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A Complete 3 Day Banff Itinerary: How to See the Best of Banff in 3 Days

Planning a 3 day Banff itinerary? Lucky you because Banff is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever laid my eyes on – and this is the perfect amount of time to experience some of the best of the area. Spending 3 days in Banff will leave you in awe!

With glistening turquoise lakes, craggy, snow-covered mountain peaks, and gushing waterfalls, there’s an abundance of picture-perfect, postcard-worthy scenery everywhere you look.

You may have seen photos of Banff on Instagram and wondered if it could possibly live up to the hype. After seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of Banff and some of its top attractions, I wondered the same. And I’m here to tell you – it definitely lives up to the hype. In fact, it looks even better in person.

I’ve been to Canada many times over the years and have had a chance to explore some of its iconic cities (Vancouver, Montreal, and Quebec City, to name a few), but seeing the Canadian Rockies was an experience like no other. Its scenic beauty truly took my breath away, and I guarantee it will take your breath away too!

This itinerary for Banff will help you see all of the highlights in Banff National Park, to help you experience the immense beauty of the area. You won’t get to see it all in Banff in 3 days – not even close – but you’ll see some of the best of what the area has to offer.

Keep on reading for the best Banff 3 day itinerary – with all the sights you NEED to see, the best hikes, and tons of helpful insider tips to help you plan the perfect trip!

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Things to Know Before your 3 Days in Banff Itinerary

How many days in Banff – is 3 days enough?

Spending 3 days in Banff is just enough time to see the area’s highlights and get a taste of its natural beauty. 

There’s plenty of things to do and see in Banff that you won’t get to experience it all – not even close! Heck, you can easily spend a week (or more!) here and not get sick of all that the area offers. Spending a few days here will allow you to see what makes Banff so special – and will definitely leave you wanting to come back.

In this Banff 3 day itinerary, you will get to visit some of the parks’ most famous sights, do some hiking, and even visit a few nearby attractions that are technically right outside of the park but oh-so-beautiful and a must-visit when visiting the area!

When is the best time to visit Banff National Park?

Banff is beautiful at any time of the year, but do note that not all of its attractions are not accessible year-round due to snow.

This 3 day Banff itinerary assumes that you are visiting in the summer, as this is when all of the attractions, hikes, and activities are open. If you are visiting at a different time of the year, you’ll likely have to make at least a few adjustments to your itinerary.

In any case, here is a rundown of what to expect in Banff when visiting at different times of the year:

Summer is the best time to visit, as the lakes have thawed


The best (and most popular) time to visit Banff is from late June to early September. This is when the lakes are thawed, all hikes are open, and when you’ll have the chance to see all of the famous sights that Banff is known for.

It’s also the most crowded in the park, as this is when seemingly everyone and their mother also visit. Chances are that you aren’t going to find much solitude when visiting Banff in the summer. It’s also the most expensive time to visit – accommodations tend to be priced 1.5-2x higher than in the low season, and often sell out months in advance. However, it’s the most popular time to visit for a reason.

Look, I’m usually not a fan of visiting places during the high season because I’d rather not deal with the crowds and the extra cost, and usually recommend that people visit in the shoulder season. This is not the case with Banff, though. Summer truly is the best time to visit and I highly recommend it to fully take advantage of all the beautiful lakes and epic hikes that it has to offer!

You also get the added benefit of extra daylight – the days are long in Banff during the summer, with sunrise happening around 5:30am and sunset being around 10pm. This means that you can see and do a lot more on your itinerary – a must when you’re trying to see Banff in 3 days!

The weather is also the most pleasant during the summer months, with highs usually hovering between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit (23-28 degrees Celsuis), making it perfect for hiking and exploring. Do note that it does still get pretty chilly early in the morning and at night, so pack a warm jacket and lots of layers! Also know that thunderstorms can sometimes happen in the summer.


If you’re looking to experience Banff without the crowds, consider visiting in the late spring or early fall. However, do note that the lakes, particularly the ones at higher elevations like Moraine Lake, do not fully thaw until late June so they may not be open yet. You might also experience icy conditions on hiking trails. 

Fall, particularly the month of October, is a beautiful time to visit Banff as the landscape becomes transformed with golden larches and other foliage. You might also catch the first snowfall of the year – there is a very short window in which snow has just fallen but the lakes haven’t frozen over or closed yet.

However, do note that snowfall in the higher elevation usually starts by mid-October, and even as early as late September, and this is when Moraine Lake Road closes. 

Whatever you do, avoid Labor Day weekend (the first weekend of September), as it is a holiday for both Americans and Canadians. I’d guess that the week after might be a good time to visit, but I wouldn’t know for sure since I’ve never been then.

I’ve also heard that November is the worst time to visit, as it’s cold but the park hasn’t turned into a snowy winter wonderland yet.

Do note that it can get pretty chilly in the spring and fall months, so be sure to pack a warm jacket and layers!


Winter can be a beautiful time to visit Banff, and offers a completely different experience than visiting in the summer. The park transforms into a snowy winter wonderland, and there are plenty of winter recreation activities to take advantage of!

Some of the things to do on your 3 days in Banff itinerary in the winter can include ice skating on Lake Louise (which is personally very high up on my bucket list!), snowshoeing, climbing up frozen waterfalls, and soaking in hot springs as you watch snow fall around you.

Do note that it is FRIGID in Banff in the winter (like, apparently it’s colder than I experienced when visiting Quebec City in the winter and I thought THAT was cold!) – so you’ll need to pack plenty of warm winter clothes and gear! 

Getting to Banff National Park

The views of the Rockies when driving from Calgary to Banff

Flying to Banff (via Calgary)

The nearest international airport to Banff National Park is in Calgary (YYC), and this is where most visitors arrive. It’s basically the gateway to the Canadian Rockies, and you’ll find tons of flights from many major cities all around the world.

From here, it’s about 140 kilometers (~87 miles) to Banff, so you’re gonna have to figure out how to get yourself there:

Driving from Calgary to Banff

Renting a car from Calgary International Airport is super easy, as it is served by many major car rental agencies. For the best deals, I recommend searching for a car on, which allows you to compare prices from the top car rental companies and offers a price match guarantee.

Be sure to reserve your rental car as soon as possible (even as early as 3 months ahead of time), as prices go up and they tend to book up super quickly for the summer months!

While you don’t necessarily *need* a car, I highly recommend it as you’ll need it to reach some of the places I included on this Banff 3 day itinerary. If you’re also planning a road trip through the Canadian Rockies and continuing onto Jasper, you’ll definitely want a car as well.

