Heading to Banff? In this 3 days in Banff itinerary we’re sharing tips about the park, where to stay, where to eat, and things to do in Banff!
Nestled in the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is straight out of a postcard. It is the oldest national park in Canada and is now the most visited, with 3.64 million visitors annually. And it’s pretty obvious why!
The park features pristine forests, striking blue lakes, rushing waterfalls, and glacial peaks, which can be experienced along one of the park’s 1,600 km (almost 1,000 miles) of hiking trails. It is easily one of the most beautiful places in the world and an outdoor lover’s dream.
We had dreamt of visiting Banff National Park for years and made the long drive from Seattle in the summer of 2018 to explore its beauty (you can read all about our trip here). And it lived up (and even exceeded) the hype!
For those of you looking to plan a trip to Banff National Park, we created a Banff itinerary that covers the best things to do in Banff National Park, as well as a few gorgeous spots in Jasper National Park.
Our Banff itinerary is based off of our experience at the park, as well as lots of research, and we hope it helps you plan a magical vacation to Banff!
Looking for more things to do in Canada?
- 3 Days in Vancouver
- How to have an EPIC 10 Day Vancouver Island Road Trip!
- 12+ FUN Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island (+ 3 day itinerary)
- The BEST things to do in Campbell River on Vancouver Island (+ 2 day itinerary)
- Sea to Sky Highway Road Trip: The Best Stops from Vancouver to Whistler (+ itineraries!)
- 14 Must Eat Foods at the Richmond Night Market
- Backpacking at Garibaldi Provincial Park
- Watch all of our Canada vlogs and read all of our Canada guides!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
When to visit Banff
If you want to experience everything Banff has to offer, we suggest visiting late June-September. Summers in Banff are incredible! Not only are the trails and roads snow-free, the weather is great and the sun is out until almost 10 PM (more time for adventures!).
However, since the window to experience Banff at its fullest is small, this is the busiest time of the year, so crowds and prices will be higher.
If you plan to come during this time, try to avoid two Canadian summer holidays: Canada Day (July 1) and Labour Day (the first Monday in September). Both of these will increase crowds further.
Another thing to be aware of is that there may be wildfire smoke from nearby fires. While you can still explore the park with this smoke, it may obstruct the views a bit.
To experience smaller crowds, but still have a good amount of things to do in Banff, late May and early October are good times to visit. One thing to keep in mind if you choose to visit during this time is that there may be snow on the trails and potential closures.
Getting to & around Banff
Banff is not only the name of the national park, but also the nearby town as well! Both are located in the Canadian province of Alberta, which is about 3-3.5 hours north of the US/Canada border.
We drove to Banff from Seattle (10.5 hours) and HIGHLY recommend it! The drive was beautiful and went by super fast. However, if you are not a big fan of driving or do not live close enough to drive, you can fly into the Calgary International Airport (YYC), which is 1.5 hours southeast of Banff.
Once you land in Calgary you have two options: rent a car or take the shuttle to Banff. We loved having a car, especially since we were able to beat the crowds by going places early. But if you do not want to have a car, the park has shuttles that can transport you around too!
Where to Stay in Banff National Park
There are tons of options when it comes to lodging in Banff, but be prepared, during the busy season the prices tend to be steep. Here are a handful of options to explore when choosing your home away from home in the Canadian Rockies.
One other option to consider that’s not on this list is staying in Canmore, a little farther from Banff, but also usually cheaper.
Camping is the most affordable way to experience Banff National Park. The park has 14 campgrounds, with most being reservable in advance.
However, getting a campsite at Banff is like getting concert tickets, especially for a weekend in the summer. We got online the second it opened for the season and got our 5th choice campsite (which was still amazing!). Make sure you research when the reservations open for the season and get online right away!
- Two Jack Lakeside Campground: this is where we camped and it was incredible! We didn’t have privacy (the sites were close together), but we had the most beautiful view of the lake and everyone that was camping near us was super respectful and followed the rules. The bathrooms and showers were pretty nice and it’s only about a 15 minute drive from town.
- Johnston Canyon Campground: this campground is a bit farther from town (30 minutes), but closer to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. However, it’s right by Johnston Canyon, a beautiful canyon with waterfalls. Johnston Canyon Resort is also nearby and has a little store and restaurant if you need food, snacks, souvenirs, etc.
- Peaks Hotel and Suites
- Rimrock Resort
- Moose Hotel and Suites
- If you want to spend the big bucks, the Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise are two gorgeous hotels in awesome locations.
