Check out my 3-Day Banff Itinerary for your guide to the best hikes in Banff National Park and the best things to see and do. Summer is a great time to visit and Banff reopened on 6/1/20 - read on for some information and start planning your trip!
In the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park consists of unexplored nature trails teeming with wildlife, turquoise glacial lakes and awe-inspiring mountain scenery. This beautiful and unspoiled destination should definitely be at the top of your bucket list! Keep reading my 3-day Banff itinerary for the best things to do in Banff in the summer, including the best hikes in Banff.
SUMMER 2020/COVID NOTE: Good news - Banff National Park has just reopened on June 1, 2020! Be sure to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Also note that they limit the number of cars in the Lake Louise lot to 100 (usually 450), so get there early to get a spot!
Banff itinerary summary:
PTO Days/Vacation Required:1-2
Exchange rate(June 19): 1 Canadian Dollar = $0.75 USD
Want me to create a custom itinerary for your trip? check mytravel servicepage and contact me!
Where to stay in Banff:
I recommend staying in Banff town instead of Canmore (the next town) to be more convenient to the places listed above. There are Airbnbs, hotels and B&Bs in Banff, but be sure to book early as accommodation tends to sell out quickly during the summer months. If you are looking for a luxury experience,Fairmontit would be a great choice! It is absolutely beautiful and is right on Lake Louise.
First time using Airbnb?Click here to get $40 off your booking.
There are also campsites available if you are looking for more adventure!
Packing list for 3 days in Banff in summer:
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Three-day itinerary in Banff
Journey 1:Hike the Johnston Canyon Trail and through the town of Banff
Most blogs you read about "best things to do in Banff, Canada" list the Banff Gondola as one of the top attractions. While I'm sure the views are amazing, this gondola ride only takes 8 minutes and costs around $60, which doesn't seem worth it. I recommend skipping it and going for one of the best hikes in Banff.Johnston Canyon Trail-to see the waterfalls!
Arrive early on the Johnston Canyon Trail (in fact, this is a theme for the entire trip) to avoid crowds. About halfway through the hike, there is a fork in the road to continue to Upper Falls or Lower Falls. We choose to do both. Lower Falls is a 0.6 mile fast trail over a small bridge with an overlook. Because this trail is so short, it tends to be the busiest, and people would line up to take a photo of the waterfall. If you choose to only do the Lower Falls portion of the hike, this will definitely make it one of the easy hikes in Banff. In my opinion, however, the Upper Falls portion of the hike is what makes it one of the best hikes in Banff.
In the photo above - view from the path
The Upper Falls hike is 1.6 miles one way (about 3 miles round trip) and is much less crowded as most people only stop at Lower Falls. There are a few places where you can deviate from the main trail and go to the side to get down to the water and walk very close to the falls - it's a very scenic place to relax for a few hours!
If you want to keep going - there is a trail that continues past the Upper Falls that goes up about 1.8 miles that takes you to the Ink Pots - several green/blue mineral pools with a great view of the mountain in the background. This is something we didn't do as we didn't know until we got back, but we wish we had!
The good news about this being one of the best hikes near the town of Banff is that you won't have a long drive back to town after exploring the falls. Return about 30 minutes to the beautiful hill town of Banff for dinner/drinks and be sure to check out the picturesque rooftop terrace atmoose and rowerseBanff Avenue Brewing Company!
Three Day Banff Itinerary - Day 2: Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway, Athabasca Glacier
First stop -
You've probably seen pictures of this glacial lake before - it's famous for the vivid blue/green color of the water in summer, caused by light reflecting off glacial mud in the water. This lake usually thaws in June and is at its liveliest in July/August. Located approximately 35 miles northwest of Banff - approximately 40 minutes by car. One of my most important tips - ARRIVE EARLY! I cannot stress this enough. We arrived at 8 am and were able to enjoy the beauty of the lake almost in solitude, but the tour buses usually arrive around 8 am. 10-11, bringing multitudes of people with them.
There are quite a few trails to choose from in Lake Louise – one of the most popular hiking trails in Banff Lake Louise is the Lake Agnes Tea House Trail. This trail is approximately 4.4 miles round trip and leads to the Lake Agnes Tea House where you can relax with a cup of tea and a snack!
If you're looking for a bigger challenge, one of the best moderate hikes in Banff is the second teahouse on Lake Louise - Plain of Six Glaciers. This 15.4km round trip hiking trail offers amazing views, a chance to see wildlife again - a tea house at the end to relax and enjoy!
We took the easy trail (although still one of the best day hikes in Banff because of the views) around the lake to get back to the trailhead at 11 when canoe rentals open for the first few dives!
