Check out my 3-day Banff itinerary for your guide to the best hikes in Banff National Park, and the overall best things to do and see. Summer is a great time to visit, and Banff just opened back up on 6/1/20 – so keep reading for some inspo and start planning your trip!
Situated in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park consists of untapped nature trails with abundant wildlife, turquoise glacial lakes, and awe-inspiring mountain scenery. This beautiful, pristine destination should definitely be on the top of your bucketlist! Keep reading for my 3-day Banff itinerary that includes the best things to do in Banff in the summer, including the best hikes in Banff.
NOTE FOR SUMMER 2020/COVID: Great news – Banff National Park just opened back up on June 1, 2020! Make sure you practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Also, note that they limiting the number of cars in the Lake Louise parking lot to 100 (normally it’s 450) so make sure to get there super early to get a spot!
Banff Itinerary Overview:
PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 1-2
Exchange rate (June ’19): 1 Canadian Dollar = $0.75 USD
Want me to plan a customized itinerary for your trip? Check out my Travel Services page and contact me!
Where to Stay in Banff:
I recommend staying in the town of Banff instead of Canmore (the next town over) so that you are more conveniently located to the spots listed above. There are Airbnb’s, hotels, and hostels in the Banff, but be sure to book as far in advance as possible, as lodging tends to fill up quickly for the summer months. If you’re looking for a luxury experience, The Fairmont would be a great choice! It’s absolutely beautiful, and is located right on Lake Louise.
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3-Day Banff Itinerary
Day 1: Johnston Canyon Trail hike and Banff town
Most blogs you read about “best things to do in Banff, Canada” list the Banff Gondola as one of the main attractions. Although I’m sure the views are great, this gondola ride only lasts 8 minutes and cost around $60, which doesn’t seem worth it. I recommend skipping out on this, and instead heading to one of the best hikes in Banff- Johnston Canyon Trail -to check out the waterfalls!
Get to the Johnston Canyon Trail hike early (this is a theme for the whole trip, actually) so you can avoid any crowds. When you get about halfway through the hike, there’s a fork in the road to continue on to the Upper Falls or the Lower Falls. We opted to do both. The Lower Falls is a quick .6 mile trail down to a small bridge with a lookout point. Since this trail is so short, it tends to be the most crowded, and people were standing in line to take their picture of the waterfall. If you choose to just do the Lower Falls portion of the hike, it would definitely make it one of the easy hikes in Banff. However, in my opinion, the Upper Falls portion of the hike is what makes this one of the best hikes in Banff.
Pictured above- view from the trail
The Upper Falls hike is 1.6 miles one way (about 3 miles round trip) and is much less crowded, as most people only stop at the Lower Falls. There are a few spots where you can take a detour off the main trail and trek off to the side to get down to the water and walk super close to the waterfall- it’s a very scenic place to hang out for a few hours!
If you want to keep going- there is a trail that continues on past the Upper Falls that goes for about 1.8 miles uphill that brings you to the Ink Pots- several green/blue mineral pools with a beautiful mountain view in the background. This is something that we didn’t do because we didn’t know about it until after we got back, but I wish we had!
The good news about this being one of the best hikes near Banff town is that you don’t have a far drive back to town after your day exploring the waterfalls. Head back about 30 minutes towards the cute mountain town of Banff to get some dinner/drinks, and be sure to check out the scenic rooftop patio at Elk and Oarsmen and Banff Ave Brewing Co!
3-Day Banff Itinerary- Day 2: Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway, Athabasca Glacier
You’ve probably seen pictures of this glacial lake before- it’s famous for the vibrant blue/green color of the water in the summer, which is caused by light reflecting off the glacial silt in the water. This lake normally thaws in June, and is most vibrant in July/August. It lies about 35 miles northwest of Banff- about a 40 minute drive. One of my most important tips- GET THERE EARLY! I can’t stress this enough. We got there at 8am and were able to enjoy the beauty of the lake in near solitude, but tour buses normally arrive around 10-11am, bringing crowds of people with them.
