Banff Itinerary – How to Spend 1, 2, or 3 Days in Banff
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Picking the best Banff itinerary can be very challenging. This magical National Park is filled with literally hundreds of amazing places to visit and of course things to do.
But with that said, 3 days or 72 hours in Banff is a great amount of time to visit the majority of the most amazing attractions.
In fact, 3 days is all I had and although my itinerary was packed with amazing things to do in Banff I was still able to enjoy my time, relax, and propose to my beautiful fiancée, Bailey!
Yep, that’s right, I not only did everything that’s in this 3-day itinerary but I also proposed!
So, let’s dive in and start planning your ultimate 3-day Banff itinerary!
I’ve written this blog so that it works for a 1, 2, OR 3 day itinerary in Banff. If you only have one day, just do the first day of this itinerary (it includes my favorite things to do!) If you have two days, just follow the first 2 days. If you have even more time then 3 days, this Banff itinerary will still prove useful, just consider adding on some full-day hikes (in the summer) or time for skiing (in the winter!)
Canada Parks Pass
In Banff, you will need a Canada Parks Pass in order to stay in town and explore the area, including the Icefields Parkway.
The park pass costs $9.80 CAD per day for 1 person with a 1 vehicle or 19.80 per family or group with 1 vehicle.
If you plan on visiting more than one of the national parks in Canada for more than 5 days total, it’s wise to get the yearly Discovery Pass. Per person, the yearly pass costs $67.70, and for a group (up to 7 people 1 car) it’s $136.40.
Day 1 of your Banff Itinerary
Morning: Lake Moraine and Lake Louise
Day: Relax or Join a tour
Afternoon: Bow Falls, Banff Gondola, and Banff Upper Hot Springs
Night: Dinner in Banff Town
Morning of Day 1: Visit Moraine Lake (summer only) and Lake Louise (all seasons)
What better way to spend your first morning in Banff than to visit two of the most beautiful lakes in the area. This morning it’s best to rise and shine early and ideally make it to the Moraine Lake carpark by 6 am.
Well, Lake Moraine is arguably the most popular place to visit in Banff and the carpark often fills up by around 6:00 am. Although it may be dark, people simply arrive at this time to get a parking space so they can spend sunrise overlooking the lake.
In fact, you’ll often find people sleeping in their cars until the sun does rise! In my opinion, it’s a great way to view the lake and well worth the early morning wake-up call!
Alternative: If you don’t want to wake up that early then consider coming around 8 am. This is when the first wave of tourists who came for an epic sunrise begin to leave. If you can’t get a parking spot then you may need to get the shuttle from Lake Louise or simply get it all the way from Banff!
Things to do in Lake Moraine
1. Hike to the rock pile
The rock pile is exactly as the name suggests, a pile of rocks. This is the very famous viewpoint of Lake Moraine and in my opinion (and many others) the best place to view Lake Moraine when you first arrive.
Finding the rocks is easy when it’s light out but in the dark can be a little tricky. As you drive into the car parking lot, the trailhead starts on your left about halfway down the parking lot.
Follow this trail straight and cross the small bridge and continue hiking up. Here you’ll find a few trails leading to different viewpoints on the rock pile.
2. Canoe on the lake
Lake Moraine provides one of the most beautiful places in the world to enjoy a relaxing canoe trip. From the edge of the lake, you can rent canoes for most of the summer and paddle out and enjoy the breathtaking views.
Canoe rental starts at $120 CAD for up to 3 people for one hour. You’re also allowed to bring your own canoe or kayak to the lake and canoe and kayak till your heart’s desire, completely free!
3. Walk the Lakeshore trail
Although the best views are from the rock pile, you can still take a short walk along the lake and enjoy a more unique view many don’t bother to checkout. The Lake Moraine Lakeshore Trail is a nice and easy 1.5km (one way) walk that gets you very close to the sheer cliffs of the surrounding mountains.
