Your Ultimate Guide to Banff, Alberta
An epic adventure in Canada's wild Rocky Mountains. Explore the heart of Banff, including scenic hiking trails, stunning mountains and turquoise lakes, as well as a day-trip to Yoho National Park.
North AmericaCanada3 days / June 2020
Highs & Lows
Lake hopping! From Lake Louise, Moraine Lake to Peyto and many more turquoise blue lakes!
The weather can often be a bit unpredictable. Always bring extra layers with you and a waterproof jacket/ umbrella!
One of the greatest Canadian adventures you can take in your life is a classic trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and Banff National Park is just the place for it! Picture epic outdoor adventure full of hiking, surrounded by insane backdrops of snow-capped mountains, crystal blue and turquoise lakes and tons of wildlife at your door. If you're a nature lover like myself, then this will definitely be your kind of trip!
I visited Banff, Alberta in the early summer of 2020. It was my first time visiting but it quickly stole my heart, so much so that I plan to live there one day!! In the meantime however, I've curated the ultimate Banff travel guide for your special visit! In this guide, you will find a full 4-day itinerary , covering the national park's greatest gems as well as a day-trip to Yoho National Park! This guide works perfectly as a stand-alone trip or can be complimented with an additional trip to Alberta's nearby Jasper National Park.
This guide is pretty adventure-heavy as there is lots of hiking involved. Moderate to easy hiking trails have been chosen to accommodate most skill levels. Although these activities can be done year-round, it's best recommended as a summer trip. Be mindful to pack properly for the occasion and weather - bring lots of warm outdoor gear!
Lastly, please note that each day itinerary has been crafted with location and proximity in mind. Each destination has been grouped together in a way that is most effective in saving you time and millage so you can enjoy more of your day exploring!
DAY 1: Day of lakes
Day one is all about lake-hopping some of Banff’s most scenic and arguably most popular lakes!
Lake Louise's sparkling turquoise waters and surrounding snow-capped mountains have made this a world-famous site and it’s certainly not to be missed! I recommend visiting as early in the a.m. as possible, as parking fills up quick – and by early, I mean before sunrise! If getting up super early isn’t your thing however, then I recommend taking the shuttle bus in, which departs every 20 minutes during peak season. Once there, enjoy scenic views of the lake from the main viewing platform and take in the grandeur of the Fairmont Chateau.
There are also tons of activities to do around Lake Louise - the most popular being hiking (year-round) as well as canoeing in the summer. The most popular hiking trail is the Lake Agnes Teahouse trail, and from there you can opt to continue towards either Little or Big Beehive trail.
As their names suggest, Little beehive is a smaller mountain peak, while Big Beehive is much longer and more of challenging climb. Whichever you choose, they’ll both offer spectacular views of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau down below!
From Lake Louise, drive up north on highway 93 for about a half-hour until we reach our next destination – Bow Lake. You’ll know when you get there because it is conveniently located right by the highway and has a visible open parking lot area. Take some time to go for a walk around the lake and enjoy the scenic views!
Peyto Lake is another highly, HIGHLY popular lake. Sadly, I didn’t get to personally visit it, as it was closed for maintenance. However, through research and countless recommendations, Peyto Lake should definitely be on your bucket list! Although you can see the lake from ground level, it’s highly recommended to climb the Bow Summit trail for the best lookout view from above! This trail is regarded as a relatively easy 2.9 km hike (one-way).
DAY 2: Banff town exploration
Day 2 is a bit more easy-going and leisurely, as focus is spending time exploring Banff town.
Hiking Tunnel Mountain
Tunnel Mountain is Banff’s smallest mountain but it surely doesn’t compromise in views! It’s ranked as a relatively easy 2.3 km hike (one-way) with some well-maintained switchbacks. Along the way, we saw stunning views of Banff’s backdrop, including its downtown centre, the impressive Banff Springs Hotel, while at the top, we were greeted with views of Mt. Rundle and the surrounding Bow Valley.
After your hike, head down to Banff town’s main Banff Avenue strip – here you can fuel up on good food and reenergize! Afterwards, spend some time walking around the charming strip. We did some shopping and picked up all our souvenirs here! You’ll also find that the streets are usually lively with events and performances taking place!
Relaxing at Banff Upper Hot Springs
There’s no better way of relaxing in the Rockies than with a trip to a natural hot spring! Banff Upper Hot Springs is centrally located and best part about it – admission fee per adult is less than $10!!! Perfect for us backpackers on a budget! It’s also a great activity to do year-round as the water stays nice and hot and is fun for the whole family!
