Banff will never cease to be the most beautiful, humbling, and haunting place I’ve ever laid eyes on. There is no greater joy, no freer feeling, then looking at the mountain rage and the turquoise lakes, and being reminded of how tiny I am, and how incredibly powerful this world is. Banff makes my soul smell like fresh pine and clean water, and I am always, always, always reminded, of what it feels like to be alive. I know that after this 5 day Banff Itinerary, you are sure to fall in love with this place!
The first time I visited Banff, I stayed primarily in Banff National Park—visiting all of the famous lakes, from Moraine to Peyto, kayaking Louise, and driving down the Bow Valley Trail. But the second time around, I was able to explore parts of Yoho and Jasper! Here is an ultimate 5 Day Banff Itinerary for you– including stops in Jasper, Yoho and Canmore!
5 DAY BANFF ITINERARY OVERVIEW
This road trip, like all of my others, is JAM PACKED. You’ll be on the road plenty, but because there are so many scenic overlooks and view points between each major stop, it’ll never feel like you’re in the car for too long.
First Day: Fly into YYC, Canmore, Moraine Lake
Second Day: Explore Canmore, Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, Lake Louise
Third Day: Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park
Fourth Day: Maligne Lake, Spirit Island, Back to Banff
Fifth Day: Canmore, Kananaskis
TIPS FOR THE TRIP
For a quick recap though, the best place to stay is of course, inside Banff National Park itself but that can be quite pricey. The town of Banff is also incredible, considering you have more food options, shopping and night life. Next would be Canmore and then Kananaskis.
My biggest advice is to BOOK EARLY—Banff has grown so much in tourism and popularity over the last few years that it is almost impossible to find cheap accommodation
This trip is going to be a road trip for the books, but a lot of your time will be spent in the car.
The great thing about Banff, is everything is on Highway One/Icefields Parkway, so if you start at the entrance of Banff, you will pretty much hit all of the major stops just by navigating through the park. But keep in mind, Lake Louise is about 2 hours away from Peyto Lake, and Peyto is about two hours from Athabasca Falls—so bring snacks, create an awesome playlist, and have a lot of water with you! Also, I highly advise you to pull over at all the scenic overlooks, so dreamy!
3. HOW TO GET HERE
I took a direct flight on Air Canada from LAX to Calgary (YYC), which is the closest airport into Banff. From there, the drive is about 90 minutes to 2 hours from Canmore into Banff depending on traffic.
If you are meeting friends in Banff or don’t need/want a car rental, you can take the Banff Airporter Shuttle into Canmore. The shuttle runs every hour or two hours depending on time of day and season, while costing about 75CAD. It also runs from Canmore back to the Calgary Airport.
4. BEST TIME TO VISIT
Banff is honestly remarkable in every season– but there are pro’s and con’s to different times of year. It also boils down to what you personally enjoy! Spring & summer time for me is a must. During the winter, temperatures are too cold for me to handle. The lakes are also frozen and the iconic Moraine Lake is closed off. However, if you like to ski, snowboard, or ice skate/ ice hockey, this is for you!! It also looks like you’re walking through a real life winter wonderland. The con of visiting during warmer weather, however, is the insane amount of tour busses you’ll see rolling in! Sometimes places are hard to enjoy when there are too many people. But because Banff is all outside, even with huge crowds, there’s always fresh air, and it feels open.
DAY 1 of the 5 DAY BANFF ITINERARY
Fly into Calgary (YYC)
Drive or take the Banff Airporter to Canmore | Drive Time: 1 Hour 15 Minutes | 75 Miles
Check into the Basecamp Resorts Canmore
Visit Moraine Lake for sunset | Drive Time: 1 Hour 10 Minutes | 60 Miles
Back to Canmore for dinner + sleep
Total Drive Time: 3 Hours, 30 Minutes
Yay! Welcome to Canada! I landed into YYC around 2PM and took the Banff Airporter over to Canmore, which put me in around 4PM. I was meeting up with some friends who arrived a couple days before me, so they already rented a car for the duration of our trip.