4. Enjoy a Longer hike at Lake Moraine
Consolation Lakes Trail – A very easy 6km round trip hike with an elevation gain of only 60m that finishes at the beautiful Consolation Lakes. It’s often required to hike in a group of 4 or more people dues to grizzle bear activity in the area.
Larch Valley Trail – A stunning trail most popular in autumn when the Larch trees turn a beautiful yellow color. The Larch Valley and Minnestimma Lakes trail is 4.3km (one way) and takes around 4 hours to complete. If you’re visiting in September and early October I highly recommend this trail!
There are plenty more great hikes at Lake Moraine. For more, check out this blog of the 5 best hikes in Lake Moraine!
Important info: Lake Moraine closes on the 15th of October and opens after the winter in May.
Lake Louise (all seasons)
After you visit Lake Moraine it only makes sense to head to the nearby Lake Louise. Lake Louise is another stunning lake that’s a must-visit on any itinerary in Banff.
If you arrived at Lake Moraine in the early morning and have made it to Lake Louise before 9 am it’s likely you’ll find a park, however, arriving after this time can prove to be a challenge!
Important info: If the parking lot is full then a great option is to drive to the Lake Louise ski field and get the free shuttle from there. You can also take the Parks Canada shuttle from the Lake Louise Park and Ride or Village of Lake Louise for a fee of $4 (adults) and $2 (children and seniors). Alternatively, you can also get a bus directly from Banff to Lake Louise.
You can read all the info on the shuttles on the Parks Canada website.
Things to do in Lake Louise
1. Canoe on the Lake (summer)
In the summer, if you didn’t enjoy a canoeing trip on Lake Moraine then you may want to consider canoeing on Lake Louise. The price for non-hotel guests at Chateau Lake Louise is $115 for 30 minutes of $125 for an hour. Canoes here can hold up to 3 adults or 2 adults and two children.
2. Go ice skating on the lake (winter only)
When the lake freezes the canoes get put away and out come the ice skates! Rentals start at only $15 for adults and $10 for children and can be rented from the Chateau Lake Louise hotel.
3. Go hiking (some trails are safe in winter)
From Lake Louise, you can venture out on to a few great hiking trails that range in length and difficulty. Some of the best include:
Walk around the lake – You can’t walk around the entire lake, however like Lake Moraine, you can walk along one side for around 3 km each way to the other side of Lake Louise. Here, the lake is much quieter and you can enjoy a more unique view of Lake Louise.
Lake Agnes Tea House – A 6.8km return trip to the stunning Agnes Tea House. This hike is relatively easy and takes around 3 hours to complete. At the tea house, you can enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of pie!
Plaine of Six Glaciers – This 10.6 km round trip hike is known as one of the most scenic in Banff National Park. The trail takes 4 hours to complete and along the way you can stop at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
4. Enjoy a meal at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is one of the best hotels in Banff and Lake Louise. Of course, staying at the Chateau Lake Louise here isn’t in everyone’s budget but you can still enjoy a nice meal at the restaurant on the lake.
Midday on Day 1 – Relax or Join a tour
Depending on the hikes you chose to do you may not have much time to do any other activities until the afternoon. So, take this time to either relax or if you’re really keen, join a half-day tour.
Some short but sweet tours you can join from around Lake Louise and Banff are:
Afternoon Day 1: Bow Falls, Banff Gondola, and Banff Upper Hot Springs (all seasons)
After some rest or a short tour, it’s time to enjoy some very famous and relaxing things to do in Banff. Although three activities sound like a lot, they are all located close together and don’t take that long to enjoy.
To me, these are the three most iconic things to do that should most definitely be included on any Banff itinerary.
Bow Valley Falls
First off is the Bow Falls viewpoint. This short but sweet activity is just about taking in the breathtaking scenery from the ground in Banff. For this activity, you’re only going to need around 15 minutes before heading up the hill to the Banff Gondola. Just park and have a little look around at the falls and stunning river (the location is on Google Maps.)
The Banff Gondola is the most famous gondola in Banff and Lake Louise. The gondola takes you high above the valley to the top Sulphur Mountain.
