Spring is one of my favorite seasons when snow is starting to melt, the weather is finally getting warmer yet places are still crowd-free. This is the perfect time to go on trips and usually, we like to fly somewhere warm and tropical like Maui, Guatemala, or Mexico. But this year we did something a bit different and planned a trip to Banff National Park in Spring!
We have been to Banff National Park in the summer several times before so we were expecting turquoise blue lakes and spring flowers. However, when our plane landed and we saw a snow-covered landscape, we knew that was not the case. Traveling to Banff in April was not what we quite expected, but it turned out to be a unique experience of its own.
We got to see frozen waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, wildlife, stunning viewpoints and so much more. Even in the ‘off-season’, there are still plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in Banff National Park.
In this travel guide, we cover all the best things to do in Banff National Park in Spring for a fun and adventurous trip!
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Best Things To Do In Banff National Park In Spring:
1. Hike Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
Johnston Canyon Banff is one of the most magical things to do in Banff National Park – during any season. While we visited Johnston Canyon in the summer on a previous trip, nothing compared to seeing it covered in snow.
Johnston Canyon has been open to visitors since the early 1900s offering an easily accessible place where you can walk along pathways and marvel at a turquoise river surrounded by towering canyon walls.
In the Spring season, Johnston Canyon feels like a magical winter wonderland. Plus, you get the chance to see frozen waterfalls which is such a cool bucket list experience!
Google Map Location: Johnston Canyon
Visitor Tip: When visiting Johnston Canyon in the snowier months, having hiking microspikes is a must. If you don’t have a set of microspikes, you can also sign up for a guided Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour that will provide all of the necessary hiking gear so you can have a safe outdoor adventure.
2. Drive Icefields Parkway
Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic sightseeing routes that you can drive in Alberta, Canada. This epic road trip route offers a peak at towering mountain peaks, turquoise blue alpine lakes, and ancient glaciers.
The entire Icefields Parkway is 233 km (144 miles) long each way and takes several hours to complete. The lower part of the highway is part of Banff National Park up to Columbia Icefield where the road crosses into Jasper National Park.
Some of the main stops along Icefields Parkway include:
- Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint
- Bow Lake Viewpoint
- Peyto Lake
- Athabasca Glacier
Driving Tip: Before heading into Highway 93 be sure to fill up on gas, water, and snacks as amenities within this highway in spring are very limited. Winter tires or chains might be required up until the end of March.
3. Stop By Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint
Peyto Lake is one of my favorite locations for photography in all of Canada. This gorgeous glacier lake is famous for its turquoise-blue color and shape that resembles that of a fox or wolf (depending on who you ask).
To reach the Peyto Lake upper viewpoint, you can park your car in the designated visitor parking lot. From there follow a short trail for about 20 minutes uphill that goes directly to a viewpoint of the lake.
Once you reach the viewpoint, you can walk around a platform made of metal walkways that overlook the lake. In April Peyto Lake was covered in a layer of snow and ice so it didn’t have that bright blue color to it. But even without the distinct blue color, Peyto Lake looks absolutely stunning and is well worth a stop.
Google Map Location: Peyto Lake
To photograph the Canadian Rockies we used our Sony a7c camera and the Sony 16-35 mm F4 wide lens. The wide lens is great for capturing panoramas and nature landscapes.
4. Marvel At The Athabasca Glacier
Glaciers have formed in the Columbia Icefield for the past 3 million years and used to cover much of its landscape. If you’re interested in visiting a glacier in person, we highly recommend driving out to Athabasca Glacier where you can see this ancient glacier up close.
For a budget-friendly option, you can park in the visitor lot and go on a short hike to the Athabasca Glacier viewpoint. Along the way, you can check out a lot of information signs on how glaciers have grown and shrunk over the years and learn about the effects of global warming.
In 1844 Athabasca Glacier reached all the way to the Icefield Center by Icefields Parkway Highway. Now this glacier recedes 5 meters (16 feet) per year.
The glacier itself is quite impressive situated in the middle between two towering mountain peaks. For a unique perspective, be sure to stop by the Columbia Icefield Skywalk which is a 1 km (0.6 miles) long clear glass walkway suspended in the air.
Google Map Location: Athabasca Glacier
For a more immersive Athabasca Glacier experience, check out this Ice Explorer Glacier and Glacier Skywalk Tour. This tour includes a ride in the rugged ice explorer up to the glacier base, a walk along the glacier, and access to Glacier Skywalk after!
