Where to hike, bike, camp, paddle and moreBest guided trips
Ride into a wild sunset
Banff was originally explored on horseback and it's still a great way to see the park. Horses offer easy access into remote areas without the weight of a big pack. Two main outfitters offer guided rides and backcountry trips. Holiday on Horseback's trips (horseback.com) vary from Banff townsite trails to some of the most remote areas of the park. Overnight trips use canvas tents or the Sundance Lodge, a comfortable backcountry abode. Timberline Tours (timberlinetours.ca) is based in Lake Louise with riding options that range from 10 minutes to 10 days.
Best crowd-free hikes
(Seven hours, 16 km return; 3,280 feet total elevation gain)
This trail feels like it was recently vacated by a glacier, because it was. Caldron Lake was formed by the moraine left behind by the Peyto Glacier, and the hike traces the ice's retreat from a high viewpoint down to beautiful Peyto Lake and across glacial rubble into some nice meadows near Caldron Lake. The footing is tough, but the view is inspiring and even if you turn around early, it's worth the effort. Getting there: Park at the Bow Summit parking lot, 30 minutes north of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway. Follow the paved path to the Peyto Lake viewpoint (where you can see the Caldron Lake route below), then continue on the paved path about 300 feet to the trailhead. The trail descends about 800 feet over 2.4 km. From here follow the cairns and trail to the lake.
Best summits to bag
Eiffel Peak (10,118 feet)
While Mount Temple is the main attraction for scramblers in the Moraine Lake area, a less-demanding alternative with almost as much wow factor is Eiffel Peak. Like Temple, it rises above Larch Valley and the spectacular Valley of the Ten Peaks. The route follows an almost kilometre-long ridge providing constant views of the grand monoliths of divide. A short scramble up a gully is the only difficulty, and the vista from the top ranks among the best in the park. Just beyond the airy summit is Canada's own Eiffel Tower, a 230-foot pinnacle of rock. Getting there: Park at the end of Moraine Lake Road, eight km from Lake Louise Drive, and hike the four km into Larch Valley. Temple is the tower to the right, to its left is Pinnacle Mountain. Eiffel is the next peak to the west. Head overland to the base of the obvious ridge leading up to the peak.
Best backcountry campsites
Easily reached off the Trans-Canada Highway on a smooth and gradual trail, this is one of the premier backcountry areas in the park. The scenery along the way is fantastic: photo-worthy lakes, huge rock walls, high passes, forested valleys. Once at the campground, you can and should spend several days exploring the area. On the way back to the car, hike via the Shadow Lake area. Getting there: Park at the Redearth Creek Trailhead, 20 km west of Banff on the Trans-Canada. Hike the highway-like path 10 km to where it splits. Take the left fork and hike eight km to Egypt Lake Campground.
Mountain bike the Stoney Squaw
Banff has plenty of spots for fat-tire fun, but our favourite ride combines the Upper and Lower Stoney Squaw trails with a gruelling grind up the Mount Norquay Road. This loop has a bit of everything: stiff climbs, flowy descents and technical sections. Getting there: Park at the base of the Mount Norquay Road or just ride your rental from town. The six-km climb along the road to the Upper Stoney Squaw trailhead is arduous but steady. Find the trailhead near the entrance to the main ski hill parking lot and ride uphill through the forest on a technical, and at times steep, climb to the Stoney Squaw summit. Then point it downhill following the loop to the ski area. Continue through the ski area to the Lower Stoney Squaw trail fork. It contours around the mountain on a continuous downhill ending at a gate (be sure to close it) at the Trans-Canada Highway just east of the Norquay Road. (Pick up a Parks Canada mountain biking map with trail descriptions at the visitor info office.)
Best rainy-day activities
Banff Park Museum National Historic Site
The only place you're guaranteed to see the park's fauna. ($3.90; pc.gc.ca)
Upper Hot Springs
Touristy yes, but still fun when the weather turns bad. ($7.30, pc.gc.ca)