Once we checked into the hotel and dropped off my bags, we decided to enjoy our first night at Moraine Lake!
There is no “best time” to visit Moraine Lake, but most people wake up super early to beat the crowds. What ends up happening is EVERYONE collectively wakes up early and it gets insanely crowded right away. Not to mention, tour buses will begin rolling in by 8AM as well. Once the parking lot for Moraine is filled–and it’s relatively small by the way, you’ll be forced to drive to the “flow over” parking lot. From there, you’ll have to wait in line for a shuttle bus to take you over to the lake. Point is, NOT worth it. SO, rather than trying to wake up earlier than the early birds, we decided to give the late evening time a chance. The sun doesn’t begin setting until 9-10PM during the summer, and thought maybe people would be eating dinner at this time.
It was definitely much less busy than the early morning rush, but there were still a LOT of people. So I’m basically concluding that Moraine will always and forever be busy. But looking at these photos, it is always so well worth it.
Moraine Lake is normally closed during the winter time because the road that leads up to it is fairly narrow and not safe to drive during snowy conditions. One year, we were so lucky that we arrived in Banff the very first snowfall of the year. Moraine was not closed yet and the lake only had a thin layer of ice on it. I believe a couple days after we visited, it was officially closed for the season.
BASE CAMP RESORTS
The Basecamp Resorts are located in Canmore, and they are a new interpretation of traditional mountain dwelling. We stayed here for two days on this trip. This resort is in a prime location in Canmore, a perfect stop in between Calgary and Banff. Depending on the type of room that is booked, certain suites come with kitchenettes, but the best part of the hotel is the roof top hot tub where you can catch the stunning mountain views from here!
After we got back from Moraine for sunset, we had a quick dinner in Canmore and went to bed early in anticipation of the long few days ahead!
DAY 2 of the 5 DAY BANFF ITINERARY
Canmore: Base Camp Resorts & Canmore Swing
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park | Drive Time: 1 Hour, 20 Minutes | 70 Miles
Lake Louise | Drive Time: 30 Minutes | 20 Miles
Check into Banff Hotel | Drive Time: 10 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on hotel
Total Drive Time: 2.5 Hours
Before we checked out of Basecamp Resorts, we knew we wanted to check out their roof top hot tub, as it overlooks the dreamy Canmore mountains so we decided to take a quick dip in the morning!! It definitely lives up to the hype, I can only imagine what it’s like with snow capped mountains! Afterwards, we enjoyed breakfast in their lobby– major cabin vibes!
If you have time, swing by the Safeway Grocery store in Canmore to grab some snacks for the road. This itinerary is not hiking intensive so you don’t need a ton of protein packed snacks, but just some yummy ones for the drive.
Before heading to Banff again, we wanted to check out the famous Canmore Swing! This swing is located in a residential area by an elementary school, so I won’t be disclosing the actual location on this blog out of respect to the residents of Canmore. If you do travel there and want to know exactly where it is, feel free to DM me and I’ll be happy to share. I just ask you do the same courtesy to those who ask you in the future!
Up next is Emerald Lake, which is probably one of my favorite lakes in the entire world. It is in Yoho National Park, but really just 45 minutes from Lake Louise off the Bow Valley Trail. I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend visiting this beautiful lake. The yellow Emerald Lake Lodge provides an incredible backdrop, and you can kayak on this lake too. Truthfully, I want to kayak every lake in the area but I do think Emerald Lake would be extra special. If you go in the morning, you will get the most gorgeous reflection of the lake. You can get the reflection any time of day, but if the lake has any kayakers, their ripples will ruin the reflection and stillness.
This is a scenic little road on the way in and out of Emerald Lake Lodge. I especially loved pulling over here because the mountain backdrop is just so stunning. It’s also a slow road (as you can see, there’s no markings), so just make sure you look both ways, but the traffic here is very quiet, so it’s safe to pull over!
