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Banff National Park is one of those places that should be on everyone’s bucket list. We recently visited Banff with family and had a memorable vacation. Our kids range in age, and there was something enjoyable for everyone on this family vacation.
The Canadian Rockies stretch through Alberta. Most guests fly into Calgary and take the short drive west to the park. As soon as you leave Calgary, the Trans-Canada highway is lined with beautiful views. There are so many activities for the entire family, even for the guests with little legs who can’t handle long hikes. Don’t hesitate to book a trip because you have little ones.
My family & I love national parks, and over the years, we’ve visited many of the best American national parks. When a great deal popped up in Calgary, getting my husband on board didn’t take any convincing. I will say that the National Park is in the top 3 beautiful places I’ve seen in my lifetime and Banff with family is a wonderful vacation.
If you have ever seen pictures of the lakes in Alberta, it will catch your attention. The turquoise waters almost seem photoshopped. How can this be real? Well, Banff National Park has some of the most beautiful glacial lakes in all of North America.
The lakes hold this gorgeous azul coloring due to the rock dust coming from the glaciers. Light reflects off the dust and particles, leading to this amazing color.
Please keep in mind that access to some of the popular lakes is limited. You must use a shuttle for Moraine. As for Louise, there is some parking, but taking the bus will ensure you see the lake. Parks Canada sells passes for the shuttle at a very reasonable rate.
Lake Louise is probably one of the most photographed areas in all of the national parks. When we arrived, this was our first stop. We were immediately captivated by the blue hues of the lake paired with the stunning Canadian Rockies. Off to the side, you will also see the stately Fairmont overlooking this scenic view.
There are several activities open to the public here. You can rent canoes for an hour, but it is a little pricey. Most guests head to the spot between the canoe rental and the hotel for an iconic pic. If it is busy, be patient, as most tourists camped out here.
Once you have that picture, I recommend checking out the relatively flat walking trail around the lake. It is less crowded, especially the further you walk. If you plan to do a longer walk, it may be harder to use a stroller the further you move from the hotel FYI. Some of our favorite pictures came from the walk.
If you have older kids and would like a more challenging hike, consider the path to Lake Agnes Tea House. It takes a bit of time, so plan at least ½ day for the hike.
Moraine Lake is the other most recognizable lake in the area. My husband, kids, and I agree we preferred it over Louise due to the fewer crowds and amazing views. Now Moraine is harder to get to as you must be on the shuttle. In busy seasons, they close the parking lot. The only car traffic allowed is for guests at the hotel.
Similar to Lake Louise, you can rent canoes. When we visited, the line for canoe rental as long as they only had a set amount, and it is a popular activity to capture the area’s best views. You cannot swim in the lake as the water is frigid.
We enjoyed walking along the path along the lake. It is not strenuous but also not stroller friendly, as there are rocks and tree roots along the way. For someone with mobility issues, you would want a walking stick or stick to the areas where the buses drop off.
Our favorite part was a short but uphill hike to the top of the rock pail overlooking the lake. Our kids could easily handle it, but it did get steep if you have toddlers. The views from the top were stunning. Make sure to capture a picture here for your Christmas card.
One last thing- a small snack shop sells a limited menu. The snacks are not cheap. We didn’t plan well and didn’t anticipate staying as long as we did and ended up buying pricey hotdogs there. In hindsight, we should have packed a picnic instead of basic snacks.
Two Jacks Lake
One afternoon, we lazily drove around the park, hoping our youngest may take a cat nap, and ended up at Two Jacks Lake. What a gem with plenty of parking and a large beach area for kids to skip rocks or wade into the calm water. A few brave souls were swimming too.
This will be the perfect place if you have a canoe, kayak, or paddle board. There are also picnic areas and the iconic red Adirondack chairs by the Park Service.
Close to Two Jacks Lake, you’ll discover Lake Minnewanka. There is a large parking lot, so I imagine it can be crowded in peak season. It appeared that the lot was ideal for tour buses. We arrived late afternoon, and the area had cleared out.
