Banff, Alberta is one of the most treasured places in Canada.

Our Banff 4 day itinerary will guide you through this scenic town in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and your journey through Banff National Park.

Whether you’re an adventurer, recreational hiker, skier, or just want to take in the splendor of the Rocky Mountains, we’ve got you covered with four full days of activities.

Though weather often dictates visitor plans, use our Banff itinerary for 4 days as a guideline for planning your own trip, no matter the season.

If you’re reading through this Banff itinerary, chances are that you already have some idea of what you want to do in Banff.

We’ll go through the best sunrise spots in Banff, top Banff hiking trails, and where to find the best views of the Rockies (without sweating too much).

Pack your boots and bags; we’re off to Banff National Park!

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Mountain Goats are a common sight in Banff national park

Chances are you will get the company of these mountain goats during your Banff 4 day itinerary

What to do in Banff in 4 days

Banff National Park encompasses 2,564 square miles of natural beauty.

And while a four-day Banff itinerary might seem like a short time to see it all, we picked the top attractions and spread them perfectly across all 4 days.

Of course, you get to decide what piques your interest based on the type of traveler you are, but this Banff itinerary has something for everyone.

Keep in mind that many of the locations and attractions are free for youth under the age of 17, but there will be individual admission fees for adults. These fees go towards maintaining Banff National Park and its facilities. You can be sure to find discounts for families, seniors, and even students. As always, check official websites before your visit for the most up-to-date prices and hours of operation.

Day 1: Take in the Town of Banff, Lake Minnewanke and Two Jack Lake

It’s your first day in Banff and you’re desperate to lace up your hiking boots and trek your way into the abundant nature.

Hold on! Chances are that you arrived after a long flight and need to get settled first.

Check into your hotel, or park your RV, and take in the town of Banff first; you’re going to need your energy for all of the serious hiking you’ll be doing over the next few days.

Don’t leave sightseeing in the actual town of Banff until your last day.

Whether you just got off a red-eye flight in Calgary, took a train from Vancouver, or braved a 6-hour drive from Spokane, Washington, you’ll want to freshen up and fuel up before getting into the meaty parts of the trip.

Downtonw Banff is the best place to stay during your 4-day Banff itinerary

Banff is a charming small town, it’s relatively quiet in winter but can get crowded in the summer.

Explore the town of Banff 

Leave your bags in your room and take an hour-long walk or bike ride through downtown Banff.

Banff Avenue is the main street here and, though you’re unlikely to find anything open before 9:00 am, you can grab a coffee, take in the town, and make your way to the next stop.

Discovering the town shouldn’t take you longer than an hour with few stops.

You’ll likely be back here for dinner or to stock up on supplies for tomorrow’s hiking, skiing, fishing, and whatever else tickles your fancy.

The hot spring in the Cave and Basin National Historical Site

The hot spring in the Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Cave and Basin 

Only 25 minutes walking distance from downtown Banff, Cave and Basin is a hot spring cavern, museum, and the place that started the entire national parks system in Canada.

The cave, while beautiful, is quite small and often gets crowded quickly. You will also, unsurprisingly, need to brave the strong smell of sulfur as you navigate the tunnel.

Unfortunately, you cannot bathe in the hot springs due to the area being a habitat for an endangered species of snail.

If you want to bathe, check out the below mentioned Banff Upper Hot Springs.

Opening hours are from 9:00 am or 11:00 am, season depending, until 5:00 pm daily. There is a small fee of approximately $4 CAD for adults to enter.

If you have a National Park Pass the entrance is free.

Hiking tip

Cave and Basin’s history and close proximity to downtown Banff, along with trailhead access to several nearby boardwalk and dirt trails make it a great introduction for anyone coming to Banff for the first time.

Two boardwalk trails that are a short 0.3 miles offer additional views of springs, fish, and birds.

A longer trail, the 2.3 kilometers or 1.7 mile Marsh Loop, will take an hour to complete and will take you through the wetland.

Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park in Canada

Lake Minnewanka is the place to be for kayaking in the summer or ice hockey in the winter

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka is a must-see spot only 3 miles from downtown Banff. If you have a rental car, you’re going to want to opt for that instead of walking.

