15 Best Banff Picnic Areas

Author: Celine Brewer

Last Updated:

There’s no better place for a picnic than surrounded by incredible mountain scenery or next to a stunning blue mountain lake. Banff National Park has some of the most scenic picnic spots that are perfect for a warm summer day.

Summer in Banff is the ideal time to gather some great food, friends and plan a day at one of these best Banff picnic areas.

view of Cascade Ponds Picnic Area and Mt Rundle

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Best Banff Picnic Areas

While we love hiking to one of the best Banff scenic spots for a picnic, we also love planning a day around one of these Banff picnic spots. It’s not just about the picnic but so many things to do from each of these picnic areas in Banff.

Many of the picnic spots in Banff don’t have fire pits, so you’ll need to get creative with your picnic lunch or pack a camp stove. Always check for open fire restrictions on the Banff National Park bulletins before making plans.

1. Cascade Ponds Picnic Area

Cascade Ponds might just be one of the best Banff picnic spots. Easily accessed right off the Trans-Canada Highway and with plenty of parking, you won’t have to walk far from your car to snag a picnic table.

Banff picnic area - Cascade Ponds

The Cascade Ponds picnic area has over 40 picnic tables, firewood, several options for parking, toilets and shelters. Cascade Ponds is also one of the only picnic areas in Banff with fire pits. The downside of Cascade Ponds is that it gets busy, so arrive early on a hot summer day.

With stunning scenery and plenty of space, you might decide to spend the day reading a book near the water. But there are plenty of things to do at Cascade Ponds.

View of Cascade Ponds with mountain background

Cascade Ponds is home to a set of Banff’s red chairs, with Cascade Mountain as the backdrop it’s the perfect photo opportunity. Trails around Cascade Ponds take visitors over two bridges and make for a nice stroll in one of Banff’s scenic spots.

Crossing bridge at Cascade Ponds picnic area

Kids will enjoy playing in the water and a few brave ones might even go for a swim.

From Cascade Ponds, either walk or bike to the nearby Bankhead ghost town where you’ll be transported back in time to Banff’s coal mining days. Even kids will enjoy this 2.0 km short and easy kid-friendly bike trail in Banff.

biking trail from Cascade Ponds to Lower Bankhead

Cascade Ponds is also an excellent place to stop for a picnic while cycling the Legacy Trail.

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2. Lake Minnewanka Picnic Area

Another of the best Banff picnic spots is Lake Minnewanka. Found along Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, the Minnewanka day use area has picnic tables and toilets.

boat launch at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park

On a calm day, head out on the water either on a scenic boat cruise or by your own power on a kayak or stand up paddle board. There are many enjoyable Lake Minnewanka hiking trails, including the nearby Stewart Canyon hike. This is an easy hike that’s well worth it, but if you have more time don’t miss the incredibly scenic Aylmer Lookout hike.

Sitting at Lake Minnewanka

The Lake Minnewanka parking lot will fill in the summer, so make sure to arrive early to avoid disappointment.

Note that Banff National Park requires a Self-Certification Permit for any non-motorized watercraft, fishing equipment and aquatic recreational equipment.

3. Upper Bankhead Picnic Area

Near Lake Minnewanka is the Upper Bankhead picnic area. The Upper Bankhead picnic area has toilets and approximately 20 picnic tables. There aren’t any fire pits but there is a shelter with picnic tables inside.

Banff picnic areas - Upper Bankhead

Upper Bankhead picnic area offers some mountain views, shaded areas and it’s less busy than the nearby lake picnic areas. This is the perfect place to stop for lunch after hiking C-Level Cirque (one of the best hikes in Banff) which leaves from the same parking lot.

hiking C Level Cirque in Banff with Kids

Upper Bankhead is a good alternative if Lake Minnewanka is feeling overcrowded.

4. Muleshoe Picnic Area

The Muleshoe picnic area is found along the Bow Valley Parkway (or Highway 1A). This picnic area has a large parking area, picnic tables and toilets.

Banff Red Chairs at Mule Shoe picnic area in Banff

With plenty of aspen trees surrounding the picnic area, there’s some shady spots for those warm summer days. The CPR train passes right near the picnic area on the other side of Muleshoe Lake. Kids obsessed with trains will love watching it go by during their picnic. The Banff red chairs at Muleshoe are the perfect spot to sit and take in the scenery.

