As someone who’d rather spend my free time exploring outdoors than hanging out at home, Banff, Canada has been at the top of my bucket list for years. Immersed within the Rocky Mountains, Banff National Park is a massive playground for nature lovers and adventurers of all experience levels. And while Banff is famous for its winter ski season, summer is an equally as worthy (if not even better, IMO) time to visit.
I recently crossed over the Canadian border for the first time to spend a few days exploring everything Banff has to offer. But the truth is that I only scratched the surface of what you can see and do there. I could have easily spent two full weeks in town without running out of activities (mountain towns are maximalists when it comes to stuff to do). Between the stunning views, incredible wildlife sightings, and endless hiking opportunities, nearby lakes for boating and water sports, and the main stretch of Downtown Banff — full of local businesses and restaurants — the small but mighty mountain town is the ultimate hub for adventure.
If you’re ready to make the most of the season with a visit to one of Canada’s most beautiful destinations, follow my complete adventure guide below. I’m sharing where to play, stay, eat, and drink in Banff this summer.
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PART I — WHERE TO PLAY
The Banff Gondola
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As I said, I only had a few short days to spend in Banff, so I wanted to soak in as much as I could in a short amount of time. The Banff Gondola is an excellent way to do just that. It’s a tram ride that takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain where you’ll get sweeping views of the Bow Valley and six different mountain ranges. You’ll even get a birdseye view of the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course, where old-time celebs like Marilyn Monroe were often spotted back in the day.
There’s an accessible walkway with informational signage that leads you around the Sulphur Mountain summit, so you can take in the stunning 360-degree views and wildlife from above while learning more about Banff — did you know it’s Canada’s first national park? Once you’ve explored outside and taken (way too many) pictures of the postcard-like landscape, head inside to browse through the gondola’s indoor facility, which houses a gift shop, two restaurants, and interactive educational exhibits.
There’s a hike up Sulphur Moutain you can do as well, but if you’re short on time or you just would rather not hike up the mountain when you can take a fun little tram ride instead (I don’t blame you), then the Banff Gondola is certainly worth it. Besides, the ride to the top is a unique experience in itself…just try not to look down if you’re not good with heights!
The tram fits four people to a ride, but I rode alone on the way back down, apparently making for an opportune time to have a full-on solo photo shoot while suspended hundreds of feet in the air (America’s Next Top Model could never). As you can see above, I got some epic pics thanks to the awe-inspiring backdrop.
Book your Banff Gondola tickets here.
E-Biking Tour With Banff Cycle
For a full afternoon spent outdoors and a chance to see Banff’s diverse flora and fauna up close, take a guided electric biking tour with Banff Cycle. Your experienced guide will take you on a ride up a scenic nearby highway, stopping along the way to check out various views that seem almost too incredible to be real. You’ll be biking for about an hour and a half before making it to your final stop, but the E-bike assistance makes it doable for most fitness levels. Plus, that last stop, Johnston Canyon, is 100 percent worth the push.
At Johnston Canyon, you’ll find a hiking trail that leads you through a riverside canyon to two different waterfalls (if you make it up to the upper falls, be prepared to get wet!). After you make your way back down the path, your guide will treat you to lunch at the local cafe — which serves your favorite comfort food classics like club sandwiches and fish & chips. Trust me, you’ll want the fuel for the hour and a half ride back to Banff.
Be sure to stay on the lookout while riding down the highway, as you’ll likely get a glimpse at the many animals that roam the national park. Throughout my tour, we saw ground squirrels, dear, a bighorn sheep, and…wait for it…a F*CKING BEAR. Fortunately, it wasn’t a grizzly bear — from which I would have run screaming (Don’t actually do that though — click here for Banff wildlife sighting tips). It was a small black bear munching on dandelions on the side of the road. It was adorable, beautiful, and… still slightly terrifying considering it was my first bear sighting ever (which you’d know had you been able to hear the audible gasp I let out as we rode by).
The weather during summer in Banff can be very unpredictable. Throughout my four-hour biking tour, it went back and forth between rain and sunshine repeatedly. It’s a good idea to bring a light backpack with a rain jacket, layers, sunscreen, and a water bottle in tow.