Many visitors come to Minnewanka for lake cruises. You’ll need to book ahead of time.
This may be an unpopular statement, but Peyto Lake may be my favorite. I read reviews suggesting to visit, so we did one afternoon exploring the Icefields Parkway, and I am so glad we did. The lake is a brilliant blue!
You’ll want to head to the viewing deck for a shorter visit. You have to walk a little to arrive at the deck. There’s a nice parking lot at the bottom of the trail and a small one for handicapped guests closer to the top. Our reviews mentioned it was a small and easy hike. It is about 10-15 minutes, but with an incline. If you have mobility issues, you may want to park at the top or get dropped off.
The views from the observation deck are stunning and worth the walk. It blew me away, and you can’t visit Banff and skip Peyto.
Just a little outside of town, you’ll find a series of lakes known as Vermillion Lakes. It is a nice and peaceful area if you need a break. You can hike from town(2.4km).
Johnson Lake is one of the lesser known lakes in the area, but worth your time. It is not as crowded and the perfect spot to relax. For guests who enjoy kayaking or canoeing, you should check out Johnson as the winds coming off the Canadian Rockies are as intense as other lakes.
Activities in Banff National Park
Besides being the namesake for the park, Banff is a town too. Park your car in one of the public lots and walk through town. In the busy season of summer through fall, a portion of Banff Avenue is closed to car traffic. It is a pedestrian zone for foot traffic only. I loved this as we had plenty of space to roam. Many restaurants created outdoor dining spaces for guests in the zone too.
We went for an early lunch one day, and it wasn’t too crowded, but after we finished our meal, the foot traffic was really picking up. I noticed the parking lot was very full, too so I advise visitors to grab breakfast or do early morning shopping to avoid crowds.
After shopping and dining, head over to the Banff Pedestrian Bridge over the Bow River and hop on the Bow Falls Trail.
Once you cross over the pedestrian bridge, go left on the Bow Falls Trail which takes you to a majestic waterfall. The trail for the most part is wide and flat which would work for a stroller. It is also mostly shaded which would be nice in late summer.
As you get closer to the falls, there are a series of stairs taking you to the falls. The falls are pretty incredible and a pleasant surprise. We sat at the bottom for a while and let the kids play in the water. There’s a parking lot there, too, if it is easier to drive.
The Banff Gondola is a short drive outside of town, just a few extra minutes. There’s a little gift shop and Starbucks to check out before you start your ride. The trip up provides scenic views, but I would avoid this if you struggle with motion sickness.
Once at the top, you are greeted with panoramic views of the Banff community. It is stunning! There are goats off the deck my kids love to watch. You can also walk on an elevated path to a further lockout point. There are lots of stairs if you have a stroller.
One surprising treat was the interactive exhibit for kids teaching them about the history of the area as well as the natural habitat. We enjoyed checking it and my kids range in age.
Buy your pass in advance as it can get crowded, especially as the day progresses. We went in the morning and by the time we left, there were already several tour buses dropping off large groups of tourists.
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Banff Upper Hot Springs
Looking for a unique experience and a break from hiking or exploring? Banff Upper Hot Springs is a warm pool nestled in the park with gorgeous views of the Rockies.
As a side note, there’s very limited parking here. They actually recommend you use public transportation to arrive and Banff has a great system. Lastly, when we visited the reviews on the springs were mixed. Since we only had a few days, we passed on this activity. If we had another day or 2, I would have given it a try.
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site highlights thermal springs. In the late 1880’s, workers on the railroad discovered the springs which set into motion the development of Canada’s first national park.
Today the site holds exhibits, walking trails, picnic areas and the Banff red Adirondack chairs if you are looking to find them all. They also offer guided tours for an additional fee.
Johnston Canyon Hike
Ok, this may have been one of my favorite spots alongside Moraine and Peyto Lake. The entrance is off the Bow Valley Parkway with two substantial parking lots and a large bathroom.