And here is a look of Emerald Lake completely snow capped during January!! Absolutely insane how this place changes with the seasons!
Off to the iconic Lake Louise! Kayaking on this beautiful lake is a must, just because the mountains form the most perfect V-shape in the background. Make sure you bring a jacket with you as the weather can be very temperamental, especially as you kayak closer to the mountains.
These two photos were taken in August (left), and July (right). The weather can be so temperamental in Banff– one minute it’s freezing cold and another it begins to rain!! Don’t forget to always carry a jacket with you!
The Lake Louise area is also a great place to stop for some lunch and a coffee break. The iconic Fairmont Lake Louise is right on the water, and it’s definitely worth it to book a lunch reservation! From the restaurant, you get a view of the lake as well. Around the Lake Louise area is also a small town with other, more affordable restaurants, gas stations, and bathroom stops.
Here is a glimpse of visiting Lake Louise during the winter time!! The entire lake freezes over and you can snowshoe, ice skate, and just go for a beautiful hike. The Fairmont Lake Louise also has ice sculptures and events held during this magical winter season! Pretty magical, right?
CHECK INTO NEW HOTEL IN BANFF
When you’re done exploring the Lake Louise Area, check into a hotel in the town of Banff or Banff National Park! If you have more days available, I would highly recommend staying at the dreamy Fairmont Lake Louise. It’s right next to the lake, and you can wake up in the morning and walk right to it. Pricy though so book as soon as you know because the rates might be cheaper!
The second most ideal place to spend the night is right inside Banff National Park, but you can head back to the town of Banff and stay there as well. The food options and night life is a little better there as well if you wanted to grab some food and drinks to end the night!
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DAY 3 of the 5 DAY BANFF ITINERARY
Grab Coffee and Breakfast at Whitebark Cafe or Wild Flour Artisan Bakery
Banff Town to Bow Lake | Drive Time: 30 Mins to 1 Hour
Bow Lake to Peyto Lake | Drive Time: 5 Minutes | 5 Miles
Icefields Parkway Drive to Jasper | Drive Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes | 120 Miles
Stops: Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls (optional)
Check into Jasper Hotel
Total Drive Time: Roughly 3 Hours
BREAKFAST & COFFEE
Good morning! Day 3 is definitely a driving intensive day. Knowing that it was going to be quite long, we stopped by Whitebark Cafe for some yummy coffee. This is a local’s favorite so check it out if it’s around you. For a heavier and delicious breakfast, I’m also a fan of Coyotes Southwestern Grill for breakfast burritos and omelettes. They also have fresh squeezed juice to boost the immune system!
Our first destination is Bow Lake! The waters of Bow are crystal clear, and there is a cute bridge by the lodge. This lake doesn’t particularly stand out to me compared to the other ones, but it is still incredibly beautiful and worth a stop. A snowy season vs. a gloomy day in summer!
From Bow Lake, it’s about a 90 minute drive to Peyto Lake. There’s never any difficulty finding parking at Peyto, but keep in mind that the sign from the freeway does not say Peyto, but rather Bow Valley. When you see signs for Bow, turn in for the actual Peyto Parking lot. (If you’re coming from Banff like this itinerary, it’ll be located on your left hand side!)
Peyto is only about a 10 minute walk from the parking lot to the scenic overlook, so no intense hiking is required. What I highly recommend though, is continuing onto the trail head on the left hand side instead of just stopping at the overlook. After another 10-15 minute easy hike, you’ll be able to see these views, which are even more stunning!! This view alone makes this my favorite spot in the entire National Park.
ICE FIELDS PARKWAY
This part of the Banff itinerary takes you to to Jasper National Park! It’s definitely worth it to overnight here even just one night! The drive to Jasper is via Icefields Parkway, which is one of the most incredible drives because of the curving roads and gorgeous mountain ranges. At one point, we even saw a dozen mountain goats crossing the street. It was insane! Have your camera out at all times during this drive! We drove through during the day time but our return was in the evening so here are some night time photos!
