Filled with stunning snowcapped mountains, glimmering lakes and an abundance of wildlife, Banff is one of the most visited paces in Canada. Covering a total of 6641 square kilometres Banff National Park is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. Banff was Canada’s first National Park and many visitors flock here every year to witness it’s natural beauty for themselves. And with so many incredible things to do, you’ll want to plan your trip ahead of time to ensure you see the best of Banff. This 4 day Banff itinerary hits all the top attractions and more!
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How To Get To Banff
The easiest way to get to Banff is to fly into Calgary and then either rent a car or take a shuttle bus. Calgary International Airport is the biggest airport in Alberta and a 1.5 hour drive from Banff Town. Airlines serviced by Calgary International Airport include Air Canada, Delta, American Airlines and Westjet.
From Calgary: If you’re already in Calgary or driving from the airport, the journey time to Banff with no stops is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. From Calgary take the Highway 1 West, staying on highway one for approximately 115km and turn off once you see signs for Banff/Banff Avenue.
From Edmonton: The journey time from Edmonton to Banff is approximately 4 hours. From Edmonton, pick up the Highway 2 South until you see signs for Calgary. Just before reaching Calgary, take exit 271 and merge onto the Highway 201 West. Continue for 22 kilometres then take exit 36 and merge onto Highway 1. Continue until you see signs for Banff and Banff Avenue.
There are several routes from Vancouver to Banff that you can take, depending on if you are driving straight there and want the quickest route or you are extending your trip into a road trip.
Route Option 1: Approximate journey time: 10-12 hours. This is the most direct and quickest route from Vancouver to Banff. Pick up Highway 1 East from Vancouver and keep going until you reach Hope. Merge onto the Highway BC-5 N for 302 kilometres until you reach Kamloops, then pick up the Highway 1 East again. Stay on the Highway 1 for the rest of the journey through Golden. After you cross the border Banff Town is around a 50-minute drive.
Route Option 2: This route is similar to route 1 but goes via Kelowna and Manning Park. Use this route is you are doing a road trip over several days and want to explore some more of BC.
Route Option 3: This route is the longest but hits up some of BC’s best attractions and tourist towns such as Whistler and Revelstoke. For this route you’ll head north on the Highway 99 (Sea to Sky Highway) and can stop in Whistler for a few days before continuing onto Lillooet, Kamloops, Sicamous and Revelstoke.
Where To Stay In Banff
Lodging in Banff doesn’t come cheap but the town does offer a variety of hotels for a variety of budgets and needs. One of the things I really liked about Banff town was how pedestrian friendly it was. It’s so easy to walk around Banff Avenue and surrounding areas. I would recommend staying along Banff Avenue or close by as you’ll have the option to walk into town without having to worry about parking and it’s also an easy walk to the main bus stops.
Hostel: HI Banff
One of the best budget options in Banff is the HI Banff Alpine Centre. There are numerous options here from mixed dorms to private rooms. Although prices are a little high for a hostel, you’ll find high prices across Banff lodging options in general. The HI Banff is a bit further out from the main section of Banff Avenue so you may have to take a bus or taxi. The other option is to walk but this would take 20-30 minutes one way.
Budget: Irwin’s Mountain Lodge
I stayed at Irwin’s Mountain Lodge during my time in Banff and I was really happy with my stay here. The hotel sits on Banff Avenue and is a little bit out from the main throng of the main street, which is great because this area is a little quieter at night. The rooms were really spacious and clean with all the amenities you could need including shampoo, hand wash and lotion from locals brands.
The underground parking here does have a height limit which is pretty low for trucks or big SUV’s. There is oversized vehicle parking around the back of the hotel but spaces are limited. Some nights we would return to the hotel and notice that the tiniest cars had parked back here when they would have easily fit in the underground parking. So even though it is reserved for oversize, don’t expect to be guaranteed a space.
