15 Best Banff Tours

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Banff National Park is one of Canada’s most impressive natural attractions, and it was also the country’s first national park.

In addition to the towering Rockies, Lake Louise, and the Icefields Parkway, Banff is known for fantastic cuisine, swank lodging, and exhilarating, year-round outdoor sports that range from golf, fishing, and biking to skiing, rafting, and mountain climbing.

It’s also just a few hours from Calgary, Alberta, making it relatively convenient for those who’d rather not waste precious vacation time behind the wheel.

Below are 15 of the best tours of Banff and the Canadian Rockies that should appeal to those with a wide range of interests.

1. Banff Guided National Park Hike with Lunch

Lake Louise, Banff National ParkSource: Yunsun_Kim / shutterstock
Lake Louise, Banff National Park

Like hotdogs at the ballpark, food just tastes better when eaten in a memorable setting like Banff National Park.

This small-group tour includes the services of an experienced guide, who’ll whisk guests to the park’s most amazing sites, like Larch Valley, Stanley Glacier, and Consolation Lakes – to name just a few.

A picnic-style lunch will be served in an idyllic setting surrounded by the rugged and awe-inspiring Rockies, before continuing on to see more wonders before calling it a day.

Please note that the tour’s itinerary may change according to weather conditions, and restrictions on age apply as well.

2. Lake Minnewanka Cruise

Lake MinnewankaSource: shahnoorhabib / shutterstock
Lake Minnewanka

Though it sounds more like a lake you’d expect to find in Minnesota, Lake Minnewanka is all Canadian.

It also happens to be the largest lake in the national park and offers visitors unparalleled views that their landlubber counterparts just won’t get to see.

The boat tour lasts one hour and includes narration from the captain. It’s common to see a variety of wildlife species like deer, bighorn sheep, and even bear now and again.

You’ll also learn about the native people who have lived in the area for countless generations. There will be ample time left in the day for other tours or self-guided exploration.

3. Winter Wonders Tour by Gondola

Winter Wonders Tour with Banff Gondola RideSource: www.getyourguide.com
Winter Wonders Tour With Banff Gondola Ride

No matter when you choose to visit, you’ll likely be astonished at the beauty of Banff and the Canadian Rockies in general.

That being said, most visitors agree that there’s just something extra special about it in the winter.

This 5-hour gondola tour includes pickup at your Banff hotel, and provides impressive elevated views of the park’s most impressive sights, like Lake Minnewanka, the hot springs, Bow Falls, and endless expanses of snow-covered peaks and immense pine forests.

Due to the gondola’s height and the often windy conditions, it may not be a good fit for the faint of heart.

4. Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride

Horse-Drawn Sleigh RideSource: www.getyourguide.com
Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride

Close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself if there’s anything in the world more memorable and romantic than a sleigh ride.

The answer is probably a resounding no. For those who agree, there’s no better way to see Banff than under a wool blanket with your family or significant other.

Rides generally last about 40 minutes and include hot drinks and interesting tidbits about local history, geology, and animals along the way.

Of course, the views are spectacular. When the tour is over, you’ll have a chance to roast a few marshmallows over a campfire before heading back to your lodging.

5. Grotto Canyon Ice Walk

Grotto Canyon Ice WalkSource: Shauna Cohoe / shutterstock
Grotto Canyon Ice Walk

Though ice is always slippery and cold, it’s also the perfect medium from which to explore many of Banff’s most elusive treasures.

In the winter, much of Grotto Canyon freezes, which means it’s generally off-limits to all but the most fit and fearless explorers.

The canyon is also brimming with otherworldly rock formations, breathtaking icefalls, and amazing art created by indigenous people.

Participants will get all the necessary instruction and equipment they’ll need to ensure that everyone has a safe and memorable experience.

The ice walk tour is limited to a maximum of 12 guests, so it’ll be an intimate excursion.

