Ultimate 3-Day Banff Itinerary
Are you going on a road trip in the Canadian Rockies soon?
Here is my 3-day itinerary for what to do and see in Banff National Park to help you plan your trip to Canada.
How to get to Banff National Park
If you’re flying, you’ll arrive at Calgary International Airport , which is a 20-minute drive from downtown Calgary. You can rent a car or a campervan directly at the Calgary airport.
When you’re ready to hit the road, follow the signs for the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1 West).
Drive until you get to Banff National Park. From the Calgary airport, it takes about 1.5 hours to get to Banff , but you’ll start seeing the mountains pretty quickly as you leave Calgary. You can even see them directly from the airport.
When is the best time to visit Banff National Park
Banff is a year-round destination. Most people decide to visit in the summer when the weather is better. Plus, by visiting Banff in the summer, you make sure all the hiking trails are open and the lakes have melted.
But, obviously, it’s very busy in the summer, which can be overwhelming.
Personally, the best time to visit Banff is in September when the crowds are gone, but the weather is still nice.
Also, there is a unique charm to Banff in the winter . If you love snow and winter sports, plan your winter Banff itinerary. Worth it. Lots of hiking trails are open , and you can go skiing or snowboarding at world-famous ski resorts and ice skate on iconic glacial lakes.
The Canadian Rocky Mountains
Day 1: Green Bridges for Bears in Banff National Park
On the Trans-Canada Highway, you will be surprised the first time you see these green bridges.
Taking the example of Europe, Canada has set up these bridges covered with the same substrate as the surrounding environment, in order to encourage animals not wishing to go through the tunnels under the highway, to continue their journey other side.
Significantly reducing the number of accidents each year, you will see them everywhere on the roads of the Canadian Rockies and maybe one day someone will have the idea to add them on Highway 10 in the Eastern Townships!
Tips for your Banff itinerary: Take part in an activity to discover winter wildlife by mini-bus from Banff.
Across the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park: Crossing Bridges for Animals
Stop in the Village of Canmore
On your way to Banff, you will come across the village of Canmore. Well known to climbers of this world, the rock faces being phenomenal there, a stop is essential even if you only have a few hours.
Downtown is similar to Banff, but my main suggestion is to take the Spray Lake Road, if you want the chance (and it’s easy) to see animals.
At any time, you can stop on the road and know that you will not be the only one to do so. It is for this reason that you must exercise the greatest caution.
Not only is this winding road made of gravel, but many sheep, elk and deer cross it without caring about you. Drive to the Spray Lake Reservoir and you might encounter a friendly grizzly bear.
Tips for your Banff itinerary: To make the most of your stay, book a walking tour of historic Canmore.
Accommodation in Canmore
Canmore Downtown Hostel ($90/night): Staying in Canmore in a dorm can be an economical way to visit the Canadian Rockies. Surrounded by mountains, this inn offers an enchanting setting at low prices and you will have the possibility of having a large kitchen at your disposal to cook on site.
Solara Resort by Bellstar Hotels ($260/night): This luxury hotel only offers suites with balconies and they all have a full kitchen, a dining area and a laundry room. It is certainly the ideal place to rest after visiting the surroundings. This place is perfect for family stays!
Lake Minnewanka: a Must Stop in the Canadian Rockies
This lake in the Canadian Rockies, of glacial origin, is one of the places where you can go boating and fishing. Few are the lakes where motorboats are allowed and here you can enjoy a small cruise to see the sunset which is magnificent with its orange tones.
Camping sites are also present, but if like me, your tent does not fit in your luggage, simply roam the edge of the water or the forest, in search of big teddy bears. If your travel luggage goes in the hold of the plane, remember to bring your cayenne pepper, just in case!
Tips for your Banff itinerary: You can take a cruise on Lake Minnewanka. You can reserve your place here.
Gondola Ride in Banff National Park
Despite some people’s negative comments about the high price of the activity, I had no regrets about the choice I took. The boardwalk at the very top is worth the effort.
At nearly 7,500 feet in elevation, you can only be amazed by the sight of Sulfur Mountain and its eternal snow. Arriving at the end of the main path, I was surrounded by vertiginous passes as far as the eye could see. It was for me the perfect description of paradise.