In 2019 Roam Transit offered a seasonal summer service to the lake.  This service was not renewed in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic but might be offered again in 2021.

At 13 miles, the glacial lake is the second-longest in the Canadian Rockies and has a depth of nearly 500 ft.

Did you grab your camera? Its dark water provides a breathtaking contrast during sunrise.

In the winter, ice skating or a game of shinny hockey on the frozen water is an experience you won’t soon forget. You might even be lucky and spot some small ice bubbles.

In the summer, you can rent a kayak or take an hour-long boat tour on the water for views you just can’t get from the shore.

Hiking tips

Two great hiking options for breathtaking views are the easier Stewart Canyon Trail and the more challenging Aylmer Pass and Lookout Trail.

Stewart Canyon Trail is a 6.6-kilometer round-trip moderate trail with views of the Cascade River and the canyon.

The best time to use this trail is from June until August.

Alternatively, Aylmer Pass and Lookout Trail is for more experienced hikers and will take you 7-9 hours, depending on the path you take. You will be rewarded with jawdropping views of the Lake Minnewanka reservoir and the surrounding mountain peaks.

The best time to hike this trail is from May until September.

This is grizzly territory so definitely take bear spray with you.

Two Jack Lake with Mt. Rundle in the backdrop

Two Jack Lake with Mt. Rundle in the backdrop

Two Jack Lake

Whether on the way to Lake Minnewanka or on your way back to town, be sure to check out nearby Two Jack Lake.

Described in online forums as a photographer’s dream, it truly lives up to the hype as the picturesque backdrop is perfect for a picnic lunch.

Both Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake are great locations to watch the sunrise and sunset. You can find an unobstructed view by arriving early or walking a few hundred feet along a trail of your choice.

Return to your room, pour a glass of wine and rest up for an early start to Day 2 and a full day at Lake Louise.

Day 2 Lake Louise with stops on Highway 1A

Without question, Lake Louise will appear on every “top-five things to do in Banff” list you will see online, and there’s a good reason for this: its turquoise blue waters and magnificent trails are sights to cherish!

It is one of the most famous lakes in Canada. 

An hour and a half drive north of Banff, any visit to Lake Louise will require a handful of stops along the way.

Pack a lunch and hop in the car (or on a bus) and let’s go!

The trail to the lower falls in Johnston Canyon

The trail inside the spectacular Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon 

The first stop is only 30 minutes’ drive from Banff.

Johnston Canyon is accessible year-round and offers easy hikes for families and novices of all fitness levels.

If you’re following the itinerary, this will be your first glimpse of Banff’s many waterfalls.

If you are traveling during peak season ( see more info below ), be sure to arrive early as the parking lot fills up quickly.

You can access the Upper Falls via the Johnston Canyon Trail.

Without a doubt, this is a heavily trafficked trail. 2.7 km/ 3 miles of (mostly) catwalks running along the side of the canyon, offering views of the lower and upper falls and likely your first glimpse of turquoise water below.

Foresee 2-3 hours to hike the trail at ease.

Johnston Canyon in winter

If you’re visiting in the winter,  we advise you to buy ice cleats; completely worth the price for the unique photos of frozen waterfalls and snowy trees.

Here you can find an overview of the best ice cleats for hiking.

 

Although you can easily do this hike on your own, as an alternative, you can join an organized tour.

The main benefit of taking such a tour is that you will be accompanied by a guide who shares tons of information about its history and the many sights.

You also don’t need to worry about ice cleats since they will be provided.

Read reviews and book: Johnston Canyon Icewalk Tickets

One more hour on the road and you’ll reach our main destination, Lake Louise.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is more than the lake itself, so before we get to it, let’s talk about some of the great activities in the area, starting with summer.

The Lake Louise Gondola in summer

The Lake Louise gondola offers great opportunities to see grizzly bears (photo credits: Yoshio Kohara)

Things to do in Lake Louise in summer
Take the Lake Louise Summer Gondola

If you just can’t wait for day 4 to hop on a gondola (oops, spoiler), you can hop on the Lake Louise Gondola for what the official website calls “fourteen glorious minutes.”

Only open during the summer months, the gondola is one of four in Banff and likely the only one where you can catch a glimpse of grizzly bears.

