Summer Banff Itinerary: 3 Days in Banff for First Time Visitors

Only have 3 days in Banff in the summer to explore the Canadian Rockies? Follow the best 3 day Banff itinerary to find out the best things to do and see in Banff along with tips on where to stay and what to eat in Banff.

Located in the Canadian Rockies, Banff is one of those postcard famous places that you must see at least once in your lifetime. Before I went to Banff I was concerned that Banff was too hyped up by social media. Having visited Banff 3 times so far, I can say with absolute certainty that Banff is not overrated and it truly is beautiful.

Banff is famous for its turquoise lakes, snow capped mountains, amazing scenery and viewpoints, incredible wildlife and world class trails. From canoeing on Lake Louise to taking a scenic drive on the Icefields Parkway and arriving at Peyto Lake to watching the sunset in Canmore, Banff has so much to offer.

Follow this sample 3 day Banff itinerary to see the highlights of Banff and read my practical tips on visiting Banff like where to stay, where to eat, and other logistic details you should know.

Planning a Trip to the Canadian Rockies?

Having been to the Canadian Rockies 3 times, I have done a ton of hikes and sightseeing that I want to share with you.

From Banff to Jasper itineraries, to epic hikes at Lake Louise and Yoho National Park, to driving on Icefields Parkway, you will find a ton of useful information from my blogs.

Girl looking at Peyto Lake in Banff National Park

This blog contains occasional affiliate links, where I receive a small commission on sales of the products/hotels that are linked at no additional cost to you. In addition, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

3 Days in Banff: Itinerary Overview

Here is an overview of your 3 days in Banff if you are visiting in the summer. Keep in mind that this Banff itinerary assumes you have 3 full days in Banff, not half days.

If you are traveling in and out of Banff during these 3 days, you will need to push back some of the activities on the first day and leave early on the third day.

Day 1: Johnston Canyon and explore Banff town
Day 2: Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka & Banff town
Day 3: Moraine Lake, Icefields Parkway & Canmore
Optional Day Trip: Yoho National Park

Why is Banff National Park Famous?

Banff is famous for its natural beauty, outdoor adventure and activities all year round, easy access and history and culture. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth and worth a visit or two.

Banff National Park was established in 1885, it is the oldest national park in Canada and probably the most famous national park in Canada. It is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How to Get To Banff National Park

Banff is located in Alberta about 126 km (78 miles) west of Calgary. Due to its proximity to Calgary, the easiest way to reach Banff is to drive from Calgary because the closest airport near Banff is Calgary International Airport.

Welcome to Canada at Calgary Airport
Calgary International Airport

Flying to Banff

After you land in Calgary, it takes about 1.5 hours to drive from Calgary to Banff. If you do not have a car or don’t want to drive, you can also book a transfer from Calgary International Airport to Banff.

Driving to Banff

If you are located on the west coast of Canada, you can also drive to Banff.

driving to banff from Calgary

From Vancouver, it takes about 9 hours to drive to Banff. But there are other beautiful places in between Vancouver and Banff, making this an enjoyable road trip.

It takes about 4 hours to drive from Edmonton to Banff. Edmonton also has an airport that you can fly into.

Taking the Train to Banff

There is a scenic train called Rocky Mountaineers that connects Vancouver to Banff National Park. The train takes 2 days (1 night) and costs between $1500-$2500 per person and will stop by Kamloops. It is a great option for those who enjoy luxury train trips.

Unique Banff Activities and Tours

There are a few activities I think are worth paying attention to when you spend 3 days in Banff. While you don’t need a tour to see most things in Banff, there are a few things that require an organized tour or pre-booking.

  • Banff White Water Rafting: if you are looking for an outdoor adventure in a beautiful setting, then you absolutely cannot miss white water rafting in Banff. The 2 major areas for white water rafting in Banff include Kananaskis River (class 2 – 3) and Kicking Horse River (class 2 – 4). You can book here for Kananaski River and here for Kicking Horse River tours.
  • Mount Norquay Via Ferrata Climb: a super unique adventure in Banff is to do a Via Ferrata climb. Via Ferrata started in the Dolomites during the first world war but now has become a more recreational activity. If you are interested in this super unique activity, you can book here.
  • Bow River Horseback Riding: if you want to do something different in Banff then consider this horseback ride by Bow River. This one hour ride will let you explore the birthplace of Banff National Park and enjoy the peaceful scenery. You can book here.
  • Lake Minnewanka Cruise: Lake Minnewanka is one of the largest lakes in Banff and something you should add to your Banff 3 day itinerary. The best way to enjoy Lake Minnewanka is to take a cruise (this is one of the only lakes that allow motorized boats). You can book here.

You need to purchase a National Park Pass to spend time in Banff National Park. You can buy this pass online and print it and display on the dash of your vehicle or you can buy a physical pass at the park gates or visitor centers in Banff and Lake Louise.

3 Day Banff Itinerary in Details

Without further ado, let’s dive right into this Banff itinerary. Keep in mind that this 3 day Banff itinerary is meant for the summer since there are some hikes and lake hopping activities that you cannot do in the winter.

If you are visiting Banff in the winter, you will have a completely different experience. This is not to say you cannot use this for the winter, but you will need to modify the itinerary a bit (for example, do ice skating on Lake Louise instead of rowing a boat and hiking).

