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Banff was Canada’s first national park, and remains its most visited today. It is not difficult to see why.
In summer, Banff’s stunning turquoise lakes are easily visited with kids, while winter turns the park into a snowy wonderland, with opportunities for skating, skiing, hot springs, and more.
Growing up in Edmonton, the capital of Canada’s most beautiful province, I’ve been going to Banff since I was a kid. Now I love taking my own kids on family holidays to Banff. It’s pretty cool to say that some of Sage and Lavender’s earliest memories of Canada since we moved here in 2019 are from Banff, the crown jewel of Alberta’s five national parks.
In this article, I’m going to cover our favorite things to do and places to visit in Banff National Park with our kids. I’m going to mix our summer and winter experiences. No matter when you go, Banff will spoil you for choices of awe-inspiring sights and fun activities for kids.
To put it all together, you can also consult my recommended Banff itinerary for three days.
Table of Contents
Where to Stay on Your Family Trip to Banff
When we visit Banff, we almost always stay in Canmore, a cheaper and less touristy town just outside of Banff. Canmore is a destination in its own right; here’s my guide to visiting Canmore. The town is also the perfect base for activities in Kananaskis country, include the many kid-friendly hikes in Kananaskis and beautiful lakes around Canmore.
A good budget choice in Canmore is Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge (see on Booking / TripAdvisor / Agoda), a motel with a playground and hot tub. For a luxurious stay, try The Malcolm Hotel (see on Booking / TripAdvisor / Agoda), recently voted as one of the top hotels in the world.
In Banff, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (see on Booking / TripAdvisor / Agoda) is Banff’s most iconic hotel, with loads of activities and tours aimed at families with children.
Douglas Fir Resort (see on Booking / TripAdvisor / Agoda) just out of Banff town has cozy chalets and an indoor waterpark.
For a super fun hotel experience, read about our stay in a space-themed room in West Edmonton Mall!
Top 5 Things to Do in Banff with Kids
Here are our five favorite things to do with our kids in Banff National Park, spanning summer and winter visits.
In the following section, I’ll cover the best restaurants and things to do in Banff town with kids, and finally more kid-friendly activities and attractions further afield in Banff National Park.
Banff Gondola with Kids
After we had a poor experience on the Jasper Skytram only days earlier, our kids were skeptical about gondolas, but willing to try it again.
They ended up having an absolute blast on the Banff Gondola. The experience was excellent from the moment we arrived. Even with a whole wedding party in front of us in line, we were on our own private gondola within minutes.
The kids even got a free snack and activity booklet before boarding. Oh, and did I mention that our kids rode free? With the Family Experience deal, one child is admitted free with each adult, so long as you go before 11 a.m.
You can sometimes get a better deal if you book your Banff Gondola Tickets online here.
The kids were slightly nervous about being in the gondola, but the snacks and activity booklet helped to distract them, including mini challenges that began as soon as we boarded, like counting how other gondolas we would pass on the way up.
Arriving at the Upper Station, which sits at 2,281 metres above sea level on Sulphur Mountain, our first-class family experience continued. The large terminal includes an indoor theatre, café, restaurant, and museum. The museum is totally set up for kids. Ours got a thrill out of running around to press all the stamps in their activity books. They almost forgot we were supposed to be seeing some sort of view up there…
Speaking of the view, it was incredible! However, the kids were more distracted by the Parks Canada Red Chairs and bear covered in mirrors on the rooftop observatory.
Next, we stepped outside to do the boardwalk to the Cosmic Ray Station on Sanson’s Peak. It was a steady uphill climb, taking us about 20 minutes with the kids, with only a moderate amount of complaining toward the end.
The view from the peak was unbeatable. We could see all of Banff townsite, countless surrounding peaks, and all the way to Lake Minnewanka. The kids were again distracted, this time by a fearless chipmunk.
The kids were even excited to get back down the mountain to the Lower Station, mainly to get their final, tactfully placed stamp in their book. Seriously, well played Banff Gondola!
