For most, visiting the town of Banff inside Banff National Park—Canada’s first national park—is the ultimate Canadian Rocky Mountain vacation.
One day you might be paddling on jaw-dropping turquoise blue lakes nestled at the base of giant snow-capped peaks, and the next hiking up those very same slopes to take in 360-degree views of the majestic mountains surrounding you.
It’s no surprise, then, that Banff receives a whopping 4 million visitors each year, and mostly within a few short summer months.
Imagine being one of the 8,000 year-round residents of the townsite or being one of the hundreds of species of birds, mammals, plants, and wildlife and having to share your precious home. Next, imagine that they trample your trails, leave trash in your backyard, and threaten the playground you depend on and seek to protect.
This is why, when planning and realizing your dreamscape to Banff National Park, you should take extra care to visit responsibly.
Below, I share how you can not only enjoy all that Banff has to offer but how to do so in a safe and sustainable way including,
- How to get around Banff car-free
- Wildlife in Banff and how to stay safe while protecting their natural environment
- Sustainable hotels in Banff and tips on camping
- What to do in Banff National Park in the summer (popular activities plus alternatives)
You may not see the long-lasting impacts (good or bad) of your visit directly, but when you add up the conscious actions of 4 million people, it really can make a difference.
Don’t forget your Parks Canada Pass which is required for the entire duration of your stay inside Banff National Park. $10.50 per Adult/day or $21.00/day for a Family/Group.
How to Have a Responsible Vacation in Banff National Park
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Public Transit: Getting Around Banff Car-Free
Getting around Banff National Park is entirely doable without a car, thanks to the Roam Transit and Parks Canada shuttles. Not only is public transit the most environmentally-friendly choice, but it’s also the only guarantee to get where you want to go.
In the town, you can avoid traffic congestion by parking your car or RV in the FREE parking lot beside the Banff Train Station (it’s an easy 8-10 minute walk to all the restaurants and shops downtown, plus the Roam Transit hub).
Once in town, take the 100% battery-electric Roam shuttles to get around Banff sustainably!
Roam Transit serves the following destinations:
- Lake Louise (40 minutes) — Route 8X, reservations encouraged.
- Johnston Canyon (30 minutes) — Route 9, reservations encouraged.
- Lake Minnewanka (25 minutes) — Route 6
- Banff Gondola & Upper Hot Springs (10 minutes) — Route 1
- Cave & Basin National Historic Site (10 minutes) — Route 4
Reservations are the only way to guarantee a seat on Route 8X to Lake Louise and Route 9 to Johnston Canyon. Click here to reserve your tickets online.
- Moraine Lake (40 minutes) — The Parks Canada shuttle offers round-trip service to Moraine Lake from Banff. Parking at Moraine is extremely limited and is typically full by 7 am, so reserving a Parks Canada shuttle is the best way to see it.
You can also visit Moraine Lake from Lake Louise with a Roam Transit Super Pass, which includes the Parks Canada Lake Connector shuttle service that connects Moraine Lake and Lake Louise.
Getting to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake From Banff
To simplify, you have two options if you wish to see Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on the same day.
- Roam Transit option: Purchase a Roam Transit Super Pass ticket ($25). Reserve your departure time for Route 8x from downtown Banff (High School Transit Hub) to Lake Louise Lakeshore. Visit Lake Louise, and then board a Parks Canada Lake Connector shuttle free of charge to Moraine Lake (departures every 15 minutes until 6pm). Return to Lake Louise Lakeshore via the Lake Connector shuttle, and board the Roam 8X back to Banff (reserve your departure time in advance).
- Parks Canada option: Drive to and leave your vehicle at the Park and Ride at Lake Louise Ski Resort. Board your Parks Canada shuttle (reservations required) to Moraine Lake. After you visit Moraine Lake, you can get to Lake Louise Lakeshore on a first-come, first-serve basis via the Lake Connector Shuttle.
Visit explorethepark.ca for information on times, fares, reservations, and parking information.
Wildlife in Banff: How to Stay Safe & Keep Nature Wild
Banff National Park is just that — a national park teeming with wild, dangerous animals. Unfortunately, many visitors wrongly approach, feed, or disturb wildlife.
If you see a black bear, grizzly bear, cow elk, moose, wolf, or another wild animal grazing on the side of the road or in your campground, please give it lots of space and do not stop and get out of your car.
