Banff has always been on my bucket list of places I had to visit. Ever since seeing those amazing blue/green colors of Lake Louise I have been clamoring to go to this beautiful destination. Of course, being from Southern California, I wasn’t exactly sure how I would handle the cold weather Canada had to offer. Finally, we decided to take a leap and head to enjoy a Banff Summer, it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. As it truly is the best time to visit Banff. There are so many incredible things to do, to be perfectly honest, even after seven days in Banff, we could have easily done seven more. There is that much to do.
The Ultimate Guide to a Banff Summer – The Best Time to Visit Banff
Parks Canada Pass
Before we get started on all the fun stuff, the one thing you need when you are in Banff is a Parks Canada Pass. The Parks Canada Pass allows you to enjoy all the incredible hikes, outdoor activities and simply the beauty of Banff. When you arrive in Banff, one of the first things you will encounter is a bunch of booths (and quite possibly a long line) where you purchase a Parks Canada Pass. However, you can save yourself a ton of time by buying your pass online and heading down the prepaid line where you do not have to stop. I highly recommend doing so. You can purchase your passes online here. Not sure how long you should stay? Check out this article from We3Travel on a great 7-10 day sample itinerary for the Canadian Rockies.
Discover Banff & Wildlife Tour
One of the great things to do during a Banff summer is to take a Discover Banff & Wildlife Tour. It’s a great way to start off a trip as the tour takes you around some of the amazingly beautiful spots that Banff has to offer. The tour is three hours long and you will get to check out Bow Falls, Lake Minnewanka and the incredible view at “Surprise Corner”
At first, I was a little nervous to take a three-hour car ride with our feisty 4-year-old, but the frequent stops at some of these absolutely beautiful places kept her plenty busy where she did not get bored once (I think the Maple cookie they offer also helped).
In addition, the highlight for me was we did get to see some wildlife, including a brown bear and some elk. It’s really a great way to get your trip started off and get acquainted with this great town. You can book tours online and I highly recommend booking early as these tours do book up fast. Check current prices here
Explore a Glacier & Stand on a Glass Floor 900 Feet Above the Ground!
If you asked my husband what his favorite thing to do in Banff was, he would definitely say it was Exploring a Glacier over at the Canadian Ice Fields. About a 90-minute drive from Banff you will find yourself certainly at a one of a kind experience that is the iconic glacier adventure. Along the drive, make sure to look for beautiful glaciers and many animals. We saw four bears (stay in your car when you see one).
First off, there are two experiences in the glacier adventure as you get taken from the ice to the sky. I highly recommend getting the package that is for both experiences as both are definitely something you will want to do. It’s about $90 for adults and $45 for kids (5 and under are free).
The first experience you get to walk on the Athabasca glacier, but the adventure first begins on getting to the glacier. You hop on a giant Ice Explorer with massive tires designed to navigate driving on a glacier. It is a fun ride as the guides are hilarious and also a tiny bit harrowing as you travel down the steepest non-paved road in North America.
Once you are on the Glacier, it is such a neat experience, this particular glacier was 2,000 feet deep (taller than the Eiffel tower) The weather for us that day was crazy as the wind was blowing and snow was whipping around, but it really made the experience that much more enjoyable as it really felt adventurous.
*Pro Tip* – Bring an empty water bottle with you and they will fill it up directly from a hole in the glacier. That’s some cold refreshing water
After, visiting the glacier, we took a bus to the glacier skywalk, an incredible glass walkway that sits 280 meters (around 900 feet for us Americans) above the Sunwapta Valley. The views are absolutely stunning and the kids absolutely loved looking down on the glass bridge to the bottom of the valley (in fact Olivia lied on the glass bridge and made imaginary snow angels). The skywalk is truly a one of a kind experience. Check Current Prices Here
Banff Sightseeing Gondola
If Banff isn’t beautiful enough from the ground, take the Banff Sightseeing Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for some of the most amazing views of Banff. Once you are at the top there is a fun little interactive area for the kids to enjoy, plus floor to ceiling windows that allow you to capture the view from the inside.
If you want to venture out there is a nice walkway that takes you along the ridgeline of the mountain to a historic site, the Cosmic Ray Station. Once you get there you are at the top of Sulphur mountain and it’s really a great time for some nice photo opportunities. Check Current Prices Here!
*Fun Fact* Stop by the highest Starbucks in Canada which is located at the base of the Gondola.
