One of the most beautiful places in Canada is Banff National Park. The Canadian Rockies are a majestic place filled with breathtaking beauty, endless forests, and turquoise lakes.
At the heart of Banff National Park is Banff Town, the perfect place to base yourself when exploring this amazing National Park in Canada.
This post includes lots of fun Banff summer activities as well as practical advice and will help you make the most of your 3 days in Banff!
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How to spend 3 days in Banff
Plan a trip to Banff National Park
While there isn’t a best time to visit Banff National Park, the most popular time to visit is summer (June-August).
With comfortable temperatures, long daylight hours, and (usually) all of the many hiking trails accessible after being buried by snow for months, it’s not surprising this is the busiest season to visit Banff.
Spring and autumn are both a lovely time to visit, there are fewer crowds and either beautiful flowers starting to blossom or trees dressed in beautiful vivid fall colors.
Winter in Banff is wonderful, you can enjoy (cross-country) skiing, ice-skating, dog sledding, and more.
This guide focuses on things to do in Banff in summer, however, Banff is a year-round destination and each season has its own charm and benefits.
From Calgary International Airport it’s only a 90-minute drive to Banff town. While you can get to Banff with a direct shuttle bus, I highly recommend renting a car or campervan.
In Banff town you can easily get around on foot, however, not all places to visit in Banff covered in this itinerary can be reached by public transport or shuttle buses.
Also, having your own wheels enables you to follow this Banff travel itinerary at your own pace. If you love a place, you can stay as long as you like, without having to worry about bus schedules.
If you do prefer to explore Banff without a car, check out this Banff hop-on-hop-off bus pass, which includes 6 popular stops in Banff National Park (Banff Town, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise Gondola, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake).
Having visited Banff as well as Jasper, I would say both are places you can’t miss on your Canada Rocky Mountain itinerary!
Both towns are cute, have nice places to stay, and offer great options for eating out. Jasper National Park and Banff National Park are equally stunning with imposing glaciers, thundering waterfalls, amazing lakes, and countless hiking trails.
Plus, the Icefield Parkway connecting the two towns is often cited as one of the most beautiful road trips in the world, and from personal experience, I can only agree!
Banff trip itinerary: map
Banff 3 day itinerary
- Day 1: Lake Louise, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Banff town
- Day 2: Moraine Lake, Lake Minnewanka Loop, Mount Sulphur Gondola
- Day 3: Mount Norquay Viewpoint, Legacy Trail, Banff Upper Hot Springs, Johnston Canyon
Banff itinerary day 1
Lake Louise and the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
A place that can’t miss on your Banff summer itinerary is Lake Louise, one of the most visited lakes in Canada. Be sure to get here very early as parking options are limited and usually full by sunrise (in peak season).
The pretty color of Lake Louise comes from the glacial flour that’s carried to the lake by melt water from the surrounding mountains. The depth of the color changes depending on the time of day as well as the time of the year.
If you like hiking, I’d recommend tackling the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail (12 kilometers, 400-meter elevation gain). The trail starts at Lake Louise and leads to the Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse where you can enjoy beautiful views and grab lunch or a drink (be sure to bring Canadian cash).
Insider advice: instead of going back via the same trail, I recommend hiking to the Beehive and Lake Agnes via the Highline Trail before making your way back down to the Fairmont Château at the shores of Lake Louise.
The total loop is 14.6 km, you can find more information about the trail here.
Wear sturdy hiking boots and a hat, also bring enough water and sunscreen, the trail is mostly exposed and the sun is hot in summer! Last but not least: be sure to carry bear spray as both black bears as well as grizzlies can be seen in the area.
If you prefer spending some time on the lake instead of going for a hike, you can rent a canoe or kayak. Prices are rather steep but it’s a great experience and you can easily get away from the crowds to find a nice spot to quietly admire the miraculous color of Lake Louise.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Nick from Spiritual Travels: the story of Banff National Park, and the entire Canadian National Parks system, originated at Cave and Basin. It was here in 1883 that Canadian Pacific Railway workers descended into a cave at the base of Sulfur Mountain and found hot springs.
