Perfect Banff National Park Itinerary for 1, 2, or 3 Days

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This article was shared by Rachelle Gordon from Adventure is Never Far Away. If you’re looking for more adventure inspiration, hop on over to her site for some amazing photos and awesome itineraries!

Banff National Park is one of the crowned jewels of Canada and is a definite must-see to any Canadian itinerary. Located in the Alberta province in central Canada, Banff is one of those places that you will always remember fondly and regale your friends and family with descriptions of the natural beauty found there.

If you’re planning a trip to Banff, you’ll find everything you need to know outlined in this post. Unsure of what to do in the park? Curious how to spend your days in Banff? Wondering which adventures would fit your style best?

Fear not, I’ve got you covered.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What to expect when visiting Banff.
  • Approximate costs associated with a single- or multi-day visit to Banff.
  • Where the best adventures can be found in and around Banff.
  • What wildlife to be on the look out for in Banff.

I’ve outlined suggested itineraries for 1, 2, or 3+ days in Banff National Park. Of course, these itineraries are just suggestions, based on personal experience. But every adventure is fully customizable to your taste, style, and budget.

Banff Itinerary for 1, 2, or 3 days

But before we get into the itineraries, here are a few important things to take note of before you head out on your Banff adventure!

Things to Consider When Visiting Banff National Park

Best Time to Visit Banff

Banff National Park is an extremely popular tourist destination. Summer months see an influx of visitors, while the shoulder season of late spring and early fall enjoys a little less congestion. 

One of the highlights of visiting Banff National Park is driving along the Icefields Parkway. The long stretch of highway is open year-round, but is not plowed during the winter months. 

September and early October are prime months to visit Banff. Not only have the crowds thinned, but the weather is still temperate, and leaves are starting to change colors. Just make sure to pack your hiking shoes for extra traction and warmth as the temperatures start to drop a bit.

If summer or any other peak travel times of year are your only options, you’re still going to have an amazing time. Just prepare for longer wait times, parking issues, and a slower drive up the Icefields Parkway.

If you choose to visit Banff during the winter, there are plenty of amazing experiences that the whole family will love!

Banff Pricing and Tickets

When planning your trip to Banff, take care to factor in the park entrance fees. They offer different prices for seniors and children up to age 17.

Banff National Park Entrance Fees:

  • Single Entry Adult (18-64): $9.80
  • Single Entry Senior (65+): $8.30
  • Single Entry Child (up to age 17): FREE

If you plan on visiting Banff more than one day, it might be cost effective for you to purchase a Discovery Pass. The Discovery Pass is available at for purchase online and gives you unlimited admission to over 80 Parks Canada locations during 12 months from the date of your purchase.

Or, if you happen to be staying at an AirBnB location, check to see if your hosts have a pass you can borrow!

Side note: keep in mind that everything within Banff National Park will be more expensive than anticipated. This will include food, lodging, fuel, and souvenirs. Plan accordingly.

Banff National Park: All the details

Best Way to Get Around Banff

Getting around Banff National Park is a completely personalized decision: RV, car, shuttle, the choice is yours. Depending on how much time you have to spend in the park, you can choose to drive your own vehicle, join a tour company, or take advantage of Roam Transit – Banff’s shuttle service.

If you have a limited amount of time, or if you enjoy the luxury and freedom of being able to pull off the side of the road at your leisure, driving your own vehicle is the way to go. Not only can you build your own itinerary and timeline, but you can go at your own speed.

There is only one spot within Banff to get fuel – Saskatchewan Crossing. Fuel up prior to entering the park, or before you leave the city of Banff. Keep in mind that prices will be higher than usual, due to the isolated location.

Where to Stay in Banff

In an effort to keep environmental impact at a minimum within Banff, the sleeping options will be limited. That being said, there are a few options within the city of Banff.

There are plenty of places to pull off the road and camp or park your RV. Of course, the campsites closest to the main attractions (such as Lake Louise) are able to be reserved ahead of time as they tend to fill up quickly during peak season.

We always love staying in Airbnb’s when we travel, and you can find some of our favorite Airbnb’s near Banff here.

There are a few lodges and hotels within Banff, but tend to be a little pricey due to the isolation. You can find lodging at the Saskatchewan Crossing, Icefields Visitor Center, Sunwapta Falls, and the glamorous Fairmont at Lake Louise.

Wildlife in Banff

Grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, and deer all call Banff National Park home. Even though wildlife sighting is never a guarantee, it’s always a good idea to be prepared. 

Always carry bear spray with you when you’re outside of your vehicle, keeping it at the ready. My last trip to Banff was in October and I had it in my hand the entire time I was hiking. It’s also advisable to make a lot of noise when hiking around, so as not to sneak up on the wildlife. 

