The PERFECT Banff Itinerary for Every Traveller

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If you’re looking for the best 3 days in Banff itinerary you’ve come to the right place!

This dreamy mountain town set in the heart of the Canadian Rockies is a place high on a lot of people’s bucket lists, and for good reasons.

This mountain resort town is home to some of Canada’s most beautiful scenery, wildlife and amazing activities.

The town itself is surrounded by nearly 7000 square kilometres of spectacular parkland just waiting to be explored. And for a first-time visitor, 3 perfect days in Banff will give you just the taste you need to be hooked.

While the town is easy enough to get around on foot or by bike, in order to reach some of the trailheads and attractions it is best to have a vehicle.

However, if that isn’t in your budget you will still be able to see tons of what Banff has to offer but utilizing the public transit system and shuttles, especially for the ski hills.

Most of the hotels and restaurants are located in the main downtown area, which is also one of the prettiest in the Rockies.

READ MORE: Click here for a more detailed guide on what to do in Banff!

Stroll through the parks, indulge in some afternoon drinks on a patio and just soak in the views. They are everywhere you look after all so it’s hard to miss them.

Millions of visitors flock to Banff every year for skiing, hiking or just the great outdoors.

No matter what your travel style or budget, you’ll be able to find something to do here for everyone.

My 3-day Banff itinerary includes all these epic spots:

  • The Icefields Parkway
  • Cave and Basin National Historic Site
  • Cycling around downtown
  • Johnston Canyon
  • Two Jack Lake
  • Vermillion Lakes
  • Lake Minnewanka
  • Banff Gondola
  • Bow Falls
  • And plenty more…

My Ultimate 3 Days in Banff Itinerary

From the mountains to the lakes, spa days, and then some, Banff has got it all.

You’ll be surprised at you can find to do here so check out this 3 days in Banff itinerary to make the most of your trip.

Day 1 – The Icefields Parkway, Lake Louise and Lake Moraine

With no commercial airport, it’s likely that after your flight you’ll have a car journey ahead of you to kick start your itinerary for 3 days in Banff.

If not you’ll want to rent a car and get out on one of Canada’s most beautiful stretches of highway.

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of cars for the best value on the market.

Icefield Parkway
Views when driving around Banff.

The Icefields Parkway

The first thing you need to do on any trip to Banff is grab your car and go for a spectacular drive to Lake Louise, Lake Moraine and along the Icefields Parkway.

About an hour up the road you’ll come to Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, two of the crown jewels in the Banff National Park.

We recommend heading up early to watch sunrise over Lake Moraine, where you’ll be absolutely amazed at the perfect reflections of the 10 peaks on the still body of water.

If you’re up for a fun activity, rent a canoe and paddle out on the lake.

Afterwards drive back towards Lake Louise and spend an hour or two wandering around the lake.

If it’s winter, definitely grab some ice skates and go for a carve on the huge frozen body of water. The views from here are seriously next level.

Then grab your car and hit the Icefields Parkway.

This is known as one of the world’s best road trips, and you can’t visit Banff without checking it out.

The road stretches from Lake Louise all the way to Jasper, and along the way you’ll find some of the most pretty spots in all of Canada.

From Bow Lake to Athabasca Falls, Sunwapto Falls to the Columbia Icefield, you’re going to be stopping the car a lot for photos, we can guarantee that.

Rather than go into everything there is to see and do on the drive here, check out our huge Icefields Parkway driving guide.

Once you’ve ticked it off, make your way back to Banff.

Peyto Lake Banff Itinerary
Peyto Lake in September – one of the highlights of the Icefields Parkway drive.

Explore Town

Once you arrive in town, you’ll want to get right into exploring. While the town of Banff is not massive it does have tons to be explored, and one of the best ways to do that is by renting a bike and touring Downtown Banff.

A list of trails surrounding the town can also be found here but the downtown area has well-marked cycle paths perfect for a first-timer.

If you’re on foot stop into Wildflower Bakery for a coffee to wake you up and head down to the Bow River Trail for your first bit of exploring.

The paved trail runs parallel to the Bow River and is really just the perfect place for a stroll,  to sit out and enjoy the view, or go for a run.

Wander through the beautiful parks and eventually, you’ll come to the Banff Park Museum.

This lovely little museum is housed in a historic log manor from 1903 and you’ll be able to find out all sorts of fun facts about the town of Banff and what it has seen over the years.

It’s also a really cool place to see some incredible artifacts and a massive collection of wildlife specimens from the Rockies.

Mountain rising over Banff town
Downtown Banff. Those views are next level!

Not too far off from here, you’ll also find the Whyte Museum of the Candian Rockies.

