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When planning a trip to Banff, the hardest part is figuring out how you’ll fit everything in that you want to do! This magical town and national park are filled with literally hundreds of amazing places to visit, tours to go on, and, of course, things to do.
But with that said, 3 days or 72 hours in Banff is a good amount of time to visit the majority of the most amazing attractions in Banff. In fact, the last time I visited Banff, 3 days was all the time I had, and although my itinerary was packed with amazing activities, I was still able to enjoy my time and even relax.
But let’s face it, with so many fun things to do in Banff, how do you choose the absolute best of the best without wasting time?
We’ve visited Banff countless times and even lived next door in Canmore, so we know the area like the back of our hands. We’ve carefully put together this 3-day Banff itinerary to include the most exciting activities, with everything from hot springs to hikes, as well as the best places to eat (delicious food is one of the best parts about travel – am I right?!)
This blog is carefully laid out in a way that you can easily see exactly how each day will look. So, let’s dive in and start planning your ultimate 3-day Banff itinerary!
Note: I’ve written this blog so that it works as a 1, 2, OR 3-day Banff itinerary. If you only have just one day to enjoy Banff, just do the first day (it includes my favorite things to do), but if you have more time, add on the second for a 2-Day Banff itinerary.
- Day 1 – Banff Itinerary
- Early Morning – Visit Moraine Lake (summer only)
- Late Morning – Explore Lake Louise
- Afternoon – Drive the Bow Valley Parkway & Hike Johnston Canyon
- Late Afternoon – Relax in Banff town and grab food
- Evening – Banff Upper Hot Springs
- Day 2 – Banff Itinerary
- Day 3 – Banff Itinerary
- Canada Parks Pass
- Where to Stay in Banff, Alberta
- Thanks for Reading!
- Renting a Car in Alberta
- Canada Travel Essentials
- Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
Related Read: Heading to Banff from the Calgary Airport? Check out our blog about all of the different transport options available!
Day 1 – Banff Itinerary
- Early morning: Moraine Lake (summer only)
- Late morning: Lake Louise
- Afternoon: Drive the Bow Valley Parkway & Johnston Canyon
- Evening: Early dinner in Banff town
- Night: Banff Hot Springs
Early Morning – Visit Moraine Lake (summer only)
What better way to spend the first morning of your Banff itinerary than by visiting one of the most beautiful lakes in Banff National Park?!
Moraine Lake is arguably the most popular place to visit in Banff National Park and to see it before the crowds really arrive, you’ll want this to be your first stop for the day. If you’re able to get yourself up super early, then you just have to visit Moraine Lake at sunrise! It really is the best time for taking photos, before all the big buses arrive and the lake gets busy.
Whatever time of day you decide to visit, getting to Moraine Lake now requires a bit more planning than it used to. As of 2023, Parks Canada has restricted the Moraine Lake Road and parking lot to shuttles, buses, organized tours of Moraine Lake, and commercial traffic only – no personal vehicles allowed.
You’ll need to figure out a parking alternative at the lake like catching a Parks Canada shuttle, taking ROAM public transit, or saving yourself all the hassle and booking this highly rated hop-on hop-off tour from Banff. The tour actually visits Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon, so it pretty much follows my suggested itinerary anyway!
You can either jump on the Sunrise Shuttle to Moraine Lake or if you don’t mind arriving after sunrise, the first Parks Canada shuttle leaves at 6:30 am from the Park and Ride at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, which is still early enough that you’ll be well ahead of most of the crowds. When you arrive, we recommend spending a couple of hours here, either relaxing with a coffee and soaking in the views or conquering a hike!
Want to visit Moraine Lake for sunrise?
The only way to visit Moraine Lake at sunrise this year (since the road is closed to personal vehicles) is to either go on this organized tour or book this privately-operated shuttle (the Parks Canada shuttles don’t leave early enough to make it for sunrise.)
The tour begins at 4 am in Banff, and because they are a licensed tour operator, they can access Moraine Lake for sunrise. The tour costs $220 CAD and includes not only a visit to Moraine Lake with hot chocolate and coffee to enjoy, but also an early morning visit to Lake Louise. That means you can visit two of the busiest lakes in Canada without the crowds or the stress of parking/shuttles. You can book the tour here with free cancelation up to 24 hours before.
The new Moraine Lake sunrise shuttle includes transport only from Lake Louise Village but comes at an affordable price of $59-69 CAD per person. They offer a few pick-up times depending on what you have planned at Moraine Lake, with the first shuttle leaving at 4 am and the second at 5 am. You must book your spot online in advance here to avoid missing out.
