Best Time to Visit Banff National Park – Banff National Park is a spectacular area on the Canadian side of Rocky Mountain. It offers hiking trails for all experience levels, and amazing scenery that covers 6,641 square kilometers of area. It also has several interesting outdoor activity spots, and modern facilities to accommodate visitors. Learn the best time to visit Banff and the most recommended activities here.
- Best Time to Visit Banff National Park
- Banff National Park Activities
Best Time to Visit Banff National Park
Banff National Park has a subarctic climate, with characteristics such as mild summer and snowy winter. The park is open all-year round, but the best time to visit is generally December-March and June-August; the first is for ski lovers, and the second is for nature observers. However, there are always ways to visit this national park every month.
Visiting between April and May
Early spring is a great time to visit for nature lovers. During these months, visitors may experience warmer weather with occasional blizzards. While weather can be a little surprising, spring is a good time to spot various wild animals and blossoming plants. The annual Banff Yoga Festival is held every May, which is a great way to spend time in this national park.
Signs of winter may not cease completely in these months. Some scenic roads may still be closed, and lakes in higher position are still frozen (or just partially melted). Higher hiking trails may still be closed, and snow storms occasionally happen.
Visiting between June and August
Summer is the best and most popular time to visit Banff National Park. The weather is mostly clear, and the temperature is the warmest. The lakes start to melt, and the hiking trails are in their best conditions for all visitors. Biking, canoeing, and horse riding are also great activities to do during these months. Grizzly bears often come to the lower elevation to eat, so this is the best time to do bear-seeing tour.
June is a highlighted month for various activities, such as Banff annual marathon and outdoor musical performance. However, June is also the wettest month during this warm period, and visitors may expect occasional summer rains.
Visiting between September and November
Autumn is not exactly an ideal period for outdoor activities in Banff National Park. The temperature starts to get colder, the weather is windy, and blizzards are more common. Visitors can see leaves turning yellow and red during these months, but if a blizzard comes, all the beautiful leaves will be wiped out.
September and November are the busiest months in Banff’s activity calendar. There are several highlights during these months, such as Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, annual craft beer festival, and Christmas market. Meanwhile, Winterstart Festival invites visitors to have fun during the cold period in this national park.
Visiting between December and March
December, January, and February are the coldest times in Banff, but they are ideal for ski lovers. The overall temperature in this area is between zero and 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 to 1 degree Celsius), but the weather condition may be different between various areas. The snowy scenery is amazing, but since people are likely to spend time indoor, hotel fare is usually more expensive.
Visitors who come in January will be greeted with Ice Magic Festival. Held annually near the frozen Lake Louise, this festival boasts various ice carvings and statues. Ice sculptors from various countries come to show off their skills in making spectacular frozen arts.
Banff National Park Activities
Banff National Park offers various outdoor activities, perfect for all ages and expertise levels. Here are the most recommended activities to do.
1. Banff National Park Hiking
Hiking is the most popular activity in Banff, ideal to enjoy warm weather during spring and summer. Banff has various hiking trails, each with its own special feature. The total length of hiking trails in this national park is 1,600 kilometers, ranging from easy tracks to challenging hike toward hilltops.
Here are some of the most popular and best hiking trails in Banff:
- Consolation Lakes (11.4 kilometers).
Consolation Lakes trail offers easy to moderate challenge. The surrounding scenery is beautiful, dominated by forest, boulders, marshland, and mountain peaks. The trail also offers majestic view toward Moraine Lake. This trail is open from March to September.
Experienced hikers may travel solo, but using professional guide is the most recommended option. Guides will help hikers avoiding the grizzly bear, and giving information about flora and fauna in the area.
- Sunshine Meadows (11.9 kilometers).
The trail has moderate-level difficulty, with a rough and steep dirt path. However, the trail also offers beautiful meadow and wildflower sceneries. The trail is open from June to August, and starting right from the parking lot at Sunshine Village.
- Cory Pass (13 kilometers).
This is one of the most challenging hiking routes in Banff, with a steep, rocky, and rugged trail. Starting from Fireside Picnic Area, this trail requires hikers to climb for about 900 meters, way above the trees. Hikers must bring a lot of water, since the trek can take 5 to 6 hours to finish.
2. Banff Horseback Riding
Banff National Park offers cowboy-like sensation with horseback riding activity for all ages. Visitors will receive basic horse riding training at Warner Stables, and be given friendly horses. The journey starts from Warner Stables to riding trail along the Bow River. Riders can enjoy a majestic view of the river, boulders, and natural hot springs.
