Banff is a beautiful destination all year-round, but Banff in fall has a special charm as the seasons change, many tourists go home, and the trees turn incredible shades of yellow and orange. And with most tourists gone – you will be able to enjoy even more of Banff!
Here are the top 6 things to do in Banff in fall to make you fall in love with this part of Canada. We added tips to each activity so you can get the most out of it on your trip. If you can’t make it to Banff in fall, check out our blog post on the best things to do in Banff in winter. Banff is certainly worth the trip anytime of the year.
Make sure you check out our top 5 tips to get the most out of our visit to Banff in fall at the end of this post!
Disclaimer: We were offered a stay at the Mount Royal Hotel and the Open Top Touring experience by the Banff Jasper Collection by Pursuit. We can highly recommend both and our opinions on all experiences and how many Beavertails you should eat are our own - as always. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us!
Know Before you Visit Banff in Fall
Banff is one of those bucket list destinations many people want to go to and it is just as beautiful as it looks in photos! There are a few things to keep in mind before you go.
Buy a National Park Pass
Since Banff is located in Banff National Park, you will need to purchase a national park pass (regardless of the mode of travel) for the duration of your stay. You can purchase the pass online before you visit, at the park entrances, or at the visitor center. The price of the park pass is $20 per day and your Banff National Park Pass is also valid in all other Canadian Rockies National Parks.
Banff is known for having a lot of wildlife in town and many of the places we recommend in this post are relatively remote which means you may see some wild animals. Keep in mind that these animals are wild and encounters can be dangerous. Make sure you inform yourself about elk and bear encounters and never approach or feed wildlife.
Does it Snow in October in Banff?
What is the best time to visit Banff in fall and does it snow in October in Banff? We get these questions all the time and to answer then in short: yes it can snow in Banff in October and the best time to go is early October.
Weather in the Canadian Rockies is rather unpredictable, and it is not that unusual to get one or two snow days during the heat of the Summer, so yes it can snow in October in Banff. However, if it does snow it is likely to just be for one day, with the snow melting soon after. The weather in Banff in fall is in general fairly cool, especially in the evenings and early mornings, but it’s not unusual for the afternoons to be sunny and warm, with many people walking around in shorts and t-shirts. That being said, the weather can change quickly, and you might encounter warm days and a dusting of snow within just a few days.
The earlier in fall you visit, the more likely you will get a few warm days without any snow! We recommend going early in October so you get to see the beautiful fall foliage in Banff but hopefully won’t have to deal with extremely cold temperatures yet.
What to Pack for Banff in Fall?
The weather in Banff in fall can vary wildly – sometimes just within hours. It’s best if you’re prepared for cold mornings and evenings, which means a warm jacket, scarf, toque (hat), and gloves. Don’t forget to throw in a pair of shorts and t-shirts if travelling to Banff in fall during September for some warmer weather. If you are planning to do some hiking, which we highly recommend, make sure you bring some good hiking boots and an outer wind and rain jacket that can keep you dry from any rain or snow.
What Is There to Do in Banff in Fall?
Banff is famous for being surrounded by incredible nature, bright turquoise lakes, towering mountains, and lots of wildlife. It’s no wonder the city and its surroundings have become so popular over the years. There are so many things to see in and around Banff that it can get overwhelming. This is why we put together a list of the 6 best things to do in Banff in fall!
Watch the Sunrise at Moraine Lake
Catching the sunrise at Moraine Lake is one of the top moments when visiting Banff in fall. However, if you’re not a morning person, Moraine Lake at any time of the day is a great place to visit. It is known for its bright turquoise water and is absolutely breathtaking to see in person. It is often referred to as the “other lake,” meaning the other lake apart from the famous Lake Louise. However, the beauty of Moraine Lake captured us when we visited years ago and it has become our favorite lake in Banff National Park.
Watching the sunrise at Moraine Lake is one of those “once in a lifetime” experiences. On a non-windy morning, the water is so calm, it perfectly reflects the mountain range behind it. And once the sun rays hit those mountain tops, they appear in the brightest pink and orange colors. It’s an incredible sight to see but getting there requires a bit of planning.
How to Get to Moraine Lake
Getting to Moraine Lake is relatively easy by car. Follow the directions on Highway 1 to Lake Louise and once you are on Lake Louise Drive, there will be a turn off on the left towards Moraine Lake. If you use Google Maps to get there, make sure you download the map before getting to the turn off, as there is no cell reception at Moraine Lake.
The road up to Moraine Lake closes after Canadian Thanksgiving weekend which is the second Monday in October. If you are planning to visit after Thanksgiving, you will need to hike the 6 miles (11km) road up to Moraine Lake.
