1 Day in Banff – The Ultimate Itinerary
Banff is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies and the famous and stunning Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. There is SO much to do in and around Banff, but how the heck do you choose what to do if you only have 1 day?!
Dave and I have spent a lot of time in and around Banff and know exactly what we would do there if we only had one day. Now we want to pass this information on to you so that you don’t miss out on the very best things there are to do and see in Banff!
This guide lists the best things to do in Banff in 1 day and also includes a list of the best places to stay in Banff, a packing list and information on how to get around Banff without a car.
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Where is Banff
Banff is located in Alberta Canada in the Canadian Rockies. Most people will know about Banff because it is very close to the bright turquoise lakes, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
This guide will help you plan your one day in Banff around seeing the most beautiful parts of the Canadian Rockies so that you get the most out of your 1 day in Banff!
How to get to Banff from Calgary
If you are flying, you probably fly into Calgary International Airport which is 1.5 hours drive away from Banff. The drive from Calgary to Banff is straight forward as most of it is on the highway.
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
Do I Need a Car For Banff?
Having a car will give you lots of independence and flexibility to see places and do activities when you want, however, there are options to do all of the activities in this guide without a car as well.
Why do People Visit Banff
Banff is a touristy mountain town but it is also the closest town to some of the most beautiful nature in the world! I sometimes think of Banff as the natural version of Disneyworld because it really is like a big natural playground for adults! Most people choose to visit Banff to see famous and beautiful places such as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake. Other than these famous places, people often visit Banff for its incredible hiking or backpacking or to go skiing or snowboarding in the Winter.
When is the Best Time to Visit Banff?
Banff National Park is beautiful all-year-round, however Summer is the best time for outdoor adventures such as hiking as the weather is gorgeous and the lakes are thawed. The best time of the year to visit Banff is from June to the end of September. In our experience, during Summer, you will never run out of things to do in Banff! You also can only visit Moraine Lake during Summer as the road to the lake closes in Winter.
The temperatures during Summer are lovely, at around 23-28C (70-80F) on average but the temperatures can get much higher during the day and cooler at night.
How Long Should I Spend in Banff – Is 1 day enough?
I’m not going to lie. 1 day in Banff will leave you wanting more but 1 day is also better than none and you can still see a lot in one day if you plan your time properly. With only 1 day, you are going to want to plan your day around seeing the absolute best of Banff!
If you do have room to add more days onto your trip, I recommend planning for 5 days in Banff. With 5 days, you will have enough time to explore Banff town centre, do some hikes, relax a little and visit some of the most famous viewpoints in the world!
Places to Stay in Banff
In Banff there is everything from camping to luxury accommodation. We have stayed at the Best Western, the Moose Hotel and Suites the HI Banff Alpine Centre, the Samesun Banff and Two Jack Lake Campground. If you have one full day in Banff, this probably means that you will need to book a 2 nights stay. The cheapest option will be to camp in one of the Parks Canada campgrounds but the most efficient option (timing-wise) will be to get a hotel room and eat out.
Camping in Banff
- Two Jack Lake Campground – Our main issue with this campground was that there were no showers which we did not realise when booking. Make sure you check this on all your campsites when booking!
- Tunnel Mountain Village Campground
The Two Jack Lake and Tunnel Mountain campground are the ones closest to Banff town centre but there are many more scattered around the great Banff area. For a full list of the campgrounds and to book a site, head to the Canada Parks Website. You will also see a list of the facilities at each of the campgrounds here.
- HI Banff Alpine Centre – located up near Tunnel Mountain trailhead, we loved this hostel! The bar was also awesome and the hostel had plenty of parking. We even saw deer from the balcony!
- Samesun Banff – A hostel with a fun bar and yummy burgers!
- Banff International Hostel
- Best Western Plus Siding 29 Lodge – We found that during the off season in November, the Best Western was one of the more affordable hotels but during Summer the prices increased quite a lot.
- Moose Hotel and Suites – A beautiful hotel with amazing shared hot tubs on the deck.