CPR train passing by Muleshoe Picnic Area in Banff

In 2024, with the seasonal closure of this section of the Bow Valley Parkway to public vehicles, the Muleshoe picnic area will be much quieter and an ideal spot to stop when cycling the Bow Valley Parkway.

Local Tip

Cycling on the Bow Valley Parkway without vehicle traffic is a cycling opportunity like no other in Banff National Park.

5. Johnson Lake Picnic Area

Johnson Lake is the perfect spot to spend the day and one of our favorite FREE things to do in Banff. In either summer or winter, there are plenty of things to do at Johnson lake.

The picnic amenities at Johnson Lake include a large parking lot, toilets and approximately 16 picnic tables. While there are no fire pits, there are bike racks for locking up bikes and a washing station for anyone having some fun out on the water.

Banff picnic area at Johnson Lake

Some of the picnic tables are right near the water, where parents can watch kids play in the small sandy beach. Others are tucked away in the forest offering shade on a hot summer day.

Beach at Johnson Lake in Banff

Johnson Lake is a fun place to stand-up paddle board in Banff, plus there’s an easy Banff hike around the lake. The Johnson Lake hike takes hikers around the lake with some impressive views of both Cascade Mountain and Rundle Mountain.

banff scenic spot along Johnson Lake
stand up paddle boarding in Banff National Park - Johnson Lake

If that’s not enough to fill a day, there’s also an easy Banff mountain bike trail that leaves from Johnson Lake past the water tower and back.

6. Two Jack Lake Picnic Area

Two Jack Lake, also found along Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, has a parking lot, toilets and a picnic area near the lake. You’ll also find a set of Banff red chairs at Two Jack Lake for a fun photo opportunity.

Banff picnic areas - Two Jack Lake Picnic Area

Two Jack Lake is home to two popular Banff campgrounds. The Two Jack Lakeside campground is right on the shores of Two Jack Lake with stunning lake and mountain scenery. Across the road is Two Jack Main campground, nestled in the forest.

Banff camping at Two Jack Main campground

While you can’t picnic in the Two Jack Lakeside campground, the picnic tables near the Two Jack day use gives everyone an opportunity to eat along the shores of this beautiful mountain lake.

Bighorn sheep at Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park

Two Jack Lake is also a perfect spot for water activities like stand up paddle boarding or kayaking in Banff. On windy days, the canal will be easier than being out in the open water.

stand up paddle boarding on Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park

Also found at Two Jack Lake is an easy hike along the shores of the lake.

Lakeside trail at Two Jack Lake in Banff

7. Fenlands Picnic Area

The Fenlands picnic area is found right at the start of the easy Fenlands loop hike just outside of the Banff townsite. This picnic area has both picnic tables and toilets.

Fenland Loop Trail in Banff

There is some parking right at this Banff picnic spot, but visitors can also park at the nearby Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre and walk over.

The Fenlands Loop hike is a kid-friendly hike in Banff but it’s also good for anyone who wants an easy, short hike in Banff.

Fenland Loop - easy kid friendly hike in Banff National Park

Also nearby is a pathway that will lead to Vermilion Lakes Road. The Vermilion Lakes are a fun spot for a kayak or stand up paddle board in Banff. The road itself is shared with vehicles, but it is popular with walkers and cyclists. As a bonus, you can’t beat that view of Mt Rundle as a backdrop to the lakes.

stand up paddle boarding on Vermilion Lakes in Banff

The continuation of the Banff Legacy Trail from Canmore to the Bow Valley Parkway starts at the end of the Vermilion Lakes Road, making the Fenlands picnic area a good spot to stop to refuel.

8. Sawback Picnic Area

Also found along the Bow Valley Parkway is the Sawback picnic area. The Sawback picnic spot is much closer to Johnston Canyon and a good spot to stop for a picnic after completing the impressive Johnston Canyon hike.

The Sawback day use area has both picnic tables and toilets. There are 11 picnic tables tucked into the trees with some mountain views across the highway.

Banff picnic spots - Sawback on Bow Valley Parkway

Also nearby, as you continue past Johnston Canyon, is the Ink Pots hike. There are enough benches at the Ink Pots to stop for lunch or make your way back down to one of the picnic areas along the Bow Valley Parkway.

