Looking to spend 3 days in Banff this summer? 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 in the area. Summer is a great time to visit, so keep reading for some inspo and start planning your trip!
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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.
3 Day Banff Itinerary Overview:
- PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 1-2
- Nights: 3
- Cost: $$
How to Get to Banff National Park
The closest airport is Calgary International Airport (YYC). From here, it is about a 1.5-hour drive. You’ll definitely want to rent a car for this trip to make it easy to get around!
Best Time To Visit Banff
This 3 day Banff itinerary 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 July-September, once the lakes have thawed.
Best Place to Stay in Banff
If your 3 days in Banff will be your first time visiting the area, I recommend staying in the town of Banff instead of Canmore (the next town over). This way, you are more conveniently located to all the spots on this itinerary. 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. You have two main options when looking for the best place to stay in Banff: either staying in/near the town, or staying at Lake Louise (about 30 minutes from town).
If you’re looking for a luxury experience, The Fairmont at Lake Louise would be a great choice! It’s absolutely beautiful, and is located right on shore of Lake Louise.
If you want to stay at Lake Louise but are on more of a budget, check out the Lake Louise Inn instead.
If you want to stay in the town of Banff, walking distance to bars, shops and restaurants, check out the Moose Hotel & Suites! They have a rooftop with a hot tub and firepit, and awesome views.
Banff Packing List
- Nano Puff Jacket (packs up small and keeps you warm when it gets chilly at night!)
- The COLDEST Water Bottle (seriously – it stays colder than Hydroflask!)
- Hiking Boots (these are my fave)
- REI Soft Cooler (I have this and love it!)
- Cliff Bar Energy Chews (great to give you a boost of energy on hikes!)
- Sony A6000 (I’m just starting to learn photography, but this is the camera I’ve been using! I love it)
- Day Pack
- SmartWool Hiking Socks
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3 Day Banff Itinerary
Day 1: Johnston Canyon Trail Hike & 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!
Johnston Canyon Trail Hike Details
Get to the Johnston Canyon Trail hike early 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 0.6 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.
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!
If you want to keep going, take the 1.8-mile trail that continues on past the Upper Falls that brings you to the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots are 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!
Dinner and Drinks in the Town of Banff
The good news about this being one of the best hikes near Banff 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 and drinks, and be sure to check out the scenic rooftop patio at Elk and Oarsmen and Banff Ave Brewing Co!
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 3 main things I recommend doing while at Lake Louise: hike, canoe, and eat/drink with a view!
Hikes at Lake Louise
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 9.1 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 around the lake in order to be back to the starting point by 11 when the canoe rentals open to get first dibs!
Canoeing at Lake Louise
They rent canoes at Lake Louise from the dock on the left side of the lake for about $145 CAD for 1 hour. This should give you 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.
Note that canoeing on Lake Louise is a very popular thing to do, and it’s first-come-first-serve. Sometimes the wait for a canoe can be up to 3 hours! I recommend getting to the boathouse a little before they open at 11 to try to be one of the first in line. If you are a guest at The Fairmont, you get a special priority line.
Eat/Drink With a View
After your picturesque hike and canoe ride, treat yourself to lunch and 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! Even if you aren’t a guest, you can still enjoy lunch in their Lakeview Lounge.
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.
Day 3: Moraine Lake & 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 early to experience it before the crowds start coming in!
How to Get to Moraine Lake
Starting in 2023, you can no longer drive your car up to Moraine Lake. The only way to get there is via shuttle bus. You can book a shuttle bus ticket ahead of time through Parks Canada. Your ticket includes a stop at Lake Louies too (via the Connector Shuttle) if you want to combine seeing both of these lakes in one day. Tickets are reserved in a one-hour window for departure. Once you are at the lakes you can stay as long as you want before taking the bus back to the Park n Ride lot.
If the Parks Canada shuttles are full, there are a few third-party companies that you can book a shuttle ride through, like this one.
Best Things to Do at Moraine Lake
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. This is an easy 3-mile roundtrip hike that meanders alongside the lake’s shoreline through trees, and ends at the backside of the lake. You will also come across canoes to rent, which are cheaper than at Lake Louise.
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 climb up the rocks on the front side 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. I’m sure it will be a highlight of your 3 day Banff itinerary!
After Moraine Lake, it’s likely time to head back to the airport to catch your flight home. Before you head back, buffer in some time to relax in the grassy park next to the Bow River. It’s a peaceful way to cap off your 3 day Banff itinerary!
If You Have Longer Than 3 Days in Banff:
If you have more time, you should either:
- Keep driving along the IceFields Parkway until you hit Jasper, and explore Jasper National Park. Check out this 2-week Canadian Rockies itinerary
- Head 1.5 hours past Banff to Golden, B.C. This cute little mountain town is centrally-located near several different national parks! Check out my post on the best things to do in Golden, B.C.