Moderate: Fox Hotel & Suites
The Fox Hotel & Suites is one of the best moderate hotels in Banff and perfect for your 4 days in Banff. The Fox Hotel has a fantastic location and is situated along the same stretch as Irwin’s Mountain Lodge. Most restaurants, bars and shops are within a 15-minute walking distance. Amenities include a fitness room, onsite laundry, complimentary parking, continental breakfast included in room-rate, wifi. complimentary roam bus passes and a hotel pool themed to the Cave & Basin.
Luxury: Banff Springs Hotel
If you are wanting the best of the best in Banff then the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is for you. The Banff Springs Hotel is one of the most iconic hotels in Canada. This hotel is almost as old as the National Park itself, opening in 1888. It is known as the castle in the rockies due to it’s old style architecture and was one of the original Canadian Pacific Railway hotels. It was opened to encourage tourism to the area and continues to do so to this day. It is now owned by the Fairmont Hotels brand. A night in this hotel in the height of summer will set you back approximately $800 CAD per night.
Day 1 – Lake Minnewanka, Banff Gondola & Shopping
Cruise Lake Minnewanka
Grab a coffee to go from Tim Hortons and start your day with a boat cruise along the beautiful Lake Minnewanka. This 13-mile long lake is one of the most interesting in Banff National Park. While it may look like any other blue lake in the area, this lake hides a ghost town beneath if’s surface. Known as “Minnewanka Landing” this former resort town drew visitors from nearby towns and cities such as Calgary, and featured several hotels and cottages.
The lake you see today is 98ft deeper than the original lake. In 1941 there was an increase in demand for power as a result of the ongoing WWII, this led to a dam being built on the lake resulting in the water level rising and flooding Minnewanka Landing. Scuba divers are now the only people to get a glimpse of Minnewanka Landing. The best time to scuba dive in Lake Minnewanka is actually the winter months when the water is still and calm as there is less motion of the water and therefore less sediment clouding the water.
Although Lake Minnewanka was first discovered by Europeans a few hundred years ago, Indigenous people inhabited this area for thousands of years before. Objects such as spear points, tools and arrowheads have all been found in the area.
Where does the name Minnewanka come from? Pronounced “Minnie-wonka” the word Minnewanka is a First Nations word from the local Stoney Nation. “Minne” meaning “water” and “wanka” meaning “spirit” – The water of the spirits.
I would highly suggest taking a tour along Lake Minnewanka. It’s history is so interesting that taking a tour is not only a great way to learn but to experience a 360 degree of the lake and surrounding mountains. On the day we took our tour, the wildfire smoke from BC had drifted so much that we were not able to see any mountains at all, but our tour guide was so animated and knowledgeable that this experience ended up being one of our favourites.
Ride The Banff (Sulphur Mountain) Gondola
The Banff Gondola is perfect for those who want amazing mountain views without the hiking. The gondola does all the work for you! This option is perfect for families with younger children.
If you’d like to challenge yourself, you can opt to hike the Sulphur Mountain trail instead of the gondola and either hike back down or download via the gondola for a reduced price.
Banff Gondola Tips:
You can either book your tickets in advance or pay on the day. Depending on the time of year you may want to book ahead. When you book through Pursuit your ticket will be valid for 3 months from the day you book, so tickets do have some flexibility. You can also cancel tickets 48 hours before for a full-refund.
I booked my tickets in advance and chose a specific time because I’d read beforehand that the gondola can get very busy in the summer. Unfortunately during our trip to Banff our first two days were filled with forest fire smoke and the second two days were cloudy so when we used our tickets we couldn’t see anything. We were advised that although I’d booked a specific time, the tickets were valid for 3-months and we could still use them at any time. The customer service was great.
Relax At The Banff Upper Hot Springs
After a busy morning, it’s time to slow down and rest. Spend a couple of hours soaking in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The Banff Upper Hot Springs is the highest hot springs in Canada at an elevation of 1585 metres. While you can no longer soak in the pools at the Cave & Basin you can get a similar experience here.