Read next: Best Things to do in Banff in the Winter and Summer

Day 1 of 3 Day Banff Summer Itinerary

Morning: Johnston Canyon
Activities near Banff Town
Dinner in Banff (the Town)

Day 1 of your summer Banff itinerary will give you an introduction of Banff National Park and you get to do a range of activities from walking to hiking or just relaxing and exploring the town of Banff.

If you are driving from Calgary to Banff in the morning then you can push the activities above to later in the day since Banff in the summer has a lot of day lights and the sun does not set till 10pm or so.

Start your morning doing a leisurely walk at Johnston Canyon to see the 2 beautiful waterfalls, then spend the afternoon exploring Banff town, going up the Banff Gondola or Norquay Chairlift, or enjoy white water rafting if you are adventurous. Spend the evening exploring Banff town and have some yummy dinner.

Morning: Visit Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon board walk

Start your 3 days in Banff at Johnston Canyon, located 25 km (about 30 minute drive) northwest of Banff town in the Canadian Rockies. Johnston Canyon is formed by erosion of Johnston Creek; the creek has cut through limestone rocks to form the canyon walls over thousands of years.

The main thing to do at Johnston Canyon is an easy and short “hike” that allows visitors to see the beauty of 2 waterfalls (Lower and Upper falls). The walk to the two waterfalls is easy, with railings on the side of the walk so it is very safe for even little kids.

The walk to the Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon is about 1.1km (0.7 miles) and the walk to the Upper Falls is about 2.7km (1.7 miles).

The walking path to these waterfalls is mostly paved and I have seen people pushing strollers on this “trail”. During the walk to the lower falls at Johnston Canyon, the well-made trail suspends from the Canyon Walls that allows you to get close to the stream and running water.

At the waterfalls, there are viewpoint pedestrian bridges, allowing you to take a nice photo of the waterfall. There are also opportunities for you to get close to the Lower Fall (usually you have to line up).

Most people stop at the Upper Falls and turn back, but for the adventurous or avid hikers, you can continue your hike to the Ink Pots at Johnston Canyon. The Ink Pots are 5 pristine pools and is about a 3km hike from the Upper Falls.

Parking At Johnston Canyon

You should visit Johnston Canyon either really early or really late during the day because parking will fill up if you arrive late. There are 2 parking lots at Johnston Canyon and if those fill up, you will need to park on the side of Bow Valley Parkway or take a shuttle bus.

There are daily shuttle bus services between Banff High School Transit Hub and Johnston Canyon from May 19 – Oct 9th with reservation recommended. The journey is 35 minutes. The first bus leaves Banff High School Transit Hub at 9am and the last bus leaves Johnston Canyon at 7:10pm.

Late Morning: Castle Mountain Viewpoint

After you visit Johnston Canyon, take a short detour towards Castle Mountain Viewpoint, a nice little photo spot to admire Castle Mountain. You don’t need to hike to get the view, simply park your car, grab your camera (or phone), and take a quick photo of this majestic mountain range.

Unfortunately when I went, it was cloudy so I couldn’t see the view too well. On a clear and non-cloudy day you would be able to see the view. There is also a bridge, so you can just park your car, walk near the bridge to the lakeshore.

Lunch: Lunch in Banff Town

After your sightseeing in the morning, return to Banff Town (about a 25 minute drive). Before you reach town center, you will drive by the Banff Town Sign, a popular photo spot for tourists. Stop by here quickly, grab a photo, and get into Banff town center for lunch.

Banff town sign for Banff itinerary

There are a lot of great food spots in Banff, from burgers to brunch to Korean BBQ to other Asian food. You can find the list of my recommendations under the Where to Eat in Banff section of this blog.

Afternoon: Activities in or near Banff Town

After lunch, you may want to stay in the town of Banff to explore the different shops or head uphill for a nice view of town. There are so many things to do near Banff town, but I will lay some out for you here

Banff Gondola

One of the most popular things to do in Banff Town is a visit to the top of Sulphur Mountain via the Banff Gondola.

For those who do not wish to hike, you can take the famous Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain for a panoramic view of Banff as well as the surrounding mountain peaks. The Banff Sighting Seeing Gondola is an 8 minute ride that takes you 2281m (~7500 ft) above ground to the summit of Sulphur Mountain in a 4 person cabin.

Banff Gondola right before sunset

In the summer you need to book the tickets in advance as they have timed entry and sometimes you even need to wait in line to leave from the top (yup, it is THAT busy).

Once you reach the top, you will find restaurants, cafes, an interpretive center and short hiking trails at the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk. Kids age 5 and under are free to ride the Banff Gondola but still require a ticket.

Banff Gondola view from above with canadian flag

If you want to challenge yourself and save ticket money, you can actually hike up Sulphur Mountain. The Sulphur Mountain hike takes about 2 hours, covering 3.4 miles one way with rather steep switchbacks.

Many people who are moderately fit opt to hike up Sulphur Mountain and take the gondola back down but I have never done this hike. There are way prettier hikes in Banff so I suggest you save your strength for those instead.

Mt. Norquay Chairlift (Alternative to the Banff Gondola)

If you don’t want to do the Banff Gondola, an alternative option (and probably even cooler since it is open air) is to do the Mt. Norquay Chairlift. This is a wonderful 10 minute open air adventure that takes you 7000 ft up Mt. Norquay. You will get amazing views of Banff and Bow Valley all while enjoying a delicious meal at Cliffhouse Bistro.

