Banff National Park is one of the oldest and most beautiful national Parks in Canada. Located in the Canadian province of Alberta, Banff has a subarctic climate and has numerous glaciers and ice-fields. Banff also has a diverse wildlife population and maintains over 1600 kilometres of trails. But Banff is more than its wildlife, trails and adventures – read my Banff Itinerary for non-hikers to find out.
Banff has beautiful turquoise lakes, amazing mountain views, great picnic and relaxation spots, restaurants that you would not want to miss. Banff offers something to very traveler. Banff is a great destination for weddings, family outings or just a great weekend getaway.
Arriving in Banff – Banff Itinerary
Banff is located in Alberta, Canada. Calgary International Airport serves as a gateway to Banff. The drive from Banff to Calgary is about 1.5 hrs.
Calgary is a major city in the province of Alberta and has international flights arriving from all major destinations. Most likely you will arrive in Calgary and you can either rent a car and drive to Banff or use a shuttle. If you happen to extend your stay to include Calgary, read this mini guide to Calgary
Banff Entry Fees List
Banff Accommodation Guide : Hotels & More
There are lots of options to stay in Banff. You can book a cabin, motel, hotel – economical or luxurious – all in the midst of nature and gorgeous views. Only thing to keep in mind is that Banff gets fully packed during summer and this period lasts till August (long weekend). Getting accommodation around this time is pricey and difficult. Planning your trip in advance and booking the hotel is a good option to consider. Another option is staying in the nearby hill-town of Canmore (20 minutes from Banff) or Calgary.
Some of our favorites –
- Rundlestone Lodge -Beautiful hotel located very close to Banff city centre. Perfect location for you to walk down the street and enjoy a stroll surrounded by mountain views. Book your stay here – at Rundlestone Lodge
- Elk + Avenue Hotel – Located close to Banff Town Centre, Elk Avenue hotel is another option, if you wish to stay close to the city centre and enjoy the perfect resort staycation. Book your stay here – Elk +Avenue Hotel
- Rimrock Resort Hotel – Are you looking for luxury? And want to try something different? Book a stay at Rimrock Resort Hotel – the mountain views from here are amazing. If not a hotel stay, consider dining here too. More about Rimrock Resort Hotel booking here.
- Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel – Fairmont Banff Springs is on the expensive and luxurious side for a reason. Staying at a Fairmont hotel is like living in a page of history – royal, regal and how can you ignore the amazing mountain views from your hotel window. Book your romantic stay here – Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
- Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – Stay close, very close to nature, with amazing room and resort amenities. Per night rate is reasonable. Book your stay at Banff Rocky Mountain Resort
- 2 hostels that we can recommend are
Search for Banff hotels
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BANFF ITINERARY 5 DAYS
Banff Day 01 – Banff Town & Sulphur Mountains
On Day 01 of your Banff trip, visit the Banff town and explore its beautiful streets. There are lot of free parking lots available in downtown and you can pretty much walk around the town, soaking mountain views and relishing sweet treats from Beaver Tails.
After exploring the Banff town, head to the Sulphur mountains. The Banff Sightseeing Gondola is located 5 minutes from the Town of Banff.
If you don’t hike, but wish to see amazing views of Sulphur mountains and lakes in the Canadian Rockies, it is worth taking the gondola ride and seeing all the beautiful sights from top. You can marvel at the Banff mountain ranges and the Bow Valley including a 360 degree view of six scenic mountain ranges from 7,486 ft above sea level. There are ample places to take scenic shots of Banff. There are places to sit as well as secured stairway to climb further up, if you ware feeling adventurous. There is a Banff Skywalk that leads you to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site and Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station.
Banff Sightseeing Gondola centre has parking facilities right in front of the centre. There is a gift shop, restuarnt and Starbucks coffee in its lobby. Ride to the top of the summit takes about 15 minutes one way. You can easily spend 4-5 hours photographing or enjoying the day, soaking in all the scenic views.
Tickets for an adult will cost about $58-62 CAD (10% off if you book in advance and online). The Sightseeing is managed by Brewster Canada.