The best time to stop by the hot springs is early in the morning when there are less visitors. It’s also a great way to relax after a day if hiking. There is also a full service spa, restaurant and gift shop in site too.
Learn About The Origins Of Banff National Park At Cave & Basin National Historic Site
The Cave & Basin is considered the “Birthplace of Banff National Park” a natural hot spring discovered in 1883 by three Canadian Pacific Railway workers. The McCardell Brothers, William and Tom, along with their partner Frank McCabe, stumbled upon a stream which they followed uphill and found a mysterious hole in the ground. William climbed down into the hole to discover a cave of hanging stalactites and a clear warm spring.
The three men claimed legal rights to the springs and soon others followed suit in claiming the rights to the pools. In 1885 the Canadian government set aside a reserve for these hot springs. In 1887, this reserve became Canada’s first National Park.
There are two main sections of this historic museum, the “Cave” and the “Basin” two pools that occupy this area. The first pool, known as the basin, is located outside and the second pool is located inside a cave.
Upon entering the area you are immediately hit with the smell of rotting eggs. Don’t be alarmed, it’s not you, it’s the pools! The rotting egg smell is actually that of the sulphur that is present in the hot springs.
The swimming pools closed in 1992 due to safety reasons, but a new species has taken up residence here; the Banff Springs Snail. If you look closely near the edge of the basin pool you can spot this endangered species.
Banff Avenue Shopping
Stock up on last minute souvenirs and soak up the last of those mountain views. If you’ve ever seen photos of Banff online, you’ve no doubt swooned and gasped over the images of Cascade Mountain towering over Banff Avenue. This is the main road through Banff Town and no trip is complete without taking a stroll to window shop or purchase souvenirs.
Day 1 Summary
- Coffee at Tim Horton’s
- Take a Lake Minnewanka cruise
- Take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain
- Relax at the Banff Upper Hot Springs
- Visit the Cave & Basin National Historic Site
- Shopping on Banff Avenue
Day 2 – Moraine Lake, Lake Louise & Big Beehive
Watch The Sunrise At Moraine Lake
You need to watch the sunrise at least once during your time in Banff. While there are many places to watch the sunrise, the most popular is at Moraine Lake. Watching the sunrise in the mountains is a priceless experience and seeing the Valley of the Ten Peaks slowly illuminate a fiery red was one of the best memories I brought home from my time in Banff.
While the painful 4:30am wake up call might hurt, you’ll thank yourself when getting ahead of the enormous crowds that gather at Moraine Lake throughout the day. The best place to watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake is on the rock pile. The entrance to this trail lies just before the more obvious entrance to the shore of Moraine Lake. It’s a good idea to find out where the entrance is beforehand or take a look at the map ahead of time.
During my trip to Banff I arrived at Moraine Lake at 4:30am and it was pitch black, we waited in the car until 5:30am and then made our way up the rock pile to get a spot to watch the sunrise. One thing to keep in mind is to remain respectful of parties around you. Everyone is there to watch the same sunrise, everyone is there to take photos. I staked out my spot next to a group of photographers, only to have another guy come and squeeze between us and shove all of his bags in front of me. Don’t be that guy.
Parking At Moraine Lake
The parking lot at Moraine Lake is pretty small and come 6am is full most days. Once the parking lot is full parks Canada closes the road to Moraine Lake. In the few days we spent in Lake Louise I rarely saw the road open during day time hours. So if Moraine Lake is on your bucket list, I’d recommend getting there early in the day and then you’re free to explore the area for as long as you like. Parking at Moraine Lake is free.
Hike To The Big Beehive
The Big Beehive hike was one of the biggest highlights from my time in Banff National Park. This hike is a must for any hiking enthusiasts. This isn’t an easy hike, it is considered moderate to hard and should only be attempted with the right equipment, supplies and fitness level.
