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How to Spend a Weekend in Banff: The Ultimate 2024 Itinerary

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Banff is one of the most beautiful places in Canada and it is home to some of the most gorgeous hikes and viewpoints in the world.

The question is: Is it worth it to only spend a weekend there?

My answer: Yes, it is 1000% is worth it to spend any amount of time in Banff, even if you only have one day.

I’ve put together this 2 day Banff Itinerary to help you cross the best things in and around Banff off your Travel Bucketlist. It includes beautiful hikes, great restaurants, epic viewpoints and the best places to stay.

If you like hiking 🚶‍♀️ and taking photos 📸, then this itinerary is for you!

girl sitting on rock at the Little Beehive lookout in Fall

Everything You Need to know about Banff

📍 Where is Banff located

Banff is located in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta. The closest airport to Banff is Calgary International Airport which is 1.5 hours drive away.

Click here to open the map in Google Maps!

How to Get to from Calgary International Airport to Banff

Driving

If you are flying, the best airport to fly into for Banff is Calgary International Airport. Pick up your rental car from the airport and get ready to drive the 1.5 hours to Banff.

The drive is pretty easy as the majority of it is on the highways.

Directions from Calgary International Airport to Banff

From Calgary International Airport, you will need to take Airport Rd NE to Barlow Trail NE N until you reach Country Hills Blvd NE.

Here you will turn left and then merge onto the AB-2 N via the ramp to Red Deer.

In about 1km, take exit 271 for Alberta 201 W/Stoney Trail.

Drive for a further 21.5km and then take the exit towards Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W. You will be staying on the Trans-Canada Hwy for the rest of the drive until you reach the exit to Banff Town Ville/Tunnel Mountain/Mont Tunnel.

The total distance of the drive one way is 143km (88 miles).

If you don’t have a car

If you don’t have a car, that’s okay! You can get the bus or you could book a shuttle which will take you directly from Calgary International Airport.

Alternatively, you could join this 2 days in Banff group tour which starts in Calgary and takes you to loads of bucket list spots such as Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, Emerald Lake and more!

😮 What the heck is so special about Banff?!

If you are reading this blog post, then you probably already know. 😉

But if not, google photos of Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. This should answer your question.

Of course, there is so much more to Banff National Park than Moraine Lake and Lake Louise and some of these places are included in this 2 day itinerary.

🍁 Famous Points of Interest Near Banff

Infographic for famous points of interest near Banff

📆 Best Time to Visit

Summer

Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Banff because it means amazing weather and lots of sun. The road to Moraine Lake is also open during the Summer which is a must see.

Apart from the weather, the hiking trails are in the best condition during Summer with (hopefully) no snow.

The average temperatures that you will see in Banff during Summer are highs of 21C degrees (61F) and lows of 8C degrees (46F).

Winter

Winter in Banff brings lots of snow and the town turns into a magical (and cold) Winter Wonderland! The downside to Winter is that you can’t get to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise is frozen so you won’t be able to see it in all its famous turquoise glory.

If you visit Banff in the Winter, there are other fun specific Winter activities that you can do such as a Frozen Canyon Icewalk and a Horse-drawn Sleigh Ride!

Fall

Fall in Banff is a very special time of the year and my second favourite time to visit Banff, after Summer.

The reason for this is that Banff has hundreds of larch trees up in the mountains which turn golden during Fall.

girl standing above lake and larches in BAnff

The weather at this time of the year is much more unpredictable. It could be gorgeous and sunny or it could be freezing with rain and snow.

Pro Tip: If you want to visit Banff in the Fall, read this guide on the Best Fall Hikes in Banff to help plan your trip!

Spring

Spring is a quiet time in Banff. It’s a bit of a weird in between time where you are waiting for the snow to melt so that you can start hiking again but there is not enough snow to keep skiing or doing Winter activities.

Banff tends to see a lot less tourists during Spring, so if you want to visit at a time when you can potentially have places to yourself, Spring might be the perfect time for you!

🛎 Where to Stay in Banff!

Once great thing about Banff is that there are loads of choices when it comes to accommodation!

Even though there are lots of hotels, I recommend booking your accommodation as a priority as places book up MONTHS in advance!

Some Bucketlist accommodation places are:

Alternatively, if you are looking to save on accommodation and spend more money on experiences instead, you could try:

🚗 How Many Days Should you Spend in Banff? Is 2 Days Enough?

If you have 2 days available in your travel schedule where you can visit Banff, you should definitely go for it!

However, if I was to plan a trip, I think the perfect amount of time in Banff is 5 days. This will allow you to see all of the main attractions and have some time up your sleeve to do some extra hiking and exploring.

🎫 National Parks Pass

You will need a national parks pass to visit places in Banff National Park. You can purchase these online on the Parks Canada website or at any MEC Store or on entry to Banff National Park.

🎒 Banff Weekend Packing List

When you are packing for Banff, you are going to want to pack for an outdoor adventure.

happy couple surrounded by larches

What you pack will depend on which season you are visiting Banff in, however it is best to be prepared for mountain weather (in other words, anything and everything)!