For your information, Banff can sometimes get quite cold, even in summer, and the weather is generally several degrees colder (and windier!) when you go up that high. Although we were lucky that day, bring extra jackets and hats just in case.
Also, when you book, you’ll need to choose your return time. We found 1.5 hours was just right (and we didn’t eat at the top). The times are flexible though; if you’re going to be more than 15 minutes earlier or later than your selected time, you’re supposed to let them know.
Upper Hot Springs
If you got chilly atop Sulphur Mountain, why not heat up in a hot spring pool right after? The entrance to Banff’s famous Upper Hot Springs is right next to Banff Gondola’s Lower Station, just three minutes away by car.
The hot spring is named after the fact that the original Sulphur Mountain hot springs is located at the bottom of the mountain, now Cave & Basin National Historic Site (see next entry).
We actually visited Banff Upper Hot Springs with our kids on a separate trip, in winter. Soaking in the hot springs on a cold winter day, with snow peaks all around us, was something truly special. We even had a few gusts of snow blowing in while we were soaking and it only added to the experience.
There’s nothing particularly aimed at kids in the pools at Upper Hot Springs. It’s basically just a huge bath tub and people go there to relax, so it’s best to keep your kids under control and not bother other visitors.
Having grown up in East Asia, our kids are very used to hot springs. We can’t get enough of them. Some kids, especially toddlers or babies, don’t do well soaking in hot water for a long time. They can even get sick, and some say it’s not safe for them. This is something to keep in mind if you’re planning to visit Upper Hot Springs with a toddler or young kid..
Cave & Basin National Historic Site
Cave & Basin is a National Historic Site at the base of Sulphur Mountain. To get there, you’ll need to cross the bridge over Bow River at the south end of town, turn right, and drive about five minutes.
Cave & Basin is pretty much the reason Banff National Park was created. After Canadian Pacific Railway workers discovered hot spring water in a cave there in 1883, the Canadian government decided to attract tourists to it and created Canada’s first national park.
On our visit to Cave & Basin in winter, we were thoroughly impressed with how kid-friendly the museum on site is.
The kids enjoyed learning about Banff springs snails, an endangered species that live in the spring water. They also loved going into the actual hot spring cave, which is connected by a tunnel to the museum.
There are several kid-friendly activities to be enjoyed in the museum. But for the kids, the best part was outside, in the courtyard which once houses the popular “Lower Hot Springs” pool that was closed for good in 1992.
There, the kids enjoyed trying hockey, curling, bean bag tossing, making mini ice sculptures, and more. If you visit in summer, there are other kid-friendly activities to be enjoyed.
Although we didn’t do them this time, there are also some easy walking trails starting from the museum.
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular attractions in Banff National Park, and for good reason. A walking trail follows Johnston Creek through a stunning, narrow waterfall to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Alberta (which also happen to be some of the closest waterfalls to Calgary!)
The easy walking trail through the canyon is definitely doable with kids. We even tackled Johnston Canyon with our kids in winter!
From the parking lot, it is 1.1 kilometers to Lower Falls. In summer, you can do this in about one hour return with kids. This is as far as we made it with our kids in winter, and it took us closer to two hours in total, but it was great fun.
Unlike the Maligne Icewalk in Jasper (which, I must say, was even more impressive than Johnston Canyon in winter), we didn’t bother getting spikes for our shoes for this one. There were a few slippery spots, but the kids were fine without them. We did notice some other people using them, though.
If you go all the way to Upper Falls (5 km return), you’ll need at least two hours with kids in summer, and even longer in winter (we’d only recommend this for older kids). The trail does get a little steeper after lower falls, so we didn’t go that far on our winter visit.
For the truly enthusiastic, you can hike past Upper Falls to the Ink Pots (11.7 km return for the whole trip), but this would be far too long for our kids, and some hikers say the trail is less interesting after Upper Falls.
