14 Things to do in Banff, Canada: Travel Guide in October

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

Banff: What a place to experience! If you’re like me and want to find some EPIC destinations to travel to, Banff fits the bill on all accounts. I was completely blown away by this place. The natural beauty of Banff will burn a permanent place on your brain that no one will ever be able to take away from you. When I had to leave, it felt like a piece of me was left behind in Banff. I want you to have the same Banff experience as I did. To help you, I’ve put together this Banff Guide that will review my experience, where I went, and the best things to do in Banff in October (or any time!).

General Info About Visiting Banff

Banff is located in The Canadian Rocky Mountains in the Province of Alberta, very close to the province of British Columbia. In this section, I will review frequently asked questions people have about visiting Banff. Let’s jump in!

When is a Good Time to Visit Banff?

There is really no bad time to visit Banff, depending on your interests.

Summer

Most people visit in the summer months due to the more hospitable, lovely weather. However, the prices to visit Banff during these months of July and August are much higher than off seasons like the fall. June and September also attract a large number of visitors, pushing prices higher.

Activities Available in the Summer: Pretty much everything is open to you in the summer months (except snow sports such as ice skating, skiing, and snowboarding), making it a great time to visit.

Fall

In late October when I visited, it was very cold (by my standards!), around 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the mornings, or -15 degrees Celsius. But for hiking, which is one of my favorite activities, it’s perfect! One of the great benefits of going to Banff in October and November is the pricing, everything is much lower than in the summer months. One negative of visiting after mid-October is that some trails become harder to access due to busses stopping their routes due to hazardous road conditions, as well as some mountains becoming inaccessible due to heavy snow towards the top.

Activities Available in the Fall: Some hiking and some Banff destinations are open (highlighted below). You could also be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights if the conditions are just right.

Winter

In the winter Banff can get down to -30 degrees F or lower (-34 degrees C or lower), and the sun sets early in the day. This can be pretty brutal if you’re not used to this kind of weather. However, many brave souls show up in the winter months in Banff because the snow is absolutely beautiful and there are an abundant amount of winter sports to do.

Activities in the Winter: Winter is a great time to visit Banff if you’re into snow sports like skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating. It’s definitely on my list to visit Lake Louise in the winter to ice-skate on top of it!

Bear Statue in Banff, Canada

Is October a Good Time to Visit Banff?

October is when I visited Banff, and I think it’s a fantastic time to visit. The key benefits for me were the snow (there was about 4-8 inches of snow in the area), the lower hotel and car rental prices, and less people there. I had the time of my life in Banff in October, so I think if you decide to go in October, you will too!

How Much Can I Expect to Spend?

I can only speak to October when I went to Banff. Here is what I spent:

Hotel: The hotel I stayed in (Banff Ptarmigan Inn) cost roughly $120 USD per night, which in my opinion, is a fantastic deal given the location and how nice it was. I have heard that hotels in Banff cost north of $300 USD per night in the prime summer months.

Car Rental: I paid about $30 USD per day for my mid-sized car rental in Calgary. I chose to add the feature of not having to fill the tank after I finished using the car for an extra $50 USD, bringing my 5 day total to roughly $200 USD, which is pretty fantastic coming from the United States.

Food: I went to the supermarket for breakfast food and lunch food while I was out hiking, but chose to do nice dinners in downtown Banff. You can certainly eat for under $30 USD per person in Banff, but the places I went to were about $60 USD on average, which included a fancy drink.

Plane Ticket: Okay, this one is extremely subjective. But I flew from Charlotte, NC and my ticket was around $650.00 USD. A new friend I met from Toronto said she paid under $400 Canadian dollars.

Parking Passes and other Passes: While I didn’t have to buy any parking passes because my hotel had a basement with free parking. However, you will need to buy a Banff National Park pass, which can be purchased for each day you visit any of the parks in the area. This cost me roughly $10 USD per day.

How Can I Travel Around Banff?

