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The best 3-day Banff itinerary for first-timers

Are you looking for a 3 day Banff itinerary? You came to the right place. 

Banff National Park lies in the vast and scenic landscape of the Canadian Rockies. It offers a remarkable natural view and wildlife; and a plethora of recreational activities for people of all ages.

Your 3 days in Banff, I assure you, will be full of fun and amusement whether you are walking atop a glacier or merely viewing the emerald blue waters of Lake Louise, an alpine lake.

Making an itinerary for 3 days in Banff National Park is all the more difficult because each spot here is worth the minute and penny you spend. If you miss one of them you might regret it later.

That’s why we have made this Banff 3 day itinerary to help you with your Banff trip planning.

It will also tell you about the best time to visit Banff and how to get to the national park.

There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.

In a hurry? Here we share our Banff itinerary overview

If you don’t have time to read through the full Banff 3 day itinerary,  use this overview to get an idea of the things to do each day and save it for later.

  • Day 1: Johnston Canyon, Banff Gondola, Upper hot springs, and Tunnel Mountain trail
  • Day 2: Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and Lake Louise
  • Day 3: Drive the Icefields Parkway

The perfect Bannf itinerary for 3 days

Here we share our detailed day-by-day Banff itinerary. 

Day 1: Johnston Canyon, Banff Gondola, Upper hot springs and Tunnel Mountain trail

We start our Banff adventure with a bang and head to the Johnston Canyon for an early morning hike.

Johnston Canyon

It is a superb experience to enjoy the fresh early morning air in Johnston Canyon.

The canyon is named after an early 20th-century gold prospector. Later, Walter Camp and his family settled here. Today it is supervised by the national park authorities. Walter’s descendants still run the nearby Camp Cabins.

It is a beautiful gorge shaped by the rushing waters of Johnston Creek. It has taken ages for the river to craft these impressive canyon walls by cutting through the limestone rocks.

It feels incredible to stand in such a place where the steep walls of the canyon extend high above you, and the deep blue creek is far below.

The best thing about Johnston Canyon is its accessibility.

The hike is relatively easy along smooth trails and footbridges. As a result, many families and people of all fitness levels and ages can enjoy this marvelous destination.

Travelers usually like to do an easy and short ‘hike’ to see the beauty of the Lower and Upper Falls. Those who love adventure can hike down to the Hidden Cave located near the Upper Falls.

The trail to the lower falls in Johnston Canyon
The trail to the lower falls in Johnston Canyon
The Lower Falls

You have to walk only a 1.1 km walk to the lower and 2.7 km walk to the upper falls. The path is typically paved with metal handles.

The trail to the Lower Falls is 1.1 km and quite even and smooth.

You have to go through a forest initially and then continue your way on footbridges that follow the Johnston Creek deeper into the canyon.

The walk from the parking lot to the Lower Falls will take around 30 minutes at a reasonable pace.

For a closer look, do not miss the short tunnel through the canyon rock that will take you to a viewing platform where you can take really good pictures of the falls.

The Upper Falls

The trail to the Upper Falls is 2.7 km and comparatively steeper. It takes about one hour to reach the upper falls from the parking lot.

The way back is shorter because it goes mostly downhill.

The Upper Falls drop a remarkable 30 meters to a deep pool below. There are 2 viewing spots that both offer breathtaking views on the falls.

The first one is a catwalk over the river at the foot of the falls. A short and steep climb takes you to a second platform overhanging the gorge roughly at the same height as the top of the falls.

Johnston Canyon is also a popular destination in winter when you can go ice walking and ice climbing. The completely frozen Upper Falls are an impressive sight and become a playground for both the amateur as well the veteran ice climbers.

Don’t worry if ice climbing looks a little daunting.  Ice walking is another thrilling activity to be experienced in this beautiful canyon.

Don’t forget to bring your ice cleats.

If you take part in a guided tour you will be provided with all the equipment for a fun and safe tour of the canyon.

