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The 20 Best Things to do in Banff for First Timers

Town of Banff

Nestled comfortably within the bounds of Banff National Park, Alberta Canada, you'll find the beautiful town of Banff, which happens to be one of Canada's top tourist destinations. Tourists from all over the world flock here to experience the rawness of its countryside, while enjoying world class skiing, hiking and a host of other attractions. Since there exist so many opportunities for tourists, we've taken the time to put together a list for those of you who wish to visit this jewel of the Canadian Rockies up close. Our list includes activities to do during the day, as well as those you can close the day out with. We also took the liberty to include activities from the more quirky side of Banff, such as escape rooms and ghost tours. It's all here, it's fresh and waiting for you to start deciding just where and what you'd like to do first.

Banff Campgrounds

20. Camp Grounds in Banff

When it comes to Banff, tourists can choose to stay either in one of their 5 star hotels, or camp in one of their secure, beautiful and serene campgrounds. Those of you who choose to bring your tent, van or camper will be pleased to know that you'll be saving quite a bit on hotel costs, while being able to experience the expansive wilds of Banff. Not all campers camp alike, and Banff knows this, so it's comforting to know that Banff caters to a variety of tastes. For example, if you're of the more adventurous type, then settling in for the night in the wilds of Parks Canada campsite might just be for you. If you'd prefer a bit of both, you can pop your tent at one of the many camping sites which lie on the outskirts of the town of Banff. They also have park and plug camp grounds for those of you with campers. Finally, you can try Parks Cananda's oTENTik (yes, that's spelled correctly), where you'll stay in one of their warm and cozy cabins.

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

19. The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

The Whyte Museum is the place to go for those who wish to immerse themselves in the history and culture of the Canadian Rockies. Within this museum founded by Peter and Catharine Whyte, you'll find art galleries, a museum shop, a heritage gallery and well-kept archives. Here, you'll be able to view exhibitions of local artists or view artifacts from the cultural history of the region. Collections include, but are not limited to A.Y. Jackson, Margaret Shelton, Charlie Bell and Mary T.S. Schaffer Warren. So, if the days forecast predicts falling snow or rain, the Whyte Museum, might just be the best place to visit until the sun pops out again.

Mystery Towns Banff Clue Solving Adventures--Treasures of Banff

18. Mystery Towns Banff Clue Solving Adventures--Treasures of Banff

Here's another terrific way for first time visitors to Banff to become acclimated to the region: The Mystery Towns Banff Clue Solving Adventure--Treasures of Banff. For the young at heart, this truly is one of the best ways to discover Banff. Basically, this is a self-guided adventure that involves you having to solve clues, find the solution and emerge victorious. In this particular adventure, you need to find a crucial treasure before it falls into the hands of the wrong people. There are also longer versions of the game if you so choose. As some games include visits to local pubs, minors are not permitted, so you are advised to sign up for the family version of the game instead. You'll also need a cell phone, as the clues you'll need will be sent to you via their app.

Eureka Banff Escape Room Adventures

17. Eureka Banff Escape Room Adventures

When in Banff, take some time off and have some fun at the Eureka Banff Escape Room Adventure. Escape room adventures are currently a global phenomenon, as fans everywhere make a day or night of it, as they try to escape from one of these rooms. At the Eureka Escape Room in Banff, you and a few others will be locked inside a room with an objective to solve, and you can't leave until you do so. You're typically given up to 1 hour to solve the puzzles and find the key. Eureka is a top-notch Escape Room provider, so has a number of themed rooms, each completely different from the other, for you to try out. This means that if you and yours are game, you can probably hit a few of these rooms in one day.

Banff Ghost Walk

16. Banff Ghost Walks

So, you've spent the day admiring the awe inspiring beauty that is Banff. Perhaps you took a relaxing Gondola ride or maybe zipped over the treetops on one of the Banff zipline tours. However, none of this can ready you for what lurks in Banff under the shadows of the night. To find out, we recommend you take one of their ghost tours. These ghost walks are fun to do any time of the year, but especially during the Halloween season. Here, you'll be spending a ghostly evening walking through Banff's dark streets, while listening to your guide convey the stories of Banff's mysterious past. Most people can't ignore the paranormal, they find it fascinating, intriguing and captivating, and that's who these tours are designed for. So grab your books of shadows, take a sip of hot chocolate and leave to face the spirits of the night. Tours begin at the Good Earth Coffeehouse and last around 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Waterfall Ice Climbing

15. Experience Waterfall Ice Climbing

Yes, you read that right, people do enjoy climbing up frozen waterfalls, and in Banff you can spend an entire day or two learning the basics of waterfall ice climbing. This beginner friendly activity will teach you how to walk in crampons, move about on steep ice sheets, how to handle ice climbing tools, and much more. Expertly trained guides will take you to a crisp, frozen waterfall, where you'll be taught everything a beginner should know in order to climb it. Though this is perfect for beginners, those who are advanced ice climbers might benefit as well, since the instructors will be more than willing to assist you with any issues you may currently be experiencing in your ice climbing treks.