Picking up our rental car at the airport was super easy, and we were on our way in no time! 

The drive from Calgary to Banff takes about an hour and a half, and is pretty straightforward. The fastest route is to take the Trans-Canada (Highway 1), although you can also take a more scenic detour on Highway 1A through Canmore. This adds about 15-20 minutes to your drive.

Either way, you’ll start seeing the majestic Canadian Rockies and their rocky peaks after about 45 minutes or so, which will leave you in awe!

Remember that these drive times are without traffic, so if you’re coming during busy season or during rush hour, be sure to allot extra time.

Shuttles + Buses

If you don’t want to deal with traffic and parking hassles, you can skip renting a car and take a shuttle to get to Banff. 

Here are a few options for shuttles that go from Calgary to Banff:

  • Banff Airporter: They offer year-round service, offering 10 shuttles a day. You’ll get dropped off directly at your hotel in Banff (do note that there’s only one drop-off location if you’re staying in Canmore, though). It’s a bit expensive – about $150 CAD round trip – but they offer the most flexibility.
  • Vivo Green: Another choice for a direct shuttle from the Calgary Airport to your accommodations in Banff (there are also two drop off points in Canmore as well). It’s a bit cheaper than the Airporter, with round-trip service costing about $110 CAD, but they only offer five shuttles a day.
  • Brewster Express: Here’s a shuttle service connecting Calgary (with pickups both at the airport and downtown) and several locations throughout the Canadian Rockies, including Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, ​​Kananaskis, and Jasper. Service is offered year-round, although frequency changes seasonally. The cost is $79 CAD (or about $60 USD) each way.
  • On It Regional Transit: This is a good option if you’re coming from downtown Calgary and not the airport. Seasonal bus service is offered between late May and mid-September between downtown Calgary, Canmore, and Banff. This is the cheapest option, and only costs $20 CAD round trip.
Private Transfers

Hiring a private transfer is an ideal option if you’re coming as a group. Since a shuttle can cost as much as $150 per person round-trip, this is a more cost-effective option if there’s several people in your group.

It’s also the best option if you’ve got super late or early flights, as you’re not tied to a set schedule like with a shuttle.

Driving to Banff

You may choose to visit Banff as part of a larger Canadian road trip, or to fly into another airport besides Calgary.

Here are some driving distances between Banff and other points in western Canada and northwestern US:

  • Edmonton: 415 kilometers / 4 hours  
  • Kelowna: 480 kilometers / ~6 hours
  • Kalispell, MT: 480 kilometers / 5.5 hours
  • Spokane, WA: 575 kilometers, 6 hours, 45 minutes
  • Vancouver: 850 kilometers / 9 hours
  • Seattle: 1020 kilometers / 11 hours

Taking the train to Banff

For an unforgettable experience, you can take a scenic train ride through the Canadian Rockies to get to Banff. The Rocky Mountaineer offers luxury train service from Vancouver to Banff, passing through breathtaking scenery along the way. 

It is not cheap – it costs $1500-2000 per person for a two day trip, which also makes a stop in Kamloops. However, it’s supposed to be an absolutely magical experience, from the impeccable luxury service, to the jaw-dropping views you get along the way. Here’s a recap of what the experience is like.

VIA Rail, Canada’s national rail service, also offers service to Jasper. From here, you can also take a shuttle to get to Banff.

Getting around during your 3 day Banff itinerary

Getting around by car

While you don’t necessarily *NEED* a car to get around during your 3 day trip to Banff, I think it’s the best way to get around. While you can get around to most of the top sights in the park via public transportation, this offers you the most flexibility. There are several spots that I included on this 3 day Banff itinerary that you will need a car for.

Do note that parking can be an absolute nightmare during the peak summer months, particularly at Lake Louise, so you may consider using public transportation for that (or get there SUPER early!). Also note that Moraine Lake Road is no longer accessible to private vehicles, so you’ll definitely need to use the bus if you want to go there on your itinerary for Banff.

The parking lots in Banff town also fill up pretty fast and finding parking can be frustrating at times. If possible, walk from your hotel into town to avoid the hassle of trying to find parking.

I suggest renting a car and picking it up at the Calgary Airport, as shuttles from Calgary to Banff are pretty expensive. For the best deals, I recommend searching on, which allows you to compare prices from the top car rental companies and offers a price match guarantee. 

Be sure to reserve your rental car as soon as possible (even as early as 3 months ahead of time), as prices go up and they tend to book up super quickly for the summer months!

Roam Transit

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of driving and having a car in Banff, don’t sweat – there’s public transportation available!

Roam Transit operates the local bus system, with service within Banff town and to many of the most popular destinations in the area.

Here are some of the attractions that you can reach via Roam Transit:

  • Banff Gondola (Line 1)
  • Banff Upper Hot Springs (Line 1)
  • Bow Falls (Line 2)
  • Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (Line 2)
  • Lake Minnewanka (Line 6)
  • Lake Louise (Line 8S or 8X)
  • Johnston Canyon (Line 9)

Fares are $2 for rides within town, and $6 for regional service (which includes service to Canmore, Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon). You can also buy a one day Super Pass or $25, which includes service to all of the above (and free access to the Lake Connector shuttle between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake).

You’ll likely take a Parks Canada shuttle if you want to visit Moraine Lake on your 3 day Banff itinerary

Parks Canada Shuttle (Lake Louise/Moraine Lake)

If you’re spending your 3 days in Banff in the summer, consider taking a Parks Canada shuttle to Lake Louise. The parking lot at Lake Louise gets super congested and fills up super quick, especially on the weekends – like, we snagged one of the few spots left at 7:30am. If you don’t want to deal with the hassle, then this is a good option (and if you get there too late, it might be your only option).

If you’re planning to visit Moraine Lake on your itinerary for Banff, note that this is one of your only options to access the lake (the others being private tours or biking in)!

Shuttles depart from the Lake Louise Park and Ride for both the lakeshore and Moraine Lake. A Lake Connector bus runs between the two lakes, so you can easily visit both in a single day.

Shuttles to the Lake Louise lakeshore run from May 18 to October 8; service to Moraine Lake starts on June 1. Service frequency is every 20 minutes from 6:30am to 6pm (8am to 6pm for the Lake Connector).

You MUST make an advance reservation in order to ride the shuttles! If advance reservations are sold out, there are additional seats that get released on a rolling basis at 8am MDT two days before departure. Tickets costs $8 CAD + $3 service fee. 