Read reviews and book:
Johnston Canyon Icewalk Tickets

To ignite the adventurous spirit further in you, try the trail beyond the Upper Falls for a longer hike.

You will discover The Ink Pots, which are 7 stunning pools of green-colored mineral springs.

They are placed in an open meadow about 3 km from the Upper Falls.

How to reach:

Johnston Canyon is situated 25 kilometers from Banff. You will reach the Canyon in 30 minutes by car. It is 33 km from Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Highway.

This is a stop on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour.  Roam transit had plans for a service to the Johnston Canyon at the time of writing.

An Iglo hut at the top station of the Banff Gondola
A comfy igloo hut up at the mountain station of the Banff Gondola.

Banff Gondola

After lunch, you can ride the famous Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain to enjoy a panoramic view of Banff and the surrounding mountains.

The Gondola takes 8 minutes to climb to the 7,486 feet (2,282 meters) high station at to the pinnacle of Sulphur Mountain

The upper Gondola station is extensive and houses several cafes and restaurants as well as an interpretive center.  The views are what you’re here for though.

Foresee at least an hour, although we really recommend two to three hours to take everything in.

The boardwalk around the station allows for 360° degrees views and there is a short hiking trail that takes you to the weather station at Sanson’s peak.

The mountain is named after Norman Sanson, who walked to the top of Sulphur Mountain about every week for 30 years to check the weather until 1945 when he was 84 years old

The cost of tickets is CAD58 for adults. On the other hand, children aged 6-15 can get their tickets at CAD 29. Those kids aged 5 and below will get the chance to enjoy a free ride.

Riding the Banff Gondola is a popular attraction in Banff and tickets are often sold out weeks in advance. Prices also vary day by day and are usually the lowest if you book then well in advance.

We, therefore, advise you to book your tickets well in advance.

Purchase your tickets in advance:
Banff Gondola Tickets

How to reach:

Leaving from Downtown Banff you can follow the signs for the Banff Gondola.  There is a large parking lot at the station.

You can also use Roam transit line 1 (green line).

The ride to the top is well worth it on clear days.  An alternative is to hike the Tunnel Mountain Trail instead.

It is also possible to hike to the top. The switchback trail starts at the parking lot of the Banff Upper hot springs.  It will take around 2-3 hours to reach the top if you continue at a steady pace.

Upper Hot Springs

Back at the base station, you can stop at the Upper Hot Springs.  The enjoyable warm water will help relieve your sore muscles after this active day.

There used to be two commercially developed hot springs in this area.

The Upper Hot Springs are still open year-round, the lower ones are now known as Cave and Basin and have been transformed into a National Historic Site.

Tunnel Mountain Trail

This hike will take you up the smallest mountain near the town and will reward you with a full view of the town of Banff, Bow Valley, and Mt. Rundle.

The Hike is a 4,3 kilometers (2.7 miles) long round-trip and all reasonably fit people should be able to accomplish it in 2 to 3 hours leaving ample space for photo stops and to take in the beautiful scenery.

The trail gently climbs to the summit of Tunnel Mountain, which ironically has no tunnel.  From there you will have to come the same way back.

How to reach:

The lower trailhead starts at the edge of downtown Banff in St. Julien road.  It is also possible to start from the Tunnel mountain viewpoint area.

To end this thrilling day you can discover the charming town of Banff. It is full of restaurants, bars, and quaint shops.

Don’t make it too late because we got another exciting day coming up.

Two Jack Lake with Mt. Rundle in the backdrop
Two Jack Lake with Mt. Rundle in the backdrop

Day 2: Lake Minnewanka, two Jack Lake and lake Louise

Lake Minnewanka

We start our second day at Lake Minnewanka.

It is not as famous as Lake Lousie or Moraine lake but it has the advantage that you can enjoy it more peacefully in the early hours.

Believe it or not, the parking lot at Lake Moraine fills up 2 hours before sunrise in the peak season.  This means you would need to get up at 4 am to catch the sunrise at this iconic lake in peak season. It’s hard to say if Lake Moraine is worth getting up in the middle of the night.