Ink Pots - hike in Banff

9. Valleyview Picnic Area

The Valleyview picnic area in Banff is found along the Trans-Canada Highway and can only be accessed when heading eastbound. When biking the Legacy Trail, you’ll pass right by this Banff picnic spot. There is limited parking at the Valleyview picnic area, but it’s a great spot to make a stop when cycling the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail.

Valleyview picnic area along Banff Legacy Trail

You’ll find toilets, picnic tables and even a set of Banff red chairs at this scenic picnic spot in Banff.

banff red chairs at Valleyview picnic area

10. Central Park

Found right in the town of Banff along the Bow River is Banff’s Central Park. The park has plenty of picnic tables and green space to enjoy. There’s also a fun nature playground for kids.

Playground in Banff Central Park

The Banff Farmers Market occurs weekly from May to September in the Banff Central Park parking lot. The picnic area is the perfect spot to enjoy lunch purchased from the market.

Picnic area - Banff Central Park

There are also public toilets found at Central Park in the Banff Townsite.

11. Banff Recreation Grounds

Across the Bow River from Central Park in the town of Banff is the Banff recreation grounds. The Banff recreation grounds really has it all when it comes to a fun picnic area. Plus, you’ll find a free parking lot in Banff right here.

picnic tables with fire pits in Banff

Besides free parking in Banff (which is always a good find), there is a playground, picnic shelters, picnic tables with fire pits (and firewood), and public toilets. For those looking to get some exercise there are tennis courts and a basketball court. Plenty to keep the whole family occupied for a fun afternoon.

Playground at Banff recreation grounds

For those looking to relax, grab a picnic table near the river and enjoy the mountain views!

picnic by the river in Banff

12. Coral Creek

The Coral Creek Picnic Area is a real hidden gem along the Bow Valley Parkway. This small creekside clearing is a perfect spot for a picnic near Lake Louise. Enjoy the sound of rushing water while you enjoy the views of Mount Temple (3,544 m) through the trees. There is a beautiful stone fireplace next to the river and many of the picnic tables have charcoal bbqs.

Coral Creek is a forested picnic area along the Bow Valley Parkway near Lake Louise

13. Baker Creek

Another hidden gem just across the highway from the Baker Creek Mountain Resort, this picturesque picnic area sits next to the beautiful Baker Creek.

A very shady Banff picnic spot, this is an excellent spot to see wildlife – we saw a majestic bull elk in the forest on our most recent visit. The creek and the adjacent meadow are prime habitat for some of banff’s most beautiful creatures.

a bull elk in the forest at the Baker Creek Picnic Area along the Bow Valley Parkway scenic drive in Banff

The Baker Creek picnic area has about 8 picnic tables, and a short, paved walking trail along the creek.

14. Fireside

Primarily used as the starting point for the Cory Pass hike, the Fireside Day Use area is also a pretty, well-treed picnic area along a beautiful creek which flows down in the valley between Mount Edith (2,554 m) and Mount Cory (2,802 m).

There are picnic tables scattered along the river near the parking lot, but there is also a collection of 6 tables near a stone fireplace next to the river, making it a great spot for a Banff picnic for a large group. It’s a beautiful spot indeed, but due to a bridge outage you need to get your feet wet to get there.

a boy looks at a large stone fireplace at the Fireside picnic area on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park

15. Lake Louise Gondola

While the Whitehorn Bistro at the top of the Lake Louise Gondola is well worth the splurge, you can also pack your own picnic and enjoy the views from one of the picnic tables. Near the observation platform, you’ll find a few picnic tables, that offer some of the best views of Lake Louise from a distance.

Once you are done with your picnic, you can enjoy the interpretive centre or one of the hiking trails. Remember, this is grizzly bear area so you’ll need to exit the gates to go on a hike. Make sure you make lots of noise and carry bear spray!

Don’t forget to look for grizzly bears on your way up and down the chairlift or gondola.

a family enjoys epic Rocky Mountain views while having a picnic at the top of hte Lake Louise summer sightseeing gondola.

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These are the best Banff picnic areas. With plenty of space for picnics with friends and family, incredible mountain views and mountain lakes, you won't want to miss these best picnic spots in Banff National Park.
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.

As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.

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