Not only are there majestic mountain ranges encompassing the entire town of Banff, but there are several nearby lakes to explore. I visited Lake Minnewanka, Banff’s largest lake, for an afternoon by the water. It was the perfect medium of serene and stimulating. I started by grabbing ice cream at the lake’s snack shop, then enjoyed it by the side of the lake while taking in the scene — the calm navy blue water against rocky and evergreen-lined mountains, brave teenagers who took a plunge into the icy temperatures, families exploring the surrounding walking trails. It’s the perfect spot to relax and people watch.
Then, it was time for my tour on the Lake Minnewanka Cruise, an indoor boating experience that gets you a first-hand look at the lake’s natural beauty. It’s a great way to get out on the water while learning about the area’s legendary history, geology, wildlife information, and other fascinating stories like how the lake got its name (derived from a local Native word meaning “spirit lake”).
Book a tour with Lake Minnewanka Cruise here.
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Even if you’ve never heard of Lake Louise, you’ve definitely seen it on Instagram. Widely recognized for its crystalline turquoise water tucked within glacial mountains, the lake makes for the ultimate “the camera doesn’t do it justice” moment (but you have to go during summer to see it before the water freezes over).
Adventurers and nature-lovers will truly get a kick out of Lake Louise. First of all, the surrounding area offers ample hiking opportunities with trails ranging from easy hikes to multi-day backpacking expeditions. If you’re looking to get out on the water, you can rent a canoe from the Fairmont Hotel. Rentals are first come first serve, so your best bet is to head to the lake early on a weekday if you’re not down to wait.
You can also tour the Lake Louise area by horseback (horse girls, this one’s for you) by taking a guided equestrian tour with Brewster Trail Rides. You can choose from five different options that will take you around to the local hotspots. AKA, plenty more photo ops — and I guess you can, like, appreciate the nature and stuff too?
Jokes aside, Lake Louise is an influencer magnet for a reason. It’s incredibly beautiful and serene. So if you’re spending time in Banff, making the trek out is a must on your itinerary.
PART II — WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
There’s nothing like a cold beverage after a long day of exploring. If you want a taste of the local spirits, there’s no better place to visit than Park Distillery. In fact, it’s the only distillery located in a Canadian national park. Park Distillery’s water originates from glaciers in the surrounding Rocky Mountains, and it sources grain from high-altitude family farms in the Alberta foothills.
You can stop in for a few of Park’s specialty cocktails made with their own locally distilled spirits. Or you can take a guided tour through the property to get a first-hand look at the entire process. You’ll get an inside look at the facilities, learn about how the spirits are made, then get a guided tasting of their six most popular spirits (the gin was my personal favorite). But be wary of the altitude in Banff and stay hydrated, especially if you’re coming from a coastal location. I may or may not have needed a post-tasting nap after getting tipsy off two shots.
Learn more and book a tour at Park Distillery here.
Hello Sunshine is where delicious food and good vibes collide. The groovy, retro-inspired restaurant and karaoke bar hybrid is ideal for lively group dinners or a night out with your travel crew. With a sushi bar, fire tables, two karaoke rooms, and even a “tiny bar” which is like a miniature speakeasy, this spot offers one of the most eccentric dining experiences in Banff.
Not only is the ambiance on point, but the food and drinks menus are equally satisfying. You’ll find sharable sushi bites, hand rolls, seafood skewers, and more. You have to try the Hello Lobster roll (tempura lobster tail, tarragon mayo, tobiko) and the grilled miso eggplant. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
As for drinks, you of course can’t go wrong with one of the many sake options. But I’m a sucker for a specialty cocktail, so I first tried the Lycee Cucumber Sour, made with local Park Gin, lychee liqueur, apple, lemon, egg white, and cucumber bitters. It was the tantalizing and tart libation I needed to kickstart my meal. I also sipped on the Smoked Peach Margarita, which was infused with Blanco tequila, mezcal, peach liqueur, and white peach.
Reading this back, it seems like I was buzzed for 90% of my time in Banff — no wonder I loved it!
Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant
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For a laidback yet elevated sports bar environment, head to Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant. It offers outdoorsy mountain vibes, classic bar food favorites, and small-batch brews made with pure glacier water. Three Bears Brewery is an outdoor-indoor experience during summer with an open rooftop and plenty of hanging greenery to make you feel like you’re chilling in the wilderness. And the great thing about visiting Banff during summer is that it stays light out until about 10 p.m.
The drinks menu offers a selection of six beers (you might as well get the flight to try them all), various on-tap and signature cocktails, as well as wine. The food menu puts comfort food at the forefront with options like cheesy waffle fries, burgers, pizza, and beer-battered fish and chips.
View the full Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant menu here.
Banff Ave Brewing Co.
Right in the heart of Downtown Banff, the Banff Ave Brewing Co. serves up a casual and cool restaurant and bar experience. Head upstairs from the tap room entrance for a lively ambiance inside the main restaurant, or snag a spot on the upstairs patio to sip on a brew while you take in the mountain views and scenes of the downtown streets bustling with tourists.
(Drinking game idea: Take a sip every time someone stops in the middle of the street for a classic Banff Instagram moment. Warning: You might leave stumbling out of the bar.)
The menu offers a selection of craft beers, cocktails, wine, and spirits, so there’s plenty to choose from for everyone. I went with the Strawberry Basil Sour, a refreshing and fruity beer that’s perfect for the summer season. What I liked about the food menu is that it goes beyond your average bar food. You’ll find a few slightly avant-garde options like mushroom & ricotta toast, a falafel burger (this is what I ordered), and housemade smoked olives. But don’t worry, you’ll still find classic bar food options like wings, mac ‘n’ cheese, and nachos if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
View the full Banff Brewing Co. menu here.
PART III — WHERE TO STAY
Peaks Hotel & Suites
If you want to be in the heart of the action, book a room at Peaks Hotel & Suites. Just a few steps from the many restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and bars of Downtown Banff, Peaks is one of the area’s newest accommodation options (opened in 2020). Along with its insanely convenient location, it offers a homey yet modern aesthetic. Think, “cabin chic.”
With a pool, gym, and restaurant available to guests at Peaks’ sister hotel across the street, you’ll have everything you need less than a minute away. There are four different lodging options to choose from, all of which make for a comfortable mountain escape. There was nothing like coming back to my cozy hotel bed for a much-needed nap after a long afternoon of exploring.
Book a room at Peaks Hotel & Suites here.
Banff Bear Bed & Breakfast
If you’re looking for more of a rustic mountain experience with the comfort of a hotel, check out the Banff Bear Bed & Breakfast. When you book a stay, you’ll get this cozy cabin all to yourself — including two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and self-contained apartment-style space.
Due to Banff’s strict zoning laws, Airbnbs are extremely hard to come by. So if you typically prefer a private vacation rental, this spot makes for a great alternative. It’s located at the foot of Tunnel Mountain in Banff and is only a five-minute walk from downtown, so you have privacy while still being close to the action. Plus, Banff Bear Bed & Breakfast offers your choice of continental breakfast items (I mean, it is a bed and breakfast, after all).
Book your stay at the Banff Bear Bed & Breakfast here.
PART IV — GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND
To get to Banff, you’ll first fly into the Calgary airport. From there, it’s about a two-hour drive to the national park. If you plan on venturing far into the wilderness, then you may want to get a rental car. But otherwise, you really don’t need one. Instead, you can save money and get to Banff using the Banff Airporter. It’s a shuttle bus that takes you from the airport straight to your hotel, which to me seems way more convenient than dealing with rental cars and parking. Besides, the drive to Banff is gorgeous, so you can take in the views without worrying about keeping your eyes on the road.
Schedule your flight times to coordinate with the shuttle so you’re not stuck waiting around at the airport for the next available time slot.
Book your ride on the Banff Airporter here.
The public transportation in Banff is convenient, affordable, and easy to use thanks to the Roam Transit. The busses run regularly, making stops along Banff Avenue and to the many tourist spots mentioned above like the gondola and Lake Minnewanka. It’s only $2 per one-way ride (or less if you get a day pass), and the accompanying transit app makes getting around simple and straightforward, even for the directionally challenged like me.
Download the transit app and check the ride schedule here.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by Banff and Lake Louise Tourism. However, they did not review this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.