This post is about all the things you need to know about fall colors in Banff National Park!
My first time visiting Banff was during the summer of 2016. The only pictures I had seen of the park were of Moraine Lake, and BOY did that blue capture my heart. Summer was great and all, but when I heard that Banff National Park was just as beautiful in the fall, I knew I HAD to come back.
Fast forward to 2018, and there I was. On a brisk September evening, Scott and I arrived in Alberta to what we can only describe as the most magical array of golden trees you’d ever seen. Planning a trip to Canada can be difficult. There is WAY too much to do! But what are the best hikes and places to see fall colors in Banff? Better yet, where do you stay? I’m going to get into all of that here!
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A Fall Foliage Guide to Banff National Park
What You Need to Know Before You Visit Banff National Park this Fall
Let’s talk about all the things you need to know before you head to Banff National Park.
Best Time of Year to Visit for Banff Fall Colors
Your window for fall colors in Banff will be short. The days are long, but once they’re over, the snowstorms begin! From personal experience, the best time of year to visit Banff National Park for fall colors is from late September (think the last week of September) to early October. You can expect the temperatures to range from the low 50s to mid-20s (Fahrenheit).
However, as with all fall foliage plans, prepare to be flexible! Depending on the season, the fall colors can come slightly earlier or later than expected. You can also call the Banff visitor’s center and ask when they think the peak will be.
How Long to Make Your Banff Fall Colors Trip
Regardless of the time of year, Banff is GORGEOUS. However, we’re talking fall colors here, so you’re probably wondering how long you should stay. The last time I went, I stayed in the area for a week. A week wasn’t enough time to see everything, but seven days will get you far! You will have time to see the best of Banff’s fall colors! Keep in mind that most of the best spots for Banff’s fall foliage will require some hiking, so you will want to consider staying for 5-7 days to take a break in between hikes!
Getting to Banff National Park in the Fall
Flying into the Park
The easiest way to get to Banff is to drive from Calgary. That means if you’re coming from out of the country, you will want to fly into the Calgary International Airport!
Driving into the Park
After you rent a car, expect the drive to take approximately 90 minutes (to the Lake Louise area). Calgary is also a great place to shop for groceries or snacks before you head into Banff on your fall color hunt. The towns closest to the park can be pricey!
There are also shuttle buses and a rail system, which will require more coordinating on your part. You can read more information on that here.
Banff National Park Fees
Banff National Park has various park fees that depend on your group size and other factors. Luckily, they make it pretty easy to purchase your pass – you can do it all online! See their fee calculator here to get your pass before checking out Banff fall colors.
Where to Find Banff Fall Colors
This is what you were waiting for, right? You’ll notice I talk quite a bit about “larches” in my post. A larch is merely a type of tree. Its leaves turn bright orange in the fall (trust me; you can’t miss them). Here we go! What to do in Banff for leaf peepers and adventure lovers!
*As an added bonus, I’ve also included a couple of places for Fall colors that are outside of the park!
Banff Fall Foliage Stop #1: Explore Icefields Parkway
Icefields is the iconic Canadian Rockies road that runs from Banff National Park to Jasper National Park. It’s a beautiful road trip spot and probably one of the most beautiful drives in the world. When fall comes around, you bet it’s one of the best spots for Banff fall foliage! You’ll also get up close and personal with glaciers, which doesn’t happen very often.
Where to Stop on Icefields Parkway
When I was trying to figure out what to do in Banff, I didn’t see much about Bow Lake. But I’m happy to report that…it was SO beautiful. There’s even a secret bridge you can walk across. My group and I also made a stop at Sunwapta Falls. I couldn’t believe this gem was tucked away in the Canadian Rockies.
Banff Fall Foliage Stop #2: Catch Sunrise at Lake Moraine
Due to its growing popularity on social media, Lake Moraine has gotten significantly more crowded. We arrived here at 6:30am, and in a matter of minutes, the parking lot was full. Should the parking lot fill up quickly, the park rangers will close the Lake Moraine road! So if you would like to go here, you need to go early.