🌲 Leave No Trace

Whenever you are enjoying the beautiful nature that our world has to offer, remember to leave no trace (LNT)! Respect the beautiful places that make our world beautiful and take out everything that you take in, take only photos and respect the wildlife and other people. You can read more on the 7 LNT principles here.

girl standing on the shoreline of Bow Lake at sunrise

The Ultimate 2 Day Banff Itinerary

This 2 day Banff Itinerary covers the must-see sights in Banff National Park, some amazing restaurants that we have eaten at and loved and some of the best hikes as well as some bonus activities for any extra time you might have.

If you want to try to split up your Banff trip with some tours, check out the best Summer tours in Banff here.

couple at Lake Louise at sunrise

Day 1 – Lake Louise, Moraine Lake & Banff Gondola

Day 1 will BLOW YOU AWAY! From stunning views to delicious food, you are going to want to relive this day over and over again.

I’m writing this itinerary with the assumption that you arrived in Banff and checked into your hotel the night before.

📑 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.

This is the best possible way to get the most out of your weekend in Banff. If it is not possible for you to get to Banff the night before, that’s okay! You should still be able to do everything in this itinerary except for breakfast on the first day.

During your first day in Banff, you will be visiting the two most beautiful lakes in the world, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

Tip: If you want to save the stress of fighting the crowds and getting to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on your own, you could join this half day tour or this full day tour which takes you to not only the 2 famous lakes but also loads of other beautiful spots in Banff.

Sunrise at Lake Louise

Sunrise at Lake Louise is like watching the fireworks at Disneyworld! Leading up to it, there are LOADS of people all waiting around for the show and then during the show, everyone is taking photos.

I recommend bringing breakfast with you to eat after sunrise, or if you prefer, you can get something to eat and a coffee from the Fairmont Hotel after the sunrise show.

Couple standing at Lake Louise at sunrise

If you drive, you will need to pay for parking at the Lake Louise parking lot.

Make sure you get there at least 45 minutes before sunrise to make sure you:

  1. get a parking spot
  2. get a good spot by the lake (you would be surprised how packed it gets considering it’s sunrise!)

Pro Tip: If you would prefer to watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake, you cannot drive there yourself, however you can book a Moraine Lake Sunrise Tour which also takes you to Lake Louise after.

If you need breakfast and/or coffee, pop over to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to get something to go. Next you will be heading to Moraine Lake and whilst there is a small café, it is a little expensive and the queues are always super long.

Moraine Lake

After witnessing a fantastic sunrise at Lake Louise, it’s time to visit the crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies, Moraine Lake (assuming you are visiting between June and mid-October).

Couple sitting at the Rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake

You will need to pre-book a bus ticket to use the Parks Canada Lake Connector Shuttle from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake. More information on the shuttles can be found on the Parks Canada Website.

Take in the Famous Views of Moraine Lake from the Rockpile Viewpoint

For the best view of Moraine Lake, take the Rockpile Trail (where the above photo was taken) to the viewpoints above the lake. It is a very short trail of only 800m, however not wheelchair or stroller accessible as there are stairs that lead up to the viewpoints.

Go for a hike or Rent a Canoe

If you are visiting during Fall, I recommend doing the Larch Valley hike, which starts from the Moraine Lake Canoe docks.

After you take in the famous view of Moraine Lake and get some photos from the Rockpile viewpoint, you can either do the Moraine Lake foreshore trail or hire a canoe and go for a paddle. You do not need to pre-book the canoes, you can book on the day at the dock.

Head up the Banff Gondola for Lunch

It’s time to head back to Banff and get some well deserved lunch!

But not just any lunch!

Lunch with a view! 😍

Make sure you pre-book a ticket for the Banff Gondola when putting your trip itinerary together to make sure that you don’t miss out.

To get to the gondola from Banff Town, you can either catch Bus #1 or drive and park in the gondola parking lot.

There are 3 different restaurant options for lunch up at the top of the Banff Gondola.

  • Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen – Buffet style
  • Sky Bistro – À la carte menu serving food such as bangers and mash, burgers, chicken and fish.
  • Peak Patio – a patio food and drinks experience featuring delicious kebabs.

After lunch, you can hike to Sanson Peak using the board walks from the Banff Gondola. There are lots of viewing platforms along the way for you to stop and take photos at. The hike is only about 1km long and will take you about 30 -45 minutes to complete.

Check out some of the lakes in Banff

Once you are finished enjoying the gorgeous views up at the Banff Gondola, you could either:

  1. Spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around town and shopping
  2. Check out some of the lakes in Banff
Two Jack Lake

If you want to check out some of the lakes in Banff, you should start with Two Jack Lake which is about a 25 minute drive from Banff Gondola.

Two Jack Lake is one of our favourite lakes in Banff to go paddle boarding. It is also a great lake to take photos because it is so beautiful there.

Look out for wildlife! Last time we were there in Summer, we saw a family of elk grazing by the water. There was a baby who was having a blast frolicking in and out of the water.

Vermillion Lakes

Your next stop is Vermillion Lakes. Vermillion Lakes has a small dock which you can sit on and enjoy the views.

