Bow lake
If you’re a fan of reflections like we are then a trip to Bow lake is just for you. As one of the largest lakes in all of Banff national park, on a perfect summer day this lake is simply stunning, and there’s even a public restroom next to The lodge at Bow lake.
Situated on the Icefields parkway, you cannot miss the turn off unless you happen to close your eyes for a whole minute of driving!
The best way to soak in Bow lake is to walk down to the viewpoint or make your way through the unpaved trails that lead to the shoreline.
Our experience was parking our car in the main car park, or if that gets full as it often does then parking your car on the side of the road leading in is also an option.
From here as you pass the public restrooms on your left continue straight down past the lodge and make your way through the trails of the bushes, walking along overpasses, scrambling along the rocks and muddy boulders.
The views over Crowfoot glacier and Bow Glacier falls are simply stunning on a clear day, but might be difficult to see on a wet and overcast one.
The same can also be said for lake Louise on an overcast day – it all really depends on the weather.
Swim in a glacial lake
One of the absolute perfect things to do in Banff in summer is to strip down to your swim trunks and go for a swim in a freezing cold, glacial lake. We’re not going to lie to you – its very cold!!
However the experience of swimming in water you know has melted from the top of a mountain peak down a glacier into a lake is simply unmissable.
Some of the best glacial fed lakes to go swimming in on a beautiful summer day in Banff national park are lake Louise, Moraine lake, lake Minnewanka, and even Peyto lake – you just have to be prepared to hike down and have proper hiking gear with you.
The water temperature is about 5º C and it’s completely up to you how long you decide to stay in for but all 5 of us decided to go for a swim in Two Jack lake around about 2pm in the afternoon on a warm day in Banff so it made the dip worthwhile.
We did also try this at the end of the Crypt lake hike in Waterton lakes national park in southern Alberta, which was technically a glacial alpine lake, so a little colder than Two Jack lake.
Most of the lakes mentioned above do not have designated lifeguards on duty so it’s always important to stay vigilant when in the water.
Walk along Johnston canyon
A short 30 minute drive from Banff Avenue along the Bow Valley parkway to Johnston Canyon is one of the top attractions in Banff. We’ve been here multiple times and every time it’s still amazing.
The landscape transforms from a beautiful snow covered hike to a lush green flora with powerful waterfalls divided into the upper falls and the lower falls.
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer and unless it’s raining there is never a bad time to visit.
At the trailhead is a public restroom before you head off as there are none along the trail. It can get quite busy here and can turn into single file walking at times so plan your visit early in the morning.
Steel rails bolted into the side of the mountain along the well maintained walkway let you traverse gradually up the canyons to the first section before making your way further up to the upper falls.
The upper falls are our favourite, however if you want to continue onwards, make your way to the Ink pots a little further along the trail.
The power of the Johnston Canyon waterfalls are incredible and with so many vantage points and photo ops this is easily one of the best places to visit in Banff in summer.
Drive to Peyto lake
Peyto lake has to be one of our most favourite lakes in the Canadian rockies. Banff in summer can get hectic and this is the third most popular lake behind lake Louise and Lake Moraine.
With its distinctive fox/wolf shaped lake, surrounded by pine trees and mountain peaks above, the best way to view Peyto lake is from the viewing platform that was only extended in 2021.
There’s a short hike from the car park that’s about 10 minutes through the trees and bush before getting to the top and a very large carpark so no need to worry about parking (most of the time)
The drive along the Icefields parkway is beautiful but long! Why not make the drive more fascinating and interesting by purchasing an audio guide for your smartphone. It’s like driving with a tour guide in your car, how amazing is that?
Visit lake Louise
The crown jewel of Banff national park and one of the top things to do in Banff in summer time is to drive along the Trans Canada till you get to the lake Louise village and take a right down lake Louise drive until you reach the car park and behold your eyes!
Alternatively you can take this guided tour of Lake Louise and see all the highlights of this epic place.
Lake Louise is an incredibly beautiful lake to admire in July in Banff, but we prefer the August- October months personally.
The crowds here aren’t as bad, the weather is warm but not stifling and you have room to move to admire this glacial lake.
The best time to see lake Louise during the summer is for sunrise generally before 7 am when there’s less people around.
You can hire a canoe from the rental shop on the lakeshore from 8:30 a onwards for $95/hour or $85/30 minutes and operate on a first come, first served basis.
If you just feel like walking around the lake taking photographs and admiring them then this is also just as good and you will walk away with photos of the most popular lake in Banff national park.
Hiking in Lake Louise
Lake Louise comes with a bunch of different hikes in the area to tackle like the Lake Agnes tea house hike that’s 6.8 km return with 385m of elevation, making this one one of the easiest hikes to do in Banff national park.
