Here is the ultimate guide for visiting Banff in Alberta, Canada. It’s an incredible place that you’ll wish you had traveled to years ago.
BANFF VISITING GUIDE – ITINERARY SUMMARY
|Day 1 —||Travel day|
|Day 2 —||Travel day / Calgary / Banff|
|Day 3 —||Lake Louise: canoes and Tea House hike|
|Day 4 —||Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour & Skywalk|
|Day 5 —||Johnston Canyon|
|Day 6 —||Travel (onto Glacier National Park?)|
Travel Day (Day 1)
For us, this first day was all drive, drive, drive. It was an epic road trip. 20 hours in all. Straight through. Phew, what a haul! I think if I did it again, I’d fly into Calgary and then drive the remaining 90 minutes to Banff.
But, adventurous as we are, we tackled this journey with another family in a 14-person passenger van.
Trip Tip: check on border crossing times
Only certain U.S. – Canadian border crossings are open 24 hours. Fortunately, we learned this the day right before we left for our trip, so we made an adjustment in our route. Had we not, we would have been sleeping in the van at a border crossing waiting for it to open at 8:00 a.m.!
Calgary & Arrive in Banff (Day 2)
If you have time to make a brief stop in Calgary, it’s definitely worth it. We simply did a short hike up to an overlook (see picture below), and then walked across a bridge into the city, got some ice cream, and then continued on to Banff.
In Banff, we stayed in a cute, rustic cabin at the Johnston Canyon Resort.
So, yeah, nothing fancy, but with a view like this, who could complain?!
The town of Banff is very charming and looked like it had some amazing places to stay too. And, for those whose vacation budgets allow for it, a room at the Fairmont Chateau hotel on Lake Louise sure would be a treat.
Lake Louise & Tea House Hike (Day 3)
No question about it, you have to go to Lake Louise. The water is SO blue (much more so than in this picture) and the scenery is just breathtaking. Honestly, in no way does this picture do it justice.
Banff Visiting Guide Must-Do: Rent a canoe on Lake Louise
Rent a canoe and enjoy an hour paddling on the lake taking in the views. You will literally have to pinch yourself several times as you look around at where you are blessed to be at that moment.
Next, hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. I’d plan to spend about 4 to 5 hours to get there and back. There are many stops along the way to soak in spectacular views of Lake Louise.
This other lake (below) along the hike was a pleasant surprise, and a beautiful oasis to stop for a rest.
At the Tea House, it’s a great place to have a snack, cup of soup or dessert, and a hot or cold beverage. It’s so remote and off the grid – yup, no electricity – so they take cash only. Every time, the staff carries all supplies up and back down the mountain with them.
Another option is the nearby Lake Agnes Tea House, but unfortunately, we did not have the time to visit.
Columbia Ice Field Adventure Tour & Skywalk (Day 4)
On this day, head up near Jasper National Park and take the Columbia Icefield Adventure Tour (90 minutes from Lake Louise). It includes a ride on the gigantic Ice Explorers to the Athabasca Glacier, and admission to the glass-floored Skywalk.
I know my family will remember these cool experiences for years to come!
Don’t wait, though, to experience them yourself. This glacier, and many others around the world have been slowly disappearing with the climate fluctuations.
Trip Tip #1: Dress warm
It was a hot July day where we boarded the Ice Explorer, but then we were freezing in our shorts up on the glacier. Duh! What were we thinking?! Glad we brought jackets and sweatshirts at least. Most people had mittens and warm hats; we were the fools in shorts!
Trip Tip #2: Bring water bottles
The melting glacier provides streams of water where you can collect water and drink it. We all just had to try it. Surprisingly, it was ice cold and deliciously pure.
Johnston Canyon (Day 5)
Before you leave town, take the time for a morning hike in Johnston Canyon. Our resort had the ideal location; we walked right out the door from our cabin and onto the trail. And, even if you stay elsewhere in Banff, this is a brief stop/hike worth your time. It’s gorgeous!
Catwalk, Lower Falls, Upper Falls
As the pictures show, an early part of the trail is on catwalks that overlook Johnston Creek. About 30 minutes into the canyon, follow the signs to go in the tunnel for a super close up vantage point of the Lower Falls.
The hike to the Upper Falls is about an hour one way, and takes you through the forest and out of the canyon.
After leaving Banff, head into the U.S. to Glacier National Park, which is 5 hours south. I have an itinerary for Glacier too. Highlights include Going-to-the-Sun Road, Avalanche Lake, Logan Pass, and St. Mary’s Boat Tour.
More time in Banff?
- Moraine Lake – a glacially fed lake in Banff National Park. The Rockpile Trail is a commonly visited place by tourists.
- Jasper National Park – 3 to 4 hour drive from Banff, but I’ve heard it’s worth every bit of time to get there.
- Banff – lots to do in the actual town, which is about 40 minutes south of Lake Louise.
- Hot springs – these heated pools are advertised all over, and on the way to Glacier.
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