What Time Does the Moraine Lake Parking Fill Up?
Seeing the sunrise here is so popular that you will likely have to deal with a large crowd of people, no matter if you are visiting in spring, summer, or fall. The parking lot here will fill up long before sunrise and it’s best if you arrive here very early. The best time to get here is around 5:00 AM to 5:30 AM, even though this might mean that you have a few hours until sunrise.
We visited in early October during the middle of the week and sunrise was just before 8:00 AM. However, we woke up at 4:00 AM and arrived at the Moraine Lake parking lot at 5:30 AM to find it already about half-full. The parking lot filled up around 6:00 AM after which any other visitors were denied entry. We took a nap until about 7:30 AM before claiming our spot on the lakeside for photos!
If you are wanting to visit Moraine Lake and the parking lot is already full – no worries! There is a Moraine Lake shuttle bus service from the overflow parking lot or Park and Ride buses on Highway 1 which run ever 15 minutes between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM.
We certainly weren’t the only ones here, as the lakeside was packed with others, keenly waiting for the sun to grace the mountain tops behind Moraine Lake and help warm everybody up! Despite the people, there is plenty of space on the shore of the lake to wait and take photos.
We were rewarded with spectacular views of Moraine Lake as the sun rose behind us. It was a bucket-list moment and well-worth cutting our sleep short!
Opening Times: Moraine Lake is open all year round but the road to Moraine Lake is closed in winter due to the risk of avalanches. The road usually opens at the end of May, beginning of June and closes the second Monday in October after Canadian Thanksgiving.
Location on Google Maps: Moraine Lake
What to Bring: A camera to capture the moment and a warm jacket
Experience the Incredible Larch Valley
Larch trees are renowned for their needles that turn a rich golden yellow in Fall. The trees are unique in that although they are conifers, they lose their needles in Fall like deciduous trees. The larch trees around Banff are primarily located in subalpine areas and hiking to see these trees is a very popular activity in Banff in Fall and well worth a hike.
One of the most famous areas to see the Larch trees is in Larch Valley. The valley is covered with larch trees and together with the surrounding mountains creates some stunning views and a great place to take photos and relax.
How to Get to Larch Valley
The trail head of the Larch Valley hike is at Moraine Lake and super easy to find. From the parking lot, make your way towards the Moraine Lake Lodge to the right of the lake and follow the path until you see signs for the hike.
The hike to Larch Valley follows a well-maintained and easy to follow path from Moraine Lake up 1,755 feet (535 m) over 2.7 miles (4.3 km). While the hike is fairly steep, it is not technical, and takes 3-4 hours return, depending on how much time you spend photographing all of the larch trees.
Best Time to Hike to Larch Valley
We did this hike during the first week of October, and unfortunately the Larch trees had already lost over half of their needles. If you are wanting to see the Larch trees in their full yellow glory, make sure you visit at the end of September or beginning of October. Keep in mind that the changing of the needles depends largely on the weather throughout fall and the timing can vary year by year. Once the needles turn, there is a window of 1-2 weeks before the needles fall, depending on the number of fall storms in the area.
Even if you don’t manage to see Larch Valley in the peak of Fall, it is still worth hiking to the valley and seeing these amazing trees.
Opening Times: The trail is open all year round but depending on how late you go in fall, there could be snow on the trail. Make sure you have the appropriate hiking gear.
Location on Google Maps: Larch Valley Hiking Trailhead
What to Bring: Good hiking shoes, a warm jacket, plenty of water
Hike at Lake Louise to Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive
Lake Louise is a must-stop when visiting Banff in Fall to take in the beautiful turquoise water and iconic setting of the famous Chateau Lake Louise. The weather for Lake Louise is usually best in the morning, when the lake is more likely to be calm, however the best time to visit is really any time the sun is shining. This is easier said than done as the skies are usually overcast in the area in fall. However, when the sun shines on Lake Louise, the water color becomes so vibrant that it seems unreal!
Before you start your hike, make sure you stop by the shore of the lake and snap a good amount of photos. The view of Lake Louise is stunning regardless of what time of day or year you are going.
The hike for a bird’s eye view of Lake Louise is very accessible, though a bit steep, to the Lake Agnes Tea House. The Lake Agnes Tea House is set on a quaint alpine lake and was built 120 years ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway, as a refuge for hikers, and to this day continues to serve hikers with piping hot specialty teas and homemade biscuits and sandwiches.
