Need some help planning a trip to Banff National Park but wanna go off the beaten track a bit? There’s much more to this incredible Canadian national park than just Lake Louise and the picturesque village of Banff! If you’re ready to experience “wowza!”, here are 8 underrated things to do in Banff National Park.
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Now, don’t get me wrong… Lake Louise, the village of Banff, and Moraine Lake are all no doubt exceptional places to visit in Banff National Park.
But (you knew there was going to be a but!)…
There’s so much more to this incredible national park than those overly visited and touristic locations.
I mean — of course — these places should be on any Banff bucket list, but if you want to truly experience this Canadian national treasure, you need to stray off the beaten path a bit!
After spending nearly a week blissfully exploring both Banff and Jasper National Park in Canada, Dan and I uncovered both the typical top things to do in Banff, but also numerous underrated things to see in Banff. And, like any good travel blogger, I wanted to share these little-known places so you can discover the best of Banff for yourself!
So, without further rambling… if you’ve done all the touristy things and are still wondering what to do in Banff, here’s a helpful list of underrated activities!
Table of Contents
8 UNDERRATED THINGS TO DO IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Pssst. Hey you! Keep an eye out for my FREE Banff Bucket List! It includes more things to do in Banff than what’s just on this list! Cool, right? Don’t miss it (hint: it’s under #4!).
Hike to Ink Pots
One of the coolest places to visit in Banff National Park, Inkpots is a hiking route with a spectacular ending destination!
The hike starts by jumping on the Johnston Canyon trail and then as you continue to bypass and admire all the hikes, you stray off to go down another, less popular trail. This trail leads to the Inkpots!
A gorgeous ending destination consisting of 5 beautiful teal-blue and green pools, Inkpots will take your breath away. I mean, come on! Just look at that photo above. Gorgeous, right? It’s completely worth the 3.6 miles of ups and downs it takes to hike there (5.8 km).
The coolest part of the Inkpots is how they’ve come to exist! As you stroll by the pools and admire their color, you’ll notice ripples and rings in the sand at the bottom of the pools. These rings indicate the outlet of spring water percolating up through the sand.
This is such a cool, underrated destination and most definitely one of the best hikes in Banff! Make sure to pack some good hiking shoes, as the trail is up and down, up and down most of the way! Additionally, if it’s rained or snowy, the trail can be a bit muddy.
Little Tip: Go early in the morning. Dan and I arrived around 9 am and while there were a good amount of people, it was bearable. And not many went further than Johnston Canyon; the Ink Pots trail was nearly empty! Although, on our way back around 1 pm, the Johnston Canyon trail was PACKED. I’m talking like sardines in a can packed.
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Walk Around Bow Lake
One of my all-time favorite places in Banff, Alberta, Canada!
Bow Lake is one of the many lakes in Banff National Park, situated along the the Icefields Parkway and is surrounded by a tall, towering mountain and teal-blue lake. It’s absolutely stunning!
There’s a few pull-offs that overlook Bow Lake but the best way to admire this breathtaking lake is to jump on the road going off the Icefields Parkway towards the lodge on Bow Lake. This little road leads to a parking lot where you can hop on a trail that hugs the lakes shore.
You’ll discover beautiful mountain views, as well as a lush greenery and a cute little bridge crossing a bubbling creek! Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Admire the Saskatchewan Crossing
Okay… for real. How freakin’ beautiful is that view?
The Saskatchewan Crossing is at the northern part of Banff National Park and, as many don’t go this far or even know about this little offshoot, is most definitely one of the best things to do in Banff!
Other than a few others who happen to come across this view, you’ll likely have the entire place to yourself.
Little Tip: While I’m not one to tell visitors to go off the trail, as it can damage plants trying to grow, there is a well-worn, packed dirt trail that goes off the normal path! It goes a little ways down the hill and gives you stunning views, which is where the picture above was taken.
Marvel Panther Falls
So… I know I said the other things to do in Banff, Canada were totally unknown to travelers, Panther Falls is actually unknown to more travelers! Like completely off the radar of Banff visitors.
