Banff National Park is one of the most gorgeous national parks within the Canadian Rockies. Visiting Banff National Park has been high on my “to see” list for years. I finally got an opportunity to spend a weekend in the mountains, and I am forever a changed woman. Between the crisp mountain air, snow-capped mountains, and turquoise-clear lakes, Banff National Park absolutely stole my heart. ?
I’ve put together a guide on how to spend a weekend in Banff, enjoy!
How to Spend a Weekend in Banff National Park
Getting to Banff National Park
The easiest way to get to Banff National Park is by flying into Calgary, Canada. Unless you are with a tour, renting a car is a necessity. From Calgary, the drive into Banff is roughly 1.5 hours.
Where to Stay
I was pleased to find out there are plenty of accommodation choices within the Banff National Park.
- Camping: There are 14 campgrounds to choose from within the park.
- Budget: Banff International Hostel – The hostel is in a great location in Banff’s downtown.
- Cabins: Storm Mountain Lodge – These cabins and lodges are perfect for a cozy mountain getaway!
- Luxury: Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – Splurge and stay at Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies”.
Airbnb is also a great option! For one of the nights during my stay in Banff National Park, I stayed in an Airbnb in Canmore just minutes from the park entrance. The rates were cheaper than within the park, and it wasn’t much of an inconvenience.
What To Do
I spent a long weekend (3 days) during my trip to Banff National Park. Honestly, I struggled with too much to do, and so little time to do it. Trust me, this place is gorgeous and you’ll want to do everything. But here are my top 8 recommendations I would put in the “must do” category. 🙂
FYI: Before hiking any trails, it’s extremely important to first check with the Visitor’s Center. For example, I was hoping to hike to the Plain of 6 Glaciers Teahouse, and as an afterthought I stopped by the Visitor’s Center only to find out the trail was closed due to several avalanches.
1. Downtown Banff
Banff’s downtown is just adorable and the perfect place to start your weekend. This is where you’ll want to be for coffee, restaurants, shopping, and the visitor’s center. There is plenty to see and do, even if just to wander down the streets and gaze up at those gorgeous snow-capped mountains. I would recommend spending at least half a day here to stroll through the many shops, cafés, and restaurants to take in the ambiance.
Two standouts were Evelyn’s Coffee World for coffee and for possibly the best pizza I’ve ever had, The Bear Street Tavern. Even if you don’t order pizza (I went halfsies on a pizza and salad combo) literally everything on the menu is fantastic, you won’t be disappointed. 😉
2. Lake Louise
About a 40-minute drive from downtown, Lake Louise is the show-stealer of Banff National Park. It’s the most photographed lake in the world, and it’s no secret as to why. This place is stunning. Often times, famous locations don’t match the hype, but this place surely does! The only complaint you might have is that it tends to be overrun with tourists because it’s so darn beautiful. Everyone wants a piece of it! There is a pathway around the perimeter of the lake that’s nice for strolling, or you can go kayaking. There are also a number of hikes that start from Lake Louise.
Read more: 8 Tips for Visiting Lake Louise
3. Castle Lookout at Lake Louise
While at Lake Louise, the 1.3km hike (0.8 miles) to castle lookout is definitely worth it. It’s a short hike, but still a bit steep and difficult. From here you can see amazing views of the castle-esque Fairmont Hotel Lake Louise.
4. Castle Mountain
Castle Mountain is located between Banff and Lake Louise. It is a relatively short hike, 3.7km (2.2 miles) one way. However it’s extremely steep, but has the most rewarding views of the Canadian Rockies.
Read more: A Guide to hiking Castle Mountain Lookout
5. Moraine Lake
Lake Moraine is similar to Lake Louise in that it’s also a gorgeous turquoise-blue lake with stunning mountain ranges. Some might like it better as it’s more low-key than Lake Louise, and there tend to be fewer tourists. I loved it so much I actually went back twice; one for sunset and again during the day because I needed moooooore of those beautiful views. There is also an option for kayaking the Moraine Lake or walking around the rim of the lake.
6. Hiking Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is an extremely popular day hike, and is perfect for families of all levels of fitness.
You can hike the trails to Lower Johnston Falls (1.1 km or 0.5 miles) or Upper Johnston Falls (2.6 km or 1.5 miles). There’s also an option to continue on the trail to the Ink Pots which is roughly an additional 3km or 1.8miles. There are also a number of longer hikes that continue on from the upper falls that are suitable for backcountry camping.
7. Gondola Rides
There are two locations to ride gondolas up into the Canadian Rockies:
- Banff Gondola – Banff Gondola is the most popular and is located near the downtown area. At the top you can enjoy spectacular views from a 360-degree rooftop observation deck. There are also cafés and restaurants available for dining.
- Lake Louise Gondola – At the Lake Louise Gondola, the price tag is a bit cheaper, and you’ll see amazing views of Lake Louise and the beautiful Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. There are also dining options at the top.
8. Upper Hot Springs
After hiking, sightseeing, and touring all day, soaking in some natural hot springs might sound like a fantastic idea. For this, head on over to Upper Hot Springs, located near Banff’s downtown.
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What are your favorite things to do in Banff National Park? Love to know in the comments below!