Go Canoeing 

Grab a couple of paddles and take to the water.

The boathouse on the west shore of the lake is where you can rent a canoe (or kayak) by the hour.

Sure, the turquoise water of Lake Louise looks absolutely stunning from the shore. Yet the most immersive way to experience the majesty of the Rockies embracing the lake is to paddle to the center of the lake.

It is also a good way to escape the crowds, certainly during the busy peak season.

View from the fairview Lookout at Lake Louise

The Fairview lookout (photo credits: Wilson Hui)

Make a hike

Hike lovers will be able to indulge themselves at Lake Louise.

There are many trails in the Lake Louise area for all athletic levels.

The quickest way to do some hiking is to head to the Fairview Lookout, a 1.5-mile hike with an elevation gain of 541 feet.

You’ll see excellent views of Lake Louise and the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau.

For a complete overview of day hikes in Lake Louise, click here. 

Things to do in Lake Louise in winter

If you’re visiting in the winter, we recommend partaking in some winter sports.

Yes, hiking in winter is still an option, but the unique weather brings with it plenty of ice and snow

Lace-up your skates and take to the frozen lake, speeding towards the mountains.

And, of course, there’s Lake Louise Ski Resort (voted #1 Ski Resort in Canada at the 2019 World Ski Awards).

Open November to May, the popular resort has slopes for all 145 runs and 7 lifts.

It’s time to drive back to Banff and rest up for another long drive tomorrow morning. We’re heading back up north to the Athabasca Glacier and we’re taking the scenic route.

Day 3: Icefields Parkway to Columbia Icefield ( All Day )

Today, we will be driving on the Icefields Parkway and heading to the furthest point away from Banff on our Banff trip itinerary.

We’re going to the Athabasca Glacier, 140 miles north of Banff.

This is another jam-packed day so we advise you to start your day early and make these stops along the way. There aren’t a lot of facilities on the Icefields Parkway so bring a pick-nick.

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
The Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park

The Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park

Bow Lake 

This small lake is very close to the Icefields Parkway and a great stop for photos. If you linger, horseback riding in an option.

You might not see these on many top-five lists for things to do, but a guided ride on a horse or in a horse-drawn carriage makes for a unique experience.

Read reviews and book your horse ride: Horse Ride Tickets

How much time do you need: Foresee 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on if you want to make a horse ride.

Peyto Lake 

Just past Bow Lake is Peyto Lake. Another chance to see turquoise waters and towering mountains.

It’s not exactly hiking, but you can walk to a lookout just beyond the crowds who are stopping by for a quick photo.

How much time do you need: Foresee around 20 minutes.

Peyto Lake Banff National_Park_Alberta_Canada

Peyto Lake is famous for its striking turquoise color

Waterfowl Lake

Likely one of the most beautiful stops along the way to Columbia Icefield, Waterfowl Lake is a calm and peaceful location to take a breath while taking in the sights.

It is much less crowded due to the location being used mainly as a camping ground, so other travelers will be farther into the area.

If you brought your own canoe or kayak, this is a great location for a relaxing paddle.

If you’re visiting in the fall, you’ll see an incredible display of contrasting colors between the changing colors of leaves, the icy blue lake, and snow-capped mountains on the horizon.

How much time do you need: Foresee around 30 minutes.

The Athabasca Glacier

The Athabasca Glacier

Columbia Icefield

On the border of Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, you will find the largest glaciers south of the Arctic Circle. This is your chance to walk on the Athabasca Glacier, one of the six “toes” of the Columbia Icefield.

If you’re looking for a tour, hop aboard the “Ice Explorer” bus, which will take you to the actual icefield. It really looks more like a tank, adorned with a massive Canadian flag on either side (O Canada!).

Tip: remember to wear appropriate footwear as you will be walking on an actual glacier (aka. ice).

Afterward, take to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, a walkway on the edge of a cliff with incredible views of the Sunwapta Valley.

Not for the faint of heart, the skywalk also has a glass bottom.

This is your chance to see it all; a mile-long tour with only glass separating you from waterfalls and wildlife.

It’s sure to provide a boost of adrenaline to anyone who dares walk end to end.

