Although it’s known as a winter destination, there are so many things to do in Banff in the summer that it’s difficult to know where to start.
The town with a population of 8,400 could easily be just another dot on the map, were it not for the gorgeous scenery that surrounds it.
Watched over by four towering mountains – Rundle, Sulphur, Norquay and Cascade – the resort town is one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations with around three to four million people visiting every year!
Travellers mainly come here to explore Banff National Park, a designated UN World Heritage Site since 1985. In fact, many twenty and thirty-somethings decide to stay and work for a season.
Waiters, shopkeepers, even bar managers – more people will greet you with an Australian or British accent here than in some places in their home countries.
In the winter, Banff is the epicentre of all things skiing and snowboarding. There are three ski resorts within the national park – Sunshine Village, Ski Norquay and Lake Louise Mountain Resort – and many places where you can get the party started with a proper acres ski session in the town itself.
Things to do in Banff in the summer
But that still doesn’t answer your question. What are the best things to do in Banff in the summer? Here are my top suggestions…
1. Go Canoeing
I’ve chosen canoeing as my number one tip because it’s a wonderful way to work out, get some sunshine and take in the nature all at once!
Vermillion Lake is your best bet if you want to stay relatively close to the centre – Banff Canoe Club is just off the high street, sitting quietly between Bow Avenue and Wolf Street.
All the streets in the area have animal names, like Moose, Lynx, Caribou or Bear Street. So adorable!
Lake Louise is another great option, if you’re willing to go on a 40 minute drive first – a lovely scenic drive, I should say. While there, you could also have delicious afternoon tea in Chateau Lake Louise’s luxurious Lakeview Lounge.
It’s hard to believe, but those alpine views will get even more beautiful when accompanied by English scones, miniature custard tarts and strawberry-topped shortbread.
2. Spot Wildlife
Alberta was made for wildlife spotting. All those street names I just told you about? They’re based on animals that live in the area, roaming freely from majestic mountain to crooked creek, day and night.
No one can guarantee you will see any of these stealthy creatures, but if you’re patient (and careful!) you could be going home with an amazing bear selfie!
I wasn’t particularly lucky in my animal adventures, but I still got to see a woodpecker, a coyote’s butt as it ran from me in horror and countless prairie dogs like the cute guy in the photo above.
3. Go fishing on Lake Minnewanka
As an honorary Brit I find its name absolutely hilarious, but minnewanka actually means “water of the spirits” in Nakoda, one of the local indigenous languages. As such, it’s the perfect fishing spot for novices and experts alike.
The lake lies about 8 km (5 miles) from the town of Banff and its the largest lake in the entire national park. I’m not sure you’ll be able to catch any spirits, but I hear the lake is full of trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish. The site is usually open from mid-May till late August, so go now!
4. Take a gondola up Sulphur Mountain
Sulphur Mountain, which quietly watches over the town of Banff, is a pretty special place. It used to be home to a meteorological observatory built in 1903, which you can still see (and peek inside) on top of Sanson Peak.
Norman Bethune Sanson was the research facility’s employee who diligently hiked up to it to check the recording equipment for almost 30 years. In fact, he made the trop more than a thousand times while working as the park meteorologist until 1945, when he turned 84. What a man!
Nowadays you can simply take the gondola up to see the spectacular views. But if you’d rather follow in Sanson’s footsteps, there’s a wide trail that you can follow from the Banff Hot Springs (a place I will tell you about in just a minute) to the summit.
5. Eat at Park Distillery
Banff is a wonderful place to go out and get a little wild, so don’t miss a chance to explore the place by night! My favourite place to have a drink and watch life go by was by far Park Distillery.
It’s quite literally the new kid in town as it had just been opened for a week when I visited… and all of its three levels were completely packed!
When you take a proper look at the menu, it quickly becomes clear why. The cocktails are carefully crafted – the Sazerac knocked me off my feet although I was sitting down – and the food is cooked on an open campfire in the kitchen!
6. Watch the sunset
You can find incredible sunsets all over the world (some of the most beautiful I’ve seen were in Santorini), but it’s just one of those things that never gets old or stops being romantic. There are a few great sunset watching spot in and around Banff – three really great options in particular.
The first is going up Mount Norquay, which is a little far from the city but definitely worth it. The second is hiking up Tunnel Mountain, which will take you less than 45 minutes from the centre of Banff, and watching the sunset from the top.
If you do either of these, don’t forget to bring a headlamp for your trip back down – you never know in this neck of the woods! The more low key option is to go down to Vermillion Lake and watch the sun go down from the docks. Bring insect repellent though – those little buggers love to bite.
7. See Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is one of those places that will make you want to weep with how gorgeous it is. Look at how turquoise that water is! That’s not Photoshop, my friends – that’s reality. It’s actually that shade of blue.
It gets pretty crowded up top, near where my photo was taken, but there are loads of paths leading up and down the mountain which will make you feel like you’re alone in this beautiful world and this is just your backyard… no big deal…
8. Go horseback riding
Few things will make you feel as invincible as looking at the world while sitting on horseback! I didn’t actually have time to try this out in Banff myself, but there are a few companies that will allow you to unleash your inner cowboy in the area.
For those who would rather sit back and relax, there is the option of a horse-drawn carriage ride which could be pretty romantic with the right person sitting beside you.
9. Relax at Banff Upper Hot Springs
I completely fell in love with Banff Upper Hot Springs when I realised that they let you rent vintage-inspired bath suits from the 1900s, like the one I’m wearing in the photo above. How cool is that?
Relaxing by this pool full of warm water with incredible mountain views, I felt like a Hollywood starlet on summer vacation – and in my opinion that’s one of the most relaxing feelings ever.
10. Check out Canmore
If you get a little sick of Banff – an adorable place, no doubt, but full of tourists – you might want to escape to nearby Canmore for a while. Canmore is actually bigger than Banff but an oasis away from the crowds of rowdy seasonal workers.
The town has a large network of walkways, which you can safely walk on and explore the neighbouring area. You can also go caving in Rat’s Nest Cave, explore the local Nordic Centre which was originally constructed for the 1988 Winter Olympics for cross-country skiing or go unicycling in the local bike skills park!
Oh, Banff! Now you can see my opening paragraph was true – there are indeed so many things to do in Banff in the summer that it’s difficult to know where to start! Hopefully this short guide has given you a few great ideas though.
If not, there’s always trekking, biking, horseback riding and a million other things you can do in this beautiful Canadian mountain paradise…
Have you ever been to Banff? How do you feel about visiting stereotypically winter destinations in the summer? Which would be your favourite things to do in Banff?