Famous for its turquoise lakes and majestic mountains peaks, Banff National Park is a photographer’s paradise. Whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or a camera phone, there are so many incredible photo spots in Banff where you can capture the park’s rugged beauty.
Last October, I spent a week in Banff on a destination shoot with Rocky Mountaineer. The goal? To find the best photo spots in Banff and capture new video footage for our marketing campaigns.
In this post, I’ve listed all the incredible places we visited in Banff National Park. I’ll also share some useful photography tips that I learnt from our amazing film crew, Hadron Films, on the shoot, including lighting considerations, camera settings, and gear recommendations.
The best photo spots in Banff National Park
Located in Alberta, Banff National Park encompasses 6,641 square kilometres of mountains, dense forests, glacial lakes, and icefields. I first visited Banff National Park in 2018 with my sister. We spent a week exploring the park and saw many of the classic sights. I’ve been back twice since then with work and have been lucky enough to explore more of Canada’s oldest national park.
There are so many beautiful and iconic sights to photograph so I’ve compiled a list of the best photo spots in Banff to help you plan your own trip. At the end of the itinerary you’ll find a map with all of the places listed here. To save the map, click on the star on the right hand side of the title. This will save the map to “Your Places” in Google Maps.
1. Banff Avenue
If you’ve seen photos of Banff, it’s likely that you’ve seen the iconic shot of Banff Avenue with the imposing Cascade Mountain towering at the end of the street. It’s one of my favourite photo spots in Banff, especially in winter when the mountain is dusted in snow.
The best time to go is first thing in the morning before the shops open, when the light is soft and there aren’t many cars or crowds of people. It’s also a great place for night photography as you can capture some stunning light trails from the cars passing on both sides of the avenue.
2. Lake Louise
The Canadian Rockies are home to some of the world’s most beautiful lakes, none more famous than Lake Louise. With its shimmering turquoise water and soaring mountain backdrop, Lake Louise is a photographer’s paradise all year round. In winter, the lake freezes over and turns into a winter wonderland, whilst in summer the rock flour from the glacier’s melt water gives the lake its famous colour.
One of the most magical things about Lake Louise is that the colour of the water changes depending on the weather and time of day. Sometimes it’s a pretty milky green, whilst other times it’s a brilliant shade of blue.
There are plenty of photo opportunities too. Stand at the dock and get some shots of Victoria Glacier and the pretty boathouse with the iconic red canoes. Afterwards, walk around the shoreline to get a lovely view of the fairytale Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. If you have time, rent a canoe and paddle out on the lake for a different perspective.
3. Bow Falls
About 500 metres from the town, Bow River plunges into a rushing waterfall. Although the drop is only 9 metres at its highest point, Bow Falls is a dramatic sight, especially in early spring when the snow has just melted and the water levels are at their highest.
There is a parking lot next to the falls where you can park and walk along the trail to the roaring rapids. If you prefer to walk, the waterfall is only a short stroll from Banff Avenue. There are paved trails on either side of the river which lead to two beautiful viewpoints where you can admire the rushing white water of Bow Falls.
On the west side, you’ll get a wonderful view of the waterfall crashing over the rocks; whilst on the east side, you can look out over the rapids toward the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. This is known as Surprise Corner and is one of the prettiest photo spots in Banff.
4. Surprise Corner
There aren’t any signs leading to this beautiful spot, but you’ll know you’ve reached it when the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel suddenly comes into view. This spectacular and surprising viewpoint is where most of the famous photos of the ‘Castle of the Rockies’ have been taken. It’s an incredibly picturesque spot with Bow River in the foreground and Sulphur Mountain in the background.
The best time to go is late morning or mid-day when the light is at its best. There is a small parking area just past the view point where you can park and walk back to the observation deck.
If you continue up Tunnel Mountain Drive, you’ll find one of Banff’s natural wonders – the Hoodoos. These natural towers are rock formations that have eroded over time. There are a few viewing platforms where you can see these sandstone spires towering above the treeline. The backdrop of the snow-capped mountains, thick forest, and gushing river makes for some stunning photos.
6. Lake Minnewanka
Named ‘Water of the Spirits’ by the Stoney Nakoda First Nations people, Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake fed by the Cascade River. At 21km long, there are plenty of photo opportunities at Lake Minnewanka. From the picturesque boat house to the little islands dotted with trees, it’s a picturesque setting. You can rent boats, kayaks and canoes or you can book a cruise around the lake for more photo opportunities.
7. Sulphur Mountain (Banff Gondola)
If you’re looking for the prettiest photo spots in Banff, the summit of Sulphur Mountain may arguably be one of the best ones. You can hike 5.5 km (3.4 miles) to the top or, if you prefer, you can take the gondola and reach the summit in 8 minutes. Once at the top, you’ll be treated to incredible panoramic views of the mountain ranges, Bow Valley, and the quaint town of Banff.
There are observation decks as well as a boardwalk where you can get some stunning photos, especially at sunset when the sun settles behind the mountains.
8. Banff Hot Springs
Located not too far from Banff Gondola are the magical Banff Hot Springs. A favourite amongst both visitors and locals, the hot springs are also one of the most enchanting photo spots in Banff. It’s the perfect place to relax after a long day sightseeing, especially in winter when the snow is falling all around you.