The hike to the Big Beehive starts at the same trailhead as that of Lake Agnes and takes the same route until you reach the tea house. Once you reach Lake Agnes and the tea house there will be several routes to various hikes including both the Little Beehive and the Plain of Six Glaciers.
The trail to both the Big Beehive and Devil’s Thumb follows the shore of Lake Agnes and starts to climb at the far end. Here you will hike a few switchbacks and this is where the last of the elevation is gained. The trail along the switchbacks is fairly narrow with loose rock, so good grippy shoes are a must.
Once you reach the top of the switchbacks it is a short walk to the Big Beehive lookout point. Along the route you’ll get glimpses of Lake Louise from below, there are so many viewpoints along this section that you’ll have no problems taking amazing photos and having an area to yourself.
Stop By The Lake Agnes Tea House
The Lake Agnes Tea House is one of the top things to do in Lake Louise and gets very busy during lunch time. I would recommend visiting Lake Agnes first thing in the morning when it is quieter so you can enjoy the views from the log cabin in a more relaxed atmosphere. Coming later in the day will mean longer waits and less available seating.
We stopped at Lake Agnes after hiking the Big Beehive to rest after the hike. The menu features a variety of homemade sandwiches, bars, cakes and a variety of teas. It’s a good idea to bring cash with you for the tea house. They do accept card however since it is the mountains, signal can be sketchy.
Lake Agnes is one of the easy to moderate hikes in Lake Louise and most visitors can manage this hike in running shoes. As always I still recommend bringing your ten hiking essentials and bring water as it’s a bit of an uphill climb.
Canoe On Lake Louise
A trip to Banff National Park isn’t complete without canoeing on Lake Louise. This activity is on many a bucket-list but it comes with a hefty price tag. To rent a canoe from the Fairmont Boathouse will set you back $125 CAD+GST for half an hour or for ten bucks more at $135 CAD+GST you will get an hour on the water.
I have yet to see anyone opt for the half an hour, it seems obvious that the better option is the one hour. If you are going to spend that much to canoe you may as well fork out the extra $10 bucks and enjoy your time.
If you are staying at the Fairmont Chateau you’ll enjoy cheaper rates and get to skip the long lines. I have heard stories of people waiting 1.5-2 hours in line to rent a canoe here, so be prepared to wait if you really want to do this activity. I waited 30-40 minutes and this was around 2pm-3pm.
The best time to canoe on Lake Louise is early in the morning when the Boathouse opens. Not only will there be a minimal, or no line at all, but the lake is also the calmest. There will also be less people on the water itself.
Visit The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise sits on the eastern side of Lake Louise. This is one of the most famous hotels in the world and boasts some of the best views in all of Banff National Park. You don’t need to be a guest at the Fairmont Chateau to experience the hotel however. The hotel lobby is open to visitors as well as the restaurants and cafés.
Head to the Fairview Lounge for an afternoon tea experience or visit the Lakeview Lounge next door for some cocktails on the patio. Both lounges feature ceiling high windows showcasing the beauty of Lake Louise.
There are no other cafés or restaurants in the immediate vicinity of Lake Louise unless you venture a few minutes out to nearby hotels. When starting out early at Lake Louise we would go to the quick service deli inside the hotel and grab coffee and a morning snack. While their prices are steep, the quality is great! Best croissants I have had in a very long time – so much so that I went back several times.
Day 2 Summary:
- Watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake
- Hike the Big Beehive
- Grab lunch and tea at Lake Agnes teahouse
- Spend the afternoon canoeing on Lake Louise
- Have afternoon tea or dinner at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Day 3 – Drive The Icefields Parkway
Stop 1: Bow Lake
Your first stop along the Icefields Parkway is going to be Bow Lake, one of Banff National Parks most underrated lakes. This lake sits right next to the Num Ti Jah Lodge, a great option for a stay along the Icefields Parkway.
Bow Lake is beautiful to photograph early in the morning and late in the evening just before sunset. There are a multitude of photography opportunities here. The most popular location being the small bridge which crosses a small creek. You’ll spend around 15-30 minutes here depending on how many photos you’d like to snap.