6. Kananaskis River Afternoon Whitewater Rafting Tour

Kananaskis River Whitewater Rafting TourSource: www.getyourguide.com
Kananaskis River Whitewater Rafting Tour

Back in the days before cars and airplanes, rugged trappers and explorers covered lots of area in the harsh Canadian Rockies by braving stretches of roiling rivers in relatively flimsy rafts.

These days, whitewater rafting is largely a recreational activity. This afternoon Kananaskis River tour is the best way to get your feet wet – literally and figuratively.

Don’t worry if you’re short on experience, because you and your travel partners will be accompanied by experienced, patient, and safety-conscious guides dedicated to making each trip exhilarating and safe.

Tours last just a few hours and include amazing scenery, light refreshments, and complimentary photos.

7. Helicopter Flight with Exploration Hike

Canadian Rockies: Helicopter Flight with Exploration HikeSource: www.getyourguide.com
Canadian Rockies: Helicopter Flight With Exploration Hike

Helicopters are cool. Banff is amazingly beautiful. Combine the two and, well, you get the idea.

Previous guests to this flight and hike combo tour have described it as stunning, exhilarating, and memorable, and the flight portion comes in a variety of lengths that range from about 20 minutes to nearly an hour.

From the air, you’ll see mountains and glaciers, rivers and lakes, and some of the largest expanses of wilderness in the country.

The hike portion of the tour gets kicked off along Cline River and includes local waterfalls and Abraham Lake.

Most tours last a few hours.

8. Grizzly Bear Refuge Tour

Grizzly Bear Refuge TourSource: www.getyourguide.com
Grizzly Bear Refuge Tour

Eating lunch with grizzly bears is definitely not a wise thing to try on your own.

In fact, it often leads to missing limbs and distraught relatives.

Thankfully there’s a fun and safe way to get up-close-and-personal with these massive meat-eating predators without taking undue risk.

This whirlwind tour includes stops at stunning Takakkaw Falls that tower nearly 1,300 feet from top to bottom, a gondola tour from one of the country’s highest resorts, and lunch at the Grizzly Bear Refuge—the largest enclosed bear habitat of its kind in the world.

Lunch and non-alcoholic drinks at the refuge are included.

9. 3-Hour Bow Valley Loop Horseback Ride

Bow Valley Loop Horseback RideSource: www.getyourguide.com
Bow Valley Loop Horseback Ride

Riding a trusty horse through Banff hearkens back to days long past. For many visitors, it’s one of the most memorable experiences of their time spent in the Canadian Rockies.

This 3-hour guided horseback tour follows the Bow Valley Loop that includes forests, meadows, and amazing views of looming mountains and deep canyons.

You’ll learn about the things you’re seeing from your guide, and it’s common to see a variety of wildlife species, especially near rivers and creeks.

Those who aren’t exactly cavalry-grade equestrians need not worry, because everyone gets pre-tour instruction on how to handle their horse like a pro.

10. Bow River Big Canoe Wildlife Tour

Wildlife on the Bow River Big Canoe TourSource: www.getyourguide.com
Wildlife On The Bow River Big Canoe Tour

Though many animal species in the area are commonly seen, several tend to shy away from loud noises like helicopters and outboard motors.

Hence, canoes are the perfect way to see things from a unique perspective and burn a few calories in the process.

Each canoe holds 12 guests, and along the way, you’ll learn about the animals you’re likely to see – as well as the state of conservation in the region.

Beaver, bald eagle, and elk are commonly seen, especially in the low-light evening conditions when the tour takes place.

Age and physical ability restrictions apply, so check carefully before booking.

11. Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Johnston Canyon IcewalkSource: www.getyourguide.com
Johnston Canyon Icewalk

This 4-hour guided ice walk of Johnston Canyon begins and ends in nearby Banff.

After a short trip to the Johnston Canyon Trailhead, you’ll get ice cleats, comfy boots, and a safety briefing before heading off into the great outdoors.

The tour includes moderate changes in elevation and covers quite a bit of rugged ground, so they’re definitely not for the small children, the elderly, or those with health issues.