This museum offers visitors a chance to dive deep into the culture of the Rockies as well as gain a better understanding of the first people who settled here.

Exhibits here change often but the permanent collection includes items from Banff’s history with sports, skiing and the great outdoors.

 To keep with the museum theme the Buffalo Nations Museum is a great opportunity to learn more about the indigenous peoples of Canada and what they have brought to not only the town but the surrounding provinces.

One of the best ways to spend 3 days in Banff is heading out to Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

The thermal waters that surround this area have been quite a significant aspect of Banff history since 1883 when they were discovered by railway workers.

There are daily tours offered which allow visitors to experience the area and get up close and personal with the incredible bubbling waters.

There are also lantern tours offered from May-August to see the caves by a lantern which is really special. 

To cap off the first day of your itinerary for 3 days in Banff you’ll be hoping for a clear night. Why you might ask? Well, a clear night is the best way to experience a dark sky preserve.

Bundle up and head out to Stargaze in Banff on any bench downtown. But if you want the perfect spot it needs to be free from any lights from cars or lampposts.

Driving a little way out of town can help with this, or heading to the Bow Valley parking lot even. You’ll likely never have seen stars so bright until you see them in Banff.

READ MORE: Plan your trip to Canada with our comprehensive Travel Guide.

Day 2 – Canyons, Lakes & Hotsprings

As you kick off your 2nd day in Banff, you’re hopefully waking up to a gorgeous sunrise over the mountains.

Pack your bags, grab your camera and don’t forget your bathing suit, yes even in winter. You’ll be off for one awesome day in Banff.

Exploring the Lakes & More

No matter what time of year you’ll always be able to find something amazing to do in Banff. It may just be a matter of whether or not you prefer skating on the lakes to swimming in them.

One of the most visited locations is also one of the most beautiful in summer or winter.

Johnston Canyon is less than a 30-minute drive and will have you feeling as if you’ve stepped into another world.

In the wintertime, this canyon full of waterfalls freezes over and becomes an incredible place to sidewalk.

This activity can be done on your own but if you don’t have your own gear you can join in on a day trip where you’ll be able to experience these 30 m high frozen falls and see the canyon in a whole new way.

Johnston Canyon
Summer at Johnston Canyon

Visiting in the warmer months means you’ll be able to hike through the canyon, experience the rope bridges and get right up close to the waterfalls.

A truly breathtaking spot, and one you could spend all day. But with only 3 days in Banff you’ll be keen to check out more.

While the mountains are what draw visitors to this part of Canada, the Lakes are equally as spectacular and there are a few not to be missed while staying in Banff.

Along the TransCanada Highway is where you’ll find Two Jack Lake, the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic and a hike.

The 3.2 km loop trail is well marked and will give you access to the beautiful lake and also connects to a campground.

Vermillion Lakes is located just west of Banff and is the perfect place for a paddle.

At the base of the incredible Mount Rundle, Vermillion Lakes is great for renting canoes and soaking in the views from the boat.

READ MORE: Check out this guide to the best hikes in Banff

Or make your way out here in the depths of winter as it’s a great spot to catch the Northern Lights.

One of the most famous lakes in the area lies just to the East and you’ve probably seen it on any number of postcards.

Lake Minnewanka is glacially fed which gives it that stunning turquoise colour.

At 21km long, this lake is one of the largest in the Rockies and perfect for any number of activities.

 If you fancy a boat cruise, you can book in for a boat trip, where you’ll be able to experience the area from the water while looking up at the mountains.

Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka

In the winter there are cross country ski and snowshoe trails set up across the lake.

The hiking trails in the area are also worth checking out. Specifically the Devils Gap trail which takes you up above Lake Minnewanka for some stunning views.

After a day of exploring the best way to end, it is with a dip at the Banff Hot Springs.

Soak in the gorgeous thermal pools while looking out over the mountains, and don’t let a little cold weather or snow scare you off either.

This is the perfect spot to watch the snowfall. For more information and rates visit the website.

For a perfect cap to the second of your 3 Days in Banff itinerary head to the Fairmont Banff Springs for a meal in one of their many restaurants or a drink in the car.

Looking like a castle and with some of the best views of the mountains it’s a must-visit location even if staying there is out of your budget. 

BanffFairmont
Views from the patio at the Fairmont Banff Springs

Day 3 – The Banff Gondola and Exploring Town

The last of your 3 Days in Banff itinerary has arrived, but never fear you’ll be in for an incredible day in the mountains to finish things off. 

Grab a hearty breakfast at Coyotes Southwestern Grill before kicking off a magical mountain adventure.

Explore Town

While the town of Banff is not massive it does have tons to be explored, and one of the best ways to do that is by renting a bike and touring Downtown Banff.