Hiking in the afternoon: Tunnel Mountain or East End of Rundle Hike

Tunnel Mountain Hike is a short hike near Banff Town that’s perfect for the afternoon. The Tunnel Mountain hike is a short 2-3 hour hike (2.7m round trip) with a panoramic view of the town of Banff, Bow Valley and Mt. Rundle.

If you feel like challenging yourself for an amazing view, then head south to the town of Canmore for a relatively short but difficult and steep hike called East End of Rundle. This hike involves rock scrambling and is very difficult and steep but you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Mt. Rundle.

White Water Rafting

If you want something more exciting than what I said above, you can go 45 minutes away from Banff to do a white water rafting tour along the Kananaski River. The guides will provide you with safety instructions and all the equipment for your whitewater rafting.

Banff white water rafting in the summer

Banff Via Ferrata Climb (Alternative to Rafting)

Another great option for those who are seeking a little more adrenaline rush is a guided Via Ferrata Climb on Mount Norquay.


Day 2 of 3 Days in Banff

Morning: Lake Louise
Afternoon: Lakes and activities around Banff Town
Evening: Dinner and Stay in Banff (the Town)

Day 2 of your 3 day Banff itinerary is probably going to be your longest and most tiring day due to all the walking around and hiking. But these are the best things to do in Banff because you get to see the most famous lakes and hikes of the Canadian Rockies.

You will start your morning early at the world renowned Lake Louise to see the perfect reflection or do a canoe ride or a hike. After Lake Louise you have the option to explore a couple of nice lakes near Banff town, relax in the Banff Upper Hot Springs, see a waterfall in Banff town or walk around the town and grab ice cream or get a massage.

Morning: Lake Louise

Lake Louise sunset, one of the best things to do in Banff National Park

Lake Louise is one of the most popular places to visit in Banff National Park. If you do not know Lake Louise by name, you will definitely recognize it in a photo. Lake Louise is a glacier-fed lake famous for its turquoise color. It is surrounded by the Victoria Glacier, snow capped peaks and the famous Fairmont Chateau.

Banff Itinerary - Lake louise
Lake Louise in the morning

Lake Louise is located about 1 hour away by car from the town of Banff so unless you are staying near the lake the night before, I would recommend arriving no later than 8am on the day you are visiting Lake Louise to avoid crowds.

Another advantage of getting to Lake Louise early is to see the postcard perfect reflection; you will not see this perfect reflection later in the day (there will be some reflection, but not as nice as the early morning ones).

For the current condition of Lake Louise, check the webcam at Fairmont Chateau.

Parking at Lake Louise

Since Lake Louise allows you to drive there unlike Moraine Lake, the parking lots (2 of them) do get full by 8am, if not earlier. Therefore if you want to avoid having to take a shuttle, you absolutely need to get there early and pay for parking.

If the parking lot at Lake Louise is full, you will need to either park in the town of Lake Louise or in the Lake Louise overflow parking lot and take a shuttle bus in. There is also a Lake Louise shuttle available, see information here.

Things to do at Lake Louise

Lake Louise, Banff National Park Canoe in the summer

The majority of visitors to Lake Louise take photos of the lake and leave. But there are many great activities at Lake Louise that you should add to this summer Banff 3 day itinerary.

  • Canoeing at Lake Louise (see pricing & hours of operation here)
  • Walk around the lake (take about 1-2 hours if you want the whole thing)
  • Rock climbing around Lake Louise
  • Take the Lake Louise Gondola
  • Hike around Lake Louise (see more below)

Hiking around Lake Louise

Plaine of Six Glaciers Hike at Lake Louise
Hiking around Lake Louise

There are several famous hiking trails at Lake Louise. Some of these hikes are super easy, essentially a walk in the park whereas other hikes require you to bring water and snacks and wear hiking shoes. Below is a list of the best hikes at Lake Louise:

  • Lake Louise shoreline trail is a family friendly easy walk along the shores of Lake Louise

  • Lake Agnes is a moderately steep 2 hour hike to see Mirror Lake, Lake Agnes and a tea house. This hike also allows yo to access a few other hikes below.

  • The Plain of Six Glaciers is moderate a 4-5 hour hike at the end of Lake Louise shoreline to see a tea house and glaciers; even though it is longer, it is not very steep.

  • Little Beehive (via Lake Agnes) is a short & steep hike from Lake Agnes to have a panoramic view of Lake Louise

  • Big Beehive (via Lake Agnes) is another short and steep hike from Lake Agnes that gives you an amazing view of Lake Louise from above. It has a better view than Little Beehive hike.

Other hikes at Lake Louise include Saddleback Trail and Fairview Mountain trail, which are not as popular.

Both Lake Agnes trail and Plain of Six Glaciers lead to a tea house (different tea houses). You can relax, grab a drink and light meal at these tea houses. They prefer Canadian cash, sometimes they do take credit cards, check more information on their websites.

Food at tea house in Banff
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

Hiking to Lake Agnes & Big Beehive? See my Lake Agnes and Big Beehive Hiking Guide.

If you don’t want to hike, you can just spend an hour on the canoe then walk around Lake Louise to see the lake from different angles and avoid the crowd this way. You can also enjoy a nice breakfast or brunch at the Fairmont while enjoying the view of Lake Louise.

