If you’re looking to be astounded by nature, look no further than Banff in Canada. With stunning mountains, pristine glacial-fed lakes, and amazing wildlife, you will absolutely fall in love with the region.
A few summers ago, Drew and I spent a week exploring Banff, Yoho, and Jasper. Most days were spent outdoors enjoying our beautiful surroundings (here are some of our favorite hikes), but there’s plenty to see and do even if you’re not a hiker. Below is the itinerary we followed. There isn’t much we would change, we only wish we had more time…and you will, too!
We flew into Calgary International Airport (YYC) around mid-day and picked up our rental car. We popped into a grocery store to pick up snacks and water and then we made our way to the Banff area.
Banff is about an hour and 45 minute drive from Calgary, so prepare yourself for a bit of a drive. For our 4 night stay in Banff, we stayed at the Banff Boutique Inn. The rooms were nice, the location was convenient (walking distance from downtown), and the staff was incredibly accommodating (they prepared breakfast early for us since we typically left before breakfast time to hit the trails.) We checked in immediately upon arriving in Banff that afternoon.
Stop 1: Banff Upper Hot Springs
After our day of travel, we decided to visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs. While the water was warm and soothing, it was essentially a crowded, hot pool, so we didn’t stay too long. You won’t miss much if you decide to forego the Banff hot springs.
Stop 1: Moraine Lake
We woke up super early and went straight to Moraine Lake. Since we were there early, we practically had the place to ourselves. If you want to beat the crowds, you have to get an early start! We walked along the perimeter of the lake on the Shoreline Trail (1.8 mile out and back) and took in the beauty of the lake. We then walked up the Rockpile Trail (.5 mile loop) for an amazing view overlooking Moraine Lake. By this time, Moraine Lake was starting to get busy, so we hit the road to make it to our next destination before it got too crowded.
Stop 2: Lake Louise
Despite being relatively close, it is about an hour drive to Lake Louise from Moraine Lake. We walked around the perimeter of the lake near the Fairmont before starting the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house hike (6.8 miles round trip.) This hike is somewhat strenuous and has a consistent incline, but the views of Lake Louise and the various mountains and glaciers on the way up make it worth it. The tea house is cash only and they serve light sandwiches, soup, pie, and tea. You’re halfway through the hike, so treat yourself to a snack and then head back to Lake Louise.
Stop 3: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
After the Plain of Six Glacier tea house hike, reward yourself with drinks and a view at the Fairmont Chateau. We relaxed and enjoyed the sights. After our drinks, we crept to the edge of the lake and dipped our toes in the icy water–a great way to refresh our feet after our day of hiking!
Dinner: Park Distillery + Restaurant
We finished our day by grabbing a bite at Park Distillery + Restaurant in downtown Banff. It was tasty and walking distance from our hotel, so it was a win-win.
Stop 1: Johnston Canyon
We got another early start and had the trail almost entirely to ourselves for our hike in. Parking fills up quick at Johnston Canyon, so be sure to get up and go! It’s a quick .75 mile hike to Lower Canyon Falls and another .75 mile hike to Upper Canyon Falls. At this point, most people turn around and head back to the parking lot. However, you can continue an additional 2 miles to see a group of Ink Pots and to enjoy lunch in a beautiful meadow overlooking mountains and a stream, which is what we did. The hike back through the canyon was insanely crowded, so definitely hit this spot early.
Lunch: The Eddie Burger + Bar
We ventured back to town and had burgers and boozy milkshakes at The Eddie Burger + Bar. We appreciated that we were able to get right in and have a casual lunch in our hiking gear.
Stop 2: Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Since it was a short walk from our hotel, we popped into the Cave and Basin National Historic Site to see the cave, hot springs, and snails. This is the spot that started Canada’s national parks system, so it was interesting to see and read about the history. We didn’t spend too much time here, but it’s a good way to spend an hour or so. The highlight was seeing elk on the walk back to our hotel!
Dinner: Elk & Oarsman
Elk & Oarsman was hopping, so we were thankful to get in. Great people-watching and we enjoyed a table overlooking the main street.
Stop 1: Lake O’Hara
Lake O’Hara has a quota system in place that limits the number of daily visitors. The best way to visit Lake O’Hara is to make a bus reservation in April. However, you can try to be the first person to get to the lot in the morning in hopes of getting a cancellation or no-show spot on the 8:30 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. buses. We arrived at 6:00 a.m. and we were able to secure a no-show spot and it was awesome. We took the Lake O’Hara trail to the Oesa Lake trail for picturesque views of both lakes and the surrounding mountains. We seldom saw other hikers, which made for a truly special experience.