Stop 2: Mistaya Canyon
Misty Canyon is another underrated stop in my opinion, I don’t see this area posted about as often as others. The short hike to Mistaya Canyon is only around 30-minutes round trip, a total of 2kms. It is downhill to start, you’ll lose around 30 metres elevation so coming back will be a bit of an incline.
Stop 3: Peyto Lake
Besides the two most famous lakes in Banff, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the third lake you’ll no doubt have seen many photos of online, is Peyto Lake. Although Peyto Lake is still very much a popular tourist attraction in Banff National Park, it doesn’t receive as many visitors as the other two and requires a bit of drive to get to.
You won’t want to visit Banff without having experienced this beautiful lake. The entrance to the lake is currently gated as the lake is closed for renovations to update the viewing platform.
Stop 4: The Big Bend
The Big Bend is one of the most iconic sections of the Icefields Parkway. This is one of the most photographed viewpoints in Banff National Park. It’s called the Big Bend because it is literally a big bend in the road.
This area is known for it’s Big Horned Sheep population as well as it’s rock slides. We did stop at a pull-in to take some photos of sheep by the road, but it’s recommended that you don’t stop on the actual bend. You’ll notice a lot of large boulders in this area – they came from up top! Imagine being around when one falls – no thank you!
There is a however a stop just after you drive the bend where you can get amazing views of this section of road. From the highway, the lookout point looks a bit boring, so we decided not to stop. But if you walk in and go a bit further you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the highway and sprawling mountains on either side.
Stop 5: Columbia Icefields
The last stop on your tour of the Icefields Parkway will be the Columbia Icefield. The Athabasca Glacier is one of the most famous glaciers in the world and the most visited glacier in North America.
Once you arrive at the Columbia Icefield, you have a number of options to visit Athabasca Glacier. You can drive into the pull in of the left of the highway and take photos of the toe of the glacier for free, or you can opt to take a tour.
If you decide to take a guided tour, pull into the Columbia Icefield Centre on the right of the highway. You can purchase tickets at the centre if you haven’t done so already, however you may have a wait ahead of you if earlier tours are sold out.
The Columbia ice field is the largest non-polar ice field in the world. As a result of climate change, the Athabasca Glacier has been receding for the last 125 years, it has retreated more than 1.5kms. In fact, the toe of the glacier used to stretch all the way to the Columbia Icefields Centre on the opposite side of the highway.
During the tour our guide asked “Has anyone ever walked on a glacier before?” Matt and I have both been up close and personal with glaciers, living in Whistler ’n’ all. But none of them (in my case anyways) quite compared to the expanse of the Athabasca Glacier. At 6km long and approximately 90-300 metres thick, it’s pretty impressive!
This is the point in which you’ll turn around and head back to Banff. You can continue along the parkway if you wish, but this is the half way point between Banff and Jasper and getting back to Banff may be a long ride home if you decide to go further.
Spot Wildlife Along The Bow Valley Parkway
One of the top things people want to experience when visiting Banff is spotting some sort of wildlife. Banff is famous for it’s furry residents and is home to several species including Black Bears, Grizzly Bears, Elk, Deer, Bighorn Sheep and Moose.
Some animals will be easier to spot than others. Black Bears and Elk are probably the most popular as their numbers are higher in the area. We drove the Bow Valley Parkway for several days during our time in Banff and only saw Elk, but we managed to see quite a few including families. Maybe it was because of the forest fire smoke drifting in from BC, but our attempts to see wildlife often ended with nothing.
I expected to see a few Grizzly bears during my time in Banff but I ended up not seeing one bear the whole time I was there. The only Grizzly I have ever seen was actually here in BC. I had no idea until my trip to the rockies that the Grizzly bear population is actually bigger in British Columbia.
