Banff is arguably one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. As a Canadian, I was shocked that we had such beauty and nature in my own home country. I had always prioritized visiting other countries before exploring Canada. I am so happy to have finally visited Alberta (and a little bit of B.C) and I can’t wait to return!
Here is our 5 day itinerary for Banff and surrounding areas. We packed in as much as possible for our short stay. If you love nature and difficult hikes mixed with easy ones, you will love this itinerary.
We had originally planned for more difficult hikes. My sister ended up having an accident on our first day which resulted in a quick trip to the ER for 6 stitches in her ankle. Lesson learned from that hike: always be prepared with a first aid kit! Luckily she was able to hobble 6.5km back down the mountain following the accident with the help of some duct tape, T-shirt tourniquet and gauze we borrowed from strangers. We had to alter our itinerary so that my sister could complete the hikes. As a result, this itinerary is well-suited for just about anybody!
Day 1: Morraine Lake, Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass Hike
We were very excited for our first day in Banff and Morraine Lake was first on our list! The beautiful turquoise lake and surrounding mountains were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Definitely a great way to start the trip!
When visiting Morraine Lake, you must get up early if you want a parking spot. If you don’t, you’ll have to hike approx 2 hrs to the Lake. We stayed in Banff and woke up at 4:30am to leave the hotel by 5am and drive 1hr to Morraine Lake to arrive by 6am. It is well worth it. The sunrise is absolutely unreal. We climbed up the “rock pile” from the parking lot to have views of the incredible turquoise lake while finishing our coffee and breakfast.
From there, you can complete some hiking in the area, or rent a canoe by the lake for approx $80/hr. The canoe rental opens at 9am. We decided on hiking Larch Valley trail which connects with the Sentinal Pass trail.
It is approx 13km out and back, difficult hike with some switch backs at the start and finishing with a hike across the snow covered sentinel pass. They say the more difficult the climb, the better the view and truer words have never been spoken!
Hiking up Larch Valley trail offers spectacular views of surrounding mountains and valleys. Wildflowers were abundant and it felt like being in a fairy tale.
Sentinel pass was absolutely stunning and picturesque. Crossing the pass through a snow covered section was a bit daunting. I recommend trail shoes or hiking boots and poles if you have them. From the pass, you continue up to the height of the trail which has beautiful views of the pass, valley, and mountains and is a great place to stop for food and pictures.
The way back down is very steep so save some energy left in your legs. My sister had an accident crossing down from the snow covered section of the pass. It happened very quickly where she jumped from the snow covered patch over to the uncovered rocky trail, and her foot somehow managed to get stuck in between ice and rock. At first glance, I thought she had busted her Achilles tendon and would need to be transported off the mountain. Looking more closely, we saw it was actually just a really, really bad cut that would definitely require stiches. We did not pack a first aid kit, I had only packed band aids which was, looking back, very foolish. Luckily we met up with some prepared hikers who had supplies and I was able to use my nursing skills to bandage her ankle so she could make it back down.
Moral of story: be careful hiking as freak accidents can occur and always bring a first aid kit. Also bring bear spray because you just never know!
After making it down the pass, we drove to Banff E.R which was probably the cutest and quietest hospital ever. My sister got 6 stiches in her ankle after waiting 10 min in the ER.
After a long day we went for a relaxing dinner at Pacini on the Banff strip. The food was so-so, service was great and nice space. It was an eventful way to start the trip!
Day 2: Kananaskis Country, Canmore, Banff Gondola
With my sister’s injury, we decided to do a less physically active day, but it was just as jam-packed as ever! We decided on the Wildlife Drive through Kananaskis Country. It is mostly a heavy gravel road so be prepared to have a semi-decent car and driving skills. Along the way you can stop for hikes, picnics, and pictures of the stunning landscape of valleys, lakes and mountains. Bear, elk and mountain goat sightings are frequent in the area. We saw elk and a coyote during our drive. The drive takes you from highway 742 to highway 40 on the return. There is no cell phone reception so make sure to keep that in mind and also have a full tank of gas!
Kananaskis drive is accessed from Canmore which we also incorporated into our day trip. After the drive, we visited the cute town of Canmore for a coffee and lunch break. We did an easy 1km walk on a boardwalk near the police station called “the Policeman Trail” which was quaint and easy for families.
After visiting Canmore, we drove back to Banff to the Gondola. The gondola costs $77 for non-Alberta residents so keep that in mind as the price is quite steep. The ride up offers stunning views of Banff and surrounding areas. At the top you can hike to Sulfur mountain peak for even better views. We also spotted mountain goats munching on mineral rocks at the top of the Gondola.