Here are a few of our favorite things to do at Moraine Lake:
1. Relax at the Rockpile
The Rockpile is exactly as the name suggests, a pile of rocks overlooking the lake! But don’t let the name deceive you, this is actually the most famous viewpoint of Moraine Lake, and in my opinion (and many others), the best place to view Moraine Lake when you first arrive.
Finding the rocks is easy. From the parking lot, the trailhead starts on your left by the toilets, 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. Just taking in the view from the rock pile is what most people do when they visit Moraine Lake, and it’s probably your best choice if you’re worried about being short on time.
2. Canoe on the lake
How does a relaxing time canoeing on the shimmering waters of Moraine Lake sound? From the edge of the lake, you can rent canoes for most of the summer and paddle out to the middle of the lake, where you can fully enjoy the breathtaking views away from the crowds.
Canoe rental starts at $130 CAD for up to 3 people for one hour. Canoe rentals are on a first-come-first-serve basis, so this is another reason to get to Moraine Lake early! Trust us on this, sometimes the line for canoes is several hours long!
Hot Tip: You’re also allowed to bring your own watercraft to the lake (like inflatable paddleboards or small kayaks), but just make sure they fit on the shuttle. Then you can paddle to your heart’s content, completely free!
3. Walk the Lakeshore Trail
Although the best views of Moraine Lake 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 check out.
The Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail is a nice and easy 3.4 km (2.1 mi) roundtrip walk that takes you right alongside the edge of the lake and gets you very close to the sheer cliffs of the surrounding mountains! Of course, you don’t need to go the whole way if you’re short on time, the views are beautiful all the way along the trail.
4. Enjoy a longer hike at Moraine Lake
Fancy a bit more of a challenge to unlock some incredible viewpoints at Moraine Lake? Here are a couple of our favorite hikes:
Consolation Lakes Trail – The Consolation Lakes trail is a very easy hike in Banff National Park. It’s a 6 km (3.7 mi) round-trip hike with an elevation gain of only 60 m (197 feet) that finishes at the beautiful Consolation Lakes. It’s often required to hike in a group of 4 or more people due to grizzly 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 4.3 km (2.7 mi) one way and takes around 4 hours to complete. If you’re visiting in September and early October, I highly recommend this trail!
Important info: Moraine Lake closes in the middle of October annually and opens after the winter at the end of May. If you are visiting Banff in winter, skip Moraine Lake and head straight to Lake Louise. There are a ton of fun things to do in Lake Louise in winter like ice skating, dog sledding, and visiting ice castles!
Late Morning – Explore Lake Louise
After you visit Moraine Lake, it only makes sense to head across to see her famous sibling, Lake Louise. We always find ourselves coming back despite having been here so many times. Whether it’s your first or twelfth time here, a visit to the lake really can’t be missed out on while you’re in Banff.
Getting a parking space at Lake Louise can be really challenging, especially in the summer months. If you want to drive yourself there, I strongly recommend getting to the lake before 8 am in July and August. In the winter, it is much easier.
Alternatively, we’d suggest booking the Parks Canada Park and Ride in advance, which includes a free transfer from Moraine Lake to Lake Louise (called the Lake Connector Shuttle). Park and Ride MUST be booked in advance. You can read all the info on the shuttles on the Parks Canada website.
Otherwise, this particular tour leaves Banff super early so that you can enjoy the iconic sunrise at Moraine Lake before heading to Lake Louise. Yup, that’s right, no driving or having to wait around on shuttles and in lines, this tour has it all sorted for you. You can book this sunrise Moraine Lake and Lake Louise tour online here.
Note: From May 13th until October 10th, you’ll be required to pay $21.00 CAD per vehicle per day to park at Lake Louise Lakefront (2023 updated price). The paid parking is in effect from 7 am until 7 pm daily.
Some of the best things to do at Lake Louise include:
1. Canoe on the lake (summer)
If you didn’t manage to go canoeing on Moraine Lake, or just can’t get enough of paddling out for some incredible views, then this is your chance to have a go at Lake Louise!
You can rent your canoe at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise, where the price for non-hotel guests is $135 for 30 minutes or $145 for an hour (if you stay at the Fairmont you’ll get a discount!) Canoes here can hold up to 3 adults or 2 adults and two children, so they’re a great choice for families or couples.
2. Go ice skating on the lake (winter only)
When winter rolls around (usually from mid-December to late April), Lake Louise completely transforms into a frozen wonderland. The canoes get put away for the season, and out come the ice skates – woo!
