What to Do in Banff with Tweens and Teens
Banff is a Canadian National Park located in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Canada. It’s a stunning locale with gorgeous natural landscapes. Banff is also the name of the quaint little mountain town located within the national park. It is a wonderful place for a family vacation with tweens and teens because it is not only beautiful, but it is filled with fun places to go that are well marked and easy to navigate, and it is also close to all the conveniences you need when traveling with tweens and teens.
Having a successful family vacation with tweens and teens is a challenge. They can be whiny, stubborn, and hard to get along with. They also can be so wrapped up in their relationships with friends (and in their cell phones) that they don’t even want to participate in a family vacation. If you struggle with these issues, please read my article about traveling with tweens and teens in general. I have tips for how to make it fun and make is successful!
Banff can be visited as a day trip from Calgary, Alberta. But the best way to see Banff is to stay several days. We stayed in the town of Banff for three nights and were able to enjoy much of what the area has to offer. If you have even more time, there is much more to see and I would highly recommend staying longer!
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I have tons of suggestions for the best activities to do in Banff with tweens and teens, so feel free to pin the article and read it later!
Top Activities in Banff with Tweens and Teens
Sulphur Mountain Gondola
My kids agreed that their favorite activity in Banff was the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. The base of the gondola is only a few minutes from the center of the town of Banff. We rode in a gondola up to the top of the mountain. We were treated to spectacular views on the ride up as well as at the summit. At the top, there is an interpretive center, a boardwalk mini-hike, two restaurants, and a gift shop. The restaurants require advance reservations which can be booked on their website.
Tickets to ride the gondola are pretty expensive, but kids ages 6-15 are free before 10 am if you buy the “family experience” ticket. Kids under 5 are always free, but they do require a ticket. Tickets are also less expensive in the evening, so that is what we chose to do. We also got 10% off by purchasing tickets at the concierge desk of our hotel, the Mount Royal Hotel.
The interpretive center at the summit is like a small museum. It’s all about the history of the park and information about the wildlife and geology of the park. It has some interesting stuff and some interactive exhibits. It appears to have been designed for kids, and many tweens would find it interesting. There is a video presentation which we found a bit disappointing. It was only a few minutes long and was just images of the mountains without explanation. I would have preferred more narration explaining about the sites.
The hike in Johnston Canyon is easy to do and promises the reward of waterfalls. If you want to get your kids out experiencing nature but they aren’t really “into” that it’s a great choice.
Going up to the lower falls is only 30 minutes out and 30 minutes back. It starts out as a wide easy path.
After a bit, there are catwalks that you need to walk on to get through the dicier narrow parts of the canyon. Some people would be a bit nervous about this if they are scared of heights, but it is all very safe. My daughter panicked a bit because of this, but I made her power through.
It is also largely accessible at this point. I saw someone in a wheelchair at the lower falls. However, keep in mind that if you are pushing someone in a wheelchair, a lot of this hike is uphill.
I did this hike when I was a kid several times and it was lovely and quiet. Now, 30 years later, the area has become much more touristy. I recommend you try to do the hike during the less-popular times. Early in the morning would probably be good. We tried to get there early but didn’t arrive until around 10 am. I would recommend you skip breakfast, grab some power bars and head over before 9 am. Nature is much less pleasant with a crowd. Not only do people like us want to see the waterfalls, but there are busloads of tourists as well. Seeing nature with a bus full of tourists is not that peaceful, in my opinion.
Because of the crowds, I told my family that we would continue on to the upper falls. I figured that many people would turn around and we’d have less company if we continued on. We did have less of a crowd further along – but it was still more people than ideal. We had to kind of stand in line for a view of the upper falls. Again, go early.
To get to the upper falls, you continue on another 30 minutes or so. The entire loop to the upper falls and back is about 2 hours. It is an easy hike and a good choice for older kids. There is another hiking path further along to the “Ink pots” if you are interested. Check out the Johnston Canyon website if you would like to learn more.
I thought it was cool to see that even in June, when we were there, there is ice on the cliffside near the waterfalls. There is a catwalk out for a great view of the upper falls, and you can also take another path to get up higher for a vantage point above the falls.
Upper Hot Springs
Banff was established as Canada’s first national park in large part due to the discovery of the hot springs. In the 1880s, as Canada’s transcontinental railroad was being completed, three railroad workers stumbled upon the hot springs at Sulphur Mountain. They soon realized the potential for tourism. In 1885 it became Canada’s first national park.
Immediately after their discovery, people started soaking in the hot springs. They believed that the waters had health benefits. Whether or not this is true, it’s a fun place to visit in Banff with tweens and teens.
It is located at a beautiful old building on the side of Sulphur Mountain, just a few minutes from the town of Banff’s center. Visiting the hot springs is like visiting a public pool, except that the water is warm like a hot tub, and naturally comes from the springs.
You pay a fee to enter, which includes a locker and towels. You can rent swimsuits (what?!) if you want…I am going to guess your tweens and teens would rather wear their own swimsuits.