Moose can be seen around the swampy areas of Banff such as Vermilion Lakes, however the population in Banff National Park is only around 65 and Moose are very shy creatures which makes spotting them hard.
Snap Photos At Morant’s Curve
After finishing your drive along the Icefields Parkway, head towards Lake Louise and take the exit for the Lake Louise ski resort and turn onto the Bow Valley Parkway. The Bow Valley Parkway is the second best drive in the Canadian Rockies after the Icefields Parkway. Our first stop is going to be a famous lookout point known as Morant’s Curve. There will be a small parking lot to pull into on the left and the viewpoint is just across from it.
Morant’s Curve is a lookout overlooking a railway track that curves around a bend featuring the Bow River on one side and a mountain backdrop behind. The lookout got it’s name after a man called Nicholas Morant, who worked for Canadian Pacific Rail as a staff photographer.
How can I see a train coming through Morant’s Curve? Unfortunately seeing a train on Morant’s Curve comes down to pure luck. The only trains that come through here are freight trains and therefore have no fixed schedule. However, the curve is beautiful no matter what time of day it is.
Watch The Sunset At Cathedral Mountain
The last stop planned for the Bow Valley Parkway is Cathedral Mountain. Cathedral Mountain is situated so that the sunsets illuminate it’s peaks perfectly. Even if you are too early for sunset, the views of Cathedral Mountain in the evenings is spectacular. The best place to take photos of Cathedral Mountain is the by the bridge crossing the Bow River at Castle Junction. There are also several other lookout points in this area.
Day 3 Summary
- Visit Bow Lake
- Hike to Mistaya Canyon
- Take photos at Peyto Lake
- Stop at the Big Bend lookout and viewpoint
- Take a tour of the Athabasca Glacier
- Spot wildlife on the Bow Valley Parkway
- Take photos at Morant’s Curve
- Watch the sunset at Cathedral Mountain
Day 4 – Johnston Canyon, Banff Springs Hotel & Shopping
Hike To Johnston Canyon Lower Falls
Start your day early with a coffee and your favourite donut from Tim Hortons (No doubt you’ll be well acquainted with Tim’s by now) and head to Johnston Canyon. The trail to Johnston Canyon lower falls is only a short 30 minute walk so is great for families or anyone with mobility issues.
Johnston Canyon can get very busy during the summer months so it’s best to start this trail early and enjoy the falls and canyon with minimal crowds.
After checking out the lower falls you have the option to explore further to either the upper falls or the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots hike is a moderate hike with a round trip length of 11.7 kilometres and an evaluation gain of 608 metres. The hike leads to several small bodies of water that are brightly coloured in different hues of green and blue. You will a lot less people along this trail in comparison to the lower falls.
Before exploring the Banff Springs Hotel, make a pit stop at Surprise Corner. Surprise Corner is one of the best photography spots in Banff. This quick photo stop features amazing views of the Banff Springs Hotel. From this viewpoint it’s easy to see why the Banff Springs Hotel is nicknamed the castle in the rockies.
Banff Springs Hotel
Built in 1887, the Banff Springs Hotel is one of the oldest hotels and structures in Banff National Park. This iconic hotel was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, along with it’s sister hotel the Chateau Lake Louise, to entice visitors to the area.
The Banff Springs hotel is one of the top places to stay in Banff, but a hotel as luxurious as this also comes with the price tag to match. If the Banff Springs is beyond your budget, you can still visit the hotel as a non-guest. Wandering through the public areas is a great way to spend a rainy or cloudy day in Banff. You can also opt to stop in for a world-class afternoon tea here.
The hoodoos trail is one of the easiest hikes in Banff. It’s a great hike for families and those with mobility issues, or people who simply don’t enjoy hiking. It’s named the hoodoos trail because you’ll get a glimpse of some of Alberta’s hoodoos. What is a hoodoo you ask? A hoodoo is a rock pillar formed from thousands of years of erosion from rain, wind and snowmelt.