- Maple Room (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This private apartment is right in town and also includes a full breakfast!
- Rustic Value Banff Condo (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This cabin offers beautiful views has a kitchen, and a fireplace.
- The Ugly Bunny Guest House (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This cozy spot looks like the perfect home away from home!
- Luxury 2BR Condo with Best Mtn Views (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms): This spot is located in Canmore, but offers a bit more space for 4 people, a pool and a hot tub!
Things to know before visiting Banff National Park
We learned a few things before and during our trip that are good to know when planning your Banff adventure!
Get up early
It’s hard to wake up early on vacation (especially when the sun sets so late in Banff), but trails, parking lots, and popular spots get very busy, so getting up early is sooo worth it! Afternoon naps are encouraged 🙂
Bring bug spray
One thing we didn’t expect at Banff were the mosquitos! They were everywhere and we left with lots of bites as souvenirs. Make sure to bring some bug spray with DEET.
Carry Canadian cash
Most places accept US credit cards, but the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House highly prefers Canadian cash and we were glad we had some on us.
Buy (or rent) bear spray
Banff is home to both grizzlies and black bears. Grizzlies are the much more aggressive of the two and it’s highly recommended to carry bear spray in case you encounter one and get into a tricky situation.
Driving from the US? We have brought bear spray across the Canadian border multiple times without issue. You are not allowed to bring pepper spray, but you can bring bear spray since it’s an animal repellent.
Buy your Banff pass in advance
There is a fee to visit Banff National Park, which is $10.50 CAD per day for adults, $9.50 CAD for seniors, and free for those under 18.
You have to display your pass on your car at all parking spots and it will save you time to buy the pass in advance, print it, and bring it on your trip.
Dogs ARE allowed on trails
Unlike the US National Parks, dogs ARE allowed on trails in Banff National Park, as long as they are on a leash. As this is bear country, PLEASE obey the leash laws to not only keep wildlife safe, but your dog safe as well.
Our pup Kona loved getting to hike in the park!
Have an international phone plan
If your current plan doesn’t give you free data and service in Canada, make sure to buy a plan! This will make it much easier to use Google maps and get around. Service can be a bit spotty in Banff though, so be prepared!
In the summer the temperature can range from 40ºF to 70+ºF (4ºC-21+ºC), so make sure to bring a few different layers for the mornings and evenings.
Download offline maps
Cell service can be hit or miss near Banff National Park, so we recommend downloading offline Google Maps for driving and AllTrails maps for hiking. You will need an AllTrails+ subscription to download maps for offline use, but it’s 100% worth it.
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
3 Day Banff Itinerary
- Watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake, which is an iconic, jaw dropping, turquoise lake surrounded by perfect glacial peaks. It is just a short walk to the viewpoint in the photo above, so no major hiking is required. And it is one of the most magical experiences you can have in the park!
During our visit in 2018 we were able to drive to the lake, but things have changed due to increased visitation.
As of 2023, private vehicles are no longer allowed on Moraine Lake Road and you are required to take a shuttle to Moraine Lake. While you can take the park shuttle there, it doesn’t operate until 6:30 AM, which is after sunrise. But don’t worry, not all hope is lost! Moraine Lake Bus Company can take you to Moraine Lake for sunrise. In fact, it is the ONLY shuttle that can take you there for sunrise!
- After sunrise, head into town and grab breakfast and coffee at Wild Flour.
- Ride the Banff Gondola to view Banff from 2,281 m/7,486 ft above sea level! You can either hike to the top and take the gondola down, or take the gondola both ways. For a different (and cheaper) gondola experience, head to Sunshine Meadows to view the beautiful lakes and explore the trails.
Tip: pack lunch to enjoy at the end of your gondola adventure.
- Explore the beautiful Johnston Canyon. This is an easy, mostly paved 5.3 km/3.3 mile walk that takes you alongside many waterfalls! If you have some extra time, continue along the trail to the Ink Pots, which makes it a 11.2 km/7 mile round trip hike.
- Spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening walking around Banff Ave, which feels like something out of a Hallmark Movie. You can also go explore Bow Falls, which is walkable from town.
- Have dinner at The Grizzly House for fondue or Eddie Burger + Bar. Don’t forget to get dessert at Beaver Tails, a Canadian delicacy!
- Get up early to visit Lake Louise! This is one of the most popular spots in the park and gets VERY busy. We recommend coming for sunrise, but if you cannot swing another super early morning, try to get here before 7 AM.