The ideal time to join a horseback riding in Banff is between April and October. A professional guide will take riders through the riding trails safely while giving explanations about the environment. All riding equipment is provided by the stable.
3. White Water Rafting Banff
Banff National Park has several popular spots for rafting. Horseshoe Canyon offers challenges of navigating giant rapids and jumping the cliff. This rafting trail has become one of the most popular places in Canada to shot outdoor scenes for Hollywood movies. Horseshoe Canyon is open for moderately to highly experienced rafters.
For more family-friendly rafting, Kananaskis River is the more suitable option. Half of the river is more like a playful ride, with a relatively moderate surge. The river is wide and surrounded with forest, creating an amazing experience. Kananaskis River is suitable for beginner rafters, and a great place to introduce children to this sport.
4. Kayaking and Canoeing
Kayaking and canoeing are recommended activities during spring and summer in Banff National Park. There are several lakes in Banff that become popular for these activities, such as Two Jack Lake, Bow Lake, and Johnson Lake. These lakes are surrounded by beautiful scenery, perfect for spending time on the water. There is a club called The Banff Canoe Club, which helps visitors who are interested in exploring lakes, even the beginners.
A more relaxing version of water exploration is float raft tour. Visitors will sit in a group on floating raft, steered by an experienced guide. The raft will take visitors to explore the famous Bow Valley through its water body. This trip is perfect for families and photographers, because they can just focus on the surroundings and guide’s explanations.
Summer is the perfect time for mountain biking in Banff. This national park has biking trails with different levels of difficulties. Here are the most recommended biking trails based on their difficulty:
- Banff Legacy Trail and Vermillion Lakes Road.
These roads are known as “baby-friendly” biking trails, since parents can attach bike trailers with babies inside, and take them to bike journey safely. These routes are paved and located near public places, but the traffic condition is relatively low. Banff Legacy Trail stretches 22.5 kilometers, but this road is more baby-friendly than Vermillion Lakes Road.
- Fenland, Spray, and Bow River Loops.
Biking trails near Fenland, Spray, and Bow Rivers are perfect for beginner bikers. They do not have a high elevation, and the elevation changes are not too extreme. Visitors can rest at various spots, and enjoy the beautiful view. Some of the trails, especially in Spray River area, mix double tracks with a fine road.
- Tunnel Mountain and Ross Lake.
Biking trails along the Tunnel Mountain and Ross Lake offer a medium-level challenge. A trail called Blue Loop is a perfect place to make a transition between beginner and intermediate levels. For those who want to tackle more extreme route, there is a trail called The Toe, which offers various descents and climbs.
- Moraine Lake Highline and Lake Minnewanka.
High trails around Moraine Lake and Lake Minnewanka are perfect for the most experienced bikers. There are a lot of descents, climbs, twists, and turns that will put the stamina to an extreme challenge. A trail called Top Notch is equipped with boardwalks and rock gardens, which present extra challenge in otherwise natural biking route.
6. ATV Tours
ATV tours in Banff National Park gives adventurous vibe for outdoor activity lovers. There are two popular areas for ATV tour: Paradise Ridge and the old mining town. Paradise Ridge presents challenging, rugged trail, starting from 4,200 feet of elevation, and finishing at 9,000 fee-high mountain top. Meanwhile, the old mining town is more like a combination between scenic and historical tour, with a more forgiving route.
ATV riding in Banff is not recommended for people under 16 years old. The most recommended times to do ATV adventure are May-October and June-September. Tour management provides not only the rides, but also all the safety equipment and refreshments.
7. Rock Climbing
Mount Norquay is the most popular spot for rock climbing in Banff. The mount has a climbing area called Via Ferrata (“Iron Road”), which is open for climbers from all levels (including the inexperienced). Climbers will be fastened with various safety cables, harnesses, and anchors. Visitors must join orientation session before starting the climb.
Via Ferrata offers trails with different climbing durations, from 2.5 to 6 hours. Summiteer is the longest and most challenging route in Mount Norquay, with a 360-degree view on the top. Rock climbing is a perfect activity for June-October period, and visitors can visit the historic Cliffhouse Bistro. Visitors must be at least 12 years old to join the short excursion, and 16 years old to try the longest rock climbing trail.
