3 Days in Banff: The Best Itinerary
September 18, 2018
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Banff National Park was on my bucket list for quite a long time. I love vacations that allow me to escape into the mountains, and Banff is the perfect place to do just that, even if just for 3 days. Located in Alberta, Canada, Banff is relatively easy to get to, with the Calgary airport only 1.5 hours outside of the park. Plus, it is super easy to get from Calgary to Banff. Planning out a Banff itinerary, however, is no easy task. When I first started planning my Canadian mountain getaway I found it a bit difficult to figure out exactly how I should plan out my time seeing as I only had three days in Banff and so much that I wanted to see! This Banff itinerary will break down everything you need to know about spending the best 3 days in Banff National Park.
3 Days in Banff Itinerary: What to Know
When to Visit Banff
One of the most important things to consider when planning your trip to Banff is when the best time to visit Banff is! It is typically said that the best time to visit Banff is in the summer, from June to August and December to March, depending on if you are looking for summer hikes or winter adventures.
Banff in September
Personally, I visited during the second week in September in hopes of avoiding some of the crowds. The verdict? The crowds were definitely better than they were rumored to be throughout the summer, hotel prices were still high, and it got really (really) cold! Despite it technically still being summer, it actually snowed during my time in Banff! It is also important to point out is that my three day trip to Banff was during the week, rather than on the weekend, which most likely played a large role in the crowd control.
One plus side to going during the summer months is that in addition to the warmer weather, you will also have longer days to explore the park. However, if you choose to visit Banff during the summer then prepare for crowds!
Where to Stay in Banff
There are tons of accommodation options for those looking to visit Banff: camping, RV, Airbnb, hostels, or, of course, your standard hotels.
If you are looking for slightly cheaper accommodation in a super cute town then I recommend staying in the town of Canmore! We spent a couple of nights at the Lamphouse Hotel. My favorite thing about this accommodation was the self-check-in service and the continental breakfast stocked right to your fridge. We were often out of the hotel before sunrise, so a fridge stocked with complimentary yogurts, fruit, and granola bars was the perfect setup.
Staying in Banff National Park itself also has its perks, as you will be closer to many of your destinations. However, lodging tends to be pricier and the town itself is more touristy than surrounding towns such as Canmore.
We opted to spend two nights in Canmore, one night in Banff, and one night in Calgary, as we had an early morning flight back to New York.
Getting Around Banff
I would be failing you with this Banff itinerary if I didn’t tell you to rent a car! Whether you have 3 days in Banff or 3 weeks, there is no doubt that having your own car in Banff is the best way to explore the park. If you only have three days in Banff then your best bet is to rent (or drive your own) car because it will allow you to see so much more. If you fly into Calgary International Airport, then you have the option of picking your car up right from the airport. While there are public buses that get you to and around Banff National Park, the schedules for these buses are limited and don’t depart as early as I would recommend arriving at the lakes. Having a car in Banff will give you the flexibility to see more and to be on your own schedule during your three days in Banff.
You will need to purchase a daily park pass for $19.60 CAD. Make sure to buy them ahead of time HERE to save time!
If you do not feel comfortable driving, you can also take a shuttle from Calgary airport to Banff. Airport Shuttle Express offers private shuttles from the airport. You can book their service to Banff National Park, or even as far as Jasper or Glacier National Park.
Best Places to Eat in Banff (and nearby)
Where to Eat in Canmore
The Grizzly Paw Pub and Brewing Company
8 Street, Canmore
The Grizzly Paw Pub is our absolute favorite spot to eat in Canmore! There is a ton of variety and the food is so so tasty. During our three days in Banff we actually ate here numerous times.
Where to Eat in Banff Town
Rose & Crown
202 Banff Ave, Banff
This pub is a hit with a local on Wednesday nights when they offer live music and 50% off bottles of wine. Definitely my kind of Wine Wednesday! If you’re three days in Banff happen to fall over a Wednesday then I definitely recommend checking this spot out!
Where to Eat near Lake Louise
Laggan’s Mountain Bakery & Deli
101 Village Road, Building B, Lake Louise
This is an easy spot for grabbing a quick, cheap bite for lunch. Their portions are a bit small but the soup was very delicious (and perfect for a cold day of hiking).
200 Pipestone Rd, Lake Louise
So unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to eat here, however both the restaurant and the pub at the Post Hotel come highly recommended by a local friend! Check it out and let me know what you think!
