Serving as the eastern gateway to Banff National Park, the town of Banff serves as a great basecamp for exploring the park as well as the numerous highlights surrounding the town, itself. In the summer months, the most popular activities range from hiking, mountain biking, and paddling the lakes and rivers to more scenic helicopter flights that take you high up into the Rockies. Whatever you choose to do, head out early to beat the crowds and make the most of your time in the mountains!

Go Canoeing on Bow River or Moraine Lake

Bow River, Banff National Park
The winding turquoise waters of the Bow River near Banff

For those with river experience, rent a canoe or kayak in Banff and float down the turquoise waters of the Bow River. Better yet, bring along picnic supplies and stop on one of the islands or rivers banks to enjoy your lunch. For something more relaxing, you can also canoe one of the turquoise lakes that the Canadian Rockies is famous for, such as the beautiful Moraine Lake

Take a Scenic Helicopter Flight over the Rockies

Spectacular views during at Mt. Assiniboine heli-tour
Spectacular views during at Mt. Assiniboine heli-tour

For something unique, splurge for a helicopter sightseeing flight over the Canadian Rockies where you'll get a front-row seat to epic mountain views. Flights range from 15-30 minutes depending on the tour, where you can join a group or request a private flight. Between late June to the end of September, you can also go heli-hiking, where you'll get dropped off in the alpine for 2-3 hours of hiking before getting picked up for your return flight. 

Hit the Trails on Mountain Bike

Mountain biking near Lake Minnewanka (Paul Zizka)
Mountain biking near Lake Minnewanka (Paul Zizka)

With plenty of bike rental shops in Banff, this is a great chance to hit the trails either on an easy cross-country ride (such as the Tunnel Mountain Bench Trail) or a more technical single-track route (such as the Stoney Squaw Trail). No matter your age or technical level, there are a number of trails for families and for those looking for a dose of adrenaline. (The town of Banff, itself, also has bike lanes and there are ample paved trails that take you to popular sights around town, such as Vermilion Lakes.) 

Hike up Sulphur Mountain

Hike to a local summit above Banff
Views of Banff from Sulphur Mountain

Right above the town of Banff, you can walk or run a series of strenuous switchbacks for 3.4 miles (5.5 km) to the Upper Gondola Terminal on Sulphur Mountain. The ascent will take around 1-2 hours (one way) and take you up 2,300 ft. (700 m). From the top, enjoy the great views of Mount Rundle and Cascade mountain. (Or, you can pay to take the gondola up and down if you're just looking for great views.)

Evening Cruise on Lake Minnewanka

Boat cruise on Lake Minnewanka (Mike Seehagel)
Boat cruise on Lake Minnewanka (Mike Seehagel)

One of Banff's more popular activities, head out on a one-hour cruise of nearby Lake Minnewanka for views over the Fairholme Range and the iconic Mount Inglismaldie. Cruises run from early May to mid-October and depart every 30 minutes from the boat dock near the car park. The small boats hold 30-50 people. (Don't miss the 90-minute Beer Voyage Cruise, which departs in the summer evenings and serves up some of the best local craft beers of Banff.)

Go Climbing on Mount Norquay's Via Ferrata

Via Ferrata climbing route high above the valley in Banff
Via Ferrata climbing route high above the valley in Banff

The closest mountain to Banff, Mount Norquay towers above the town. Arrange for a guided climb (three hours) that takes you across bridges and rock faces on a protected climbing route that follows a series of fixed iron cables. If this isn't for you, Mount Norquay also has a chairlift that takes you to a restaurant on top with great views over Banff (as well as numerous hiking trails that radiate out from the parking lot).

Spot Wildlife on the Bow Valley Parkway

Johnston Canyon, Bow Valley Parkway
Johnston Canyon, Bow Valley Parkway

Just a short distance (5 miles / 7 km) west of Banff, take an early morning drive on the Bow Valley Parkway for some of your best chances to spot wildlife. There are numerous viewpoints and day hikes to enjoy, as well, such as the three-hour (return) hike to the upper and lower waterfalls of Johnston Canyon. Bring a picnic lunch and make it a half-day trip if you get an early morning start. 

Kayak or Canoe on Vermilion Lakes

Kayaking on Vermilion Lakes near Banff (Noel Hendrickson)
Kayaking on Vermilion Lakes near Banff (Noel Hendrickson)

Right next to the town, Vermilion Lakes is one of the most picturesque spots in Banff to go canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, or biking along the trails that surround the lakes (boats and bikes can be rented in Banff). Try to plan your outing in the morning or near sunset for the best natural light and to avoid the crowds. 

Spend a Day Hiking in Banff National Park

Sentinel Pass (Jake Dyson)
Sentinel Pass (Jake Dyson)

For those looking to hit the trails and get up higher in the mountains, Banff serves as a great basecamp for full-day hikes in Banff National Park. There are numerous trails to choose from with varying degrees of difficulty, that take anywhere from 5 to 9 hours (including getting to and from the trailhead). Generally, it's best to hike with at least two people (for safety reasons) or to hire an experienced local guide from one of the local trekking companies in Banff.  

Explore Banff National Park by Horseback

Trail riding near Banff (Noel Hendrickson)
Trail riding near Banff (Noel Hendrickson)

Explore Banff National Park by horseback on a variety of local trails. You can cross rivers, visit historical sites, and enjoy some unique views of the park while keeping your eyes open for wildlife. There are one-hour trail rides as well as longer rides that take you deeper into the park (with the option to overnight, as well).

Visit Historical Sites & Museums

The thermal waters of Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the birthplace of Canada's national parks
The thermal waters of Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the birthplace of Canada's national parks

Located on the edge of the town of Banff, Cave and Basin National Historic Site is where Canada's National Park system began in 1885. Naturally occurring hot springs are found both in the cave (accessed via a dimly lit tunnel) and outside in an emerald basin, with a boardwalk leading to a vent hole. You can explore the caves on your own or with a guided tour, and plan to spend at least 1-3 hours at the caves and museum.