Banff National Park is one of the most famous areas of the Canadian Rockies. A Banff itinerary is one full of turquoise alpine lakes, snow-capped peaks, glaciers, historic towns, and much more. Whether you have 3, 4, or 5 days in Banff, we have everything you need to know to plan an epic Banff National Park trip.
We cover a combination of popular attractions, like Lake Louise, and more off-the-beaten-path sections of the park. Mix and match sections of our suggested Banff itinerary or follow it exactly. Here’s what you should know when heading to Banff.
How Many Days in Banff National Park?
For those prepared to spend their days hiking and heading into the backcountry, there really is no limit on how many days to spend in Banff. However, most of us are limited on time.
If you have 3 days in Banff, plan to stick to the more populated parts of the park like Lake Louise and the town of Banff. Many of the park’s highlights land in and between these two areas.
With 4 days in Banff, you can spend a day driving further into the park to get away from the crowds and enjoy some scenic hikes.
Should you find yourself with 5 days in Banff, you’re in luck. This is the perfect amount of time to explore the highlights of Banff and get off the beaten path. You can even head over into nearby Yoho National Park one day. If you have more time than that, you can also head north to visit Jasper National Park for a few days.
Getting To & Around Banff National Park
You will want a car during your visit to Banff. Without one, it’s challenging to get around. The closest airport to Banff is Calgary’s International Airport, located about 80 miles east of the park. If you rent a car at the airport, it’s a straight shot along Trans-Canada 1 to reach the national park.
Once in the park, you’ll lean on your car to get around. For some sites like Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, shuttles are available from the town of Lake Louise as parking at both lakes is limited. You’ll largely drive up and down the Bow Valley Parkway to reach landmarks throughout the park.
It’s a beautiful route with several opportunities to hop out and snap a photo. We recommend that you take your time as you drive.
For people without their own vehicle, there is a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus from Banff or you can take some organised day trips such as this full-day tour from Banff town or Calgary, though it will be a long day!
3, 4 or 5 Days in Banff National Park Itinerary
Your Banff itinerary should be full of landmarks that are of the most interest to you. Below, we’ve outlined the best parts of the park to consider adding to your itinerary. Each day is composed of stops you can reasonably make in one day without feeling rushed.
Day 1 – Lake Louise, Lake Agnes & Fairmont Chateau
Without a doubt, Lake Louise is the most famous sight in Banff National Park. Photos of this turquoise mountain lake with towering peaks on either side have made their way across social media, transforming the lake into one of the most visited spots in the park.
That said, it’s very busy. The parking lot is small and usually fills up before eight in the morning. Most visitors hop the shuttle from the town of Lake Louise to reach the lake, so they avoid the headache of parking. If you want to drive yourself, plan to have an early morning.
Once at the lake, you’ll quickly see why it’s so popular. It’s easily accessible for everyone and beautiful. You can rent a canoe to take out on the water or hike around it. It’s the jumping-off point for other hikes in Banff as well.
Lake Agnes & the Beehive
The trail from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes is easy to spot. Looking at Lake Louise, head right, past the chateau (you’ll stop there later) and around the side of the lake. Eventually, the path will split, with one path heading up and the other going around Lake Louise. Lake Agnes is up.
The hike is about 3.5 kilometers with several nice lakes and vantage points to stop at along the way. Lake Agnes is less busy than Lake Louise, though not by much. Many people stop by the Lake Agnes Tea House, a tiny cafe right next to the lake.
If you keep going beyond Lake Agnes, the trail will take you to Little Beehive and Big Beehive. You have the option of viewing these bizarre rock structures from below or climbing to the top for incredible views of Lake Louise. It’s about another three kilometers from Lake Agnes to Big Beehive.
After spending the better part of the exploring Lake Louise, Lake Agnes, and the beehives, pay a visit to the Fairmont Chateau. You couldn’t have missed it when you arrived as it is an iconic building on Lake Louise. This stunning chateau operates as a destination for big events and a 5-star hotel.