- Canalta Lodge
- Buffalo Mountain Lodge
- Fairmont Banff Springs – expensive but amazing!
Self Catered Apartments
- Basecamp Suites Banff – We love Basecamp! We haven’t stayed in the Banff ones but we have stayed with them in Canmore.
- Mountain View Bed and Breakfast
Best Restaurants in Banff
We loved exploring the different restaurants while we were in Banff. Our favourite fancy restaurant in Banff is a place called Pacini which is located at the Moose Hotel and Suites. Dave is obsessed with their Roasted Tomato, Nuts and Shiitake Mille-Feuilles Lasagna and I really loved the Carbonara.
We also went to The Eddie Burger and Bar which had lots of fun burgers to choose from. They also had absolutely delicious Oreo milkshakes!
Another solid choice for a restaurant in Banff is the Elk & Oarsman Restaurant & Bar which is a classic pub type restaurant with dishes like ribs, fish and chips, burgers and pizzas.
Wildlife in and Around Banff
There is a lot of different wildlife living in and around Banff. Some of the animals that you should look out for are marmots, pikas (no not the Pokemon), Caribou, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, elk, black bears, grizzly bears and more!
Banff Packing List
When you are packing for Banff, you are going to want to pack for an outdoor adventure.
- Hiking Boots
- Sandals or other comfy shoes
- Merino t-shirt and an extra one to change into just in case.
- Hiking Pants, shorts or leggings.
- Casual shorts and tops
- Puffer Jacket
- Beanie – If you plan on visiting Banff at the start of Summer, the weather may still be quite cold.
- Swim Suit – for all the lake swimming that you will be doing!
- A summer dress – for wandering around town and going out in.
- Bug Spray
- Bear Spray
- Hiking Poles – If you usually hike with poles.
- Camera! There will be plenty of photography opportunities! We have a guide on camera gear here.
🥾 Check out our gear guide for a full list of our hiking gear!
The Best Things to do in Banff in One Day
The activities in this list is exactly what we would do if we had 1 day in Banff and were seeing it for the first time. You might find that you can’t fit all of these into one day. It will depend on how fast of a traveller/hiker you are. I have also put the activities and locations in order of how I would do them to help you plan.
Lake Louise is an incredible turquoise coloured glacial lake that should be on the top of your Banff bucket list. If you are visiting Moraine Lake, you could easily see Lake Louise the same day as they are right next to each other. Unlike Moraine Lake, Lake Louise is accessible year-round and you can even skate on the lake during Winter!
Watch the sunrise at Lake Louise
Now that you can no longer get to Moraine Lake for sunrise, I would recommend starting your day early with watching the sunrise at Lake Louise. The sunrise at Lake Louise during Summer is a big event so don’t expect to have the place to yourself. There was probably more than 100 people gathered around the lake when we were there but it was still so worth it.
Visit the Fairmont Château Lake Louise
If you haven’t visited a Fairmont yet, then you should definitely have a snack or a drink at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise while you are there. The Fairmont is a global hotel chain with luxury hotels that resemble castles. They are gorgeous!
Go for a hike
Lake Louise has a lot of incredible hikes that you can do while you are there. With one day in Banff I would recommend doing the Little Beehive Hike or the the Fairview Lookout both of which take you above the lake so that you can see it from above. The Fairview Lookout is the shorter of the two and takes you up the left side of the lake, whereas the Little Beehive has views from the right-back side of the lake.
Hire a Canoe
Just like Moraine Lake, Lake Louise has canoe rentals but they are surprisingly more expensive than Moraine Lake at CAD145 for an hour and CAD135 for 30 minutes.
Moraine Lake is the crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies and would be first on the list if you could still get there for sunrise easily. Unfortunately due to no private vehicles being allowed on the road anymore, the only way to get to Moraine Lake for sunrise would be to walk or bike in. I feel like there’s bound to be a sunrise tour be created soon though.