5. Hike Across Lake Louise
If you’re seeking magical winter wonderland landscapes, head over to Lake Louise! Even in late April, the entire lake was covered in a thick layer of ice allowing us to safely walk across to the other side of it.
During our hike, we were able to enjoy beautiful views of snow-capped mountains all around us. If you have extra time, be sure to check out the frozen waterfall on the opposite side of the lake.
Hiking Tip: Bring trekking microspikes, so you can climb up to the base of the frozen waterfall for a closer look.
Google Map Location: Lake Louise
6. Enjoy Lunch At Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
When hunger strikes, take a break from winter adventures at the stunning Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise where you can enjoy a relaxing lunch.
Situated at the edge of Lake Louise, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a hotel like no other. This iconic 4-star hotel offers 539 luxurious rooms, an indoor pool, and multiple dining choices that make it a destination of its own.
We stopped for lunch at the Lakeview Lounge which has tall windows with direct views of Lake Louise. We visited Banff National Park for my Birthday so dining here was such a special treat!
The menu was limited but offered plenty of lighter choices for lunch. We settled on the Heirloom Tomato Crostini & Hearty Lentil Soup and Black Cod Chowder which were so delicious and filling.
We also walked past the gorgeous Fairview Bar & Restaurant which has a gorgeous mid-century modern setting and excellent views of the lake. Whether you’re looking for a place to enjoy lunch or an overnight stay, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the place to be.
Google Map Location: Fairmont Château Lake Louise
7. Ride The Banff Gondola
Banff Gondola is one of the top tourist attractions in Banff National Park. The gondola follows a 1560 meters (5120 feet) long cable track to the top of Sulphur Mountain where you can enjoy various activities.
It takes around 6-10 minutes to ride the gondola each way. Once you exit the cable car, you can stop for panoramic views at the observation deck or head on a short walk to the Mountain Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site.
At the summit of the 7510 feet tall mountain, you can browse for souvenirs at the gift shop or dine at the award-winning Sky Bistro.
You can purchase tickets in person or book Banff Gondola Ride Admission online here.
For a more budget-friendly option, you can also hike to the summit of Sulphur Mountain by following the Sulphur Mountain Trail.
Sulphur Mountain Trail is a difficult 6.7-mile long out-and-back trail with 2500 feet of elevation gain. The trail does stay open year round so it’s a great hiking option in the spring months.
Hiking Tip: If you plan to hike in the colder seasons, come prepared with warm clothing, waterproof hiking boots, microspikes, and trekking poles.
Google Map Location: Banff Gondola
8. Relax At Banff Upper Hot Springs
Just a few minutes walk from Banff Gondola is Banff Upper Hot Springs – an outdoor thermal mineral spring that overlooks the Canadian Rockies. Banff Upper Hot Springs is the highest-elevation operational hot springs in Canada and a great place to relax for a couple of hours.
This swimming pool is open to the public for a small entrance fee and provides gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and lush forests. If you enjoy natural hot springs, it doesn’t get better than this!
This iconic Banff bathhouse has been open since 1930 offering a place to soak sore muscles after outdoor adventures. Banff Upper Hot Springs consists of one large outdoor swimming pool so it can get crowded, especially on the weekends. If you forget to pack a towel or bathing suit, you can rent those on-site for 2 CAD each.
Opening Hours: 10 am to 10 pm (with the last entry at 9:30 pm)
Single Entry Cost:
- Adult (18-64 years): 16.50 CAD
- Youth (3-17 years): 14.25 CAD
- Extra Youth: 7.75 CAD
- Senior (65+ years): 14.25 CAD
- Family: 53 CAD
Therman Waters Pass Cost (includes Banff Upper Hot Springs, Cave, and Basin National Historic Site):
- Adult (18-64 years): 22.75 CAD
- Youth (3-17 years): 14.25 CAD
- Senior (65+ years): 19.25 CAD
- Family: 71.25 CAD
Google Map Location: Banff Upper Hot Springs
9. Visit Cave And Basin National Historic Site
Cave and Basin National Historic Site is one of the must-sees within Banff National Park! At this attraction, you can see colorful thermal hot springs, tunnels, and a cave plus check out various interactive exhibits and films.
This location was originally discovered by three Canadian railroad workers in 1883 that tried to commercialize it and turn it into a public pool. By 1885 Canadian government took ownership of these thermal hot springs which eventually became the foundation for Canada’s first National Park.
Later a tunnel was added so visitors could access the cave along with an additional swimming pool and a bathing house. Eventually, the man-made bathing pools were removed and the hot springs became a protected landmark. These turquoise hot pools are also home to the endangered Banff Springs Snails that can only be found at this location.
