In this 4 day Banff itinerary, we’ll help make the most of your time in the crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies. With a seemingly infinite selection of beautiful hikes to choose from, deciding what to do in Banff can be a challenge. From the best hikes and activities nearby to travel logistics, where to stay, and tips for a smooth trip, we’ve got you covered with our 4 day Banff itinerary!
About Banff, Alberta
Not to be confused with the national park it shares a name with, the small mountain town of Banff, Alberta is the most popular home base for adventures in the surrounding Canadian Rockies. In fact, Banff town is actually located inside Banff National Park, making it extremely convenient and close by plenty of amazing hikes.
Banff is home to only about 8000 permanent residents but sees upwards of 40,000 visitors during peak season. The town features a cute main street with shops, restaurants, bars, and of course, mountain views in every direction!
About Banff National Park
Established in 1885, Banff National Park is Canada’s first national park and remains the most visited to this day. Banff National Park is located in Alberta, Canada, about 2 hours from Calgary and just minutes from Canmore.
Spanning over 6,600 square kilometers, Banff National Park is home to some of the most stunning sections of the Canadian Rockies. Beautiful alpine lakes, teal rivers, snow-capped mountains, and expansive glaciers punctuate the scenery in Banff and make for jaw-dropping views and an impressive list of incredible hikes.
Always remember to leave no trace!
Please do your part to help preserve the beautiful landscapes and fragile ecosystems found in Idaho for generations to come. A few key things to remember include:
- Always stay on the trail. Going off-trail damages the plants and accelerates erosion.
- Store your food properly – this is bear country! Never leave food unattended and avoid leaving behind crumbs or food waste.
- Additionally, never feed the animals, no matter how cute… this includes squirrels, marmots, pikas, chipmunks etc. You may think you’re doing them a favor, but human food is dangerous for wild animals and can shorten their lifespan.
- Pack out all trash and waste. Be respectful of the area and others. Don’t leave behind your food or trash.
- Be considerate of others. That means keeping your dog on leash and your noise levels low.
- Be prepared and do your research. Some of the hikes on this list are quite challenging. Know what you’re getting into and don’t attempt a hike you aren’t prepared. Remember that most areas don’t have cell service, so you are responsible for your own safety.
Remember to Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in, stay on trail, be well-prepared, leave nothing behind, take only photos and memories with you, treat the area with respect and help preserve this beautiful spot for generations to come.
4 day Banff itinerary details
In the sections below, we’ll give you all the details on this epic 4 day Banff itinerary!
Banff Itinerary Map
To help you plan your 4 day Banff itinerary, use the map below to see the locations of each of the items on the itinerary, organized by day. You can always download this map to reference during your visit.
- To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.
- To save this map for future use, click the star next to the title. From your phone, open the Google Maps app and click the “saved” tab, followed by the “Maps” icon. From your Gmail account, navigate to Maps –> “Saved” –> “My Maps” –> “Maps” tab.
- To email this map to yourself, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
Day One | Moraine Lake & Lake Louise
Kick your trip off with a bang, by visiting two of Banff’s most popular spots: Moraine Lake and Lake Louise! Lake Louise is located about 45 minutes from Banff, while Moraine Lake is about an hour.
Tip | Day one includes some of the most popular, and as such, crowded, spots in Banff. We have this day listed as day one on the itinerary, but we’d highly recommend rearranging your schedule so that this day falls on a weekday. You’ll have an easier time with parking and slightly fewer crowds to share these incredible spots with!
Morning | sunrise at Moraine Lake
Start your day bright and early by catching an amazing sunrise over Moraine Lake, one of the most picturesque (and frequently Instagrammed) alpine lakes in Banff! We promise that watching the sun slowly illuminate the jagged peaks that tower over Moraine Lake’s teal blue waters is 100% worth the early wake-up.
Parking at Moraine Lake is so limited that it is almost always full throughout the day, and often the road to reach the parking area is closed down to avoid traffic backups. For sunrise, it’s often possible to snag a spot, but you’ll have to set your alarm super early. The lot can fill up as early as 4:00am to 4:30am, especially on weekends in the summer.