Day 4 Sights and Relaxation

All that driving has been taxing so take your time to relax in town and rest your aching muscles from all that hiking.

Banff Gondola on a snowy day

Banff Gondola on a snowy day

Banff Gondola

A free shuttle from downtown Banff will bring you to the Banff Gondola which offers, you guessed it, spectacular views.

The 800 ft journey is 8-minutes long, but you will savor each second. Gaze out over the tops of the trees and mountain range.

Once at the summit, take a self-guided interpretive Sulfur Mountain Boardwalk hike to Sanson’s Peak or the make your way to the rooftop observation deck.

Order a glass of wine and enjoy a delicious meal at the Sky Bistro for an unparalleled panorama of mountains and valley beyond a thin sheet of floor to ceiling glass.
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).

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.

Banff Upper Hot Springs on a snowy day

The Banff Upper Hot Springs are great to warm up during a snowy day

Banff Upper Hot Springs

This is it, the rejuvenating dip you’ve been waiting for since day one.

The Upper Hot Springs can be found at the foot of Sulphur Mountain, 2 miles south of Banff.

If you’re taking the car, better make it there early as spaces are limited. A better option is to take the Roam public transit bus which conveniently drops you off at the same parking lot.

The pool temperature of the water is anywhere between 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit and it is 100% natural mineral water, so it will have a sulfur smell.

Your visit to Banff National Park has come to an end, but you won’t soon forget the experiences had and memories made.

Tips for planning a trip to Banff

We’ve compiled a list of everything you need to plan your trip to Banff.

Best time of year to go to Banff

The best time to visit Banff really depends on the types of activities you would like to participate in, the weather you can brave, and the views you would like to see.

However, it is safe to divide the year into two seasons: summer and winter.

Summer in Banff

A visit to Banff in the summer offers opportunities that winter just doesn’t.

If your interests lie in water sports like canoeing or fishing, or if you want to see the turquoise blue waters of Lake Louise, this is the perfect time for you to visit.

You’ll be able to roll down the windows of your car and breathe the fresh mountain air as the landscape unfurls ahead.

This season might also be your only chance to catch a glimpse of black bears or grizzly bears along the Icefields Parkway or from the Lake Louise Summer Gondola.

Winter in Banff 

A trip to Banff in the Winter is the most unique experience.

If you prefer the cold, have an itch that only skiing or skating can scratch, or you’re looking for some beautiful photos of snowy mountains and frozen waterfalls, the time to visit is definitely winter.

If you’re looking to skate on just about any of the lakes in Banff National Park (including Lake Louise), wait until mid-December before you make your way to town.

Here is a list of 16 unforgettable Banff winter activities. One of the most fun things we did during our winter trip in Banff was a snowmobile tour. Here you can find out how to snowmobile in Banff. 

Banff is also a great place for winter hiking. Here we share 8 of the best winter hikes around Banff and Lake Louise. 

If you are looking for more tips about visiting the Canadian Rockies in winter, click here. 

Whichever season you choose, following our Banff national park 4-day itinerary will ensure that you make the most of your trip to Banff National Park.

View towards Athabasca Glacier on the Icefields Parkway

Driving the Icefields Parkway in the winter is definitely a unique experience

How to get to Banff

There are many ways to get to Banff, and the best one depends on where you’re coming from.

Calgary International Airport ( Canada )

The closest airport to Banff is 1.5 hours from town, in Calgary, Alberta. It’s the fifth-largest city in Canada.

Here, you can rent a car to drive to Banff or take a scheduled shuttle bus or taxi.

Prices can vary so be sure to check the official airport website.

Spokane International Airport (USA)

The closest airport to Banff in the United States is in Spokane, Washington. If you’re looking for a little bit more adventure (and driving), then a quick nine-hour drive is in store for you.

Driving

Of course, we’ve mentioned driving into town, and a car will really give you the flexibility to reach any of the destinations on our itinerary at your own pace.

At the nearest airport, in Calgary, there are eight car rental companies on-premises and five additional ones off-site, where prices are cheaper.

Be sure to book in advance and look online for the best deals.

If you are looking for a rental car, take a look at Rentalcars.com. 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: Rentalcars.com

Busing

From downtown Calgary

You don’t need a car to get to Banff. Hop on the On-It Regional Transit bus for only $10.