It has a restaurant and bar for a nice afternoon break after spending hours on the trail. It originally opened in 1890 and has over 500 rooms with 7 restaurants. It’s worth walking around the hotel and grabbing a bite to eat before heading back to your hotel in the town of Banff or campground.
Day 2 – Moraine Lake & Larch Valley Hike or Paradise Valley Hike
Kick off your second day in Banff with a visit to Moraine Lake. If you thought Lake Louise was competitive, Moraine is even more so, especially in the autumn when the Larch trees begin to turn orange. No doubt visiting here is one of the best things to do in Banff.
You are not allowed to drive to Moraine Lake, you must take the shuttle or take an organised sunrise tour. Once you arrive, you’ll be impressed by the towering mountain that circles a deep blue lake.
Moraine Lake is famous for its Larches in autumn, bears during some months of the year, and the many hikes that use the lake as their trailhead. If you want to see Banff’s wildlife, consider taking this small group tour.
You’ll reach Minnestimma Lake by walking through Larch Valley from Moraine Lake. The trail is around six miles with just under 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The trail is stunning year-round, but especially during the fall. It begins on the main trail to Moraine Lake.
Follow this path until it splits—left goes to the path around Moraine while the right heads into Larch Valley. As you climb, you’ll be rewarded with views of Moraine Lake while surrounded by beautiful pine trees. Soon, you’ll come to Larch Valley.
The Larch Valley hike to Minnestimma Lake is a favorite by many because it breaks hikers away from the crowds that flock to Moraine Lake. If you’re looking for a place to see a highlight of the park, but get away from the crowds, consider this hike.
Giant Steps Waterfall
Seated directly between Moraine Lake and Lake Louise is the Giant Steps Waterfall. There are backcountry trails that take you to the waterfall and Moraine Lake, but most people visit the waterfall via Paradise Valley.
Compared to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the Giant Steps waterfall is not very busy. It’s a nice relief from the crowds of these two places, while still keeping you centrally located in the park.
Now, this isn’t a short hike: it’s a 12-mile out-and-back trail that is a moderately challenging route. It’s best to choose either this hike or Larch Valley.
Day 3 – Johnston Canyon, Vermillion Lakes & Lake Minnewanka
Stray from the vibrant blue lakes and towering mountains, and head into Johnston Canyon. Hiking through this slot canyon is not for the faint of heart. The trail begins paved, taking hikers along the river and through trees until they reach the canyon.
Now, the trail shifts from pavement to a metal suspension path bolted to the canyon wall. Overall, it’s an easy trail. From the trailhead to the Upper Canyon Falls is just under six kilometers with little-to-no elevation gain.
There are two stops to make along the way: Lower Canyon Falls and Upper Canyon Falls. Be mindful while walking on this trail as it does sometimes get busy.
If you’re not up for this hike, you could opt to spend your morning in Banff town itself, taking in the scenery and maybe even going for a ride on the Banff Gondola for incredible views.
Just outside the town of Banff sits a chain of lakes: Vermillion Lakes. It’s not uncommon to see people kayaking through these waters. Here, it’s completely silent. There are hiking and biking trails, as well as several places to pull off the road to picnic and enjoy the views.
Vermillion Lakes is a popular sunset spot, so plan accordingly if you want to visit this time of day. Aside from that, these lakes are usually quiet and serene without many people around. Take your time to drive and walk around, taking in the views.
Lake Minnewanka sits right next to the town of Banff. It’s a massive lake, the largest in Banff, tucked between mountains that provides space for boat rides, picnics, and swimming. You can hike near the lake or just take the time to relax.
Enjoy the view and sunshine along this beautiful lakeshore. During your visit, you should also consider taking a boat ride. Most lake cruises are one hour and provide visitors with a wealth of information about the history of Banff and the lake.