Late Lunch/Early Dinner: Banff Avenue Brewing Co.
Since we spent most of our day exploring the Lake O’Hara area, we ended up having a super late lunch/early dinner at Banff Avenue Brewing Co. We sat on the balcony overlooking downtown and relished our time in the sun.
Stop 2: Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka doesn’t have the gorgeous color that Moraine Lake and Lake Louise boast, but it’s still a beautiful spot in Banff. We went for a leisurely walk around the lake and enjoyed our surroundings.
On this day, we left Banff to head towards Jasper hitting a lot of beautiful sights along the way.
Stop 1: Moraine Lake
We went back to canoe on Moraine Lake. We were some of the first people in the queue, so we had the lake to ourselves for a bit. We spent an hour or so paddling across the lake and taking in a different perspective. Highly recommend!
Stop 2: Takakkaw Falls
We love waterfalls, so this was a no brainer. We stopped at the falls on our drive to Jasper. Fortunately, we had our raincoats because when you get near the base of the falls, you get soaked!
Stop 3: Natural Bridge
This was a quick stop–we hopped out of the car and walked the short path to where you can view the Natural Bridge where water has eroded rock to create bride-like formation. It’s pretty unique, and if you like waterfalls like we do, it has kind of a waterfall feel to it.
Stop 4: Emerald Lake
Stretch your legs and walk the loop around Emerald Lake (3.2 mile loop.) The water is beautiful and the trail is easy, making this a great spot to appreciate the beauty of Yoho.
We stayed at Le Beausoleil Bed and Breakfast that night. Le Beausoleil was unique because it’s a bed and breakfast in a family’s home. We had a nice room and they provided a simple breakfast in the morning. It was a great spot to stay and we felt very welcome!
A lot of time will be spent in the car on this day as you make your way deeper into Jasper, but there’s plenty to see and do along the drive.
Stop 1: Peyto Lake
Park at Bow Summit and walk the 3.8 mile round trip path to one of the greatest views in Canada–Peyto Lake. The water is unbelievably blue and beautiful.
Stop 2: Icefields Parkway and Athabasca Glacier
Continue your drive on Icefields Parkway and take in the mountains and lakes. More than halfway through your drive, you will see the Athabasca Glacier. The Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience operates across the street from the glacier and for $90 you can walk and explore the glacier up close. At the time, neither of us had ever been on a glacier, so this was a great introduction.
Stop 4: Athabasca Falls
To date, Athabasca Falls is still one of the most powerful waterfalls either of us has ever seen. The rapids rage at this waterfall and it’s fun to admire the power of nature. It’s a quick stop, but definitely worth seeing.
For the next two nights we stayed at Patricia Lake Bungalows. We had our own private cabin, but we didn’t end up spending too much time there since we were out and about exploring for much of the day. Our options were limited when we were booking in Jasper, but this place worked.
Stop 1: Maligne Canyon
Not quite as cool as Johnston Canyon, but worth checking out. The canyon is one of the deepest in the Rockies and features beautiful springs, streams, and waterfalls.
Stop 2: Maligne Lake
Sadly, when we went to Maligne Lake there was an ongoing forest fire that made accessing the lake fairly challenging. It also limited what we were able to do there. We had hoped to hop on a boat and take a spin around the lake and to the island in the lake, but none were available due to the fires (however, you should totally do this, if you go!) Instead, we did a couple short loop hikes and enjoyed the great outdoors.
Stop 3: Kinney Lake and Mount Robson
Late in the day we made our way to Kinney Lake at the base of Mount Robson, Canada’s highest peak in the Rockies, for a sunset hike. The trail was beautiful and offered great views of Mount Robson. We only wish we had come earlier so we didn’t have to rush–highly recommend.
If you’re only interested in seeing Banff, Yoho, and Jasper, then you can conclude your trip on this day. We left Jasper and returned to Calgary, which was a 5 hour drive. Ultimately, we decided to stay an extra day in Calgary where we were able to visit the Canada Olympic Park to give bobsledding down an Olympic track a try. Additionally, we visited the Century Downs Racetrack and Casino and Calgary Tower. As you may know, I love ice cream and love to check out shops whenever we travel, so we hit up Village Ice Cream and they didn’t disappoint.
Our trip to Banff and the surrounding areas is still one of our favorite trips to this day. The area is breathtaking and there’s so much to see and do. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! I would love to help you figure out your own trip to Banff.