The most famous national park in Canada, Banff National Park offers not only stunning views but both exhilarating adventures and relaxing activities. Home to the towns of Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise, there is no shortage of things to do. With Canmore being a 25-minute drive from Banff, and Lake Louise only 40 minutes away, it is easy to make the most out of a day in the Rockies. With so many adventures available to you though, you’ll want to spend at least two to three days in the park. Below you’ll find a list of just some of the best things available for you to do in the park.


Banff Gondola

Experience a birds-eye view of Banff as you climb 700 metres to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. Walk along the ridgetop boardwalk to the Cosmic Ray Station, a National Historic Site of Canada, learn about the area at the interpretive centre, or indulge at either the Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen or Sky Bistro Restaurant. Included in most of our tour packages, you can find more information here: Banff Gondola


Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise

Known by the Stoney Nakoda as Lake Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits), Lake Minnewanka is one of the most beautiful areas of the Banff National Park. Located in the heart of Banff, you can take either a one to a 1.5 hour interpretive journey where you will learn about the submerged village of Minnewanka Landing and visit the glacial path of the Devil’s Gap. For more information, or to book a boat cruise, you can click here: Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise


Johnston Canyon

Just 25 km outside of Banff, you can hike along Johnston Creek, a tributary of the Bow River. Enjoy either a one-hour hike to the Lower Falls or a two-hour hike to the Upper Falls. This trail is one of the few that is open year-round. It is also an easy hike and suitable for all ability levels.


Moraine Lake

Accessible from June to mid-October this glacier-fed lake is an intense shade of turquoise blue and is a perfect area for either hiking or spending time on the water. Canoes and kayaks can be rented from the Moraine Lake Lodge or local outfitters. Due to high demand, personal vehicles are no longer permitted in the area to reduce the harmful environmental impact and stress on local wildlife. You can visit the area via the Parks Canada shuttle.


Horseback Riding

Step back in time and explore the West the way it was meant to be done. Visit Banff’s wilderness on horseback as you follow along a route like the one that the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies formed back in 1923. For more information, or to book a trail ride you can click here: Banff Trail Riders


Whitewater Rafting

Whether relaxing down a winding river or experiencing the exhilaration of the whitewater rapids, there is a rafting trip to suit everyone and several different companies to choose from. I recommend checking out either Banff Adventures, Chinook Rafting, or Discover Banff Tours. The best time to experience the rapids is between June and August, as the weather tends to be a little nicer and the water levels are generally higher.


Banff Upper Hot Springs

Playing a vital role in the establishment of Canada’s first national park, after a long day of exploring there is nothing better than relaxing in the waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Admission can only be purchased in person at reception as entry is first come, first served. They offer swimsuit and towel rentals, as well as a Thermal Waters Pass, which gives you access to both the Upper Hot Springs and the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. You can find more information here: Banff Upper Hot Springs


Cave and Basin National Historic Site

A place of importance to Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years, this is the original site that led to the creation of the first national park in Canada. Visitors can enjoy interactive exhibits, short films, and seasonal activities as they learn about the history of the area. For more information about the facility, you can click here: Cave and Basin

While here, if you would like to explore the area you can venture out onto the Marsh Loop. An easy hike, with a minimal elevation gain, this circular trail is accessible to all levels and will take only about an hour.


Art Galleries and Museums

With four museums in Banff, one in Canmore, and multiple art galleries in the downtown areas, you could fill an entire day with history and culture. Browse through art exhibits and learn about the history and culture of the Rocky Mountains at the Whyte Museum; explore the Banff Park Museum, the oldest natural history museum in western Canada, and get up close to Rocky Mountain wildlife; or learn about the history of the Indigenous People and their trading partners at the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. You can complete that experience by visiting the Luxton Home Museum, which will give you a glimpse into Banff in the early 1900s.

Banff is also home to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, where Indigenous, performing, visual, and literary artists can come to work on their craft. They offer performances, lectures, and exhibits throughout the year, and some events offered are free to the public.


The Cascade Gardens

Just minutes from downtown Banff this is the perfect place to spend some time away from the crowds of Banff Avenue. Admission to the gardens is free and shares the property with the Parks Canada Administration Office, which sits in a historic stone structure built in 1935. There is also a free interactive exhibit in the building.