The government designated the area around it as the ‘Banff Hot Springs Reserve’, later to become Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada, and by far the most popular of Alberta’s five national parks.
Today Cave and Basin is a National Historic Site, and including it on your Banff vacation itinerary so you can learn about how it all began is an absolute must!
The site is located across the Bow River Bridge, south of Banff townsite, and about a 20-minute walk on foot. Visitors can enter the original cave, where hot springs still spout out from the ground.
Look very closely and you may spot the Banff springs snail, which is an endangered species. The museum on-site features displays on the history of Cave & Basin and Banff National Park. If you have a Parks Canada Discovery Pass entrance to Cave and Basin is included.
You can also visit the courtyard where the hot springs pool was once located. The pool was closed in 1994, but visitors can still take a soak at Upper Hot Springs (read more below) on the slope of Sulfur Mountain. This is why Cave and Basin is sometimes called ‘Lower Hot Spring’.
Explore Banff Town
With so many wonderful Banff activities, you would almost forget the town itself! Take a stroll down Banff Avenue, visit the interesting Whyte Museum to learn about the indigenous peoples of the Canadian Rockies, check out the Bow Falls, or settle down for a drink in one of the many cafes or bars.
Good places for dinner are the Block Kitchen and Bar, Eddie Burger Bar, or (if you’re as much a fan of Indian food as we are) Masala Authentic Indian Cuisine.
Banff itinerary day 2
When you travel to Banff National Park, you can’t miss Moraine Lake! Located in the spectacular Valley of the Ten Peaks it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
As with Lake Louise, its mesmerizing color is due to the refraction of light off the rock flour that’s floating in the water.
Popular trails at Moraine Lake are the easy Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail and Moraine Lake shoreline trail, as well as more challenging hikes such as Sentinel Pass and Mount Temple.
Similar to Lake Louise, you’ll have to get an early start to visit Moraine Lake as the parking lot fills up quickly in summer! When visiting later in the day, you can use the Banff hop-on-hop-off bus pass or the Moraine Lake Shuttle.
Lake Minnewanka Loop
The Lake Minnewanka Loop is a beautiful 24-kilometer scenic drive close to Banff Town. The loop leads along Cascade Ponds, Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake and of course Lake Minnewanka itself.
Each lake offers plenty of activities, such as fishing, canoeing and even swimming if you dare brave the freezing temperatures.
Johnson Lake is the best option for swimming, there is even a small beach here where you can relax, enjoy the view and perhaps dip your toe into the inviting but surprisingly cold water.
If you’re up for (another) hike, the Johnston Lake Loop is an easy 3.5-kilometer trail and of the best short hikes in Banff National Park.
Two Jack Lake is a lovely place for a picnic, just remember to pick up some groceries in Banff before heading out on the Minnewana Loop. You can admire the gorgeous views while eating a sandwich at the bank of the lake.
Important: make sure to pack out all of your trash and leave your picnic spot spotlessly clean to prevent attracting wildlife!
It’s great to see animals in their natural habitat, but make sure to keep your distance and DON’T EVER FEED THEM!
Lake Minnewanka is the second longest lake in the Canadian Rockies and surprisingly a very popular destination for scuba diving!
Why, you might wonder?
Because hidden in the depths of the lake is the submerged village Minnewanka Landing. In 1941 a dam was built which increased the water level of the lake by 30 meters, hereby causing the (involuntary) resettlement of the villagers living here.
Lake Minnewanka is another Banff must-see and a great spot to spend a couple of hours.
Sulfur Mountain Gondola
Sam from My Flying Leap: for one of the best views in Banff, take the 8-minute gondola ride to the top of Sulfur Mountain. Here, you can enjoy spectacular views of the town of Banff, the Bow River snaking through the valley, and the gorgeous mountains surrounding the area.
The gondola is only a five-minute ride from the center of town, located at the base of Sulphur Mountain. There are buses that run regularly as an alternative to driving.