If you aren’t able to secure a parking spot at Moraine Lake, you’ll need to take the Lake Louise/Moraine Lake shuttle, which requires advance reservations.
For all the details on how to visit Moraine Lake at sunrise, including how to ensure you can snag one of those coveted parking spots, check out the article below:
Late morning to afternoon | Lake Louise
After catching an epic sunrise at Moraine Lake, continue day one with a visit to a Banff classic: Lake Louise!
Don’t let the large crowds and parking challenges deter you – Lake Louise is super popular for a reason! The teal blue waters, colored by sediments carried into the lake from glacial runoff, form the perfect foreground for the towering rocky mountains in the distance. Despite the crowds and generally touristy nature of the area, it really is one of the most beautiful lakes we’ve ever seen!
There are several incredible hikes around Lake Louise, many of which can be combined together to create longer hikes:
- Lake Agnes Tea House | 4.6 miles, 2400 feet of elevation gain
- Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House | 9 miles, 1900 feet of elevation gain
- Big Beehive | 6.25 miles, 2500 feet of elevation gain (Our personal favorite hike in the area!)
- Devil’s Thumb | 8 miles, 2900 feet of elevation gain (very strenuous and requires rock scrambling)
We’d recommend hiking to the Lake Agnes Tea House, where you can enjoy a hot cup of tea while hanging out at an alpine lake, and then continuing your hike to Big Beehive for an amazing view over Lake Louise.
We’ve written a complete guide to hiking Big Beehive at Lake Louise to help you plan your hike below:
Day Two | Icefields Parkway
On day two, explore the scenic Icefields Parkway, a 232 km highway that connects Lake Louise with Jasper and features some of the most stunning views near Banff. The Icefields Parkway has been rated as one of the best drives in the world by Conde Nast Traveller, and we can see why. Spotted with teal alpine lakes, the road winds along the Continental Divide with never ending views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks.
Tip | To have more time and make it further along the Icefields Parkway, you could spend the previous night in Lake Louise or the following night in Jasper.
Morning | Icefields Parkway Scenic Drive
Start day two of this Banff Itinerary with a leisurely drive along the Icefields Parkway, stopping at the various viewpoints along the way. From the town of Banff, it’s about a 45-minute drive to reach the start of Icefields Parkway. To go all the way to Jasper (the end of Icefields Parkway) would take about 3 hours one way, so you’ll want to turn around whenever you feel you’ve gotten your fill of the stunning views.
A few can’t miss stops along the Icefields Parkway include:
- Hector Lake | Likely one of the first stops along your drive, pull over for a quick look or walk along the lakeshore trail.
- Bow Lake | While not quite as stunning as Peyto Lake, nearby Bow Lake is quite picturesque and worth a quick stop.
- Peyto Lake | One of the most popular stops on the Icefields Parkway, Peyto Lake is another bright-teal-colored alpine lake. If you’re feeling ambitious, try to get here for sunrise. Theres a short 1.5-mile round trip hike up to a nice viewpoint overlooking the lake.
- Bow Summit | Extend the hike from Peyto Lake and leave some of the crowds behind to visit Bow Summit for a moderate 4 mile-roundtrip hike.
- The Big Hill & Big Bend | An aptly named viewpoint at a hairpin turn in the road, the Big Bend offers some of the best views on the Icefields Parkway. The Big Bend is located about 2 hours from Banff, so this could make a good turnaround point.
- Glacier Skywalk | A glass platform suspended nearly 1000 feet above the Sunwapta Valley, walking the Glacier Skywalk costs $25 per adult.
Please note that the above list is not all-inclusive – there are many other stops along the drive. Find more details about the Icefields Parkway here.
Afternoon | Hike to Helen Lake
- Hiking distance | 7.2 miles (+ 2.8 miles to Cirque Peak)
- Elevation gain | 1800 feet (+1900 feet to CriCirCirquequeque Peak)
- Epic-ness rating | 5
- Difficulty | Moderate (hard with Cirque Peak)
Find this hike on AllTrails: Helen Lake Trail
You could easily spend the entire day exploring the Icefields Parkway and stopping at all the viewpoints, but if you want to really stretch your legs, we recommend the hike to Helen Lake. Located right off the Icefields Parkway, this moderate 7.2-mile hike gains about 1800 feet of elevation before leveling off through a beautiful open alpine meadow as you approach the lake.