Our kids were definitely impressed with Johnston Canyon, especially all the snow & ice formations, frozen waterfalls, and hanging icicles. However, by the end of it, they were thoroughly pooped:
Ice Skating on Lake Louise
Lake Louise was the first place our kids ever tried ice skating. And what a venue for it!
Sage and Lavender were born and raised in Taiwan, a subtropical country where most people have never seen snow. We moved to Canada in late 2019 and went to Banff a few months later in early 2020.
From the moment they put on skates and hit the ice, they absolutely loved it. Sage was a natural, and he has become quite the little ice skater since then.
Lavender didn’t instantly figure it out (nor did my Taiwanese wife, Emily), but they still had a lot of fun skating (or rather, walking around on skates) on the ice.
While we brought skates from home, you can also rent them on site at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (see on Booking / TripAdvisor / Agoda), one of the most iconic hotels in the Canadian Rockies, which sits on the lakeshore.
You can also rent them for cheaper at Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise Village or several spots in Banff town.
Lake Louise is by far the most popular lake in Banff National Park. It is so popular that overcrowding has become a serious issue, especially in summer.
If you’re planning to visit Lake Louise and nearby Moraine Lake (which some say is even more beautiful), I wish you luck! Lake Louise’s paid parking lot is often full, even before sunrise. Use the park and ride. Moraine Lake is only open in summer. It is so popular that private cars are no longer allowed. I recommend using this shuttle bus, the only one that has sunrise departures.
The only way to guarantee actually seeing Lake Louise and Morraine Lake in one day in summer is to park your car at the Lake Louise Park & Ride six kilometres east of Lake Louise Village. Make sure to book your tickets well in advance!
Is it worth the trouble to take your kids to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake in summer? Well, I’ve been to both as a kid, and I would say, if you’ve never been before, then yes. Both lakes are incredibly stunning and you have to see them once in your lifetime.
At Lake Louise in summer, kids will enjoy walking around the shoreline trail and dipping their hands in the ice cold water.
At Moraine Lake, the easy walk up the moraine at the end of the lake would be fun for the kids, including spotting cute little pikas. And the picture postcard view of the lake from the top is worth a million dollars.
From Moraine Lake, Consolation Lakes trail is a beautiful hike that is doable with kids.
If you can, try visiting the lakes on a weekday in spring or fall, or do like we did and go in winter.
Places to Visit In Banff Townsite with Kids
Since most hotels are located in Banff town, there’s a good chance you’ll be staying there.
The town centre is compact and easily walkable. Make sure that you point out to your kids that all the streets are named after animals (Wolf Street, Lynx Street, and so on)!
Besides a few fun things to do in Banff town with kids, there are some interesting shops, treats to be had, and many family-friendly restaurants. Around town, there are also several easy hikes worth trying with kids.
Banff Visitor Centre
We started our explorations in Banff town by popping into the Banff Visitor Centre, if only to get some Children’s National Park Activity Booklets for our kids.
There are all kinds of fun activities inside, and these helped our kids to pass the time on some drives to the local sights. Plus, they got to learn some useful information about Canadian wildlife and more.
Banff Park Museum National Historic Site
The most interesting attraction for kids in Banff town is the Banff Park Museum.
The oldest natural history museum in Western Canada is housed in a historic 1903 log building at the southern end of Banff town. Inside, there are over 5000 specimens of wildlife, from insects and fish to the famous big mammals of the park.
I have fond memories of visiting Banff Park Museum as a child. In fact, it is one of the things that stands out the most from my childhood visits to Banff.
Unfortunately, Banff Park Museum has been closed since early 2020, with no reopening date yet announced.
If it’s open by the time you visit, we do recommend it. There’s a large (paid) parking lot and Central Park (see next entry) right beside it. We found this was the most convenient parking lot for exploring Banff town.
Central Park & Playground
Central Park is a large green oasis at the southwestern end of Banff town. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic with kids.