From the top, you get views of six mountain ranges and the beautiful Bow Valley. There is a short (but must-do) boardwalk up the top that leads to an old weather station. Once completed, you can enjoy some food at either the fancy Sky Bistro or market-style dining at Northern Lights.
After the gondola, the sun should be beginning to set, or depending on your pace, may already have! Regardless, it’s now time to make the short drive (literally 2 minutes from the Banff Gondola parking lot) to the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Important info: The Banff Gondola costs $55 CAD or $42 USD for the return trip. To skip the line at the gondola you can purchase your Banff Gondola ticket in advance and just show it at the gate when you arrive (saving some serious time!)
Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Upper Hot Springs is the best place to relax and unwind after a huge day of adventure in Banff National Park! Entrance to the springs is only $8 CAD and there are change rooms and showers on site.
Although not private pools and they do get very busy, for the $8 its an activity you shouldn’t miss!
Important Info: I suggest visiting the Hot Springs last on your day itinerary because they are significantly less busy in the evening. They are also open until 10 or 11 pm (depending on the season) so you have plenty of time there without needing to rush.
Night of Day 1: Relax in Banff town
After the awesome day you’ve just had to exploring the Rocky Mountains of Banff and Lake Louise, you’re probably going to want to enjoy a nice meal out before getting some rest.
So tonight, just take it easy and take a stroll down the main streets of Banff. There are dozens of restaurants to choose from, and to be honest, they are all good. Just pick one that stands out to you! Oh, but if you haven’t tried Canadian Poutine yet (cheese curds, french fries, and gravy) then that’s what you should get!
Day 2 of your Banff Itinerary
Morning: Minnewanka Lake Cruise
Day: Johnston Canyon and the Bow Valley Parkway drive
Afternoon: Chairlift to Mt Norquay then to Vermilion Lakes for sunset
Night: Explore Banff Town
Morning of Day 2 – Minnewanka Lake Cruise (summer only)
When you do rise and shine on day two of your Banff itinerary, head down to the stunning Lake Minnewanka for a morning cruise. Lake Minnewanka is a stunning lake surrounded by beautiful mountains only a 10 minutes’ drive from Banff.
The cruise out on the lake is really enjoyable and informative. I recommend joining the 9 am cruise to allow enough time for the rest of your day. Also, the best time to see wildlife on the lake is before 11 am so be sure to at least join the 10 am cruise.
The cruise costs $58 CAD online in advance and $64 at the dock and runs for 1 hour. You can book the cruise online direct.
Of course, if the cruise isn’t in your budget then just a visit to the lake is worth it. You can head out and walk along the docks and take in some pretty spectacular views. Regardless, a visit to Lake Minnewanka is a must!
Other things to do at Lake Minnewanka
1. Go Canoeing
At the same dock you take the boat from, is a small canoe rental place that rents canoes to visitors so they can explore the lake. The day I visited the lake, the winds were quite high so canoeing didn’t look too appealing. But on a calm day, canoeing on Lake Minnewanka would be an amazing activity!
2. Hike or bike the Stewart Canyon Trail
The Stewart Canyon Trails follows the edge of the lake to the Stewart Canyon. This is a great free activity at Lake Minnewanka in the summer months.
The trail is 6.6km one way but the great thing is you can hike as far as you want and then turn back. If you’re keen for a longer hike keep walking until you reach Alymer Lookout (2 km further).
During certain times in summer, it is required to hike in groups of 4 or more so be sure to keep an eye out for signs in the area. This trail is popular so if you’re in a group of 3 or less it won’t be hard finding a few more hiking partners at the trailhead.
Midday of Day 2 – Johnston Canyon and the Bow Valley Parkway drive (all seasons)
After your cruise along the lake, head over to the Bow Valley Parkway. As you drive back towards Banff you’ll see the exit on the right about 5km after you pass the turnoff to Banff town. This is the start of one end of the Bow Valley Parkway (an amazing scenic drive.)
This beautiful 51 kilometer stretch of road passes so many amazing viewpoints and lookouts as well as the Johnston Canyon. Although you could spend days exploring this road, the Johnston Canyon and the few other gorgeous viewpoints make for an amazing trip!