The lake Louise lakeshore hike is a fairly easy 1 hour return hike under 5 km and you start this hike from the base of the lake walking to the right of the Fairmont chateau lake Louise. It ends at the start of the Plain of 6 Glaciers trail.
The Plain of 6 glaciers trail is one of the most incredible hikes in lake Louise that goes for 13.8 km return over 3-5 hours with 487 m in elevation gain that can also be combined with the Lake Agnes tea house trail and Big Beehive.
If you want to escape the crowds of Banff in the summer then try the hike up to Saddleback Pass, one of the best Alberta Larch hikes from June to October.
Hike lake Agnes teahouse
One of the most popular hiking routes in the lake Louise area only takes an hour or so over easy terrain from the base of lake Louise.
Lake Agnes teahouse is suitable for almost any type of hiking experience and at the end of the 7.6 km trek you will be greeted with the teahouse and the beautiful lake Agnes.
Dine at the Fairmont chateau lake Louise
Take in the views of one of Canada’s most visited lakes from the pane of windows from inside the Fairmont Chateau lake Louise, one of the oldest hotel chains in the world.
Every day from 12:00 till 2:30 the Fairview restaurant inside the beautiful Fairmont Chateau lake Louise, you can treat yourself to a time honoured High tea, otherwise known as afternoon tea with a delectable offering of savouries and sweets, pastries and sandwiches; with of course, tea.
Outside of this time frame you will need to make a reservation at the Fairview as one of Banff’s oldest buildings becomes booked out very quickly.
The highlight of visiting the Fairmont however is the floor to ceiling windows with views out to lake Louise and Victoria glacier across the lake.
Follow the Bow River
One of the longest river systems intersecting both Banff, Calgary, Canmore and Cochrane, the Bow river is a fantastic place to explore in Banff national park for an Albertan summer.
You could hire a canoe and float downstream on a beautiful summer day.
The Bow river bridge crosses the Bow river at the southern end of Banff Avenue at the intersection of Buffalo street and is a great part of town to admire Sulphur mountain in the distance with the Banff gondola at the foothills.
Just south of here is the Cascade of time gardens also known as Cascade gardens and is a great addition to your list of things to do in Banff in summer.
The gardens were built on the grounds of a hotel that burnt down in the 1930’s and now serves as a year round Banff attraction. It’s also free to those who hold a National park pass.
Art Nature trail
With the art lovers in mind, this unique art installation lives along the Nancy Pauw bridge and along the banks of the Bow River. Created by regional artists, this is a fun free thing to do in Banff in the summer.
Bow River trail
The Bow river trail is an easy day hike that we love hiking every time we’re in Banff.
Start the morning off right by getting a cup of coffee in town and going for a stroll along the Bow River trail that begins right here and ends at a surprise corner viewpoint before turning into the Hoodoos trail.
For the best view point anywhere along the Bow river, head to the surprise corner and look back at Bow falls that cascade down onto the shore.
At the base of the river here on the other side of Bow river you can hire a canoe from Rocky Mountain raft tours, or simply head to the other side of the falls and watch from the official bow falls viewpoint.
For a family fun-filled adventure head to the Big Canoe River Explorer Tour and enjoy the guided experience down the Bow River.
You can’t quite see it from here without being obscured but the Fairmont Banff springs hotel is just south of here on the other side of the trees as is the end of the Banff springs golf course.
Bike through Banff
For a relatively cheap and fun thing to do in Banff this summer, head to any one of the bike rental stores we wrote about in our guide to Moraine lake here and rent a bicycle for a few days, exploring Banff in the summer and the rest of the Canadian rockies.
The most popular biking trail through Banff national park is the Banff legacy trail that connects the towns of Canmore and Banff.
The biking season in Banff is not very long however as the snow stays late and arrives early your best bet is to bike through the dry summer months between June to early August.
The Banff legacy trail follows highway 93 and ends (or starts) in Banff at the Rocky Mountain legacy trailhead right here on Google maps
An alternative is the Lake Minnewanka lakeside trail, or Lake Minnewanka Loop that starts at the Cascade Ponds lake bound and connects to the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive that passes the Two Jack lake campground as well as the Two Jack lakeside campground before becoming the larger Lake Minnewanka.
Mount Norquay via ferrata
When visiting Banff national park you cannot go past this unique Banff attraction; in Italian it’s called Via Ferrata; in English it’s ‘iron way’.
A series of iron handles and foot steps bolted into the mountain side provide climbers with a unique, assisted climbing experience to traverse the Canadian Rockies along 5 designated routes.