The hike has several options. For instance, you can walk to the Lower Falls and, if you choose, continue to the Upper Falls. The walk to the lower is 1.2 km each way, while the Upper route is 2.5 km each way.
The hike to the lower falls isn’t strenuous. We saw some strollers, but I don’t recommend it as some areas were slightly rugged. If you bring a stroller, just know to be patient.
The hike goes along a waterway, taking you into the heart of the canyon. At times, you are walking on catwalks above the water. Don’t worry, it’s not scary but majestic. My husband, kids, and I loved this trail. Your hike takes you to a gushing and beautiful waterfall. If you cross the bridge across the water, there’s a small cave you can crawl into that grants you an up-close look at the waterfall.
Once you are done, treat yourself to ice cream at a cute stand at the end of the path.
Once you are done with the lower falls, you have two options- walk back and continue on the trail to the Upper Falls. Once you arrive, there are two viewing platforms. Check Parks Canada’s website before you go, as they work to improve these areas.
Bow Valley Parkway
We spent a few hours one afternoon driving along the Bow Valley Parkway. The ride is serene, and you’ll spot some wildlife if you are lucky. While on the parkway, stop by for a hike at Johnston Canyon. There are several other places to pull over for views.
Check Parks Canada’s site, as some parts of the road may be closed.
Book a guided tour of the Bow River on Horse Back. Would be an excellent activity for families traveling with kids or teens.
🐎Book your horseback adventure NOW by clicking HERE!🐎
One of the major routes in Banff is Icefields Parkway which leads to the glaciers in Jasper National Park. The ride from Banff to Jasper is roughly two hours on a good day. In peak season, it can easily take 3-4 hours due to the large number of cars and tour buses on the road. We went in early June, and it took 2.5 hours.
Once you are on the parkway, you can easily see why it is so popular. Even though it was early June, a fair amount of snow was still on the mountains. With stunning views, you could quickly drive for hours, plus if you are lucky, there’s wildlife spotting. We saw a black bear cub and a small fox relaxing on the side of the road.
There are numerous places to pull over for scenic views, hikes, picnics, and kayaking. You’ll want to make time to see Peyto while on the Parkway.
#1 tip- Fuel up before you leave Banff or Canmore. There are very few options. There is one massive gas station with a restaurant and convenience shop, but everything, including gas, is pricey.
🚌Book your tour of the Icefields Parkway by clicking HERE!🚌
Columbian Icefields at Jasper National Park
Even though it is a few hours away, I suggest making time for the Columbian Icefields in Jasper National Park. I think this was one of our kids’ favorite activities of the entire trip.
🧊Book your ticket NOW by clicking HERE!🧊
Your adventure includes a ride to the Athabasca glacier with a guide teaching you about the history of the 10,000-year-old sheet of ice. Once you arrive, you have about 15 minutes to explore and try the water coming off the glacier! There’s an area designated for visitors and many guides stationed around for questions.
Your ticket may include admission to the skywalk over the Sunwapta Valley. You will have to change buses after the glacier walk, but the skywalk is pretty fascinating. I would not recommend it for guests who fear heights.
I have a couple of tips- plan by booking your ticket in advance and arrive earlier! Remember, it takes longer to arrive in Jasper than the estimated two hours. We learned the hard way. We were a little late and missed our trip. Luckily we could reschedule, but we had to wait over an hour. In a busy season, you may not be able to reschedule.
If you don’t want to mess with the travel to the icefields, there are organized tours out of Banff to the glacier and skywalk.
🧊Ready to book your Glacier & Skywalk tour from Banff, click HERE!🧊
After your excursion, you can return to Banff or continue exploring Jasper. If you are short on time, consider a guided tour to see a lot in a short amount of time.
Yoho National Park
You could easily spend a week in the Canadian Rockies and not see everything. If your trip is extended, consider adding a day or two in Yoho. Another option would be a combined tour of the significant sites of Yoho plus Louise and Moraine Lakes.