Kananaskis White Water Rafting
Dad and the boys headed off on an incredible day of White Water rafting from Kananaskis White Water Rafting. The white water rafting adventure has two different levels of tours. The boys took the level 2/3 rapids, but there is also a 3/4 rapids tour for more experienced rafters. The day starts off with suiting up in some wetsuits provided by the whitewater rafting company, as the water is a bit chilly.
One of the highlights of the tour is the guides, they are fun and informative. They had the boys laughing the whole time. Plus they were also excellent at making sure to keep everyone safe. One of the boys favorite parts of the raft ride was being able to sit on the front of the raft as it headed towards a rapid and getting completely submerged (something I would not do). While I was not there, I loved that the tour had camera people setup throughout the journey so I could get some amazing pics of the kiddos on the tour. Check Current Prices Here!
Visit Lake Louise
After a super fun day at the glaciers, my husband really wanted to see Lake Louise as it was on the route back to our hotel in Banff. I was a little hesitant at first as I did not think the kids were up for another hike. Luckily, it is super easy to get to Lake Louise. It is probably a 5-minute walk from the parking lot located next to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
To say Lake Louise is stunning would be an understatement. The turquoise blue water is something you simply cannot stop staring at. I loved seeing the canoes out on the water with the beautiful mountains in the background. We were a little too tired to do some canoeing but we really enjoyed the view.
*Pro Tip – Crowds tend to gather right at the center of Lake Louise, head about 30 feet to the left and you will find yourself all alone for some spectacular views and pictures. This is definitely one of the Best things to do in Banff
Enjoy a Horseback Ride and Cookout!
As many of you know, I absolutely love horses. Going for a horseback ride during a Banff summer was one of the things I was really looking forward to doing. We booked a Horseback Ride and Cookout with Banff Trail Riders. When we pulled up I was so so excited. You could see how beautiful this ride would be and how the horses were very well taken. The 4 older kids and I headed out on the trail rides and cowboy cookout. Mike and Olivia took the wagon ride as she was not old enough to ride. It really worked out perfect as the wagon meets you at the cookout.
The trail ride takes you along the Bow River and it was hard to decide what to look at, the beauty of the horses, the river, the mountains, the smiles on my kids’ faces, it was just such a neat experience.
After about a 30-minute trail ride we stopped for a delicious cookout. Steaks were made to order and then you could make your baked potato. The kids enjoyed the hot cocoa and loved learning how to lasso a bull.
After lunch, we headed back on the horses for a completely different part of the trail. The ride back was my personal favorite as we were right along the Bow River. It was just such a neat experience. Mike and Liv enjoyed sitting in the wagon. The guides told stories about the bears of Banff including the most famous bear in Banff, “Boss.” Boss is 17 years old, 8 feet tall and over 1,00o lbs. The wagons are also supplied with some nice heavy blankets which Olivia definitely loved snuggling under. Check prices for the Cowboy Cookout Here
Canmore Cave Tours
If you are looking for an experience that you will never forget in your life than Canmore Cave Tours is right up your alley. Dad and our two older boys headed off on this tour and have not stopped talking about how incredibly amazing the experience was. You can check out our full review of Canmore Cave Tours Here.
Some of their favorite highlights of the cave were the “squeezes” where you slide into spaces which seem like you would never be able to get through but then end up in this amazing space. They also loved repelling 60 feet down the cliff inside the cave and the laundry chute, which basically is like going down a laundry chute. This is a super fun experience and something you should definitely check out. Check Current Prices Here
Now, if you asked mom, what one of her favorite things to do in Banff, I would say definitely it was seeing a concert at the Banff Centre. Ella and I got to see an incredible concert by Serena Ryder at the Banff Centre. Before we headed into the concert the family ate an incredible meal at the MacLab Bistro (you can read more about it here)
The reason I loved the concert, besides the fact that Serena Ryder is an incredible performer, is that the Banff Centre has such an incredible atmosphere. It is both relaxed and intimate. Unlike a concert in the states where you are packed in with people, hassling with parking, this venue was simply amazing. One of the reasons the summer is the best time to visit Banff is there is an incredible lineup of concerts and activities at the Banff Centre. You can check out all the summer activities in the Banff Centre here
Enjoy some incredible Dining
The one thing that surprised me the most about Banff was the incredible dining that this little town had to offer. I would have to say that I had some of the best meals of my life in Banff. (You can actually check out my complete guide to Banff Restaurants here)
Some of our absolute favorites are:
Overall, we could not have had a better experience than the one we had in Banff. Every single one of the kids wanted to stay longer (and not head back home to video games). I could have honestly stayed for a month. Banff should definitely be on your bucket list. Returning to Banff for the beauty of winter is now on my bucket list.
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