You can grab a pair of skates (as well as snowshoes, poles, snowboards, and more) from 7:30 am to 8 pm at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise. As for pricing, 4 hours of skate rental costs just $23 CAD for adults and $13 CAD for kids. If you have your own skates, skating on Lake Louise is entirely free. There are ice castles to explore too, which are really neat.
3. Go hiking
From Lake Louise, there’s a whole world of hiking trails that are suitable for beginners and experienced hikers alike! Some of the best include:
Lake Louise lakeshore – You can’t walk around the entire lake, however just like Moraine Lake, you can walk along one side for around 2.3 km (1.4 mi) each way to the other side. It takes about 30 minutes each way, and you’ll be rewarded with a completely different view of Lake Louise, away from the majority of the crowds!
Lake Agnes Tea House – This 7.2 km (4.5 mi) return trip to the stunning Lake Agnes Tea House hike is one of our personal favorites. It’s also relatively easy with an elevation gain of about 400 meters (1,312 feet), taking around 4 hours to complete. At the tea house, you can enjoy a well-deserved cup of tea and a slice of pie!
Plain of Six Glaciers – This 14.6 km (9.1 mi) round-trip hike definitely ticks off all the scenic boxes. The last time we walked it, it took about 4 and a half hours to complete, and along the way we also stopped at the (very refreshing) Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
4. Enjoy a meal at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise
Not only is the Fairmont Château Lake Louise one of the best hotels near Lake Louise, but it’s also one of the best hotels in Banff! Of course, staying at the Chateau Lake Louise isn’t in everyone’s budget range, but you can still enjoy a nice meal at the hotel restaurant on the lake.
*Don’t forget about Lunch*
I highly recommend getting lunch here at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise or one of the other restaurants in Lake Louise before heading off on the next part of your Banff itinerary. There aren’t really many good food options on the Bow Valley Parkway, and I’m sure after so much exploring you’ll be hungry!
If you want to get something to-go, head to The Trailhead Cafe in Lake Louise Village on your way out, they have lots of baked goods, including some incredible sandwiches, as well as some great coffee. As for restaurants at the Fairmont, most of the restaurants in the hotel are reserved for hotel guests (new in 2023), but Alpine Social is the exception to that rule, and they also serve delicious cocktails. Drinks with a view? Yes, please!
Afternoon – Drive the Bow Valley Parkway & Hike Johnston Canyon
After you’re done in Lake Louise, it’s time to return to Banff town. If you drove yourself, then instead of just taking the highway, I recommend taking the slightly longer (but more scenic drive) called the Bow Valley Parkway. The Bow Valley Parkway runs parallel to the highway, but is less busy, more beautiful, and there are some incredible attractions to check out on the way.
This beautiful 48-kilometer (30-mile) stretch of road passes so many amazing viewpoints and lookouts as well as the famous Johnston Canyon. Although you could spend days exploring this area, Johnston Canyon and the few other gorgeous viewpoints make for an amazing few hours.
If you aren’t planning on driving yourself, then you can still enjoy the scenic Bow Valley Parkway with this hop-on hop-off tour. The tour takes you to Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and then Johnston Canyon on the Bow Valley Parkway. It’s a packed-full day but it hits all of the best attractions without you needing to drive or book busy shuttles.
Bow Valley Parkway Drive
Some of my favorite things to do on the drive through Bow Valley Parkway include:
Morant’s Curve – This is a super famous spot where the train passes by with the most breathtaking backdrop! Driving from Lake Louise, this will be one of the first stops you hit on the northern end of the parkway. Make sure to pull over at the parking lot across the highway. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there as the trains pass by every hour on a weekday, you may be able to grab a shot of the train as it passes.
Storm Mountain Lookout – A great place to get out and have a picnic, the imposing Storm Mountain gets its name from the fact that clouds usually hang around its peak, but the views are incredible! There’s a signposted pull-off point for the viewpoint along the Parkway, just before you reach Castle Cliffs.
Castle Cliffs – A short but stunning stop at the base of Castle Mountain to take in some great views of these magnificent cliffs! You’ll find the Castle Cliff Viewpoint just before you reach Castle Junction, where there’s a small parking area that leads up to a viewing platform.
Moose Meadows – A flat meadow that used to be frequently visited by moose, however, these days, it’s actually more common to see elk and deer here. During the spring, the wildflowers are in full bloom, and it’s a wonderful place to get a few photos before carrying on your journey.
At the Moose Meadows pull-off point, there’s also the beginning of the Moose Meadows Trailhead, which is about 6 km (3.7 miles) each way and leads all the way up to the famous Ink Pots, a group of five amazing mineral pools.
Johnston Canyon is one of the best free things to do in Banff and can be hiked during both the winter and the 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 another!