For now, stop along the way as you please until you reach the Johnston Canyon. Here, it’s time to park and get ready for a short hike through the canyon!
Johnston Canyon is a great place to visit in Banff as it can be hiked in both winter and summer. In fact, the canyon is completely different in each season so regardless if you’ve done it in one season before, you’re going to want to do it in the other.
At the canyon, the main trail people hike is to the lower and upper falls.
To the lower falls its 1.1km walk along a relatively flat path that takes around 15 minutes to reach. If you’re heading to the upper falls, it’s another 1.5 km walk from the lower falls. For a return trip to the upper falls allow 2 hours.
Tour recommendation: You can do guided walks of the Johnston Canyon in the winter. This day time Ice Walk is a great tour and if you want a more unique experience then this Johnston Canyon Evening Walk is a good option.
Bow Valley Parkway Drive
After Johnston Canyon, continue along the Bow Valley Parkway. This is my favorite section of the drive and along the way be sure to stop lots and keep an eye out for bears! Some of my favorite things to do on this drive include:
Morant’s Curve – A super famous spot where the train passes by with the most breathtaking backdrop!
Castle Cliffs – A short but stunning stop at the base of Castle Mountain to views these magnificent cliffs!
Storm Mountain – A great place to get out and have a picnic. Storm Mountain gets its name for the fact clouds usually hang around its peaks.
Moose Meadows – A flat meadows that used to be frequently visited by moose, however these days, it’s more common to see elk and deer here.
Afternoon day 2 – Chairlift up Mt Norquay then Sunset at Vermilion Lakes
Once you reach Lake Louise via the Bow Valley Parkway head back towards Banff via the trans-Canada highway. Along this highway, there are a few pull over bays you can stop at, to take some pictures and admire the view.
Stop as you please or make the entire drive to the turn off to Banff. But instead of turning right towards Banff, head left to the Mt Norquay Ski Resort.
Chairlift ride up Mt Norquay
The drive to the ski resort is beautiful and on the road to the top you can stop for photos. However, once you reach the ski resort its time to enjoy the best view of Banff that exists (a big call I know!)
The lift to the restaurant costs $37 CAD for adults in the summer months and is open from June 14th to mid-October. In the winter you’ll need a ski pass, but if you’re here in winter there is no doubt you’ll want to go skiing at least once anyways!
To be honest, I’m not sure this is a very popular thing to do in Banff and you won’t find it on many other itinerary blogs. But, after taking the chairlift up Mt Norquay myself I was so blown away by the view I was actually left breathless! This is the best view of Banff and the photo above really proves that!
Vermilion Lakes for Sunset
Vermilion Lakes is the perfect place to finish off you day of sightseeing and adventure. The lakes are located only 5 minutes from Banff town and are a great place to relax and watch the sunset.
The Vermilion Lakes drive is reached from Mt Norquay Road so simply. Head down the mountain towards Banff and after you cross the Trans-Canada Highway turn right onto Vermilion Lakes Road.
From here, it’s about a 10-minute slow drive along the lakes at which you can stop as you please. The best spot to see the stunning reflections of the mountains is at the end of the road, so keep driving and park near the end to find a spot to relax!
Enjoy this spot until you’ve soaked up the view or until the sun goes down!
Night of Day 2 – Explore Banff Town
Tonight, head out into Banff town and relax. Hit the main walking street and explore the many shops and maybe pick up some souvenirs. Banff town is a beautiful place both day and night so relax and unwind because tomorrow’s your last day!
Things to do in Banff town
Visit Banff Ave Brewing Co – Located on the main street of Banff, the Banff Ave Brewing Co is the perfect place to try some local beer and great food.
Go souvenir shopping – The main street of Banff is literally filled with little souvenir shops. From little bears to mugs, if you’re after a little souvenir to remember your time in Banff you won’t have trouble finding it here!