What I do know is that the enchanting sight of Lake Minnewanka will ensure a refreshing start of your second day.

The lake is 21 km long and is situated only 5 km northeast of Banff.  You can take a leisurely stroll along the shoreside or rent a boat to try your luck fishing.

If that’s not your game you can rent a canoe or kayak to explore the lake at ease.

It’s also possible to visit this lake during sunset sit on the pebbled shore and watch the immense sky turn dark.

You might even be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights.

Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake is the little brother of Minnewanka Lake. It is located right next to it.

Here too you can enjoy your time kayaking.

Two Jack Lake is also better suited for paddleboarding than its bigger brother where you experience more winds and bigger waves.

If you make it in time for sunrise be sure to stop at Two Jack Lake. It’s enchanting to see how the first sun rays lit up Rundle Mountain.

How to reach:

Coming from downtown Banff head north on Banff Ave and then continue onto the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.

Roam Transit operates a seasonal service to Lake Minnewanka. Bus 6 runs between Banff and the lake from mid-May till mid-September.  At the time of writing the exact dates for 2020 were not yet published.

Once you have sufficiently enjoyed the beauty of this mountain lake and taken all the pictures you want it’s time to move on to the next one.

If you are looking for more short hikes in Banff, click here.

Lake Louise Banff National Park Alberta Canada
Lake Louise is a must-see on every Banff 3 day itinerary.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is a beautiful turquoise glacial lake.  It is surrounded by the renowned Fairmont Chateau, the high rugged peaks of the Rockies and,  the Victoria Glacier.

If you are looking for more wonderful lakes in Canada, click here.

It is located 5 km (3.1 m) west of the hamlet of Lake Louise.  The lake is named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848-1939), who was the daughter of Queen Victoria.

If you visit the lake region in the summer it turns into a bustling place full of hiking, canoeing, and climbing.

In the winter months, Lake Louise is completely frozen and famous for ice skating.

Lake Louise is beautiful at any time of the day.

It’s renowned for the impressive sunrises but also at other times of the day, you don’t get enough of the view of the reflection lake.

TIP: The best time to take pictures of this reflection is when the sun is low.

Canoeing is a good way to see the surrounding mountains undisturbed by anyone. Canoes can be rented by the hour.

There is a discount for Fairmont Hotel guests and they also have priority over non-hotel guests.

Rock climbing is also a well-liked activity.  This is a superb spot to conquer the mountains if you’re adventurous.

Even more popular are the hikes that take you to many more breathtakingly beautiful viewpoints.

Lake Louise hikes

Here we share a couple of popular day hikes from Lake Louise

Lake Agnes Trail

Most tourists usually follow the Lake Agnes Trail. It’s a relatively short yet steep trail that begins near the Fairmont Chateau and takes you to the Lake Agnes Tea house.

To start of the trail is on the right side of the lake.  Follow the lakeshore pathway for a few hundred meters until you see a sign and another path that breaks off to the right.

The trail is 3,6 km (2.2 miles) long and takes 1-2 hours each way for most trekkers. Along the way are various points for a breather while enjoying the magnificent views.

The walk up to Lake Agnes is one of the best hikes in Banff because of its short distance.

Lake Agnes
Small but beautiful lake Agnes
The Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Among the two tea house trails, the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail is the longer one.

The track is 5,3 km (3.3 miles) long one-way.

It starts by following the lakeshore pathway until the end of the lake. From there it takes you up into the mountains, you will leave the crowds behind and as the trees quickly thin, you can quickly admire open grand views of Lake Louise.

You are also about to witness six splendid adjoining glaciers. That’s also how the hike got its name.

You will be able to spot Lake Louise from that soaring height and there’s also a good chance of spotting wildlife.

The last part of the trail is composed of several steep switchbacks.  Once you reach that part you know that the swiss-style teahouse is not that far anymore.  They serve small snacks and refreshments and it’s a great place to regain strength. Be sure to bring cash because they don’t accept cards.