The view looking away from Helen Lake features incredible views looking across the alpine meadow and down Bow Valley towards Mount Hector.
The mountain you see just beyond Helen Lake is Cirque Peak. For those looking for a serious adventure, Cirque Peak can be reached via an extremely steep trail that continues beyond Helen Lake.
Tip | If you’re more of a morning person, you can head straight to Helen Lake in the morning for an easier time finding parking. Then spend the rest of the day exploring the Icefields Parkway. If you plan to extend the hike to Cirque Peak, you will definitely want to get an early start as the hike is very steep and takes longer than you might expect.
Day Three | Johnson Canyon & Explore Banff
After two busy days with many miles of hiking, day three is a rest day of sorts. You’ll start the morning with a leisurely stroll at Johnson Canyon and spend the afternoon shopping and grabbing a bite to eat in the town of Banff.
Morning | Johnson Canyon Falls
- Hiking distance | 3.2 miles
- Elevation gain | 850 feet
- Epic-ness rating | 4
- Difficulty | Easy
Find this hike on AllTrails: Johnson Canyon to Upper Falls
Johnson Canyon is located about 30 minutes from Banff, and features a short, easy hike to two lovely waterfalls. Have a relaxing morning before heading over to the trailhead.
The Lower Falls are located about three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead for a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike. To extend your hike, continue an extra half a mile to the Upper Falls. You also have the option to extend your hike even further to visit the Ink Pots, a collection of bright mineral springs about 2 miles past the Upper Falls.
Remember that Johnson Canyon is an extremely popular hike, so expect to share the trail. Although there are two fairly large parking lots, spots fill up by mid-morning during the peak season. If you want to hike Johnson Canyon, we’d recommend going either early or later in the day.
Afternoon | Lunch and shopping in Banff Town
After visiting Johnson Canyon, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the town of Banff. Grab lunch and a cold beer in town and meander through the various shops along the main street. We recommend Banff Ave Brewpub for solid bar eats and craft beer.
Evening | Sunset at Lake Minnewanka
If you still have some time to kill in the evening, stop by Lake Minnewanka, located just 20 minutes from the town of Banff. The lake is easily accessible and makes for a nice spot to watch the sunset.
Tip | If you plan to hike the Iceline Trail and Little Yoho Valley on day four (see below), be sure to rest and catch up on sleep tonight as you’ll have an early morning.
Day 4 | Day Trip to Yoho National Park
On the last day of this 4 day Banff itinerary, visit Banff’s neighbor, Yoho National Park. Yoho is located just 45 minutes from the town of Banff, and is definitely worth visiting as a day trip. In Yoho, we’ll provide two different options depending on the level of adventure you are looking for.
About Yoho National Park
Located in the heart of the magnificent Canadian Rockies, Yoho National Park is home to every type of alpine wonder you can imagine – towering mountain peaks, shimmering alpine lakes, gushing waterfalls, massive glaciers, diverse wildlife, and some of the best views you’ll ever see.
In fact, the term “Yoho” comes from the Cree word for amazement or awe, a fitting description for one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been.
Combined with Banff National Park to the east, Kootenay National Park to the south, and Jasper National Park to the north, Yoho is part of the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, a bucket list area for any mountain lover!
Option 1 | Hike the Iceline Trail
- Hiking distance | 9.3 miles
- Elevation gain | 2800 feet
- Epic-ness rating | 8
- Difficulty | Hard
Find this hike on AllTrails: Iceline Summit
The Iceline Trail was our favorite hike of all places we visited in Banff! This hike has it all. If you are up for a challenging hike, this option is for you.
The Iceline Trail gets you up close to several glaciers and features sweeping views of the Yoho Valley. Heading clockwise from the parking area, you will begin with a steep incline up to the Iceline, a rocky shelf along the edge of a series of receding glaciers, scattering with little alpine lakes in the brightest shade of teal you’ve ever seen.
At the end of the Iceline Trail, turn back the way you came for a 9.3 mile round trip out and back hike. Alternatively, you can turn the hike into a longer loop by continuing along the Little Yoho Valley Trail, totaling about 13.5 miles and 3500 feet of elevation gain.