Check the Parks Canada website for the latest information, schedules, routes, and more.

The Hop-On, Hop-off bus stops at popular attractions in the area, like the Banff Gondola

Hop-on, Hop-off Bus

If driving, finding parking, and/or navigating shuttle and bus schedules sounds overwhelming to you, then taking a hop-on, hop-off bus is the perfect option for you! These buses run from June 9 to September 24.

Service is offered from Banff town to some of the most popular sights in the area: Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and the Banff Gondola. 

Guided Tours

Going on a guided tour makes it super easy to see some of the top highlights in one go, and is also a fantastic way to see some of those spots that you can’t reach by public transportation.

  • Lake Louise and Yoho NP: This tour takes you to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, as well as the glittering Emerald Lake, located inside nearby Yoho National Park.
  • Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway: You’ll get to see Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Lake Minnewanka, along with a few stops along the stunning Icefields Parkway, including Peyto Lake
  • Sunrise at Moraine Lake & Lake Louise: If you’re looking to experience Moraine Lake at sunrise, this is one of the only ways to do it (the other is biking there). You’ll also get to experience Lake Louise before the crowds arrive.

Park entrance fees + National Parks Passes

You will need to purchase a National Parks Pass in order to stay in the town of Banff, visit the park’s attractions, and to explore the area, including the Icefields Parkway. You will also need it to visit other parks in the Canadian Rockies, including Yoho National Park and Jasper National Park, among others.

The fees collected from the passes go towards conserving and maintaining the park, helping support visitor services and facilities. Please make sure you buy the pass, as not only you will avoid getting a ticket if caught without one, you are also investing in the park.

You can get a parks pass a visitors center, but I *HIGHLY* recommend that you purchase it online in advance to save you time (then you don’t have to worry about it later!). Once acquired, you will need to place it on the inside of your windshield, so that it is visible and available for inspection.

Here is a breakdown of the various options for passes to help you decide which to purchase:

  • Day Pass: Costs $10.50 CAD for adults 18-64, $9 CAD for seniors 65+, and free for youth 17 and under. These passes are valid for a single person for a single day. It is a good option if you are visiting solo and only plan to stay for a few days.
  • Family/Group Day Pass: If you’re traveling as a group or family, this will get you entry into the park for your entire vehicle (for up to 7 people) for one day for $21 CAD.
  • Discovery Pass: This pass gets you unlimited entry into all participating National Parks in Canada (similar to the America the Beautiful pass in the US). It costs $72.25 CAD for adults 18-64 and $61.75 CAD for seniors 65+. There’s also a group pass for up to 7 people in a single vehicle, which costs $145.25 CAD. Depending on how many people are in your car, and if you plan to extend your itinerary to visit other parks, this option might end up being the most cost effective.

This may be obvious, but just in case it’s not, your America the Beautiful pass won’t work here. While this pass is valid for the national parks in the US (like Olympic National Park, for example), Banff is in Canada so your pass won’t work here.

Do you need a reservation to visit Banff?

No – you do not currently need a reservation to visit Banff National Park.

However, do note that you will need to make a reservation if you are planning to utilize the shuttles to Lake Louise and/or Moraine Lake on your itinerary for Banff.

What to pack for your 3 days in Banff

Here are some things to pack for your trip to Banff:

  • Puffy Jacket: It does tend to get chilly at night and early in the morning, even in the summer. Bring something lightweight and packable, like the Patagonia NanoPuff (my fave!), or the Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Parka (a good budget option).
  • Rain jacket: It does sometimes rain, even in the summer. At the very least, bring a packable rain jacket that you can just throw in your back. 
  • Base layer:  Might be good to have for chillier days.
  • Sunglasses: It can be BRIGHT up in the mountains! Grab a polarized pair – I love the ones from Goodr, as they’re also cute and affordable! 
  • Water: Be sure to take plenty of water when hiking! Fill up a reusable water bottle to reduce plastic usage as well. You can also bring a hydration bladder (I use the one from my hydration pack – sometimes I just take out the bladder and stick it in my daypack).
  • Day Pack: For holding all your gear, snacks, camera equipment, and more. You can also get a hydration pack to hold your essentials and for easy access to your water (super convenient since it can get hot).
  • Power bank: Your phone is likely going to drain its battery as it tries to connect to cell reception. Plus, you’ll probably snap a bunch of photos and videos! Stay powered up with a portable charger.
  • Camera: Banff is *so* beautiful that you’ll snap tons and tons of photos! A phone camera will do, but consider bringing a dSLR for upgraded images. The Sony a6000 is my favorite travel camera!
  • Collapsible lantern: If you plan to be out for sunset, be prepared with some lighting for when it starts to get dark afterwards.
  • Bug spray: Yes, there are mosquitos and yes, they are aggressive! Bring bug spray! 
  • Bear mace: You’ll be in bear country so be prepared, just in case. You can’t actually fly with this, but you can pick some up when you arrive in Canada.
  • First Aid Kit: Be prepared, just in case! This one is compact but has all the essentials.
  • Snacks: I always have some protein bars on hand to fuel me up on a hike. These Think bars are my favorite!
  • Electrolytes: They’re perfect for extra hydration, but they also work wonders for recovery after tough hikes. I *swear* by Liquid IV!

A few more travel tips for your Banff 3 day itinerary

  • Plan to get up early (and stay out late): When you’re trying to see Banff in 3 days, you’re gonna have to fully take advantage of the time you have to try to see as much as you can. Besides, the parking lots fill up super quick during the summer season, so you’re going to need to get an early start! You’ll also end up staying out late because, well, the sunsets here are just too darn pretty to miss.
  • Pack layers: Banff still gets chilly at night and early in the morning, so you’ll want to pack layers that you can peel on and off. The weather can be temperamental during the day sometimes too. And, thunderstorms can happen (we got caught in one) so bring a rainproof layer as well.
  • You’ll probably encounter some wildlife: You’re in the wilderness, after all. Please, please, please remember not to approach, touch, or feed them! Also remember that they can get aggressive at any time, so keep your distance.
  • A note about bears: Banff is in bear country, so be prepared. While bears in this area will usually avoid people and will leave you alone most of the time, they can and will attack when they feel threatened. Bear attacks can and have happened. Hike in groups if you can, and talk and laugh loudly on trails. Bears usually run away when they hear unfamiliar noise. Carry bear spray just in case. You can buy some at the visitors centers (and ask about any bear sightings as well). Learn how to use it properly before you actually need to. Also, do not approach them or get out of your car when you see one. Just…don’t.
  • If you’re driving, keep an eye on the gas meter: Things in Banff are more spread out than you might expect – for example, it’s about an hour from Banff town to Lake Louise. You’ll be doing a lot of driving, and there are few gas stations after you leave town. Be sure to check the meter and get gas before you leave town.
  • Get bug spray: There’s tonssss of mosquitos here in the summer, and they are pretty vicious. We forgot our bug spray one day and we were eaten alive. Do not be us!
  • Carry Canadian cash: Handy for when you want to visit the tea houses at the Plain of Six Glaciers or Lake Agnes (highly recommended).
  • Buy your Parks Pass in advance: It’ll save you time and hassle, so you don’t have to worry about it. 