Although this attraction is quite small, it is a great activity for families and little kids. The hot springs themselves remind me of the beautiful cenotes in Yucatan, Mexico with its turquoise water, round cave, and a small opening in the ceiling.
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, closed Monday & Tuesday
Single Entry Cost:
- Adult: 8.50 CAD
- Senior: 7.00 CAD
- Youth: Free
- Commercial Group: 7.00 CAD per person
Google Map Location: Cave and Basin National Historic Site
10. Stop At Bow Falls Viewpoint
Bow Falls viewpoint is one of the easiest attractions to access in Banff. This waterfall is situated along a U-shaped turn of the Bow River with excellent views all around. In the spring Bow River is full of fresh snowmelt so you can see the water rushing down at a high speed.
While in April the river is still partially covered in ice, by summer all the snow has melted revealing the stunning turquoise color below. The water in Bow River is full of finely powdered glacier rock flour that gives it a green-blue hue.
From Bow Falls Viewpoint, you can head on nearby trails such as:
- Bow Falls Trail: 1.2 km (.75 miles)
- Upper Hot Springs Trail: 1.8 km (1.1 miles)
- Mount Rundle Summit Trail: 5.5 km (3.4 miles)
- Spray River Loop: 12 km (7.5 miles round trip)
Google Map Location: Bow Falls Viewpoint
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11. Take a Photo By Banff Town Sign
As you enter (or exit Banff Town), be sure to stop by the iconic Banff Town Sign off Mt Norquay Road to snap a few photos.
There is some parking space along the road where you can park your car and walk to the sign. Just be sure to keep an eye out for incoming and outgoing car traffic as this is the main entry road into Banff.
Google Map Location: Banff Town Sign
12. Explore Downtown Banff
With the Rocky Mountains as its backdrop, you can easily call Banff one of the most beautiful towns in the world! Upon arriving in Banff, we recommend stopping by Banff Visitor Centre where you can find more information on local attractions, hikes, and things to do in the area.
Downtown Banff is the epicenter of Banff National Park where you can find plenty of restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, bars, and souvenir stores to browse through.
From downtown, you walk over to the Banff Town sign or go on a hike along:
A few other top Banff attractions include Central Park, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Buffalo Nations Museum, and Cascade of Time Garden.
13. Stop By Banff View Point
Just a 10-minute drive north of Banff City is one of the best viewpoints in the area. To get there you will need to take a few sharp turns up the windy Mt Norquay Scenic Dr, but the view from the top is well worth it!
As long as the weather is great, you can snap a few memorable panoramic photos of Banff town and the surrounding mountains. Often you can also spot a herd of Bighorn Sheep on the hillside in front of the viewpoint.
Google Map Location: Banff View Point
14. Spot Wildlife
When traveling to Banff, the chances of seeing wildlife are pretty high. This National Park is known for having an abundance of wild animals such as:
- Grizzly Bears
- Bighorn Sheep
- Mountain Goats
Every time we visit Banff National Park, we’ve seen plenty of wildlife, even just driving around. If you see any wild animals while driving, please slow down, stay in your car, and use the hazard lights to alert the cars behind you.
For the best experience book the Banff Wildlife Small Group Adventure which comes with an experienced guide who will take you to all the top wildlife viewing spots in Banff. During this tour, you’ll also get to explore Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake by private minibus.
15. Go Skiing Or Snowboarding
While in most places spring marks the end of the ski season, in Banff you can often continue enjoying winter spots late into May.
Banff has three major ski resorts (also called SkiBig3):
These ski resorts stay open until May marking one of the longest ski seasons in all of North America. With milder temperatures, yet high levels of snowfall, spring offers one of the most ideal conditions for skiing and snowboarding in Banff.
In spring, Banff ski resorts also host lots of fun outdoor events with music and drinks. Plus, with the longer daylight hours, you’ll get extra time out on the slopes!
16. Go On a Hike
If you’re looking to go on a trek during your visit to Banff National Park, there are plenty of locations that are accessible during the spring months.
Here are some of the best hiking trails that we’ve done in Banff National Park:
- Lake Agnes Trail – 4.6 miles out and back. Lake Agnes is one of the most gorgeous hikes in Banff. It starts by Lake Louise and climbs up through the mountains to a hidden alpine lake. If you plan to do this trail in the colder months, it’s important to go prepared with snowshoes, ice cleats, plenty of water, and warm clothing. Keep In Mind: Lake Agnes is one of the highest rescue trails in Banff National Park because many people attempt this trek without proper gear or knowledge of weather conditions.