Additionally on this drive are numerous beautiful waterfalls from Sunwapta Falls to Athabasca. We stopped by both but didn’t get too many snaps. If you’re not too tired, I recommend stopping by Athabasca, but the drive is definitely quite long to Jasper so pace yourself! Once you arrive in Jasper, check into your hotel and grab dinner!
DAY 4 of the 5 DAY BANFF ITINERARY
Jasper to Lake Maligne
Lake Maligne to Spirit Island
Spirit Island back to Banff area
Total Drive Time: 3-4 Hours
JASPER HOTEL | COFFEE & BREAKFAST
Grab some breakfast before heading out at either Coco’s Cafe or Sunhouse Cafe! Then begin your journey to Spirit Island!
There are 2 ways you can get to Spirit Island. The first is to kayak 22km, which can take anywhere between 5-10 hours depending on your physical ability and the weather. It could be dangerous if you are inexperienced and kayaking during the dark, so there are plenty of factors to consider!! Also if you are already tight on time or tired from the long days, consider option B!
Option B is to take a Maligne Lake Boat Tour, which stops at Spirit Island, and lets you get off the shore for about 15 minutes. No one can actually go onto Spirit Island, as it is indigenous to the Canadian Rockies either way, so if you kayak there, you wouldn’t be able to get off onto the island regardless.
It’s almost cliche to refer to any capture in time as a “Kodak Moment,” but Spirit Island is as Kodak as Kodak gets. In the 1960’s when Kodak launched its colouramic film, photographer Peter Gales was sent out on assignment to collect images that would promote this new film and technology. He came back with a capture of Jasper’s Maligne Lake and Spirit Island. The photograph was printed mural-sized and displayed in New York City’s Grand Central Station for millions to see —what an honor and privilege to be able to see Spirit Island, and capture the spirit of photography. Next time, I am determined to kayak the entire way out here and watch the sun rise!
After visiting Spirit Island, you can start your journey back towards Banff! At this point you can stay anywhere you’d like and wrap up the parts you missed. It’s a 4 hour drive back to Banff. If you have early flights the following morning then I’d suggest getting close to Canmore again but otherwise, this portion of the Banff Itinerary is pretty loose. If you stay in Banff, consider visiting other lakes like Vermillion and Two Jack Lake! Or head back to Lake Louise and go on a nice hike there! Whatever you want 🙂
DAY 5 of the 5 DAY BANFF ITINERARY
Head towards YYC Airport for Departure
Stop by Canmore Dog Park
A visit to Kananaskis
YYC to Home
Total Drive Time: 2 Hours
CANMORE DOG PARK
On your way back towards Calgary, right outside of Banff, make sure you stop by Canmore. This area is an off-leash dog park, and it’s incredibly stunning! It’ll give you the perfect view of the Three Sisters Mountains with a gorgeous reflection. It looks a little sketch as it’s right next to a freeway and you’ll have to walk under a bypass, but you’ll see a handful of people heading this way.
The address is–71 Bow Valley Trail, Canmore, AB, Canada
I wish I knew the address or the name of this lake in Kananaskis but I don’t. It’s on the main road back towards Calgary and we saw a parking lot with other visitors stopping so we pulled over as well! It’s actually super dreamy and quiet compared to the other main lakes in Banff. From what I’ve heard, Kananaskis is significantly more quiet than Canmore and Banff, with just as beautiful mountain lakes and views, so it’s worth stopping by and exploring!
From here, the drive from Kananaskis back to Calgary is about an hour. And that’s a wrap on the 5 Day Banff Itinerary!! It’s a decent amount of driving every day and quite jam packed, but every single lake and every single stop is worth it!! Hope this helps you plan your trip a little, too! xx
If you have any questions, please let me know below!