A list of trails surrounding the town can also be found here but the downtown area has well-marked cycle paths perfect for a first-timer.

If you’re on foot stop into Wildflower Bakery for a coffee to wake you up and head down to the Bow River Trail for your first bit of exploring.

The paved trail runs parallel to the Bow River and is really just the perfect place for a stroll,  to sit out and enjoy the view, or go for a run.

Wander through the beautiful parks and eventually, you’ll come to the Banff Park Museum.

This lovely little museum is housed in a historic log manor from 1903 and you’ll be able to find out all sorts of fun facts about the town of Banff and what it has seen over the years.

It’s also a really cool place to see some incredible artifacts and a massive collection of wildlife specimens from the Rockies.

Mountain rising over Banff town
Downtown Banff. Those views are next level!

Not too far off from here, you’ll also find the Whyte Museum of the Candian Rockies.

This museum offers visitors a chance to dive deep into the culture of the Rockies as well as gain a better understanding of the first people who settled here.

Exhibits here change often but the permanent collection includes items from Banff’s history with sports, skiing and the great outdoors.

 To keep with the museum theme the Buffalo Nations Museum is a great opportunity to learn more about the indigenous peoples of Canada and what they have brought to not only the town but the surrounding provinces.

One of the best ways to spend 3 days in Banff is heading out to Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

The thermal waters that surround this area have been quite a significant aspect of Banff history since 1883 when they were discovered by railway workers.

There are daily tours offered which allow visitors to experience the area and get up close and personal with the incredible bubbling waters.

There are also lantern tours offered from May-August to see the caves by a lantern which is really special. 

To cap off the first day of your itinerary for 3 days in Banff you’ll be hoping for a clear night. Why you might ask? Well, a clear night is the best way to experience a dark sky preserve.

Bundle up and head out to Stargaze in Banff on any bench downtown. But if you want the perfect spot it needs to be free from any lights from cars or lampposts.

Driving a little way out of town can help with this, or heading to the Bow Valley parking lot even. You’ll likely never have seen stars so bright until you see them in Banff.

Banff Gondola & Hikes

For some great views and fun hikes, you don’t need to embark on a 7-hour journey to see it.

One of the best ways to spend 3 days in Banff is by searching out the best views and the best hikes.

But you really don’t need to go far to find those things.

Bow Valley Falls is located fairly close to the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs and can be accessed from town on foot fairly easily.

While these falls are not the highest in the area they produce a huge volume of water which is so cool to see.

There is a trail here that takes you up above the falls, however, this is closed in the winter but the viewpoint is still open.

Bow Falls
Bow Falls

No itinerary for 3 days in Banff could be complete without seeing one of the best views of the town so be sure to head up Tunnel Mountain.

Easily reached from town you can access the trailhead from Tunnel Mountain road and up you go, 2.5 km to the summit.

You’ll be able to see all of Banff from above and the turquoise lakes and rivers running through the center.

On your way back through town grab some lunch to go from Laggan’s Deli and head out for a hike.

North of Banff between Norquay and Banks head is Cascade Mountain, one of the most visited trails in the area.

Alternating scrambles and switchbacks will definitely make you sweat but the views along the way will be more than worth the effort. This trail is not ideal for winter visitors, so if your trip takes you out in the winter months opt for Rawson Lake.

Surrounded by incredible peaks you can hike this trail with or without snowshoes and you’ll find the most stunning panoramic views from the top.

As you head back from your afternoon of hiking make sure you stop in at the Banff Gondola.

Banff Gondola
View from the Banff Gondola

At the summit of Sulphur Mountain, the entire Rocky Mountain range will be on display for you to admire.

Enjoy the cable car ride up through the trees and snap dozens or hundreds of shots from the observation deck as the sun sets over the mountains.

Enjoy a drink at the onsite Sky Bistro or stay and have dinner. For more details click here.

To cap off your amazing 3 days in Banff, head to Park Distillery.

Using the freshest and purest waters in Canada, taste your way through their selection of whiskeys, gins and vodkas to find your favourite for a nightcap.

READ MORE: Be sure to add these other great things to do in Banff to your itinerary.

Banff Travel Guide

Now that you know what to do in Banff here is some information that will help you know the best time to visit, how to get around, where to stay and what to eat when you visit.

When to Visit Banff

When it comes to planning your 3 days in Banff itinerary one thing you’ll want to know is when the best time to visit will be.

The answer to this really depends on what sort of activities you are hoping to do here.

If you’re after a winter wonderland trip full of skating, skiing, hot tubs and snowy views you’ll want to visit Banff in the winter.