Day 4 – Mistaya Canyon, Peyto Lake & Bow Lake
Mistaya Canyon is unlike anywhere you’ve visited before. Over hundreds of years, water carved its ways through the limestone to create a deep, twisty canyon that visitors marvel at.
The canyon is a stop along the Icefields Parkway route about 73 kilometers north of Lake Louise. Upon arrival, you’ll park in a small lot and follow the marked trail down to the canyon.
You first cross a bridge where you can look straight down into the rushing water pushing through the canyon. Continue on and take a left to walk out on the rock or take an alternative trail to explore the area further.
So far during your time in Banff, you’ve seen several beautiful lakes, but you haven’t seen anything like Peyto Lake. This one is famous for being one of the most vibrantly colored lakes in the park. Peyto can be visited at its shore, but the most impressive view is the overlook.
From here, you can see the lake in its entirety and take in its impressive blue hues. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the lookout where you’ll walk out on a viewing deck that protrudes from the cliff.
During your 4 days in Banff, you should absolutely make a stop at Bow Lake. You’ll drive directly by it while on the Icefields Parkway—it’s about 37 kilometers north of Lake Louise. Due to its elevation at 1,920 meters, Bow Lake spends most of the year covered in ice. It’s a popular spot for winter activities.
During the months when the lake is thawed, it’s a jumping-off point for several great hikes. Like many of the lakes in Banff, Bow Lake is a vibrant turquoise color as a result of being fed by chilly glacial water.
Day 5 – Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge & Takakkaw Falls
If you have 5 days in Banff National Park, head west toward Yoho National Park. Banff is located in a cluster of national parks that includes Yoho and Jasper. From downtown Banff, the drive is only about an hour.
Parking can be a challenge, so you’ll probably end up parallel parking along the road. Emerald Lake gets its name from its color. It’s one of the most vibrant lakes in the park, with trails all around it so you can explore the area in its entirety.
Emerald Lake gained its fame by being the largest body of water of Yoho’s 61 lakes and ponds. It’s well worth a visit if you have five days to spend in Banff.
Continue your exploration of this pocket of Yoho by visiting Natural Bridge. Located along the Kicking Horse River, this natural wonder appears as a bridge carved by rushing water. It’s an impressive sight that doesn’t usually get crowded.
While visiting, be careful as you walk around. The stone near the water can become slippery as water from the rapids below sprays up. Swimming here is not allowed.
It’s a quick stop after visiting Emerald Lake, located just about 3 kilometers away from the lake.
Takakkaw Falls is famous for being one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies. It’s located in Yoho near Emerald Lake, and you have a couple of options for how you visit the waterfall.
If you’re up for a big hike, you can take the 8-mile trail between Emerald Lake and Takakkaw Falls. Alternatively, you can drive about 40 minutes from Emerald Lake to the parking lot for the falls.
The main drop of the waterfall is 833 feet, coming in as the second-highest waterfall in Canada. The trail from the parking lot to the base of the waterfall is accessible to most everyone.
Where to Stay in Banff
High Country Inn – This 3-star hotel in Banff town makes for the perfect base when exploring the national park. They have a range of lovely rooms to choose from and a great location for exploring all this incredible natural area has to offer. Click here to check availability
Canalta Lodge – If you’re looking for something a bit more high-end while visiting the park, then this hotel in the town of Banff makes for a great choice. There are a range of lovely rooms to choose from and plenty of plush amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Private Rental – Those after their own cabin or apartment while on their trip to Banff should opt for a private vacation rental. There are countless options available – like this secluded studio – that can suit all kinds of visitors. Click here to browse Banff private rentals
Samesun Banff – This highly-rated hostel is a great option for those looking to visit Banff on a budget. They offer both dorms and private rooms on offer along with good common areas and self-catering facilities. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Banff hotels!
Banff National Park is famous for a reason—it’s filled with beautiful landscapes and impressive natural wonders that will fill your itinerary no matter how much time you have. Take our suggestions here and create the perfect Banff itinerary.
Are you planning to visit Banff National Park? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!