So how can you travel around Banff? The great thing about staying in downtown Banff is the ability to walk around to all of the restaurants and local spots. However, you will definitely need transportation to visit the parks and many of the sights. Here are some options:

Public Transportation: In Banff, they have something called Roam Public Transit, that allows you to “leave your car behind and enjoy the experience of riding in one of Banff’s beautiful, energy-efficient Roam buses to some of Banff’s most iconic destinations.” it appears that this public transit only runs to some of the local spots, however.

Tour Busses: Tour busses are certainly an option to get to some of the more iconic spots like Lake Louise. I saw quite a few of these tour busses at several spots, so this is certainly an option if you don’t rent a car.

Car Rental: This is the option I’d recommend for more freedom to go as you please. When I visited in October, the roads were a little dangerous due to snow and ice. Renting a car opened up the entire map for me on my schedule, and the pricing for renting a car was VERY affordable.

How Long Should I Stay in Banff?

I didn’t really know how long I should stay in Banff before I got here, so I ended up booking my hotel for 4 nights. I definitely rushed to see some beautiful spots. I could have easily stayed 7 to 10 nights, especially had I visited Banff a few weeks early when more hikes were open. I’d recommend going for at least 5-7 nights if you want to get a good taste of what Banff and the surrounding areas have to offer.

Are People in Banff Nice?

In my experience, the people living in and visiting Banff are amazing. I was blown away how hospitable everyone was. The city has many immigrants who are staying with work Visas, so it’s an incredible place to meet people from all over the world. Having gone solo, I was a little scared about not knowing anyone. But if you try, you can meet people anywhere here. I met wonderful people in the grocery store, at the hotel lobbies, in restaurants, hiking, and more places. You may just meet your spouse in Banff, or at least a new friend or two!

14 Things to Do and See In Banff in October

There are so many things to do in Banff, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities! If you visit Banff in late October like I did, some of those options are unavailable, however, due to weather related factors. Keep reading, I highlight 14 things to do and see in Banff in October below.

1) Lake Louise

Lake Louise is one of the most famous spots in Banff, at least by outsiders (such as on social media). There’s good reason for that, it’s an absolutely stunning spot if you’ve never been to Banff before. I was like a kid in a candy store when I saw Lake Louise and the surrounding area for the first time. Whether you go to hike, or to just enjoy the beautiful outdoors, Lake Louise will not disappoint.

2) Lake Agnes

Lake Agnes, while some technically consider as part of Lake Louise, is a short hike away. it is very different from Lake Louise, but majestic. I may have been more blown away with Lake Agnes than Lake Louise. It is simply other-worldly, especially with snow. The Lake Agnes Tea House was unfortunately closed in late October, but it’s still very worth taking a short walk to see.

Here’s another shot of me, thanks to a lovely fellow hiker on the trail:

Hiking Lake Agnes in October with Snow

3) Banff Gondola

Taking the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain is a must if it’s your first time visiting Banff. I met several locals that go up the Gondola several times each year because of the wonderful views from the top. In late October, it was super cold at the top, so dress in layers with all the necessary gloves and hats. Regardless of the cold, I highly recommend that you go up Sulphur Mountain via the Gondola. You can even eat dinner at the Sky Bistro located at the top Gondola station.

I personally enjoyed the deck that extends quite a ways on top of the mountain. You’ll feel like you’re in a dream up there because everywhere you look is beautiful mountains, and the vantage point you’re at is WAY up there.

Here is the view from the top of the Banff Gondola deck that extends quite a ways from the cart station:

If you go up around sunset time, you’ll get a special treat:

Banff Gondola Sunset in October with Snow

Finally, you you get to ride back down and enjoy the majestic mountain view from your nice and warm Gondola cart:

4) Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is located about 30 minutes away from Banff. It is a very popular spot with visitors and locals because it’s one of the closer spots to the city. For me, Johnston Canyon was a cool 2 hour activity the day after I did a big hike at Lake Louise. This spot can be quite busy, even in October, so get there plenty early.

Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park Starting Point

I arrived around 9;30 AM on a Sunday and there weren’t too many cars there. However, by the time I was leaving, I walked past tons of visitors. The canyon part of the trial is roughly 3 miles in length and takes you up and down metal pathways inside the canyon (which is pretty freaking cool!)

The main things to see are the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls, both of which were about 80% frozen in late October. The Lower falls was interesting because you get to enter a small cave that opens up to view the falls:

Once you get into the cave, the falls are up close and personal:

The Upper Falls is another 15-20 minutes away, and they are significantly larger than the Lower Falls. You’ll have a chance to look at the Upper Falls from both the bottom of the falls and the top of the falls:

And here is what the falls look like from the higher vantage point:

Overall, Johnston Canyon is a pretty cool spot I’d recommend going to if you have a day you need a smaller activity to fill a couple hours. If there is ice and snow on this trail, I’d recommend being very cautious. I had crampons on, and I slipped hard on a flat rock going down a hill. Hikers without crampons on were sliding down hills while holding onto the rails. Be careful!

5) Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is one of the more popular spots for Banff visitors. I was told about this spot from a local, so I had to squeeze in seeing this. Peyto Lake is about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Banff, so it’s not super close. Route AB-93 was quite dangerous driving on as ice and snow had not been removed from the roads. Also, there was a sign that said something along the lines of “no internet signal for next 280 km’s”, which is important to know because your navigation won’t work on the way back (although it’s quite easy to get back).

The Peyto Lake entrance was not easy to find, I drove right by it at first. But once you pull in to the parking lot, it’s a short hike (10 minutes maybe) to get to the observation spot of Peyto Lake. Once you get to the observation deck, you’ll be greeted with some pretty unbelievable views that span 180 degrees.

When I went to Peyto Lake, it was about 4 PM, so the sun was already starting to go down:

Peyto Lake in October Sun Shining

On the right side of Peyto Lake, you’ll see a vast beautiful scene straight out of a Bob Ross painting:

Peyto Lake View of the Lake in October

I’d recommend seeing Peyto Lake when you’re already in the area, because it’s not a long activity to do. But I highly recommend viewing this spot with your own eyes when in Banff.

6) Vermilion Lakes

Vermilion Lakes is a great spot right next to downtown Banff, so close you could walk! This is an especially nice spot for sunsets and sunrises. If the lake is frozen (which it was when I visited), you’ll find ice skaters gliding along. I visited Vermilion Lakes my last evening in Banff, and took a few great pictures of me on top of the frozen lake with Mount Rundle in the background during a sunset.

Vermilion Lakes Sunset View of Mount Rundle in Banff in October

This was a special moment for me. If you’re in Banff when the lake is frozen, I highly recommend venturing out on top of the ice!

7) Banff Avenue

If you’re staying in downtown Banff (which I highly recommend if it’s your first time visiting), make sure to spend some time strolling down Banff Avenue. There are all kinds of shops, restaurants, and coffee shops around. I met a new friend that worked in my hotel and Starbucks, so I paid her a visit, and she gave me a free coffee! Did I mention the people of Banff are super friendly?

At one end of Banff Avenue you’ll find a bridge with the beautiful Bow River:

Bow River in Banff, Canada in October with Snow

You could easily spend a day exploring downtown Banff in October with the many shops, restaurants, and coffee shops.

8) Mount Norquay Lookout

If you’re looking for a sunrise spot that is close to downtown Banff (more info below), look no further than Mount Norquay. It’s just a short 5 minute drive from the city and will give you a great view of the city and the surrounding mountains for your sunset. I was also lucky to get a little family of animals sleeping when I arrived at 7:45 AM.

Mount Norquay Lookout Sunset in Banff, Canada in October

9) Banff Wildlife

You don’t have to go far outside of Banff to see the wildlife! Without even looking, I spotted several animals near Downtown Banff. There was even a warning of Grizzley’s in the area, but I did not see any. I spotted what appears to be a Mountain Goat just outside the city of Banff at Mount Norquay:

Mountain Goat in Banff Canada in October Snow

As I was driving in downtown Banff, I also spotted what appears to be an Elk in someone’s backyard (this thing was pretty big in person):

Elk in Banff Canada in October Snow

Without even looking hard or at all in my case, you’ll most likely be fortunate to spot some animals as you drive around near Banff or even in Banff.

