The Ultimate Banff Itinerary – Four Iconic Parks in Five Days (with Map!)

Two provinces. Three girls. Four parks. Five days. If it sounds like a jigsaw puzzle figuring out this trip itinerary, I can assure you it was. Banff is on almost everyone’s bucket list and you could spend weeks combing through the Canadian Rockies and still not make a dent in all the trails and wonders to uncover. A drive down the Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful scenic byways in the world so don’t rush it if you can help it.

With gorgeous landscapes and limited time, here is how we crammed as many photo stops as possible into one epic long weekend.

Calgary

An easy hub to fly into, I was shocked by how much Calgary felt like Canada’s answer to Denver. Both youthful, modern, hip cities, the farm to table, cowtown vibes were distinctly reminiscent of home. Just like how no one lives in the Mile High for the city itself, Calgary provides easy access to the outdoor recreation ahead. Explore during the day, pick up your rental car and hit the road.

You can either hit the closest attractions, Banff and Lake Louise, first in Alberta or drive as far as you can into BC before turning around. This was our strategy to avoid backtracking as much as possible.

Calgary Hotel Recommendation: The Fairmont Palliser

Jasper National Park

Sunwapta Falls – Jasper National Park (4.5 Hours)

Largely overshadowed by Banff, Jasper is actually the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, meaning it still has plenty of gems of its own. Sunwapta Falls is a pair of twin waterfalls and a quick stop to stretch your legs. If you’re brave, you can get insanely close to the fray or even raft the river.

Athabasca Falls – Jasper National Park (20 Minutes)

Athabasca Falls is the most powerful waterfall in the Canadian Rockies, but personally I preferred climbing on the rocks.

Athabasca Glacier – Jasper National Park (1 Hour)

You can’t leave the area without experiencing the chill of hiking Athabasca Glacier. There’s a glass skywalk to see it from above or you can walk directly on the icy tundra solo or on a guided tour.

Maligne Lake – Jasper National Park (2 Hours)

One of the most photographed spots in the world, a boat ride to Spirit Island in the middle of Maligne Lake is another must-do.

Jasper Hotel Recommendation: Sawridge Inn

Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake – Yoho National Park (4 Hours)

My absolute favorite stop of the trip was our one foray into Yoho, and I wish we had much more time to explore because it absolutely did not do it justice. Emerald Lake is definitely a no-filter necessary kind of place. There’s a trail that circumvents the entire lake and if you plan ahead, you can rent one of the overwater cabins that back right up to the gemstone water.

Yoho Hotel Recommendation: Cathedral Mountain Lodge

Lake Louise (30 Minutes)

You can’t go to Lake Louise and not stop for high tea or a drink at the Fairmont Chateau to take in their famous oversized windows. The palatial estate is definitely fit for royalty. If you’re up for it, there are also a series of hikes to various other tea houses hidden in the hills.

Moraine Lake (20 Minutes)

Personally, I found neighboring Moraine Lake even more impressive. Scramble up the amply named, “Rockpile Trail” to take in the entire vista. Playfully called the “Twenty Dollar View,” the scene was once featured on the back of the Canadian twenty-dollar bill.

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Hotel Recommendation: Moraine Lake Lodge

Banff National Park (45 Minutes)

Mistaya Canyon – Banff National Park (10 Minutes)

Mistaya Canyon is a short stop along the highway that opens up into a cavernous landscape that looks like it’s another world entirely. Hold onto your valuables because the raging waters aren’t kind to anything it swallows up (I witnessed first hand as a man’s cell phone met a tragic end).

Peyto Lake – Banff National Park (30 Minutes)

Peyto Lake is another Banff highlight, the lake a shocking shade of blue. Said to look like a wolf’s head, you can decide for yourself from above at Bow Summit Lookout.

Johnston Canyon Cave – Banff National Park (1 Hour)

For intrepid adventurers, Johnston Canyon Cave is an absolute must that you won’t find on any map. Internet guides will tell you to follow a worn footpath between the Upper and Lower Falls, but they fail to mention all the dead ends thanks to similarly curious treasure hunters. Let’s just say its nickname the “cave that ruins friendships,” is well deserved, so don’t let it get the best of you. There are also guided tours you can take.

It’s two hours back to Calgary so make sure you leave enough time to explore and catch your flight!

Banff Hotel Recommendation: Rimrock Resort

Thinking about visiting Banff in winter? Check out this post for the best things to do.

Don’t want to drive? There are plenty of guided tours you can take.

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Looking for the perfect Banff itinerary and adventure pictures to inspire wanderlust? Hit Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, Jasper National Park, Johnston Canyon Cave, and of course, Banff National Park for lakes, parks, and mountains galore. Enjoy a fun 5 day road trip through the Canadian Rockies for things to do this spring, summer or fall for waterfall, glacier hiking and landscape photography and the great outdoors. #roadtrip #canada #banff #travel #alberta
Looking for the perfect Banff itinerary and adventure pictures to inspire wanderlust? Hit Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, Jasper National Park, Johnston Canyon Cave, and of course, Banff National Park for lakes, parks, and mountains galore. Enjoy a fun 5 day road trip through the Canadian Rockies for things to do this spring, summer or fall for waterfall, glacier hiking and landscape photography and the great outdoors. #roadtrip #canada #banff #travel #alberta
Looking for the perfect Banff itinerary and adventure vacation pictures to inspire trips and travel? Hit Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, Jasper National Park, Johnston Canyon Cave, and Banff National Park for lakes, parks, and mountains. Enjoy a fun 5 day road trip through the Canadian Rockies for things to do this spring, summer or fall for waterfall, glacier hiking and mountain landscape photography, Instagram photoshoots, hikes, and the great outdoors. #roadtrip #canada #banff #travel #alberta


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16 Comments

  1. Ahhh I’m dying to go to Banff – that scenery looks unreal! This looks like a perfect itinerary, it looks like you got to see and experience a lot in 4 days. Definitely saving this for when I go!

  2. I live 8 hours away from this gem and I have never been. So embarrassing! I love the time and effort you put into creating an itinerary for the perfect getaway in Banff. I will be putting it to use soon!

    1. Thanks! We stayed at the Rimrock (splurge) in downtown Banff (there are tons of hotels on the main drag) and the Best Western in Jasper (save). If you want to do it cheaper you could look at Golden or Canmore.

  3. Hiya, this is an amazing itinerary..love the photos! Did you drive to Jasper and back onto banff on the same route?

    We are planning to fly in and out of calgary and do this route with a toddler but in 10 days? Do you think its doable? We are not big hikers, but really interested in nature/ scenery and wildlife(?)

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, it was the same route in and out. I’d say it really depends on your child, but it shouldn’t be a problem. We really didn’t do any hiking on this trip aside from Johnston Canyon (I wish we had time to do more), but most were quick photo stops. 10 days would allow much more time to spend at each stop, albeit winter conditions may be a factor.

    1. It really depends how much driving you want to do each day. Lake Louise / Banff / Yoho are all fairly close to each other (under an hour) with Lake Louise in the center. Canmore is the cheapest mountain town in the area that’s fairly central. It’s Jasper that’s really out there (about 3 hours from the rest). But if you don’t care about hitting that one it’s doable.

  4. You did a crazy amount in just 5 days! And also that Maligne lake picture is a once in a lifetime shot. Its so perfect. I recently came back from Banff and I have to say after reading our post I am definitely needing to go back ASAP. One of my favorite places was the Banff Gondola. Anyway, thanks so much for such a great resource and all these ideas!

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