If you love turquoise waters, breathtaking mountain ranges and enjoying a slower pace of life, you will love exploring Banff National Park. I have been so eager to travel to Banff for as long as I can remember. The mountains, the lakes, the views, it’s probably one of the best spots to vacation in Canada to see the sights and true wonder of the Canadian Rockies. We had been waiting to take this trip for some time – a long postponed honeymoon trip (we’re celebrating 5 years this October!). In anticipation for this long-awaited trip, I read and watched quite a few travel guides (like this one!) to prep. We packed in a great mix of adventure time and down time to make the most of our 5 day trip, so I wanted to share our itinerary and some key places like Lake Louise, Bow Falls, Sulphur Mountain and more, in case it can spark some inspiration for anyone’s upcoming trip to Banff, Canada!
Day One – Fly into Calgary & Explore Banff
We travelled the last week of August/first week of September and it was absolutely beautiful. Sunny weather, cool in the mornings and low 20’s in the afternoon (you know you’re from Canada when you care so much about the weather), it was the perfect time to visit.
We booked an early flight and arrived at Calgary airport for 9:30am so that we could make the most of our first day, then grabbed our rental car and drove about 1 and half hours away to Banff National Park. The drive towards the mountains was absolutely breathtaking. We purchased National Park passes in advance, so we were able to drive right through, which I highly recommend. You can buy them at the gates, but be prepared for long wait lines. If you plan on visiting other parks during your stay, make sure to check the local sites for any permits or passes you will need.
Once we dropped off our bags at the hotel, we headed for brunch at Melissa’s Missteak. It was delicious! Since it was a beautiful morning, we ate on the patio to really take in all the views. Though be warned Google maps has their location in the wrong place. The restaurant is actually right on the main road (which I think makes it that much nicer since the main road is closed to cars in the middle section).
We then checked into the Moose Hotel and Suites and I could not recommend this lodge enough! The rooftop pool-sized hot tubs, fire pit and views, along with it’s close proximity to shops and restaurants, made our trip that much more amazing. It had the perfect mix of cozy cabin vibe meets modern, renovated suites and amenities. A definite must-stay, in my opinion, when you visit.
After we checked in, we decided to venture out to Bow River and rent kayaks. This was the first time really getting to see just how turquoise the waters were – it was truly spectacular. We kayaked down river and took in all the views. The water was super calm and for a beautiful day, was not very crowded, which was great.
We then went to dinner at The Keg in town and did some shopping in the village and made sure to stop at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to grab some Bear Claws!
Day 2 – Lake Minnewanka and Banff Gondola
The next morning we grabbed brunch at The Maple Leaf and headed out to Lake Minnewanka, the largest lake in Banff National Park, for a cruise tour! It was one of the highlights of our trip. The water was stunning and our tour guides were so fun and knowledgable. I enjoy weaving in a historical tour on any trip to learn even more about the place that we’re visiting, we even saw a baby Bald Eagle!
There are plenty of short trails you can do around the lake, along with enjoying a picnic or even renting kayaks and canoes there. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours!
After that we had some downtime enjoying the hot tub at the hotel (we honestly didn’t even go to Banff Springs because we basically had it at the hotel). Then headed to the Banff Gondola. Parking at more popular destinations was definitely a challenge in Banff. We opted to take the free shuttle to the Gondola, which worked out great.
To get the most of the experience at the top of the mountains, we chose the Sky Bistro and Gondola package which included a 3 course meal at the Sky Bistro, where the views were incredible. This was a splurge meal for us, but it’s always nice to pick one super nice restaurant if you can fit it in your budget. With six stunning mountain ranges and the sweep of the Bow Valley and the town of Banff below you, views from the Sulphur Mountain summit were nothing short of breathtaking!
Day 3 – Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon
Lake Louise holds a special place in my heart. It was my grandmother’s favourite spot and when we got there and saw this iconic place, it was a moment I don’t think I will ever forget.
Although, our original plan was to watch the sunrise at Lake Moraine and then go to Lake Louise but we were not able to get a parking spot at Lake Moraine (and we got there around 5am!!). Definitely listen to the locals when they say take the shuttle. Regardless, we got a great spot at Lake Louise, and it was a beautiful moment of our trip. We were able to sit on the dock with front row seats with everyone sitting along the lakefront, cuddled in blankets and quiet. It was a surreal moment to be with so many people, peacefully and quieting enjoying its beauty.
We stopped by a local bakery on the road back and enjoyed it by the river. An unexpected stop on our trip, but beautiful nonetheless!
We then went to Johnston Canyon to hike to waterfalls. It was a well marked path and beautiful views throughout the hike.
That afternoon we booked a horseback riding tour which was a great experience! We travelled up the mountains and down beside the Bow Valley.
For dinner we ate at Pacini at our hotel, which had great comfort food and nice atmosphere. The weather was threatening to rain, so we stayed indoors, but their patio has fireplaces and cozy seating, which would be a great option!
Day 4 – Drive to Kananaskis Nordic Spa
Our last morning in Banff we grabbed coffee at the Whitebark Cafe (really good!) and headed to go check out the Fairmont Banff Springs. Parking and entry was extremely expensive, so we opted to do a quick drive-by and then parked at Bow Falls to walk the trail there. The sparkling turquoise water is there too, and definitely a lovely place to walk and enjoy. On our way back to the hotel I had to stop at the 2-story Christmas Store – definitely recommend if you love Christmas as much as I do!
We then drove to Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, a modern hotel in the middle of the mountains and forests. We enjoyed their Nordic Spa, which is a hydrotherapy cycle spa with a series of hot saltwater and cold plunge pools with three different sauna types. We had mountain views and their were cozy fireplaces nested around the pools to rest and enjoy. It was a great way to end our trip of constant adventures and lots of walking. The eucalyptus steam room and exfoliating station was probably my favourite part – plus the robes were so cozy. We stayed at the resort and enjoyed dinner at the Blacktail Bar.
Day 5 – Pack up and Head Home
The next morning we grabbed a to-go breakfast and coffee at the Market Cafe and headed to the airport. Our flight departed just after lunch and we landed in Toronto around 7pm.
Overall we had an amazing, amazing trip. I feel like there’s so much to do, you really can choose your own adventure. Next time we’re out west (we just came back from a trip from Vancouver and Whistler for my 30th birthday which I will document soon!), I would love to visit Jasper National Park and drive up the highway. Maybe even visit the Dark Sky Conservatory to hopefully (one day) see the Aurora Borealis. In the meantime, I hope this gives you some insight into our trip and things that you may want to add to your list!