With its snow-capped mountain peaks reflected in turquoise lakes, exploring the picture-postcard sights of Banff National Park are a must when visiting the Canadian Rockies.
Our First Passage to the West rail route travels between Vancouver and Banff National Park. The mountain resort of Banff is located within the park so many of our guests stay for a few days before or after their journey to explore the town.
Venturing further afield in Banff National Park on your Rocky Mountaineer vacation is easy, whether you’re joining a day tour, renting a car, taking public transit, or just using your own two feet. The hardest part is deciding what you should see, so we’ve put together a guide on how to spend 48 hours in Banff National Park to help you plan your own trip.
48 Hours in Banff National Park
Explore Banff Avenue
Lined with an eclectic mix of shops, galleries, museums and restaurants, Banff Avenue is the bustling hub of this iconic mountain town. Wander along the picturesque street and admire the sights. Banff has a wide variety of shops, so you’ll find everything from big clothing brands to local art and souvenirs. As you explore Banff Avenue, keep an eye out for local wildlife. It’s not uncommon to witness deer commuting through the town from time to time!
Venture up Sulphur Mountain for fantastic views
The reason for getting to the summit of Sulphur Mountain is the same for everyone: the spectacular views of six mountain ranges, the Bow Valley, and the town of Banff itself. But how you get there is up to you. If you’re ambitious, tackle the moderate hike; if you’re not, opt for the Banff Gondola instead. Open all year round, the Banff Gondola climbs 698 metres (2,292 feet) in eight minutes. At the top, you’ll be greeted by awe-inspiring views. Explore the observation decks and the interpretive boardwalks before walking a bit further to the Cosmic Ray Station and the old Weather Station to learn more about Sulphur Mountain’s history.
Stroll along Bow River and admire Bow Falls
Only a few steps away from downtown Banff, this riverside trail follows Bow River and leads to the beautiful Bow Falls. Take a gentle stroll along the paved path and enjoy the view looking down over the waterfall. If you continue along the path, you’ll find some steps down to the south shore of the river where you can sit and listen to the sound of the water crashing over the rocks.
Take to the trails for incredible vistas
You don’t have to venture very far from Banff Avenue to find some of Banff’s best views. Named for its spectacular view of the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Surprise Corner is less than 2 km from the end of Banff Avenue. Walk along the Bow River Trail, staying on the left-hand side of the river for 1.2 km. You’ll reach some steps which will take you up to Buffalo Street. Continue walking up the road and you’ll find the viewing platform with a truly impressive view!
If you have time, continue to the Hoodoos Lookout where you can enjoy an incredible view of these natural rock formations. The trail starts from the car park at Surprise Corner and runs along the river before joining back up with Tunnel Mountain road. It is 4.8 km (3 miles) one way so allow for at least 3 hours to walk there and back.
Both viewpoints are easily accessible by car. There is a car park next to Surprise Corner and another one close to the Hoodoos Lookout for those wishing to drive.
Visit Lake Minnewanka and feel inspired
For more than 100 centuries, the Stoney Indigenous Peoples of the area have hunted and camped along the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka. The wild beauty of the area now attracts many visitors, whether it’s to hike the Stewart Canyon Trail (around an hour round-trip with minimal elevation change) or board a one-hour Lake Minnewanka Cruise. In the summer, the parking lot fills quickly, so consider taking Roam Transit from Banff. Or arrive before 11 am or after 3 pm to both beat the crowds and maximise your chances of spotting wildlife.
Relax at Banff Upper Hot Springs
Inspired by the “water cure” craze of the late 1800s, people flocked to the springs to soak up the rejuvenating properties of the mineral-rich waters. Still a major draw today, you can soothe your body in the steaming hot water, gaze out at the lush forest and rough mountaintops, and understand what has drawn generations of travellers to this little piece of heaven. The Hot Springs are just 2.5 miles away from the town center and are easily accessible by taxi or Banff’s public bus service.
Spend the day at Lake Louise
Lake Louise might already be at the top of your Banff National Park sightseeing list, and with good reason. The spectacular calm water sitting at the base of the grand Victoria Glacier is truly a sight to behold. Take a stroll around the waterfront, rent a canoe or kayak for a paddle, or indulge in afternoon tea at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and take in the view. From May through September, Banff’s Roam Transit buses travel the 57 kilometres (35 miles) between the two towns, making it easy to explore without a car.
Be awed at the beauty of Moraine Lake
This spectacular lake, 14 kilometres (8.5 miles) southeast of Lake Louise, is a grand attraction with an almost unreal landscape of mountains, rock piles and waterfalls. If you’re hoping to photograph the lake, note that the colour is most vibrant at the end of June. The road is closed from mid-October until end of May/ early June due to the weather conditions. Roam Transit offers service from Banff, while Parks Canada offers a shuttle to the lake from Lake Louise.
Go sightseeing to Bow and Peyto lakes
A 30-minute drive north of Lake Louise, Bow Lake is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park, located just off the Icefields Parkway. It’s fed by glacial melt, and sits at the bottom of the Bow Summit, which is perfectly reflected in the lake’s waters. Just ten minutes further north is Peyto Lake, with waters that glow a spectacular blue colour, thanks to the glacial “rock flour” that flows into it. Either makes a spectacular backdrop for a picnic if you’re driving between Lake Louise and Banff.
Please note that the Peyto Lake day use area and the viewing platform deck are currently closed until summer 2021 for improvements.
Take a drive on the Bow Valley Parkway
Running parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Lake Louise, the Bow Valley Parkway makes for a scenic, more leisurely way to make the drive between the two towns. Along the 50-kilometre (31-mile) route, there are plenty of highlights worth stopping for, such as Johnston Canyon with its waterfalls carving the limestone walls; Castle Mountain, along with the Castle Lookout Trail hike; and Morant’s Curve, a tailor-made photo op when the Rocky Mountaineer train rolls through against the backdrop of the mountains.
Planning your trip to Banff National Park
When planning your Canadian Rockies vacation, think about what you want to do and see in Banff National Park, and look for a Rocky Mountaineer package that includes those highlights. Our packages can be customised by adding a car rental, a day trip or excursion, or even extra hotel nights to give you more time to explore. Learn more about our First Passage to the West rail route and search our carefully curated packages to start planning your future trip.