This one of a kind Banff activity will really make you work hard through a series of suspension bridges and iron ladders whilst safely harnessed in, your expert guides will show you a side of Banff rarely seen by visitors.
The shortest of all the routes is 2 hours long called the Explorer, the longest is 5.5-6 hours long called the Summiteer with some milder and shorter routes also available depending on your fitness level.
Mount Norquay sits on the northern side of town next to Cascade mountain and has been rated as the number one activity in all of Banff national park.
SUP on one of the great lakes
Specific to the summer in Banff national park, (you’d be gliding along a frozen lake in winter) is to hire a Stand up paddleboard, or SUP for short and paddle along any of the lakes here for a chilled out morning or afternoon.
Whenever we go on the water we typically choose the morning as it’s calmer, generally less windy and less crowded to really enjoy your time out here.
Radventures in Banff town do half and full day rentals on SUP’s and they even give you a backpack to carry it in because they can be quite large.
These SUP’s are inflatable so they come with a pump, a PFD( personal flotation device) and fibreglass paddle and a safety leash in case you fall off.
A full day hire with Radventures will cost $55 whilst a half day is $40, not a bad price for everything that’s included.
Banff in the summer gives you a lot of lakes to choose from, however we really enjoy going to either lake Minnewanka, Johnson lake, (less windy) Vermilion lakes or even along the Bow river.
For the ultimate thrill seekers and perfect for families and beginners alike, why not live a little and try white water rafting along the Kananaskis river in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies for 2 hours.
Whilst this activity isn’t specifically in Banff national park we thought it relevant to include it as an extra option for you.
There’s also another option to try whitewater rafting that’s also not in Banff national park but is less than an hours drive from both Calgary and Banff town at Horseshoe Canyon, a section of the Bow River a little further out north west of Banff for about $148 per person.
Kicking Horse river whitewater rafting
There’s every chance that you will want to venture west into British Columbia and explore more than Banff national park right?
Well outside of Jasper national park which is still in Alberta you can still explore more of the Canadian Rockies in places like Yoho national park and kicking horse river, which runs from Wapta lake and winds its way through Field and into the town of Golden, BC and becomes the Columbia River.
This is the biggest whitewater rafting experience in the Rockies so once we’d suggest pairing this activity with a day trip in Banff that’s closer to the provincial border like lake Louise or any of the surrounding mountains or the plain of six glaciers hike near lake Louise.
This is a 3.5 hour guided rafting experience with professionals guiding you through class- 2 and class -4/4+ waters where you will take on rapids like Hopis hole, table saw and the famous Portage and shotgun.
Horseback riding through Banff in the summer
One of the best things to do in Banff in the summer is to go deep into the backcountry for a 1 hour guided ride on horseback through stunning scenic trails along the Bow River, pass by the cave and basin national historic site and admire the surrounding mountains the entire journey.
You’ll get a friendly horse for an hour, an expert guide lead and tail, all the necessary safety equipment and briefing before heading back to the stables afterwards.
Climb the Athabasca Glacier
As mentioned earlier a drive down one of Banff’s most scenic drives, the Icefields parkway there’s plenty of incredible things to see in Banff in summer.
Asides from visiting the Columbia icefields discovery centre and taking a monster truck onto the glacier, there’s an even more incredible opportunity to actually hike the glacier with Ice walks adventure tours.
This extremely knowledgeable group runs half and full day tours along the entire tongue of the Athabasca glacier and provides opportunities to learn more about the Canadian Rockies frozen landscape.
The tours run from June to late September and begin at 9:30 am running for 6 hours across 8.5 km for $194.50 per adult/full day.
This is a once in a lifetime experience when visiting Banff and not to be missed if you plan on coming out here; just make sure to bring warm clothes as the weather can drop even in the peak of summer.
Drive along the Bow valley parkway
Easily one of our favourite road trips in Banff aside from the Icefields parkway is the Bow valley parkway; the visitors alternative to driving highway 93 if only for a short time.
This beautiful stretch of road gets you access to both Johnston canyon and the Castle mountain lookout.
As well as being a top spot for photographing wildlife in Banff national park, the Bow valley parkway is just a gorgeous drive.
Banff in the summer is so incredible and if you love bike riding as much as we do then you should try riding the BVP between the lake Louise summer gondola and Banff townsite via the Bow valley parkway.
Driving the Bow Valley parkway will also mean you avoid the potential congestion of highway 93 and feel more connected to your drive which we think is one of the best things to do in Banff in summer.
We recommend starting in Banff and finishing in Lake Louise ski resort so you can head to the Banded Peak base camp and show your cycle activity through your phone tracking apps and you will get a free pint and a t-shirt that says parkway to Pint.