Another option is heading to Lake Louise Gondola and see the surrounding area and peaks from high above.

Afternoon: Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake & Banff Upper Hot Springs

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka 3 days in banff
Lake Minnewanka

After getting a bite at the tea houses or at the Fairmont (or in the town of Lake Louise) drive back to Banff town to relax.

One of the lakes near Banff is Lake Minnewanka, it is located about 3 miles from the town of Banff. Lake Minnewanka is 13 miles long and 142 meter deep, popular for picnicking, mountain biking, canoeing, and cruise tours.

Note that Lake Minnewanka is one of the few lakes in Banff that allows motorized boats, so take advantage of this and do a boat cruise. There are many couples who take wedding photos at the shore of Lake Minnewanka as well.

Two Jack Lake

Located right next to Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake, another beautiful alpine lake that is popular among visitors and locals.

Two Jack Lake is a popular spot for canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. The calm waters make it an ideal location for water activities, and the surrounding scenery adds to the sense of tranquility and natural beauty.

If you do not feel like looking at more lakes, then you can stay in the town of Banff and relax at the Banff Upper Hot Springs.

Banff Upper Hot Springs

The Banff Upper Hot Springs was accidentally discovered in 1883 by railroad workers and there were many more that were discovered later. The Banff Upper Hot Springs is now one of the only hot springs open for public use and it is the highest operating hot spring in Canada.

The hot spring is open from 10am to 8pm in the summer with the last entry at 7:30pm, no reservation needed. You are expected to limit your visit to 30-60 minutes. You can rent swimsuits, towels and lockers at the hot spring.

There is one big pool at the Banff Upper Hot Springs and also a café, locker rooms, and towel and bathing suit rental.

The water temperature at the pool is between 37-40C (98-104F), which makes it an amazing treat for your body after a long day of exploring and hiking at Lake Louise.

If you just want to relax then Banff Upper Hot Spring is a great choice to spend the afternoon.

Bow Falls

Bow Falls in town of Banff
Bow Falls in Banff

Bow Falls is a small waterfall in the town of Banff. The falls are formed by the cascading waters of the Bow River as it tumbles over a series of rocky ledges.

It is a popular spot for families since you can just drive there (or walk there) in Banff town to look at this cute little waterfall. No hiking is required!

Alternative Option: Spa at the Fairmont Springs

If you don’t care for the Banff Upper Hot Spring, an alternative way to relax in Banff town is to spend the afternoon at the Fairmont Banff Springs, which is known for its spas. It is located super close to the Banff Gondola and it is popular among visitors all times of the year.

I didn’t go to the spa but our friend did. She essentially spent the whole afternoon at the spa in different pools and treatment rooms and just relaxed in the hotel until we picked her up to see Bow Falls.

Day 3 of 3 Day Banff Itinerary

Morning: Moraine Lake
Day: Icefields Parkway & Peyto Lake
Afternoon & Evening: Banff Town or Canmore

After a whole day of hiking on your 2nd day, the last full day of your 3 days in Banff will be mostly lake viewing and relaxing before you have to leave or catch your flight from Calgary.

You will start your morning at the beautiful Moraine Lake, then continue onto Icefields Parkway and stop by the famous Peyto Lake or go as far as Columbia Icefields before heading back south. If you have time, you can explore the town of Canmore on your last day in Banff.

Morning: Moraine Lake

Lake Louise may have already taken your breath away but Moraine Lake is another gem that you cannot miss in Banff. In my opinion Moraine Lake is even more stunning than Lake Louise because of the drastic backdrops of glaciers and mountains.

Banff itinerary: Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake

If you were not planning to hike at Lake Louise the morning before, you can visit Moraine Lake right after Lake Louise via Parks Canada shuttle and go to Yoho National Park on your 3rd day instead.

Moraine Lake is located slightly under 1.5 hours from Banff town; it is actually not far from Lake Louise. On your drive to Lake Louise from Banff, you will see signs pointing to Moraine Lake.

Moraine Lake Shuttle (Reservation Required, Fee Required)

Commercial vehicles cannot reach Moraine Lake as in the previous years. It used to be that people would camp out in the parking lot at 2:30am just to catch sunrise at Moraine Lake! That is pretty insane so Banff National Park decided to ban all commercial vehicles at Moraine Lake.

In order to get to Moraine Lake, you will now need to take a Park’s Canada shuttle, Roam Transit, commercial transportation provider or bike 25km round trip to Moraine Lake.

You MUST reserve the shuttle ahead of time on the Park’s Canada reservation page.

Alternatively if you want to visit Moraine Lake for sunrise and beat the crowds, there is a commercial shuttle service (not from Parks Canada) that provides sunrise transfers to Moraine Lake.

Best things to do at Moraine Lake

Rock Pile Viewpoint

To get the postcard perfect view of Moraine Lake, you need to walk up the little hill next to the parking lot called Rock Piles.

The walk takes about 10 minutes with steps all the way up, but it is easy and very family friendly.

Once on top, you will find several vantage points to take photos of Moraine Lake. Be warned that during the day it is super crowded so it’s best to go at sunrise or even sunset.

Moraine Lake viewpoint

Canoeing At Moraine Lake

Similar to Lake Louise, Moraine Lake offers canoe rentals for both guests who stay at Moraine Lake Lodge or those who are visiting. See official website for pricing and hours of operations.