If you have the courage you can extend the hike with a small side trip to the Abbott Pass viewpoint.  The hike is relatively flat and takes you to a point where you can peek into the crevasses of the Lower Victoria Glacier.

A spectacular sight that is well worth the extra 1,5 km (3.3 miles) kilometers.

Reserve 7 hours for the complete trail including the extension to Abbott Pass which takes about an hour.

Experienced hikers will be able to do it in 5 hours or less but with 7 hours to spare you know you have ample time to take photographs and have a drink or small snack in the rustic teahouse.

The Beehive Trail

The Beehive trail is more of an expansion of the Lake Agnes trail.

It starts by following the Lake Agnes trail until you reach the teahouse.

Once you reach the teahouse you have the option to continue hiking to either the Little Beehive or the Big Beehive viewpoint. The side trips are 1 km (0.6 miles) and 1.6 km (1 mile) one way respectively.

The Little beehive was once the site of a fire lookout and offers impressive views over the Bow Valley.  From the top of the Big beehive, you can see Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau.

Canoes on Lake Louise
Canoeing is a great way to escape the crowds at Lake Lousie
The Beehives Circuit Trail

It’s also possible to combine both with the Beehives Circuit Trail.

This 13 km (8 miles) loop takes you from the tea house first to the Little Beehive.  There you retrace your route back to the teahouse from where you follow the big beehive trail that loops around Lake Agnes.

Continue following the big beehive trail until it merges with the Highline Trail.  If you make a left on the Highline trail it will take you back to mirror lake where you can follow the Lake Agnes trail back down to Lake Louise.

You can also make a right, this path will eventually merge with the plain of six glaciers trail.  Make a left and you will arrive at the far end of Lake Louise.

You can see that there are various options.  The paths are very well-signposted at each of the intersections, you are very unlikely to lose track.

TIP: It’s also possible to combine the Plain of Six Glaciers trail with a visit to both Beehive viewpoints.

Retrace your steps from the Plain of Six Glaciers until you reach the split with the Highline trail.

Follow this trail until you see the big beehive trail on your left.

From here you follow this trail in the opposite direction from how we described it in the above section.

This first section is quite challenging, it is a muddy and rocky trail but the big beehive with its stunning panorama of Lake Louise is absolutely worth it.

How to reach Lake Louise:

Lake Louise is 58 km (36 miles) from Banff.  It takes 40 minutes by car via the Trans- Canada Highway (Highway-1).  For a more scenic route, you can opt to follow the Bow Valley Parkway which will take 30 minutes longer.

Lake Louise is a stop on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour.

Photogenic Mistaya Canyon, just a short hike from the Icefields Parkway
Photogenic Mistaya Canyon

Day 3 Drive the Icefields Parkway

We have saved the best for last.

I must agree though that it’s really hard to pick a single winner when it comes to all the fabulous things we did and saw in Banff National Park. Even if the highway is not your absolute number 1, it certainly deserves a podium place.

There will be no hiking or very limited hiking today.

Sit back and relax and enjoy the splendid scenery that nature offers.  Keep your eyes peeled for elk, black bear, grizzly bear, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, wolf, and caribou.

All these animals roam around freely in the national park and can sometimes be spotted from the road.

Drive the Icefields Parkway

The road that we are talking about is the Icefields Parkway. The official name of this road is Highway 93 North. It connects two National Parks, namely Banff and Jasper.

This 232 km long highway is more of a scenic route than a traditional highway.  You drive from one beautiful postcard to another.  If you leave early enough you should be able to stop at all the viewpoints.

Don’t worry if breakfast took a little longer, in this post, we have covered the major viewpoints so that you can enjoy yourself to the fullest in a limited schedule.

The Icefield Parkway starts at Lake Louise. See above if you want to know how to get to Lake Louise

Our first stop will be the Bow Lake with the Bow Glacier, and Crowfoot Glacier.

We recommend stopping at each of the viewpoints.