Enjoy the water at Johnson lake
Like many of the lakes in the Canadian Rockies, Johnson lake has a lot on offer with half the crowds to go with it.
At just over 1.1 km long and 200 metres wide this is one of the smaller and quieter lakes that has a rather nice 3 km lakeshore trail that alternates between forest and lakeside views.
The turn off to get here is just before the turn off for lake Minnewanka and two jack, fortunately Banff national park likes to name their roads after the destination it leads to!
So without sounding condescending, take the range road turn off to lake Minnewanka from highway 93, turn right onto lake Minnewanka turn off to the right and with the bow river directly in front of you in sight, take the Johnson lake road turn off.
This is also known as the locals lake so you can rest assured you can hike, bike, SUP or early morning paddle here largely undisturbed.
READ NEXT: This 3 day Banff Guide is the best resource for creating the Perfect Itinerary
Cave and Basin national historic site
Of historic value and importance to the First Nations Canadians and what led to the development of Canada’s first national park, the Cave and Basin national historic site is an underground thermal hot spring known to First Nations people for over 10,000 years prior to European discovery in 1853.
You can easily find this place at the foothills of Sulphur mountain but you can no longer swim or bathe in the springs themselves.
You can however join a guided tour of the Cave and basin national historic site and enjoy learning the history of the region through movies, guided tours and exhibits.
Overnight camping in Banff national park
One of the coolest things about visiting Banff national park in summer is overnight hiking trips.
There’s nothing better than getting a bunch of friends together for a night or two of camping in one of the dozens and dozens of overnight camping spots in Banff.
We could write an entire post on the best hikes in Banff national park but we will condense it to our top three hikes in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta.
Paradise Valley is an all day 20 km round trip to the giant steps, nestled between two of the most famous lakes in the Canadian Rockies; Moraine lake and lake Louise.
The trailhead for this hike begins at Moraine lake road with the first stop being at Lake Annette. To make this an overnight option make sure you reserve a spot at the Giant Steps backcountry campsite.
Spots to reserve the overnight camps only become available 24 hours prior to departure so make sure you check the Parks Canada website before going.
Healy Pass is a 20.9 km, 5-7 hour awesome Banff day hike that we think is best attempted in the fall of Banff when the Larch trees have turned yellow.
This trail begins at the Sunshine village car park and ends at Egypt lake after a long hike through forest for around 7-8 km before opening up to an alpine meadow with views of Mount Assiniboine.
Once you reach Egypt lake you can stay at the campground overnight and do a scramble up Pharaoh peak the next morning for epic views over Banff national park.
Sentinel Pass & Larch Valley is most probably one of the most popular day hikes in the Canadian Rockies. It does however attract thousands of photographers during the Larch season making this a super popular hike.
You could quite easily hike to the top of Sentinel Pass and turn around back to Moraine lake if you wanted to, or you could combine two epic hikes over two nights and come in the back of Sentinel Pass into Paradise Valley trail that will connect you through to lake Louise, making this an epic point to point Moraine lake hike and one of the most epic things to do in a Banff summer.v
Banff in the Summer FAQ
Is Banff worth visiting in summer
Heck yes. Banff is one of the most popular and attractive destinations on the tourist calendar in Alberta during the summer months for good reason.
Chairlifts re-open to the public, wildlife roam the parks in search of food, breweries and restaurants open their doors, lakes thaw out making perfect picnic weather and driving along world class roads are possible yet again.
It is an expensive time of year to visit but if you have ever dreamt of coming here, summer is the time to do it.
Can you expect to see the Northern lights in summer
People are often curious if it’s possible to see the northern lights in Banff in the summer, and whilst the answer is yes, there are some factors that affect this.
Firstly, the nights are a lot shorter during the summer so this limits the hours for potential star gazing, and whilst places like Banff, Jasper and Wood Buffalo are some of the largest dark sky reserves in the world thanks to their low light pollution this also does not guarantee a sighting.
Due to the geothermal nature of the northern lights, it is almost impossible to predict when and how strong the lights will shine and you will most likely be waiting to see them until 0200-0330 in the early hours of the morning.
One thing is for certain is do not plan a trip to Banff in the summer with high hopes of witnessing the Aurora Borealis as you will walk away disappointed.
Do I need a Parks pass to visit Banff in the Summer of 2023?
Yes, in order to visit Banff national park you will need to either pre-purchase a pass or pay at the gates. We strongly suggest that you pre-purchase your tickets for Banff as the line ups to buy passes can be extraordinarily long and boring.