You are required to wear a life jacket when canoeing, but many people do take it off for photos.

I seriously loved canoeing on Moraine Lake, I think the scenery is better than Lake Louise and it wasn’t as crowded. But make sure to bring sunscreen as it does get really hot on a hot sunny day.

Moraine Lake canoe in the summer

Hiking Around Moraine Lake

Aside from the hike to the view point, there are several other day hikes at Moraine Lake ranging from easy to strenuous. Some of the hikes require a minimum of 4 hikes due to bear risk.

Trail to Consolation Lake at Moraine Lake

Consolation Lakes Hike: 6km return easy hike starting at the rock pile trail to Consolation Lakes

Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail: easy 3 km return hike walking along the shorelines of Moraine Lake

Eiffel Lake Hike: 11km round trip moderate hiking trail starting near the Moraine Lake Lodge that takes you high along the valley for a panoramic view of Eiffel Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks

Larch Valley/ Minnestimma Lakes: 8.6 km round trip moderate hiking trail that takes you to a higher point to see Moraine Lake and the ten peaks.

Sentinel Pass: 11.6 km round trip difficult hike with steep switchbacks that lead to Larch Valley and Paradise Valley. This hike requires at least 4 people per group due to bear risk. But Sentinel Pass is perhaps the most famous and best hikes in Banff due to its drastic backdrop.

Wenkchemna Pass: 20 km round trip difficult hike that travels the entire valley of the Ten peaks. The Wenkchemna Pass and the Eiffel Lake hike share the same trail as the Larch Valley Trail for the first 2.4km. There is a group size restriction due to bear risks.

Late Morning: Drive the Icefields Parkway

After you visit Moraine Lake continue on to Icefields Parkway.

Icefields Parkway Way is a 232 km stretch of road from Banff National Park to Jasper National Park that is known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

view points on Icefields Parkway

There are numerous stops on the Icefields Parkway such as Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Columbia Icefield, Athabasca waterfalls and hiking trails.

You won’t have enough time to drive the entire Icefields Parkway and most people drive an hour to the Peyto Lake viewing point on Icefields Parkway or further down to Columbia Icefields, but there are some other stops you can take.

For the best viewpoints and stops on Icefields Park, see my detailed Ice Fields Parkway Guide.

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is a beautiful glacier-fed alpine lake located off the Icefields Parkway, about 40 km northwest of Lake Louise. Most people don’t visit the lake itself but rather walk up to the viewpoint to admire the lake from above.

Banff and Jasper itinerary peyto lake view

How to reach Peyto Lake

As you drive towards Jasper on Icefields Parkway, after about 50 minutes from Lake Louise, you will see a stop called “Bow Summit”. Exit into Bow Summit and you will come across a huge parking lot with maps and a public bathroom.

Peyto lake is so blue that I often thought people photo-shopped their pictures but after seeing it myself, I learned that what makes the water so blue is the large amount of glacier rock flour that flows into the water in the summer.

There are two viewpoints at Peyto Lake, with the first one about a 15 minute walk from the parking lot.

See my detailed guide on how to find the secret second Peyto Lake viewpoint.

Peyto Lake second viewing spot

After seeing Peyto Lake, you can continue on Icefields Parkway to go to Columbia Icefields.

Columbia Icefields

Columbia Icefields is a popular family friendly destination on Icefields Parkway. Two of the best things to do at Columbia Icefields is to ride the Ice Explorer and walk on Skywalk.

Ice Explorer is a family friendly activity that lets you ride on a massive all terrain vehicle with a guide to go on an actual glacier!

The guide will let you know where you can and cannot walk on the glacier and you even get to drink the water from the glacier. I did this the first time I visited Banff and it was super fun and unique.

Skywalk is the newest adventure at Columbia Icefields. This glass bottom bridge protrudes from the side of a cliff 280m above ground. If you are not afraid of heights you should definitely add this to your Banff itinerary.

Quick Stop at Bow Lake

On your return drive to Lake Louise and Banff, you can stop by Bow Lake to take some photos and walk around another beautiful lake.

3 days or 5 days in Banff Icefields Parkway Bow Lake
Bow Lake

There isn’t too much else to do at Bow Lake, so it’s a pretty quick photo stop to stretch your legs.

Afternoon: Explore the town of Canmore

If you decide to come back to Banff in the early afternoon, you have a few options to explore Banff and even Canmore.

Quick stop at Lake Vermilion

On your drive back to the town of Banff, you will drive by a nice view point at Lake Vermilion. It is another short stop to take a break and take some photos of the lake with a backdrop of towering peaks.

See the Town of Canmore

Canmore is a town about 20 minutes away from Banff. Many people choose to stay in Canmore as it is a little cheaper and more quiet than Banff itself.

canmore three sisters sunset reflection

If you happen to be in Canmore around dinner time, you should stop by the Canmore Three Sisters to grab a photo of the sunset there. It is one of photographers’ favorite spots to capture sunset in Banff.

Other things to do in Canmore include:

  • Bow River Loop trail
  • Grassi Lakes
  • Quarry Lake Park
  • Policeman Creek Boardwalk
  • Larch Island loop
  • Hiking in Canmore
  • Bike around Canmore
  • Golfing
  • Relaxing in a spa in Canmore

But given you probably will arrive in Canmore quite late in the afternoon, you probably won’t be able to do most of these. It’s best to just arrive in Canmore for an early dinner and explore the Three Sisters photo spot.