- Tunnel Mountain Summit – 2.7 miles out and back. This is one of the most popular trails that starts in Banff town. It travels to the top of Tunnel Mountain which sits at an elevation of 1690 m (5543 feet). You’re guaranteed to have excellent views, no matter the time of year!
- Johnston Canyon to Upper Falls – 3.3 miles out and back. This is one of our personal favorite spring hikes in Banff. Along this trail, you can see frozen waterfalls, and snow-covered trees, explore caves, viewpoints and so much more. If you don’t have winter hiking gear, book this guided Johnston Canyon Icewalk Tour that comes with a professional guide, ice cleats, hiking poles, plus a hot chocolate so you can stay warm and cozy as you explore Johnston Canyon.
17. Stop By Vermilion Lakes Viewpoint
If you’re looking for an easily accessible place to take a few photos, Vermilion Lakes Viewpoint is worth a quick stop. This viewing area offers excellent views of Vermilion Lakes and Mount Rundle in the distance.
You can see a sneak peek of Vermilion Lakes as you drive into Banff town along the Trans-Canada Highway. For a better view, we recommend turning on Vermilion Lakes Road where you will find some parking spaces and access to the lake.
This location is not as busy as other attractions so it’s a great spot to get away from the crowds. If you look closely, you might even spot ducks or a muskrat hunting for food by diving into the icy lake water!
Google Map Location: Vermilion Lakes Viewpoint
18. Watch Sunset At Hoodoos Viewpoint
For a fun and easy hike with excellent views, head over to the Hoodoos Viewpoint 10 minutes east of Banff town. Here you can hike to multiple viewpoints overlooking oddly shaped rocks called hoodoos.
This hidden gem offers excellent views of rock pillars that were created thousands of years ago from rain, snowmelt, and wind. These hoodoos are very unique and reminded us of the unique rock formations at Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.
There is a small visitor parking lot where you can park your car and head on a short walk to the viewpoints. You can spend as little as 30 minutes or stay for sunset lounging in the red Adirondack chairs overlooking the Bow River and the Rocky Mountains.
Fun Fact: Parks Canada has placed over 200 red chairs throughout the country where you can enjoy views and take photos. And there are 11 red chairs in Banff National Park alone! You can find a list of all the red chair locations on the Parks Canada website here.
Google Map Location: Hoodoos Viewpoint
19. Have Brunch At Farm & Fire Restaurant
Farm & Fire is a modern restaurant at the center of Banff Town that offers a unique take on brunch. We stopped by here for breakfast before heading out on outdoor adventures and had a great time.
Farm & Fire takes pride in sourcing only the best, freshest ingredients from local Canadian farmers. The interior of the restaurant is so chic and is the perfect setting for a fun breakfast with friends and family.
The breakfast menu is small but features a variety of items from classics like Canadian Eggs Benny and eggs with bacon to some more interesting Brunch Bowl combos. Besides breakfast, Farm & Fire is also open for dinner.
Google Map Location: Farm & Fire
20. Enjoy Drinks At The Canadian Brewhouse
If you’re looking for a fun night out, head over to The Canadian Brewhouse in Banff. This restaurant & bar is a great spot to enjoy a few beers while watching a hockey game. It’s just like your typical bar… just with lots and lots more TVs!
The food menu at Canadian Brewhouse is quite extensive and features favorites like Tri-Stacked Nachoes, Baba’s Ukranian Perogies, and Brewhouse Classic Poutine. The service is always fast, friendly, and very welcoming making you feel like you’re just one of the locals.
In the winter & spring months, you can also pop in for drinks at the Belvedere Ice Room experience. The entire ice bar is made of hand-crafted ice and kept at -35°C. You will be provided with a down jacket and mittens so you can stay nice and cozy as you sip on icy vodka drinks.
Google Map Location: The Canadian Brewhouse (Banff)
While most people flock to Banff National Park in the summer, spring is a great season to visit this part of Canada. With warmer temperatures and easier access to locations, there are so many fun things to do in Banff in spring!
To help you more with trip planning, here are some additional tips for visiting Banff National Park.
What To Pack For Banff In Spring
Here are a few things that we recommend packing for outdoor adventures in Banff during the shoulder season:
- Microspikes. If there is one thing that I recommend bringing to Banff in spring – it is a pair of microspikes. We wore ours multiple times a day while going on winter hikes at Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Johnston Canyon, Athabasca Glacier, and other attractions. You can get a pair of cheap microspikes on Amazon, but these start falling apart after a few uses. If you can, invest a bit more money and get better pair that will last you a few seasons.