As mentioned earlier there are two types of tickets to purchase:
Single Admission- This grants you access to only that park for which you are visiting on the day until 4pm and you cannot re-enter the following day using the same pass.
Unfortunately you cannot by a single park pass ONLINE for all national parks and only for the ones listed here.
This is the cheapest option for visiting Banff in the summer if you only plan on spending a day here.
SINGLE DAY PASS
Discovery Pass- By far the cheapest option if you plan on spending more than a few days in any of the national parks in Canada, the Discovery Pass gives you access to over 80 national parks within the jurisdiction of Parks Canada for a 12 month period.
If you’re planning on spending more than a week or so exploring Banff in the summer we highly recommend purchasing the Discovery Pass.
How long should I spend in Banff national park
We recommend spending at least one week in Banff in the summer for a few reasons but primarily the distance to travel. Banff is a LARGE national park and there is 6,641 square kilometres of wilderness and public area to see.
Driving along the Icefields parkway for example might only take you one day, but if you stop at everything along the way you’ll need 2-3 days at least!
You do have the option to do day trips from Calgary or Canmore if you don’t stay inside downtown Banff, just pick yourself up a Parks Canada day pass and do all your own exploring before 4 pm.
3 days in Banff will be packed full of non-stop sightseeing and driving around the national park, and if you’re interested in a short few days visit you could definitely do it in 3 days, however we would recommend more than a week to completely explore Banff national park.
How to get around Banff
Whilst you can get around Banff town and see all the unique and hidden lakes and activities in Banff in summer by using public transport, we personally love the freedom of having a rental car and driving ourselves at our own pace.
Hiring a car has never been easier with Rentalcars.com, simply pick your city, choose your car and start your adventures.
Best time of year to visit Banff
The summer months run between June to August for 3 months in total which is historically the warmest months, with days reaching over 30ºC consistently.
The shoulder season in September brings about cooler days, less crowds and shorter cues, however the warmest months will be behind you as the park transitions back into winter.
The crowds skyrocket in time for Banff’s summer activities come mid July in Banff national park and line ups for buses and shuttles can prove stressful, but that’s not to say it’s not do-able if you don’t mind crowds.
Certain lakes in the mountains require a parks Canada shuttle to visit which can be pre-purchased ahead of time.
Best places to stay in Banff national park
The great thing about staying in the Canadian Rockies is that most accommodation options give you epic mountain views (most of the time) and if they don’t, you’re not very far from seeing them.
We love going to Banff every year, but bear in mind that accommodation does sell out fairly quickly.
Best budget backpackers accommodation – Hi Banff alpine centre
Less than 5 minutes drive from Banff town the crew here offer dorm style rooms like a hostel as well as private rooms that all have access to the centre’s on-site cafe, free wifi, self catering kitchens and a bar.
Cougar Pete’s is the full serviced restaurant on-site with a wide selection of food to choose.
Guests of the Hi Banff also get free use of the local transport system giving you access to the lakes in the area.
Best mid-range accommodation- Banff rocky mountain resort
A little outside of Banff town no more than 7 minutes away with everything from a pool, gym, squash courts, outdoor tennis court and an indoor/outdoor hot tub, this highly rated accommodation is perfect for your next stay in Banff.
Guests here can enjoy free parking and wifi, tea and coffee makers in all 32m2 rooms with air-conditioning to keep you cool in the heat of summer and a flat screen tv for when you need a night in.
Best luxury accommodation – Fairmont Banff springs hotel
It goes without saying that one of the oldest hotels in Banff is also one of the most popular and luxurious stays in all of the national parks..
Built in 1888 just minutes away from the best ski slopes in Banff national park, the springs hotel has over 11 restaurants and 14 shops to pass the days away. Did we also mention a 32 yard lap pool and a 20 yard heated outdoor pool?
A shuttle service is also available for guests to be dropped off at the nearby ski resorts of Mount Norquay, sunshine village and lake Louise ski village. This place has been highly rated for their super comfortable bedding averaging a 9.4 on booking.com reviews.
Where to eat in Banff
We find Banff to have a great mix of international options to choose from, all of which are located either on Banff Ave or just around the corner in the heart of town.
Greek food – The Balkan Greek Restaurant
Location: 120 Banff Ave, Banff
Recommendation: Vegetarian Moussaka
Italian Food – The Old Spaghetti factory
Location: 2nd floor, 317 Banff ave
Recommendation: Fettuccine Alfredo
Pizza – Bear St tavern
Location: 211 Bear st, Banff
Recommendation: Any pizza here is ridiculously good, the secret to their deliciousness is that you add honey and chilli sauce onto your slices – it’s so amazing!