If we only had 1 day in Banff, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise would both be at the top of our list and the first places to visit to make sure we didn’t run out of time and miss out.
📑 Note: As of 2023, you can no longer drive to Moraine Lake as the road in is now closed to personal vehicles. The road is now only open to Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, and commercial buses from June to October. The rest of the year the road closes due to the amount of snow it sees. Therefore, if you are dying to see Moraine Lake, go in Summer and make sure you are organised and book a way in well ahead of time.
The Rockpile Viewpoint
Once you reach Moraine Lake, I recommend you hike up to the Rockpile Lookout. It is a really short walk to get there and gives you that classic view of Moraine Lake that you would have seen in all of the photos.
Hire a Canoe
One of the popular things to do at Moraine Lake is to take a canoe out on the unnaturally turquoise water and paddle around the lake. The rental prices are a bit hefty at CAD130 for 1 hour but I mean.. its Moraine Lake so I guess they can charge what they want. Dogs are not allowed in canoes and bookings are first come first serve at the dock. To find the canoe rental, once you arrive at Moraine Lake, walk around to the right of the lake. You will see the café and gift store on your right and the lake should be on your left. Walk for about 2-3 minutes and you will reach the canoe dock.
Walk Around Moraine Lake
You can walk around Moraine Lake via the Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail which is 5.1km / 3.2 miles with 275m / 902ft elevation gain and is an out and back so you can turn around whenever you want. This trail usually takes people around 1.5-2 hours to complete. We walked a little of the way around the lake and found it lovely to get away from the crowds.
Your third stop of the day is Johnston Canyon! Johnston Canyon features a hiking trail alongside a deep canyon with lots of stunning waterfalls. The two main viewpoints at Johnston Canyon are the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls which you can walk to along the easy trail. There is also an ice-cream stand and a café at the entrance to Johnston Falls which makes for a nice treat post hike especially on a hot day.
Bonus – The Banff Gondola
If you are anything like us and you take way longer than you plan to at each scenic location, you have probably run out of time by this point, however if you still have the time and energy, I recommend purchasing a ticket for the Banff Gondola to get views over Banff from the top of Sulphur Mountain. From the top of the gondola you can see the incredible surrounding mountains and even try to spot your Banff hotel!
There is also a café and gift shop at the top. You can drive and park in the gondola parking lot, or alternatively catch the free shuttle from town which runs every 40 minutes from town.
❗ Due to high popularity, I recommend purchasing a ticket in advance so that you don’t miss out!
Join a Tour
If you want to see the beautiful sites of Banff yourself and don’t have a car, you could book one of these fun tours!
Hop on Hop Off Bus
If you want to see Banff independently but don’t have access to a car, you could purchase a ticket for this Hop on Hop off bus tour. The stops include Johnston Canyon, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and the Lake Louise Gondola.
From Banff: Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Sightseeing Tour
This half-day tour will take you to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise with a group and a guide where you will learn about Banff National Park, its history, and what animals you should look out for. Your guide will also take you on a short hike.
Best of Banff | Lake Louise, Moraine Lake & More
This tour is perfect for 1 day in Banff! It is a full day (8 hours long) and takes you to the most incredible spots in Banff National Park. You will get to visit Moraine Lake and Lake Louise and then a number of other beautiful spots which may vary depending on the days itinerary. These spots could include: Johnston Canyon, Lake Minnewanka/Two Jack Lake, Hoodoos Lookout, Mt. Norquay, Vermilion Lakes Road, and Marble Canyon .
Banff is one of our favourite Summer holiday destinations and a place that we will keep going back to because there is so much to see! In my opinion if you even have only 1 day to see Banff, it is still so incredibly worth it because you will see some of the most beautiful places in the world in that 1 day.
You might also enjoy:
- Everything You Need to Know About Johnston Canyon
- 13 Amazing Things to do in Banff this Winter
- 7 Amazing Lake Louise Tours
- Little Beehive, Big Beehive and Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike
- 14 Amazing Icefields Parkway Stops You Shouldn’t Miss!
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