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How to Spend ONE DAY in Banff: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

How to Spend ONE DAY in Banff: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

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Whenever friends or family ask me where my favorite place is in Canada, my answer is always the same – “You’ve got to check out Banff!”

With a huge (and I mean huge!) range of activities and attractions, Banff is an adventure lover’s dream. It’s full of scenic drives like the Bow Valley Parkway and Icefields Parkway, challenging trails to conquer, and gorgeous lakes to visit. And there are plenty of things to do in downtown Banff too! Whether you’re a seasoned traveler looking to see what all the fuss is about, or a family wanting a fun weekend away, Banff has plenty to offer and then some.

But that’s just the problem. If you’re short on time then how do you possibly choose which attractions to check out and which ones to miss?

Of course, to see the majority of what Banff has to offer, it’s best to visit for at least 2 or 3 days (more if possible!), but I totally understand that it’s not always as easy as that. You might be just passing through on your way to Jasper and only have a day to spare.

No problem! Luckily, we have visited Banff so many times that we really understand the area and the best things to see and do. With our knowledge and experience, we’ve carefully crafted an ideal itinerary for those looking to only spend one day in Banff. This way you can have the best time without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

So, it’s time to pack your camera and get ready for a day of unforgettable experiences. I can’t wait to show you some of the best of what Banff has to offer – that you can do in just one day!

1-Day Banff Itinerary

Morning at Lake Minnewanka

The dock at Lake Minnewanka where the cruise leaves from
Lake Minnewanka is stunning!

Banff National Park is full of so many incredible lakes, with my favorites being Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Lake Minnewanka, to name a few. Of course, in a perfect world, we’d explore them all, but you’d need a day or two for this alone!

Of the three, Lake Minnewanka is closest to Banff, just a 15-minute drive from Banff town. This makes it easily accessible and a great first stop on today’s one-day Banff itinerary. What’s more, starting early in the morning gives you a chance to beat the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet by (and on) the lake. Plus, fewer crowds means even better photo opportunities, it’s a win-win all around.

Parking here at the lake is also free and there should be plenty of spaces available if you arrive bright and early! However, if you don’t have your own car, you can take the Roam Public Transit which operates during the summer season. The first bus leaves at 8 am from downtown Banff and takes around 25 to 30 minutes to get there. It costs $2 CAD for a one-way ticket, but if you’re looking to use it again later, it may be best to grab a day pass for $5 CAD.

Whether you’re a fan of leisurely cruises, keen on hiking, or are looking to try something new like canoeing or winter ice skating, Lake Minnewanka has something for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at these activities now.

Hot tip: On the drive to Lake Minnewanka, be sure to keep your eyes open for wildlife that could be hanging out near the road. Since you’ll be heading out in the morning, this really good time to spot some of the animals in Banff National Park, such as big-horned sheep, deer, and even bears if you’re lucky!

Enjoy a lake cruise

Sailing along the lake on a Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff National Park

Some of the best views you’ll get at Lake Minnewanka aren’t actually from the lakeshore, but from out on the lake! The lake is actually quite large, spanning around 22 km² (8.5 mi²), so going on this 1-hour cruise is the perfect way to soak up those panoramic views from a really unique perspective.

While the Lake Minnewanka Cruise operates several times a day, the 10 am departure would be our top pick. It’s the first time slot of the day, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy breakfast at your hotel or at a café in town before driving over or taking the bus.

One of my favorite parts about this cruise (and the reason I recommend it to all my friends and family!) is that you learn so much from the onboard commentary. When I first went on the cruise, my head was soon full of fascinating local myths and interesting stories of the indigenous people who once inhabited the area, not to mention all the fun facts about the animals nearby.

Tickets for the cruise start at $69 CAD per person and can be booked online here.

Note: The Lake Minnewanka Cruise only operates during the summer months in Banff.

Ice skating

Daniel skates on the snow covered Lake Minnewanka with mountains in the background
What a place to go skating!

When winter rolls around, Lake Minnewanka freezes over, so taking a cruise is out of the question! However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a blast out on the lake. In fact, lots of people take their skates out for a spin on the frozen wonderland – it’s a fun and free activity in Banff that’s sure to leave you with some amazing memories.

Of course, safety is most important with all lake skating, so stop by the Visitor Centre in downtown Banff to get the latest updates about the current safety of the ice. Once you’ve confirmed it’s safe to go ahead, it’s time to grab your skates and have fun!

If you don’t happen to have skates with you, then no sweat – there are plenty of great places to rent in town. Bactrax and Banff Adventures are two popular options located on Bear Street, offering rentals at an approximate cost of $15-20 CAD for the day.