If you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive, you could also visit the Columbia Icefield Parkway with a guided tour that leaves from Banff. This tour will stop at many of the sights we mention below and the advantage of not having to navigate yourself is that you get all the time you need to fully appreciate the magical scenery.

Read reviews and purchase your guided Icefield Parkway Tour here:
Icefield Parkway Guided Tour

Bow Lake, Bow Glacier, and Crowfoot Glacier

Bow Lake is among the largest lakes of Banff National Park. It is sitting at an elevation of 6300 feet.

If you had an early start Bow Lake is a good place to get out your breakfast as you await the sunrise.

Have a seat at one of the pic tables and see how the sun gets up over the lake and the two glaciers.

If you don’t want to drive all this way before sunrise you can book a room at the Num-ti-Jah Lodge which is open from May to October.

It may be hard to say goodbye to this picture-postcard place but more beautiful views are waiting for us further along the Icefields Parkway.

Peyto Lake Banff National_Park_Alberta_Canada
Peyto Lake in Banff National Park
Peyto Lake

Our next stoppage is at Peyto Lake.

The color of the water is what makes Peyto Lake so unique.

It’s not just blue, it has a perfect turquoise hue, so perfect that most travelers think all the pictures are photoshopped until they see it in real life.

The secret to this surreal color is the “glacial dust”.  Glacier rock flour is taken down from the mountains by the glacier and mixes with the water.  When the sun hits the lake these small blue particles radiate this perfect blue glow.

There are always a good number of curious people at the lake during the summer. The platform of the main viewing point can get really busy.

To avoid the crowds you can follow the makeshift trail that branches of to the right, just before you reach the platform. This leads to a second viewing point with comparatively fewer crowds.

Water Fowl Lakes

Depending on what time you left this morning you may long for a break and some food.  If you do, you can stop at Waterfowl Lakes.

It is open from the end of June to early September.

You will find a perfect camping ground and loads of picnic tables where you can take a break while taking in the amazing scenery.

Saskatchewan River Crossing

After seeing so many lakes it’s time for something else.  If you stop at this viewpoint you can witness the meeting of the North Saskatchewan, the Mistaya, and the Howse rivers.

Before you continue the road have a look at the fuel meter.  This is the only gas station along the Icefields Parkway.

Jasper is still far away but as we descend from the Sunwapta Pass, driving towards the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, we have now officially entered Jasper National Park.

View towards Athabasca Glacier on the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway in the winter
Columbia Icefield Discovery Center

We continue our way up north towards what is probably the most important destination along the parkway and what gave it its name.

The Columbia Icefield Discovery Center stands out among all the spots because it is home to many thrilling activities that are fun for young and old.

It is located near the Athabasca Glacier, a giant pack of ice and snow slanting down between Mount Athabasca and Snow Dome, and one of the principal toes of the Columbia Icefield.

Set foot on the Athabasca Glacier

One activity allows you to set foot on the glacier.

You will board specialized buses outfitted with impressive tires that make them look more like mining trucks than buses.

They drive you up all the way to the glacier where you then can roam around freely for about 20 minutes.

Be careful as you walk around, the ice can be slippery and the glacier is full of crevasses that may be hidden by a thin layer of snow.

Glacier Skywalk

Right next to the discovery center is the Glacier Skywalk, a 400-meter long glass-floor walkway hanging over the cliff.

The glass floor is all that separates you from a 280 meter (918 foot) drop.  The platform offers distant views over the spectacular Sunwapta Valley that spreads out below.

You can book both separately although we would advise taking a combi-ticket.

Time needed: The time needed to visit both is probably at least 2 to 3 hours.

More natural attractions along the Icefields Parkway

By now it will be getting late and it is time to turn around and head back to Banff for a hearty meal.

If you still have time you can drive a little further in the direction of Jasper and try to squeeze in 2 more stops to see the stunning Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls.

The view from the Glacier Skywalk
The view from the Glacier Skywalk (photo credits: NingChien)

What’s the best time of year to visit Banff

You can visit Banff at any time of the year.

Experience says that the best time to visit is from late June to mid-September.