You’ll appreciate your tea and biscuits even more once you realize that there is no electricity or running water at the teahouse, and all supplies are either helicoptered in at the beginning of the season or carried up the trail on the backs of the staff.
The Lake Agnes Tea House is 2.2 miles (3.6 km) from the Chateau Lake Louise, and takes most people 1-2 hours for the hike as they gain 1,300 feet (400 m).
If you are not tired yet after hiking to the teahouse, you can continue on the trail another mile (1.6 km) to the top of Big Beehive. The hike is relatively steep and is mostly switchbacks. Certain sections were very steep and require good hiking shoes and hiking poles if you have them.
The view from Big Beehive is certainly worth the hard work! You will be rewarded with panoramic views of Lake Louise, the Chateau Lake Louise, and Banff in fall.
We really enjoyed this hike and can recommend it to everyone. The trail is well-maintained, but a bit steep, especially after the tea house. The hardest decision you will have to make is whether to stop for tea on the way up or the way down!
Opening Times: The trail is open all year but the Lake Agnes Tea House opens 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM for summer and fall, then closes for the season after Canadian Thanksgiving.
Price: Free, prices at the teahouse vary but teas start at $4.50.
Location on Google Maps: Lake Agnes Trailhead
What to Bring: Make sure you bring cash for having a tea at the Agnes Lake Tea House! Also wear good hiking shoes, a warm jacket, and lots of layers to prepare for temperature swings.
Explore the Lakes Around the Town of Banff
Banff National Park has so many great lakes to explore, however some of them are much closer than you may think! These are our favorites lakes to explore close to the town of Banff in fall.
Get some Exercise and Take in Fall Views at Vermillion Lakes
The main lake, or series of lakes, that are closest to the town of Banff are Vermillion Lakes, just a short drive of less than 5 minutes. The Vermillion Lakes are a series of small shallow lakes surrounded by grasses and trees, which turn beautiful shades of yellow and orange in fall. The lakes are usually calmest early in the morning and offer great views of Mount Rundle in the background. The Vermillion Lakes are popular for bike riding, running, walking, and just taking in the views of Banff in fall.
Our favorite thing to do at Vermillion Lakes is having a picnic and enjoying the incredible view of the lake and Mount Rundle. Set up on a bench on the shore or on a pier and treat yourself to your fall favorites.
Opening Times: Open all year
Location on Google Maps: Vermillion Lakes
What to Bring: Your favorite fall treats – we highly recommend getting some Beavertails!
Relax at Two Jack Lake
A little bit further away, but still less than a 15-minute drive, is Two Jack Lake. This beautiful lake is very popular in the summer for all sorts of activities and camping, but is also worth visiting in the fall. Two Jack Lake has a great setting with multiple picnic tables, benches, and two Adirondack chairs, making it a perfect place to relax, enjoy the afternoon, and have a snack.
Opening Times: Open all year – for road conditions and closures in winter, check the seasonal road closures
Location on Google Maps: Two Jack Lake
What to Bring: Snacks and drinks for a relaxing afternoon by the lake
Stroll Along Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is just a few minutes away from Two Jack Lake and is much larger at over 13 miles (21 km) long and quite deep. You can easily spend an entire day here as there a number of hiking trails in the area, you can rent a canoe, do the Lake Minnewanka cruise, or just relax by the beach. If you happen to get hungry, there is also a cute café and a gelato shop where you can pick up some snacks.
Opening Times: Open all year – for road conditions and closures in winter, check the seasonal road closures. The Lake Minnewanka cruise and canoe rental close for the season after Canadian Thanksgiving.
Location on Google Maps: Lake Minnewanka
What to Bring: Comfortable shoes to walk on the gravel beach
Open Top Touring in Banff
The Open Top Touring experience is one of Banff’s newest attractions and transports you back in time through the history of Banff, while also literally transporting you around Banff to some of the top Instagram worthy sights. The open-top vintage-inspired coach looks as if it comes straight out of the 1930’s, but it actually is brand new and very comfortable.
The tour starts off by getting acquainted with the seriously cool open-top coach that will take you around Banff. Once on the road, your guide (dressed to impress in 1930’s attire) will share the history of Banff through stories as you tour along the Bow River.
The first stop is Surprise Corner, one of the best places to photograph the iconic Banff Springs Hotel. No matter how many times we have seen it, there just never seems to be a bad angle of this beautiful hotel in Banff National Park.
The history lesson will continue, as you drive the scenic Tunnel Mountain Drive. Tunnel Mountain doesn’t actually have a tunnel but the name comes from the 1800’s when there was a proposed rail line that would tunnel through the mountain. They ended up routing the railway around the mountain, but the name stuck!