Whether you’re a seasoned skater or a beginner, this is such a unique (and quintessentially Canadian) activity and a great way to appreciate the winter charm of Banff.

Related Read: Going skating on the lakes is one of our favorite things to do in Banff in winter! Just make sure to always check it’s safe with the local authorities before you head out onto the ice.

Give canoeing a go

the dock at Lake Minnewanka with canoes there and mountains in the back ground
Get out on the lake in a canoe or kayak!

Fancy captaining your own boat out there on the lake? Well, you might not be able to charter a luxury yacht, but you can definitely go canoeing! It’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy lakes like this in the summer months – I just think it’s so peaceful. Whenever you want you can just stop paddling and take in all those amazing views.

Just next to the pier where the Lake Minnewanka Cruise operates, you’ll find a boathouse that offers canoe and kayak rentals. If you’re looking to have your own personal adventure out there on the lake (and take some epic photos), then why not give it a try?

Single kayak rentals typically start at $45 CAD for the first hour and $22.50 CAD for each additional hour. If you’re traveling with a partner or a friend, consider getting a double kayak, which is $85 CAD for the first hour and $42.50 for each subsequent hour.

One thing that I’ve found (and other adventurous souls I’ve spoken to have also noted) is that the lake can occasionally get pretty windy, which can make canoeing a bit more challenging. That’s why it’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast and conditions before heading out.

My tip? Don’t rush this experience; take your time to paddle and take in the stunning surroundings at your own pace. It’s such a fun and memorable way to enjoy the natural beauty of Banff!

Hike or bike the Stewart Canyon Trail

Views of the bridge on Stewart Canyon, Banff
Views of the bridge on Stewart Canyon, Banff

While the lake is undeniably the star of the show, there’s also so much incredible nature surrounding it, and if you look a little deeper, some great trails to enjoy too. My favorite here has to be the Stewart Canyon Trail, which is 6.8 km (4.2 mi) out and back, following the edge of the lake. As you can imagine, there are some pretty incredible views along the way, and you also have a good chance to spot some wildlife!

The Stewart Canyon Trail is relatively easy and mostly flat, so I’d say it’s accessible to all fitness levels. We also consider it one of the best easy hikes in Banff.

Along the way, you’ll also find a lovely footbridge that crosses Stewart Canyon, where you can pause and watch the water rushing beneath you. Once you’ve reached the end, you’ll enjoy a viewpoint that overlooks the canyon, a picture-perfect spot to capture some memories.

If two wheels are more your thing, well, this trail is also bike-friendly! You can rent a mountain bike in Banff town at places like Banff Cycle & Sport, where daily rentals typically start around $59 CAD. E-bikes are also pretty popular here, and are a good option for helping you cover more ground with less effort.

All in all, if you choose to hike the trail, I’d allow a good two hours to complete the entire thing and walk back. If you’re cycling, you can probably do it in half that time, or even less! Whichever you choose, exploring a trail like this is a great way to appreciate the natural beauty that makes Banff National Park so special.

Related Read: There are some other really good easy hikes in Canmore worth checking out too, like the famous Grassi Lakes and Ha Ling Peak.

Visit Bow Falls and the Banff Gondola in the afternoon

Daniel and Bailey play in the snow at the top oif the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain
View from the top of the Banff Gondola in the spring.

With a morning full of adventure and exploring nature, it’s time to move on from Lake Minnewanka to see some more of Banff’s most iconic and breathtaking landmarks! I’ve earmarked the afternoon for a visit to the beautiful Bow Falls, as well as a ride up the popular Banff Gondola. We started the day with good views, and now they’re only getting better!

Take some photos of Bow Valley Falls

Bow Falls in Banff
Bow Falls in Banff
Bailey and Daniel at Bow Falls viewpoint in Banff National Park
What a beautiful place!

Making our way back from the lake, the first stop of the afternoon brings us back into Banff to Bow Falls. It’s just a 20-minute walk or a quick 5-minute drive from the town center, so it’s a no-brainer that we’d fit this into our one-day itinerary!

Honestly, this is one of the best spots to really feel the power of the Bow River, as it thunders downstream on its journey that spans over 587 km (365 mi)! This spot really is a photographer’s dream, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself snapping a few pics, we’ve all done it, after all.

This is quite a short pit stop, you only really need around 10 to 15 minutes to take everything in before moving on. The car park here is pretty small and will likely be busy or full in the early afternoon, so I’d personally recommend walking here and back to town.