This is the peak season and during this period, you will see a massive crowd and face higher accommodation costs and airfare.

Therefore we advise planning your trip somewhat later in the shoulder season, between mid-September and mid-October.  The weather will still be excellent and there will be fewer crowds.

If you visit Banff before the start of winter, you will find the hiking trails free of snow, and the sun will be out until almost 10 pm. It means you will get the maximum time to explore. 

If possible try to avoid the Canadian Summer holidays on July 1 (Canada Day) and the first Monday of September (Labor Day) as these will undoubtedly multiply the crowd.

Here’s an overview of the different seasons and what to expect during each.


July to September is summer in Banff. Banff is at an elevation of above 1,400 meters (4,600 feet). As a result, the temperatures fall significantly during the night, even in this season.

July is regarded to be the warmest month with average temperatures as high as 22° C (72° F).


From October to December Banff becomes a place of wanderlust.

Autumn in Banff is the most beautiful season. By mid-October, you will start noticing frost on the ground in the morning. The leaves also start to fall.

Later in the fall, you can also experience the first snowfall of the year.

Hence we suggest planning your trip in early autumn, between mid-September and mid-October, when there’s comparatively less crowd than in peak season.

The weather in the mountains is unpredictable but temperatures in fall are usually still enjoyable to enjoy the lakes and wildlife alike. It is also suitable for camping and hiking in the mountains.

Make sure to provide warm clothing because temperatures drop as soon as the sun sets and during the nights they can go as low –5° C (23° F).

Nonetheless, all the tourists’ spots remain open.


In Banff, winter begins in January and continues until March.

Temperatures in Winter can change rapidly because of the famous Chinook winds.  Strong dry and warm winds descend from the mountains and can cause sudden temperature changes of as much as 10° C (50° F).

Banff Town normally gets a modest amount of snow.

January is regarded to be the coldest month. The temperature regularly goes down to -15° C (5° F), but at times the temperature may drop below the thirties Celsius (-22° F).

Generally, the winter is long. Even in Spring, some parts of the parks in the Rocky Mountains remain buried under a blanket of snow.

This season has its own charm.  Some parts of the park are not open but this is compensated for by the wide range of fun and thrilling winter activities that take place around Banff and nearby Lake Louise.

Here is a list of the 16 best things to do in Banff in winter. Making a snowmobile tour was one of the most fun things we did in Banff during winter. Here you can read our full review on snowmobiling in Banff. If you love hiking, check out these posts about the best winter hikes near Banff and Canmore. For more tips about visiting the Rocky Mountains in winter, click here.


Spring begins in March and ends in June.

During Spring, daytime temperatures are very similar to those in autumn. However, a good amount of snow can be seen on the ground. Snow may fall as late as May and will not start melting before mid-April.

The average high temperatures in the Spring range around 10-15° C (59° F).

The Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park is not to be missed on a 3 day Banff itinerary
The Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park

How to get to Banff

By Car

It is easy to get to Banff by car as the village is situated on the TransCanada Highway, this highway runs straight through the national park.

It connects Victoria on the West Coast with St. Johns on the East Coast, passing the Canadian Rockies, Calgary, and Ottowa, the capital, along the way.

Lake Louise and Banff are a 90-minute drive west of Calgary. The distance is roughly 140 kilometer or 87 miles.

The route that leads to Lake Louise and Banff from Vancouver in the West is nothing short of spectacular.

The highway winds through the Coast Mountains in British Columbia before it gets to the rugged Canadian Rockies.

The journey takes 8 hours, the distance is about 850 km or 530 miles.

If you are looking for a rental car, take a look at Here you can easily compare the prices of different rental companies.  The site is one of the biggest of its kind, works with all large household names as well as most small niche rental car companies, and, therefore, has a global offering.

Search prices and book your car here:

By Bus

From downtown Calgary

On-it Regional Transit operates a seasonal shuttle bus service between Calgary and Banff. The bus is available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from late June till the end of September.

It departs in downtown Calgary at Red Arrow Downtown Ticket office at 101-205 9 Ave SE.