10) Taste for Adventure Food Menus

The Taste for Adventure is a food event across Banff National Park with the area’s top chefs cooking up, in many cases, 3 course meals for discounted prices. Many of the best restaurants in Banff participate, so if you’re in the area in late October to early November, be sure to ask Banff restaurants if they are participating in Taste for Adventure! You can see more details below about the 3 restaurants I visited while in Banff.

Other Ideas:

Here are a few other ideas that a few Banff friends told me about that I did not get a chance to see, but are on my list.

11) Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake is a popular spot with Banff locals because it’s not only beautiful, but only about 15 minutes away from downtown Banff.

12) Lake Minnewanka

Connecting to Two Jack Lake, Lake Minnewanka is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains that can be driven to directly. I was told by one of my Banff friends that it is also an excellent spot to see the Northern Lights when they come out.

Northern Lights at Lake Minnewanka

13) Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake may not be as well known as Lake Louise, but it is considered even more beautiful by the locals. A big disappointment of my Banff adventure was when I found out the road to Moraine Lake was closed down in mid-October, just a few days before I arrived.

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

Look at this majestic place! My friend was kind enough to send me her photos of Moraine Lake. Next time I visit Banff, this place will be at the top of my list!

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park 2

14) Lake O’Hara

Lake O’Hara is another spot I had circled on my to-do list before I visited Banff, but the access road had been shut down at the same time as Moraine Lake had been. Located about 50 minutes from downtown Banff, Lake O’Hara is supposed to be one of the more beautiful spots in Banff National Park.

Lake O'Hara in Banff National Park

Where to See a Sunrise and Sunset in Banff

There are a million places to see the sunrise and sunset in and around Banff. I will show you the spot I went to for both that some Banff locals recommended to me:

Sunrise

I always like to ask the locals where to do things because they have great insights and experience that the internet doesn’t. A few locals recommended that I go to Mount Norquay Lookout.

Here are the benefits of Mount Norquay Lookout for a sunrise:

  • It’s super close to Banff, about a 5 minute drive
  • There is a view of Downtown Banff and the amazing Mount Rundle
  • The sunrise can come up quite early, so having a spot you can drive to is a big plus
  • It’s beautiful up there!

Sunset

Some locals recommended that I go to Vermilion Lakes to see the sunset, so that’s what I did! It was my last night in Banff so I just had to squeeze in a sunset, and what a special moment it was.

Here are some benefits of seeing a sunset at Vermilion Lakes:

  • Less than 5 minutes from Banff, it’s right next to the city
  • If it’s cold in October, there’s a good chance the lake will be frozen. You can walk on the lake! Just make sure there are some footprints already on the lake / snow on top before you walk out.
  • The sun will light up Mount Rundle, an epic mountain nearby
  • You can park very close to where you can view the sunset. This is especially beneficial when it’s super cold out

Where to Stay in Banff

Whether you go to Banff solo (like I did) or with a group, staying in downtown Banff is a great option. You’ll be able to walk to supermarkets, restaurants, and local spots. You’ll also be situated within an hour of popular spots in the Canadian Rockies, such as Lake Louise.

Banff Ptarmigan Inn Bear Spray in Banff, Canada

I stayed at the Banff Ptarmigan Inn, which was a pleasant experience. They even gave me some bear mace before I started my adventures!

Where to Eat In Banff

There are a ton of options to eat in downtown Banff. Most of the spots  I looked at required dinner reservations, so be sure to do that at least a few days in advance (ideally a week or 2). I can imagine that during peak season you’d have to reserve a seat even more in advance that when I went in October.

1) Chuck’s Steakhouse

Chuck’s Steakhouse was the nicest place I ate dinner at, and the most expensive. But if you like steak, this place is amazing. After a 10 mile hike, I was quite hungry. And that’s a good thing because Chuck’s Steakhouse has huge portions.