Where to stay in Banff

There are three possible areas to base yourself in the Banff area – Banff town, Canmore, and Lake Louise.

Wherever you stay, book your accommodations well in advance! If you’re visiting in the summer (which you probably are, since this is a Banff summer itinerary), that means 2-3 months ahead of time. Things book up super quickly around here!

I’ll go over the pros and cons of each area you can stay in, as well as possible options in each:

Downtown Banff

Banff town

Banff town is the most centrally located of these options, putting you in close proximity to many attractions. It’s also the best choice if you’re planning to rely on public transportation to get around, and many of the bus routes start in town. It’s also got a cute downtown area with tons of restaurants, cafes, and bars. 

The downside – it’s expensive.

However, you’ll find the most options for accommodations here, with a range of options to suit your taste and budget. You’ll find everything from shared hostel rooms, to opulent luxury hotels, and everything in between.

Some options for where to stay in Banff town:

  • Dorothy Motel: We stayed here our first few nights, and really enjoyed our stay! This is a “boutique motel,” so don’t expect anything super fancy, but it’s a super cute and comfortable place to stay. There’s not much in terms of amenities, but you can use the amenities at Banff Caribou Lodge (i.e. hot tub), their sister property down the street. It’s located at the end of Banff Avenue, so you’re close enough to all the action but far away that you don’t have to deal with the madness.
  • Buffalo Mountain Lodge: Our friend got married here, so we stayed for a night. It’s a cozy property nestled in a forest up in the hills right above downtown Banff. The rooms have a log cabin feel, and are super spacious and comfortable, with a fireplace and claw foot bathtub. The grounds are beautiful, with views of the forest and the surrounding mountains.
  • Fairmont Banff Springs: If you’re looking for a bit of luxury, you can’t do much better than the Fairmont Banff Springs. One of the most luxurious hotels in Banff, it’s housed in an actual castle (like the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City!). You’ll be right next to downtown, but surrounded by picturesque mountains and trees. 
Downtown Canmore


Canmore is another charming mountain town, located 20 minutes southeast of downtown Banff. Like Banff town, it’s got a cute downtown area, with plenty of options for restaurants, cafes, and bars.

One plus side of staying in Canmore is that the accommodations here tend to be a little bit cheaper than staying in Banff town. Some people also prefer staying here as they say it’s got a more local vibe.

The biggest downside is that you’re going to have to do a bit of extra driving to get around. While 20 minutes to Banff doesn’t seem too far, you also have the factor in that it’s another hour from there to get to some of the top attractions in the area, i.e. Lake Louise. 

In any case, here are some options for places to stay in Canmore:

  • Lamphouse Hotel: We almost stayed here but decided to stay in Banff town instead. This is a newer boutique motel that embraces design and convenience. The rooms are stylish, and comfortable, with modern amenities and each with a balcony with a view of the mountains. They have an awesome hot tub as well. 
  • Basecamp Resorts Canmore: A friend of mine stayed here and loved her stay! The suites are spacious, modern, and comfortable, and come with a kitchen. They also have a rooftop hot tub with an insane view of the mountains.
  • Malcolm Hotel: This luxury boutique hotel is where chic design and resort amenities come together. You’ll get spectacular mountain views, unparalleled service, a gorgeous pool area, hot tubs, a BBQ area and more. It’s a bit off the main downtown strip so it’s ideal if you want some peace and quiet.
Lake Louise

Lake Louise

By staying in Lake Louise, you’ll be just minutes from the famed lake. You’ll be able to access the lake easily, without having to make that hour drive from Banff town (or more if you’re staying in Canmore). This means that you’ll be able to get there super early in the morning, before all the crowds arrive!

The downside of staying in Lake Louise – the options are limited. 

Here are some suggested places to stay in Lake Louise:

  • Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: If you’re going to splurge on one hotel in Banff, make it this one. This is *the* most iconic hotel in Banff, and for good reason – you basically get the privilege of waking up to Lake Louise at your doorstep. 
  • Paradise Lodge and Bungalows: This property offers spacious lodge rooms and cabins, with balconies and mountain views. It’s conveniently located less than a mile away from the lakeshore and hiking trails.
  • Lake Louise Inn: This quaint, cozy inn is located in Lake Louise village, with easy access to restaurants, cafes, and a market. They also offer a shuttle to the Park & Ride lot, where you can connect to a shuttle to the lakeshore and Moraine Lake.  

The Perfect 3 Day Banff Itinerary

Banff Itinerary DAY 1 (Johnston Canyon + Banff Town)

The first day of your 3 day Banff itinerary will give you a good introduction to the area. You’ll get to see Johnston Canyon, visit your first lakes in the area, and explore the attractions located at and near Banff town itself. 

Johnston Canyon

The stunning Johnston Canyon area features towering limestone cliffs, gushing waterfalls, and vibrant turquoise pools, created by thousands of years of erosion. Over the years, the rushing waters of Johnston Creek have cut through the rock to create impressive canyon walls and a beautiful gorge.

The best part about Johnston Canyon is its accessibility – the trail is paved, family friendly, and can be accessed in both summer and winter. In fact, some say it’s better in the winter, when the falls are frozen over and the canyon walls are covered with a dusting of snow.

Because of its accessibility, Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular spots on any itinerary for Banff, so be sure to get here early (ideally before 9am), otherwise you may find that the parking lots have filled up.

You can hike as little as a mile round-trip to the Lower Falls, but the views get more spectacular (and the crowds thin out) the further in you venture. Still, if you are limited on time (understandable if you’re trying to see Banff in 3 days) it’s still well worth it to hike to just the Lower Falls as the hike is easy, flat, and you still get a sense of the beauty of the area.