Girl standing on dock at Vermillion Lakes in Banff

This is also a popular lake for paddle boarding and it is also very photogenic so don’t forget your camera!

Pro Tip: Instead of lake hopping, you might want to go on a Wildlife Safari Tour.

Dinner in Banff

It’s time for a nice relaxing dinner in Banff. I recommend booking a restaurant in advance as it can be hard to get into places last minute. We made this mistake when my parents were visiting and didn’t eat until about 10pm!

Some dinner places in Banff that I can recommend are:

  • Pacini – delicious Italian food located at the Moose Hotel and Suites. Dave is obsessed with their Roasted Tomato, Nuts and Shiitake Mille-Feuilles Lasagne and I really love their Carbonara!
  • Eddie Burger and Bar – yummy burgers and shakes! – also a great dinner option.
  • Elk & Oarsman Restaurant & Bar – A classic pub type restaurant with dishes like ribs, fish and chips, burgers and pizzas. – may take a little more dine in time than the above 2 options.

Day 2 – Little Beehive Hike & Johnston Canyon

Day 2 will consist of a bit more hiking so make sure you have a good breakfast! The Wild Flour Bakery has great coffee and breakfast items.

If possible, I recommend packing lot of water, snacks and a sandwich for lunch if possible. If not, you will have a chance to grab some food at the Fairmont Hotel at Lake Louise and the small café at Johnston Canyon.

Little Beehive Hike

Distance: 8.6km / 5.3 miles | Time: 2-3 hours | Elevation: 535m / 1,755 ft | Difficulty: Moderate

Girl sitting at the Little Beehive Lookout overlooking Lake Louise

The Little Beehive Hike will take you back to Lake Louise. This is one of our favourite hikes in Banff because it gives you an amazing view overlooking Lake Louise.

The trail is fairly steep as you will be climbing above Lake Louise but the views make it totally worth it! You can even do a slight detour to stop at the Lake Agnes Teahouse to have a tea break.

If you are keen on hiking further, you can go all of the way up to the Big Beehive, which is a similar view overlooking Lake Louise but from an even higher vantage point.

Peyto Lake Lookout

After Lake Louise, drive 30 minutes to Peyto Lake Lookout. This is one of my favourite viewpoints in Banff National Park so I highly recommend trying to fit it into your itinerary if you can.

Girl sitting at Peyto Lake lookout

All you need to visit is:

  1. Your National Parks Pass
  2. Your camera!
  3. some good walking shoes – there is a small walk to the viewpoint.

From the parking lot, it is over just 2km return to Peyto Lake Lookout. It is a pretty easy hike with not too much elevation.

Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is a must do when visiting Banff. It is a short hike through an impressive canyon with incredibly blue water.

From Lake Louise it is a 30 minute drive to Johnston Canyon and there is parking available. If you are happy to do the hike by yourself, you can do. It will take you about 2 hours to hike to the Upper Falls and back.

Alternatively, you could join a group tour starting in Banff where you will learn about the migratory and endangered Black Swift and the flora, fauna, and geology of the Canadian Rockies.

You are going to want to have lunch before or after your Johnston Canyon hike because you will have burnt a lot of calories today already.

Lake Minnewanka Cruise

Depending on how fast you hike and how much energy you have left at the end of the day, you may have time for a Lake Minnewanka Cruise!

This is a 1 hour cruise on the largest lake in Banff National Park! You will learn all about Minnewanka Landing, the underwater town below the lake. It is one of the most intact submerged villages in Canada which is just crazy!

Dinner in Banff

I’m sure you will be absolutely exhausted and ready for relaxing and a yummy dinner by the end of the day. My recommends from dinner on day 1 remain the same but there are loads of restaurants in Banff to try if you want to try something else.

Bonus Activities

If you end up finding that you have extra time, or want to swap out something in the itinerary, this is a list of bonus activities that you could do.

Kananaskis River Whitewater Rafting Tour

This is a fun and exciting tour where you will navigate your way through an Olympic Kayaking Race Course and get to go for a swim! A great Summer activity!

1-Hour Spray River Horseback Ride

On this horseback ride, you will enjoy beautiful views of Bow Falls and ride past the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course and even cross the Spray River!

Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield Day Trip

If you have an extra day, you should definitely book a tour to see Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield! Not only do you get to see this bucket list stops along the Icefields Parkway, but you will also stop at Waterfowl Lakes, the Saskatchewan River Crossing, the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint and Bow Lake.

💭 My Thoughts

Banff is a bucket list travel location that I think everyone needs to experience at least once in their life. Dave and I have been back to Banff a few times now and we continue to be blown away by the incredible scenery around every corner.

I highly recommend making time to see both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Yes they are huge tourist destinations with large crowds but there is a reason for this. Even with the huge crowds, the beauty of these lakes will BLOW YOU AWAY!

Enjoy your bucket list trip to Banff! It is a once in a lifetime experience that you will never forget!

If you are visiting Banff, you might also enjoy:

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Lita

Wednesday 24th of January 2024

This is the perfect weekend itinerary! love that you included the Little Beehive hike beccause that's one of my all time favorites.

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