There's no doubt that Banff is one of the most magical places on earth. Mountain air so crisp they bottle it and sell it in China. Landscapes so stunning that they're printed on the back on Canadian bank notes. And adventures so epic that tourists flock from around the globe. Banff has got it all!
You could easily spend a few weeks here exploring the wilderness, skiing your heart out, and just living your best life. But if all you've got is the weekend, you'll want to plan your time preciously to make the most of it.
How to get to Banff
The closest major city to Banff National Park is Calgary, Alberta. Rent a car and drive one hour west and you're there! Renting a car is the best way to ensure you have the freedom to get around to wherever you want. I rented a standard size car (Chevy Impala) and had no problem accessing all roads in May. If you have visiting in winter, you may want to rent a 4-wheel-drive to ensure you can drive up snowy mountain roads.
Where to stay in Banff
Because you only have a few precious days to soak it all in, the location of your accommodation is the most important factor of your stay. If you want be close to all the brewpubs, restaurants, shopping, and nightlife of downtown Banff, all whilst being a short drive to ski resorts, lakes, and hiking trails, I highly recommend staying at Banff High Country Inn, which is located two blocks from downtown.
I loved being a stone's throw away from the heart of Banff! The spacious room with its comfy king-size bed felt like heaven after a long day of hiking.
Where to eat in Banff
Banff's dining scene has something to suit every palate! One of my favourite parts of spending my weekend in Banff was exploring the many brewpubs in the area. Of course, don't forget to sample some of the local goodies such as fudge and maple candy.
- Park Distillery- great for pub food and beer
- Banff Ave Brewing Co- also great for pub food and beer
- Ticino- Swiss-Italian cuisine located right beside High Country Inn. Try their cheese fondue!
- Rocky Mountain Flatbread- delicious and affordable flatbread pizzas
- Eddie Burger Bar- they serve an amazing poutine!
- Beavertails- This is a Canadian pastry shaped like a beaver's tail (flatbread) topped with various sweet or savory toppings.
- Good Earth Coffeehouse- amazing baked goods to go with your coffee!
My perfect 3-day itinerary for the perfect Banff weekend
Arrive in Banff and check into High Country Inn. Freshen up and make the 10-minute drive to Vermilion Lakes. Drive along Vermilion Lakes Road, stop and take lots of photos.
Then, head up to the Banff Gondola where you can take in one of the best views of the mountains. On Friday nights, make sure to check out the free stargazing program offered on the observation deck of the building. It's included with your admission!
Take a quick pit stop at Surprise Corner Viewpoint to take a fairy-tale picture with Banff Springs Hotel in the background.
Head back into town and have dinner at one of the many options available downtown.
Have breakfast and drive out to Peyto Lake. Make sure to pack lots of snacks or even a lunch because this is going to be a big day! The drive to Peyto Lake takes just over an hour from High Country Inn (downtown Banff). Peyto Lake is located at the end of the Bow Summit hike. Wear comfortable walking shoes, because there may be snow even in late May. The hike takes about 20 minutes one-way.
From Peyto Lake, drive to Lake Louise (30 minute drive). If the lake is not frozen, rent a canoe for an hour and enjoy the view from the lake.
Alternatively, do the Lake Agnes Teahouse hike which will take you out to the beautiful waterfall flowing out of Lake Agnes just below a historic teahouse. Stop and enjoy a piece of their famous pie. The hike is 6.8km return, takes about 2-3 hours with moderate difficulty.
Have lunch at one of the restaurants inside Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for lunch with a view.
After lunch, drive from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake is one of the most famous viewpoints of the Canadian Rockies. The view at Valley of the Ten Peaks at Moraine Lake is so picturesque it was featured on the back of the $20 Canadian bank note in the past. Plan to spend at least an hour here to soak in the views and take lots of photos!
Head back to town to freshen up and enjoy dinner. Treat yourself to some cheese fondue at Ticino for all the hiking you did today!
Pack a picnic and drive out to Lake Minnewanka in the morning. Enjoy your picnic whilst soaking in the views of the lake! Although there is no fee to visit the lake, you can choose to choose to rent a motor boat for a fee.
Drive back into town for lunch, and once you are all fuelled up, make the 30-minute drive to Johnston Canyon. There are 2 waterfalls at Johnston Canyon, the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls. The Lower Falls is an easy 1.3km hike, and the Upper Falls is another 1.3km hike from the Lower Falls. To do the full loop, allow yourself about 2 hours to do the hike, including time to stop for photos.
Spend the rest of the day exploring downtown Banff. Sample the local maple candy, fudge, and poutine!
Wind down with a few local beers at a local pub and reminisce on all the amazing memories from the weekend!