Banff National Park is a wonderfully beautiful place to spend time in the fall. With fewer visitors than in the summer months, it may be easier to find accommodations and you will easily enjoy the activities and sites without being rushed or crowded. Fall in the mountains brings crisp weather, so come prepared for a variety of temperatures, including the possible below zero at nighttime!
The autumn beauty is incomparable, as you can search for the gorgeous larch trees, or simply breathe in the fresh air and the smells of fall that accompany the changing of the season. Enhance your days here with the great variety of pubs and restaurants, along with the multitude of shopping opportunities throughout town. Don’t forget that it is recommended to make hotel reservations before arriving, and you will be required to purchase a Park Pass when entering the National Park.
Remember, Fall begins early in Banff (and ski resorts open by late October/early November) and Moraine Lake Road closes to cars after Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October.
See Some Golden Larches
From the second week of September until the first week of October, you have the opportunity to see a unique type of tree turn golden – the Golden Larch. As they only thrive at higher altitudes, Banff and Lake Louise are a couple of the best places to see these lovely coniferous trees. Take a moment to touch the soft needles, as these will fall in a couple of weeks, just as others do, and grow green again in spring. Choose a trail to trek to enjoy one of the many places where you can sit and soak up the beauty of the trees and the surrounding scenery. There are varying lengths and difficulty levels that you can choose from to suit your time and ability.
Hike Larch Valley
While we have given a general idea of hiking to see larches in the previous paragraph, this hike is a highlight for anyone looking to immerse themselves in a place where you are guaranteed to view these unique trees. There is no doubt that this is one of the most popular hikes in the area to view the golden trees so an early start is a must.
The trail starts begins at Moraine Lake near Lake Louise and is well defined as it is travelled by many people during the summer season. The elevation gain will be about 535 meters in total up to Sentinel Pass for the incredible views. Round trip to the pass and back will be 8 to 12 kilometers depending on how far you go.
Be aware that there can be bears in this area even in the fall months.
Take a Banff Ghost Walk
Are you looking for a spooky activity to enjoy during the fall? As Halloween approaches, we tend to look for the spooky and scary, it’s a natural time of year for that. Banff is a great place to experience a guided walking tour of some of the most haunted and ghostly places in the area.
From ghost towns to haunted hotels, these tours are bound to give you the tingles. Starting at the Banff Good Earth Coffee House be prepared to walk about 3 kilometers with your guide.
Reservations are accepted online and tours are available through the fall up to the end of October.
Address: 333 Banff Ave, Banff
Do Some Fall Golfing
A visit to this area in the fall is not complete without a golfing experience at the Banff Springs Golf Course.
Experienced players will find this gorgeous course challenging in its unique setting. Banff Springs offers the 18-hole Stanley Thompson course, and the 9-hole Tunnel Mountain course. The total length of the 27 holes is over 7,000 yards (6,363 metres). The original 18 holes at Banff Springs were designed in 1928 by Stanley Thompson, Canada’s master golf course architect, so you know it’s going to be great. Fall offers the best time to casually make your way around this world-class site.
Address: 405 Spray Avenue, Banff
Visit Johnston Canyon
Located along the Bow Valley Parkway, this is a great place to spend a bit of time no matter what the time of year, but fall gives that extra little oomph of nature that just completes the atmosphere.
You can view some of the rushing waters from the bottom, but it is best to walk up the pathway to the lower or even the upper falls for the best views. The tumbling waters coming through the canyon amongst the autumn colors will take your breath away.
The Lower Falls are 1.1 kilometres along the fairly flat trail, taking around 30 minutes from the parking lot at an easy pace. The trail to the Upper Falls is a little steeper, climbing through the forest and out of the lower canyon.
It takes around one hour one way, with an elevation gain of 120 metres over its 2.6 kilometres.
If you are spending time hiking or doing some other activity in or around Banff, you may need some time to relax and pamper yourself as well. Of course, there is no need to partake in adventure activities in order to enjoy some spa time, especially because the Banff Springs Hotel offers up exceptional spa services to help you feel as if you are in heaven.
The Banff Springs Spa isn’t the only one in town though, in case you are looking for a less expensive option. Check out the fantastic services from Meadow Spa and Pools, Red Earth Spa or Grotto Pool Spa, among others that are available in the variety of hotels.
Ride Some Gondolas
Autumn provides incredible vistas in the Rockies, bringing a variety of colours splashed across mountain faces and reflected in glistening glacier lakes. For a bird’s eye view of Banff town and the surrounding peaks, the Banff Gondola offers an incredible experience to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain to enjoy the vistas and trails.