You can buy tickets in advance and I strongly recommend doing so as the line can get quite long and tickets can sell out during peak times. Prices range between C$58 and C$64 (prices are lower during the week).
Banff Gondola is open year-round but opening hours vary depending on the season. Be sure to bring warm clothes as it can get quite cold at the higher elevation, even in the summertime.
At the top, there is a four-story building with viewing areas on two floors. Take plenty of time to walk around to see different vantage points, every view is more stunning than the last!
For ‘the most unforgettable meal in Banff’, make reservations at the Sky Bistro where you can enjoy award-winning food while continuing to enjoy the breathtaking views from Sulfur Mountain.
Banff itinerary day 3
Mount Norquay viewpoint
Daisy from Beyond my Border: one of the best things to see in Banff is the Mount Norquay Lookout Point. This viewpoint is famous for the two wooden red chairs that sit near the edge, providing a panoramic view of the valley below.
To get here, hop into a car and drive up Mt Norquay Scenic Drive. Around 15 minutes up the mountain, you will come across a cement railing bordering the cliff below. Park your car on the side and head into the woods on foot.
A few minutes in, you will notice a vast clearing with the two iconic red chairs nearby. Take a seat and enjoy the breathtaking view overlooking downtown Banff, several surrounding mountains, and the backdrop of blue skies.
I recommend grabbing a coffee and a bite and head towards Mount Norquay Lookout Point during sunrise. You may have the site entirely to yourself!
Cycle the Legacy Trail
Maya from Travel With The Smile: one of the best ways to explore the beauty of the Canadian Rockies is on a bike. Banff and neighboring mountain town Canmore offer plenty of trails for all levels, but the most popular is undoubtedly Legacy Trail.
This 25 km paved trail connecting Banff and Canmore along the Rundle Mountain is a family-friendly and fun ride with stunning views all along. You can start the ride in either Banff or Canmore. Both towns have outdoor rental stores if you don’t have your bike. I recommend riding from Banff to Canmore; it’s a bit easier as the trail goes slightly downhill.
In Banff, head on Banff Avenue towards Cascade Ponds and Lake Minnewanka. The bike path starts right at the edge of the town with the Legacy Trail map. This place is a popular hangout for local wildlife as well, so be on the lookout. Few minutes into the ride, the forest on your right disappears, and you will have gorgeous views of the Rundle Mountain.
When you get tired, stop at the picnic area halfway through, have a snack, snap some photos with mountain background and continue to Canmore. The Legacy Trail ends at the Visitor’s Centre in Canmore with a digital counter where you see how many people biked the trail since it was built and also on the same day as you.
Now you can bike back the same way, take a shuttle bus back to Banff, or bike further if you’re looking for a challenge and a longer ride. Continue through Canmore and bike on Goat Creek Trail and Spray River Trail back to Banff. This part is a dirt trail and not as scenic, but it makes for a great 58 kilometer loop.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Jacquie from Flashpacking Family: while the soaring peaks and turquoise lakes in Banff National Park are the biggest draws for tourists, the hot springs are also worth visiting, especially if you need to relax those aching muscles after your hiking exertions.
Banff Upper Hot Springs is located 4 kilometers south of the center of town and if you’re not driving, you can take a courtesy shuttle bus from town that runs around every 30 minutes. If you are driving, there is a car park but it fills up quickly.
Considering there is no time limit on your time at the hot springs, the entry price is quite reasonable. Lockers are included in the cost of your ticket.
If you don’t have towels with you, you can hire towels so all you need is your own swimwear, although they even offer swimwear for hire in case you’ve made a spur of the moment decision to visit.
The hot springs are great for families and was one of our favorite family-friendly things to do in Banff. One thing to note is that it’s recommended to take a break from soaking in the springs every 20 minutes. Also, keep an eye on little ones as the water temperature is kept between 37 to 40 degrees.
There are chairs around the edge of the hot springs where you can relax and enjoy the views of Mount Rundle when you’re out of the water.
