The Most Scenic 5 Day Banff Itinerary
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
Please note that this Banff Itinerary also includes stops in Yoho National Park & Jasper National Park. I also have a 3 day Banff Itinerary ONLY for Banff for those who don’t have much time or want to stay solely in this area.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
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.
Just keep in mind that Banff is ALWAYS busy, at all times of year. But because Banff is all outside, even with huge crowds, there’s always fresh air, and it feels open.
Weather: Banff has one of the longest ski and snowboard seasons in the world — with snow on the mountains up to 8 months of the year. You can expect very mild summers and very cold winters. Summers (in Fahrenheit) averaging 70’s during the day and 40’s at night. Winters are 20’s during the day, and single digits at night.
Getting Around & Transportation: The great thing about Banff, is everything is on Highway One/Ice Fields Parkway, so if you start at the entrance of Banff, you will pretty much hit all of the major stops just by driving down this highway. 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 as many of the the scenic overlooks as possible.
If you are meeting friends in Banff, don’t need/want a car rental, or are flying into Calgary Airport, 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 one way. It also runs from Canmore back to the Calgary Airport.
Airport: The closest airport to fly into would be Calgary (YYC), and then driving roughly 90 minutes to Banff by car or shuttle.
Currency: CAD (Canadian Dollars), most major credit cards widely accepted
Now that we know all of the details, let’s move on with the accommodations!
WHERE TO STAY
It can be a little confusing where to stay in Banff, but here is an overall breakdown of your options
- Inside Banff National Park — most convenient but most expensive. Also the space is very limited, so you’ll have to book it EARLY.
- Town of Banff — still close but not quite inside the park (40 minute drive to Lake Louise), and an ideal location for more food options, shopping, night life, and variety of activities.
- Canmore — close to an hour drive to Lake Louise, BUT a great affordable alternative. There’s also a lot of beauty in Canmore that deserves it’s own time and exploration, too.
- Kananaskis — even further out than Canmore, I would only book here if you’ve been to Banff before and are wanting to venture out further.
I’ve actually stayed in each category of the above, and if you can swing it, I would advise inside Banff National Park. However, here are some of my hotel recommendations below!
Banff National Park —
$$$$- Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise | Moraine Lake Lodge
$$$ – Banff Inn | Juniper Hotel & Bistro
$$ – Lake Louise Inn
Banff Town —
$$$ — Moose Hotel & Suites
$$ – Mount Royal | Elk + Avenue Hotel
$$ – Stoneridge Resort
$ – Basecamp Resorts
Please note that the prices fluctuate a ton during different times of the season. This itinerary will consist of hotel hopping to make the drive significantly easier!
My biggest advice is to just book EARLY — like the second you know you’re going. Banff has blown up in tourism the last 5-10 years that it can be quite challenging to find affordable accommodations depending on the time of year you go.
If you prefer to stay in airbnbs over hotels, I also compiled a list of the Best Airbnbs in Banff in 2021, linked below!
CLICK HERE FOR MY LIST OF THE BEST AIRBNBS IN BANFF (2021)
WHAT TO EAT
Bison Burger — Bison meat is a must try in Canada, and especially bison burgers
Poutine — French fries with cheese curds and smothered in gravy – one of my favorite appetizers
Butter Tarts — Canadian butter tarts are small pastries filled with butter, sugar, syrup and egg, with a semi solid crunchy top
Saskatoon Berry Pie — the Saskatoon berry is widely known as the “June berry” in the US
Ketchup Chips — ketchup flavored chips!! Another fave and excellent road trip snack
Caesar Cocktail — a popular alcoholic beverage made with tomato juice, clam broth, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and vodka! Almost like a Canadian Bloody Mary
Tim Horton’s — Tim Hortons is a coffeehouse chain that serves coffee, doughnuts and breakfast fast foods — think of it like a Dunkin!
WHERE TO EAT
Grizzly House — This spot is a fan favorite— quirky & known for their fondue and exotic meats
Bear Street Tavern — A Banff essential
Farm & Fire — located in Banff National Park itself, this is a great and convenient spot if you’re staying in the park
Ramen Arashi — for take out only, and PERFECT for after a long day of snowing or hiking. This place will warm your soul!
Fairmont Banff Springs Restaurant — the best views you’ll get of Lake Louise while having lunch. Try to make tea time reservations!
Coyotes Southwestern Grill — great breakfast spot with lots of delicious pressed juices
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 hotel in 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 flew directly into YYC and took the Banff Airporter from the airport to Canmore. My friends, who arrived earlier and already rented a car, picked me up my stop. Once I checked into the hotel, dropped off my belongings, and freshened up, I was ready to hit the road!! We went straight to Moraine Lake to enjoy our first sunset.
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. I do want to note that, you can always find an empty spot to take photos in Moraine, especially on the rocks across the way. Despite how busy it is, Moraine will always be 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
We decided to stay at Base Camp Resorts in Canmore for the first two days of the trip. They are a new interpretation of traditional mountain dwelling. It’s a perfect stop between Calgary and Banff. Depending on the type of room that you book, certain suites come with kitchenettes, but there’s also a beautiful roof top hot tub where you can relax after a long day of hiking as well.
CLICK HERE TO BOOK BASE CAMP RESORTS
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: The infamous 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
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 on Instagram 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 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 beautiful. 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) — surprisingly much more cold in July!
The Lake Louise area is also a great place to stop for some lunch and a coffee break. The iconic Fairmont Chateau 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 the days and budget, 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.
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!
CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR HOTEL IN BANFF
Need Some Outfit Inspo? Shop Below!
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. Add ginger to any of their fresh pressed juices for a quick immune boost, especially if the weather is throwing you off!
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 Valley, 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!
Need a Hotel in Jasper? Click Here!
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 know it. 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. 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!
Charge your battery
Love all of your photos and the bond that you have with Jess and RayRay 🙂 had no idea about the fun fact about Spirit Island! What did you miss on this trip that you still want to do next time??