You can hike approx 5km back down the mountain but keep in mind the Gondola does not offer 1 way rides at this time.
From there we stopped for pho which had some pretty great views from the balcony!
Day 3: Lake Louise, Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike
Day 3 was my sisters B day so we decided to go to iconic Lake Louise for the day. We arrived fairly early to have parking around 7am. From there we snapped a few pics of the amazing lake and started the hike up to Lake Agnes Teahouse which is considered a “moderate” climb. The hike was approx 5km return with a stop for a tea at the famous tea house by Lake Agnes. It is a very touristy spot but has a beautiful view of the lake a waterfall close by. We did a 1km detour to “Little Beehive” view point which was definitely worth the extra effort. The views were phenomenal of Lake Louise and it was a relaxing, quiet spot to stop for some pictures and a quick snack.
Upon returning to Lake Louise, we stopped at the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for a coffee and lunch. We had the vegan burger which was actually pretty reasonably priced and well worth the views from the patio!
We considered renting a canoe at Lake Louise. The rate is a whopping $125/hr and if it gets too windy they may call canoers back with no refund. Because of the weather we decided not to take the risk.
We returned to Banff and hit up the other Fairmont hotel Banff Springs for my sister’s B day. What an amazing spot to wind down after a long day! The grounds are absolutely breathtaking. Obviously the cocktails are pricey but it was a special night out and money well spent!
Instead of b day cake, we stopped for cotton candy and popcorn at Mary’s popcorn on the way back home
Day 4: Ha Ling Peak
This was probably my favourite hike from the trip. My sister’s ankle had recovered enough to complete the difficult steep hike up to Ha Ling Peak.
Accessing the hike was somewhat confusing. Google maps took us to a residential neighbourhood and we ended up asking friendly neighbours for help. Basically, you take the Kananaskis trail loop start from Canmore Training centre, up the gravel road for about 10min until you hit Goat Creek Trail. It is across from a Canal. Across the road you will see a sign for Ha Ling Peak. It is not well marked but you will see a bunch of cars most likely parked in the lot across the street from the Trail head.
From there, be prepared for a short, very steep climb. It should take approx 2 hrs to complete the ascent. Once you reach the peak, the trail is not maintained and it is mostly loose rock to climb to the top-not for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights! It was seriously scary but so worth the views! Words can’t describe how amazing and high the views are. You feel on top of the world here! Save some energy for the climb down, it is fairly rough on the legs.
From Ha Ling we stopped in Canmore Bakery for a coffee and croissant. My sister was pretty tired so we went back to the hotel to shower and have dinner at Park Distillery. My sister got the “shaft” on tap, which is apparently a Banff specialty drink consisting of beer, vodka, chocolate milk (or almond milk) and cold brew. Apparently, delicious! Wish the same could be said about the food which was nothing special but still a nice environment and great service.
Day 5: Yoho National Park
We hopped over the B.C on our last day in the Banff area. This was one of the trip highlights! I definitely recommend checking out the beauty of Yoho National Park. It is much less touristy and within a 1.5 hr drive from Banff, close to Lake Louise.
We started with a coffee at Trail head café on the way up. From there, we entered the Park to see the Spiral Tunnels (nothing spectacular but neat seeing the trains if you arrive at the right time.) We then went to the Natural bridge which was pretty and family friendly stop off the highway, followed by a stop at Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake is arguably as nice as Lake Louise and much less touristy. Canoe rentals at $80/hr here and there is a 5km easy, scenic hike around the lake. The lake literally sparkles like emeralds! Very nice place to stop for lunch.
From Emerald lakes we stopped at Wapta Falls which is an approx 5km out and back easy hike suitable for kids and families. The trail can get muddy and have mosquitoes so prepare accordingly. Definitely check out the base of the falls and you are in for a real treat! The power of the falls is breathtaking!
From there we stopped at the super quaint town of Field for an ice cream cone at Truffle Pigs Inn. Best ice cream ever! We watched the train cut through the town and enjoyed our ice cream from a swing. Life is good!
Our final stop was at Takkakaw Falls, the second highest waterfall in Canada! The drive up to the falls is steep at points so just follow the signs and speed limits and drive carefully. Reaching the falls is easy and you are in for some amazing views!
We drove back to Banff and ate Indian food for our last meal.
We were sad to leave the beauty of Banff and return home and I can’t wait to come back. I hope you like this itinerary. If you are active and looking for a mix of fun, adventure and relaxation, I think this is the perfect itinerary as you see many highlights in and around Banff in a relatively short amount of time. I left wanting to see more, but also with a deep satisfaction and gratitude for all the amazing memories I made during the trip.
Have you been to Banff? What were your highlights? Let me know in the comments below!