The pool’s location is gorgeous – it is outdoors, with an amazing view of the surrounding mountains. The water is so warm that you can’t soak continuously for more than about 10 minutes before needing a break. My family and I had a lovely time swimming, chatting, and enjoying the pretty view. My daughter M especially enjoyed it – she got a real kick out of the naturally warm water and loves to play in pools. I liked it just because it’s such an unusual thing to do! The whole experience lasted about an hour. We could have stayed longer if we had chosen to, but that was enough for us.
The Upper Hot Springs is a great choice of for an activity with tweens and teens in Banff. To find out more specifics about pricing and opening hours, click here for the Banff Hot Springs website. There is a cafe and a gift shop there as well. I recommend going early in the day so it isn’t crowded. We arrived around 10 am in June and it was not too crowded to be pleasant.
Cave & Basin
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is also right near the main part of the town of Banff. It is just down the mountain a bit from the Upper Hot Springs and is the actual location where the springs were discovered. There used to be a big swimming pool here where people could “take the waters,” but that was discontinued a few decades ago.
You can walk there following the Cave and Basin trail if you wish, which is about 20 minutes from downtown. Or you can drive – it’s about a 5 minutes drive. There is a large parking lot, and nearby is the gift shop which is where you pay your fee to get in. It’s very reasonably priced – it is free for kids under 17 and only a few dollars for adults. You then walk up the hill to the visitors center. The cave is now inside the building. It smells of sulfur because of the minerals in the water. The cave itself is very small, so go early or late in the day to avoid crowds.
There is a small interactive museum at the site. Our family didn’t find it to be all that interesting, so we only spent about ten minutes there. I did, however, find the people working at the site to be quite knowledgable and worth talking to.
More interesting are the short hikes available at the site. Our family did the Upper Boardwalk trail. This was a short walk up above the cave to see where the hot springs vent and where the original hotel was built. Click here to read about the trails.
Overall, I would say that the Cave and Basin is a must-see in Banff, but it’s appropriate just for a quick visit with tweens and teens and will take only about an hour.
The Grizzly House
We had an incredibly fun evening at The Grizzly House, a fondue restaurant in the center of the town of Banff. The Grizzly House has been on Banff avenue since 1967. It was originally a disco – one of the first discos in North America, according to our waitress! The disco ball is still hanging in the restaurant as a memento of the past.
The Grizzly House’s vibe is without comparison. The restaurant is decorated with a buffalo head, wood-paneled walls, and totem poles, and the soundtrack is nonstop 70’s music. I LOVE IT. It’s crazy.
The food is delicious and SO MUCH FUN. You must get the four-course fondue meal. Everyone starts with salad (don’t eat much – save room – you’re not there for lettuce) followed by a yummy cheese fondue which is served with bread and other dippers. Everyone has a special long fork to use for dipping into the hot melted cheese. Don’t forget a glass of wine for the mama. Cheese and wine – yes!
After that, each member of your party gets to choose which meat selection they’d like. My daughter chose chicken to keep it simple. My husband and son chose the wild game mixture which included buffalo, elk, and more, with a side of alligator! I went with Alberta beef and lobster – yum! My dad came with us too, and he chose the beef and scallops. All of it was terrific!
The meat is served to you raw so that you can cook it yourself on the table. You get to choose whether you want to have the traditional pot of hot oil for cooking your meat, or you can go with hot rocks. We chose the hot rocks because we figured it was a safer choice with kids.
For dessert, you get a fantastic chocolate fondue! They put a pot of melted chocolate on your table with fruit to dip. De-lish!
Of course, this is not a cheap meal. It’s pretty pricey. It’s around $50 Canadian per person, not including drinks. But it is so worth it! It wasn’t just tasty, it was an adventure. I think any tween or teen visiting Banff would get a big kick out of the experience. Check out The Grizzly House’s website for more info, and call ahead to get a reservation (at this point they don’t do online reservations).
Bow Falls and/or Surprise Corner Hike
There are several really easy hikes/walks that you can do with tweens in the town of Banff. One morning before breakfast, we walked along Buffalo Street, which runs parallel to the Bow River. It took 20 minutes to walk from our hotel to the lookout point called Surprise Corner.
Surprise Corner is so-named because as you walk along you are suddenly treated to a beautiful view of the Banff Springs Hotel.
We then walked back to town along the Bow River Trail. We could also have chosen to continue on from that point to the Hoodoos trail – but I know my family, and if I push the adventure too far I get grumpy reactions. But you can do it! Let me know how it goes.
The Bow River Trail is a really well-maintained pleasant walk. It is a great choice for families. There are beautiful views, it’s quiet, it’s close to town, it has benches to rest on – it is the perfect choice for a family like ours that enjoys incredibly mild adventures. It would also be great for families with small children.
This walk also gives you a view of the famous Bow Falls. You can also choose to walk across the pedestrian bridge and follow the Bow Falls trail to get a better vantage point. We chose to drive there since we were visiting with my dad and he isn’t able to do long walks. I think it would have been another good mild adventure to hike there. Click here to see a map of the trails in the area.
Bow Falls is fun to see as it is a cool natural place and is so close to town. However, it is just a quick thing to do with tweens and teens. There isn’t much to it. I did notice that there is a rafting company based near the falls that does tours. It looked like it might be a fun option for tweens and teens in Banff. We didn’t see anyone on the rafts. If you want to check it out, click here to see the website for the rafting company.
