For decades, Banff National Park, a 90 minute drive from our home in Calgary, has been our adventure playground. Spanning 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles) of mountains, glaciers, valleys and forests, picking which things to do in Banff in summer can be challenging.

This Canadian wilderness wonderland puts visiting Banff on many travel lists. Approximately four million visitors make the dream come true each year.

Things to do in Banff in Summer

Banff National Park holds the special memories of our honeymoon over 35 years ago and in addition, the wedding of our son and daughter in law. Our love for this country’s first national park gushes out of our mouths like a proud parents going on and on about their gifted child.

Banff is practically in our backyard. This seems like an excellent reason to plan your next holiday (when safe to do so) to this UNESCO World Heritage site. The combination of modern amenities and pristine wilderness creates boundless opportunities of things to do in Banff National Park.

Before making plans for Banff activities or things to do in Banff National Park, consult travel information and advisories provided by Banff Lake Louise Tourism.

Things to do in Banff in Summer

Banff Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay

Banff activities Via Ferrata

One of the most adventurous Banff activities – Via Ferrata

Italian for iron road, Via Ferratas are protected mountain routes equipped with fixed cables, rungs or ladders and bridges. Today more than one thousand exist worldwide, with the majority being in Europe. Just outside of Banff, Alberta, Mount Norquay provides four breathtaking Via Ferrata routes to choose from.

By placing steel steps, long handles referred to as towel racks, ladder rungs and the cable in the rock, climbers can securely traverse a mountain route. No previous climbing experience is required.

Via Ferrata Mount Norquay

Stunning views of Banff from the Via Ferrata on Mount Norquay

Wearing harnesses and helmets, those on the Norquay Via Ferrata, are secured to the cable via safety leashes. A mountain guide is always present. The guide assists with any fear of heights, providing extra support and encouragement throughout the adventure.

Arguably the most adventurous of the Banff National Park attractions, our story,  Banff Via Ferrata – Adventure on High, includes  a video of this Banff must see experience.

Horseback Riding in Banff

Banff tourist attractions horseback riding

Banff sightseeing via horseback

With the sun sparkling off the snow-tipped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, the river water splashes quietly against the legs of our gentle horses. Although the landscape is not new to us, the scenery of Banff National Park remains awe-inspiring.

The horseback trails follow some of the same historic routes that the original explorers of the Canadian Rockies created in the 1920’s.

With over 300 horses, the guides match the horse to the rider’s abilities. My husband requests a stead the width of a bicycle seat for his less-than-flexible hips. The guides do their best to accommodate. 

Horse riding things to do in Banff in summer

Banff Trail Riders offers 17 unique horse riding trips from 1 hour to multi day back country trips. Being beginner riders, choosing the full day horse ride was a physically demanding day for us. Riding a horse is not just a matter of sitting.

For more tips on one of the best Banff things to do in Banff in summer, read our article Horseback Riding Banff – Making A Cowboy.

Visit Lake Minnewanka and its Underwater Town

Lake Minnewanka

A visit to Lake Minnewanka is one of the easy things to do near Banff

Archaeological evidence of stone tools, suggests the original shores of Alberta’s Lake Minnewanka, served as camping and hunting grounds for as long as 10,000 years. The Stoney Nakoda people named the glacial lake Minn-waki or Lake of the Spirits.

When the first Europeans explorers arrived to this area, now known as Banff National Park, native people were still living in the valley. By the early 1900s, Minnewanka Landing  was a summer resort with restaurants, wharves and even cruise boats.

In 1912, a dam was built to store water for a hydro electric plant. Then after a 20 years of arguing, between those wanting power development and those pressing for park protection, a second dam was built in 1941.

Boat on Lake Minnewanka

One of the top things to do in Banff is paddling on Lake Minnewanka

The Canadian government approved it under the War Measures Act. They proposed that the  power was needed to supply the war effort. In doing so, the town of Minnewanka L L Landing now lies 60 feet below the water.

For information on one of the most fascinating Banff attractions, including Lake Minnewanka tours, hiking and boat rentals, you can read our post Underwater Ghost Town – Lake Minnewanka Banff National Park.

Watch for Ghosts at The Banff Springs Hotel

Banff Springs Banff attractions

Places to visit in Banff – Do ghosts haunt the Banff Springs hotel?

Call them myths or legends, a wide variety of Banff Springs Hotel ghost stories exist.  As with any good tale, over the decades the details flourish and evolve. Of all the things to do in Banff, Canada, searching for spirits may be the most unusual.

The Banff Springs Hotel rests majestically among Canada’s Rocky Mountains, in the heart of Banff National Park. Opening in 1888, by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), the ‘bastion of luxury’ inspiration, by the visionary railway pioneer Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, came to life.

As a result of the railway stretching westward, a stop-over was required for those travelling the new route. Van Horne understood that the astounding mountain scenery and natural thermal pools nearby, would create a world class destination.

Consequently today, Banff National Park is the busiest in Canada.

Banff Fairmont hotel

Do you see the Canadian Pacific sign and the symbolic Canadian beaver?

Vice President of the CPR, Van Horne made famous the line, “If we can’t export the scenery we’ll import the tourists.”

For details on Banff sightseeing for ghosts, our article Banff Haunted Hotel – Mystery at the Banff Springs awaits.

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff

Things to do in Banff in summer - Johnston canyon

One of the best things to do in Banff in summer – Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon, with its accessible and jaw-dropping lower and upper falls, is on the top of the list of Banff tourist attractions. So each year approximately 1 million hikers explore the wonders of this Alberta gem.

Accessed from the Bow Valley Parkway, a typical summer day sees the giant parking lot overflowing with vehicles. Vehicles routinely line the road for kilometres in each direction.

When COVID-19 came calling in 2020, Parks Canada took action by closing the Bow Valley Parkway to vehicles. Controlling the crowds, on the often narrow bridges and paths, especially near Johnston Canyon lower falls, would prove impossible.

Cycling Bow Valley Parkway Banff

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway without vehicles thanks to Parks Canada

There are few positives to this pandemic. However, if you have a bicycle, the Bow Valley Parkway remains open to cyclists. 

For full details on how to ride from Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway read our guide Johnston Canyon Hike – Bow Valley Parkway Closes and Becomes Cycling Paradise

Have you been to Banff, Alberta? What would your pick be of things to see in Banff?