Our kids enjoyed the playground there, which is more natural looking than the usual plastic ones. Louis Trono Gazebo is an iconic sight in the park.
The Bow River runs around the park, with the scenic Bow River trail following it in both directions.
Bow River Bridge & Banff Pedestrian Bridge
At the south end of town, our kids enjoyed walking across Bow River Bridge. The bridge offers the classic view looking back at Banff town, backed by towering Cascade Mountain.
On the other side of the bridge, you can easily walk to Buffalo Nations Museum (see next entry), access Bow Falls Trail (also see below), or in summer, take a walk to see the flowers in Cascade of Time Garden.
The Banff Pedestrian Bridge is a short walk east of the Bow River Bridge, if you prefer a bridge with no traffic.
Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum
Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum is an indigenous Canadian-focused museum that many visitors fail to notice because it’s on the other side of the river from rown. The exterior of it looks like an old-time log fort; you can’t miss it.
We were pleasantly impressed with the museum. There are various displays on wildlife and First Nations culture, including teepees and miniature hunting & battle scenes. Our kids also enjoyed trying drumming and watching a powwow scene on VR headsets.
There’s also a pretty good gift shop on site, including indigenous crafts and artworks.
Bow Falls Trail
One of the best hikes for kids in Banff is Bow Falls Trail. The trail follows the south shore of the Bow River from Banff Pedestrian Bridge to Bow Falls, the famous waterfall below Banff Springs Hotel.
The trail has some up and down but nothing that little ones can’t handle. You can budget about an hour return for walking Bow Falls trail with kids.
If you’ve got toddlers or don’t want to walk the whole trail, you can just drive to the parking lot at Bow Falls, then walk as far back on the trail as you want to. This is actually what we did.
At Bow Falls, our kids enjoyed climbing down to the river and playing with the rocks. Bow Falls is also an easy quick stop on the drive up to Banff Gondola or Upper Hot Springs.
Surprise! Here’s one of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see.
Your jaw might just drop when you round the corner and take in the classic view of Banff Springs Hotel at the base of Sulphur Mountain.
It only takes a few minutes to drive to this scenic lookout just east of town on the north shore of the Bow River.
With older kids, you could even walk there from town on the Bow River Trail.
Surprise Corner Viewpoint is also the starting point of the Banff Hoodoos Trail. But to actually see the hoodoos, it’s better to drive to the Hoodoos Viewpoint (see next entry), which is quite a ways away, northeast of Banff townsite.
Do your kids know what a hoodoo is? Show them the real thing at Hoodoos Viewpoint, where the Banff Hoodoos trail offers views of a cluster of them along the Bow River.
It only takes about 10 minutes to reach some viewpoints of the hoodoos, which you’ll be looking down on from above, as the trail follows the base of Tunnel Mountain in the Bow River valley.
The Hoodoos Viewpoint parking lot is a five-minute drive northeast of Banff town on Tunnel Mountain Road. You’ll pass the very large Tunnel Mountain Campground on the left.
There are loads of sweet treats to tempt your kids in Banff, but for us, the ultimate temptation is always BeaverTails.
A Beaver Tail is a classic Canadian treat consisting of a flat piece of fried dough smothered with your choice of sweet toppings. You can find this chain at famous attractions and national parks across Canada.
If you or your kids have never had one, well, you’re missing out!
Family-Friendly Restaurants in Banff
Although none of them are specifically kid-focused, you’ll be spoiled for choices when it comes to dining in Banff. Most restaurants and even breweries are family-friendly and have kids’ menus.
Our kids really enjoyed The Old Spaghetti Factory, which I actually chose because I have memories of going there as a kid. The complimentary bread and butter to start is helpful for hungry kids who can’t wait to eat, and our kids loved their lasagne.
If you’re visiting from abroad, don’t miss your chance to try authentic Montreal-style poutine at Banff Poutine. This is always a big hit with our kids.