8. Cave Exploration
Banff National Park has a cave formation called Canmore Caves, famous for its vertical cave called the Rat’s Nest. The inside of the caves was mostly shaped by the water stream. Visitors can see magnificent rock formations, pool grotto, and underground chambers. While the caves may be full of twisted passageways, cave exploration is generally safe for beginners.
Canmore Caves are open for children above 10 years old. While the rappelling may be challenging, the trip is quite straightforward, and visitors should only follow the guide’s instructions to finish the exploration. Visitors will be split into groups with eight members per guide. All the equipment is provided by the management office in Canmore.
The temperature inside Canmore Caves is not affected by the weather outside. Therefore, cave exploration in Banff is an activity that can be done all year round.
9. Banff Gondola Riding
Gondola riding is a leisure activity everyone can join. The most popular gondola ride is located close to the Town of Banff, right next to Sulphur Mountain. This gondola ride is open all-year round, taking four passengers per carriage. The gondola station has observation deck with 360-degree view.
Sunshine Village gondola ride is a new addition to Banff gondola experience. The gondola takes eight passengers per carriage, presenting a view from 2,400 meters of height. The main attractions of Sunshine Village gondola ride are views toward Rocky Mountain and Lake Louise. Unlike in the lower Town of Banff, Sunshine Village gondola ride is open between June and September, when the view is clear.
Another gondola ride is available closer to Lake Louise, in the middle of ski resort area. This ride is only open between May and October. The more adventurous visitors can use an open chair instead of enclosed gondola. The ride takes visitors to 2,088 meters of height, above pine forests, wildflowers, lake, mountain tops, and glaciers.
Banff National Park is a famous place for skiing, and December to April is the most ideal period to do this sport. There are several ski resorts that offer experiences for beginners and experts. Ski slope in Banff has powder-like snow, and some of the most challenging routes (like Back Bowls and Delirium Dive) offer a steep path for a free ride.
Fairmont Banff Springs, Tunnel Mountain, and Rimrock Resort Hotel are some of the most recommended places to stay during winter. However, Banff recently saw the opening of new ski resorts: Sunshine Village, Mt. Norquay, and Lake Louise Ski Resorts. These new resorts added 8,000 acres of ski venue, with additional facilities such as ski school, grizzly bear viewing tour, and gondola trip.
Visitors can also enjoy Heli Ski, a helicopter trip that brings people to certain spots in Rocky Mountain. Visitors can immediately ride the snow from the helicopter. This trip is suitable for skiers or snowboarders with medium to advanced level of experience.
11. Ice Skating
For those who prefer something less challenging than skiing, ice skating can be an option. Several resorts in Banff have their own skating rinks, but there are several outdoor spots that become natural rinks once they are frozen. People usually skate on these frozen spots in early winter, before heavy snow falls.
Bow River A is a name of the natural rink that is located near the famous Bow River. This place is popular because the location is easy to reach. The ice surface is usually quite clear, and there are some maintenance efforts to keep the surface smooth, although there can be some bumps or cracks. Elks sometimes wander to the frozen spot and leave tracks.
Other frozen spots perfect for skating are Two Jack Lake, Vermillion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, and Johnson Lake. These locations are surrounded by the beautiful view, but skaters must pay attention to the condition of the frozen surface. If heavy snow falls, do not skate. Wait until the snow is cleared.
12. Dog Sledding
Dog sledding is a great winter adventure for all ages, popular from December to April. Lake Louise, Goat Pond, and Spray Lakes are popular locations for dog sledding Depending on the location and package; the dog sledding trip may last between 30 minutes and 4 hours. Visitors will be accompanied by a professional guide, who explains about the location during the trip.
Banff also offers a combo trip called Flight of the Great Snowy Owls. This is a combination between helicopter trip and dog sledding. The trip is exclusive, with only three people per group to ensure more intimate experience. The whole journey takes around 2.5 hours from start to finish.
13. Horse Sleigh Riding
Less adventurous but more leisure, horse sleigh riding is a trip through snowy trails in Bow River Valley. The sleigh is drawn by friendly horses, which visitors can pet. The ride takes the passengers to remote spots that are hard to reach by walking during winter.
Horse sleigh riding is available from December to March. There are options for large group and romantic riding for two.
Banff National Park offers a wide range of activities all-year round, with different natural beauty in each season. Plan your itineraries well to enjoy all the fun Banff has to offer.