At the canyon, the main trail leads to the beautiful Upper and Lower Falls, two incredible waterfalls that make the whole trip so worth it. To the Lower Falls, it’s a 1.2 km (0.7 mi) walk along a relatively flat path that takes around 15 minutes to reach.
As for the upper falls, you’ll continue on for another 1.3 km (0.8 mi) on the same route you took to get to the Lower Falls. The last time we hiked to the Upper Falls we’d say it took about 2 hours to get there, take plenty of photos, and get back again.
Winter tour recommendations:
Come wintertime, the glacial canyon freezes over, giving the waterfalls a brand-new, magical look! On this 4-hour daytime icewalk, you’ll join a group capped at 12 people on an exciting winter walk to beautiful Lower and Upper Falls, learning all about its history along the way.
Our tour guide, Erin, did an amazing job at answering all our questions and even took some photos of us next to the HUGE glacial icicles! As a smaller-group tour, it feels very personal and the cup of hot chocolate was very welcome. Tickets for this tour cost $96 CAD per adult, $60 CAD per child (8-12), and you can book your spot on this tour here.
We enjoyed our first icewalk so much, that we had to return for this Johnston Canyon evening walk! It’s run by the same folks who organize the daytime walk, with a maximum of 12 people per group too. What makes coming here in the evening so special though, is how gorgeous the snow and ice look during the twilight hours, with the light from our headlamps giving them a mystical glow!
This tour lasts around 2 and a half hours, and includes all of the safety gear you’ll need to enjoy yourself, like crampons and helmets. Tickets cost $96 CAD per adult, $60 CAD per child (8-12) – you can secure your spot on this evening walk here.
Note: There will be some closures to vehicle traffic on sections of the Bow Valley Parkway this year (2023). From May 1-June 30 and then again from Sept 1-Sept 30 vehicles will NOT be able to drive the 17 km/11 mi stretch of road from the TransCanada-Highway junction to Johnston Canyon, it will be restricted to cyclists’ use only. This is the eastern part of the road that is affected if you’re traveling to Johnston Canyon from Banff. You will still be able to access Johnston Canyon and the Bow Valley Parkway via the intersection near Castle Mountain Chalets.
Late Afternoon – Relax in Banff town and grab food
After the awesome day you’ve just had exploring the Rocky Mountains of Banff and Lake Louise, you’re probably going to have quite the appetite!
So head into Banff town for an early dinner and beat the dinner rush (anytime before 6 pm is ideal.) There are dozens of restaurants to choose from, and to be honest, they’re all really 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 you’ve got to give this a try.
If you’re up for some hearty farm-to-table food and don’t mind spending a little more for dinner, then we highly recommend The Bison on Bear Street. Not only were they in the 100 best restaurants in Canada in 2022, but there are also lots of options on their menu for vegans and vegetarians too.
Another local favorite is Magpie & Stump, which serves gorgeous Mexican cuisine over on Caribou Street. This is a little easier on the wallet, but it’s still incredible and well worth checking out! If you’re traveling in the summertime, you’ll love their rooftop patio, also known as El Patio.
If you’re looking for a great craft beer to wash all that yummy food down, check out Banff Ave Brewing Co., which is easily one of the best Banff breweries and also serves tasty pub-style food (this is where you can get that iconic Canadian poutine I was mentioneding earlier!)
There are also a ton of coffee shops and cafés in Banff with epic views of the countryside if you’re looking for somewhere to relax with a hot drink. Whitebark Café on the southern end of Banff Ave is one of our top choices, serving beautiful baked goods (the best sausage rolls ever!) and has a beautiful outdoor patio area.
Evening – 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!
You may be wondering, why is it best to visit the springs in the evening? Well, this is when they are the least busy! During the day, busloads of tourists visit, but if you go right before closing time, it’ll be much more peaceful. Plus, in the summer months, hot springs in Alberta are much more enjoyable once the sun goes down and the weather cools a bit.
Situated about a 10-minute drive from Banff town, the springs are also open until 10 pm, so you have plenty of time there without needing to rush. Last entry is at 9:30 pm, but we recommend arriving before 9 pm so you have enough time to relax and enjoy the hot springs.
Entrance to the springs is only $16.50 CAD for adults and $14.25 CAD for youths (3-17), with discounts available for families too. There are also changing rooms and lovely hot showers on site. Although the pools aren’t private, we think it’s a great deal for the price, especially if you head over in the evening when it’s likely to be a lot quieter.
Related Read: Visiting the Banff Hot Springs is one of the best things to do in Banff when it rains because you’ll be wet anyway, and it’ll be less busy!