You can help wildlife survive and thrive.
- Observe wild animals from a distance (bring binoculars!)
- Keep your trash with you until you can dispose of it in a secure bin
- Respect traffic speed limits to avoid disastrous wildlife accidents
- Stay on designated trails and Leave No Trace
- Make sure to keep your dogs leashed
- Clean your campsite of food to protect others and wildlife
- Read more tips on how to respect wildlife
Bears and other wildlife will be killed if they attack humans or even if they get into food at your campsite, which is why it’s so important to pick up after yourself. Two bears were put down at our campground in Jasper National Park in one week due to irresponsible campers. This cost of life is entirely avoidable; we all must do our small part to respect nature and our planet.
For your safety, you should always carry and know how to use bear spray while out hiking in Banff National Park or Jasper National Park, but also while in the townsites.
⚠️ It is illegal to feed, entice or disturb any wildlife in a national park. Violators will be charged and required to appear in court and could pay fines up to $25,000. Report bear, cougar, wolf and coyote sightings and encounters to Banff Dispatch: 403-762-1470.
Hotels: Sustainable Stays in Banff
Another way to reduce your impact while vacationing in Banff is to choose a green hotel. While no hotel is truly sustainable, those that do make an effort to incorporate sustainable initiatives will have a much lower environmental footprint.
For a mid-range sustainable hotel in Banff, check out the Banff Aspen Lodge. They have been listed numerous times as an eco-friendly place to stay thanks to their eco-initiatives, such as:
- Biodegradable soaps made from 100% vegetable renewable base and eco-friendly containers
- Energy-efficient smart sensors for temperature and motion sensor lighting in hallways
- Property-wide recycling program
- Low flow toilets
- Toilet paper and paper towels made with a minimum of 20% recycled material
- $4 donations to Banff Community Foundation on behalf of guests who opt out of room cleaning
Plus, the Roam Transit hub is conveniently located right outside Banff Aspen Lodge so you hop on a shuttle as soon as you finish up your coffee and breakfast from their cozy Whitebark Café located right inside the lobby.
Wherever you choose to stay in Banff, make sure to reserve online today because rooms SELL OUT fast.
Hotels in Banff come at a pretty penny, so if you’re traveling on a shoestring you might consider camping. At Tunnel Mountain Campground, we were able to camp for a whole week and it was still less than the cost of one night at a hotel downtown.
If you choose to camp, please take great care in keeping your campsite clean and free of food.
Activities: Banff Off the Beaten Path
There are so many things to do in Banff during the summer that aren’t on the typical, well-trodden tourist trail. Not that the beaten path is bad!
Banff’s most popular activities receive heaps of crowds for a reason — (most) of them are worth the hype.
However, crowds tend to create chaos and so, if you’re searching for a quieter way to enjoy Banff, here are some lesser-known activities that are just (if not more) rewarding and scenic.
Some of these activities listed below are eco-friendly and/or highlight unique Indigenous experiences.
Mt. Norquay Chairlift
The Mount Norquay Ski Resort is 100% green energy powered, and their 10-minute open-air Sightseeing Chairlift ride up into the sky will rival views you’ll see anywhere else in Banff.
At the top, don’t miss out on the chance to go on a guided climb of the Via Ferrata — the first and only Via Ferrata (“iron path”) in any national park in Canada.
Another potential option, however, more crowded, is the Banff Gondola.
Bikescape is the only outfitter of mountain biking in Banff National Park, so if you wish to explore the trails truly off the trodden path, then book a ride with these guys!
If you’ve never been mountain biking, then you will be in for a real treat with an e-bike that’ll make those undulating hills around Banff feel like a breeze. If you have the chance to ride with Clare, she will fill you with such positive, contagious energy and have you grinning wide. Wee!
Want more biking excursions? You can also explore Johnston Canyon via e-bike on this guided tour.
Buffalo nations luxton museum
No trip to Banff National Park (or Canada) wouldn’t be complete without learning about the First Nations, the Indigenous peoples of this land, and the celebratory return of the bison (buffalo) to Banff National Park. Built in 1953 by Norman Luxton, the Buffalo Nations Museum is one of Alberta’s oldest museums and deserves a place on your summer bucket list.
On the outside, the fort-like museum might catch your eye. Inside, an incredible wealth of knowledge, artifacts, and detailed displays showcasing the cultures and traditions of the First Nations await you. Step inside and be transported into the past, present, and future of this special place.