The trail starts in a forest and then continues along multiple footbridges that follow the creek, taking you deeper into the canyon. In just over a kilometer, you’ll reach the viewing platform for the falls. There’s also a tunnel that goes through another viewing platform that gives you a closer look at the falls, but there was a big crowd of people and I didn’t feel like waiting around.

From the Lower Falls, the trail continues up to the Upper Falls. It gets a bit steeper at this point, but the trail stays paved and is still relatively manageable for hikers of all abilities. You’ll eventually reach a viewing platform where you can see the falls drop 30 feet into a vibrant pool below. This is probably where you’ve seen the Instagram-famous view of the falls taken from – it’s spectacular!

Another steep climb brings you to a second viewing platform, which puts you at relatively the same height as the top of the falls. 

All in all, it is 5.4 kilometers (3.4 miles) round-trip to Upper Falls, which takes about two hours to complete. Most people turn back here, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can continue onto the Ink Pots. The trail continues an additional 2.7 kilometers (1.67 miles) each way from the Upper Falls, with over 339 meters (1112 feet) in elevation gain.

The Ink Pots are a collection of seven vibrantly colored green and blue pools, hued by the minerals in the water. Each pool is a different color because they fill up at a different rate. You can even see circles in the pools, a result of water and air bubbling up to the surface. The water is so clear in the pools that they resemble glass!

Johnston Canyon is located along the Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic road that runs parallel along the main highway between Banff and Lake Louise. If you have extra time, I suggest driving along the Bow Valley Parkway, as it is full of beautiful scenery and viewpoints. 

Do note that there is a lot of wildlife along the Bow Valley Parkway, so drive carefully and be alert at all times! Also note that it is subject to seasonal road closures. 

Note: Every spring and again in the fall (in 2024, this will happen May 1-June 30 and then again from Sept 1-Sept 30), vehicles will not be able to drive the 17 kilometer stretch that goes from the TransCanada-Highway junction to Johnston Canyon. If you are visiting during this time, you can still access Johnston Canyon and Bow Valley Parkway via the intersection near Castle Mountain Chalets.

Photo by Matthew Fournier on Unsplash

Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake

Now it’s time to get your first look at the lakes of Banff! There are so many spectacular lakes in and around Banff that it’s impossible to see them all, but you’ll see some of the best ones on this 3 day Banff itinerary. Starting with – Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake!

Lake Minnewanka may get overshadowed by some of the more famous lakes in the area, like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. However, it’s the largest lake in the park, and also the closest to town and is also amazing in its own way.

The glacial lake is surrounded by majestic mountains, which are especially stunning when they reflect into the emerald waters. You can enjoy the views while walking along the trail on the lakeshore , but to really enjoy what Lake Minnewanka offers, you should get ON the water.

One of the most popular activities at Lake Minnewanka is to take a one-hour cruise around the lake, which gives you some incredible views of the water and the surrounding scenery. You’ll also get to hear commentary about the history of the area, the indigenous population that once lived here, along with the vegetation and wildlife that inhabit it – if you’re lucky, you might spot some too!

You can also rent a canoe or kayak to explore the waters on your own. At the same dock where the boat cruise leaves is a stand that rents canoes and kayaks. Do note that the winds will have to be relatively calm for this, and personally, I feel like there are better lakes in the area that are better for this.

Photo by Filipe Freitas on Unsplash

Right next to Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake, known for its emerald waters and sweeping views of Mount Rundle. It’s also known for the reflections that the lake creates during blue hour, which are supposed to be really incredible!

You can also kayak or paddleboard on Two Jack Lake. It’s better suited for these activities than Lake Minnewanka, as Two Jack Lake has calmer waters and much less wind. 

Explore Banff town

While Banff may be known for its mountains and glacial lakes, it also boasts a vibrant town and lively downtown area that is well worth exploring on your 3 days in Banff itinerary. There’s plenty to see and do in Banff town itself to keep you busy for days, but I suggest spending at least an afternoon checking out some of its highlights.

Here are some things to do in Banff town:

  • Banff Avenue: This is the main street in town and is lined with charming storefronts, chateau-style lodges, colorful flower pots, and plenty of incredible mountain views in every direction. You’ll find plenty of restaurants, bars, cafes, and souvenir shops here. Whatever you do, do not miss grabbing ice cream at Cows, known to have the best ice cream in Canada (it’s definitely some of the best I’ve tasted, that’s for sure!). For the best coffee in town, stop by Whitebark Cafe.
  • Tunnel Mountain: If you were looking to do a bit more hiking on your first day in Banff, you’re in luck! The Tunnel Mountain trail starts right from downtown Banff and is known as one of the best day hikes in the area. The 4.3 kilometer (2.7 mile) hike leads you up a series of switchbacks up Tunnel Mountain, and ends with gorgeous views over the valley and the town.
  • Mount Norquay Chairlift: Take an open-air chairlift ride up Mount Norquay. In less than 10 minutes, you’ll arrive at the summit, located almost 7000 feet in elevation. From here, enjoy stunning views of Bow Valley and the town of Banff.
  • Banff Park Museum: Learn more about the natural history of Banff at this museum, with more than 5,000 vintage botanical and zoological specimens, from bears, bighorns, birds, and more.
Bow Falls viewpoint
  • Bow Falls Viewpoint: This scenic spot is located just outside downtown Banff (a 15 minute walk, or a 5 minute drive) and has been featured in several 1950s films, the most famous of which is River of No Return with Marilyn Monroe.
  • Surprise Corner: This viewpoint is nestled along Tunnel Mountain Road, and has one of the most magical views of Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, with Sulphur Mountain in the background.
  • Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum: This museum is dedicated to the history and culture of the indigenous First Nations tribes that once called the area home.
  • Cascade Gardens: This four acre terraced garden is brimming with vibrant flowers, cascading ponds and wooden gazebos, set against the castle-like Administration Building. Best of all? Admission is free!
  • Banff Upper Hot Springs: The highest operating hot springs in Canada, with geothermically heated waters. Going for a soak in the springs is the perfect way to relax and enjoy some gorgeous views of Mount Rundle and the surrounding mountains. 

Sunset at the Banff Gondola

One of the most popular things to do in Banff town (that deserves its own mention) is to climb up to the top of Sulphur Mountain on the famous Banff Gondola. An eight minute ride in a covered gondola car takes you up 2281 meters (7486 feet) high above the ground.

From the top, you can see the entire Banff area and the valley. You’ll get some spectacular views of some of the famous mountain peaks of the area including Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain, the Bow Valley, the town of Banff, Lake Minnewanka, and more. I recommend coming at sunset for the best views!