Day 2 – Banff Itinerary
- Morning: Lake Minnewanka (Cruise or Ice Skating)
- Afternoon: Bow Falls & Banff Gondola
- Evening: Vermilion Lakes for sunset
- Night: Explore Banff Town
Morning – Lake Minnewanka
With a whole day of exploration under your belt, it’s time to head into round two! Day two of our Banff itinerary is all about more incredible views, and we begin with the stunning Lake Minnewanka, which is surrounded by beautiful mountains and is only a 15-minute drive from Banff.
There are a few different ways you can enjoy Lake Minnewanka:
1. Go on a Lake Cruise
Lake Minnewanka is pretty big, about 22 km² (8.5mi²), so to really get to see all that it has to offer, we suggest going on a relaxing 1-hour cruise around the lake! You may even get lucky on this tour and catch a glimpse of some of Banff’s incredible wildlife, with big-horned sheep, deer, and even bears calling the area home.
While there are a few time slots available, I recommend joining right at the start with the 10 am cruise to allow enough time for the rest of your day. It’s also the best time to see wildlife, as they’re most active in the morning before 11 am and in the evening.
Along the way, you’ll also learn all about the indigenous people who used to live in the area, rediscovering some local myths and legends! Tickets for this cruise start from $67 CAD per person and can be booked online here.
Of course, if the cruise isn’t in your budget, then just a visit to the lake is worth it all by itself. We love walking along the docks and taking in the pretty spectacular views! The walk to Stewart Canyon along the lake’s edge is one of our favorite hikes in Banff.
Note: The Lake Minnewanka Cruise only operates in the summer months.
2. Go ice skating
Visiting Banff in the winter months? Well, a cruise on the frozen lake is obviously out of the question; however, you can go ice skating instead!
As there aren’t any places to rent at the lake, we recommend renting some skates in Banff in the morning and bringing them along with you. Two popular rental shops we’ve used before are Backtrax and Banff Adventures, both of which are on Bear Street. You can expect it to cost around $15-20 CAD to rent out a pair of skates for the day.
Be sure to stop at the Visitor Centre in Banff as well before you go to ask about ice conditions, as you want to make sure the ice is thick enough to skate on!
3. Go Canoeing
At the same dock you take the cruise from, there is a small boathouse that’s perfect for renting out kayaks or canoes for some private lake exploration. The day we visited the lake, the winds were quite high, so canoeing didn’t look too appealing, but on a calm day, canoeing on Lake Minnewanka really looks like a bunch of fun!
Single kayak rental starts at $45 CAD for the first hour and $22.50 CAD for each extra hour, and double kayaks cost $85 CAD for the first hour and $42.50 for each additional hour.
4. Hike or bike the Stewart Canyon Trail
Heading to Lake Minnewanka in the summer months? The Stewart Canyon Trail follows the edge of the lake from the pier down to the Stewart Canyon and makes for a wonderful hike with some pretty sweet views!
The trail is 6.8 km (4.2 mi) out and back, but the great thing is you can hike as far as you want and then turn back whenever you like. If you’re keen on a longer hike, then you can head back towards the lake and follow the trail on the northern side as far as you’d like.
During certain times in summer, you’re required to hike in groups of 4 or more (it is bear territory, after all), 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 to find a few more hiking partners at the trailhead.
We love riding around in Banff on our bikes, and if you fancy tackling the trail on two wheels, then we’d recommend heading over to Banff Cycle & Sport in Banff town, where you can rent out a mountain bike for the day for $59 CAD. They also have e-mountain bikes too if you’d like to hit up some longer trails!
Afternoon – Bow Falls, Banff Gondola
After your morning exploring what Lake Minnewanka has to offer, it’s time to enjoy some of the best views around at Bow Falls and the Banff Gondola!
Bow Valley Falls
First off is the Bow Falls Viewpoint, which is right back in Banff and only a 20-minute walk or 5-minute drive from the town center. The last time we visited, we decided to give Bow Falls a try, and we’re so glad we did! While you’ll probably only spend around 10–15 minutes here soaking up the scenery, we think it’s a neat stopping point that nicely ties into your journey up the hill to the Banff Gondola.
Once you’re finished up at Bow Falls, it’s time to head up to the Banff Gondola! Less than a 10-minute drive from the falls, the Banff Gondola (also known as Sulphur Mountain Gondola) is the most famous of the four gondolas in Banff and Lake Louise and one of my favorite places to get some incredible views.
Prepare yourself for a breathtaking 8-minute ride up the mountain, looking out over the beautiful Bow Valley. We’ve seen all kinds of wildlife on the way up too, including a grizzly bear that was foraging for food the last time we went! Once you’re at the top, there’s a huge there’s a 4-story complex to explore, with its own shops, cafés, and even a theater.