3 Days in Banff Itinerary
Day 1 – Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, & Moraine Lake
Okay, so I will admit it right away – the first day on this Banff itinerary is going to be a LONG day. My first day in Banff was definitely the busiest but also probably the most incredible! On Day 1 you will be visiting three different incredible lakes, Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, and Moraine Lake. If you choose to stay in Canmore, then you will need to be up by 5 am to fit everything in! This may need to be even earlier during the peak months to beat the crowds.
Lake Louise at Sunrise
Lake Louise is quite easily one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to. In order to avoid the crowds, I arrived at 6am, well before the sun rose. This is perhaps a bit excessive during the offseason, but the parking lots definitely fill up so plan to arrive early!
Directly in front of the Fairmont Chateau, just a few minutes from the parking lot, you will be standing in front of one of the most magical lakes in the world. We honestly just spend so long staring at it and taking it all in!
Once you have your fill of the lake from up close, it is time to hike up and get a bird’s eye perspective. We decided to combine the Agnes Lake Tea House trek and the Big Beehive trek. It takes approximately 1.5 hours to reach the tea house, most of which you will be walking at a steady slight incline.
The Agnes Lake Tea House is a great spot to stop and warm up and refresh. We order a pot of the Mountain Chai tea and it was delicious! Make sure to bring cash though (Canadian and US Dollars accepted), as credit cards are not excepted.
From here you can hike another 1.6 km to the Big Beehive Lookout and trust me, it is WORTH IT! This part of the hike is quite challenging because after you circle the lake you will face some pretty intense switch backs. The views from the top are truly spectacular though.
After this challenging hike we stopped in Lake Louise Village for a hearty lunch before continuing to our next destination… Peyto Lake!
Exploring Peyto Lake
Yes, the water really is that blue! I had seen so many photos of Peyto lake on Instagram, however, I was afraid that some serious photoshopping was taking place. Well, let me tell you, the magnificent color of this lake will blow you away!
The lake is super easy to get to, located right off of the Icefields Parkway, via the Bow Summit exit. From the parking lot it is just a 10-minute walk to Peyto Lake lookout. There are also other hike options available for those looking to get away from the crowds. We decided to simply wander a bit to the right to getting a better view. Please note, although I am wearing converse in this photo, I highly recommend packing proper hiking boots.
Visiting Moraine Lake
Hopefully you still have energy because you still have one more INCREDIBLE lake to visit today: Moraine Lake! We arrived at 5:30 pm and the lighting was absolutely perfect! We, fortunately, didn’t have any issues parking at that time, however, during the summer months, it might be worth trying to arrive by sunrise.
This lake is super accessible because the parking lot is just steps from this magical spot!
Day 2 – Canmore Swing, Tunnel Mountain, Emerald Lake, & Minnewanka Lake
How to Find the Canmore Swing
Because what Instagrammer doesn’t love a good swing picture? I had seen photos of this swing on the gram and was obviously determined to find it! Please note that it is located in a residential area so it is important to be considerate of the people living in the area.
Hiking Tunnel Mountain
Tunnel Mountain is a super fun, easy hike starting right in the town of Banff! The hike takes about 1.5 hours round trip, allowing time for some photos of course, and is relatively easy. At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with some sprawling views of the town below! It is the perfect addition to this Banff itinerary. There was some live music echoing through the mountains while we were up there which made for a magical experience!
Exploring Emerald Lake
So this lake is not actually part of Banff National Park, but rather part of Yoho National Park. However, it is close by and definitely worth the extra drive! The parking lot is just steps from the lake entrance.
Many people choose to rent canoes here, however as it was a bit rainy we decided to simply walk a bit around the lake instead.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t THAT impressed by Minnewanka Lake, however, it was quite overcast and cold when we arrived. I may have also been getting a bit tired and hangry haha. However, if I had more time I would have loved to take a boat out on the lake!
Day 3 – Johnston Canyon & Canmore
We left Johnston Canyon for our third and final day in Banff, and safe to say we were quite surprised when it started snowing! Nevertheless, this easy hike is a gorgeous at any time of year! You should be able to reach the Upper Falls in about 1.5 hours round trip.
We planned to head over and conquer the East End of the Rumble hike and Grassi Lakes next, however, the snowy weather made that impossible. We opted for a quiet afternoon shopping and sipping tea at the Bicycle Cafe in Canmore. If you’re interested in learning more about the Grassi Lakes Hike you can check out an awesome guide by a fellow blogger.
A few other places that we wanted to visit while in Canada include the Banff Upper Hot Springs, Lake O’Hara, and the East End of the Rundle Hike. If you have the time I recommend trying to squeeze these in! As for me, I guess I’ll just have to plan another trip! But nevertheless, now you know how to spend a perfect 3 days in Banff National Park.
What to Pack for Banff
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