They rent canoes in Lake Louise from the dock on the left side of the lake for about $90 for 1 hour, which is plenty of time to paddle to the end of the lake and back. It's expensive though - you can take up to 3 people in a canoe, so if you're traveling with friends, you can split the price. When else will you have the chance to canoe in the middle of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world? This is definitely one of the best things to do in Banff National Park.
After your scenic canoe trip, enjoy lunch/drinks at the famous Fairmont Tower overlooking Lake Louise. The high price is worth it to relax and enjoy the views of Lake Louise in luxury!
When you're done with lunch, get in your car and drive toIcefields Parkway– one of the most scenic routes in the world. This 144-mile road connects Banff to Jasper, Alberta (home to Jasper National Park). You won't have time to drive to Jasper on your 3-day trip to Banff, but you can drive about halfway (80 miles) to the Athabasca Glacier. With beautiful scenery and wildlife around every turn, be sure to make plenty of stops along the way to get out of the car and walk the trails along the way.
Keep driving until your last stop-Athabasca Glacier. This glacier is over 3 miles long and nearly 700 feet thick! You can walk along the path beside the glacier, but you cannot walk directly over it.
3-Day Banff Itinerary - Day 3: Moraine Lake and Bow River
Wake up early and go toLago Moraine– another glacier-fed lake in Banff National Park. (40 minutes from Banff town). Make sure you get there before 9 to try it out before the crowds start arriving!
One of the main differences between Moraine Lake and Lake Louise (besides the fact that Moraine Lake is half the size) is the color of the water. While Lake Louise is more of a milky green, Moraine Lake is a vibrant blue.
Start by walking the Lakeshore Trail - an easy hike that winds along the lakeshore through the trees and ends at the back of the lake. The round trip hike is about 3 miles round trip and in my opinion is another of the best hikes in Banff. You'll also find canoes for rent, which are cheaper than on Lake Louise (but also the lake is smaller, so it's not that far to paddle).
Then check out the Rockpile Trail for the best view of Moraine Lake. You can follow the footpath that starts at the back of the cliff, or if you're more adventurous, climb the rocks on the cliff face and make your own trail. The view from the top of the cliffs is amazing! This was my favorite hike in Banff because of this incredible view.
Finally, return to the city of Banff and relax in the lush Bow River Park before returning to Calgary for your return flight.
Other useful information:
How to get to Banff National Park:
Fly into Calgary International Airport (YCC)
Rent a car and drive approximately 1.5 hours west from Calgary to Banff
- I recommend renting a car rather than relying on public transport so you can make your own schedule. Also, some of the places I mentioned (Johnston Canyon and Icefields Parkway) are not accessible by public transport
The above itinerary is based on a Thursday night flight and a Sunday night return flight.
When to visit Banff National Park
This post is based on what to do in Banff in the summer - I visited in mid-July. Going in autumn or winter is a completely different trip! There are ski resorts, the lakes are frozen (but I hear you can skate on them) and some of the hikes may not be available. If you want to see the lakes, definitely go in July or August when the lakes have thawed.
If you have more than 3 days in Banff:
If you have more time, you should definitely continue driving along the IceFields Parkway until you reach Jasper and explore Jasper National Park. Look this2 week trip to the Canadian Rockiesfor tips for a longer trip!
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Three days is just the right amount of time to take in the best of the many things to do in Banff National Park. I recommend breaking down your three days as follows: Day One in the Banff town center, Day Two for exploring the sights just out of town, and Day Three for the big attractions further afield.Is 3 full days in Banff enough? ›
Three days is just the right amount of time to take in the best of the many things to do in Banff National Park. I recommend breaking down your three days as follows: Day One in the Banff town center, Day Two for exploring the sights just out of town, and Day Three for the big attractions further afield.How many days in Banff is enough? ›
How much time to allocate for your Banff trip, may very well depend on your budget and interests. It is good, if you can allocate, at least two days to spend in Banff & Lake Louise. You need to spend 5 days, to SEE & DO the real Banff : like hiking and canoeing in summer & Skiing and Snowboarding in winter.What is the easiest summit in Banff? ›
The Tunnel Mountain trail is the easiest hike to a mountain summit in Banff National Park. Tunnel Mountain is a cute little mountain just outside the Town of Banff. You can walk to the top of this easy Banff hike with about 15% of the elevation gain vs. some of the surrounding 3,000m peaks.Is 3 days enough for Banff and Jasper? ›
Although I slowed down and spent a week exploring Alberta – Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper; if you have limited time it truly is a trip you can take in three days. From exploring the beauty that is Banff and driving further onto Jasper, this Canada trip will only leave you wanting more!What month is best to see Banff? ›
The best times to visit Banff are June to August and December to March. Nature lovers will want to get to the park when the weather is warm and welcoming (and while the hotel rates in town are at a reasonable level).How much money do I need for Banff? ›
Average daily cost to visit Banff in low season: $450 – $1500+ Average daily cost to visit Banff in high season: $1,500 – $3,100+How much money do you need to go to Banff? ›
Jasper is the more laid-back town between the two with far fewer people and visitors. Banff has a higher-end feel, with expensive outdoor shops like Helly Hansen, Canada Goose Down, and Fjallraven around Banff Ave.How long do you need at Moraine Lake? ›
HOW MUCH TIME YOU NEED. If you plan things right, we would say that two to three hours are enough for visiting Moraine Lake. It takes twenty minutes to get there by shuttle bus from Park and Ride (add another twenty minutes to get back), you can walk the Rockpile trail and stroll leisurely around the lake's shore.