We love walking along the boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak up the top that leads to an old weather station. It’s 0.5 kilometers (0.3 miles) long and only takes 20–30 minutes each way, but most of that time is spent taking photos along the way!
Once you’re all finished up taking in the views, you can enjoy some great food at either the fancy Sky Bistro or market-style dining at Northern Lights. When it comes to our itinerary, we think this is a great place to grab lunch or even dinner if you fancy staying here a little longer.
Tickets for the Banff Gondola start at $61 CAD (including taxes) for adults and $40 CAD for kids (6-15). To skip the line, the best place to buy Banff Gondola tickets is by purchasing your ticket in advance, where you’ll simply show it at the gate when you arrive, saving some serious time waiting around!
Related Read: Have you ever wanted to see a grizzly bear in the wild, or maybe even elk wandering through the morning mist? Here are three wildlife tours in Banff National Park which we think you’ll love!
Evening – Vermilion Lakes for Sunset
We’ve explored the incredible heights of Sulphur Mountain, and the beautiful trails of Lake Minnewanka, so it’s only fitting that we finish off our day of sightseeing and adventure at the equally scenic Vermilion Lakes. Just a 5-minute drive from Banff town, the lakes are the perfect place to relax after a long day and watch the sunset.
Vermilion Lakes Road 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, you’re free to slow drive around the lakes and stop wherever 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! It’s time to finally unwind after a busy day, so feel free to let time pass by, you’ve earned it.
Night – Explore Banff Town
The sun may have set, but we’re not finished yet. Now it’s time to head out into Banff town and hit the main walking street, exploring some cute shops and maybe picking up some souvenirs. Banff town is a beautiful place both day and night so relax and unwind because tomorrow’s your last day!
Some of the best things to do in Banff town are:
Visit Banff Ave Brewing Co – If you haven’t managed to visit the local brewery yet, now’s your chance. You’ll find the brewery on the main street of Banff, Banff Ave Brewing Co is the perfect place to try some local beer and great food.
Sip cocktails at Park Distillery – From Monday to Wednesday and on Sunday, the pub at the distillery is open until 1 am. On all other days, it stays open until 12 am, so you’ve got loads of time to sit back and sip at some local classics, like ‘Ride or Dry’ and ‘Spice up Your Life’.
Go souvenir shopping – The main street of Banff is literally filled with little souvenir shops. From little bears to the cutest mugs, if you’re after a 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 is my go-to for a sweet treat whenever I’m in Banff (try the salt water taffy!). You’ll find the store on Banff Avenue, and it’s open until 9 pm Thursday to Sunday, and until 6 pm all other days.
Day 3 – Banff Itinerary
- Morning: Icefields Parkway
- Afternoon: Athabasca Glacier
- Late afternoon: Drive back to Banff, Calgary, or onto Jasper
Morning – Start driving the Icefields Parkway
If you’re lucky enough to have 3 days in Banff, then our next recommendation would be to hit the road and explore the Icefields Parkway! This 232 km (144 mile) stretch of road is breathtaking and was voted as one of the top 10 world’s most spectacular road trips – honestly, I couldn’t agree more. Making this trip should be at the top of anyone’s Banff bucket list, so it’s safe to say I’ve left the best for last!
From Banff, head out and turn left onto the Trans Canada highway, continuing straight until you pass by Lake Louise. After this, you’ll reach a fork in the road and the Icefields Parkway is on the right-hand side. To drive this highway, you’ll need a valid Canada Parks Pass, regardless if you plan on stopping or not.
Once you pass the boom gates, it’s time to enjoy one of the most scenic drives in the world!
The Icefields Parkway can be driven all year round; however, it’s subject to closures in winter when there have been heavy snowfalls, and you’ll need winter tires if you’re driving at this time (that’s the law). Also in winter, keep in mind that the Athabasca Glaciers tours don’t run and the Columbia Icefield Skywalk is not open.
If you don’t have your own wheels, don’t worry, you can join this guided tour from Banff of the Icefields Parkway that includes stops at most of the best attractions we mention below. The tour is a long day at 11 hours, but you’ll get to also visit Athabasca Glacier – we think it’s well worth it. You can read all the details and book your spot online here – it is one of the best tours of the Icefields Parkway, in our opinion.
If you’re driving yourself, the best stops to visit on the Icefields Parkway are:
Important Info: There are 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.
When the waters are calm at Bow Lake, you’ll see the mountains reflecting perfectly on the water’s surface – it’s like looking into a mirror and it took our breaths away the first time we saw it! This is a pretty short visit if you only want to stop at the viewpoint.