You don’t have to go far to see some of the hoodoos on this trail, so you can go as far as you like. There’s no need to do the entire hike if you’re just wanting to see a few hoodoos. Along the trail you’re also rewarded with beautiful views of Mount Rundle. Find the iconic adirondack chairs along the trail and sit and soak in the views.
Take a quick detour to British Columbia to visit the impressive Emerald Lake, located in nearby YoHo National Park.
Just a 15-minute drive from Lake Louise, Emerald Lake is another glacier-fed turquoise lake in the Canadian Rockies. Emerald Lake is still a very popular destination however it does see less tourists than that of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
There is a small parking lot at Emerald Lake which does fill up fast in the mornings, but you can park on the side of the road leading into the lake. Once you arrive at the parking lot the lake slowly comes into view. There is a walkway leading to the Emerald Lake Lodge rooms and a coffee shop and café.
You can walk around the shore of the lake for some photo opportunities. The Emerald Lake Loop is an easy hike that takes you in a circle around the lake. You also have the opportunity to canoe on Emerald Lake. Canoeing here is less popular than that of Lake Louise, it’s pretty easy to get a canoe here as you arrive throughout the day. It’s also a fair bit cheaper at $95 per hour +GST.
Watch The Sunset At Vermilion Lakes
You’ve watched the sunrise in the Canadian Rockies, now it’s time to end your trip with a final sunset. Vermilion Lakes is situated just a stones throw away from Banff Town, it’s about a 5-minute drive. There are quite a few docks that go out onto the water here, so take your pick, take a seat and relax while the peaks turn pink.
The area surrounding Vermilion Lakes is a good place to spot wildlife too, and generally early evenings are the best time, so keep an eye out for any Elk, Moose or Bears!
Day 4 Summary:
- Hike Johnston Canyon Lower Falls
- Visit Surprise Corner
- Visit the Banff Springs Hotel for lunch or afternoon tea
- Hike the Hoodoos trail
- Take an afternoon detour to BC to see Emerald Lake
- Watch the sunset at Vermilion Lakes
Where To Eat In Banff
The Grizzly House
Dining at the Grizzly House is not just a meal, it’s an experience. The Grizzly House is the place to go if you’re seeking an authentic Canadian rockies meal. This restaurant is famous for it’s colourful variety of game meat and exotic offerings. The most popular menu item is the fondue set menu.
On the night we dined at the Grizzly House they had a set-menu special featuring beef, bison, elk and venison. We then did a second entree featuring seafood with shrimp, scallops and lobster. You can either choose to cook your meat and fish in a broth or on a hot rock. The hot rock is recommended for both as it really brings out the flavours. The appetisers include a choice of soup followed by a gruyere cheese and brandy fondue with bread, and to finish, a Toblerone chocolate fondue with mixed fruit and wafers.
Banff Avenue Brewing
If you’re into local craft beer scenes, head to Banff Avenue Brewing Company. Not only are their balcony views amazing but they have thirteen beers on tap and a varied drinks menu for the non-beer loving guests. The food menu is what you would expect from a craft brewery or pub, cheap and cheerful items such as mac & cheese (this was really good!) fish and chips and burgers. If visiting Banff Avenue Brewing during your trip request a seat outside on the balcony, it overlooks Banff Avenue and has incredible views of Cascade Mountain.
Be sure to venture outside of the main throng of Banff Avenue when looking for somewhere to eat. Some of the best (and quieter) restaurants can be found just a stones throw away. We found Shoku Izakaya wandering through the town one lunch time and wanted to try something outside of the typical North American cuisine (one can only eat burgers and pizza for so long)
Shoku Izakaya is a Japanese restaurant with a fairly casual atmosphere. As someone from the UK, the best I can compare this to is Wagamama. Except this is way better.
I’ll be honest and say I had no idea what half of the menu was, but just ask your server or do some googling. Sometimes it is nice to try something you unfamiliar with and can surprise you. We had the pork gyoza, pork katsu bowl and chicken karagge bowl. All were amazing and I would absolutely recommend this place.
