Banff and Jasper are perfect places to entertain and educate children; light on gimmicks, but heavy on inspiration. Spend the day hiking, cycling or boating, feel the thrill of your first-ever bear sighting, or enjoy the good old-fashioned simplicity of a game of cards or charades around the campfire.
Best Regions for Kids
Banff offers outdoor adventures galore, from horseback riding and rafting to rock climbing and caving. The lively downtown strip is a fun place for family strolls and evening ice-cream outings.
- Lake Louise
Nothing beats snacking on cakes and cookies after a hike to one of Lake Louise's backcountry tea houses.
Canmore's fantastic indoor climbing wall, giant swimming pool, water slides and mountain-biking park guarantee kid-friendly fun any day of the week.
- Icefields Parkway
Wildlife sightings abound, and touring the Athabasca Glacier is an unforgettable experience for all ages.
Kids love Jasper's gondola ride, hot springs, boat trips, canyon walk, horseback rides and mountain biking.
Banff & Jasper for Kids
Banff and Jasper are top destinations for family travel, and both are extremely kid-friendly. Children will be welcome at most restaurants and accommodations, and will find virtually unlimited opportunities for outdoor fun. Both parks are generally safe for kids, though parental guidance in dealing with wildlife is essential.
Banff, Canmore & Lake Louise
- Elevation Place Get out your rainy-day wiggles at Canmore's fantastic water slides and climbing wall.
- Rocky Mountain Raft Tours Float down the lazy Bow River between Bow Falls and the Hoodoos.
- Banff Canoe Club Hire a canoe and paddle over to Vermilion Lakes for some beaver-spotting.
- Lake Agnes Teahouse Climb high above Lake Louise for afternoon tea and cookies.
- Canmore Cave Tours Explore Rat's Nest Cave, with its over 65km (40 miles) of underground tunnels.
- Old School Bus Grab an ice-cream cone at Canmore's beloved yellow school bus.
- Banff Gondola Ride Sulphur Mountain's sky-skimming cable car, and enjoy kids' holiday events in December.
Jasper & Icefields Parkway
- Maligne Lake Jump aboard a cruise boat to Spirit Island.
- Jasper Skytram Zip to the top of Whistlers Mountain for 360° panoramas.
- Columbia Icefield Adventure Go for an Ice Explorer ride on the Athabasca glacier.
- Moose Lake Loop Prowl in search of giant ungulates on this easy loop walk.
- Jasper Discovery Trail Hike or pedal the scenic trails that fan out directly from Jasper’s townsite.
- Miette Hot Springs Splash around in geothermally heated waters.
Most hotels will happily accept kids, and many places allow children under a certain age to stay in their parents’ room for no extra charge (the exact age varies according to the hotel). Extra pull-out beds are often available; otherwise ask for a triple or family room.
- Many hotels have extra facilities, such as games rooms, saunas and swimming pools with water slides, which can help to fend off boredom once the day’s activities are done.
- For larger families, booking out a whole hostel dorm can be cheaper than an equivalent hotel room, especially when you factor in free use of the guest kitchen. The big HI hostel in Banff has private self-catering cabins ideal for families.
- Many cabin complexes and some hotels have self-catering suites with fully equipped kitchens.
- Larger campgrounds, such as Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon, Waterfowl Lakes and Lake Louise in Banff or Whistlers or Wapiti in Jasper, host regular interpretive programs and activity sessions for children. Some of them also have playgrounds.
Most restaurants in the parks are kid-friendly, with the exception of some of the more upmarket establishments. Kids’ menus are widespread, especially in hotels and the main town restaurants. Menus often arrive with crayons and an activity sheet to pass the time.
Some drinking establishments will serve kids food at sit-down tables in the early evening, but are legally prohibited from doing so after 10pm.
- Alberta law requires that children under six and weighing less than 18kg (40lb) be secured in a properly fitted child-safety seat. A booster seat is recommended for kids over 18kg but under 1.45m (4ft 9in).
- Drivers are responsible for ensuring that other passengers are safely secured and wearing seat belts. Safety seats for toddlers and children are available from all the major rental companies for a small daily fee; it's best to reserve them at the time of booking.
What to Pack
For Babies & Toddlers
- Back sling or child-carrier rucksack Perfect for hiking the trails and keeping your hands free.
- Portable changing mat Plus hand-wash gel and other essentials, as trail toilets are very basic.
- Child’s car seat Avoid the extra expense and hassle of arranging a car seat from your rental company.
- Stroller with rain cover The cover is essential in case of bad weather.
For Five- to 12-Year-Olds
- Rain gear A good raincoat and plenty of warm layers will be indispensable.
- Proper footwear A pair of boots (or at the very least decent trail shoes) will help avoid sprained ankles and keep feet dry. Sneakers are not a good idea.
- Nature guides Essential for helping to identify wildflowers, birds and animals on the trails.
- Binoculars For long-distance wildlife watching.
- First-aid kit Including disinfectant, antibiotic cream, Band-Aids, blister cream and moleskin patches for hot spots in boots.
- Spare batteries For flashlights, games etc.
Bad weather can put a dent in even the best-laid plans, so here are a few ideas on what to do when the sun won’t play ball.
- Banff Park Museum Get spooked out by stuffed beasts.
- Lux Cinema Banff's top place for catching the latest flicks.
