Summer in Banff

Enjoy the Glorious Pleasures of Summer in Banff

Although it's known as a ski resort, Banff and its surroundings provide glorious hiking opportunities in the summer. Here's more.
Vacayholics Staff
Last Updated: Dec 10, 2017
By Lana Christian

Hiking has always been our favorite form of vacation. We've hiked through a number of national parks in America. But Banff (the town and the park, in Alberta, Canada) was different. It may still be the best vacation of our lives. It's hard to say what was more enjoyable―the hiking or the town. Both were wonderful experiences.

The picture-perfect town of Banff sits squarely inside the national park, making it unique in several respects. First, you can't get there by plane. You can fly into Vancouver or Calgary, and take a cushy motor-coach ride into Banff. Second, you can live in the town only if you work there. So urban sprawl is nowhere to be found. Third, the town is IN the mountains. Cascade Mountain (elevation 3000 ft.) was literally outside our front door where we stayed on the northwest edge of town. Fourth, all wildlife is protected. Take an early morning walk, and you'll be just as likely to see elk by Bow River as you will be to see early risers. (Don't try to pet or feed the elk; they ARE wild.)

All the animals have rights to your petunias or whatever else grows in your garden. So residents have an ingenious way to keep the animals off their lawns. They put 'rumble strips' across their driveways. The animals don't like to hear their hooves, paws, or claws clang on the metal. Makes for a peaceful co-existence. Animals also have their own sod bridges over main highways, so their seasonal migrations aren't disrupted by man's need to get somewhere.

Banff is home to elegant shops, delectable international dining, museums, and tasteful entertainment. Prime time to hike is July and August. The days are warm and sunny―the sun doesn't set until around 10:30 pm―so we hiked during the day and then took shorter hikes around the town in the evening.

Banff is one of a string of national parks that straddle either side of the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies. We drove and hiked in a different national park almost every day: Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, and Waterton.

Each park is home to breathtaking sights and different ecosystems. The parks are connected by the Icefields Parkway, or highway 93N. Our longest drive to the northernmost of these parks (Jasper) was 140 miles (winding miles with gorgeous views; around 4 or 5 hours). And the great thing is... if you get lost, so what?! You'll still see another stunning peak or vista around the next bend.

Banff National Park's most popular destinations are Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. You can hike as little or as much as you want around these areas, or even be taken via helicopter to higher elevations to 'heli-hike'. (Heli-skiing is equally popular in the winter.) When you get tired of hiking, you can dine in elegance or simplicity in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise―with its own plethora of shops that makes it a self-contained town in the middle of the mountains.

Each park has its own 'signature' sites. For example, Yoho is home to many remarkable waterfalls. 'Yoho' is a Cree expression for awe. Its most striking waterfall, Takakkaw Falls, is one of the highest in Canada. The Cree name means 'magnificent'―and it is! Words fail me to explain it any other way.

Kootenay is the only national park on the western edge of the Rockies. You can hike among glacier-capped mountains on the Continental Divide, and then pass cacti growing in the semi-arid area of the Rocky Mountain Trench, a huge break in the earth's crust that's even visible from space.

The British Columbia-Alberta area along the parkway has scores more parks and hundreds of miles of trails than we had time to visit. We thoroughly enjoyed every hiking experience―including finding petroglyphs, exploring weird rock pillars called 'hoodoos', walking up a glacier, and seeing wildlife up close, including pikas, marmots, Canadian beavers (yes, they're different from other kinds), mountain goats, and elk. And yes, it is bear country. So be prepared.

You can take short, easy hikes; day hike, or pack in for the back country. Our Banff adventure came with unexpected bonuses: so many parks so close by, and a total absence of CITIES. How refreshing!
Kootenay valley viewpoint
Lake moraine
Icefields parkway in winter
Banff national park