Stops include vista areas overlooking waterfalls, massive ice columns, and sweeping stretches of mountain and wilderness that tend to leave guests speechless.

Light snacks, hot chocolate, and round-trip transportation are all included.

12. Morning Whitewater Rafting Tour in Horseshoe Canyon

 Morning Whitewater Rafting Tour in Horseshoe CanyonSource: www.getyourguide.com
Morning Whitewater Rafting Tour In Horseshoe Canyon

Morning whitewater rafting tours of the Bow River in Horseshoe Canyon begin with pick-up at your Banff or Canmore hotel.

After a short drive through the scenic Rockies, each guest will be outfitted with a wetsuit and other safety equipment before getting a crash course in rafting and heading out.

Tours last 4 ½ hours and include both calm and stretches, and those that some first-timers consider downright intimidating, but you’ll be in the capable hands of an experienced river guide.

Plan on seeing once-in-a-lifetime views, getting a heck of a workout, and acquiring a fresh new perspective for the majesty of the natural world.

13. Banff National Park Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Day-Pass

Bow Lake, Banff National ParkSource: Zhukova Valentyna / shutterstock
Bow Lake, Banff National Park

Hop-on-hop-off tours are usually an excellent fit for those who’d rather not spend a whole day with a crowd seeing things that may not interest them.

This Banff National Park tour boasts three convenient departure choices, and six stops that include Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and the Bow Valley Parkway.

Guests will have the option of hiking to scenic waterfalls, soaring in a gondola over the valley below, or just relaxing lakeside and enjoying the sights.

Tours get underway twice in the morning and once at lunchtime, the latter of which is back in Banff usually no later than 6:00.

14. Canadian Rockies Helicopter and Horseback Ride Combo

Helicopter Tour and Horseback Ride ComboSource: www.getyourguide.com
Helicopter Tour And Horseback Ride Combo

Sure, you could take a Banff sightseeing tour in an air-conditioned minivan, but when it’s so easy to see the park by helicopter and horseback, why not take advantage?

This popular combo tour includes a 20-minute helicopter ride that features unobstructed views of immense mountains, shimmering lakes, and cascading waterfalls.

After the ride, guests and their guide will set out on foot to explore Twin Falls. Upon returning to the helipad, everyone will gear-up for a 1-hour guided horseback trip to Abraham Lake.

Everything’s included – from taxes and park fees to coffee and tea.

Gratuities for exceptional service are extra.

15. Marble Canyon Snowshoeing

 Marble Canyon SnowshoeingSource: www.getyourguide.com
Marble Canyon Snowshoeing

For those who’ve never done it, snowshoeing is fun and exhilarating; it’s one of the most unique ways to experience all that the Canadian Rockies have to over.

This 4-hour tour gets started in the morning and is a good fit for those of moderate fitness.

Guests will be taken from Banff to nearby Kootenay National Park. Once there, you will be fitted with your shoes and given a short introduction before heading out on the three-kilometer route around Tokumn Creek.

It’s common to spot moose, rabbit, and even wolf tracks in the fresh snow, and visitors will have abundant photo ops at frozen waterfalls and the Marble Canyon gorge.

15 Best Banff Tours:

  • Banff Guided National Park Hike with Lunch
  • Lake Minnewanka Cruise
  • Winter Wonders Tour by Gondola
  • Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride
  • Grotto Canyon Ice Walk
  • Kananaskis River Afternoon Whitewater Rafting Tour
  • Helicopter Flight with Exploration Hike
  • Grizzly Bear Refuge Tour
  • 3-Hour Bow Valley Loop Horseback Ride
  • Bow River Big Canoe Wildlife Tour
  • Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
  • Morning Whitewater Rafting Tour in Horseshoe Canyon
  • Banff National Park Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Day-Pass
  • Canadian Rockies Helicopter and Horseback Ride Combo
  • Marble Canyon Snowshoeing