We also think Bow Lake is a great place to stop and enjoy a picnic, with there being a few picnic benches right along the shoreline near the highway. So if you’re looking for somewhere to stop for lunch, this is a great choice!
Peyto Lake Lookout
You’ve probably seen tons of amazing photos of Peyto Lake, even if you haven’t put a name to the image yet. For us, it’s one of the most insta-worthy places in Banff National Park, and the best part is you can drive right up to it!
The Peyto Lake Viewpoint is situated a couple of minutes drive off the parkway and is visibly signposted, so you shouldn’t miss it. We think summer is the best time to visit the lake, as that’s when you’re more likely to have good weather, but fall is also a good time to go too!
These lakes are a camper’s paradise, with the picturesque peaks surrounding the valley and lush pine forests flanking the roads. The Waterfowl Lakes Viewpoint makes for a great stop-off point, but the lakes are also home to one of the parkway’s largest campgrounds too, with 110 sites on a first-come, first-served basis. If you fancy trying out camping on the parkway, this is one of the best campsites to do it!
When we were last here, we used this point as a good place to stretch our legs. We decided to check out the easy Upper Waterfowl Lake trail that runs right from the pull-off point, and we’re so glad we did! It’s about 1.8 km (1.1 mi) long with an elevation gain of 38 m (125 feet), and is the perfect way to enjoy some peace and quiet in nature.
If you enjoyed your visit to Johnston Canyon back on day 1, then you’ll love Mistaya Canyon too! This is also quite an easy walk, but it’s often overlooked, which we think is a real shame. As you walk along the 1.8 km (1.1 mi) trail with about 259 feet (79 m) of elevation gain, you’ll explore a small but beautiful section of the Mistaya River, which winds its way down from the mountains over 38 km (24 mi).
Big Hill and Big Bend
You can’t miss Big Bend as you’re driving the parkway, it’s literally a huge curve in the road before you ascend up to Big Hill! Stopping at the Big Bend Viewpoint, this is a good place to spend a few minutes enjoying the view before hopping back in your car and carrying on your journey.
The viewpoint is on the right side of the road and somewhat on a blind corner, so be cautious pulling in and out here.
I’ve got to admit, when I first heard about the Athabasca Glacier, I wasn’t all that sold on it. I mean, surely it’s just a glacier with some views? But boy was I wrong!
This is, hands down, the most popular stop on the Icefields Parkway, with views unlike anything else I’ve seen! From the pull-off point, there’s a viewpoint of the glacier that’s just a few minutes walk away. You can also do tours on the glacier such as the Skywalk and glacier trekking tours – more on this below!
The Skywalk is a glass-bottomed, 1,312-foot long (400-meter) viewpoint that overlooks the gorgeous Sunwapta Valley and the surrounding mountains. Suspended nearly 1,000 feet (305 meters) above the valley floor, we’re sure your heart will be pounding just as much as ours was!
Admission for the Skywalk starts from $37 CAD (including tax) for adults and $24 CAD for kids (6-15) Monday to Thursday, and $47 CAD for adults and $37 CAD for kids Friday to Sunday. You can check your dates and book your tickets in advance here.
Sunwapta Falls is another famous waterfall that you’ll only see if you continue on towards Jasper after the Athabasca Glacier. From the parking area, it’s just a short walk to the amazing Upper and Lower Falls. The last time we were here, we decided to walk the trail that follows the Sunwapta River for about 3.2 km (2.0 mi) out and back, which took us about an hour and was so pretty in the fall!
We say a visit to the Athabasca Falls is one of the best things to do in Jasper, and we’re sure you’ll love it as much your first time there as we did. We recommend crossing the concrete bridge, and then climbing down the stairs to the base of the waterfall. From there, you can marvel at the breathtaking canyon which was formed by years of erosion, and appreciate the incredible power of the falls!
Afternoon – Athabasca Glacier Adventure (summer only)
We’ve briefly touched on the Athabasca Glacier already, but we enjoyed our visit so much, that we wanted to say more about why it’s so great!
This massive glacier is actually one of the largest glaciers in the world at 6 km (3.7 mi) long. It’s also known as one of the six ‘toes’ of the Columbia Icefield, which is around 325 square kilometers (125 sq mi) in size – for reference, you could fit over 60,000 football fields inside the Icefield!
You’ll hop aboard the downright-epic “Ice Explorer”, a specially-built bus with massive tires on it that they actually use in Antarctica! From there, you’ll drive out onto the glacier where you’ll get some free time to explore and walk around. Of course, you must stay in the exclusion zone as there are deep crevasses and dangerous areas hidden away.