Summer Time : The hours during summer and winter time varies. Want to try something unique, participate in the Banff Sunset Fest Tour
Winter Time: The gondola ride is offered during winters as well. The observation area might be slippery, so follow warnings and dress warm. At a high altitude, you can expect icy cold winds.
In the evening, head back to Banff Town for dinner. Magpie Stump is one of my personal favorite restaurant in Banff for lunch or dinner.
Banff Day 02 – Vermilion Lakes & Sunshine Meadows
Bright and early in the morning, head to Good Earth coffee house for some breakfast.
Head to the Vermilion Lakes after breakfast. Located about 6-10 minutes from Banff Town, you can view Mount Rundle from the Vermilion Lakes. The reflection of Mount Rundle ripples on the surface of this lake, making it one of the most scenic and beautiful things to see in Banff. Access to the lake viewpoint is free.
You can visit the Vermilion Lakes at dusk as well for some great photography moments.
The lakes are easily accessible by walking, cycling, or driving from Banff town.
Summer Time – During summers, you can enjoy the spectacular views of Mount Rundle or enjoy a picnic or a canoe ride in the lakes.
Winter Time – In the winter, you might get lucky and see the magical Northern Lights lighting up the night sky.
Sunshine Meadows is popular with hikers. Lonely Planet has rated the Sunshine Meadows as the #1 day hikes spot. So why did I add this to the itinerary for non-hikers, you ask? During Summers, Sunshine Meadows offers stunning views of the 3 pristine alpine lakes. There is a gondola ride and chairlift (all for $42 CAD) to carry you and your family (upto 8 members in 1 cabin) to over 7800 ft above sea-level to access stunning views of the Sunshine meadows, creek and trails.
Read more about Sunshine Meadows packages
Summer Time – One of the reasons to visit the Sunshine Meadows (in summer time) is for your taste buds, other then sightseeing. There are amazing restaurants and cafes in the meadows, that offer stunning views and great taste. Find our more here
Winter Time – Gondola services is available during winters as well. You can get a guide and your snowshoes on and head to the ski lifts to access the stunning valley with views to die for, sans the crowds and experience utter peace.
Banff Day 03 – Day of Lakes
Dedicate your 3rd day of Banff Itinerary to the amazing lakes located in the Banff National Park
40 minutes from Banff is the beautiful Lake Louise. Lake Louise is known for its turquoise, glacier-fed lake ringed by high peaks and overlooked by a stately chateau (Hotel Chateau Lake Louise). Access to the lake is free.
Summer Time: Take a canoe ride across the lake, enjoy the back drop of the Rockies and the stunning Fairmont hotel nearby. Or just sit and enjoy the sunshine.
Winter Time: The lake is completely frozen in the middle of winter. You can ski or admire the white sparkly winter of Lake Louise. The tourism board also organizes many ice-craving activities in Lake Louise during winters.
Two Jack Lake
Located about 20 minutes from Lake Louise is Two Jack Lake. Less visited lake, you can set up a tent or enjoy on a picnic table. Or a better idea – get married here?
Lake Minnewanka is a glacial lake located in the eastern area of Banff National Park, about 15 minutes from Two Jack Lake. Lake Minnewanka means “water of the Spirits”. You can enjoy the view, with pretty animals on the way, right from the national highway!
Access to the lake is free. Cruise packages start from $45 CAD upto $110 CAD
Summer Time: You can go kayaking in the lake. You can also opt for 1- 2 hours of boat cruise to complete the entire loop of the Minnewanka lake. It is an ideal picnic spot. Read about summer time cruise activities at lake Minnewanka Other summer activities include camping, picnics and fishing.
Winter Time: You can drive towards Lake Minnewanka , where you will see herds of elks grazing in the sun beneath Cascade Mountain. During winters, the main road north, past Upper and Lower Bankhead is closed to traffic between November 15 and April 15 to protect an important winter wildlife corridor.
Moraine Lake is a glacially fed lake located about 14 kilometres outside the Village of Lake Louise. It is situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, at an elevation of approximately 6,183 feet. There is no shortage of outdoor experiences to be had here in the Rockies, and there is no shortage of incredible dining experiences either. Lake Moraine with its stunning mountain backdrop is an amazing spot for weddings as well.