Parking at Lake Louise does cost $12.25 CAD per car between 7 AM-7 PM from June until mid October and it fills up fast. You can also take the park shuttle to get here if you want to avoid any parking struggles.
- After admiring the view from the lakeshore, spend the the majority of the day hiking the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail (14 km/8.7 miles, 587 m/1925 ft elevation gain).
This trail starts out alongside Lake Louise before taking you up through the mountains and on rocky terrain. Remember that glacier you saw from the shore of Lake Louise? You’ll be hiking right alongside of it! This trail is super unique and beautiful!
- Towards the end of the trail, you’ll reach the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, a family run restaurant that has been around since 1927! This is the perfect spot to grab lunch before continuing on to the glacier overlook. Make sure to bring Canadian cash! While they accept US cash, they charge 10% extra for it.
- Spend the rest of the afternoon canoeing on Lake Louise. The prices are a bit steep (remember, the prices are in Canadian), but we can’t imagine a more relaxing way to spend the afternoon than on the beautiful blue water. A cheaper option is to rent canoes at the Banff Canoe Club and canoe through the Bow River of Forty Mile Creek to Vermillion Lakes.
- After a long day, grab dinner at The Bear Street Tavern and enjoy some ice cream at COWS.
- If you’re visiting in the summer when the sunset is later, watch the sunset at Lake Minnewanka or Two Jack Lake, which is a quick 15 minute drive from town.
- Today you’re going to explore the Icefields Parkway! This road is 230 km/140 miles long and connects Banff and Jasper National Parks. And it is easily one of the most scenic drives in North America…it’s absolutely stunning!
Since this is a long day of driving, getting a very early start (by 7 AM) is important. But the drive is absolutely beautiful and we were constantly in awe of how beautiful the scenery was!
- Before you hit the road, grab breakfast and coffee at Whitebark Cafe. Make sure to pack a lunch for the drive!
- There are many stops you can make along Icefields Parkway, but here were some of our favorites!
- Herbert Lake—This is a quick stop at the beginning of the drive with a nice, quiet lake with beautiful reflections.
- Bow Lake—We suggest parking in the larger parking lot and walking along the lakeshore.
- Peyto Lake—This requires a quick hike to get to, but it’s crazy beautiful. The lake is an insanely milky blue and is shaped like a wolf. It’s one of the best stops on the drive, so don’t skip it!
- Waterfowl Lakes—There is a pull out on the road where you can view the lakes.
- Big Bend viewpoint—This pull off has views of the mountains, the road below (that you just drove on!), and a waterfall!
- Mistaya Canyon—The parking area was closed and under construction when we went, but if it’s open this is a quick stop you can make.
- Columbia Icefield—The Columbia Icefield, which is located in Jasper National Park, is the largest icefield in North America’s Rocky Mountains. And it’s incredible!
We parked in the lot right by the glacier and walked up to the edge of the glacier. Along the way, you’ll see signs that demonstrate how far the glacier has receded over the years, which is pretty shocking to witness.
There’s also a big visitors center with food and a patio that overlooks the glaciers. You can also pay to do the Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience, where you get to ride on a big truck out to the glacier and walk on it.
- Athabasca Falls—This waterfall is also located in Jasper National Park. It’s paved, easy to get around, and makes for an awesome quick stop, with many viewpoints to check out.
- Herbert Lake—This is a quick stop at the beginning of the drive with a nice, quiet lake with beautiful reflections.
- After a big day of exploring, head back to Banff for the evening and enjoy dinner at Block Kitchen + Bar.
If you have extra time…
- East End of Rundle Trail–5.8 km/3.6 miles, 870 m/2,854 ft elevation gain. We hear this one is a doozy!
- Beehive Circuit Trail–13 km/8.1 miles, 912 m/2,992 ft elevation gain.
- Sentinel Pass Trail–10.5 km/6.5 miles, 765 m/2,509 ft elevation gain.
- Tunnel Mountain Trail—3.9 km/2.4 miles, 261 m/856 ft elevation gain. This trail is super close to town and gives you views of the mountains and the town below.
- Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass Trail–10.5 km/6.5 miles, 765 m/2,509 ft elevation gain
- Spend more time along Icefields Parkway. There are some great trails to check out including the Parker Ridge Trail.
- Explore more of Jasper National Park.
- Enjoy the beautiful scenery at Emerald Lake at Yoho National Park.
Ready for a magical Banff vacation?
Pin this 3 day Banff itinerary to help plan your trip!