There are a few hiking trails you can choose from at Lake Louise- one of the most popular Banff hiking trails at Lake Louise is the Lake Agnes Tea House trail. This trail is about 4.4 miles round-trip, and leads to the Lake Agnes Tea House, where you can relax with a cup of tea and a snack!
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, one of the best moderate hikes in Banff is to the other tea house at Lake Louise- the Plain of Six Glaciers. This 9.4 miles round-trip hiking trail offers incredible views, a chance to see wildlife, and yet again- a tea house at the end to relax and enjoy!
We opted for the easy trail (although still one of the best Banff day hikes because of the view) around the lake, in order to be back to the starting point by 11 when the canoe rentals open to get first dibs!
They rent canoes at Lake Louise from the dock on the left side of the lake for about $90 USD for 1 hour, which is enough time to paddle to the end of the lake and back. Although it’s pricey- you can have up to 3 people in a canoe, so if you are traveling with friends you can split the cost. When else will you have the chance to canoe in the middle of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world? This is definitely one of the best things to do in Banff National Park.
After your picturesque canoe ride, treat yourself to lunch/drinks at the famous Fairmont Chateau overlooking Lake Louise. The high price point is worth it to relax and soak in the views of Lake Louise in luxury!
Once you finish lunch, get in your car and head to the Icefields Parkway– one of the most scenic drives in the world. This 144-mile road connects Banff to Jasper, Alberta (home to Jasper National Park). You won’t have time to make it all the way to Jasper on your 3-day Banff trip, but you can drive about halfway (80 miles) to the Athabasca Glacier. With gorgeous scenery and wildlife at every turn, be sure to make lots of stops along the way to get out of the car and walk around on trails you find alongside the road.
Keep driving to your last stop- Athabasca Glacier. This glacier is over 3 miles long and is about 700 feet thick! You can walk along the trail right up next to the glacier, but cannot walk directly onto it.
3-Day Banff Itinerary- Day 3: Moraine Lake and Bow River
Get up early and head to Moraine Lake– another glacially-fed lake in Banff National Park. (40 min from Banff town). Make sure to get there before 9am to experience it before the crowds start coming in!
One of the main differences between Moraine Lake and Lake Louise (besides the fact that Moraine Lake is half the size) is the color of the water. While Lake Louise is more of a milky green shade, Moraine Lake is a vibrant blue.
Start off by walking on the Lakeshore Trail- an easy hike that meanders alongside the lake’s shoreline through trees, and ends at the backside of the lake. The walk up and back is about 3 miles roundtrip, and in my opinion, is another one of the best trails in Banff. You will also come across canoes to rent, which are cheaper than at Lake Louise, (but also the lake is smaller so there is not as much distance to paddle around).
Next- check out the Rockpile Trail for the best views of Moraine Lake. You can either take the actual hiking trail which starts at the back of the rockpile, or if you are more adventurous, climb up the rocks on the front side of the rockpile and make your own trail. The view from the top of the rocks is stunning! This was my favorite hiking trail in Banff because of this amazing view.
Lastly- make your way back to the town of Banff and relax in the grassy park next to the Bow River before you head back to Calgary for your flight home.
Other Helpful Info:
Getting To Banff National Park:
Fly into Calgary International Airport (YCC)
Rent a car and drive about 1.5 hours west from Calgary to Banff
I definitely recommend renting a car vs relying on public transportation so that you can be on your own schedule. Also, a few of the places I mentioned (Johnston Canyon and Icefields Parkway) are not accessible by public transportation
The itinerary above is based on flying in Thursday night and flying back Sunday night.
When to Visit Banff National Park
This post is based on things to do in Banff in the summertime- I visited in mid-July. Going in fall or winter is a totally different trip! There are ski resorts, the lakes are frozen over (but I hear you can ice skate on them) and some of the hikes may not be accessible. If you want to go to see the lakes, definitely go in July or August, once the lakes have thawed.
If You Have Longer Than 3 Days in Banff:
If you have more time, you should definitely keep driving along the IceFields Parkway until you hit Jasper, and explore Jasper National Park. Check out this 2-week Canadian Rockies itineraryfor tips for a longer trip!