The bus stops at the corner of Elk Street and Banff Avenue and near the Banff Train Station.  There is also a stop in Canmore at the Benchlands Trail & Bow Valley Trail.

From the airport of Calgary

There is also a direct shuttle to Banff that leaves from Calgary airport.

The bus runs 5 times a day.

The earliest one leaves and 9.30 am and the last one at 8 pm.

Since the buses are quickly fully booked, we recommend you to purchase your tickets well in advance if you want to use this shuttle.

More information and booking:
Transfer Calgary-Banff Tickets

By Train

The Rocky Mountaineer is the direct train service between Vancouver and Banff.  Train lovers will enjoy this comfortable and magical 2-day trip which takes you along various spectacular sights.

If you drive along the icefields parkway you can subsequently take the train in Jasper back to Vancouver.  This train follows another route and will take you along more breathtakingly beautiful scenery.

If you spend the night in Jasper, take a look at these 12 amazing airbnbs.

Irregular of which route you choose the journey will be memorable and with all the comfort.

The Rocky Mountaineer is an excellent option if you’re coming from Vancouver.

Downtonw Banff
Banff is a charming small town but can get crowded in the summer

Where to stay in Banff

There are many places to stay in picturesque Banff from luxurious hotels to cozy Airbnbs. 

Here you can find amazing hotels in Banff. 

If you prefer staying in an Airbnb in Banff national park, check out this list in which we share 15 best Airbnbs in Banff.

If you are looking for a cheaper option during the peak winter season, look no further than Banff’s neighbor, the town of Canmore.

Canmore is located within 20-minutes of driving along the Trans-Canada Highway and has over a dozen options for great places to stay.

Whether you are looking for a boutique hotel or a brand-name stay to collect travel rewards, rates in Canmore are consistently lower than those in Banff.

Here you can find more info about the best hotels in Canmore. If you prefer Airbnbs in Canmore, click here.

Getting around Banff

Banff is a good base to discover the beauty of Banff National Park.

Cupped by rugged mountains and decorated by many beautiful serene lakes it’s sure to please both the adventurous travelers, the backpackers as well as the photographers.

There are some sights in town or just along the edge of town but some are also further out.

Here’s how to get around Banff.

Public Transit

Roam Transit operates 6 routes in and around Banff, Lake Louise, and Canmore.  The buses take you to many popular places such as the Gondola, the upper hot springs, and the Lake Louise Shoreshide but come short of being a good replacement for a rental car.

Parks Canada operates a shuttle service to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.  The buses don’t get all the way to Banff.  To get to Moraine lake you will need to hop on the Roam Transit bus to Lake Louise and transfer to the Parks Canada shuttle.

Getting around with public transport can be a hassle and dramatically limits the things you can see.  That’s why we recommend renting a car.


A car gives you complete freedom to explore the whole park at your own pace.

However, if you visit the park in peak season or are visiting with an RV it might be difficult to find a parking spot at popular sights.

Then the Banff hop-on-hop-off-bus or Roam Transit might be a good solution.

If you’re visiting Banff in winter we recommend winter tires.  When you will be driving the Icefields Parkway between November 1 and April 1 M+S tires are mandatory.

Banff hop-on-hop-off bus

To avoid parking stress you can take the Banff hop-on-hop-off bus.   

The bus follows a breathtakingly wonderful scenic route along the Bow Valley Parkway.

You will be able to see the Banff Townsite, Johnston Canyon, the Lake Louise Gondola, Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise. There is also a stop at the Samson Mall in Lake Louise, the location of the visitor center.

The guides make the trip informative and fun. They will share local tales and loads of information about the park and its impressive mountains.

There is even a great chance of spotting wildlife.

Tickets for the bus are valid for one day which should be enough to visit all stops.

The Banff hop-on-hop-off-bus has limited availability. To avoid disappointment, we advise you to book your tickets ahead.

Read reviews and purchase your tickets:
Banff Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus

Note that the Banff hop-on-hop-off-bus only operates from May 25th to October 2nd.

