Banff National Park – 4 Natural Wonders That Will Blow Your Mind Away

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This is the first in a series of posts about visiting the Canadian Rockies. There is so much to do and see in that region that you can easily feel overwhelmed.

I want to help you by listing the most important places to visit in each national park, starting with Banff National Park. Wipe the dust off your specs; I also have some gorgeous images to share!

Banff National Park in Canada: 4 Natural Wonders that will blow your mind away (plus a fifth recommendation!)

The Canadian Rockies. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most beautiful places in the entire world.

We visited the region in July, and let me tell you, the word "stunning" doesn't begin to describe the sheer wild beauty of the Canadian Rockies during summertime.

There are four national parks in Alberta's Canadian Rockies: Jasper, Yoho, Kootenai, and Banff. Jasper is the northernmost park, and Kootenai is in the south.

That leaves us with Yoho and Banff in the middle. Together, these two parks cover one of the most spectacular mountain areas in the world.

Established in 1885, Banff National Park is the third oldest national park in the world. It covers 2,564 square miles (6,641 square kilometers) and features mountains, glaciers, ice fields, rivers, and lakes.

When's the best time to visit Banff National Park?

The region gets very cold during winter—no huge surprises there. The average daytime temperature in January is 12°F (-16°C), which is way below freezing.

This doesn't mean you can't visit during winter. On the contrary, Banff is teeming with tourists that time of year. They come not just for the ski slopes but also for the huge array of winter activities.

Dogsledding? Ice walks and climbs? Snowmobile tours, or maybe heli-skiing? Whatever your winter passion, Banff National Park has you covered (as long as your bank manager also has you covered).

However, most visitors arrive during the short summer season. If you want to enjoy the green alpine views and gushing waterfalls, June- September is your best bet.

After all, hiking is free of charge (though, unfortunately, accommodation isn't...), and you can easily have a wonderful time just visiting the places described in this post (and others!)

Where to stay when visiting Banff National Park

If budget isn't an issue, you'll want to stay in one of the two towns within the park's borders: Banff and Lake Louise. Banff is the larger of the two, with thousands of luxury rooms within hotels and lodges across town.

None of them are cheap, and the more cost-effective ones are quickly taken as soon as they begin to take reservations.

If you plan on staying in Banff, expect to pay between $150 and $1500 (or more!)  for a room for two. Lake Louise is just as expensive, if not even more so.

Click here to see a list of Banff hotels and search for your dates.

For our family of four, Banff and Lake Louise are too expensive. If you're like us, you'll stay just outside the park. We stayed (and will probably stay again this summer) in Canmore. It's a great choice for us for several reasons -

  1. It only takes 25 minutes to drive from Canmore to Banff National Park.
  2. While not cheap, accommodation can be 20-30% cheaper than in Banff.
  3. It's not a tourist trap, meaning supermarkets and services are reasonably priced.

We stayed at the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge in Canmore on our last visit and had a great experience.

We opted for the one-bedroom apartment with plenty of space and our own kitchen. It was perfect for our five days visiting Banff and Yoho national parks. Here are more hotels in Canmore.

And finally... here's why you have to visit Banff National Park -

4 Natural Wonders to Visit in Banff National Park

1. Lake Louise

Which is the most beautiful lake in the Canadian Rocky Mountains? There is no shortage of contenders for the title, but I bet if you polled visitors to the area, Lake Louise would come in first place.

It's probably the most iconic and photographed of them all, and for a good reason—it is truly serenely beautiful.

Lake Louise - one of the top four natural wonders or Banff National Park

The sight of a majestic glacier coming down from the mountains into this huge lake—a turquoise shade all its own—is unforgettable.

Besides, you can look at your photo album if you ever forget. I guarantee you'll take many pictures at Lake Louise (and Banff National Park).

Across from the lake, you'll find the picturesque Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. If you can afford to stay in this luxurious five-star resort, get a room with a lake view.

You can take in the views, snap pictures, and drive to your next destination in Banff National Park or hike around Lake Louise.

The classic hike goes up to Lake Agnes, where you can stop for a hot beverage at the famous Lake Agnes Tea House. Then, make your way back, either the same way you came up or by continuing to the Plain of Six Glaciers and returning via the Lake Louise lakeshore trail.

Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail
Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail

Lake Agnes
Lake Agnes - A welcome view after climbing the trail to the Lake Agnes Teahouse

The trails are well-maintained, but it is a long hike - 6 miles or 10 kilometers if you make the full round - and there's a significant elevation gain, so come prepared.

For more captivating destinations, explore our detailed guide on what to see and do around each of Yellowstone's entrances here.

2. Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon offers visitors a unique viewpoint of gushing waterfalls in a deep rocky ravine. Normally, you would have to be a rock climber - and a very good one! - to gain access to this kind of view.