Saving the best for last, the 1930s-inspired bus will bring you up the hill to the Mount Norquay lookout, for overarching views of the town of Banff. It is a great viewpoint to get a sense of Banff in fall as the colors of the changing leaves were evident all throughout the valley.
The Open Top Touring experience is one of the best things to do in Banff in fall, but it is also available throughout the spring and summer as well. It is closed after Canadian Thanksgiving for the winter season, but starts back up in spring.
Opening Times: The tour runs from spring to the second Monday in October
Price: $45 per person, you can book your tour at Open Top Touring here
Location on Google Maps: Pick up at Mount Royal Hotel in Banff
What to Bring: A jacket and scarf if it’s cold and sunglasses if it’s sunny
Indulge in Fall Treats and Wander the Streets of Banff
Arguably the best thing about fall anywhere are cozy evenings by the fireplace and irresistible sweet treats! A quintessentially Canadian treat which is delicious any time of year, but especially on a crisp fall day, is snacking on some BeaverTails.
BeaverTails are a pastry which is both crispy and chewy, topped in some delicious flavor combinations. There are many flavors, from Hazel Amour, which is a chocolate hazelnut spread, to Apple Pie, covered in apple pie filling, apple slices, caramel, and crumble. And of course, since you are visiting in the Fall, just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving, don’t forget to sample some pumpkin pie!
Opening Times: Most stores in Banff open at around 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM and close between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM Beavertails is open daily from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM.
Price: $6-$8 per piece
Location on Google Maps: Beavertails on Banff Avenue
What to Bring: Large appetite and your wallet
Where to Stay in Banff in Fall
Right in the heart of Banff, located on Banff avenue is the Mount Royal Hotel. The hotel has been located here for more than 100 years and is full of history! It has recently been renovated with a modern style, while keeping many of the heritage touches which share the history of Banff and the hotel. The lobby really shines with its grand fireplace and opulent touches.
Almost all of the rooms have stunning views of Tunnel Mountain or Banff Avenue, and if you are lucky enough to get a corner room, you will also see Cascade Mountain. Our personal favorite part of the room was the Nespresso machine for those early mornings chasing sunrises!
As another bonus, the Mount Royal Hotel is the starting point for the Open Top Touring experience, meaning you only need to step outside the lobby to board that beautiful vintage coach.
Where to Shop in Banff
If you made it to Banff and noticed you did not pack the right outfits or if you are looking for a break in hiking, Banff is the perfect place to go shopping! Banff Avenue is the main street that runs through town, and perfectly lines up for beautiful views of Cascade Mountain, which may even be dusted with a fresh coating of snow when visiting Banff in fall.
You will find all kinds of stores on and around Banff Avenue and can get anything here from a new fall outfit to the perfect hiking boots for your next adventure.
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for Visiting Banff in Fall
1) Purchase an Annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass
Purchase the annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass. The annual pass, which allows you to visit all of Canada’s National Parks, not just Banff National Park, is $140, compared to about $20 per day. It is easy to spend one week alone in Banff National Park, so it is a great value to also explore nearby Jasper and Kootenay National Parks, plus any others for a full year.
2) Pack Clothing for All Types of Weather
This is the Rocky Mountains after all! Be prepared for all types of weather, as it is entirely possible that you will encounter sunshine and snow on your trip to Banff in fall, perhaps even on the same day. The most important items are sturdy hiking shoes, a wind/rain resistant jacket, gloves, and a toque (warm hat).
3) Chase at Least One Sunrise
Witnessing a sunrise at one of Banff’s most famous lakes (Moraine Lake or Lake Louise) is an absolute must. You will not enjoy the early morning wake-up call or the drive to the lake, but it will all be immediately forgotten once you get to witness a sunrise over one of these lakes.
4) Go Hiking
Even if you are not an avid hiker, there is so much to see and experience in Banff National Park that can only be accessed via hiking trails. Accessible hikes for almost any skill level are Larch Valley at Moraine Lake and the Teahouse hike at Lake Louise. These are both great options to explore more of Banff in fall.
5) Drive Your Own Car or Rent One
While it certainly is possible to visit almost all locations in Banff National Park via transit or free shuttles, the ease and flexibility of traveling in your own vehicle is important when visiting Banff National Park, especially when trying to catch a sunrise, or changing plans last minute due to weather.
What is your Favorite Fall Activity in Banff?
Have you been to Banff in fall? If so, what is your favorite fall activity there? We truly enjoyed our stay in Banff in fall and would love to add your suggestions to this list for our next trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
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