Banff’s Best-Kept Secrets

Known the world over as the crown jewel of Canada’s national parks, Banff offers so much more than invigorating mountain air and some of the most stunning scenery in the Canadian Rockies. Here are 16 often-overlooked Banff attractions that make one of the highest towns in Canada one of the country’s most charming as well.

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Banff Trail Riders
Photo: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photography

Unique Things to Do in Banff

Be a Cowboy (or Cowgirl) for a Day

If you grew up watching Gunsmoke or The Big Valley, chances are you dreamed of saddling up and having your own adventures in the Wild West. Banff Trail Riders makes those dreams a reality, offering everything from one-hour trail rides to a full-on cowboy cookout dinner, in which you’ll learn how to lasso before tucking in to a delicious steak on the banks of the Bow River. Not much of a rider? Not a problem! You can also book a private, horse-drawn carriage tour of Banff, which takes you along the Bow River and past the world-famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

Read on for more unique things to do in Banff.

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Park Distillery, Banff
Photo: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photography

Sample the Sippers at Park Distillery

The only Canadian distillery located inside a national park, Park Distillery on Banff Avenue makes “Glacier to Glass” rye, vodka, and gin using fresh water drawn from six local ice fields. Cheers!

Find out what it’s like taking a helicopter tour of the Rockies.

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Unique things to do in Banff - Cave and Basin
Photo: Ronnie Chua /

Explore Cave and Basin

Now a National Historic Site and recognized as a key factor in Banff’s designation as Canada’s first national park, Cave and Basin is actually a cluster of underground hot springs at Sulphur Mountain. Three Canadian Pacific railway workers discovered the atmospheric caverns purely by chance in 1883, later using the springs as their private retreat, making their way in and out via a felled tree. You can still pop inside for a peek, but taking a soak in the natural pools is strictly prohibited—not to mention somewhat slimy, as it’s the protected habitat of a snail that’s on the endangered species list.

Check out more caves in Canada that are worth exploring.

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Cruise Lake Minnewanka
Photo: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photography

Cruise Lake Minnewanka

Known to local First Nations as the “water of the spirits,” this 21-kilometre lake—the longest in all of the Rocky Mountain parks—is lined with picturesque peaks. Sit back and enjoy the views from the comfort of a boat cruise, or charter a fishing boat and try your luck at reeling in a prized lake trout.

For more awe-inspiring vistas, check out this gallery of Canada’s most beautiful places.

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High Rollers, Banff
Photo: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism/Noel Hendrickson

Rediscover Your Youth

When’s the last time you went bowling? Combining pins, pints, and pizza, High Rollers is the perfect place to tap the nostalgia of old-school Saturday nights. The Banff hotspot boasts six bowling lanes, 48 beers on tap, and New York slices “as big as your head.”

Don’t miss our roundup of Canada’s best indoor amusement parks.

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Castle Mountain on Bow River - Banff
Photo: Regien Paassen /

Drive the Bow Valley Parkway

Connecting Banff and Lake Louise, this 51-kilometre wildlife corridor features 13 interpretive stops and some of the finest scenery in the Rockies. Among the highlights is Castle Mountain (above)—a rugged peak that’s inspired artists from around the world to render its likeness in charcoal, watercolours, and oils.

Discover more great Canadian road trips everyone should take at least once.

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Cedar and Sage Spa, Banff
Photo: Jonathan Van Lieshout, Scout Photography

Relax and Recharge

Many visitors find there’s something about the crisp Rocky Mountain air that sparks a renewed interest in health and well-being. Inspired by its stunning surroundings and local Indigenous culture, Cedar & Sage caters to this need with a “holistic health lounge” that offers a full menu of traditional spa treatments plus yoga, reflexology, an infrared sauna, and a juice bar.

You’ll also want to add these day trips from Banff to your itinerary.

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Banff farmers' market

Browse the Banff Farmer’s Market

Located just a block away from bustling Banff Avenue, this charming seasonal market offers everything from fresh produce to hot food stands to handmade jewellery and crafts.

Here are 10 must-visit farmers’ markets across Canada.

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Banff night sky
Photo: TSLPhoto /

Keep an Eye on the Skies

Head to the outskirts of Banff for inky-black evening skies—and spectacularly bright stars. Viewpoints at places like Castle Mountain and the Vermillion Lakes provide dramatic stargazing opportunities.

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Waldhaus Fairmont Banff Springs
Photo: Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Grab a Pint at the Waldhaus Pub

Located inside the luxurious Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, this blast-from-the-past pub serves up excellent Bavarian beers, nightly billiards, and a surprisingly good brunch (make sure to try their signature Caesar).

Discover the fascinating origins of the Caesar.

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Whyte Museum entrance statue
Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky /

Get to a Gallery

Founded by artists Peter and Catherine Whyte, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is located on Bear Street, one block from Banff Avenue. The quaint, quiet gallery is perfect for rainy-day loitering, as you take in the rotating collection that reflects the art, culture, and legends of the Rockies.

Here are 20 mind-blowing artifacts you’ll find in Canadian museums.

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Banff Upper Hot Springs
Photo: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism/Noel Hendrickson

Warm Up in the Hot Springs

Banff’s Upper Hot Springs, located just a few kilometres south of town, are made for relaxation. Bring your swimsuit (there are change rooms with lockers on site) and climb into the hot, mineral-enriched waters that can reach temperatures exceeding 40°C.

Check out 10 places in Canada every Canadian needs to visit.

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Banff's All in the Wild Gallery
Photo: All in the Wild Gallery

Enjoy the Great Outdoors, Indoors

Head to the All in the Wild gallery to admire the striking photography of Jason Leo Bantle, a former Rocky Mountain wildlife guide, researcher, and educator. With subjects ranging from elks in battle to the icy glare of wolves, his images highlight the untamed beauty of the region.

Here’s more fantastic photography from the Canadian Rockies.

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Vermillion Lakes on Rocky Mountaineer
Photo: Rocky Mountaineer

Arrive (or depart!) in style on Rocky Mountaineer

Although there are several ways to get to Banff, Rocky Mountaineer makes the journey as impressive as the destination. Guests on the “First Passage to the West” route are spirited from Vancouver to the heart of Banff (or vice versa), through some of Canada’s most spectacular natural scenery, passing by the likes of Castle Mountain and Vermillion Lakes (above). The best part (besides the gourmet food, impeccable service, and storytelling from onboard Hosts) is that, freed from the distractions of driving, you can devote your full attention to the panoramic views afforded by the bi-level, dome-window GoldLeaf Service coach.

Here’s what it’s really like riding Rocky Mountaineer.

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View from Tunnel Mountain summit
Photo: travellife18 /
View from the summit of Tunnel Mountain.

Hike Tunnel Mountain

Want the thrill of a mountain hike, without the need for a helmet and crampons? Although the summit of Tunnel Mountain is easily scalable, it delivers a huge payoff in providing some of the best views of Banff. Active folks who love a challenge should be able to tackle the 4.3-kilometre switchback trail to the mountaintop in a half-day or less.

Discover the fascinating reason Banff’s Tunnel Mountain doesn’t actually have a tunnel.

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Banff gondola up Sulphur Mountain
Photo: Akshay-PhotOvation /

Brave the Banff Gondola

Ascending nearly 2,300 feet in eight minutes, this ear-popping gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain has been thrilling tourists since 1958. While en route to the impressive interpretive centre at the summit, be on the lookout for local wildlife, including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, hoary marmots, and golden-mantled ground squirrels.

Now that you’ve added these unique things to do in Banff to your itinerary, discover the best attractions in Jasper.

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