Optional Day Trip from Banff: Yoho National Park

If you have 4 days in Banff or you are able to see all the lakes on the second day, then check out the beautiful Yoho National Park on your last day in Banff.

Yoho National Park is a much smaller national park located in British Columbia next to Banff National Park. Most first time Banff visitors do not know about Yoho National Park but it has some amazing lakes and waterfalls such as the Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls, Wapta Falls, Kicking Horse River and Natural Bridge.

Natural Bridge Yoho National Park
Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake

Yoho National Park Emerald Lake to add onto your Banff itinerary
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake is a quieter lake compared to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake but it is beautiful nevertheless. Most visitors come to Emerald Lake first when they visit Yoho National Park.

You can walk around the shoreline or go on a canoe, which is also cheaper than the canoes at Lake Louise or Moraine Lake. The boat house opens at 10am and you should aim to get there 20 to 30 minutes before it opens because there is usually a long line waiting for it to open.

Many families and couples come to Emerald Lake to canoe and relax (I mean it is really really nice since it is quieter than Lake Louise and Moraine Lake).

Lake O’Hara

Lake O’Hara is one of the most pristine lakes in Alberta and Yoho National Park limits the number of visitors. The lake is only accessible by shuttle (or walking) and only very lucky few people can win the lottery to get this bus ticket.

Many people who do not win the bus ticket end up walking 3 hours on a flat access road to reach Lake O’Hara just so they can hike to the Lake O’Hara viewpoint.

Thinking about hiking around Yoho National Park? Read my Lake O’Hara hiking guides.

Girl sitting on the ledge overlooking Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park
Lake O’Hara Viewpoint

Lake O’Hara also now allows overnight camping up to 3 nights. Reservations are required on the Parks Canada Reservation Service. Camping is available from June 18 to Oct 2.

Is 3 Days in Banff Enough?

3 days in Banff is the perfect amount of time to see the highlights of Banff and explore the most postcard-famous places.

Lake Louise boat house in Banff for your Banff itinerary

Depending on what you like to do, with 3 days in Banff, you have the perfect balance to see all the famous lakes, explore the town of Banff and either do a hike or two or just relax at a spa and take photos at viewpoints.

If you have more time, like 5 days in Banff, then you can explore both Banff National Park and Canmore and perhaps even Yoho National Park (which is right next door to Banff National Park).

There are so many beautiful hikes in Banff and many lakes, attractions and other things to do in Banff both in the summer and winter.

Icefields Parkway Hike Banff photos and itinerary

If you have a week in the Canadian Rockies, then you can even go up to Jasper National Park. Be sure to check out my 4 days in Jasper National Park guide and best photo spots and attractions on the Icefields Parkway drive if you plan to drive up to Jasper from Banff.

Where to Stay in Banff During Your 3 Days in Banff?

There are a ton of accommodation options from budget to luxurious in both Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise. You can also camp in Banff. I didn’t, but this awesome Banff Camping guide tells you everything you need to know.

Most people stay in one of the three areas when they visit Banff National Park:

  • Banff Town
  • Canmore
  • Lake Louise

Banff Town

Banff Town is the most popular and central location and there are a lot of restaurants, shops and accommodations in Banff itself. Banff town is about a 1 hour drive to Lake Louise.

I’ve stayed at several different hotels in Banff Town during my multiple visits, and I would recommend:

  • High Country Inn: This medium budget accommodation is in the center of Banff Town. The rooms are spacious with 2 beds and a balcony.
  • Dorothy Motel: This adorable hotel has large rooms and a courtyard. I stayed here the third time I visited Banff and you definitely avoid all the bus tour people when you stay here.
Dorothy Motel in Banff as one of the best places to stay in Banff


Canmore is a quieter town 20 minutes south from Banff (making it almost 1.5 hours to drive to Lake Louise). It is slightly cheaper than Banff and there are a lot of restaurants and hotels in Canmore as well.

I stayed in Canmore the second time I went to Banff and I actually stayed at a hostel, Alpine Club of Canada. We had a group of friends and really liked this place. The view from this hostel is also super awesome.

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Hostel Common Room

Other popular places my friends stayed at in Canmore include Basecamp Lodge Canmore and Falcon Crest Lodge.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is the town right next to Lake Louise, but it is quieter and there are fewer accommodations and restaurants in Lake Louise. If you do stay there, you will be able to get to Lake Louise very quickly, making it ideal for visiting the lakes and Icefields Parkway.

The most famous accommodation at Lake Louise is the Fairmont Château Lake Louise, the fairytale-like hotel at the shore of Lake Louise. But this is usually booked up a year in advance for the summer season.

Other hotels in the Lake Louise area include Baker Creek by Basecamp and Paradise Lodge and Bungalows. You can always stay at Moraine Lake Lodge by the shore of Moraine Lake as well.

Best Months to Visit Banff National Park for 3 days

The best time to visit Banff is between mid June to mid September when the lakes are thawed and hiking trails are open. Some of the lakes are frozen in early June (especially the ones in higher elevation like Moraine Lake) so you will not be able to see the turquoise colors that lakes in Banff are so famous for.

The temperature in Banff in the summer is pleasant, with a high of 70-80F (23-28C) and low of 5-10F (yes it gets chilly in the early morning and at night). You will get more sunny days and dry weather in the summer and early fall, which makes it great for all outdoor activities on your Banff summer itinerary.