Banff Gondola (Sulphur Mountain)
I recommend saving this spot for sunset! Sulphur mountain offers spectacular views of Bow Valley – however a much different perspective from that of Tunnel Mountain. You can choose to either hike the mountain or take the gondola ride up. Although expensive, I highly recommend going with the gondola. I personally attempted the 5.5 km heavy-incline hike and didn’t complete it, so be aware of your skill level when choosing what’s right for you. Once at the top, make sure to check out the Banff Skywalk!
Day 3 is a dedicated full-day excursion to Yoho National Park, in British Columbia - Alberta's neighbouring province. Yoho conveniently borders with Banff National Park, making it the perfect place for those who want to discover surrounding parks without going too far.
The TOP highlight of my whole Banff experience! Note - Moraine Lake is actually part of Banff, however it's on the way there and only about a half-hour drive from Yoho's nearest entrance. For this reason, it was first on our list for the day! Once arrived, hike up the quick and easy Rockpile trail (literally takes a few minutes) until you reach the top! You'll be greeted with insane views of Moraine Lake as well as the Valley of Ten Peaks. Just like Lake Louise, this is another hotspot that fills up really quickly. Aim to arrive for sunrise or as early in the morning as possible!
Canada’s second tallest waterfall! Takakkaw Falls can be conveniently accessed by car and doesn't require a hike, making it a great place to easily stop and enjoy the view!
Natural bridge gets its name because this impressive rock's natural formation acts as a bridge that connects one side of the river with the other. You can actually walk over it and get a better view of the stunning waterfall in the backdrop! This sight also doesn't require a hike!
The only nearby town in Yoho! It's a very small but cute former railway town with a couple options for dining if you're looking for a sit-down place!
One of Yoho's greatest gems is the famous Emerald lake. It was one of my favourite sights from our Yoho day-trip and 100% worth visiting! Just like its name indicates, the lake's colour is a stunning emerald green shade, with twinkling reflections of the surrounding rocky mountains. The long bridge connecting to the little lodging island also makes for an overall very picturesque scene! You can grab lunch or dinner on the island if you wish. Other activities include canoeing or hiking around the lake.
Grassi Lakes trail
I recommend hiking the Grassi Lakes trail for people of all ages and skill levels and is especially great for families! There's two clearly-indicated paths to take - either the 'easy' or 'harder' trail. They both lead to two stunning emerald green lakes, however, the harder trail does offer more open views of Canmore and Bow Valley along the way. I took the hard trail up and the easy way down as was recommended for cooling down.
Canmore town is a charming tourist town that I totally recommend spending a day in! Personally, I enjoyed its more laid-back, artsy vibe than its neighbouring town of Banff and felt more authentic. Take some time to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. There are a number of awesome restaurants and lots of shops and boutiques. Afterwards, you can do some walking or even cycling around the town's trails along the Bow River. Canmore is a big cycling town, so you'll find many businesses that offer bike rentals.
Sunset by the lake
End the day by enjoying one last sunset! I recommend visiting either Lake Minnewanka or Vermillion Lakes. Both are relatively close in proximity and offer an amazing scenery for catching sunset!
Q & A
Anything go wrong during the trip?
Hiking is something that should always be done with precaution. There are potential risks and dangers that can take place. My friend who I was hiking with, unfortunately sprained her ankle on our very first hike! This of course, changed her plans for the remainder of the trip. Luckily, we had a first aid kit with us to help her get back down the mountain. Always carry a first aid kit and aim to hike in groups for extra precaution.
How was the food?
Both Canmore and Banff towns offer many great food options in the main tourist areas. However, on days with lots of hiking, I recommend opting for a packed lunch - such as a sandwich for convenience. Also bring lots of snacks with you because hiking takes up a lot of energy and time!
Pack EXTRA WARM! Even during the summer months, the rockies can get pretty chilly. It's often overcast and tends to rain during unpredictable times so make sure you bring a reliable jacket and many sweaters and warm pants with you. I highly recommend bringing hiking shoes and any other hiking equipment with you. Although a rarity, it's still important to remember that this is bear country. It's highly recommended that you buy a bear whistle as well as bear spray (legal for purchase in Alberta and British Columbia).
Although this guide was thoughtfully planned out to save you time and millage, everything is still pretty spread out in the rockies - remember, this is the great outdoors! For this reason, I highly, highly recommend renting a car. It'll save you a big headache, otherwise there's no main infrastructure or public system to get you around the parks. There are however shuttle buses in some secondary parking lots that will take you t main attractions such a Lake Louise or Moraine Lake. This is an option to consider as parking can be a zoo in certain popular sights.