The Canadian Rockies are infamous for having weather conditions that change drastically from minute to minute—so don’t forget to always carry sunscreen. Even though our trip was in mid-September, I wasn’t surprised to encounter some bad weather in Banff. Most of our days were completely socked in with fog or a mix of rain and snow flurries. My mom and I had planned on doing some full-day hikes, but there’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at a lookout and only seeing mist. Yup, this happened to us and it kinda sucked.
We still had an amazing time despite the less than perfect conditions. Here’s a few things we did during the spell of bad weather.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Cave and Basin National Historic Site is the location of natural hot springs, which started the national park system in Canada. There are exhibits showcasing the history of the mineral-rich waters in Banff, a viewing deck, and a cave with a geothermal pool. We wandered the two interpretive boardwalks that detail the fascinating flora and fauna that live in the warm water habitat. It also leads to a hidden bird watching area overlooking the marsh that we really enjoyed.
Lake Minnewanka is just a short 15-minute drive from Banff and even passes an impressive waterfall along the way. Although the iconic mountain peaks behind the lake may not make an appearance in bad weather, there’s still lots to do here. We spent the day walking along the shore and even hiked a ways into Stewart Canyon. The trail passes over a picturesque wooden bridge that has views of the ravine. If it’s raining, there’s a covered boat cruise that leaves from the little dock and navigates deeper into the narrow lake.
Bow Valley Parkway
Bow Valley Parkway (1A) is a very scenic drive with lots of places of interest along the way. The route hugs the mountainside and parallels the 1 freeway. First we stopped at the very popular Johnston Canyon, one of the most visited day hikes in Banff. It’s a good option if it’s raining since the path has a metal boardwalk and is partially paved. The trail leads into the gorge and features spectacular views of the river and multiple cascading waterfalls. If the weather is too bothersome, the lower falls is just half a mile in, or you can continue to the other waterfalls and ink pots, another three miles up the trail.
In the afternoon, we took the Rockbound Lake Trail, that leads right up to the rushing Silverton Falls. The mile-long route has one steep section that could prove difficult in the rain, but is very quiet and uncrowded compared to Johnston Canyon.
This short waterfall is right on the edge of town and even has its own parking lot—a plus if it’s raining. Although it’s not the most beautiful falls, the convenience alone makes it worth a pit stop.
Lake Louise is best on clear days when you can view the rocky peaks and glaciers in the distance, but many people aren’t so lucky. We were one of the unlucky ones, but did manage to catch a few glimpses between the fog. We went up to Fairview Lookout and saw…zilch. So if it’s socked in, don’t bother hiking to any viewpoints. Instead, walk the paved path on the right side of the lake to explore the beach, or continue a little farther to watch the rock climbers. There’s also canoes to rent and explore the lake. One of our favorite days were spent hiking to the tea houses to warm up and taste homemade biscuits.
Cascade of Time Garden
The 12-acre estate at the south end of town houses the Cascade of Time Garden and the Banff Park Administration building, a federal heritage site. We left the Banff Avenue crowds behind to view the stone Tudor Gothic Revival-style building. The garden has winding paths, bridges, wooden gazebos, ponds, and colorful flowers to view.
Banff town center
Banff Avenue is the main street that crosses town and is lined with numerous art galleries, restaurants, and shops. Mountain Chocolates and the Rocky Mountain Soap Company were two of my favorites. For such a small town, there’s many indoor activities to choose from like museums, a bowling alley, movie theater, and Eureka Escape Room. Additionally, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity hosts tons of events and art exhibits and also has an indoor rock climbing gym.
Soak in Banff Upper Hot Springs
We decided to skip the hot springs, but it would definitely make a great bad weather activity, especially for families with children.
Join a rafting trip
We noticed many different types of excursions, from thrilling white water rafting, to more mellow scenic floats down the river. The weather doesn’t really matter when you’re already wet!
Explore the many Banff museums
There are quite a few museums in town that touches upon the inhabitants and history of the area. The Banff Park Museum is a two story natural history museum build in 1903 that houses thousands of taxidermy pieces and other specimens. Further museums in the vicinity include the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, and the Historic Luxton Home.
Have you done any of these activities in Banff? Let me know which ones you enjoyed most in the comments below!