Another advantage of visiting Banff in the summer is the long days. Sunrise in Banff is around 5:30am and sunset is around 10pm. The long days in the summer mean you can see way more things in Banff National Park and do longer hikes without having to worry about it getting dark.

Downside of visiting Banff in the Summer

Johnston Canyon lower falls with a lot of people in the summer
Crowds at Johnston Canyon

Because the lakes in Banff are only thawed during the few months in the summer, everyone else will also want to visit Banff National Park in the summer. Therefore you should expect crazy amounts of crowds in Banff in July and August at the lakes and on the hiking trails during the day.

Hotel prices during the summer also tend to be 1.5-2 times what they cost in low season and rental cars get booked up fast.

In addition, you can expect thunderstorms and even wildfires in Banff in the summer, which can really ruin your trip.

What other times can I visit Banff?

Early fall is also a great time to visit Banff National Park if you want fewer crowds. However keep in mind that by early fall I mean by early October because fall is quite short in Banff and weather can be unpredictable.

But if you get lucky, you will see the trees changing color in Banff National Park in early fall or even catch the first snow! Banff is insanely beautiful just with a little snow!

Do try to avoid Labor Day weekend because both Americans and Canadians get that long weekend.

Winter is beautiful to visit Banff National Park if you want to window sports. There are 3 ski resorts in Banff and you can ice skate on Lake Louise, ice climb up frozen waterfalls, take a sleigh ride or just relax in a hot spring while watching the snow fall.

Best Way to Get Around Banff and Canmore

Driving in Banff

Driving is a great way to get around Banff National Park when there is no shuttle access.

I find driving in Banff and the Canadian Rockies enjoyable as the road is wide and well maintained. Google Maps works very well in Banff although you don’t have cellular signal when driving on Icefields Parkway so be sure to download an offline map.

driving in banff to get around banff national park

If you need to rent a car, you can rent either from Calgary airport or in Banff itself. Prices tend to be higher to rent from Banff town, so I highly recommend using Discovercars to find cheap rental cars for Banff National Park.

It’s best to rent a car a couple of months before your visit because cars will get sold out and prices will increase.

Parking can be an issue in Banff during peak summer months although there are numerous parking lots and street parking in Banff town. If you want to visit famous lakes and sights in Banff you should try to arrive early.

Many visitors to Banff also rent RVs to drive around the park. There are many designated RV Parking lots for those who wish to stay overnight or camp.

Taking a Shuttle Bus in Banff National Park

Within the town of Banff, there is a local bus run by the company Roam. This bus can get you around Banff town. Check their official website for schedules and timetables.

Park Canada offers shuttle buses between Banff, Lake Louise, Lake Louise Gondola Johnston Canyon and Moraine Lake. Reservation is required.

Hop on Hop Off Bus offers services between Banff, Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and Moraine Lake.

Many hotels offer complimentary shuttles to different areas in Banff, check with your hotel for more information on that.

What to Eat in Banff National Park?

Banff Town is where you will most likely eat when exploring Banff National Park. You can also find restaurants in Canmore and the Lake Louise area or even cafes at Johnston Canyon. Some of the best restaurants I would recommend in Banff Town include:

  • Tooloulou’s: a brunch spot during the day and Cajun seafood & burgers restaurant at night. They have an extensive brunch menu and the lines are long
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Brunch at Tooloulou’s
  • Eddie Burger & Bar: a cute burger joint that offers specialty burgers and beers. When you walk by the restaurant you will definitely be drawn in by the delicious smell of their truffle fries.
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That truffle fries…
  • Seoul Country Korean restaurant: If you are craving good Korean food then this is the spot to be at. The food tastes really good (similar to the Korean food I had in LA and New York City). We ordered BBQ, Kimchi pancake, cold noodles and other typical Korean dishes and they were all tasty!
Banff Korean Restaurant
  • Elk and Oarsman Kitchen and Bar: A restaurant with a rooftop that offers a variety of burgers, pizzas and salads as well as drinks.
  • The Bison Restaurant: known for its fine dining, the Bison Restaurant features locally grown, organic and sustainably farmed protein & produce. It is on the pricier side but with its amazing review it’s definitely worth trying.
  • Mumbai Local: located in Canmore, this Indian restaurant offers really tasty Indian food. We ordered a bunch of dishes and really loved the Tandoori Gobi (roasted Cauliflower) and Bengali Prawn Curry.
Mumbai Local restaurant in Canmore, the best food in Banff National Park

  • Cows: THE ice cream spot in Banff town. There are tons of flavors including unique ones (our favorite was the Wowie Cowie (Vanilla ice cream with English toffee marble, chocolate flakes & moo crunch) in a chocolate dipped cone. They also sell souvenirs. There is always a line but well worth the wait.
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Cows! So good!
  • Beaver Tails: a Canadian pastry shop that puts various toppings on fried dough. I tried the Nutella one with banana which was extremely rich and delicious. The fried dough is a bit salty, which went well with the sweetness of Nutella.
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Sweet and Salty
  • Whitebark Café: The best cafe in Banff with free wifi and lots of pastries. You can sit indoors or outside under the umbrellas.

Banff National Park Trail and Road Conditions

Banff National Park is not only affected by weather but also road and infrastructure improvement projects all year round. It is best to check for road, trail, and area closure before you visit Banff National Park to avoid disappointments.