Buses depart several times a day from downtown Calgary and tickets are available three weeks in advance.

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
The luxury Rocky Mountaineer train

The luxury Rocky Mountaineer train (photo credits: Cwojtun)

Train

A two-day trip from Vancouver will feel like a breeze on the Rocky Mountaineer Train. This is the most luxurious option of the bunch, with tickets often reaching nearly $2,000 CAD in price.

With that, you will receive one-night accommodation along the way, two breakfasts and lunches, and a stop in Kamloops, British Columbia.

You can’t beat the views, especially in the bi-level dome coach.

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 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.

Getting Around in Banff

Car 

We’ve mentioned driving a car several times. For the greatest flexibility, a rental car is your best option.

If you opt to drive, be sure to consider the fuel and parking charges at the destinations you choose.
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

A day pass for the Banff hop-on-hop-off bus gives you the opportunity to explore many of these places without the parking stress which is unfortunately all too common in the summer.

The bus makes six stops, several of which are in this itinerary, including the Town of Banff, Johnston Canyon, and Lake Louise.

This bus is really one of the best ways to explore Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and Lake Moraine in the peak season.  All the more if you are traveling with an RV.

The guides are very knowledgeable about the area and will help you plan your itinerary.

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.

In-Town Shuttles

Many hotels in town run complimentary shuttles to destinations for skiing, to the Upper Hot Spring, and the Banff Gondola.

Check with your hotel to see if a shuttle is available.

Roam (Public Transit)

Public transit is the next best bet for driving a rental car.

Use the handy trip planner on the Roam Transit website to check if your destination is along the route.

Their GPS tracking system will help you locate the next bus that’s coming your way.

Biking

Biking is a great option to exercise your leg muscles beyond walking around town.

Though not a great option in the winter, you can rent bikes at several locations around town and take to two wheels on and off-road.

Moraine Lake Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Moraine Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the Banff area

General tips for visiting Banff National Park 

If possible, avoid peak season

Banff is a premier destination for tourists visiting the Canadian Rockies.

Peak season is July-August, with plenty of Canadian and international visitors lining up to see the majestic mountains.

Hotel rates will likely be higher, hiking trails will receive more traffic, and finding a parking spot can be stressful.

Buy Your Park Pass for Banff National Park in Advance

Sure, you can purchase your park pass as you drive into Banff National Park, but why not plan ahead and buy your Banff park pass online.

Just enter your trip dates and the Banff & Lake Louise website will show you the pass with the best value.

Get Up Early, Stay Out Late

You’ll be doing this a lot.

There’s so much to see in Banff that a four-day itinerary can easily turn into an eight-day itinerary.

You would not want to miss the sunrise at Moraine Lake, or the sunset from a horse-drawn carriage in Bow Lake.

If you’re driving, parking lots tend to fill up quickly so make sure to be there early or you will be turned away.

Bring cash and don’t forget to tip

It’s always a good idea to carry some cash with you, so be sure to exchange your currency for Canadian dollars.

A general rule of thumb for tipping is 15-20%, but nobody will be offended with a 10% tip.

Dress in Layers

You would be surprised how often visitors to Banff forget this important tip.

The weather can change depending on the day, and altitude, so bring some sweaters, warm socks, light jackets, parkas; whatever the season calls for.

Better to take something off than to have to find a gift shop to buy a last-minute sweatshirt in the cold.

Protect Yourself: Bring Bear Spray

This is what we call a no-brainer. If you plan to hike the trails in Banff in the summer, you will want to bring bear spray. Some trails, like Lake Minnewanka, require it.

You can purchase or rent bear spray in town. Just ask your hotel concierge or pop into any supply shop.

Conclusion

There is no place on earth like Banff, except for perhaps neighboring Jasper. These are 2 of the best national parks in Canada. 

Whether you are visiting Banff National Park for a week or you have a few extra days during your visit to neighboring Calgary, we hope you will find our 4 days in Banff itinerary useful.

If you have 3 days in Banff, check out our 3 day Banff itinerary. 

We’re always open to answering questions about our adventures, so please feel free to reach out to us on our contact page.

Categories: Canada