- Waterproof hiking boots. A good pair of waterproof boots can make all the difference in snow adventures. I recommend getting a pair that are water resistant to keep your feet dry and have lots of traction so you don’t slip and fall.
- Warm winter jacket. Be sure to bring a jacket to keep you cozy as the days in spring are still pretty cold.
- Outdoor hiking pants. During the colder months, I like to use insulated, waterproof pants that will keep me warm on outdoor adventures.
- REI Co-op Nalgene Water Bottle. I love my reusable REI Co-op Nalgene bottle and bring it on every trip. This bottle is leakproof and so easy to clean.
- Anker Portable phone charger. I always bring a fully charged battery pack when going on outdoor trips. A portable phone charger can come in handy in case your phone runs out of battery and you need to use it to look up directions, trail routes, or places to eat after.
- Bear spray. Whenever you plan to head outdoors in Canada, having bear spray is highly recommended. Tip: Most airports don’t allow bringing bear spray in travel suitcases. If you plan to fly to Canada, your best option is to get one after landing.
Best Hotels In Banff
Looking to book a hotel for your trip to Banff, Canada? Here are some of the best places to stay in the town of Banff!
Royal Canadian Lodge
On our most recent trip to Canada in April, we stayed at the Royal Canadian Lodge. This hotel is situated along the main street in Banff town and features wonderful amenities.
The Royal Canadian Lodge has an onsite restaurant, an indoor swimming pool, spa services, and a lounge. For booking options, you have a choice of Queen and King rooms with a fireplace or a Deluxe Junior Suite. The rooms come with a fridge, coffee maker, and complimentary coffee so you can start your morning off right.
The hotel is also located close to local restaurants and bars. Within a short walk, we were able to walk to local breakfast spots such as Whitebark Café and Farm & Fire restaurant.
Peaks Hotel and Suites
At the Peaks Hotel and Suites, guests are treated to a home away from home experience. This contemporary 4-star hotel offers a quiet sanctuary at the center of downtown Banff.
Peaks Hotel and Suites feature luxurious accommodations with a choice of standard rooms or suites. The hotel has contactless check-in where the room key and parking garage can be accessed through an app on your phone.
There are multiple dining choices within the property including La Terrazza restaurant, Crave Mountain Grill, and Terrace Lounge.
Moose Hotel and Suites
Moose Hotel and Suites is a local favorite! This charming hotel is situated at the center of Banff Town within feet of local restaurants. Standard rooms and larger suites can accommodate traveling families or friend groups. As a nice bonus, the hotel is also very pet friendly.
After a fun day out exploring Banff National Park, you can return to the hotel for a relaxing time in the outdoor pool and hot tub with views of the Canadian Rockies. There are also spa services available and an indoor pool as well.
For dinner, head down to the hotel’s Pacini Italian Restaurant for a filling Italian meal. If you’d rather dine out, local eateries and restaurants can be reached within a short walk of the hotel.
FAQs About Visiting Banff National Park In Spring:
Is spring a good time to visit Banff?
Spring is one of the best times to visit Banff National Park as long as you don’t mind the cold. Spring is considered to be the ‘off-season’ in Banff when you can find much cheaper accommodations and flights. Plus in spring there will be fewer people in Banff which is great if you like to avoid large tourist crowds!
What are the best Banff spring activities?
If you’re planning a trip to Banff in spring, some of the best Banff spring activities include:
- Icefield Parkway
- Banff Gondola
- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
- Columbia Icefield
- Banff Upper Hot Springs
- Cave and Basin National Historic Site
- Lake Louise
- Hiking & sightseeing
Is it safe to hike in Banff in April?
It is safe to hike in Banff in April as long as you go prepared with proper winter gear.
For spring hiking, we recommend bringing microspikes, a warm winter jacket, waterproof hiking boots, hiking pants, a beanie, and gloves. Be sure to pack extra water bottles, snacks, a headlamp, and a fully charged phone battery in case the hike takes longer than expected.
Does it snow in Banff in April?
While in April the snow is slowly starting to melt, there is still plenty of snow and ice in Banff National Park and at the surrounding attractions. We visited Banff in April after a snowstorm so there was a layer of fresh snow on the ground requiring us to wear snow cleats when heading on outdoor adventures.
We hope this post has helped you prepare for a wonderful visit to Banff in spring. Here are a few other popular travel posts that you may enjoy:
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- 10 Unreal Lakes In Banff, Canada
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- 30 Must-Have Travel Necessities For Your Next Adventure
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