Banff Medicine Walk with Mahikan trails
If you’re looking for Indigenous tourism experiences in Banff, check out Mahikan Trails. Indigenous-owned, Mahikan Trails seeks to share the knowledge and traditions of the Boreal Forest in Banff. On your walk, you will be guided around Cascade Ponds while learning and discussing the plants and medicines found in the forest.
Picnic at Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake is where the locals go to enjoy Banff’s alpine waters and mountain views without the hoards of travelers often found at Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. Pack a picnic, go on a scenic hike, and don’t forget to bring your bathing suit for a chilly but revitalizing swim! Hop on the Roam Transit shuttle Route 6 to get to the parking lot car-free. Johnson Lake is the perfect summer escape in Banff!
Cave & Basin National Historic Site
The Cave & Basin National Historic Site is where Canada’s first national park was established in 1885. Here, you can observe natural thermal springs and learn about the history of the region and the birthplace of Banff National Park. Don’t miss out on the boardwalks (Upper and Lower) which don beautiful, serene views of the marshland and the mountains beyond the Bow Valley Parkway.
You can visit Cave & Basin on your own or as a part of this guided Legends & Landmarks Historical Walking Tour provided by Canmore Trails and Tales.
Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway
If you’re an avid biker and wish to get out of the townsite, you can rent a bike at Banff Adventures and cycle the 17km section of the Bow Valley Parkway — a scenic highway teeming with wildlife and mountain views. From May 1 – June 25 and September 1–30, you can cycle this section of road without the concern of cars (only grizzlies!). Outside of those dates, the parkway is open to all vehicle traffic but you are still welcome to bike it.
Did you know? You can bike all the way to Johnston Canyon via the Bow Valley Parkway! Plan for at least 1h30 each way. Carry bear spray and go prepared with water and snacks. If you tire and wish to return to Banff via public transport, the Roam Transit shuttle conveniently has bike racks (Route 9).
Why hang around town with the crowds looking up at the mountains when you could be scaling the cliffsides looking down at the crowds? For an epic adventure at a 90-degree angle, check out the rock climbing opportunities at Alpine Air Adventures. Learn the basics of rock climbing with their Rock Experience or go on full climber mode and scale Mount Athabasca!
Canoeing on the Bow River
Going for an afternoon paddle on the majestic Bow River is the quintessential Canadian activity. The hues of the water in summer are a beautiful blue.
You can rent canoes and kayaks for $50/boat (+ $30/additional hours) at Banff Canoe Club in town at the end of Wolf Street or join this Big Canoe River Explorer tour with Banff Adventures.
To compare, a one-hour canoe rental from the Fairmont at Lake Louise costs $155 for an hour.
Moraine Lake & Lake Louise Tour with Indigenous Storytelling
Moraine Lake and Lake Louise are a “must” on everyone’s Banff bucket list. But parking is a nightmare and driving isn’t the most environmentally-friendly choice.
While you can go via public transit (either via the Roam Transit Route 8X to Lake Louise + the Lake Connector shuttle or via a round-trip Parks Canada ticket), you can also visit the lakes on an Open Top Explorer Shuttle with WOW Banff.
What’s unique about this experience is that you get both shuttle transport to the lakes plus storytelling from a local Indigenous host who will impart their knowledge and history of the area and answer any of your burning questions!
When You Visit Banff, Remember… Leave No Trace!
You SHOULD go hiking while in Banff National Park, but please remember to be a responsible explorer on and off the trails. You can recreate responsibly by following the seven Leave No Trace principles, which include:
- Plan ahead & prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
Above all, remember that humans share the park with wildlife and a delicate ecosystem, both of which are either negatively or positively impacted by every action of every visitor of the park.
Learn more about sustainability in Banff, including how the townsite and park managers are working to preserve and protect Banff National Park for generations to come, and your role in it.
If you have any questions about visiting Banff National Park, please drop your comments below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Happy and safe adventuring!
More Banff travel inspiration:
- 25 Things to Do in Banff in Summer (The Ultimate Banff Bucket List)
- Riding the Banff Gondola: Everything You Need to Know
- The Complete Guide to Camping in Banff
- Best Stops Along the Icefields Parkway (Itinerary + Map)
- 10 Adventurous Things to Do in Banff in Winter (+ 1 Day Itinerary)
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