Visit the Banff Candy Store – This place is filled with all different types of candy and provides some good snacks for your Banff itinerary (try to saltwater taffy!)
Day 3 of your Banff 3-Day Itinerary – Icefield Parkway
Morning: Icefield Parkway
Day: Icefield Parkway
Afternoon: Athabasca Glacier
Late afternoon: Drive back to Banff, Calgary, onto Jasper or Revelstoke
Morning of Day 3 – Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway was voted as one of the top 10 world’s most spectacular road trips, and honestly I could agree more. This 230 km stretch of road is breathtaking and making this trip should be at the top of your Banff bucket list. It’s safe to say I’ve left the best for last!
From Banff, head out and turn left onto the Tran Canada highway and continue straight until you pass through Lake Lousie. After this, you’ll reach a fork in the road and the Icefields Parkway is one the right-hand side. To drive this highway you’ll need a valid Canada Parks Pass, regardless of if you plan on stopping or not.
Once you pass the boom gates it’s time to enjoy the most scenic drive in the world.
The Icefields Parkway can be driven all year round, however, is subject to closures in winter when there’s been heavy snowfalls and you’ll need winter tires (that’s the law). Also in winter, the Athabasca Glaciers tours don’t run and the Columbia Icefield Skywalk is not open.
Important Info: There is limited services along the Icefields Parkway. Fill up with gas in Banff before you leave (to avoid paying a ridiculous amount for gas) and bring a couple of snacks and water with you.
Places to visit on the Ice Fields Parkway
Bow Lake – Bow Lake is a beautiful lake that on a calm day reflects the surrounding mountains. This is a short visit if you only want to stop at the viewpoint.
Perito Lake Lookout – You’ve probably seen lots of amazing photos of Perito Lake. Its one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Banff National Park, and the best part is you can drive right up to it!
Waterfowl Lakes – This lake is absolutely stunning and another short stop on your way through the Icefields Parkway.
Mistaya Canyon – Only a short walk off the highway you can visit this beautiful canyon and waterfall.
Big hill and Big Bend – You can’t miss Big Bend as your driving the parkway. It’s literally just a huge curve in the road before you ascend up to Big Hill. Big Hill is a stunning viewpoint you simply must stop at!
Athabasca Glacier – The Athabasca Glacier is the most popular stop on the Icefields Parkway. There is a viewpoint of the glacier you can hike to (only a short walk) and you can also do tours on the glacier such as the Ice Walk and glacier trekking tours. More on this below.
Skywalk – The Skywalk is a paid viewpoint that overlooks the valley and the mountains. It’s well worth a visit and there’s more on this below.
Sunwapta Falls – Sunwapta Falls is another famous waterfall that you’ll only see if you continue on towards Jasper after the Athabasca Glacier. It’s a must-visit!
Athabasca Falls – Athabasca Falls is even closer to Jasper and if you get the chance to visit you should go! This the waterfall is very powerful and has a stunning backdrop!
Afternoon day 3 – Athabasca Glacier Adventure (summer only)
Of course, you should drive the entire Icefields Parkway to Jasper but before that, stop at the Athabasca Glacier. This massive glacier is part of the Colombia Icefields which is one of the largest icefields in the world.
At the glacier, you can drive to a car parking lot and hike to a viewpoint of the glacier – but for an extra special experience, you must do the Athabasca Glacier Ice Walk. Here you get bused to a station near the glacier where you board an “Ice Explorer”. It’s basically a specially built bus with massive tires on it that they actually use in Antarctica!
Once on the bus, you’ll dive out onto the glacier where you’ll get some free time to explore. Of course, you must stay in the exclusion zone as there is deep crevasses and dangerous areas around! The entire experience is amazing and if you’ve never walked on a glacier before this is a must-do on your Banff itinerary!
Tours on the glacier cost $103 CAD and take around 2 hours to complete.
Be sure to book your Glacier Walk in advance or you’ll get stuck waiting around for a tour like we did!
Skywalk (summer only)
After, you have the option to visit the Skywalk! This is one of the best viewpoints in the Icefields and well worth checking out! You can combine both the Glacier Walk and Skywalk for $114, or on its own for $34 CAD.