If I could have pitched my tent there and slept the rest of my days here, I would have. Not only was the panorama breathtaking, but what a joy for me to see all these mouflons coming to say hello to us. Dream habitat for them, many of them come to walk near the boardwalk, hoping to see someone drop a piece of food. A short walk away are the Upper Hot Springs or thermal springs.
Having no desire to bathe in an artificial swimming pool, heated by natural waters in the middle of summer, know however that this site is a very popular place for tourists and very busy in all seasons.
Tips for your Banff itinerary : You can book a day pass to access the Banff Sunshine Gondola and Standish Chairlift in Banff National Park by booking here.
Gondola ride in Banff National Park
Day 2-3: Visit Banff Village
Less than 1h20 from the city of Calgary, we find ourselves in Banff, a small village adored by skiers and hikers.
But we quickly understand why, the streets are magnificent and everything has been thought out with tourism in mind. There are free parking lots, lots of pubs and restaurants and of course countless small souvenir shops.
But don’t worry, you’ll also find plenty of outdoor shops here, such as The North Face, Patagonia and Helly Henson, where you can shop for anything you might have forgotten.
Accommodation in Banff
HI-Banff Alpine Center ($103/night): Take advantage of this rustic-looking accommodation to land in Banff. The hostel offers several activities to entertain you on site (darts, billiards, etc.) and you can reserve a place in a dormitory or in a private room. It even has an on-site restaurant and bar.
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort ($226/night): Suites and apartments are available for a memorable stay in an idyllic mountain setting away from downtown for maximum tranquility. Indoor and outdoor swimming pools and whirlpools will allow you to admire the landscapes and relax. Also, the restaurant of the complex will offer you a beautiful Canadian menu, all in a warm atmosphere. There are free parking lots nearby for your rental car.
Cave and Basin Trail
A little outside the village of Banff is the Cave and Basin Trail. For $4, you’ll have the unique chance to see the Banff Springs Snail, an endangered species of snail.
Ok, no joke, it’s not here that I had the most fun, but considering the fact that I only had a few hours left before my return to town, we can say that I took advantage of the moment.
Inside the historic center, your senses will be disturbed by the smell of sulfur that originates from the natural thermal springs on the site. It is from here that Banff National Park was created. A small path will allow you to circulate over the protected area.
Cave and Basin Trail in Banff National Park
Bow Lake et Waterfowl Lake
If you have a long way to go and don’t want to stop on the way before arriving in Jasper, take at least 5 minutes to breathe along Bow Lake and Waterfowl Lake.
These are squarely on Route 1 and you won’t even have to look for parking. The water there is a light blue green and if there is no wind, like when I was there, you will see a perfect symmetry in the water.
In Waterfowl Lake, despite the coldness of the water, people took pleasure in bathing there. The snow-capped mountains just behind were reflected like in a mirror. It was worthy of a photoshop!
Tips for your Banff itinerary: A great activity to do in the area, a canoe trip on the Bow River can be booked here.
Waterfowl Lake in the Canadian Rockies
Perpendicular to the Bow River, this short walking path is very popular with tourists.
The Johnston Canyon allows you to go to 2 different falls. With a total of 2.7km to get to the highest fall (the first being only 1.1km away), you will have to be patient to navigate on the boardwalk.
Literally clinging to the rock walls, the trail meanders through the forest and there are plenty of viewpoints to beckon you for some pretty photos of Johnston Creek.
A friendly restaurant on site allows you to enjoy a good ice cream in addition to discovering treasures to bring back to your family and friends. But be aware that this is not where you will see the large mammals so expected in Canada’s national parks.
Tips for your Banff itinerary : You can book a unique experience and visit the evening canyon from Banff. A great option if you don’t have a car.
The Famous Lake Louise and Lake Moraine
These 2 famous lakes were on my list since I knew I had to travel to Calgary for work. Either way, I’ll get there. Luckily, a friend gave me the best advice I could have: take the school bus that makes the loop, to get from one to the other.
Usually very independent, I plundered beyond my pride and took his advice. If you don’t arrive at the parking lots before 8:00 am, you will have no chance of stopping.