As always, don’t approach, feed, or touch any wild animal. Stay in your vehicle if you come upon them. Observe without interfering with their lives. Also, for both the animals protection and yours, it’s worth investing in a bear-proof cooler (yes, they actually exist and are amazing – you can read more about them here).

If you plan on being there in the summer, you’ll want some bug spray as well. We like this bug spray since it works well, but doesn’t smell horrible.

1 Day in Banff National Park

If you only have enough time for one day in Banff National Park, I hope you brought your marathon shoes, because it’s going to be a long day. Make sure you get yourself an early start so you can pack as many adventures into your day that you can.

You’re also going to be spending a lot of time in vehicles, getting from place to place. But don’t worry – you’ll be driving along some of the best the Canadian Rockies has to offer, so there will be PLENTY to see! Here are our suggestions to create the perfect 1 day itinerary in Banff National Park.

Sunrise at Lake Louise

If you Google pictures of Banff National Park, chances are high that your computer will become flooded with pictures of Lake Louise. And for good reason. It’s beautiful, and one of the first things you should check out in Banff.

Photo by adventureisneverfaraway.com

Plan on starting your day before sunrise, allowing yourself enough time to get to Lake Louise and park. I personally recommend arriving at least an hour before sunrise to get a good parking spot. If not, you’ll have to drive back down the mountain and utilize the shuttles, eating into your visit and costing you extra money.

When you arrive, there’s no rush to get out of your car. If you’re wanting to get some amazing pre-sunrise pictures, follow the crowd thronging to the lakeside. If you’re still tired from waking up too early, no shame in taking a quick nap in the car!

Once you make it to Lake Louise, take as many pictures as your heart desires. There are plenty of great vantage points, all with amazing rocks that jut out into the lake, giving off the appearance that you’re not surrounded by hundreds of your closest friends.

After you’ve taken all the pictures you can think of, head off on one of the numerous trails that surround Lake Louise. Hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse for lunch, taking a few hours to enjoy the area surrounding Lake Louise. The trailhead is located at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and you should plan on a moderate hike, taking about 4 hours round trip.

Moraine Lake

After you had your fill of Lake Louise, it’s time to head over to Moraine Lake. In my opinion, Moraine Lake is far superior in many ways, but you can be the judge. Parking at Moraine Lake is usually easier to navigate, which is why I recommend hitting up Lake Louise first. Plus, the way the traffic is regulated by the park rangers allows for a natural progression between the two lakes.

Once you park your car, head towards Moraine Lake and get your cameras and hiking boots ready. There’s an easy hike around the Moraine Lake Shoreline, perfect for any skill level of adventurer. It’s also a perfect trail if you’re traveling with a dog, as it is flat and relatively short.

Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail – Photo by adventureisneverfaraway.com

Still need to get some wiggles out? There’s an awesome rock pile that you can scramble up for some wicked views of the Gatorade-blue water!

The Lake Minnewanka Loop

The last major stop in your whirlwind day in Banff will be exploring the Lake Minnewanka Loop. You’ll have the best access to wildlife, a variety of hikes, and beautiful glacial lakes galore!

If you still need to get out and stretch your legs, head over to the Stewart Canyon Trail, which can be completed in about 40 minutes. The trail runs along the lake shore of Lake Minnewanka and is full of Insta-worthy picture spots and open areas to stretch out.

Head on over to Two Jack Lake to find one of the most photographed spots in North America. If you want to experience a glacial lake, this is the perfect spot to dip your feet and fully appreciate what glacial-cold feels like! And before heading out, have a picnic dinner by the lake and watch the sunset to cap off your magical day.

2 Days in Banff National Park

Depending on where you’re staying during your visit, choose which day you want to catch the sunrise at Lake Louise. If you’re staying within the park, it might be easier catch the sunrise on your second day. Or whichever day the weather and crowds permit. Here are our suggestions for the perfect 2 day itinerary in Banff National Park.

Day 1: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Lake Minnewanka

Start your day with catching the sunrise at Lake Louise and hike out to the Lake Agnes Teahouse for lunch. After getting your fill of pictures, head over to Moraine Lake and bask in the shadow of a mighty glacier.

Moraine Lake – Photo by adventureisneverfaraway.com

Spend the second half of your day exploring the Lake Minnewanka Loop, hiking, dipping your toes in the glacial water, and picnicking by the water. Check out the one day itinerary listed above for more information!

Consider camping at Two Jack Lake to start your next day’s adventure bright and early!

Day 2: Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is a beautiful stretch of highway that connects Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada. The road in its entirety is approximately 230-235 kilometers long, depending on who you ask.