Late afternoon Day 3 – Finish your Banff Itinerary
After the glacier tour, you have a few options on where you can go.
Option 2 is to drive to Calgary. This is a long drive and will take at least 3 hours from the Athabasca Glacier! You can book accommodation in Calgary here.
Option 3 is to drive to Edmonton. Once again this drive will take a long time and you should allow 4.5 to 5 hours for it depending on the way you go! Browse accommodation in Edmonton here.
Option 4 is to drive back to Banff and stay in Banff or Canmore. Then leave the following morning. This is a good option for those heading to either Calgary or west towards Revelstoke and Golden. You can book a hotel in Canmore here.
Option 5 is to spend a night on the Icefields Parkway which would be an amazing experience and one I have had the pleasure of doing. In fact, dotted along the highway are a few great places to stay:
Accommodation on the Icefields Parkway
Num-Ti-Jah Lodge – Located on the shores of Bow Lake this place has one of the most beautiful views you could imagine.
Hi Mosquito Creek Hostel – A budget hostel that’s only a 5-minute drive from Bow Lake. I’ve stayed at this hostel and loved it! They feature dorm beds and private cabins and the place has a sauna!
The Crossing – This hotel sits about 40 km from the Athabasca Glacier and is situated near some spectacular viewpoints and picnic areas. You can also get food and fuel here.
Glacier View Lodge – This is the stunning hotel at the Athabasca Glacier. If your budget permits, it’d be a great place to stay!
Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountian Lodge – A beautiful hotel located right next to Sunwapta Falls. It’s only 53 km from Jasper and a great place to stay on your Banff itinerary!
Hi Rampart Creek Hostel – Another budget hostel a little further on the Icefields Parkway. They also have a steam room and sauna!
Hi Athabasca Falls – This is the last place to stay on the Parkway Drive. It’s another budget hostel thats got amazing reviews for being inviting, comfortable and surrounded by nature!
Important info: There are limited services on the Icefields Parkway. For reference, I’ve dotted out a few of the attractions, fuel, and accommodation in the map below.
Where to Stay in Banff
This is one of the most important parts of your trip and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. Below are some great hotels we recommend, but if you’d like more info check out our best hotels in Banff blog. It includes options for everyone’s budget and travel style!
Samesun Banff Hostel – A great budget hostel with dorm rooms. Perfect for those on a tight budget.
King Edward Hotel – A budget range hotel where you still get a private room for a great price.
Banff Inn – The Banff Inn is in the perfect price and luxury range. It’s still cheap but also comes with lots of luxuries.
Banff Rocky Mountian Resort – Pushing up into the mid-range budget this hotel has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens.
Fairmont Banff Springs – This is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible (pictured above!)
Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. For starters, you need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. In the peaks of winter and summer, Banff often books out months in advance.
For this reason, I highly suggest booking a place ASAP! Using Booking.com is great too because lots of hotels offer free cancellation so lock in a place (or two) just to be sure!
Getting around Banff
The best way to explore Banff is by car. If you don’t have your own then you’ll need to rent one. Of course, this will cost you some upfront costs but it will honestly be cheaper than paying for tours.
The other good way to get around is with the shuttles provided by parks Canada. You can view all the shuttles available here!
Banff is all about the great outdoors and with that comes risks. That’s why we never travel without insurance and neither should you.
We use two insurers the most for different reasons.
Baliey uses Safty Wing Travel Insurence for the simple fact they have a great cheap monthly rate of only $37 USD a month for medical cover.
The other is World Nomads Travel insurance and this one is for insuring you and your stuff as they have full comprehensive packages that cover a huge range of activities and sports.
Banff is without a doubt one of our favorite places to visit in Canada. We have a passion for this place and we really hope this blog and our other Canada blogs have helped you plan your amazing journey through this beautiful country.
Below we’d love to hear from you so please leave us a comment if you have any comments or questions!
Thanks again and happy travels!!
November 14, 2019