If you want something a little different, you can participate in a bit of a treasure hunt for an old cigar tin from the 1950s. Inside you’ll find several postcards and handwritten notes and it is hidden somewhere near the gardens.


Afternoon Tea

If you are looking to spend an afternoon relaxing in the Rockies, both the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offer afternoon tea. Enjoy pastries, finger sandwiches, scones, and specially curated Fairmont LOT 35 loose-leaf teas. This is open to both registered hotel guests and day visitors, and you will want to reserve a seating time.

 Fairmont Banff Springs                                                                               Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise


Lake Agnes Tea House

For those who would like to work up an appetite before enjoying afternoon tea, there is the Lake Agnes Tea House. Located 2,135 metres above sea level, the tea house is a 3.5 km hike from Lake Louise and offers soups and sandwiches along with more than 100 varieties of tea. The tea house is open from early June to early October and accepts only cash, both CAD and USD. For more information, or to look at everything they have to offer, you can click here: Lake Agnes Tea House


If you would like to see an example of how you could get the most out of a free day in the Rockies, the owner of Canada Rail Vacations, Martin Flanagan, has put together an itinerary of how he would spend a day in Banff.


Banff has something for everyone and, very often, clients choose to add an extra day to their rail vacation to spend more time in the national parks. I was a local in Banff for six years before I moved to the city full-time, however, as a guide, I’m still in Banff often.  Here’s one way to spend your day in Banff.

Go for a Morning Walk

While most of our guests will have seen Bow Falls on their tours with us, Bow Falls can be quite magical in the early morning without tourists. If your hotel is downtown, there’s a pedestrian-only bridge located at the intersection of Buffalo and Muskrat streets (hint, most streets are named after animals). After a short walk along the river, you’ll see the morning dew mixed with spray as you near the falls.


A typical locals’ breakfast location is the Whitebark Café on Moose Street. This nice, little café sells award-winning coffee and makes fresh, homemade goods every day. I like this location because they offer outdoor seating to go outside and watch the locals on their walk to work and see the many tourists start to flood the streets, wide-eyed about the day’s adventures yet to come.

Museum Visit

Banff is home to four museums and, depending upon how much time I have available to spend that day, I’ll choose one of the four to refresh my tour guide’s memory on all of the amazing things to show visitors. If I want to immerse myself in the history of our National Park, I’ll visit the Cave & Basin National Historic Site. If I want to learn more about our important indigenous history, the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum will be my choice. If I’d like to learn more about our local fauna, the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site has a wide selection of animals on display. If I have time to spare, or the weather isn’t great, I may wish to spend half a day at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

Bike Ride

For me, no day is complete without a bike ride. However, I know some people may want to go canoeing or do a boat cruise or others may wish to go hiking. Banff has something for everyone. I like to ride from Banff to Canmore, have lunch, then ride back. Here’s a link to some other outdoor options available from the Town of Banff: Outdoor Activities

If it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday, I may go riding in the evening, as the Rocky Mountaineer comes in those evenings. For cyclists it’s a great challenge of riding alongside the train, trying to keep up with its approach to the town. Here’s one of my races against the train: Chasing Rocky

Golf at the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course

I appreciate golf and I’ve played the course once. You likely won’t find me on the course due to my reduced skill level at that game, but I know many people love golf. The course is stunning and is a great way to spend the afternoon in Banff. I would highly recommend it. If you need a partner to play the course, Spencer and Dalton in our office often meet up with clients for a round.

Hot Springs

The discovery of the natural hot springs is one of the reasons Banff was put on the map. After a nice ride on the bike or a hike, the Banff Upper Hot Springs makes for a perfect place to soak in the rejuvenating minerals. If you don’t have a towel or a bathing suit, those can be rented at the pool.

Evening Meal

On a nice evening, you’ll often find me at the Pacini restaurant patio in the Moose Hotel. They’ve got a nice menu and I often bring tour groups here because the service is very good and consistent. The restaurant has an Italian theme, but there’s something for everyone. I like to sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine while watching the night sky darken and the tourists head home for the night.

Martin Flanagan
General Manager and Tour Guide
Canada Rail Vacations


If you’d like any other suggestions on how you can spend a free day in Banff, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].