General Banff Tips

Let’s start with some general travel tips for Banff.

Plan your trip

When planning your itinerary, you can be a step forward compared to others by purchasing your lift tickets and festival passes and selecting accommodations beforehand.

Planning is also required for packing food, drinks, and other necessary items during the trip.

Buy your National Park Pass in advance

Banff is located within the boundaries of the eponymous national park.  A pass is required to enter the park. Permit checks are common during summer, particularly in the Lake Louise area and at the start of the Icefields Parkway.

Read also: 10 of the best national parks in Canada.

Seniors and adults can buy a pass that will cost $ 8.40 and $ 10, respectively. For children under 18, the entry is free.  $20 is charged for groups up to 7 traveling in the same vehicle. (all prices of 2020)

If you will be visiting multiple parks over the course of a year you are probably better of with a Discovery Pass.  This pass gives you unlimited access for a complete year to more than 80 locations managed by parks Canada.

Avoid visiting during peak season

Banff is exceptionally crowded during summer because most places of Banff are on the itinerary of the tourists.

You will face serious problems, particularly about parking your vehicle. Therefore we advise you to avoid peaks season if possible.

Start in the early hours

If you want to enjoy the sunrise at Moraine Lake, you need to wake up early. The parking lot is often full before dawn. Even there is only one parking lot in most of the destinations.

If the parking space is packed, you will be turned away.

Carry layers

The weather here can change at a moment’s notice and you must not be underdressed. It is imperative to pack layers and thermals.

Grizzly Bear
We saw this Grizzly in Denali, we didn’t see any in Banff but be sure to have bear spray on you

Keep bear spray

In Banff, you will get the rare opportunity to see both grizzlies and black bears. You shouldn’t get closer to the bears or get out of your car to view them for safety concerns. To hike remotely, you should keep and use bear spray.

Wear the right footwear

You have to remember that many trails are steep and uneven with loose rocks. It can cause injury or a sprained ankle.

So pack your hiking boots or shoes for a comfortable and enjoyable trip.

Take your time to adjust to high altitude

You will be at 5,000 feet or maybe above, so you might feel sick because of acute mountain sickness (AMS).

It may need some time for you to adjust.

Learn about the hiking trails

Hiking trail conditions can be highly unpredictable. It is dangerous particularly in higher altitude backcountry trails or if there has been massive snowfall before.

Learn about the state of the hiking trail before starting your journey.

Check the road reports

It is common in winter to see the drives blocked by snow. It will be a wise decision to check the weather and road report before starting your journey. If the road is not well-paved, it will be hard to navigate in adverse weather conditions.

Bring Canadian cash

A few restaurants in Banff only accept credit cards, so ensure your credit cards are authorized. Moreover, in Banff, you can give tips to guides. It is rare to include it in the bill. 15% is considered as standard. But if you get exceptional service, then you can give 20%.

Tipping is also a common practice in hotels.

Mountain Goat on road in Banff National Park
Bighorn sheep like the salty water that can be found on the roads

Stay alert about the wildlife

You can find all sorts of wildlife in Banff National Park. An elk or grizzly bear, coyotes, cougars, moose, black bear, etc. all can be found in and around Banff National Park.

They are not in a restricted area like a zoo, so be aware of them.

Taking a selfie with them might prove to be dangerous.

Moreover, don’t try to feed them. Please don’t feed the chipmunks around Lake Louise, either. Try to keep a safe distance.


Your 3-day itinerary of Banff may be hectic and demanding but we assure you that the natural wonders you will see are absolutely worth the jam-packed vacation days.

If you are staying 4 days in Banff, click here. If you plan to visit Banff and Jasper, have a look at our 7 days Banff and Jasper itinerary. 

Discovering this majestic region is a memorable experience.

Banff National Park may occupy a tiny space on the Canadian map, but it abounds with extraordinary natural beauty.

The lakes, mountains, waterfalls, precisely everything in Banff, show how beautiful our world can be.