Regardless, Lake Moraine is a classic Banff spot that every visitor needs to see. After sunrise at the lake, you’ll be conveniently located right next to one of the best fall hikes in Banff. More info on that next!
Banff Fall Foliage Stop #3: Hike Through Larch Valley
When considering what to do in Banff this fall, you cannot skip Larch Valley. The Valley is a great hike that is more than likely going to be covered in orange when you visit! And Minnestimma Lake will most likely leave you speechless!
The trailhead is to the right of the Lake Moraine parking lot. I’d like to note that the Lake Moraine area is a known grizzly spot, so you should hike in a group of at least four. As long as you make a ton of noise while you walk, you’ll be fine! Pack your bear spray too.
Larch Valley Hike Info
Distance: 10.8km or 6.7mi RT
Elevation Gain: 535m or 1,700ft
Time Expected: 3-4hrs
YOU’D LIKE: Beginner’s Guide To Hiking
Banff Fall Foliage Stop #4: Marvel Over Peyto Lake
If you haven’t seen Peyto Lake have you really seen Banff? There isn’t much of a hike here since you can walk a little less than a mile to the viewpoint via a paved walkway, which means no excuses to not see the lake! The wolf-shape looks even better with the moody overcast fall weather naturally brings. Peyto Lake is one of the most popular things to do in Banff, even in the fall, so make sure you get to the parking lot early!
Banff Fall Foliage Stop #5: Wake Up for Sunrise at Lake Louise
Lake Louise is another Banff classic that you simply cannot miss! I love visiting the lake for fall colors because at the right time, the plants surrounding this dreamy, blue lake will turn gold, making the whole scene a feast for the eyes! Lake Louise is also a great place to rent a canoe and go for a morning paddle.
Fall Foliage Stop#6: Hike up Pocaterra Ridge
While I love myself a good hike, Pocaterra Ridge handed it to me. My knees did not like it to say the least ;). However, if you’re up for a bit of a challenge then definitely add this ridge to your list while you’re in the Banff area! Pocaterra is also an excellent larch hike! During the fall the entire trail turns into a gold wonderland. Pocaterra Ridge is located in the Kananaskis area – another region you should add to your list!
Pocaterra Ridge Hike Info
Distance: 10.3km or 6.4mi RT
Elevation Gain: 727m or 2,300ft
Time Expected: 3-4hrs
Fall Foliage Stop #7: Backpack to Mt Assiniboine
Okay. If you are thinking about what to do in Banff this fall and are up for an extended adventure, please backpack to Mt. Assiniboine! The trailhead isn’t a very far drive from Canmore and you will NOT regret going. Assiniboine was by far my absolute favorite part of the entire trip. Along with a group of 4 friends, I trekked 17mi to our campground where we found ourselves in the most beautiful views you can see in the Canadian Rockies. I loved being surrounded by epic mountain-scapes and nothing but nature. Our helicopter ride out of the park was even better. Please note you are required to have a permit beforehand!
YOU’D LIKE: My Backpacking Gear Guide For Beginners
Other Banff & Beyond Fall Foliage Options
While you might be thinking a backpacking trip is a bit much, adding one to your Canadian Rockies itinerary will most likely leave you speechless. Backpacking will bring you to views tucked away deep in the Rockies and will give even better memories! As an alternative to the Assiniboine hike, you can try backpacking to Lake O’Hara, Floe Lake or even Berg Lake.
Banff Fall Foliage Spots, Photo Locations & Places to Stay Map
To make your life a heck of a lot easier, I created the following map you can use for your trip! On it you’ll find Banff fall foliage hikes, photo spots, and places to stay.
Pro Tip: For the most reasonable rates and proximity to adventure, I recommend posting up in Canmore!
Seeing Fall Colors in Banff: My Final Thoughts
Banff National Park and the outer areas are a MUST on your fall bucket list. Seeing golden larches as vibrant as they are during this time of year is something that comes around once in a lifetime. If you use any of these recommendations, let me know in the comments!