- Jasper Aquatic Centre Get wet in Jasper’s municipal pool.
- Elevation Place Indoor climbing walls and a huge indoor pool are the highlights at Canmore's state-of-the-art recreation centre.
- Banff Skatepark Plenty of bowls, rails and ramps to grind.
- Upper Hot Springs Pool Get wet and stay warm in Banff's mountaintop springs.
Family-Friendly Sights & Activities
Compared to the wilderness parks of Alaska and the Yukon with next-to-zero infrastructure, Banff and Jasper are positively family-friendly, laying on many activities specifically for children.
Inevitably, it’s the outdoor pursuits that are going to be the main attraction. Wildlife walks, white-water rafting, canoeing and horseback riding are all popular family pastimes, and most activity providers are well set up for dealing with kids.
Children qualify for discounted entry to nearly all sights (generally around half price for ages five to 15, while under-fives often go free). Family tickets, which usually include entry for two adults and two children, are also available for many tours and sights.
Hiking is one of the best all-round family activities. Many of Banff and Jasper's trails are well maintained and easily within the scope of active kids. Older kids should be capable of tackling some of the shorter overnight hikes, including staying out in the backcountry.
Trails that encompass a variety of sights are usually more fun for inquiring young minds, and there are many examples of walks that take in a mix of forest, mountain, river and canyon, or those that wind their way through well-known wildlife habitats. Several trails have interpretive panels to help you understand the geographical features, flora and fauna.
If the kids are interested in nature, it might be a good idea to join an organized hike. Many local guides are accredited by organizations such as the Interpretive Guides Association (www.interpretiveguides.org) and can help children really engage with the natural world they’re walking through. The main tour operators in Banff and Jasper run morning and evening wildlife tours, on which you’ll have a good chance of spotting elk, moose, bighorn sheep and other animals.
Remember to take along all the necessary supplies, including plenty of water, hats, sunscreen and, most importantly, trail snacks. Good-quality rain gear will also come in handy in case of sudden downpours.
Top Hikes for Kids
Banff and its neighboring community of Canmore have excellent on- and off-road cycling networks with plenty of easy grades for kids, as does Jasper. Most bike-rental companies offer children’s bikes, child helmets and protective pads, as well as bike trailers and ‘tag-a-longs’ for younger children.
One of the best areas for off-road cycling is at the self-contained Canmore Nordic Centre, which has a huge system of trails catering for all ages and abilities.
Canoeing, Rafting & Boat Tours
Canoes and kayaks are readily available for hire on Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Maligne Lake, the Bow River and elsewhere throughout the summer months. For more thrills, white-water rafting on the Kicking Horse and Kananaskis Rivers is a guaranteed knuckle-whitener, although – depending on the class of rapids – there are sometimes minimum age stipulations. More popular with families are relatively sedate 'float trips’, such as those offered on the Bow and Athabasca Rivers (in Banff and Jasper respectively). All canoeing and rafting companies provide suitable boats for kids, or spaces in adult boats, along with child-sized life vests.
Horse travel is part of Rocky Mountain folklore and requires minimal skills if you're a first-timer. Most horse-trip companies provide small ponies and child-friendly saddles, and cater as much for novices as experienced riders.
Banff Trail Riders has lots of easy rides in Banff (from one hour in duration) and also offers a great evening trail cookout, complete with BBQ steak and homemade baked beans.
You can usually visit the horses at Spray River Corral and the Warner stables, near the Cave and Basin in Banff; phone ahead to check the stables are open for visitors.
In the hills outside Jasper, Jasper Riding Stables also offers plenty of family-friendly horseback riding, including two-hour trips around nearby Patricia Lake.
Skiing, Snowboarding & Other Winter Activities
In winter, skiing and snowboarding are the main outdoor pastimes. All of the ski resorts in Banff, Jasper and Kananaskis Country (just east of Banff) have runs that are specially tailored for younger users. Child-size skis, snowboards, goggles and gear are all available for hire. Banff's Mt Norquay is particularly family friendly.
Most resorts offer ski lessons and snowboard schools, as well as day care and babysitting services. For details, see the website for Banff’s Big Three ski resorts (www.skibig3.com).
Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking are also fun ways to explore the winter landscape. The trails around Jasper townsite and the Lake Louise area are good places to start. Ice-skating is equally popular on the parks' frozen lakes, including Lake Louise in Banff and Lake Mildred in Jasper.
Parks Canada stages regular educational programs at main campgrounds in Banff and Jasper, with slide shows, talks, films and activities exploring many aspects of the parks, including wildlife, natural history and geology. Campgrounds with regular programs include Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise in Banff, Waterfowl Lakes on the Icefields Pkwy, and Wapiti in Jasper. Similar programs will resume at the excellent Whistlers Campground theater in Jasper (currently closed for renovation) in 2020 or 2021. You don't have to be a campground guest to attend.
Parks Canada also runs an Xplorers Program (www.pc.gc.ca/en/serapprocher-connect/xplorateurs-xplorers) aimed at kids aged six to 11. Kids are given a paperback Xplorer booklet full of interesting facts and tasks. They must complete a given number of tasks in order to claim a special souvenir. Booklets are available at any park information center.
Hands-on interpretive activities are often run at day-use areas or on trails in Banff. Activities range from stories about legendary park characters to field studies of bugs. Upcoming activities are displayed on the park website.