We were lucky enough to rent out the hot springs for an hour before they opened so that we could have them to ourselves before the public arrived. Watching the sun rise over the surrounding mountain peaks and light up the steam from the water is a beautiful scene to capture.
9. Vermillion Lakes
The Vermillion Lakes are a network of marshlands and vast lakes in the Bow Valley which offer incredible views of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. On a still day you can capture perfect reflections of the mountains in the lakes. It’s a lovely place to go for sunrise or sunset to watch the colours of the sky change whilst the sun’s rays illuminate the dramatic peaks.
10. Moraine Lake
Only 20 minutes from Lake Louise, Moraine Lake is known for its vivid turquoise blue water. The glacier lake is surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks making it one of the most scenic places in the Canadian Rockies. Its bright waters and snow-capped mountain peaks create a scene that’s almost too beautiful to be real.
Walk along the shoreline or wander up the rock pile trail to get to the viewpoint where most of the famous shots of Moraine Lake are taken from.
Moraine Lake Road is usually closed from mid-October until late May or early June so plan ahead to make sure you don’t miss seeing this gem.
11. Johnston Canyon
This dramatic canyon is one of my favourite photo spots in Banff National Park. The trail leads to the Lower Falls and then continues to the Upper Falls. It is 1.1 km (0.6 miles) to the Lower Falls and a further 2.5 km (1.5 miles) to the Upper Falls.
It’s a beautiful and accessible trail which leads you through the forest and over catwalks alongside the creeks, up into the canyon. There are lots of scenic viewpoints along the way so make sure you plan enough time to walk there and take everything in.
In winter, the waterfalls freeze over and the trail can be icy so make sure you have the appropriate gear. If you pop into Banff visitor centre and ask about hiring crampons they will give you a discount voucher for Snow Tips.
12. Bow Lake
Thirty minutes north of Lake Louise lies another of Banff’s most beautiful lakes, Bow Lake. It is located just off the Icefields Parkway at the base of Bow Summit.
On a calm day, you can see the mountains perfectly reflected in the lake’s aquamarine water which creates some fun photo opportunities. The lake is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park and is a lovely place for a picnic or short stop whilst driving the Icefields Parkway.
Canadian Rockies Photography Tips
We were very fortunate to work with the talented team at Hadron Films who helped us get some beautiful photos and video footage. I learnt a lot from our amazing film crew so here are a few tips to make sure you get the best photos possible when you visit the Canadian Rockies:
Photography in the Canadian Rockies is all about the light
The light in the hours leading up to and just after sunrise and sunset can help you create some beautiful images. We filmed early in the morning and just before sunset to capture the hues of pink, red, and orange. Sunrise and sunset photography is even more stunning in the Canadian Rockies as the sun lights up the mountains creating a rosy ‘alpine glow’ which illuminates the mountain peaks.
Avoid shooting at mid-day if possible
We planned our route and itinerary very carefully to avoid filming and shooting in the bright mid-day light as it can be very harsh. As the sun is usually at its highest point from noon until 3pm, shooting during this period can be difficult as there are a lot of shadows which can hide the mountains’ unique features.
Be prepared for changing weather conditions
The weather can change very quickly in the mountains and as a result, so does the light. Check the weather conditions the night before but be prepared to have to change your plan. Make sure you have a waterproof bag and a camera rain cover to protect your gear from the rain. Our team used camera sleeves to protect their cameras when they were using them on the tripod.
Take a variety of lenses
The landscapes in the Canadian Rockies are very varied so having a few lenses will help ensure you get the shots you want. Ideally you want to take lenses to cover a wide range of focal lengths:
- A wide angle lens to capture the scenes that are very expansive, such as Moraine Lake. I used my Canon 16 – 35mm f/4 for the majority of the trip as it allowed me to capture more of the landscape in front of me.
- A telephoto lens to help you get closer to the local wildlife. We saw so much wildlife on our trip and luckily our film crew had a telephoto lens to get close up shots and footage without disturbing the animals. It’s also a great lens to capture distant landscapes and get those beautiful layer shots.
- A general zoom lens to cover everything else. I used a 24 – 70mm f/4 due to its focal length and sharpness. It’s great for everyday shots as well as getting close ups to show different textures such as the water and wildflowers.
Don’t forget your filters
We used polarising filters and graduated neutral density filters to reduce glare, smooth out water shots, and expose landscapes correctly.
You’ll find all of the places listed in this article on my map below. To save this map, click on the star on the right hand side of the title. This will save the map to “Your Places” in the Google Maps so you can easily find the best photo spots in Banff.
There are so many beautiful photo spots in Banff National Park and every time I go back, I discover more! I hope you found this blog post useful and it helps you plan your own trip to Banff. If you’re looking for more planning/itinerary ideas, I’ve put together a 4 day itinerary to help you see many of the spots listed above in a short period of time.
If you’re looking for more Canada travel inspiration, I would highly recommend a trip to Vancouver. I moved here in June 2019 so I’m probably a bit biased but it’s such a wonderful city to visit. I’ve written a guide to the prettiest spots in Vancouver if you’re curious to see what makes this city so special.
If you have any questions please let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them. If you enjoyed reading this post, make sure you pin it to Pinterest so you can read it again later.