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Easy ways to explore Banff National Park with your kids this summer

Last updated 13th April 2024

Renowned for its pristine wilderness, Banff beckons families with its natural splendour and diverse adventures. Jody Robbins finds getting back to nature with kids is easy, even smack-dab in the Canadian Rockies.


Grizzly spotting, Lake Louise Ski Resort © Travel Alberta

Comprised of towering peaks, turquoise-coloured lakes and over 1000 glaciers, Banff National Park is the first of Canada’s National Parks and the third oldest protected park in the world.

Yet, beyond its postcard-perfect scenery, the charming townsite of Banff boasts an array of family-friendly activities and accommodations, making it an easy vacation choice for those seeking adventure and calming experiences in the great outdoors.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some of the best Banff experiences for families this spring, summer and fall.


Grizzly bear, Lake Louise © Travel Alberta

Watching the wildlife in Banff National Park

The Canadian Rockies is most definitely where the wild things are. The forests are heavily populated with elk, deer, moose, and wolves, and it’s not just skiers who love these alpine peaks and meadows:  one of the best spots to view grizzlies in their natural environment is at Lake Louise Ski Resort.

From the Sightseeing Gondola, you can safely spot grizzlies foraging for food as it whisks you to the Wildlife Interpretive Centre at the top of the mountain. Once there, take advantage of complimentary programs led by Interpretive Guides to learn more about the wildlife and natural wonders that flourish in this area. Afterwards, you can stroll around the summit on various hiking trails or opt for a guided walk if unsure of what to do in a bear encounter.

Although families actively looking for a wild animal encounter, but not sure where to start, can take a wildlife safari. Discover Banff Tours leads evening excursions to a range of habitats that best showcase the animals currently active. Tours are free for those five years and younger, and you’ll leave with a much deeper understanding of the animals within this park and their relationship with it.


Sunshine Meadows, Banff National Park © Travel Alberta/Roth & Ramberg

Head out on one of the easy day hikes

Families flock to Banff for its boundless beauty and easy access to outdoor adventures, but hiking with kids can test even the most serene parent’s patience. Luckily Banff National Park has easy hikes too, which are definitely your best bet for a stress-free ramble.

Lonely Planet ranked Sunshine Meadows the #1 hike in Canada. These meadows straddle the Continental Divide between Alberta and British Columbia, and the region is rife with one jaw-dropping view after the next. Also, come summer, a kaleidoscope of wildflowers is on display.

White Mountain Adventures operates the Sunshine Meadows Alpine Shuttle from late June until early October. You can take a guided tour with them or hike on your own by taking the Sunshine Village Ski Resort gondola to Sunshine Village to start the hike.


Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park © Parks Canada

Hikes we particularly like with kids

Tunnel Mountain Summit Trail is another popular hike for families, and you can’t beat its proximity to town. This is a good option if you’re not an experienced hiker or you’re pressed for time since it’s only a 2.5 km trek. However, short doesn’t mean less spectacular, as the trail has sublime views of the townsite, the Bow River, and Vermillion Lakes, plus, kids will get a rush from climbing a “real” mountain.

There’s a reason Johnston Canyon is a heavily trafficked trail in the summer. Waterfall after waterfall gushes beside the paved, stroller-friendly trail. Parking can be an issue, so aim to tackle this pathway first thing in the morning.

Gondola Views

If you’re not up for hiking, hitch a ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain via the Banff Gondola. Visitors are privy not only to spectacular sweeping views of the Bow Valley Parkway but there’s a good chance a herd of bighorn sheep and marmots will be milling about. With six mountain ranges visible, this is a great spot to snag your annual family photo.

Head inside the Summit building to access a cafe and full-service restaurant. Above Banff interpretive centre is a family-friendly experience not to miss with self-guided activities.


Cruise, Lake Minnewanka © Brewster Travel Canada

Hit the turquoise water in Banff

The intense teal and turquoise hues of Banff’s lakes and rivers beg to be explored, and kayaks and canoes can be rented from the Banff Canoe Club on the docks of the Bow River in Banff, at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

Lake Minnewanka is the only spot in the park where motorized boats are allowed, and rentals are available by the hour or half-day. Or if you prefer to let others do the work for you, take an interpretive lake cruise, where you’ll learn about Indigenous history, early explorers, and the region’s fascinating geology (guides make this infinitely more enjoyable for kids than it sounds).

You can’t go to a destination flush with natural hot springs and not take a dip, now can you? Banff Upper Hot Springs is a historic spa and bathhouse that has been drawing tourists for over a century. Soak away any family tension or relieve sore muscles by taking to these waters. The water temperature isn’t too hot, allowing babies and toddlers to splash about in the shallow area. Also, you can rent bathing suits and towels onsite, and there’s a cafe.


Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff National Park

Where to stay in Banff National Park

Perhaps the most iconic hotel in the Canadian Rockies, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel has graced many a postcard in its 100-year history. Modelled after a Scottish Baronial castle, it’s easy to see why it’s nicknamed the Castle in the Rockies. Although rooms here occupy a smaller footprint, they don’t scrimp on family programming or pools.

Douglas Fir Resort was built with families in mind, and all units are equipped with kitchenettes, and you can opt for separate bedrooms. Not only is there an indoor pool and water slides here, an indoor playground ensures children are happily entertained. Then, as a bonus, the resort offers free shuttles into Banff (the resort is located a 5-minute drive away from the town centre), so you don’t have to worry about parking.


oTENTik, Banff National Park © Parks Canada

Find the perfect place to pitch camp

Two Jack Main Campground in Banff National Park has equipped Campsites, making camping accessible for families who don’t sport all the required gear. Sites come equipped with a six-person tent, picnic table, fire pit, and wood. Once settled in, a Parks employee will visit your site and set you up with a camp stove and lantern, plus tips on trails in the area. However, families need to supply their own sleeping gear, food, water, and cooking utensils. A tarp (and rope to string it with) is also useful in case of rain.

Although one of the easiest solutions for families is oTENTik. Exclusive to Parks Canada, these comfortable accommodations are a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector tent, mounted on a raised wooden floor. And the best bit? They need no set up at all.

Have your own gear? Tunnel Mountain has three different campgrounds, one more natural with gravel patches to pitch tents (instead of pavement pads for campers at the other two sites). Though Banff townsite is mere minutes away, it feels like you’re in the woods (well, you are!), and you can easily access the Tunnel Bench biking trails from this campground.

How to plan Banff National Park

How to get there

Calgary International Airport to Banff National Park from 1 hour, 15 minutes

Where to stay

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Fairmont Gold King Room (2 adults, 2 children) from $977 per night

Book Fairmont Banff Springs

Good to know

Bears and other potentially dangerous wildlife populate Banff National Park. It’s a good idea to carry bear spray while hiking. And if you’re not taking a tour, check in at a Parks Canada Visitor Centre before embarking on any outdoor activity in the mountains.

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