Moraine Lake Lodge offers great packages and experiences in the lake side, ideal for honeymoons, get-together and of course sight seeing
Summer Time: Go kayaking, walk or take a stroll in the trails. Sit and relax and see the sun go down.
Winter Time: During the winter, cross-country skiers take a 15-kilometre adventure to the lake. Parks Canada sets tracks for skiing which end at the viewpoint for the Consolation Valley and Ten Peaks. Access to the the lake itself is not permitted during the winter due to the high avalanche risk from November to late April.
Banff Day 04 – Town of Canmore
Located about 30 minutes outside of Banff is the beautiful town of Canmore. The thing I love about Canmore is that, everywhere you look, you can see amazing mountain views.
A very pedestrian friendly town, Canmore has a very resort & laid back type of vibe to it. Tons of great restaurants, bars and cafes to choose from to indulge in fine dining. Great hospitality from hotels and cabin stays. There are many short trails in and around Canmore, that are excellent for long walks and strolls – soaking the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
You should definitely save one day of your Banff itinerary exploring Canmore. This little town has great views for your camera lens and hence is every photographer’s delight!
You can reach Canmore from Banff by public transport as well. There are buses that take you to Canmore from Banff for $6 CAD. Canmore has no admission fees to enter the town. You can access Canmore without going through the Banff National Park as well.
Read my quick guide to Canmore
Our favorite hotel in Canmore – Falcon Crest Lodge. Book your stay here
Banff Day 05 – Cave & Basin, Cascade Gardens, Banff Upper Hot Springs
On your final day of Banff Itinerary- explore something unusual, something pretty and top it off by relaxing in hot springs, with amazing views.
Cave & Basin National Historic Site
The Cave & Basin National Historic Site is located at the site of natural thermal mineral springs. It is located at an elevation point of 4610 ft. The historic site consists of an artificial tunnel to natural grotto, a replica of a boathouse, a restored 1916 swimming pool, interpretive displays, hiking and snowshoe trails.
Many of the early structures were built by detainees held at World War I.
It is a pretty interesting site. These sulphur pools reminded me of cenotes in Mexico. The smell of sulphur is very strong in the entire site, something to be mindful of when visiting the site.
In the lobby of the Cave & Basin Historic Site, there are interactive guides and photo displays. Apart from the tunnels, there are great photography spots from the site’s bacony/patio
Entrance fees apply
Cascade Gardens is located just minutes from Banff Avenue. It is a nicely curated garden, which offers great mountain views. The administration office of the Gardens act as a beautiful background for your photography ventures.
There are beautiful pools, stone structures (some dates back to 1930’s), gazebos, etc It is a nice little oasis away from downtown Banff to enjoy a relaxing walk.
These gardens are missed by most tourists because why visit a gardens, when the whole town of Banff is available? But trust me, it is a beautiful place that is worthy of a visit.
Entrance to the garden is completely FREE
If you staying at the Fairmont Hotel, you will be driving by these gardens. YMCA hostel is located opposite to these gardens. If you are craving Chinese food, there is a oriental restaurant right across the street Silver Dragon Restaurant
Banff Hot Springs
We left the best for the last – Banff Hot Springs. Hot springs were discovered in Banff by railway workers in the late 1880s. And since then they have been pulling tourists and explorers to Banff. The water in the Banff Upper Hot Springs is heated geothermally, bubbling up to the surface from three kilometres (1.8 miles) into the earth’s crust.
Banff has 3 hot springs – Upper Banff, Radium and Miette Springs. Upper Banff Springs are a personal favorite.
There are options to book packages for hot springs and enjoy or relaxed or romantic evening. The Upper Banff Springs location have a cafe and a store. You purchase swimwear from here too.
Banff has so much more to it, than adventure sports or hiking and camping. If you are planning a visit to Banff and you think there is nothing much other the mighty mountains – think again!
Use this Banff Itinerary to plan yours – I am sure you wont be diasspointed.
If you are visiting Banff, for hiking – read this Banff Hiking Guide
Updated: Aug 11 2018
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