Option 2 | Takkakaw Falls & Emerald Lake
If you aren’t up for a strenuous day of hiking on day four, we’ve got another option for you that involves easy hikes and the option to go canoeing.
Start your day with a visit to Takkakaw Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in Canada, dropping an incredible 1200 feet! Takkakaw Falls is easily accessible, and the enormous cascades can even be seen from the parking lot. To get up close to impressive falls, embark on an easy 0.8-mile roundtrip stroll.
After visiting Takkakaw Falls, head over to Emerald Lake, one of Yoho’s most famous spots. Here you can either walk along the 3-mile lakeshore trail, or if you’re tired of hiking, rent canoes and explore Emerald Lake by water.
Canoe rentals from the Boathouse Trading Co at Emerald Lake are $90 per hour, and one canoe can fit 3 people. Canoes are available on a first-come-first-serve basis only.
Banff itinerary logistics
In the sections below, we’ll cover all the logistics around planning your Banff itinerary, including how to get to Banff, where to stay, and national park entrance fees.
Getting to Banff
Banff also makes a very manageable round trip from northern Montana. If you’re planning a trip to Glacier National Park, consider tacking on a detour to Banff. It’s about 5.5 hours from the West Entrance of Glacier to Banff, Alberta.
Banff & Yoho entrance fees
- $10.50 per person per day
- OR $72.25 per person for an annual Canada national parks pass
- Youth 17 and under are free
Entrance to Banff & Yoho National Parks costs $10.50 per person per day. Unlike in the United States, entrance fees are paid per person, rather than per vehicle. Alternatively, you can purchase a Parks Canada Discovery Pass for $72.25 per person, which grants you access to all Canadian National Parks for one year.
Children 17 years old and younger enter for free.
Entrance passes may be purchased at the gates or online in advance. For more information about fees and where to purchase passes online, visit the Parks Canada website.
Where to stay in and around Banff
With so many incredible hikes and things to do within a relatively short distance, we’d recommend picking a hotel, campground, Airbnb, etc and staying there for the entire 4 day itinerary.
If you stay in Banff town, you’ll never have to drive further than an hour and 15 minutes for any activity listed on the itinerary. Additionally, many of the campgrounds are quite convenient to some of the best the area has to offer.
Below we’ll offer a few recommendations on places to stay in Banff, alternatives to staying in Banff and nearby campgrounds convenient for this 4 day Banff itinerary.
Where to stay in Banff
Hotels and lodges in the small town of Banff are in high demand, so unfortunately prices tend to be quite high. You’ll also need to book well in advance of your trip to find a room. Below are a few options from budget to luxury:
- Luxury | Known as the “Castle in the Rockies,” staying at the stunning and luxurious Fairmount Banff Springs in Banff will cost you a pretty penny, with nightly rates over $1000 per night during peak season.
- Mid range | The Rundlestone Lodge is conveniently located on Banff’s main street within walking distance to shops and restaurants, with nightly rates around $350 during peak season.
- Budget | Budget-friendly options are hard to come by in Banff, but at the YWCA Banff Hotel you can get a private double room for about $150 per night. However, beware that the rooms are very basic and do not offer air conditioning!
Where to stay near Banff
Lake Louise | Located just a few minutes from Lake Louise, the Lake Louise village is centrally located for many of the activities on the 4 day Itinerary, making it a convenient alternative to staying in Banff. It’s about 45 minutes to Banff town and 30 minutes to Yoho National Park. There are several hotels in the area, available at a wide range of prices:
- Luxury | Moraine Lake Lodge is certainly the most convenient option for catching the sunrise, located right on the banks of Moraine Lake. However, the convenience and beautiful location come with a hefty price tag, with rooms running around $1000 per night during peak season.
- Luxury | The Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise is a luxury hotel located right on the banks of Lake Louise. Again, the location and convenience comes at a cost, with rooms running about around $1000 per night during peak season.
- Mid-range | Lake Louise Inn – convenience at a more reasonable price with double rooms between $330 and $400.