At Johnston Canyon, you enjoy the luxury of hanging trails, making this an easy walk for the entire family. These metal catwalks cling to the rocky walls of the gorge, getting you through safely. Take that, climbers!

Hiking Johnston Canyon

A great hiking option in Banff National Park for families with kids!

A dirt trail leads to the canyon, where you hike along several platforms to the Lower Falls. You can—and should—continue to the Upper Falls, but know there's more elevation gain to get there.

If you're parents with a stroller, you may want to stop at Lower Falls and take turns hiking to Upper Falls and back.

Johnston Canyon Views

3. Valley of the Ten Peaks & Moraine Lake

The view of Moraine Lake and the stunning peaks behind it is nothing short of iconic. Canadians know it as the "20 Dollars View".

That isn't to say that they value it at $20 - seriously, you don't have to be a professional appraiser to tell that this view is worth billions - but simply that it was iconic enough to be on the Canadian $20 bill a few decades ago.

Moraine Lake

A short walk from the parking lot gets you to this view, so it's perfect for those looking to avoid long hikes.

Of course, if you're the kind that enjoys hiking (like we do), you can stretch your legs some more by hiking the easy lakeshore trail or one of the more challenging trails in the area. These are the Canadian Rockies, so there is no shortage of steep elevations and trails of all kinds.

Discover the iconic beauty of Moraine Lake in more depth by visiting our comprehensive feature here.

4. Peyto Lake

There are many lakes in the Canadian Rockies, but none has that striking neon-bright turquoise shade that Peyto Lake does.

Peyto Lake looks surreal—literally, beyond real. It's like someone poured the contents of the Crayola factory warehouse into a lake, picking only the barrels of bright turquoise pigments. The effect is made stronger by the water's strange opaqueness.

Lake Peyto

The most recommended viewpoint—and the one we went to—is Bow Summit, aka Bow Pass. You can get there by driving the Icefields Highway, which is about one hour north of Banff.

This makes it a great stop along the drive up north to Jasper National Park (you are doing that, right? Please don't miss out on Jasper National Park when visiting the Canadian Rockies!).

One more place for your Banff NP Bucket List...

This post was originally titled "5 Natural Wonders in Banff National Park," but I figured naming a road as a natural wonder was taking it too far.

You should add this road to your list of things to do in the park, especially if nature appeals to you. And I know it does, or you wouldn't be visiting Banff National Park, right?

5ish. Bow Valley Parkway

Bow Valley Parkway offers an alternate route to Canadian Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada Highway) between Banff and Lake Louise. This 48-kilometer-long road section is slower than the highway, but oh, it's so worth it!

You'll have to get on the Bow Valley Parkway anyway if you want to visit Johnston Canyon, but my suggestion is to stick to this route and return to it as often as possible during your visit to Banff National Park.

Why? In one word: Bears.

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. This place has the three big predators of the Rockies: wolves, cougars, and bears. The latter isn't shy about getting to the roadside for a nice lunch made of fresh grass for tourists.

We once saw no one, not two but six bears, while driving the Bow Valley Parkway! Including these two -

Black bear by Bow Valley Parkway

Grizzly bear at Bow Valley Parkway

Some were distant, others very close. Please be bear-smart and don't get too close to shoot your pictures.

We've seen people do that, and not only were those stupid tourists risking their own lives, but they were also getting the bears habituated to human presence. That's bad for the bears—very bad. Please don't do that.

Bear-watching done right!

Is that all there is to see in Banff National Park?

Well, duh, of course not! You could easily spend a couple of weeks here and not see it all, especially if you're willing to hike the trails for a few miles.

This area is a hiker's paradise, with beautiful lakes, mountains, streams, and waterfalls abounding—barring the bears.

Then there's the town of Banff itself. This historic resort town is beautiful and can easily fill a traveler's day.

Three museums, a superb visitors center, cable cars that take you up to Sulphur Mountain, and even The Cave and Basin National Historic Site  - the site that led to the creation of the entire park! - are all within the town's limits.

In other words, it's well worth a post in its own right, but know that I'm not ignoring the natural - and manmade - wonders of Banff itself!

If you're considering visiting the Canadian Rockies, plan for at least 3-4 days in Banff National Park. More is better. I hope this post made you see why. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please share them in the comments section below!

This post contains affiliate links. I get a small commission if you use these links to make your reservations. It doesn't cost you anything extra, and it helps me maintain this blog, so thanks in advance!

Lake Peyto - Banff National Park: 4 Natural Wonders that will blow your mind away

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  1. We are traveling to Alaska, and will be going through the Ice fields, in August, after seeing pictures of this area I am speechless! We can’t wait!!

    • It is spectacular! We hiked on the icefield and it’s an experience I’ll cherish forever (just keep in mind that you have to do that with a guide, if this is something you’re considering).

    • So glad you liked it, Dyan! Banff National Park is such a beautiful place it’s not hard to take good photos there!

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