I ordered an Espresso Martini to wake up a bit, along with this amazing garlic bread called “The King of Garlic Bread” which included Garlic Butter, gruyère, old cheddar, and bacon. If you go to Chuck’s, order this, especially before or after a big hike! You’ll thank me later. I also ordered a 16 ounce Ribeye steak, which was crazy delicious:

Chuck's Steakhouse in Banff 16 Ounce Ribeye with The King of Garlic bread

This was my favorite meal of my Banff trip. I give this place a 9/10 overall experience.

2) Farm and Fire

The very first restaurant I went to was Farm and Fire. I enjoyed this spot, and it was conveniently located next to my hotel. I was prepping to hike a 10 mile hike the next morning, so carbs were important to me!

I ordered the woodfired pizza special that changes from time to time. It included olives, jalapenos, salami, sausage, and more. I also ordered an Old Fashion drink. Both were quite good.

Farm and Fire Restaurant in Banff, Canada

I give this place a 7.5/10 overall experience. I enjoyed the food, the atmosphere, and my waiter was very kind!

3) Three Bears Brewery & Restaurant

The last restaurant I visited in Banff was Three Bears Brewery & Restaurant. I enjoyed this spot and took advantage of the Taste for Adventure menu happening in Late October and Early November in Banff across many restaurants. My dinner was a 3 course meal that included a large Caesar Salad, a 12 ounce steak with tons of vegetables, and a piece of chocolate cheesecake. I also took part of the festivities and ordered their flight of beers, which was quite good!  Three Bears Brewery & Restaurant in Banff, Canada

My favorite part of this place was the 2 Australians I sat next to, who were in Banff celebrating their 30 year wedding anniversary. It was so cool to talk to people who have lived on the other side of the world and to get learn about how they live. They also said I have an accent (in the United States I do not have an accent!), which I thought was quite funny because THEY had a huge Australian accent I had trouble understanding. Overall I give this place a 6.5 out of 10. Not a bad place to enjoy some beers with some locals and tourists alike.

My Go To Coffee Shop

My go to coffee shop in Banff was Whitebark Cafe. The staff was very friendly, and they had a large menu. The Maple Syrup Latte was delicious!

Whitebark Cafe in Banff, Canada

I enjoyed talking to the ladies working in the coffee shop, who were from Australia, England, and Quebec, Canada. You never know who you’ll run into in Banff, that’s the exciting part!

Top Spots to Go Hiking in Banff

There are a million spots to go hiking in and around Banff National Park. However, these 3 hiking spots really stood out to me when I was researching where to hike. Unfortunately I only made it out to Lake Louise as both Lake Moraine and Lake O’Hara’s bus routes were closed after October 10th this year, making it very difficult to reach these spots.

1) Lake Louise

Looking for a mind-blowing epic hike? Look no further than hiking Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. Located about 40 minutes north of Banff, Lake Louise is quite a destination for nature lovers as few places on the planet rival its beauty. Pictures simply don’t do it justice (or any of the surrounding Canadian Rockies). You read about my full Lake Louse Hiking experience here.

Hiking Lake Louise in Alberta Canada

2) Lake Moraine

I unfortunately did not get an opportunity to hike Lake Moraine, which is located in the same area as Lake Louise, because the access road closed in mid-October. I have heard from locals that Lake Moraine is even more beautiful than Lake Louise, but I will have to do this hike next time I visit Banff (hopefully very soon, I miss this place badly!).

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

3) Lake O’Hara

Lake O’Hara is another area that closed mid-October, but I have heard it’s a stunning place to hike. I will also add this to my list when I visit Banff again soon.

Lake O'Hara in Banff National Park

Final Thoughts on Visiting Banff

Banff is one of my all-time favorite places in the world. My mind was blown by the sheer magnitude of the nature surrounding Banff, I had never seen anything like it. If you’re considering visiting Banff, I would HIGHLY recommend that you plan your trip, at least 5-7 nights or longer to fully take in this magical place. Until next time!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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