Below are some of the best resources to check if Banff National Park areas and trailheads are open:

Banff National Park FAQs

Are there bears in Banff National Park?

There is a huge population of grizzly bear and black bear in Banff National Park and the number of bears double in Jasper National Park because Jasper National Park is further up so it receives way fewer visitors a year compared to Banff National Park.

Do I need bear mace in Banff National Park?

If you are planning to hike on less touristy trails (like the ones at Moraine Lake and Lake O’Hara), you need to have bear mace with you.

Although generally you will not see a bear during your visit because bears tend to avoid people, there have been sightings of bears even in front of the Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise.

bear Spray in Banff - Bear Safety
Bear Repellent

To avoid bear risk in Banff, make sure you have bear mace with you when you are hiking and always hike in groups and make a lot of noises on the trail.

In fact many Moraine Lake hikes require a group of 4 because of bear risk. If you see a bear cub, back away and leave. Usually people get attacked because the mama bear thinks their cub is in danger.

The Park’s official website has a demonstration on how to use a bear repellent as well as other safety information regarding bear encounters. You can buy the Bear Repellent at the visitors center in the town of Banff.

Have 3 days in Banff? Follow this Banff 3 Day Summer Itinerary to see all the highlights in Banff, Canada #banff #alberta #canada #visitBanff #Banffitinerary

Is Banff Family Friendly? Can Kids Enjoy Banff?

Banff is an excellent place to bring kids. There are plenty of things kids can do in Banff.

You can visit the lakes in Banff, ride the gondolas and chair lift, see waterfalls and row boats in Banff with kids and older adults.

Even some of the hiking trails in Banff like Johnston Canyon and Lake Agnes are easy and perfect for young children.

There are also museums for kids as well as the Banff sign, which kids can climb up!

Packing List For 3 Days in Banff National Park

  • Park Pass: You will get fined without having a valid park pass displayed in your car.
  • Canadian Dollars: you can are in Canada, bring Canadian dollars. But in all seriousness, if you are planning to go to the tea houses at Lake Agnes or Plain of Six Glaciers, it’s better to have cash. Their credit card machines don’t always work.
  • Bear Mace: If you are planning to do any hiking or visit less frequently visited areas, you need to have bear mace with you.
  • Jackets and Layers: Even if you visit Banff in the summer, you should still pack layers as the evenings can be chilly. The weather can change drastically throughout the day in Banff.
  • Hiking Shoes & Clothes: If you are planning to hike in Banff, it’s best to bring hiking shoes and hiking gears since some trails can be difficult. I highly recommend these hiking shoes as they are very comfy and have ankle support.
  • Hydration Packs or Water Bottle: Always remember to bring enough water to Banff, especially if you are hiking. I like using hydration packs when I hike, but some people prefer to just bring refillable water bottles.
  • Hat and sunscreens: Banff can be super sunny. I got hit twice with heat waves when I went to Banff. The hikes also don’t have too much shade. I always recommend a physical blocker (aka mineral sunscreen), better for the environment and better for you since they don’t get absorbed by your skin.
  • Insect Repellent: There are a lot of bugs and mosquitoes during the hikes and near the lakes.
  • External Phone Battery: You will be out all day and your phone is probably gonna die if you use it to take photos and videos. I always bring an external battery when I know I’m going to be out most of the day. Check out this one and this one.

Other Useful Information Before You Visit Banff National Park

  • Most stores and restaurants in Banff take credit cards and offer bill splitting services. But bring cash to all the tea houses on the hikes near Lake Louise

  • Most restaurants, hotels and shops offer bilingual services (English & French)

  • There are bathrooms EVERYWHERE in Banff, usually in parking lots or at the start of a hike

  • Toilet papers are provided in these public bathrooms, sometimes there are also hand sanitizer

  • Some parking lots in Banff offers 2 hour parking, find the parking structure that allows you to park for unlimited amount of time on Bear Street

  • There are super markets in Banff so you can stock up on food, water and snacks

  • There is only one gas station between Lake Louise and Jasper National Park, so if you are planning to drive Icefields Parkway, fill up in Banff beforehand!

Check out my other Canadian Rockies Blogs

If you only want to do a day trip to Banff to see the famous Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, check out my 1 day Banff itinerary.

If you do plan on spending more time in Banff or want to know what there is to do in Banff, be sure to read my guide on the 30 best things to do in Banff as well as my 5 Day Essential Banff Summer Itinerary.

Just want photos? This detailed post shows you the most beautiful picture and photography spots in Banff and the surrounding areas in the Canadian Rockies.

Thinking about hiking around Lake Louise? This Lake Agnes & Big Beehive Hiking Guide is what you need!

Check out my 3-4 days Jasper National Park Itinerary if you plan to head up there as well as my post on How to visit the Secret Cave at Johnston Canyon.

If you are planning to drive up to Jasper National park then you would also be interested in all the best photo stops along Icefields Parkway.

Want to find the best view at Peyto Lake? Don’t miss this step by step guide on how to find the second viewpoint at Peyto Lake.

Thinking about going to Yoho National Park, especially Lake O’Hara? Check out my detailed Lake O’Hara hiking guide.

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Visiting Banff for 3 days? This 3 day Banff itinerary shows you the highlights of the Canadian Rockies.