From December until March you’ll find Banff covered in a blanket of pristine sparkly snow, but also may experience extremely cold temperatures.

If you’re hoping for sunny skies and warm afternoons for hiking, canoeing and swimming May through September are the perfect months for your adventure.

The weather in the Rockies can be slightly temperamental so don’t rely on the forecast for your trip, it likely will change.

If over breakfast the snow is dumping down, you could experience sunny blue skies by lunchtime.

Or if you’re out hiking in the warm weather, by the time you summit, the temperatures could drop drastically.

So it is always best to be prepared by layering up.

Getting Around Banff

The town of Banff is perfect for walking or cycling. If you base yourself within the town center you’ll never be more than a few minutes from the shops, restaurants and beautiful parks.

If you are looking to get out a bit further or have limited mobility there is a public transit system called Roam. You can find all the details on routes and schedules here.

 If you are arriving into the Rockies on a flight, you’ll likely fly into Calgary, and from there you’ll be able to get a coach or private transfer from the airport right to Banff town center.

However, the easiest option on how to tour Banff in 3 days will definitely be by car.

If you are arriving into Banff by train there are several car rental companies in town to check out.

Additionally, there are dozens of car rental opportunities from the airport.

If you are visiting in the winter be sure to choose a rental vehicle that is equipped with winter tires especially if you plan to do any backcountry hiking where the roads may not be cleared. 

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of cars for the best value on the market.

Where to Stay in Banff

Exploring Banff in 3 days you’ll surely be spending every day on your feet. This means when it comes to choosing somewhere to rest up for the next day you’ll want to make sure you’ve made the right choice.

From cabins tucked away in the woods, to central hotels with beautiful mountain views, Banff has it all.

You’ll find beautiful resorts with incredible amenities like spas and heated outdoor pools, and budget-friendly social hostels perfect for meeting new adventure buddies.

The town of Banff may not be huge but it definitely does not lack accommodation options for every budget on any style of trip.

Accommodations In Banff

The Best Hostel in Banff – Samesun Hostel

If you’re looking for the best hostel that’s central to town, while having an epic party atmosphere, this is the spot for you.

The Samesun Hostel is part of the great chain found all over the country, and you need to do yourself a favour and stay in at least one during your trip here.

In Banff they have a great social area both indoors and outdoors, a kitchen, cozy rooms and storage for skis and snowboard gear.

Best Budget Accommodation for Couples – Banff Rocky Mountain Resort

If you’re on a romantic getaway Banff Rocky Mountain Resort is the perfect place for relaxation.

With a cozy laid back cabin vibe, there is also a lovely restaurant on-site and outdoor hot tubs to watch the stars with your partner after a day of exploring.

Best Mid-Range Hotel in Banff – Fox Hotel & Suites

Less than a 10-minute walk from the town centre, The Fox Hotel is in the best location.

Keeping with the mountain vibe with the decor in every room and the common areas, this hotel will keep your mountain-loving holiday going strong even as you sleep.

Best Luxury Hotel in Banff – Fairmont Banff Springs

If you want to experience staying in a Canadian Castle, look no further than the Fairmont Banff Springs. Upscale rooms with personal jacuzzis,  incredible dining options and the most beautiful mountain views from everywhere.

This is the quintessential fairytale location for your 3 day Banff itinerary.

Best Restaurants In Banff

While the town of Banff might be small, there is nothing small about the food and drink choices here. A melting pot of cultures and cuisines for every visitor with any budget.

Budget – Bear Street Tavern

In the center of town, you’ll find Bear Street Tavern.  Amazing pizzas, salads and quality pub food with a great beer menu to match.

Plus they have an awesome patio, perfect for summer.

Mid-Range – The Grizzly House

The Grizzly House is a landmark in Banff and the best fondue restaurant in the Rockies. Plus they keep things interesting with things like alligator and rattlesnake on the menu.

Be brave or enjoy a classic, it’s all fantastic!

High-End – The Bison Restaurant

Whether you’re visiting The Bison Restaurant in the summer for their patio or winter for a cozy post-ski meal, the whole menu is delicious.

A farm to table approach with locally sourced and seasonal creations perfect for any meal.

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About the author

Laura Oxley

Hi, I'm Laura Oxley of She Who Wanders, a Canadian content creator who is the resident Canada travel expert at NOMADasaurus, along with tonnes of incredible experience with exploring Australia. My travel experiences have taken me to the volcanoes of Central America, the waterfalls of Hawaii, the castles of England, the beaches of Australia and Middle Earth to name a few. In addition to writing for NOMADasaurus, my work can be found published on Contiki, Women Who Explore, Penguin & Pia and Buzzfeed.

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