Banff Ski Resorts: The Big 3

14. Banff Ski Resorts: The Big 3

If experiencing some of the best skiing in Canada is on your bucket list, the know that you've come to the right place. Banff is home to some of the best known ski resorts, collectively known as the Big 3. All are nestled quite comfortably within Canada's First National Park. These three resorts are known as Banff Sunshine resort, Lake Louise resort and Mount Norquay. if you can't make up your mind which resort to try, no worries as you can book a SkiBig3 ticket. This gives you access to all three mountains!

A Night of Craft Beer, Bowling, and Pizza!

13. A Night of Craft Beer, Bowling, and Pizza!

After a day of touristy activities such as hiking, riding the gondolas, and visiting attractions, it's always nice to cap it all off with some fun nightlife activities. For beer lovers, may we suggest you and yours pay a visit to High Rollers. High Rollers offers you your choice of some tasty Canadian craft beers, while giving you the opportunity to bowl a few games. All toll, High Rollers has 3 pool tables, 6 bowling lanes, and a large beer hall. They offer you 48 authentic Canadian craft beers such as Obsidian Nitro Stout, Peanut Butter Milk Stout, Old man Winter Porter, and Jerkface 9000, to name but a few. They have a Canadian craft beer style for everyone: Stouts, porters, ales, wheat, lagers, IPA's, and ciders, as well as huge Canadian Pizzas for your enjoyment.

Hop-on/Hop-off Banff Bus

12. Hop-on/Hop-off Banff Bus

The Hop-On Hop-Off Banff Bus is most certainly something for newbies to consider when touring Banff for the first time. Once you purchase your reasonably priced ticket for the Banff Bus, you're on your way to experiencing the highlights of Banff, hassle free, and at your own pace. This bus will indeed take you wherever it is you wish to go, such as the Johnston Canyon, the Gondola ride, Ten Peaks and much more. You simply hop off at one attraction, do some sight seeing, and whenever you're ready, hop on another bus to continue on your way. Each bus comes with its own guide which will entertain you with stories from the area as you travel from destination to destination.

Glacier Skywalk

11. Glacier Skywalk

Does the thought of walking through gigantic glaciers sitting high above the ground, and doing it on a glass walkway fill you with anticipation and excitement? If so, then the Glacier Skywalk Adventure is for you. Here, you'll be embarking on a journey where you're perched on a mountain edge, taking a leisurely stroll on a glass walkway, where you'll observe the wonders of Banff, such as its wildlife, waterways, and cliff faces. The walkway is about 1 mile in length, and around 918 feet up in the air. One final tip, weather plays a crucial part in this walk. If you're thinking about taking this tour, then don't purchase your tickets too far in advance, as you'll want to keep track of the weather and contact the tour to see if you'll get the type of walk you're after, as some people desire to feel immersed in the ice, while others might not mind taking a stroll on a nice, warm spring day.

Wildlife Safari

10. Evening Wildlife Safari

If viewing wildlife is your thing, then you know that most creatures emerge from their burrows and other hiding places at night, and this is just what Banff's Evening Wildlife Safari is all about. Once the sun sets in Banff National Park, you'll embark on your much anticipated tour. All guides are well versed in the lore of the region and its remarkable wildlife. As such, they'll alert you to the appearance of elk, bighorn sheep, rabbits, wolves, or even a grizzly bear or two. You'll find that the guides welcome inquiries, and will tell you what you need to know, especially how Banff protects their wildlife and the ecosystem they call home. Most wildlife tours last around 2 hours, and are composed of small groups of 24 or more. This is a terrific way to end the day, as it is a bus tour, so very little walking is involved. For more information on what you may see, check out their informative and entertaining blog.

Hiking the Trails of Banff

9. Hiking the Trails of Banff

With its natural beauty, and a terrain given to hiking, is it any wonder that Banff is considered a trekkers heaven? From July to September, Banff is ripe for the taking for those who wish to explore every nook and cranny of this pristine backcountry. Hiking tours come in a variety of levels, from beginners to more advanced and seasoned hikers. Since there is such a vast assortment of hiking trails, it's advisable that you take some time to see which hiking tour might suit you the best. However, no matter what tour you settle on, don't purchase tickets too far in advance, as you've no idea what the weather will be like that day, or even that week. Popular hiking tours include those that take you through Tunnel Mountain, Bow River, Johnston Canyon and Johnson Lake. As always, come well prepared with water, food, and one of those inexpensive, portable pop up tents wouldn't hurt in case it starts to rain and you're in need of shelter.

Banff Zipline Tours

8. Banff Zipline Tours

If the idea of soaring over Banff National Park intrigues you, then know that there are a few tourist establishments, such as Banff Travel, which offer you just that, via ziplining. Those guiding you are Banff locals who know the area very well, so can assist you in many things, such as pointing out areas of interest. The guides at Banff Travel are certified in all things relating to ziplining, so your flight over the treetops of Banff National Park should be both an enjoyable and informative one. This zipline course is not to be trifled with when it comes to experiencing the bold flavor of raw excitement, as it takes you between rocky terrain and over raging rivers. If you're not sure, know that you have the option to start off on the slower ziplines, then work your way up to ziplines that run you at 70 miles an hour at 40 meters above ground!