Shopping in the town of Banff
Banff is an adorable little mountain town! There are lots of fun businesses to visit that are all walking distance from each other. Our hotel was right in the center of it all, so it was perfect for walking to lots of cute shops. Banff Avenue is the main street through the middle of town. There are also shops on the nearby side streets.
My husband, daughter, and I spent an afternoon souvenir shopping. There are lots of souvenir shops along the main street. There are also clothing stores. We stopped in at Lululemon (of course, who can shop with a tween girl and not visit Lululemon) and were happy to find out that the prices are not marked up for the Canadian dollar. So the $60 shorts she wanted are still $60 in Canada – however, they are $60 Canadian dollars instead of American dollars, which means they are about 25% off for American shoppers.
We mostly popped into the souvenir shops. Some are better than others, of course, but it is fun to check them all out if you are a shopper like me. Our main purpose was to window shop and have fun! My favorite souvenir shop was Cool as a Moose at 115 Banff Ave. They have quality items and their own line of shirts and sweatshirts that have good-looking graphics. My daughter’s favorite finds were cozy sweatshirts and cool stickers to put on her Hydroflask The Spirit of Christmas and they have a huge selection of all things Christmas year-round.
And you also must visit the candy and treat shops. Which brings me to my next suggestion for fun in Banff with tweens and teens.
Beaver Tails and Candy Shops
Banff has way more treats than necessary! If you are a tween or teen your reaction to that would probably be...SCORE! Any tween who visits Banff must try the Beaver Tails! Beaver Tails are basically a pastry – which would be delicious on its own – covered in your choice of somewhat ridiculous treats. M got hers with Nutella and candy and T ordered the s’mores flavored toppings. Among the other choices are apple pie-style toppings, strawberry cheesecake toppings, or just a simple cinnamon sugar. They are too big and so good! If you can talk your tween or teen into splitting one, good for you. Mine “needed” their own, while my husband and I split one.
Banff also has several handmade candy stores on Banff Avenue. You can watch them hand-dip various treats into chocolate. We never got around to trying that though, because instead, Mary’s Popcorn shop was giving out free samples as we walked by and so we ended up with a bag of AMAZING caramel popcorn – the best I’ve ever had. It was the salted caramel with almonds flavor. They too have lots of choices, so pick the one you like!
Lake Louise & Moraine Lake
Our family only had a few days in Banff this time, so we didn’t venture out any further than I’ve already described. However, I have been to Lake Louise as a child, teen, and young adult. It is world-famous for its beauty and turquoise color. I love it there, but from what I have read, it is incredibly busy nowadays. To the point that I’m not sure I should recommend it. Before our trip, I researched what others have to say about it, and I decided that it wasn’t the right choice for us as it is about a 45-minute drive from the town and it sounded like chances were good that the parking lot would be full when we got there.
There is public transportation available. There is a bus system called Roam that can take you up there or to the closer-to-town destinations.
If you do choose to go to Lake Louise, you can do the hike around the lake or even go canoeing. Then you should have lunch at the Chateau Lake Louise.
When I was a teenager myself, I visited Moraine Lake with my family. It is not as well-known as the famous Lake Louise, but it is believed to be just as beautiful by many. Moraine Lake is about an hour’s drive from the town of Banff. It has some trails that are great choices for families, including one that involves scrambling up a rock pile for great views. If you want to learn more, check out this thorough article about Moraine Lake.
Banff National Park is much more crowded than when I was a kid. The parking lots at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise fill up early in the morning. I recommend that if you want to visit either of them, try going in the evening. It’s light out until 10 pm during the summer, so why not make it an evening activity!
Another outing in Banff that would be great for tweens and teens is Sunshine Meadows. You can take a gondola ride up to the top, where there are hiking trails, an interpretive center, shops, and restaurants. Click here to read more about Sunshine Meadows.
Last but not least, if you are up for a bigger adventure in Banff with your tweens and teens head to the Columbia Icefield! I have always wanted to go there, and I hope to do so someday. You drive in special buses with giant tires out onto the glacier! I think it sounds super cool, and I think tweens and teens would love it. It is an expensive choice, however. Click here to read more about Columbia Icefield tours.
Banff is a terrific destination for tweens and teens! There are tons of fun activities to keep you busy, and lots of great restaurants for you to try. Have you ever been to Banff? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments! And pin the article to read again later!
More ideas for fun destinations with tweens and teens:
I just had a friend return from Banff, and with this article, I MUST visit!!!!
You really should, it is wonderful!
This is so great! We can’t wait to go to Banff and this is so helpful. I have been dreaming of Lake Louise forever.
I’m so glad you found it helpful!
Thanks for the tips about the area. It’s been years since I’ve been and it was nice to see the photos. We stayed at Lake Louise and caught some of the other places you mentioned or posted photos of. But, as I mentioned, I’d like to take my grandkids someday! Happy your children got to visit as you did as a child!
Yes, I was so happy to get to take my kids to see a place that is special to me.