Ride the Banff Gondola

Bailey and her mum with their dog rex at the top of the Banff Gondola
2016 with little Rex!

Once you’ve soaked in all of Bow Falls’ charm, it’s time to rise to even greater heights on the popular Banff Gondola! It’s less than a ten-minute drive from the falls south down Mountain Avenue, and is a hard and fast favorite among locals and tourists alike. On the other hand, you can also grab the ROAM bus from town straight to the gondola!

Also known as the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, this 8-minute gondola ride up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain is chock-full of amazing views. And it’s not just the landscape that makes the trip so amazing – wildlife sightings are also a regular treat! You may be lucky enough to see a grizzly foraging for food (we happened to see one the last time we went), or maybe even an eagle or two soaring up above.

Once you reach the summit, you’ll find a large, 4-story complex that’s just waiting to be explored. I’d suggest taking your time browsing the shops, grabbing a cup of coffee in the café, and maybe even visiting the theater which is included in your ticket.

By now, you’re probably in the mood for some lunch, and up here at the summit there are three different options to choose from. There’s the upscale Sky Bistro, which serves lavish à la carte dishes, and the buffet-style Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen.

We’ve tried both and think they’re pretty fantastic, so it’s all up to how much you’d like to spend. No matter which restaurant you choose, it’s best if you make a reservation beforehand to avoid waiting in queues or getting turned away. I’d only recommend getting something light to eat though, as we’ll be enjoying a hearty early dinner soon enough!

After grabbing a light bite to eat (and if the weather allows), don’t forget to take the boardwalk stroll to Sanson’s Peak. This 0.5 km (0.31 mi) long path winds its way up to an old weather station and takes about 20 to 30 minutes each way. Trust me when I say that these are some of the best views I’ve ever seen in Banff!

Tickets for the Banff Gondola start at $59 CAD for adults (16+) and $37 CAD for kids (6-15), inclusive of taxes. To make the most of your day and bypass the queues, we recommend purchasing your tickets in advance. Just show your ticket at the gate when you arrive, and you’ll soon be on your way up to the top!

Enjoy an Early Dinner in Banff Town

Banff Ave, Banff
Banff Ave!

We’ve seen a lot so far today! There’s been Lake Minnewanka, Bow Falls, the Banff Gondola… All that’s enough to make anyone have a bit of an appetite. If you’ve managed to save yourself from eating too much up at the summit of Sulphur Mountain, now is the time to reward yourself.

We recommend heading to downtown Banff for an early dinner, ideally before 6 pm, to beat the evening rush. Restaurants in Banff can get pretty busy in the evening, despite there being so many options on offer! That being said, you can find a whole bunch of different cuisines here, from traditional Canadian dishes through to great Indian restaurants like Indian Garden.

If you haven’t yet tried Poutine in Banff, make sure you tick it off your food bucket list. It’s a quintessential dish that’s as Canadian as it gets! Last time I was here, I visited a great place on Bear Street that has the perfect name, Banff Poutine.

For a bit more of a gourmet dining experience, The Bison on Bear Street is a must-visit. It made its way to the top 100 restaurants in Canada back in 2022, and for good reason too. Their menu offers a huge array of farm-to-table dishes, accommodating both vegans and vegetarians too.

For a more budget-friendly option that doesn’t compromise on taste, check out Magpie & Stump. Located on Caribou Street, this spot serves delicious Mexican cuisine – their quesadillas are out-of-this-world! I always love to visit in summer when you can dine on their rooftop patio, which has its own nickname, “El Patio.”

Drinking beer and eating at Banff Ave Brewing
The upper patio at Banff Ave Brewing is the perfect place to people-watch.

Of course, no meal is complete without a refreshing beverage to wash it down. If you’re a beer aficionado, head on over to Banff Ave Brewing Co., my personal favorite pick for some of the finest craft beers in town. What’s more, they also serve scrumptious pub-style food. And yes, this includes iconic Canadian poutine!

The pub at Banff Ave Brewing is open from around midday to midnight, although this does vary a little depending on which day of the week it is. They also run daily specials, so have a look to see what’s on offer when you’re in town!

If you fancy something a little more low-key, there are plenty of great cafés around to grab a cup of coffee. The Whitebark Café on Banff Ave is one of the best, with delicious baked goods (we absolutely recommend the sausage rolls) and a cozy outdoor patio area. Plus, they have some amazing views which will be even better as the sun is setting.

Soak in the Banff Hot Springs in the evening

Banff Upper Hot Springs
Perfect on a cloudy day in banff!

