How to spend two days in Banff National Park, Alberta

Hopefully, you have more than two days to explore Banff National Park with kids, but if you are limited on time, here’s what you should do first.

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies:

Whyte Museum is a great place to start. It may be small, but does an excellent job with both an art gallery and exhibits detailing the history of the park, starting with the First Nations’ presence and continuing through the establishment of the park and the role of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. When you enter, you first walk through the art gallery, which showcases Banff’s rich art history. An interesting section covers mountaineering and climbing in the park, as well as the practice of heli-skiing and backcountry winter exploration. The museum is fairly small, but you’ll still want at least 45 minutes to tour. Best of all, admission is by donation. Whyte Museum is located at 111 Bear Street.

whyte museum

Cave and Basin National Historic Site:

Cave and Basin marks the birthplace of Canadian national parks, with the discovery of a hot springs underground by railroad employees (of course, this cave was not a new discovery to First Nations’ tribes). Now, this hot springs is closed to swimming due to preservation of a species of snail, but visitors can learn about the history of the site and the creation of Parks Canada in exhibits in the former bathhouse changing rooms and see the site of the former pool. You can also walk through a tunnel to see the still-bubbling sulphuric water in the original cave, as well as view the outdoor basin where the water pools. Admission is affordable, and there are boardwalks adjacent for a short hike around the site. Plan to spend about 45 minutes, then head to Banff Upper Hot Springs, where you can swim in even warmer waters. Cave and Basin is located at 311 Cave Avenue.

Banff Upper Hot Springs:

The Upper Hot Springs features a large outdoor pool located at a historic Banff bathhouse (that now also houses a spa). The temperature of the water is a respectable 104 degrees (40 C), and admission is very affordable. We forgot a bathing suit, and found out traditional bathing costumes of the ’20s and ’30s can be rented for just $1.90…fun and a deal! You can also rent towels, and there are large, clean locker rooms for changing. If you want to stay awhile, there’s a cafe upstairs in the bathhouse, and hiking trails nearby. If the weather is clear, pair an afternoon at the hot springs with a ride up the gondola, located nearby. Banff Upper Hot Springs is located on Mountain Avenue.

Banff Upper Hot Springs

Surprise Corner:

So named for the surprise view of the beautiful Bow Valley and Banff Springs Hotel, this corner along Tunnel Mountain Road has a dedicated pull out and parking lot and observation deck. Take some photos and tell the kids about the role the hotel and the railroad had in Banff tourism (the hotel was built to lure rail passengers to the area). Look for wildlife here!

surprise corner

Hoodoos:

The Hoodoos feature geological formations similar to those found in Bryce Canyon in Utah, but more enticing is the amazing view of the Bow River and valley. Park and take the short walk to the viewpoint, bringing binoculars along; during our visit, we spotted elk grazing by the river bank far below. The loop hike starting from this location is a great option for wooded terrain and the chance to spot wildlife.

hoodoos Banff

Sulphur Mountain:

For a longer, more challenging hike that’s still close to town, the 11 km round-trip up Sulphur Mountain includes winding switchbacks for amazing views of the Bow River and valley. At the top, walk over to the Cosmic Ray Station (used to take meteorological readings) and take the gondola back down to save some distance.

Tunnel Mountain:

Tunnel Mountain is located near the heart of the town and takes families up a fairly steep but short hike to the top of–you guessed it–Tunnel Mountain. The distance is 4 km round trip. The main draw? The view of the town of Banff from the top. Due to use, you’re not likely to spot a lot of wildlife on the Tunnel Mountain trail, but it is guaranteed to give you a good lay of the land.

Lake Minnewanka:

During summer, Lake Minnewanka is the place to go for canoe rentals, a guided boat ride, or picnicking. During fall, it’s far less busy, and can get windy (ask to hear the First Nations’ legends surrounding this lake), but is a good place to spot big horn sheep, and, if you’re lucky, mountain goats. Take the short drive a bit further to Two Jack Lake for even more seclusion in the off-season.

Tip: If you have more time, booking a tour with Discover Banff Tours is a good way to get oriented and learn more about the park and its wildlife. The three-hour tour may be too lengthy for very young kids, but school-aged kids will enjoy the wildlife talks, and parents will get a feel for which destinations they’d like to revisit on their own time.

Wondering where to stay in Banff? Our Banff National Park hotel pick.

As I disclose whenever applicable, portions of our activities in Banff were hosted for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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