How To Spend Three Days in Banff

Banff is Disneyland for outdoor lovers. While I love to travel, very few places have left me with a true vacation withdrawal (Banff and Switzerland recently). Ever since I returned home from Banff, I have been viewing my photos as well as viewing other’s photos through Instagram. It’s such a magical place and I can’t wait to return.

While we definitely should have stayed at least five days, I did feel like I got to see what I wanted in three days. Here are some tips and tricks for making the most out of your time in a short stay & your plan is to hike.

Get Outside Early

I knew going to Banff in the heart of tourist season (July) would be busy, but it is completely manageable if you get up early. We stayed in the town of Banff and were out the door no later than 6:30-6:45 AM on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, we “slept in” and were out the door by 7:30 AM. It took 1 hour to get to Moraine Lake and 45 minutes to get to Lake Louise, so be sure to know how long it takes you to get to specific destinations from where you are staying. The shuttle buses start at 8:00 AM, therefore to avoid having to use the shuttle, we wanted to make sure we arrived early enough to snag a parking spot. We were successful all three days.

The other beauty of getting out early is you don’t have to deal with the crowds. We noticed the crowds most on Saturday and Sunday when we were coming back down from our hike. However, the morning time we felt we had the trail to ourselves mostly.

3 Days – 3 Hikes

Friday: It took about 45 minutes to get from Moraine Lake to Peyto Lake, but the drive is beautiful.

  • Leave Banff by 6:30 AM
  • Moraine Lake morning view (7:30 AM)
  • Eiffel Lake Hike
  • At an intersection on the way back down, we connected on the Larch Valley trail (perhaps 15 minutes on the trail to the first meadow to get a view)
  • Moraine Lake (lunch view)
  • Peyto Lake Lookout (2:45 PM)
  • Bow Lake Lookout
  • Back to Banff by 5 PM

Larch Valley Meadow

Peyto Lake Overlook – worth the short hike up!

Moraine Lake gets a little brighter in the afternoon

Moraine Lake glows from the Eiffel Lake trail

Views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks from Eiffel Lake

Next time we will canoe!

Saturday: This was a big day of movement. I logged 45,000 steps by the end of the day. 37,000 accounted for the all day hike. I felt like I was able to see most of the area around Lake Louise.

  • Leave Banff by 6:45 AM
  • Lake Louise morning view (7:30 AM)
  • Plain of Six Glaciers Hike, along Lake Louise. Be sure to go all the way to the viewpoint of the glacier!
  • Connect to Big Beehive Trail from Plain of Six Glaciers trail
  • Connect to Devil’s Thumb Trailhead at Big Beehive (see an unmarked trail and a long log to step over)- NOT recommended if you are afraid of heights and very narrow trails
  • Return back down to Lake Louise via Lake Agnes trail from Big Beehive
  • Snack at Lake Louise (because you won’t want to leave!)
  • Back to Banff by 4:00 PM
  • Visit Vermilion Lake for reflection viewpoint around 9:00 PM

Lake Louise

Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Lovely view of Lake Louise and the Fairmont from Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Viewpoint from Devil’s Thumb

Vermilion Lake

Sunday: I couldn’t believe the crowds on this day. By the time we finished hiking at 10:50 AM, all 200 parking spots were full with many cars parking on the side of the road. The waterfalls were so enjoyable in the early morning and we got great pictures without one person nearby! The trail was busy as we were coming down from the Upper Falls.

  • Leave Banff by 7:30 AM
  • Arrive at Johnston Canyon Trailhead
  • Hike to Ink Pots with Stops at Each Waterfall
  • Return to Banff by 11:30 AM
  • Visit the Cave & Basin located in Banff

Lower Falls without the crowds

Beautiful morning stroll

Upper Falls

Ink Pots

Ink Pots with lovely mountain view

Food We Enjoyed

While we only dined out for dinner, we did enjoy a few places!

Park (good “campfire” food & cocktails. We ordered a burger and rotisserie sandwich to split)

The Tavern (we ordered the Hawaiian pizza)

Hiking Food Ideas: While we packed RX bars, lara bars, meat sticks, dried fruit and nuts from home, we used the local grocery store to pack deli meat, baby food pouches (surprisingly refreshing), chopped veggies and cheese.

Where to Stay

We stayed at Banff Ptarmigan Inn. This was a nice hotel with a free breakfast, however it was loud. We had a room with a mountain view, but the room sat right on the main street (Banff Avenue). Between the cars and people coming home from the bars late at night, it made for a difficult night of sleep. Next time, I will look for a hotel or AirBnB off the main street to have a better overall experience.

Other Tips

  1. Buy your park pass online. Click here to purchase. This saves time and you don’t have to worry about how to buy it once you arrive.
  2. Look into what you want to do. Although I was mainly looking to hike, I used this website for ideas.
  3. View what’s happening in the park. Are any trails closed? Any wildlife updates? Click here to view. 
  4. Pack bug spray. I didn’t pack enough in my travel bottle and ran out. I ended up with about 8 mosquito bites.
  5. Need bear mace? We rented one for a day at BackTrax for $10.
  6. For hiking inspiration, I used This website shows pictures of suggested hikes in the area, as well as the elevation gain, distance and level of difficulty.