Photo by adventureisneverfaraway.com

Almost every “Top Scenic Drives” list includes the Icefields Parkway, and for good reason. There are several pull-off spots with stunning lakes, rivers, glaciers, mountains, trees, wildlife, you-fill-in-the-blank nature thing.

Nothing will be better than driving up the Icefields Parkway all day. You will be driving along some of the most imposing mountains in the northern hemisphere, coupled with amazing views. There isn’t a “bad” spot along the highway, in my opinion.

Bow River – Photo by adventureisneverfaraway.com

Start your day with a stop at Bow River. Nothing is better than breakfast on the water. When it reopens, Peyto Lake is a must-see. It was closed the last time I was in Banff with law enforcement patrolling the entrance.

Mistaya Canyon is a great spot to get out, hike down to the bridge, and scramble around the canyon cliffs. Take caution: there are numerous signs with warnings to stay in certain areas. Bears frequent the area and rocks can get slippery.

Mistaya Canyon – Photo by adventureisneverfaraway.com

Want to see the Gatorade-blue waters without the crazy crowds of Lake Louise? Check out Bow Lake as a great alternative. Bow Lake is one of the largest lakes along the Icefields Parkway and the perfect spot to get out and stretch your legs. Hike along the shores of Bow Lake, starting in the parking lot, just before the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge.

Spend the day stopping along the Icefields Parkway at the dozens of turn-off points, picnicking along the water! While the above spots are my favorite, there are so many nooks and crannies to be discovered. So go at your own pace. Find your own favorites!

3+ Days in Banff National Park

Here are our suggestions for the perfect 3 day itinerary in Banff National Park.

Day 1: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Lake Minnewanka

Start your day with catching the sunrise at Lake Louise and hike out to the Lake Agnes Teahouse for lunch. After getting your fill of pictures, head over to Moraine Lake and bask in the shadow of a mighty glacier.

Spend the second half of your day exploring the Lake Minnewanka Loop, hiking, dipping your toes in the glacial water, and picnicking by the water. Check out the one day itinerary listed above for more information!

Consider camping at Two Jack Lake to start your next day’s adventure bright and early!

Day 2: Athabasca Glacier

Get your boots and parkas ready – today you’re going on a glacier! Hop in your vehicle and start the drive north, to the Columbia Icefield, home of the Athabasca Glacier. The Icefield Discovery Center will be your base of operations today, complete with dining options and education.

Photo by adventureisneverfaraway.com

Start your morning with a hike along the Forefield trail, which leads you from the Icefield Discovery Center parking lot to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. For 1.8km, hike along the unpaved rubble sediment path, learning first-hand how much the glacier has melted/receded due to climate change.

Hike up to the roped-off area, but no further, as the glacier surface is riddled with deep crevasses. Since the elevation is higher than most people are used to, take your time hiking. The air is thinner and you’ll want to take care to not over-exert yourself.

After heading back to the Icefield Discovery Center, stop for some lunch and an unparalleled view of the Athabasca Glacier.

If your budget allows, book yourself a tour to load into a huge Ice Explorer and walk on a cleared section of the glacier! Depending on the weather, you’ll want to make sure you’re dressed appropriately. Glaciers create their own weather patterns, so plan ahead.

Before you head out on the glacier, your tour will include a stop at the glass-floored skywalk above the Sunwapta Valley. You’ll learn about the waterfalls, wildlife, fossils, and more as you test your fear of heights 280 meters above the ground!

If you visit during the summer months, you might be able to drink pure glacial water! I went in October and had to settle for munching on an ice chunk!

Complete the Athabasca Glacier experience with staying the night at the Glacier View Lodge! Not only will you get an exclusive evening Columbia Icefield Adventure tour, but a spectacular stargazing experience, free of light pollution!

Day 3+: Icefields Parkway

Spend the day driving along the Icefields Parkway. Stop at every pull-out. Take pictures at every viewpoint. Camp by the water and lakes. Hike down to Peyto Lake and discover the power of water at Mistaya Canyon.

Mistaya Canyon Hike – Photo by adventureisneverfaraway.com

Base yourself at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge next to Bow Lake for a night or two, as you slowly discover the beauty around you.

If you want to stay for longer than three days, I encourage you to explore the Icefields Parkway in more depth. When you arrive into Banff on your first day, you will be given a map of the entire park. Circle everything you want to see, hikes you want to embark upon, and vistas you want pictures of. Take your time. Move slowly. Enjoy the park!

These are my suggestions for creating a 1, 2, or 3 day itinerary for visiting Banff National Park. Of course, you can build your visit however you want. It goes without saying that Banff is full of amazing hikes, wildlife, lakes, waterfalls, etc. You will never be bored!

Make sure to follow more of Rachelle’s adventures over on Instagram.

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

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