These are the best activities to do in Banff

Set in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Banff is best known for its hikes with stunning views. There are more hiking trails that one could explore in a year in Canada’s oldest National Park. While hiking is definitely the most prominent activity one hears about, it is far from the only activity to do while in this glorious place.

During my time in Banff, I did a few hikes, but as most of you already know, it isn’t exactly my favourite outdoor activity. Yes, I live in the PNW and I’m not an avid hiker – don’t judge. I love the outdoors and I’m here to share all the other ways to enjoy being outside that don’t require hiking up mountains. Here are six ways to explore this majestic spot that don’t require hiking boots.

Your travel guide to the best activities to do in Banff
Best activities to do in Banff

The 6 best activities to do in Banff that aren’t hiking

1. Ride the Banff Gondola

It’s been said that the best views come after the hardest climbs.  And while this may oftentimes be true, it isn’t always. Avid outdoorsy folk may consider this cheating, but riding a gondola to the top of the mountain provides the same glorious views without the same trekking efforts.

The Banff Gondola will take you up 2,281 metres to the top of Sulphur Mountain. This 8-minute ride takes place in a full-enclosed gondola. Once at the top, enjoy the sweeping views from the 360-degree observation deck. The wooden walkway allows you to explore once at the top of the mountain.

Taking the gondola is a top activity to do in Banff
The walkway at the top of the Banff Gondola

Not only can you enjoy the gorgeous views, but there are also restaurants as well as interactive interpretive exhibits, and a multi-sensory theatre. We walked the boardwalk, enjoyed the views and had lunch at the restaurant.

I will note that you do not have to take the gondola, you can hike up if you wish. We did not wish to do so and we thoroughly enjoyed the gondola ride up instead.

Views from the top of the Banff Gondola
Looking down at the town of Banff from the top of the Gondola

2. Go Horseback Riding

There are many trails in Banff that are accessible via horseback. Once again, you will be afforded the same panoramic views as if you were the one doing all the hard work, except in this case it will be the horse you rode in on that did the walking. Not only do you get to enjoy horseback riding, but you also get amazing mountain views. This is what I call a win-win.

In my opinion, going horseback riding is one of the absolute best activities to do in Banff if you want to enjoy the scenery from the top of a mountain without actually hiking up it. Don’t be fooled though, riding a horse is a workout. If you haven’t done it before, be prepared to have sore legs from sitting in a saddle. It’s a different kind of workout, but it’s certainly an easier way to get to the top of a mountain.

3. Soak in Natural Hot Springs

To help soothe your sore muscles from hiking, horseback riding, or whatever other activities you get up to in Banff, relax in some of the many natural hot springs. I really wanted to do this during my trip, but unfortunately, they were all closed due to the pandemic. I definitely have to go back again and explore these.

There are several different places where you can enjoy natural hot springs in the Banff area. Banff Upper Hot Springs, Fairmont Banff Springs and Cave and Basin National Historic Site are a few of them.

Soaking in hot springs is one of the top Banff activities
Natural hot springs photo by Ian Liberry on Unsplash

Next up on our list of activities to do in the Banff National Park area is one that isn’t a hike, but it definitely offers up some serious views. It’s also located right off the Icefields parkway, making it a very convenient stop along your drive.

4. Brave the Columbia Icefield Skywalk

Braving the Ice Fields skywalk is a fun and exciting activity in Banff
Would you dare walk on the glass-floored walkway?

Perched out over a cliff, visitors to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk can safely look over the edge without fear of falling. If you have a fear of heights though, this will push you out of your comfort zone. Something I encourage and think we should always do.

Views from the Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The Skywalk, perched over Sunwapta Valley

This walkway is 1 km long and features a glass-floored section that stretches out over the Sunwapta Valley. It’s very thick and extremely safe. It’s also incredibly scenic.

Views from the Skywalk in Banff
The views from the walkway are stunning!

You will be surrounded by glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, wildlife and more at this picturesque spot. The views are nothing short of spectacular. If you are driving along the Icefields Parkway, this is definitely worth a stop.

5. Play a Round of Golf at The Banff Springs Hotel

Visiting the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a top activity in Banff
The stunning and picturesque Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

One leisurely way to enjoy the surrounding sights is to take it all in while putting around the green for 18 holes. The Banff Springs Hotel is worthy of a visit whether you play golf or not. Not a huge golfer myself, I opted to enjoy Afternoon Tea followed by a drink on their patio that overlooks the course.

I find that golf courses tend to offer spectacular scenery as well as good food. I will often enjoy lunch or a drink at a golf course when I travel. When you pair a golf course and a Fairmont hotel you can’t go wrong.

Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel
Scrumptious Afternoon Tea at The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

The Banff Springs Hotel can provide you with some excellent activities to do while in Banff. Playing a round of golf, or enjoying a drink are merely two of them. Simply touring inside the hotel makes a stop here worth it.

If you like ghost stories, then you can search for the bride that haunts one of their staircases. I didn’t see her, but some of the staff have claimed to see her roaming the halls and dancing in the ballroom.

6. Paddle a Canoe on a Turquoise Lake

Canoes at Moraine Lake
Colourful canoes at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

The most popular water activity in Banff is canoeing. Enjoy a different view of one of the many lakes with your feet planted firmly on the ground, or water, in this case. Paddling a canoe around a lake provides a unique perspective on the mountain ranges. They are now looming high overhead as opposed to far beneath you.

I paddled on Lake Louise and it was such a fun experience! The day before we had done the Agnes Tea House Hike and viewed Lake Louise from way up high. Being able to then canoe inside the lake gave me an entirely new view of the surrounding mountain ranges.

Views of Lake Louise
The view of Lake Louise from the top of the Agnes Tea House Hike
Canoeing on Lake Louise is a top Banff activity
Paddling a canoe on the turquoise waters of Lake Louise

And there you have it, the best activities to do in Banff that aren’t hiking. No matter what you decide to do while exploring Banff National Park, you won’t be disappointed. 

If you are planning a road trip through the Rocky Mountains, check out my post on How to Spend Five Days in the Rocky Mountains. In that post, I give you my exact itinerary of what I did, where I went, and what I saw. It was a great week!