The headline activities in the Banff area, such as hiking, biking and skiing, get most of the limelight. Yet there are plenty of other things to see and do in this outstanding National Park. Explore some of Banff’s secret spots to get a taste of the locals’ life, or discover what Banff is famous for with its must-visit attractions.
DISCOVER THE PARK IN A NEW WAY WITH BANFF’S SECRET SPOTS
Activities like shopping on Banff Avenue and exploring the shores of Lake Louise will be experiences we never stop recommending. But once you’ve crossed these attractions off your list, try some of the activities that don’t always make the cover of travel magazines.
Take a break from the tourist crowds and seek out some of the trails less travelled.
1. Johnston Canyon’s Secret Cave
Grab your explorer’s hat and set out on a treasure hunt to find one of Johnston Canyon’s secret caves.
Once at Johnston Canyon, follow the main trail along the scenic path towards the lower falls. You’ll most likely want to stop and enjoy the views once reaching lower falls, but this isn’t the end. From here, take the path towards upper falls for about 30 minutes.
This is where your inner explorer needs to be channeled, as this trail requires some wandering and seeking from here on out. Following the trail after the lower falls takes you on a path that starts to stray from the water’s edge. After about 30 minutes, follow the sound of the water which will lead you back towards the creek. You’re looking for a rocky shore alongside the pool from the tumbling falls. Explore and follow the creek until you reach where the falls meet the ground. Find the rocky shores edge, and look across for you and on the opposite side you will see this mysterious cave that lays beside the waterfall.
Johnston Canyon in the Winter
In the winter, the majestic waterfalls of Johnston Canyon freeze and provide new terrain that’s just as fun to experience. The trail is still accessible in the winter, so you can hike your way to the frozen waterfalls and experience Banff’s very own ice walk.
Explore the natural tunnels, deep pools, narrow canyon, frozen waterfalls and ice clinging to the canyon walls that make this winter hike so spectacular! This one-of-a-kind walk is good for the whole family.
The mesmerizing icefalls are nearly 30 metres high (almost 100 feet), and make for an incredible piece of art. You’ll even get to witness bold ice climbers scaling the frozen wall.
Read more here about hiking Johnston Canyon, and other trails in Banff.
Continue west from Banff on the Trans-Canada Highway. Take the 1A Hwy (Bow Valley Parkway) turnoff and continue west 18 km (11 miles) to Johnston Canyon Lodge. A trail sign at the northern end of the parking lot marks the start of the hike.
2. Cave Ave. Pagoda
Looking for a quiet little spot just outside of town for incredible picture taking opportunities and a peaceful picnic area away from the crowds? Great news, we know just the place…
To reach this secret spot, follow Banff ave across the Bow River to the very end where you can either turn left for the Banff Gondola, or right for the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. Turn right and follow Cave Ave. Park in the parking lot at the end of Cave Ave where you will find the river path. Walk along this path until you reach the basketball court, and see the pagoda.
Visiting this spot when the sun starts to set is particularly beautiful as the pagoda and Rockies backdrop become lit up. There are benches to sit and marvel from. Additionally, wildlife often frequent this spot due to the lack of crowds that visit!
3. Mt. Norquay
Mt. Norquay in the summer months provide incredible wildlife viewing opportunities away from massive crowds. You can also take the chairlift up the mountain to reach one of Banff’s most spectacular viewpoints. While this spot isn’t necessarily a secret in its literal form, it is a lesser-known spot amongst tourists.
Drive up the mountain to the parking lot to witness herds of big horn sheep. Just sit and watch while these beautiful creatures graze on the grass and hang out, while the scenic town of Banff and surrounding mountains provide an incredible backdrop. Afterwards, ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain to capture some amazing images.
4. Carrot Creek Skating
In the winter months Carrot Creek freezes and provides an unforgettable authentic Canadian experience of ice skating on a natural rink. There are stunning Rocky Mountains that circle the water, and hardly any crowds in sight.