We visited at 11 am during peak season in August and although we didn’t have to wait to get it, it felt a little crowded in the pool so we would advise getting there earlier (opening hours are 10 am to 10 pm).
The Johnston Canyon is an impressive canyon and a popular place to visit in Banff National Park. The Johnston Canyon hike is an easy 5.4km round trip trail (120 meters elevation gain) to the beautiful Lower and Upper Canyon Falls.
The trail starts at the Johnston Canyon parking lot, and after a lovely stroll through the forest, you’ll be walking mostly on catwalks that have been fixed to the steep limestone cliffs of the canyon.
First, you’ll reach the Lower Canyon Falls which can be viewed from a bridge crossing over the stream. If you want to take a closer look, pass through a narrow tunnel and you’ll be up close with the impressive waterfall (note: you’ll get wet).
Follow the trail to the Upper Canyon Falls for beautiful views of the forest, the Johnston Creek, and several small waterfalls along the trail.
At the Upper Canyon Falls, there are two viewpoints, one at the bottom of the falls called the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls Viewpoint and one at the top called the Waterfall Lookout.
If you’ve got more time and energy, you can continue to the Ink Pots (12-kilometer return, 320-meter elevation gain).
Where to stay in Banff
Because Banff is a very popular destination for both Canadians as well as international travelers, accommodation is generally quite expensive.
There are some ways to save money on your stay in Banff, you can go camping and there are some budget hotels in Banff as well.
Camping in Banff National Park
Lora from Explore with Lora: Banff National Park is a paradise year-round but in summer it becomes even better as you can go camping inside the park. This is a great way to visit the park as you will not only save money on accommodation but sleeping outdoors really adds to the experience.
The night sky in Banff is incredible to look at while camping, especially over the mountain ranges. If you’re lucky, you may even see the Northern Lights!
Camping allows you to access some of the best nature and hiking trails in Banff. Plus, you could come across some unexpected wildlife such as an elk roaming around your campsite!
Parks Canada runs 14 different campsites in Banff. Some are open year-round, while others are only open during the summer. You can reserve campsites online, which is a good idea in the busy summer months.
There are RV campsites, serviced campsites with electricity and bathrooms, as well as backcountry campsites where you can get off the grid. Camping is a suitable activity for families as well as adventurous travelers, as you can choose a campground that meets your needs.
Budget hotel in Banff: HI-Banff Alpine Centre
A good budget option in Banff is the HI-Banff Alpine Centre, offering both private rooms (with shared bathroom) as well as dorm-style rooms.
With friendly staff, clean bathrooms, comfortable bunk beds and large lockers to store your stuff, the HI-Banff Alpine Centre offers good value for money.
Midrange hotel in Banff: Canalta Lodge
The Canalta Lodge is a lovely place to stay in Banff. It’s a nice 15-minute stroll to Banff town or a 5-minute bus ride. Rooms are modern, spacious, and spotlessly clean with comfortable beds and pillows.
With additional facilities such as an onsite coffee shop, hot tub, and sauna you’ll be very comfortable here during your Banff trip.
Luxury hotel in Banff: Fairmont Banff Springs
If you are prepared to splurge (and I mean really splurge) you can stay at the fairytale castle Fairmont Banff Springs during your 3 day Banff itinerary. Constructed in 1888, this beautiful 5-star resort is a National Historic Site.
There is a large indoor pool as well as a (heated) outdoor pool, a spa, bowling, tennis, horseback riding, and golfing. In other words, you won’t be bored during your stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs!
Banff itinerary 3 days: in conclusion
I hope you have enjoyed reading about these beautiful places in Banff. If you have any questions about this Banff summer trip itinerary, leave a comment below or send me a message!
You may also enjoy reading these articles:
- What to do in Calgary in summer
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- 25 beautiful Canadian towns
- Why you should visit Nelson (BC)
Check out my Canada page for more Canada travel inspiration!
This post was updated in November 2020.