Other Places to Visit in Banff National Park with Kids
Beyond Banff town and the top five sights for kids in Banff I already covered above, there are several more worthwhile places to take the kids in Banff National Park.
The below are roughly in order of distance from Banff town. Basically they are all lakes, as lakes are really the focal point of activities in Banff National Park.
Right on the edge of Banff town, Vermillion Lakes are super easy to access. You could even walk there from town with older kids.
You can access the lake shores on Vermillion Lakes Road, which starts just past the Banff sign at the western entrance to town and runs parallel to Highway 1.
There are some docks on the lakes, and they are a good spot for paddle boarding or kayaking.
Cascade Ponds are a hot spot for people visiting Banff with toddlers or young kids.
Located at the start of the Lake Minnewanka Loop drive just north of town, the ponds and surrounding scenery are drop-dead gorgeous. Kids love to play in the water here, even though it is quite cold.
There are a few bridges to islands, and at the far end, there are some shallow creeks that kids enjoy exploring.
Johnson Lake, a short drive off the Lake Minnewanka Loop, is another magnet for families. It has one of the few sandy beaches in Banff National Park.
Johnson Lake is not glacial fed, meaning the lake is not nearly as cold as most others in Banff.
There’s also a fairly easy walking trail around the lake. If you keep your eyes peeled, you can even find a rope swing on one side of the lake, and a regular swing at the other. See how to find them here.
Two Jack Lake & Lake Minnewanka
After the turnoff to Johnson Lake, the loop road reaches Two Jack Lake. There’s an excellent campground here (book early!), with one section on the lake shore and other on the other side of the road.
Two Jack Lake is incredibly beautiful and is a great spot for all kinds of water activities. The lake is connected to the much larger Lake Minnewanka.
Lake Minnewanka is especially known for its cruises in summer, and in winter as an unofficial ice skating spot (take caution and do your research first!)
Completing the Lake Minnewanka loop, your kids may enjoy exploring Bankhead Ghost Town, an abandoned coal mine town.
Heading north on the Icefields Parway past Lake Louise, Herbert Lake is a smaller and lesser known lake that is a better stop for families who prefer to escape crowds.
There are a few picnic spots beside the lake, and the water isn’t quite as cold as other lakes.
A trail leads around the lake but heads up that there are parts where it is hard to find the way. There is even a makeshift diving board about halfway around the lake.
Peyto Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Banff National Park. It’s the only one where you can stop and enjoy an incredible view looking down on the lake from high above, right off the highway.
This is a quick and easy, yet highly rewarding stop with kids. It is understandably popular and can be crowded, though.
In summer of 2021, the parking lot was undergoing renovations and closed. It should be up and running again soon.
Continuing along the Icefields Parkway toward Jasper National Park, Waterfowl Lakes is a set of two connected, turquoise-colored lakes with a campground right between them.
The campground is first-come-first-serve. The lake water is about as cold as it gets, so our kids had a lot of fun counting how many seconds they can stand in it before it hurt.
More Kid-Friendly Summer Activities in Banff
Besides all the sightseeing, hikes, and other activities I’ve described above, there are loads of kid-friendly summer activities in Banff for adventure loving families.
Some of the most popular options include kayaking, canoeing, SUP (stand-up paddleboarding), whitewater rafting, fishing, camping, wildlife tours, horseback riding, helicopter tours, cycling, and more.
More Kid-Friendly Winter Activities
Above I already covered ice skating, the Johnston Canyon Icewalk, and soaking at Upper Hot Springs.
Other winter activities that may be suitable for older kids or teenagers include snoeshoeing, cross-country skiing, dogsledding, snow tubing, sleigh rides, and more.
For a fun side trip outside of Banff National Park, check out the famous frozen ice bubbles at Abraham Lake in winter.
Well, that brings us to the end of this guide to visiting Banff with toddlers, a baby, or kids. I hope you’ve found loads of ideas for your Banff family trip. You can’t really go wrong in Banff; be prepared for the family trip of a lifetime!