Heading from Calgary towards Banff along Hwy 1, enter the Park Gates and drive for about 2.5km. The Carrot Creek trailhead lies on the other side of the highway, so prepare to make a u-turn to access the road heading eastbound. Follow the highway past Canmore, past Harvie Heights. Prepare to make a u-turn where and when it is safe to do so, around the creek that runs under the highway. You’ll likely notice cars pulled over on the side of the road (to get a clearer idea, find Carrot Creek Walk to Lake on Google Maps). When out of the car, make your way towards the metal wildlife fence and through the gate. You’ll find a path – follow it all the way to the creek!
Tip: bring a small broom or other tool to sweep snow from the ice surface!
MUST EXPERIENCE ATTRACTIONS IN BANFF
Somewhere in between the most famous Banff attractions and its hidden gems, lie amazing activities and sights that don’t always make it to the top of a “things to do in Banff” list. But we think a few of these attractions are just as good as any experience in Banff. On the plus side, there typically won’t be the same volume of crowds that you would find at Lake Louise or the hot springs.
1. Banff Gondola
Banff is Canada’s second highest elevated town (after Lake Louise), and the 360 degree view from the summit of Sulphur Mountain is simply unbeatable, especially considering that the eight-minute ride aboard the Banff Gondola makes it easily accessible for everyone.
This is one of the most spectacular views in Banff National Park (right up there with Mt. Norquay). On the ride to the summit, take in the view of the the town of Banff and the surrounding mountains. Once there, the view of all six surrounding mountain ranges from the summit is breathtaking.
At the top, the Banff Skywalk is a self-guided interpretive walkway (1 km) along the summit ridge that leads to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site of Canada and the Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station.
Learn the historical stories of the area and early explorers. Ambitious hikers can hike the South East Ridge Trail, which is popular among locals.
The summit is also accessible via a well-worn hiking trail from the Gondola base right to the summit station that takes about 1hr to hike. The hike up is a popular outing for locals, combined with a coffee or cool drink from the cafe up top, before riding the Gondola down.
The Banff Gondola is located just 5 minutes from the town of Banff on Sulphur Mountain.
2. Horseback Riding
Saddling up and heading down the trails by horseback with a genuine cowboy in the lead is a great way to see the Canadian Rockies. Whether you’re looking for a short trip, a half day or even a few nights in the backcountry there’s a horse and a trail with your name on it.
Find out more about horseback riding excursions in Banff.
3. The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course
One of the world’s most scenic golf courses, the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course, spreads out along the Bow River between Mt. Rundle and Tunnel Mountain.
The first course was laid out here in 1911, but in 1928 Stanley Thompson was brought in by the C.P.R. to redesign it into 18 holes and to build what was at the time North America’s most expensive course. In 1989 the Tunnel Nine opened (along with a new clubhouse), creating today’s 27-hole course.
Between 1997 and 1999 no expense was spared in rebuilding the entire original 18 holes and adding longer tees, while also reverting to Thompson’s planned sequence of play, known now as the Stanley Thompson 18. The course is typically Thompson, taking advantage of natural contours, and featuring elevated tees, wide fairways, and holes aligned to distant mountains.
From the back markers it is 6,938 yards and plays to a par of 71. The course is not only breathtakingly beautiful, it’s also challenging for every level of golfer. Even if you are not a diehard golfer, we highly recommend getting in a quick nine holes here just to say you’ve done it!
Club rentals, three putting greens, a driving range, a great pro shop, two chipping greens with surrounding bunkers, and a restaurant can be found in the circular Club House located in the middle of the course. Booking tee times well in advance is essential.
405 Spray Ave
PLANNING A TRIP TO BANFF?
We also offer a number of great accommodations in Banff, ranging from hotel rooms to fully-equipped vacation rentals. You can view our selection of Banff accommodations here. Call our highly knowledgeable Destination Experts who can answer any questions you may have about Banff’s secret spots, or other things to do in the park. They’re available 7 days a week!