- Budget | HI Lake Louise Alpine Center Hostel – A budget-friendly option with private double rooms for $130 to $150 per night, and single beds in a shared dormitory for $50 per night.
Canmore | Although slightly less convenient than Banff or Lake Louise, Canmore is another option that can sometimes be more affordable. Staying in Canmore will add about 20 minutes of drive time (each way) compared to staying in Banff, as it is further out of the way.
- Luxury | This Canmore Condo features stunning mountain views from its large porch and sleeps up to 4 for around $500 per night.
- Mid-range | Ambleside Lodge Bed & Breakfast is a cute bed & breakfast with alpine vibes and mountain views for about $250 to $300 per night.
- Budget | Silvercreek Lodge is located in the heart of Canmore and offers rooms for around $170 per night during peak season.
Campgrounds near Banff
If you’re traveling on a budget, or just love to sleep under the stars (like us!), you’re in luck because Banff National Park has some of the best campgrounds we’ve ever stayed at! Here is a list of a few of our favorite campgrounds in the area (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Lake Louise Campground | Located minutes from Lake Louise and Moraine Lake with 206 tent sites and 189 RV sites.
- Tunnel Mountain Village | Located 10 minutes from Banff town with 808 tent or RV spots, 321 full-serve hookup sites
- Johnson Canyon Campground | Located beside the Johnson Canyon trailhead and about 30 minutes from Banff, with 132 total sites.
- Two Jack Lake | Two separate campgrounds, one along the lakeshore of Two Jack Lake with 64 sites and one set back in the forest, with 32 sites.
Please note that even though these campgrounds are huge, they do tend to fill up during the summer so be sure to make reservations well in advance. Read more about camping in Banff here.
Best time to visit Banff
The best time to visit Banff if you want to hike is June through September. Some of the trails at higher elevations will be snow covered through June into early July, so if you plan to hike trails like Cirque Peak and the Iceline Trail, we’d recommend planning your trip for early July or later.
September is a great time to visit because the summer crowds have died down a bit, and the leaves begin to change as the fall season approaches.
If you plan to ski, you’ll want to visit during the winter, from about December through March.
What to pack for Banff
Good gear can make all the difference hiking in Banff Below we’ve compiled a list of our absolute must haves for day hiking – we use these items every time we hike and couldn’t live without them.
- Counter Assault Bear Spray | There are both grizzly and black bears in Banff, so carrying bear spray with you is a must. Each person in the group should have their own can and carry it within arm’s reach (ie. attached to your hip – it’s nearly worthless packed away in your backpack)
- Garmin InReach Mini GPS | The one piece of gear you hope you never need to use, but is worth its weight in peace of mind. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind.
- Bug Spray | We’ve never experienced mosquitoes as bad as Banff! We even had trouble finding bug spray in the area with stores selling out, so make sure to pack a can.
- Hiking poles | Most of the hikes around Banff are very steep and rocky. A pair of hiking poles make a huge difference!
- Hiking backpack | This backpack is lightweight but large enough to pack the essentials (snacks, water and layers) on a longer day hike, and it comes with a bladder!
- Hiking boots | I can’t recommend my Danner Mountain 600’s enough, Matt loves his Salomon X Ultra 4.
- Pullovers | For extra warmth on chilly hikes in the Tetons, we always pack our Smartwool Merino Quarter Zips.
- Down Jacket | My Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody Women’s Down Hoodie is lightweight and incredibly warm with 850 fill down. If you hate being cold (like me) this is the jacket for you! The quality is top notch and totally worth the extra warmth.
- Gloves and hats | Mornings and evenings get chilly in Banff, anytime of year, but especially if you are visiting during the fall through early summer.
Other things to do in Banff
For more details about planning your perfect Banff Itinerary, check out these resources below:
- Banff | How to See an Amazing Sunrise at Moraine Lake
- Banff | 16 Best Hikes in Banff & Yoho
- Banff | Big Beehive Hike: Best Views of Lake Louise
- Banff | Cirque Peak & Helen Lake in Banff: Complete Trail Guide
- Yoho | Iceline Trail, Little Yoho Valley & Yoho Valley Loop Trail Guide
Questions about this 4 day Banff Itinerary? Drop us a question in the comments section below and we’ll be happy to help!