Advantages of Staying in Lake Louise Over Banff
Lake Louise is much quieter than the town of Banff, though, during the day in the summer, Lake Louise (the lake itself) is actually very busy. But at night, it's going to be extremely mellow. Lake Louise is much further into Banff National Park.
Given the size of Alberta, the distance between Banff and Lake Louise is a short 57kms. Albeit a quick trip, the route is beautiful and an important one connecting two of the most loved spots in the province.What is the most scenic drive in Banff? ›
Considered by many to be the holy grail of scenic drives, the Icefields Parkway connects travellers with Lake Louise and Jasper. There are several campgrounds for both tent camping and RV camping spread across the parkway.
By far one of the most accessible and scenic hikes in Banff National Park, the Plain of Six Glaciers trail offers expansive views of the impressive mountain features that surround Lake Louise, including Mt. Lefroy, Mt. Victoria, and the Victoria Glacier.What are the busiest days in Banff? ›
The peak months in Banff are between June and August for summer tourism and from December to March for winter visits. While each month has something to offer, you can enjoy a full range of rail tours during the summer. Many of these tours stop in Banff.What is the must stop between Banff and Jasper? ›
The top stops along the way from Jasper to Banff (with short detours) are Lake Louise, Athabasca Falls, and Athabasca Glacier. Other popular stops include Peyto Lake, Moraine Lake, and Johnston Canyon, Lower Falls.Is Jasper worth the drive from Banff? ›
Not only is the three-hour Banff to Jasper drive worth your time, but it has also been named time and time again as Canada's most spectacular road. Visitors who road trip on the Icefields Parkway are treated to incredible views, close-up animal sightings, and a stop at the renowned Athabasca glacier.How far apart are Banff and Jasper? ›
288km is the distance between Banff and Jasper. This is the total distance including Highway 1 from Banff to Lake Louise and then taking the AB-93 North. However, the Icefields Parkway itself is roughly 233km because it starts near Lake Louise and runs north on AB-93.Is Banff worth it in summer? ›
While the town is wonderful to visit any time of the year, Banff in the summer is especially epic- imagine canoeing across a lake of milky blue water or hiking to a teahouse, tucked away on a mountaintop. So pack your hiking boots and let's hit the road- here's 10 incredible things to do in Banff in the summer.What is the cheapest month in Banff? ›
The cheapest times to visit Banff are April to May and September to November. At this time, you'll be able to find the best deals on hotels, resort packages, outdoor activities, and travel fees. These months are known as the offseason, and there are fewer tourists during this time.
Book your hotel or campground far in advance.
Don't wait too late to book hotels in Banff, Canada, or elsewhere within Banff National Park. The park attracts a whopping three million visitors a year, and campsites and hotels can fill up quickly. Reservations are most difficult to get during the busy summer season.
You could spend weeks exploring the park but 4 days in Banff is actually enough time to see the main sights. I first visited Banff in 2018 with my sister. We spent 4 days in Banff before heading up to Jasper National Park.Can you do Banff in 4 days? ›
Get up early, stay out late
You'll be doing this a lot. There's so much to see in Banff that a four-day itinerary can easily turn into an eight-day itinerary. You would not want to miss the sunrise at Moraine Lake, or the sunset from a horse-drawn carriage in Bow Lake.
6 days in Banff and Jasper gives you enough time to see the highlights, make some great hikes, and soak up the Canadian Rockies atmosphere. It's best to add 1 extra day for the iconic Icefields Parkway.Should I spend more time in Banff or Jasper? ›
Again, Banff has more accessible and easy hiking trails, more well-known destinations, better restaurants, and a town built on tourism. However, Jasper is much quieter than Banff and may give you a more back-to-basic mountain town feel that Banff has lost over the years.How do you avoid crowds in Banff? ›
If you want to avoid the biggest crowds, it's wise to plan your vacation just before or after the tourist peak. The park's busiest weeks are the last week of July and the first week of August. In addition, it's good to take into account holidays and long weekends.