There’s plenty to do and see up at the summit, aside from admiring the views from the open-air observation deck. I suggest getting there at least one hour before the sunset to fully take advantage of all there is to do.

One of the best things to do is to go on a 30 minute hike along the wooden boardwalk, which brings you to a weather station on Sanson’s Peak, from where you can take in some more incredible views of the area.

If you just want to sit and relax, there are plenty of fire pits around the observation deck, where you can hang out and enjoy the views. There’s also a number of restaurants and eateries at the top, from Sky Bistro, where you can enjoy fine dining with a view (the food is supposed to be incredible!), to the buffet-style Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen. For quick snacks and drinks, you can also stop into Peak Patio.

There’s also an interpretive center, a theater, and more.

Yes, the Gondola is a bit expensive, with summer rates starting at $55 CAD per adult, but I think it’s worth doing at least once in your life because the views are truly incredible and there’s plenty to do at the top! Pricing depends on demand and how far you book in advance – for reference, we paid around $80 CAD to go up on a Friday night in late August and bought tickets the day of. 

I’d recommend booking your tickets in advance to skip queues and to save a bit of money (and to ensure that tickets don’t sell out!). 

If you want to save a bit of money, you can hike up Sulphur Mountain and take the gondola back down (or hike back down if you *really* want to save some cash). The hike is rated moderate in difficulty, but isn’t for the faint of heart – it’s  5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) one-way, with 655 meters (2148 feet) of elevation gain, with tons of switchbacks. I do think that taking the gondola is a much better option, as it saves time (every minute counts when trying to see Banff in 3 days) and has better views!

Dinner in Banff town

We’ve now come to an end of the first day on your Banff 3 day itinerary – time to enjoy some delicious dinner in town!

There are plenty of dining options in Banff town, and anything and everything to suit what you’re in the mood for. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of cuisines that you could find in town – and that pretty much everything we had was delicious!

Here are some options for dinner in Banff:

  • Park Distillery: Serves up fun campfire cuisine with a twist. They also distill their own spirits using water from six Canadian Rockies glaciers, and grain sourced from high-altitude family farms, which make for some excellent cocktails.
  • The Bison: Known for high-quality, farm-to-table cuisine, in a rustic-modern setting. You’ll find creative dishes like elk poutine and butternut bruschetta, which has won them several awards.
  • Seoul Country: We were in the mood for some Korean food after a long day of hiking, and this place really hit the spot! You’ll find a menu full of authentic Korean dishes, from BBQ to bibimbap to noodles.
  • Banff Ave. Brewing Co: Find updated takes on classic pub food, with craft brews. The two-story restaurant has some lovely views overlooking the town as well.
  • Pho House: Not the best pho I’ve ever had, but a bowl of warm pho really hits the spot after getting rained on while hiking.
  • The Maple Leaf: Come here to try upscale Canadian cuisine in an apres ski setting. Everything is made using Canadian products, from salmon fished in British Columbia, to Alberta bison.

Banff Itinerary DAY 2 (Lake Louise + Moraine Lake)

The second day of your 3 day Banff itinerary is dedicated to two of its most famous sights, which absolutely should not be missed: Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. There’s plenty of things to do and see here, but if you happen to have energy left at the end of the day, I also suggest heading to Canmore to check out a (kinda sorta) secret viewpoint for sunset.

Moraine Lake

Chances are you’ve seen a photo of Moraine Lake and it may be what made you want to go to Banff in the first place – at least it was for me. 

I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of Moraine Lake on Instagram over the years, and have always worried that it wouldn’t live up to the pictures. Well, after FINALLY seeing it in person, I have to say – it’s even BETTER in person!

It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in Canada, if not the world (right up there with Lake Atitlan in Guatemala!), and the spectacular scenery here will absolutely blow your mind.

There’s a short window for visiting Moraine Lake, as it’s only open from June 1 until whenever the snow starts to fall, usually by the first week of October. This is one of the reasons that summer is the best time to visit Banff.

Unfortunately, Moraine Lake has become a victim of its own popularity, and it’s kind of a pain to get to. Because of crowding, Moraine Lake Road will be closed to personal vehicles as of 2023. You will have to do a bit of planning to be able to go there (see below). Even still, you absolutely must stop here on your 3 day trip to Banff, as it really is worth it, I promise! 

Even if you no longer have the option of getting up at 3am to get to Moraine Lake for sunrise (yes, people actually did that!), I still recommend getting an early start. Plan on getting on one of the early bird shuttles, which start as early as 6:30am, to really make the most of your day!

Getting to Moraine Lake

Since you can no longer drive to Moraine Lake, here are your options for getting there:

  • Parks Canada Shuttle: This is probably going to be the best way to get to Moraine Lake, as long as you plan in advance. Shuttles depart from the Lake Louise Park and Ride. A Lake Connector bus runs between both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, so you can easily visit both in a single day (good news because Lake Louise is the next stop on your Banff 3 day itinerary).

    Shuttles run every 20 minutes from 6:30am to 6pm (8am to 6pm for the Lake Connector).

    You MUST make an advance reservation in order to ride the shuttles! It costs $8 CAD + $3 service fee. You can also connect onto the Lake Connector for free if you take Roam Transit to Lake Louise (reservations are not necessary in this case).
  • Hop-on, Hop-off Bus: These buses stop here, along with other popular sights in the area, like Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and the Banff Gondola.
  • Guided tours: You’ll find plenty of guided tours that include Moraine Lake as a stop, along with some of the other top attractions in the area. It’s an ideal way to leave the driving to someone else, while learning more about the area. A fun and highly-rated option is this open-top, double decker bus tour. Taking a guided tour is also the one of the only ways to see Moraine Lake at sunrise!
  • Lake Moraine Bus Company: This is a new bus company launched by a local couple, wanting to provide an option for people to visit Moraine Lake at sunrise. They offer two shuttles from Samson Mall in Lake Louise Village – one at 4am and another at 5am – to arrive at Moraine Lake in time for sunrise. They offer a number of morning and early afternoon shuttles from the Lake Louise Park and Ride as well, which may be worth looking into if you cannot get on a Parks Canada shuttle. The cost is $35 for adults, and $25 for children.
  • Moraine Lake Sunrise Shuttle: Here’s another option for getting to Lake Louise for sunrise. Departure times vary, as they pick you up and have you at the lake 45 minutes before sunrise. You’ll have 2 hours to spend at Moraine Lake, before catching the bus back to your pickup point. This option costs $75.
  • Biking: You can also bike along Moraine Lake Road, although this is not recommended if there’s a lot of vehicles on the road. It is 11 kilometers each way and takes about 45 minutes.
Things to do at Moraine Lake
  • Rockpile Trail: As the name suggests, you’ll find a pile of rocks, from where you’ll find the best viewpoints of Moraine Lake. It’s a short, 0.5 mile hike to get to the Rockpile. You can find the trailhead on the left, about halfway down the parking lot.
  • Walk around the lakeshore: The best views are going to be from the top, but it’s fun to get a different perspective. The Lakeshore Trails runs 1.5 kilometers and is flat and easy.
  • Canoe on the lake: While many people canoe on Lake Louise, you can consider paddling out on Moraine Lake instead, which is also slightly cheaper. One-hour canoe rentals start at $130 CAD for up to three people. 
  • Hiking: There are a number of hiking trails that start at Moraine Lake. Do note that the trails in this area tend to be more remote, with a high chance of bear sightings, so you should hike in groups of 4 or more. Two popular hikes here are Consolation Lake (6km / 3.7 miles round-trip, 60 m/197 ft elevation gain), an easy hike that starts near the rockpile, or the Larch Valley trail (8.6 km/5.4 miles round-trip, 603m/1981 ft elevation gain) , which is especially stunning in the fall when the leaves turn.  