Banff Hot Springs

7. Banff Hot Springs

For those just visiting Banff for the first time, it's strongly recommended that you find a slot in your busy schedule to take a dip in Banff's world famous, Hot Springs, where water temperatures can get as high as 116 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, and 81 degrees in the spring. Touring Banff can most definitely tire you out, especially if you've chosen one of their breathtaking hiking tours. So what's next? How about letting it all go, and immersing your tired body in the rejuvenating waters of Banff's Hot Springs. Found in 1883 by railway crews, this natural spa has been attracting visitors ever since, as its magical waters seem to gift you with a renewed sense of being, re-energizing you for your next full day of adventures.

Douglas Fir Resort and Chalets

6. Douglas Fir Resort and Chalets

If you're coming to Banff as a family, then you might want to think about hitting up the Douglas Fir Resort first to get a room and settle in. Tourists who decide to make the stop, often do so to give their kids some much needed entertainment, as standard sight seeing can be a tad boring for the smaller ones. They are the only indoor water park in Banff. The much loved water park holds 2 giant water slides, a wading pool for toddlers, a sauna and hot tub for adults, with another hot tub outside for the adventurous. The Douglas Fir also has a giant indoor playground and a fitness room. Before you go, know that the Douglas Fir Resort is often the first choice to stay for families with lots of kids, as the rooms. The facilities are not fancy, but they are very spacious. The favorite rooms are those with lofts where the kids can sleep. They also come with their own kitchens so you can save money by cooking your own food. If that's not enough, they also have a laundromat, liquor store and food market on-site.

Northern Lights

5. Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights is a much sought after experience for many tourists, with many arriving to Banff just for this site alone. If you're not familiar with the Northern Lights, know that it's a vibrant, unique and brilliant natural light display that can be seen at night, or simply a colorful glow seen from afar at the horizon. One of the best places to view this spectacle is in Banff, where the famous Banff National Park serves as it's backdrop. If you'd like to learn more about the Northern Lights, visit Aurora Watch, which will also tell you when the Northern Lights are at the height of their activity.

Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk

4. Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk

The Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk tour is the perfect way for many new to Banff to end their day. These tours utilize headlamps to light your way, so you can get a fabulous first hand look at the canyon and it's "Cathedral of Ice". For those with a fear of heights, know that you will be traversing on catwalks which are suspended. The guides will also turn down the lights for certain periods of time, so tourists can experience the Johnston Canyon in the peace and silence of the crisp night air. Most tours allow visitors to walk back without their headlamps in order to continue to experience Johnston Canyon at night. When you shop around for these tours, look for those that offer refreshments such as hot chocolate, hiking poles and ice cleats. Some even allow you to keep your headlamps as a souvenir!

Banff Gondola Ride

3. Banff Gondola Ride

The Banff Gondola Ride is definitely an outstanding way for first time visitors to experience Banff National Park in all its glory. These gondola tours offer visitors a leisurely round trip tour through the park, giving you more than enough time to explore the parks rich tapestry of life, from above. The gondolas are designed to give you a first hand look at the various rivers and mountain ranges in the park. Each state-of-the-art Gondola seats 4 tourists comfortably, so there's no need for anyone to feel scrunched up inside a small space. Your final destination is the top of Sulphur Mountain. From there you can explore your surroundings, including Sanson's Peak for around 1 hour and 40 minutes. After which it's time to head back.

Fairmont Springs Hotel

2. Surprise Corner and the Fairmont Springs Hotel

In Banff, there exists a region referred to as "Surprise Corner". However, you won't find it by sign, as it's not really a recognized place. Surprise Corner is the awe inspiring view of the historic Fairmont Springs Hotel, which opened in 1888, as it sits high above Bow Falls. Also known as the Banff Springs Hotel, this time honored hotel claims majestic mountains, draped in snow, for its backdrop. To engage in this most famous view of the Fairmont, simply head to the viewing platform, erected just for this purpose. You can find this platform across the parking lot. Designated a National Historic Site, there are also plenty of things to do at the Fairmont. It has 757 guest rooms, along with spaces for events such as weddings. The Fairmont also houses restaurants, tennis courts, a bowling alley, a championship 27 hole golf course, 2 swimming pools, a fitness center and more!

Town of Banff

1. The Town of Banff

The town of Banff takes our number one spot for first time visitors for a very good reason. it's here where you'll come into direct contact with all things Banff. Take Banff Avenue, for instance. It's the main street of the town of Banff, and it's a must see when it comes to getting to know the local culture of this colorful and vibrant vacation spot. Banff Avenue has more than it's share of coffee shops, art galleries, eateries, and even a visitors center for you to visit. In fact, it's these quaint little shops along Banff Avenue which offer the visitor so much in the way of souvenirs and Banff memorabilia. Though Banff's famous, historical Lux Theater moved on from Banff avenue, you can still find it at the corner of Wolf and Bear. Here, you can end your day of sight-seeing by watching the new release of your choice.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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