You will need a Parks Canada pass to enter the National Park and leave in your car.
Lake Moraine & Lake Louise have severely limited parking for guests in the peak season. There’s a lot available for Louise but none for Moraine unless staying at the hotel. Make sure to reserve your spot on the shuttle in advance.
If it is already booked, they opened a limited number of spots 48 hours before. We secured passes this way, but in hindsight, I wish I had booked them earlier. For both shuttles, you park at the Lake Louise ski resort. You can use their bathrooms and eat at their restaurants before hopping on the shuttle. I found the entire process to be very smooth with clean buses, and we rarely waited for long periods. I highly recommend it.
Another option is to use public transportation. The area’s bus system is known as ROAM and has active routes throughout the park.
If you plan on hiking on less popular routes or even longer routes, pack bear spray as you may see black bears on hiking trails.
Where to Stay in Banff
Canmore and Banff are the most popular destinations for lodging. Canmore is about 20-25 minutes away from Banff but don’t let that turn you away. Canmore is an adorable old mining town with a quaint downtown, walking trails, and plenty of newer condos to rent. If you are on a tight budget, you might have better luck in Canmore.
We opted for Canmore because it offered more of what we needed at a better price point. Some of the hotels in Banff are older and dated because they know people are willing to pay to stay there.
We rented a newer condo at Tamarack Lodge within walking distance of town. It was a spacious two-bedroom condo with a full kitchen and laundry room (crucial when traveling with kids). Our neighborhood had great restaurant options and walking trails.
Book your Canmore condo NOW by clicking HERE!
The town of Banff and surrounding areas boast many lodging options. You can always go the luxury route and stay at one of the iconic Fairmont hotels.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is nestled in the Canadian Rockies and grants visitors scenic views of the Bow River. Or the Fairmount Lake Louise overlooks the magnificent lake. Both are beautiful hotels but at a higher price point. You may find discounted rates if staying in the off-season.
Packing supplies for a family
- Adult Sunscreen
- Child Sunscreen
- Travel bookbag
- carry-on suitcase
- packing cubes
- Apple AirTag for each suitcase
- kids headphones
- Adult Water bottles
- Child water bottles
- Granola bars
- Protein snack
- Applesauce for kids
- Portable fan to attach to stroller
FAQ: Banff National Park
🌲Is Banff a good place to visit with kids?
The region is the perfect spot for the whole family, even small children. The summer season or early fall would be best unless your family is used to heavy snow and cold.
🌲What’s the best way to arrive in Banff?
If you don’t live close, fly into Calgary International Airport, a 90-minute drive away. The airport is easy to navigate, and I found it to be quite pleasant.
Our flight arrived late, so we booked a hotel near the airport. The hotel shuttle picked us up; it was a very easy process if you are in a similar situation.
You will need a rental car for the next part of the journey. The drive to the parks is beautiful and relatively easy. Consider an audio tour to learn more about the area.
Besides getting to the national park, you’ll need a car to see the major sights. You can use their public transportation system, Roam, if you don’t want to drive around the park.
🌲How many days do you need in Banff?
At least three days. You can get away with two jammed packed days but maybe not see everything on your bucket list. If I only had two days, I would consider an organized tour to see many spots in a short amount of time.
🌲Book your tour of Banff National Park by clicking HERE!🌲
🌲What is the best month to visit?
Banff is truly a year-round destination. Personally, I am a big fan of the shoulder season of May, June, or September. I hate traveling with large crowds, especially with kids. July & August are their busy season in the summer months, and it is also crowded during the skiing season.
🌲Is Banff worth the hype?
Absolutely! It is one of my favorite vacation spots.
In Conclusion: An Exciting Guide to Banff with Family, 2023
II hope my guide to Banff with family helps you plan your next great adventure! It will be a trip of a lifetime that the entire family will enjoy.