Panther Falls is a towering waterfall next to, or shall I say more like under, the Icefields Parkway. In fact, it’s actually right next to one of the most popular pull-offs of the infamous road, and yet, this magnificent waterfall goes undiscovered.
Little Tip: If you want to find Panther Falls, you’ll have to do a teeny tiny hike! So, if you Google “Icefields Parkway”, you’ll find a lookout point. But don’t stop there! Keep going about 100ft down the road and you’ll find another pull-off. In the distance, you’ll see a thin waterfall called Bridal Veil Falls. A small hike, which you’ll likely expect to go to Bridal Veil Falls, leads down to Panther Falls!
Seek Out the Wild Life
I’ve already mentioned my love for the wildlife in Banff in my post on 7 reasons why you need to visit but it deserves a place in this list, as it’s most definitely one of most underrated aspects of the national park!
All throughout Banff National Park you’ll find:
✓ And maybe even some coyotes or wolves!
There’s so much life wandering through the woods and forests, it’s amazing!
Little Tip: If you’re visiting during the elk mating season (typically in the months of September – October), you can find herds of elk out and about the park. The males will be bugling non-stop to attract females and it’s such a cool experience to have! Another tip, try the Banff golf course or the Bow Valley Parkway to find some elk.
Hike Johnston Canyon at 8 am
As mentioned earlier, Johnston Canyon gets real freakin’ busy! Like really busy. No matter what time of the year it is.
Thus, to experience the full beauty of Johnston Canyon, you definitely should hike it early in the morning. I say 8 am because it should be relatively uncrowded at that time but the earlier, the better! Who likes crowds anyhow, right?
Johnson Canyon is one of the best hikes in Banff (even better when you tack on the hike to Inkpots, as mentioned above). With a breathtaking blue river flowing through a deep gorge and a trail dotted with numerous waterfalls (I’m talking like 5 different waterfalls!), it’s no doubt what of the most gorge-ous things to do in Banff National Park (see what I did there? 😉 Because it’s a gorge?).
Little Tip: If you can’t make it in the morning, try the evening. Depending on what time sunset is at, it’ll take about 6 hours to hike up to Johnston Canyon, as well as Inkpots, and back. And, like I said earlier, don’t forget to pack good hiking boots! Your feet will thank you.
Rent a Car and Drive the Icefields Parkway
After one look at this photo above… need I say more?
The Icefields Parkway is no doubt one of the best drives in all of Canada. Surrounded by towering mountains on both sides, hugged by rivers and lakes, and boasting incredible scenic views, it’s totally worth driving along for a day or two.
Little Tip: Definitely take your time and stop off at the pull-offs to take a breath and simply admire. You never know what you could find! Dan and I stopped off at one (I had a good feeling!) and after about a minute walking around, just down a ways we watched a buck elk cross a stream! It was magical.
Where to rent a car? I like to rent cars from Expedia! Personally, I think they find the most affordable prices, since they search multiple different car rental providers. Click here to search car rentals with Expedia.
Have a Roadside Picnic with a View
Who else wants to eat lunch with a view like this? Me, me, me! (Oh wait, I did!)
Eating some delicious food with a picturesque backdrop of mountains taller than skyscrapers and a deep green forest with the sound of a river flowing in the background… there’s nothing better!
Thus, if you get the chance, plan a picnic! All throughout Banff you’ll find nearly empty pull-offs with lots of picnic tables. There’s a really nice one (albeit, it doesn’t have mountain views, but it does have a wonderful forest feel) along the Bow Valley Parkway.
Little Tip: You can search for picnic areas on Google! (But the best ones are off the map.) Additionally, make sure to grab a map from the helpful national park staff. They have picnic areas indicated on the map.
There are my best 8 underrated things to do in Banff National Park! This is an incredible national park in Canada with magical views and an unbelievable atmosphere. Don’t miss out if you have the chance to visit (and make sure to experience more than just Lake Louise and the typical tourist areas)!
Have you ever visited or are you thinking of visiting Banff National Park? If you have visited, what were your favorite things to do in Banff? Let me know in the comments!
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