Lake Louise

Lake Louise needs no introduction – it’s perhaps the most famous attraction in Banff and a must-visit. It’s the crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies, and with just one glance it’s easy to see why – the turquoise waters here are absolutely gorgeous!

You’ll get to fully experience the turquoise waters that Lake Louise is famous for in the summer months. Do note that the lake doesn’t thaw until late May or early June, so wait until then to experience in all its glory.

However, if you’re visiting during the winter months, the lake provides a whole different experience and slew of activities – from ice skating on the lake, to cozying up in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

There’s a whooooole slew of activities to keep you busy at Lake Louise! As you’re trying to see Banff in 3 days, you won’t have time to do them all and will have to pick and choose the ones that are most important to you.

Do note that the lake gets VERY busy in the summer months, especially on the weekends. Come here as early as you can! If for some reason you didn’t visit Moraine Lake before this, plan to arrive to Lake Louise by 8am in order to guarantee a parking spot.

Do also note that there is a $21 fee for parking at the Lake Louise lakeshore from 7am-7pm during the shuttle operational season (May 18-October 8 in 2024). This is in addition to having a valid parks pass.

Hiking at Lake Louise

Lake Louise is home to a number of incredible hikes, to suit all ability levels. I *highly* recommend doing at least one of these hikes on your itinerary for Banff to get a sense of what the area offers! Some of these hikes connect to each other, and can be completed in one day.

  • Lake Agnes (4.6 miles, 1427 ft elevation gain): This hike starts from the Fairmont Chateau and takes you up to Lake Agnes, where there is a quaint tea house with no running water or electricity. Here, you can enjoy some delicious tea, sandwiches, pastries, and light bites, as you enjoy views of the gorgeous Lake Agnes. Expect prices to be a bit higher, as they helicopter in most of the supplies at the beginning of the season, and the staff hikes in with day-to-day supplies every day. Bring cash – they recently started taking credit cards via Square, but there is no guarantee that the system will work. The hike is rated moderate difficulty, but I thought it was a bit steep; still, I think it’s very doable.
  • Little Beehive (5.7 miles, 1955 ft elevation gain): You can continue onto the Little Beehive trail from Lake Agnes. From here, you’ll find incredible views overlooking Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau, along with the surrounding mountains. You can combine this with the Big Beehive (below) as well; we intended to, but we tired out lol.
  • Big Beehive (6.7 miles, 2552 ft elevation gain): This one also starts from Lake Agnes. You’ll find yourself with a view above Lake Louise (the water looks especially milky and like Gatorade from here), the Chateau, and the surrounding mountains and glaciers.The view is a bit different from the Little Beehive – I’d say this one is better, so if you choose only one, make it this one! Yes, it is STEEP – the switchbacks are brutal, but there’s only eight of them, so it can be done! The view is well worth it, I promise!
  • Plain of Six Glaciers (9.1 miles, 1929 ft elevation gain): This one is long, but rated moderate difficulty because the elevation gain is gradual. The trail starts along the Lake Louise lakeshore, and then heads upwards into a stunning natural mountain amphitheater. You’ll get the chance to be up close and personal with some of the glaciers above Lake Louise. There’s also a tea house here where you can enjoy some refreshments – bring Canadian cash.
Other things to do at Lake Louise

While there are incredible hiking opportunities at Lake Louise, that’s not all. Here are some other activities you can do while at Lake Louise:

  • Go canoeing: Chances are you’ve seen the famous red canoes out on the lake. Out of all the lakes in Banff, Lake Louise is the most popular to go canoeing in. Canoe rentals are offered by the Fairmont Chateau on a first-come, first-served basis in the summer months. Although it is expensive for non-hotel guests ($135 for 30 minutes, or $145 for an hour for up to 3 people), it is one of the most iconic experiences in Banff. Hotel guests receive a discounted rate, as well as priority access.
  • Walk around the lakeshore: The Lakeshore Trail stretches for 3 kilometers to the other side of Lake Louise. Even if you don’t have time to do the entirety of the trail, I recommend at least walking a portion of it. The further you get away from the Chateau, the more the crowds thin out. By walking at least a bit of the Lakeshore Trail, you’ll find a bit of peace and quiet (and have plenty of opportunities to snap photos without the madness).
  • Hang out at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you can experience a bit of the luxury of one of Banff’s most famous hotels. You can admire the architecture (it’s a castle, y’all!), check out the view from the terrace, wander the grounds, stop for lunch at the Lakeview Lounge, or even have afternoon tea. 

Sunset at Three Sisters viewpoint

After you get your fix of glacial lakes, it’s time to drive down to Canmore to head to a (kinda sorta) secret viewpoint for sunset.

While Canmore often gets overshadowed by its big sister Banff, it’s a vibrant mountain town in its own right. It offers plenty of hiking opportunities (it’s the starting point for the East End of Rundle hike, one of the most epic in the area), outdoor recreation, and is known for its summits like Ha Ling Peak and the Three Sisters.

We will be catching a sunset view of the latter at the Three Sisters viewpoint.

To get here, park at the off-leash dog park. From here, you’ll cross down under the road and railroad tracks (go underneath the bridge, not across the road). Our friend Jess told us about this spot, and we were convinced she was either lost and/or up to no good at this point, but it’s an actual trail listed on Alltrails. Soon enough, you’ll come onto a small trail that leads through a creek bed.