For the modest sum of $6, use the Overflow parking lot, located right on Lake Louise. You will see signs everywhere.
But a little before getting to the parking lot, I went to take some pictures of the Morant’s Curve. Even my friend who has lived in Calgary for 10 years did not know the identity of this place.
And yet, the view of the Bow River is picture perfect and if you are lucky enough to see the train go by, it will add a bit of color to your photos.
• Lake Louise
Archi-mega-ultra-popular with tourists (did I say there were a lot of people?), Lake Louise will amaze you with its emerald color and its glacier in the background.
Everyone has seen it on photo, but to see it in real life, it’s still a marvel. Access to the lake is free, but if you want to take a short kayak, canoe or paddle board trip, be aware that you will have to take out more than a brown ticket for a 30-minute walk!!
Do like me, and settle for a caramel ice cream bought at the Château Fairmont and enjoy it while maintaining a meditative state in the face of this splendor of nature.
• Lake Moraine
If you enjoyed Lake Louise, you will be speechless in front of Moraine Lake. It’s definitely my favorite of the two. Its color is even more impressive and the ease with which you can contemplate it from above will leave you speechless.
At the entrance to the site, on your left, is a very small rocky path that will take you to the top of the lake. And if like me, the view makes you emotional, take a few minutes of good fresh air and live the present moment.
Little secret, know that our old 20$ have captured the very essence of this panorama, because it is on the back of the latter that you will find the most beautiful lake in the world.
Tips for your Banff itinerary: A super popular tour if you don’t have a car is the trip from Banff to visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
The beauty of the Canadian Rockies, just behind the splendid Lake Moraine, the most beautiful in my opinion
Where to Eat
In Banff, be sure to stop at Park Distillery. The burgers are gigantic and they even make their own award-winning gin on site.
Otherwise, the only available and interesting stop on the road is on the Icefields Parkway, at the junction of the national parks of Banff and Jasper: The Crossing Resort . You can get gas and also eat there. There are even rooms, but I dare not imagine the price!
Where to Stay in your Banff Itinerary
Other than the editorial team’s accommodation suggestions that you’ll find throughout the article, I’ve personally tested this one, the Banff International Hostel. Book in advance, that’s my first tip. I really liked this hostel located in the center of Banff, very close to shops and restaurants.
This hostel offers everything guests need: tourist information, breakfast, large clean rooms with all necessary amenities. On the other hand, the prices in summer rise. I paid $120/night for a 4-person dorm. That’s very expensive in my opinion.
To browse a list of accommodations around Banff and Jasper, it’s here. In addition, each time you use this link to book, Booking pays us part of its commission without it costing you more. This simple gesture helps us to bring this Web Magazine to life. Thank you for encouraging us in our work to provide you with information for your travels.
Does this article make you want to go on a trip to Banff? Or maybe you have already had the chance to live this experience?
Feel free to add your ideas of what to do in your itinerary in the comments section.
Are you going on a trip to Canada? Read also
Check out all our articles about Canada: All articles about Canada are listed here!
- What to do in Canada? The 20 things to discover absolutely during your trip!
- What to do in Quebec? My 15 favorite things to discover in the French-speaking province!
- Itinerary: A week in Canada: All the steps to visit Canada in 1 week!
- Itinerary: 10 days in Canada: All our advice for organizing your 10-day trip to Canada!
- Itinerary: 2 weeks in Canada: Visit Western Canada in 15 days.
- Itinerary: 3 weeks in Canada: Steps to visit Western and Eastern Canada in 21 days
- Itinerary: A week in Quebec : How to visit Quebec in 1 week, with all our advice!
- Itinerary: 2 weeks in Quebec: Visit Quebec in 2 weeks with all the stages and our advice!
- Itinerary: 10 days in Quebec: All the steps to organize your 10-day stay in Quebec!
- Itinerary: 3 weeks in Quebec: All the steps to make a 3 week road trip in Quebec!
- Calgary: The Top 10 Things to Do When You Visit
- Montreal: The 33 things to do and see
- Ottawa: 15 things not to miss on your trip
- Quebec : Top 15 things to do and see absolutely
- Toronto: The 25 things to do during your stay
- Vancouver: 25 must-see things