We had such an amazing time when we went on this 3-hour tour, and even got the chance to fill in our water bottles with some of the freshest snowmelt around. The tour also includes a visit to the Glacier Skywalk, so you hit two incredible activities in just a short amount of time.
Meeting at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Center, tickets for this tour start at $104 CAD per adult including tax and $67 CAD for kids (6-15). Be sure to book your Glacier tour and Skywalk in advance to avoid getting stuck in the queues like we did!
3. Skywalk (summer only)
I remember when I first heard about the Skywalk, and after seeing a picture like the one above, I knew I had to go. Stretching across the Sunwapta Valley, the views here are simply unreal, although it was a little unnerving at first stepping on the glass floor!
The Skywalk is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday – Sunday, and we recommend heading over about an hour or so before closing time to avoid the midday rush. It is also only open during the summer months, typically May to October.
Tickets for the Skywalk start from $37 CAD for adults and $24 CAD for kids (6-15) Monday to Thursday, and $47 CAD for adults and $37 CAD for kids Friday to Sunday. You can book your tickets online in advance here.
Finish your Banff Itinerary
After the glacier tour, you have a few options on where you can go.
Option 1, and my personal suggestion, is to keep driving the Icefield Parkway and stay in Jasper! Jasper is another beautiful national park with plenty to see and do and some epic tours to try! You can book your hotel in Jasper here.
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! Believe it or not, there’s lots to do in Edmonton, even if you’re visiting in the winter! 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.
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. Below is the info about the Parks Pass that you need to know.
Parks Canada Pass Quick Info
If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.
Single Daily Admission:
This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.
- Adult (ages 18-64) is $10.50 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.00 CAD
- Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE
Group Daily Admission:
If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)
- $21.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.
- Adult (age 18-64) – $72.25 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 CAD
Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!
Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.
Where to Stay in Banff, Alberta
This is one of the most important parts of your trip, and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. There are lots of different areas to consider when it comes to deciding where to stay in Banff National Park. There are also plenty of great hotels in Banff town to consider. Below are some wonderful hotels we recommend:
Samesun Banff Hostel – $
This is a great budget hostel with dorm rooms. Perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. This is only a backpacker place though, as there are no private rooms available.
Banff Inn – $$
The Banff Inn is the perfect mix of comfort and affordability. It has a budget-friendly price tag but also comes with lots of luxuries. The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. In the hotel, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar.
A room here starts at $166 CAD. You should book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff!
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$
Pushing up into the mid-range budget, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a swimming pool, hot tub, and gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It is the perfect place for families since two and three-bedroom units are also on offer. The location is peaceful on Tunnel Mountain but yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town.
Rooms here start at $155 CAD and you can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.
Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$
The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap, but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more.
It’s a luxury resort-like stay and the only one of its kind in Banff. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon, then this should be the hotel you choose! Rooms here start at $755 CAD. You can check prices and room availability for Fairmont online here.
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, as hotels can easily book up over a month beforehand!
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.
Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Canada Travel Essentials
Before you decide to head off and explore the gorgeous mountains, lakes, towns, and cities around Canada it’s important to have the right equipment. Of course, it’s likely you’ll have most of the basics already but there are some common items people forget that I never travel without.
Crampons: In winter, crampons are super handy, but what people don’t realize is that they come in handy in summer too. In fact, up until mid-July, you can still expect icy conditions in the mountains. The pair I use is only $37 CAD and they have lasted me 3 seasons so far!
Waterproof shell: Most people will have this item but I thought I’d include it anyway since it’s so handy in Canada. The Columbia waterproof jacket is a lightweight windproof jacket that will seriously save you in many situations. The best part, though? It comes in pink!
Scent-proof bag (for bears): Most people think you only need to keep the smell of food away from you when you’re overnight camping. However, bears can smell the food in your bag while you’re hiking and the best way to avoid an encounter is to use a scent-proof bear bag. Basically, you put your food in the bag and the bear cannot smell it while you’re hiking. This is one item most people never have (I never hike without it) but it could save you and the bear.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Dry bag: I have expensive camera equipment, so I always travel with a dry bag large enough to fit some of my equipment. It can be a camera, book, binoculars, or even my keys. Regardless, a dry bag gives me peace of mind! The MARCHWAY bag is really good quality, and when not in use, takes up only a small amount of room.
Binoculars: I love my binoculars! Seriously they have come in handy so many times, especially when I’m looking for wildlife. The best part is, I use a set that only costs $25 CAD and they serve my basic needs without any issues!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for Reading!
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!