Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends


Banff National Park used to be one of Canada’s biggest open secrets—but not anymore. Once a relatively obscure destination for most Americans that resided in the shadows of celebrated U.S. parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, it has since emerged as an “It Girl” of travel destinations thanks, in large part, to social media. Photos of its jewel-colored glacial lakes, towering mountains and abundant wildlife are wowing and wooing travelers to the Canadian Rockies. Today it welcomes more than 4 million visitors each year—a nearly 30% jump from just seven years ago. If you’ve been captivated by what you’ve seen, and dream of a Banff vacation, here’s what you need to know.

RELATED: Canada’s coolest towns in every province and territory

When to go

The most popular time to visit is from July to mid-September. This is when access is at its best: Nature is in full bloom; roads and hiking trails are most accessible; canoes are allowed on glacial lakes; daylight lasts past 8pm; and temperatures (with highs into the low 70s) make for pleasant for hikes.

The transitional seasons of spring and autumn, chillier and sometimes snowier due to the 4,500-foot elevation, can be wise if you’re intent on avoiding crowds, especially by traveling midweek. Expect fall foliage from late September to early October.

From December-April, Banff turns into a snow-blanketed wonderland of skiing and snowboarding at resorts such as Mount Norquary. Other winter activities include cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, snowshoeing, dog sledding and ice walks.

Getting there

Photo courtesy of

The closest airport is Calgary International Airport (YYC), which is served by most major airlines. From there, it’s a 1.5-hour drive to the resort town of Banff. Another option: the train. Luxury train journeys through the Canadian Rockies are offered by The Rocky Mountaineer and Via Rail, with departures from Vancouver.

Where to stay

The resort town of Banff makes for a convenient base, and offers a diverse collection of hotels clustered around its charming main street. Travelers on a budget might also consider the nearby town of Canmore, which is just a 20-minute drive away.

If you’re willing and able to hike to a campsite or backcountry lodge within Banff National Park, you’ll be rewarded with a natural nirvana removed from day-tripping and Instagramming crowds—and in most cases, WiFi and cell service, too. Accommodations such as Shadow Lake Lodge, Sundance Lodge and Skoki Lodge (where Prince William and Kate Middleton once stayed) offer modern conveniences in log cabin settings. Campsites can be reserved through Parks Canada as early as mid-January for the next camping season.

For a real splurge—and unparalleled access to one of Banff’s most iconic settings—consider the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s the only property directly situated on Lake Louise, often considered the crown jewel of Banff. Staying here comes with perks, including exclusive guest access to sunrise canoe trips on the lake in summer.

Regardless of where you choose to stay, if you’re traveling in summer, book early. Popular accommodations often book out a year in advance.

Getting around

It’s possible to be car-free and it’s an option encouraged by Parks Canada in its effort to reduce the number of vehicles congesting the park. The Brewster Express offers shuttles between Banff and Calgary Airport, and once in Banff, local shuttles and day-tour excursions eliminate the hassle of driving and parking.

However, a rental car offers freedom to explore at your own pace, which can be especially valuable if you plan to make one of the most spectacular mountain drives in the world: The Icefields Parkway. This 144-mile road that slices through Banff and Jasper National Parks offers a bounty of lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, hiking trails and wildlife viewing that inspires numerous stops.

ALSO: Looking for travel rewards, eh? Find them at Orbitz Rewards!

Glacial lakes

Moraine lake in the Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Canada

Moraine Lake

The glacier-fed lakes of this region, which boast mesmerizing shades of blue that perfectly reflect the mountains and sky on a clear day, attract a parade of tourists, so time your visit thoughtfully. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are the most iconic and busiest. If you’re driving, plan to arrive at the parking lot early (in summer, as early as 5am); otherwise you may be forced to park in a distant lot and await a shuttle. Other lakes worth a visit include Lake Agnes, Mirror Lake, Lake Minnewanka and Peyto Lake.


Banff National Park is home to more than 1,000 miles of maintained trails, and many of its most famous are accessible from Banff and Lake Louise. This is the best way to experience true intimacy with the setting. The hike to the Tea House from Lake Louise—a moderate, uphill ascend of 2.2 miles that winds past stunning mountain vistas and lakes—is among the most popular. If you continue past the Tea House to circle back (rather than return the way you came), you’ll be rewarded with even more spectacular views and fewer crowds: Worth it if you have the time and stamina!


A bear or moose sighting can certainly mark a trip highlight, but heed two rules with any wildlife encounter: Keep your distance and don’t feed them. As tourist numbers to Banff increase, so unfortunately has ill-advised behavior by tourists toward its animals. Stay in your vehicle if you spot wildlife, and have bear spray handy for hikes. Bear spray can be rented or purchased in Banff.

Timely advice

Just as social media has elevated the popularity of Banff, it also can help your travel planning. Facebook groups like Parks Canada and Banff & Jasper National Parks are great resources. Timely tips from current travelers offer inspiration and advice to fuel your own Banff adventure.

Orbitz, app, iPhone, travel, deals

Tagged: Banff, Canada

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Erica Bray

Erica Bray

Erica is a practical free spirit who loves travel, yoga and ice cream. A Northwestern University-trained journalist with more than 15 years of experience straddling digital and broadcast media, Erica can be found doing handstands everywhere she travels -- even risking arrest in some cases. Learn about her at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *