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3 Days in Banff: The Best Itinerary

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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!

canoe at lake louise
Big Beehive Trek, Banff
Best hikes in Banff: Lake Agnes Tea House
Agnes Tea House

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.

Photo credit: Booking.com

Lamphouse Hotel

Lamphouse Hotel is a great budget-friendly option near Banff National Park in the town of Canmore. It’s a great base for exploring the park.

Check rates and availability

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.

Photo credit: Booking.com

Fairmont Banff Springs 

If you’re looking for a little bit of luxury for your mountain getaway, then I recommend the Fairmont Banff Springs. You can’t beat the location or the views.

Check rates and availability

Getting Around Banff

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. 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).

Post Hotel
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.

Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake
Lake Louise - Big Beehive Trail
Lake Louise – Big Beehive Trail

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!

sunrise at lake louise
Sunrise at Lake Louise, Banff
Big Beehive Trek in Banff National Park
The Big Beehive Hike, Banff

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.

girl in yellow dress at peyto lake
Peyto Lake, Banff
Peyto Lake overlook
Peyto Lake overlook

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.

Unfortunately you are no longer allowed to bring your private car into the parking lot at Moraine Lake. This means that you’ll either need to join a tour or hop on the shuttle. Shuttle reservations cost $8 each way and must be made in advance on the Parks Canada website.

The shuttle runs daily from June to October from 6:30am to 7:30pm.

Moraine Lake Bus Company and Fairview Limousine also offer shuttles to Moraine Lake for sunrise if that interests you.

a girl at moraine lake at banff national park
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
The bluest waters at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
The bluest waters at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Day 2 – Canmore Swing, Tunnel Mountain, & Emerald Lake

How to Find the Canmore Swing

Update: this swing has sadly been removed

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.

girl in pink jumpsuit on canmore swing, banff
Canmore Swing, Banff
Best Hikes in Banff - Tunnel Mountain Hike
Tunnel Mountain, Banff

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.

red boat on emerald lake canada
Emerald Lake, Canada
Fall days at Emerald Lake, Canada
Fall days at Emerald Lake, Canada

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.

girl in hat at emerald lake
Emerald Lake, Canada

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.

Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon
Hiking in Banff - Three Days in Banff Itinerary
A snowy morning in Johnston Canyon

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

The weather in Banff can change a lot. My biggest tip is to pack lots of layers!

Here are a few of my favorite layers (clearly a big fan of Patagonia over here):

Visiting Banff? Here are some other articles that you should check out:

Did you enjoy my guide to spending 3 Days in Banff? Make sure to Pin it for later!

 

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