Up to mid-September, you can also enjoy a ride up the chairlift at Mt Norquay, or the Sunshine Summer Gondola (closed in 2021). A bit farther afield you will be rewarded with stunning views from the Lake Louise Gondola.
Banff Lake Cruise
Just fifteen minutes outside of the townsite, you will encounter the stunning Lake Minnewanka. A perfect activity to just sit back and enjoy the fresh breeze and views, you may catch a glimpse of some wildlife as you skim across the water.
The heated boats provide a great place to spend a fall afternoon simply soaking in the beauty surrounding you.
It is best to make reservations ahead of time, and arrive early to ensure parking, or take the shuttle from town.
You don’t require any experience to take part in this activity. Choose a variety of horseback tours ranging from an hour to a four hour ride to see the beautiful Bow River, the Spray River or Sulphur Mountain. There are pony rides available for smaller children, and if you don’t feel like getting on the back of a horse, you can also choose to have a ride in a covered wagon and feast at a BBQ cookout. The scenery will take your breath away and the horses are trained well, so you can sit back and look at your surroundings without having to worry. Banff Trail Riders offer services daily until mid-October.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
Fall is a wonderful time to take a drive down the stunning Icefields Parkway.
The beauty of this region is unparalleled, so even a short drive will take you past a number of pullouts and viewpoints that are picture-worthy. The Parkway goes all the way through to Jasper, but there are many places to turn around if you don’t feel like driving the entire 232 kilometers.
The colours of the leaves mirror on the many lakes, and later in the season you may be able to view the contrast of snow with the autumn leaves. There is plenty to see and do along the Parkway, including hikes and glacier visits.
Please keep in mind that this highway can be dangerous in bad weather conditions. Check with Parks Canada if you are unsure of road conditions.
Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival
The annual Film and Book Festival will take place between October 30th and November 7th, 2021. With films and stories of adventure and exploration from around the world will be a mixture of live and online performances.
The return to live for the 2021 Festival will consist of a limited number of select in-person events, in reduced-capacity settings, and will also feature events and screenings at Lux Cinema Banff, The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, artsPlace Canmore and other venues in downtown Banff.
With the overwhelming popularity of the Virtual Festival in 2020, there will be Virtual Festival films so that you can watch from the comfort of your home.
Visit Some Museums
Not surprisingly, Banff is home to several great museums, and each one offers up a unique aspect of the history of the area. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is the birthplace of Banff National Park and a visit here will give you the chance to learn more about this special cave, with its unique waters and interesting history. It even has a type of snail found nowhere else in the world. Don’t forget to check out the Buffalo Nation Luxton Museum, where you can learn all about the First Nations of the area and their fantastic history and culture in this fort-like structure.
Visit and Shop in Some Galleries
If you wander the streets of Banff, you come across more than the standard tourist shops and souvenirs. This little town is home to many fabulous galleries where you can view various forms of art and photography by local and well known artists.
While purchasing is an option, if you are an art lover then this is a great activity while you are in town, as you can browse through the galleries to enjoy the beautiful works.
Check out the Canada House Gallery, which is considered the largest and most established gallery in the Rockies, and conveniently located downtown, as is the Willock & Sax Gallery, which features a diverse selection of Western Canadian historical and contemporary art, along with many Alberta artists. The Mountain Galleries at Banff Springs is worth a visit, with its museum-quality paintings, sculptures and unique Inuit carvings.
Fall can be an excellent time to view some wildlife in the area. Bears will be actively foraging before their winter hibernation and elk are in their rutting season. It pays to get up early for this activity, as you are more likely to see wildlife early in the morning. You will have to leave town to do this though, so you can either hop in your own vehicle or join a guided tour to get to the recommended spots.
Keep your eyes peeled for elk, bighorn sheep, bears, and moose, along with smaller mammals and birdlife. We suggest taking a drive up Spray Lakes Road in Kananaskis (just outside Banff), or taking a drive down the Bow Valley Parkway, or around Lake Minnewanka.
The Vermillion Lakes area is also a good place to spot wildlife such as moose. Make sure to keep your distance from all animals, stay in your vehicles and never feed wildlife.
Soak in the Hot Springs
Of course, these hot springs are the whole reason that Banff National Park even exists, as they were discovered in the late 1880’s by an explorer, which led to the protection of the area and the eventual creation of the Park itself.
The water flows naturally here (except in winter), and contains five minerals which will soothe your body, while the clean mountain air and gorgeous views soothe your soul. Within the town limits, this is an easy choice of how to spend some time this fall.
Address: 1 Mountain Ave, Banff