Now that we’ve filled our stomachs, it’s time to relax and unwind at the nearby Banff Upper Hot Springs. Just a 9-minute drive from town (it’s actually right next to the gondola), these hot springs are some of my favorite in Alberta and are the best way to relax after a long day. Having seen so much, we say you deserve it!

So, why do we recommend visiting the springs in the evening? Well, firstly evenings are generally far less crowded, as during the day the springs are usually packed with tourists and locals alike. However, if you time your visit a little closer to the closing hours (the springs close at 10 pm), it’ll be just the peace and quiet you need after a day that’s been full of activities.

Although the last entry is at 9:30 pm, we suggest arriving before 9 pm to ensure you have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the springs.

What’s more, in the summer months, the cool evening weather is the perfect temperature to enjoy the hot springs. If you are visiting in the winter though, it’s still a fantastic experience that’s just as relaxing.

At only $16.50 CAD for adults and $14.25 CAD for youths (ages 3-17), with additional family discounts available, we’d say it’s pretty great value too. Entrance to the springs is on a first-come, first-served basis, so there’s no need to book a ticket in advance.

Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to cap off your one-day Banff itinerary than with a soak here at the hot springs!

Related Read: Have more time? Check out our weekend itinerary in Banff for more ideas!

Banff Full and Half-day Sightseeing Tours

A young grizzly bear along the roadside grass on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff
On a sightseeing tour, you may just see a bear with the help of your guide!

Sometimes, exploring a new town or place can be a little overwhelming, especially when you’re on a time crunch. It’s in these situations that I’d also recommend taking a guided tour of some of the top attractions nearby. Of course, one of the best parts about this is that you don’t have to worry about organizing transport!

Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite half-day and full-day tours in Banff to appeal to a variety of interests:

Lake Louise and Icefields Parkway tour (Full-day)

Bailey stands on a rock at Lake Louise, Canada
Lake Louise!
Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park on the Icefields Parkway, Canada
Peyto Lake!

If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a HUGE fan of the lakes here in Banff. This full-day tour combines a visit to one of my favorite lakes of all time, Lake Louise, with a trip down the stunning Icefields Parkway, one of the most scenic drives in the world!

Along the way, you’ll also get to visit Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, and even get to stop by a viewpoint above the gorgeous Crowfoot Glacier. Honestly, hats off to the guys who organize this tour, as visiting all of these places independently would require a ton of planning!

This family-run tour has a maximum of 22 travelers, so it’s not one of your run-of-the-mill coach trips. You’ll learn all about each place as you visit, listening to tons of interesting stories and plenty of fun facts too.

Tickets for this tour cost $180 CAD per person and can be booked online here. This is one of the most popular tours in Banff though, so it’s a good idea to secure your dates in advance as far as you can.

Athabasca Glacier Tour (Full-day)

Daniel on one of the large Ice Explorers on the Athabasca Glacier on a tour
Explore the Columbia Icefield on a glacier tour!
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
Columbia Icefield Skywalk

It wasn’t until I stepped down onto a glacier for the first time in my life that I realized what a special experience it was! It’s easily one of the most memorable moments of my time traveling, and you can even do this during summer in Banff too.

This full-day glacier tour also takes you to the scenic Icefields Parkway, however this time you’ll board a huge ICE Explorer vehicle and drive right onto the Athabasca Glacier! This is the same type of vehicle that they use in the Arctic, so you can bet it’s the real deal.

Once you’ve enjoyed your tour out there on the ice (and also getting a chance to walk on the glacier), you also get to walk along the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, a glass walkway that is suspended 280 meters (918 feet) above the Sunwapta Valley! If you can be brave enough to look down, the feeling is like nothing else.

Pickup for this tour is in Banff from the Mount Royal Hotel, with tickets costing $322 CAD per adult (13+) and $164 CAD for kids (6-12). While it isn’t the cheapest tour, this is such a unique experience that is honestly so worth it in our opinion! You can check the dates and book your tour online here.

Food tour at the Fairmont (Half-day)

Food at Fairmont Banff Springs Banff
Photo credit: Fairmont Banff Springs

Fancy eating like a King or a Queen for the day? Well, now you can!

Taking place at the Fairmont Banff Springs, easily the most luxurious (and beautiful) hotel in Banff, this food-tasting tour is all about fine dining and enjoying some of the most incredible meals these restaurants have to offer. And yes, you read that right, that’s “restaurants” in the plural! You’ll have the chance to visit 4 different areas on your food-tasting journey, learning all about the hotel and your dishes along the way.

The tour costs $206 CAD and is only for participants aged 14 or over, since it’s a more sophisticated experience and is not so much designed for families. It’s also capped at 15 people maximum, so it’s a much more intimate setting and you’ll get to know your fellow diners in no time at all.