Did you even go to Banff if you didn’t get a Beavertail? Okay, admittedly I didn’t get one in Banff – but not because I didn’t want to! I absolutely love Beavertails and try to get one whenever I’m in a town or city that has a store. I didn’t get one in Banff because I was always so full from eating lunch and dinner. But seriously, if you haven’t tried one, you need to!
Beavertails are a sweet treat on a dough/pizza base (shaped kind of like a beavertail) and then topped with your choice of topping. My personal favourite is the maple pecan. Mmmmm!
How Many Days In Banff
How many days should you spend in Banff? There is so much to see and do in Banff and you will probably find even more things you’d like to see or do once you arrive. There are views in every corner of this National Park and you’ll want to soak in those views for as long as you can.
In my opinion, 4 days in Banff is the minimum I would spend here, especially as a first time visitor. If you can spend longer here, definitely do! There are an abundance of amazing hikes and Banff is a photographers dream. During my recent trip to the rockies I spent a total of 4 days in Banff town and 2 days in Lake Louise and I still felt that was a short trip.
Parking In Banff
Trying to find parking in Banff on a busy day can be a bit of a nightmare. We arrived on a Sunday midday and there were cars everywhere!
One of the reasons it’s good to stay in a hotel close to Banff Avenue is that you can leave your car at your hotel and walk into town. Which is also a great idea if visiting any pubs or bars!
Since the closure of Banff Avenue to allow for patio dining, getting to a parking spot has become more time consuming! So it’s a good idea to know the best spots to park before you arrive. If not parking at your hotel there are several other options. Almost every side street in Banff has public street parking, these are paid parking spots that are free after 7pm and before 8am.
Where To Park In Banff For Free?
Banff Train Station
If you don’t mind a small walk, you can park at the big parking lot at Banff Train Station. This is free all day long and the walk into the main area of Banff Avenue is just 10-minutes.
Bear Street Parkade
We found free parking on day 1 of our trip at the Bear Street Parkade. This is a multi-storey lot that is free to park in, unless you park on the ground floor, in which case you’ll need to pay. This parking lot is close to the main area of Banff Avenue however it does get very busy and trying to find a space during busy times can take up a lot of your time.
Tips For Visiting Banff
1) Buy Your National Parks Pass
When visiting any National Park in Canada you will need a parks pass. A parks pass is good for every National Park in Canada, so if you are pairing your Banff trip with Jasper or YoHo National Park, you can visit them all with the same pass.
There are a number of ways to purchase a parks pass. You can purchase ahead of time online, or you can purchase in person once you reach a National Park. Passes are sold per day per person. A day pass will cost $10 per per person per day. So for a 4 day Banff trip you’ll pay a total of $80 for 2 people.
If you are spending longer in the rockies or doing a ten day trip or longer – purchasing the annual Discovery Pass is better value. The Discovery Pass gets you unlimited entry into all of Canada’s National Parks for one whole year.
2) Come prepared for rain and cold temperatures
It’s summer in the mountains, that means it’s going to be warm right? Not necessarily. It may not feel like it but Banff National Park sits at an elevation of 1383 metres and weather in the mountains can change drastically at a moments notice. You may experience sun, wind, rain and clouds all within a few days. Come prepared with a rain coat and umbrella.
3) Be Prepared For Hiking
Even the smallest hikes in Banff requires some sort of planning. Always remember to bring your ten hiking essentials even on the easiest trails and conditions can change rapidly and sometimes you can underestimate the difficulty of certain trails. Good hiking boots, a comfy backpack and hiking poles are just a few of my hiking must-haves.
4) get up early
A trip to Banff is a once in a lifetime experience. Getting up early and making the most of each day is the best way to see Banff. In the high season it gets very busy so early mornings are the best way to get ahead of the crowds. You’ll be amazed at how much you can see and get done before many people even start their day.
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