Eventually, you’ll come to a small pond, with a view of the Three Sisters perfectly reflected onto it, which is especially gorgeous at sunset!

After that hike, you’ll almost feel like you’ve discovered a secret spot, but you’ll probably encounter a handful of other people who also came to capture the sunset (it’s a not-so-secret spot among local photographers). Still, it’s a beautiful spot and well worth the little detour!

Bring plenty of bug spray though, because the mosquitos here are VICIOUS.

Dinner in Canmore

We’ve now come to the end of the second day on your Banff 3 day itinerary – time to grab some dinner in Canmore! 

Canmore has a lively downtown area, with plenty of food options to suit what you’re in the mood for. Just walk down Main Street and you’ll find plenty of restaurants to choose from!

Here are some popular restaurants in Canmore:

  • Mumbai Local: We were in the mood for some Indian food, and this hit the spot! You’ll find authentic Indian dishes with a twist, and we loved everything we ordered. Our favorites were the prawn and coconut curry, which comes in an actual coconut, and the tandoori cauliflower.
  • The Sensory: Come here for modern fine dining with a view. The Sensory was shortlisted for being one of the best new restaurants in Canada, and offers mountain-inspired cuisine.
  • Crazy Weed: Crazy Weed is one of the most popular restaurants in town, and has a casual atmosphere with an eclectic menu, with something for everyone.
  • 4296: This trendy spot features innovative (and Insta-worthy) dishes and creative cocktails, made with Alberta ingredients and with an Asian influence. They also have a menu of small, medium, and large plates, so you can order based on how hungry you are.

Banff Itinerary DAY 3 (Emerald Lake + Icefields Parkway)

The last day of your 3 days in Banff itinerary will lead you to some points that are further afield, most notably on the famous Icefields Parkway. You’ll also make a stop at Emerald Lake, which is technically located outside of Banff National Park, but is one of the most beautiful sights in the area and well worth the detour.

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is located in Yoho National Park, which technically is in the neighboring province of British Columbia. It’s only about 35 minutes away from Lake Louise, so it’s well worth a detour here on your itinerary for Banff.

It’s one of the most beautiful lakes in Canada, known for its gorgeous emerald waters (hence the name, duh).

Yoho National Park is home to some other incredible sights, such as Lake O’Hara and Takkaw Falls, but as you are trying to do Banff in 3 days, you likely won’t have time to see these (time to plan a return trip!).

Plan on spending a couple of hours here, walking around the lakeshore and taking in the sparkling emerald waters. Honestly, we probably could’ve stayed longer, but then it started pouring on us, which cut our visit short.

You can also rent a canoe here, which we did. Rentals are a bit cheaper here than other places in Banff, so it’s a great option if you really want to go canoeing but are on a budget! For reference, we paid $95 CAD for an hour-long rental for three people, which is $50 cheaper than at Lake Louise.

Either way, the views are absolutely incredible from the water and from shore, and you’ll definitely be ooh-ing and aah-ing your way around the lake.

Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is known as one of the most scenic drives in the world. Even with limited time (you are trying to see Banff in 3 days after all!), you definitely should drive at least a portion of it. 

If you don’t have a car in Banff or don’t want to do the driving yourself, I recommend taking a guided tour which makes all the stops at the top sights on the Icefields Parkway!

The 232 kilometer (143 mile) scenic route (officially Highway 93) connects Banff with Jasper National Park, and is filled with plenty of incredible viewpoints and unique attractions. You can literally spend days driving the Icefield Parkway and still not see it all.

I highly recommend at least going to Peyto Lake. From here, you can continue along the Icefields Parkway if you have time (or if your travel plans involve heading to Jasper after Banff), or head back to Banff (which we unfortunately had to do because we had to head to the airport).

Even if you only get to drive the portion from Banff to Peyto Lake, the views are absolutely spectacular and will blow you away! 

Be sure to stop at the following viewpoints along the way:

  • Bow Lake
  • Bow Glacier
  • Crowfoot Glacier

Peyto Lake

I know, I know – this itinerary for Banff includes a TON of lakes. Hopefully, you aren’t leaked out. But I *promise* that Peyto Lake is also worth a stop on your Banff 3 day itinerary!

Peyto Lake is the third most visited lake in Banff (behind Lake Louise and Moraine Lake), and its insanely blue waters are surrounded by deep green trees and snow-capped mountains. The lake gets its vibrant blue color from the rock flour in the glacial melt from the mountains above and it’s truly a sight to behold. 

To get here, navigate to Bow Summit, which is where you’ll find the parking lot for the trailhead to the lake. A 10 minute walk on a paved trail will lead you to the viewing deck to Peyto Lake. 

There’s also a number of makeshift trails that lead to other viewpoints that are slightly lower than the viewing deck. I suggest going to the second viewpoint for a better view. 

To find it, continue along the trail past the viewing platform. Eventually, the trail splits into three paved parts. Look for a fourth, dirt trail, which is unmarked. Make sure the trail you’re on isn’t going downhill, because this will lead to the lakeshore. The correct trail stays flat and goes through the forest – it can be difficult to find the right one, but once you’re on it you’ll know (I know that’s a terrible description, but this is what my friend told me and once I was on it, it made sense).

Eventually, you’ll come across a clearing in the trees, and the view eventually opens up and you’ll come to a spot with a bunch of rocks. This is the viewpoint. 

More stops on the Icefields Parkway

If you have extra time to keep going along the Icefields Parkway (lucky you!), here are some noteworthy stops. You probably won’t have time to make all of the stops, but you can make at least a few of them:

  • Mistaya Canyon: See a deep slot canyon created by the powerful, swirling currents. 
  • Saskatchewan River Crossing: If you need to top off on gas, do it here. Also stop at the Howse Pass viewpoint.
  • Weeping Wall: A sheer cliffside with a number of waterfalls from glacial runoff
  • Big Bend: Literally a big bend in the road, which creates a cool view with the mountains
  • Columbia Icefield Center & Athabasca Glacier: If you only make one additional stop, make it this one. You can have the epic adventure of walking on top of a 10,000 year old ice glacier.  
  • Sunwapta Falls: This is a popular stop and features a little islet with a gushing, towering waterfall
  • Athabasca Falls: Another popular waterfall
  • Valley of the Five Lakes: One of the very first lakes you’ll see in the Jasper area   

Have you ever been to Banff? What would you include on your 3 day Banff itinerary?

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