This fine-dining experience costs $206 CAD per person and was so much fun to be a part of! It also felt very relaxed – I was able to savor every meal down to the last bite. You can sign yourself up for a meal like no other by booking online now.

Hop-on hop-off bus tour (Flexible)

Bailey canoes on the blue water on Moraine Lake, Banff
Oh, Moraine Lake, you are beautiful!
Bailey looks down at the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
The Upper Falls is amazing!

Ok, so I might be stretching the whole full-day, half-day thing here a little, but hear me out! Arranging transport can be one of the biggest headaches (and time sinks) when it comes to travel organization, which is obviously the last thing you want when you’re shorter on time. So, if you’re looking to visit some of the best attractions in Banff, this hop-on hop-off tour is your ticket to saving precious time!

Traveling between Banff, Lake Louise and the Lake Louise Gondola, Moraine Lake, Samson Mall in Lake Louise Village, and Johnston Canyon, you can see a huge chunk of what Banff has to offer all using the same bus. Plus, you’ll get some pretty entertaining commentary along the way!

This is one of our favorite bus tours in Banff thanks to just how flexible it is. Sure, you can choose to stop off at one or two locations and treat it as a half-day tour, but if you fancy going all out you can visit more or even all of them! It’s a great way to get a good overview of the area, which is what you want really when you’re shorter on time.

A day ticket costs $85 CAD for adults (18+) and $65 CAD for kids and youths (6-17). This is another popular activity, so make sure to book your place on the tour in advance! Our tip? Try to catch the earliest bus leaving Banff in the morning. This way you’ll have the most amount of time to explore during the day!

Related Read: Want to visit Moraine Lake at sunrise – read about how to visit this iconic destination first thing in the morning!

Where to Stay in Banff

At the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Me, in front of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Banff has so many great hotels and hostels on offer, that it’s a bit difficult to even know where to begin! If you’re staying for just one night, you may well have the freedom to spend a little more on your accommodation than you otherwise might.

For this reason, I’ve picked several hotels across a wide budget range, from hotels in Banff town to ones nearby in the beautiful countryside:

Samesun Banff Hostel – $

Perfect for those who are on a tighter budget and want to stay in the heart of Banff town, Samesun Banff Hostel is popular with backpackers and is a great place to make new friends! While there aren’t any private rooms here, there’s a great community vibe with an on-site restaurant and bar too.

A bed here starts at around $81 CAD (breakfast is also included in the rate) and can be booked on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Banff Inn – $$

With a budget-friendly price tag and plenty of great amenities, The Banff Inn surprised us by having a great mix of comfort and affordability! Located right on Banff Ave, the hotel has its own hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and a bar too.

All of the rooms at the Banff Inn are air-conditioned, which is a big plus if you’re visiting in the summer months. Rooms here start at $166 CAD, although this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff, so it’s a good idea to book the Banff Inn well in advance.

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$

Pushing up into the mid-range budget, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a beautiful swimming pool, hot tub, and gym, and all the rooms come equipped with kitchenettes or full kitchens. We’d say this is the perfect option for families, since two and three-bedroom units are also available.

The hotel is also in a good location that’s just a 5-minute drive away from town, so it’s a great place to enjoy the wonderful peace and quiet of the Banff countryside!

Rooms here average around $500-600 CAD per night in the high season, but dip as low as around $166 CAD in the low season. 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. As you can expect, it’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose.

Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, a bowling alley, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. With so much to do in this one-of-a-kind luxury hotel, you’ll honestly feel like you’ll never want to leave!

Rooms here at the Fairmont start from around $1-2k per night, but can rise further in peak season. For the best deals, it’s best to book as far ahead as possible! You can check prices and room availability 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!

Related Read: Heading to Calgary next? Learn about the best things to do in Calgary before you go!

Thanks for Reading!

Bailey and Daniel at the edge of Lake Louise in Banff
Thanks for reading!

Some of the best experiences I’ve had traveling have been when I was on a time crunch – with a little planning I’m sure you’ll also have a really fun and memorable time! I hope this itinerary has been helpful with organizing your trip to Banff.

Please do let me know if you have any questions in the comments. Also, don’t forget to check out some of our other blogs about Banff too! Here are a few to help get you started:

How to Get from Jasper to Banff +21 Fun Road Trip Stops

10 Best Winter Tours in Banff to Explore Canada’s Winter Wonderland

8 BEST Johnston Canyon Tours from Banff

25 FUN Things to do in Lake Louise in Summer (2023!)