So you only have 4 days in Banff? Not a problem. Four days is plenty of time to check off some of the major ‘must see’ landmarks in the most beautiful place on earth (totally unbiased opinion here). Here’s our perfect 4 day Banff Itinerary!
4 Day Summer Banff Itinerary
With this 4 day Summer Banff itinerary, you’ll see mountains, glaciers, blue lakes and waterfalls. It assumes you’ll be doing one or two activities per day, and potentially 1 to 2 hikes while you’re here too.
It also assumes you’re mobile and are able to do some level of activity. If you find this itinerary to be too challenging, please contact me and I’ll try to help you sort something more suitable.
This post (for us at least) constitutes a very leisurely itinerary based on travel times, time spent at each location etc., Coming from two seasoned Banff locals, it’s also very realistic.
For those of you that need a little extra in your itinerary, skip to the end for some extra reading!
Day 1 – Around Banff
Breakfast at Tooloulous – This is our favourite place to eat breakfast in Banff. Expect lines out the door when you arrive but believe us, it’s worth the wait. Cajun style food with everything from waffles to eggs Benedict to grits. They also have an incredible selection of hot sauces (some absolutely brutal)!
It’s a great way to start the day, especially if you’ve just flown in the previous evening and are having a slow start.
Drive the Lake Minnewanka Loop – The Minnewanka loop is an absolute must for anyone visiting Banff. It sets the bar for the next few days of adventures and will help you get your bearings. Two Jack and Minnewanka are the main highlights of this loop, and both will absolutely take your breath away.
Lake Minnewanka is a large, man made lake with spectacular views that you can enjoy from the shore or from a boat. The boat cruises are a popular summer activity, especially for small kids. Click here for more info on Minnewanka Boat Cruises. It’s also a great place to catch the Northern Lights if they’re on.
Other notable stops are the Bankhead mining (ghost) town, Cascade Ponds and Johnson Lake, but with so little time, I wouldn’t waste too much time here. For the sake of completeness though, Cascade Ponds is a great picnic spot and Johnson is a great swimming spot.
Depending on how much you ate at Tooloulous, you may or may not already be ready for lunch. Nevertheless, we’ll forge ahead! Here are a few good lunch spots in Banff:
- Our favourite lunch – We love asian food, so our favourite spots to eat in Banff these days are Chaya and Ramen Arashi. Both do excellent Japanese food and both are relatively quick too!
- A Vegetarian/Vegan Lunch – The best vegetarian/vegan food in Banff is easily found at Nourish Bistro. We’re not vegan but often eat here because the food is absolutely spectacular. The Mac and Squeeze (cashew mac and cheese) is one of the best meals you can find in Banff.
- A boozy lunch – Head to the Banff Ave Brew pub under the clock tower. Great food and beer that’s brewed in-house.
- A heavy lunch – If you want a feast, head to the Balkan Greek restaurant and order the Ultimate Greek Feast. Last time we had one between four people and it was still too much food!
- A Canadian lunch – What’s more Canadian than Poutine! Fries, cheese curds and gravy. Super heavy, super filling and super tasty. Try “Banff Poutine”, Banff’s only dedicated poutinerie on Bear St.
After lunch, it’s time to explore downtown Banff. Take a stroll down Banff Avenue, grab a coffee and grab a few souvenirs (shameless plug here for our family gift shop, Cascade Gifts!). It’s also worth going to see the Fairmont Banff Springs, Bow Falls and surprise corner!
Johnston Canyon – Johnston Canyon is one of our most popular waterfall hikes in Banff National Park, just 20 minutes from the town. There are 7 waterfalls in total, meaning you get some serious bang for your buck!
Generally if you only visit the lower falls, the walk will take around an hour round trip, but if you head to the upper falls too, it’s more like 2-3 hours.
The Johnston Canyon hike is a paved walk with a gentle uphill gradient. Suitable for all abilities. Bring crampons or cleats if you visit Johnston Canyon in Winter!
If you get started mid-afternoon (say 2pm), you’ll probably be finished around 5pm. If you’re visiting later in the day, we recommend taking the shuttle bus from town to avoid parking issues.
Sulphur Mountain Gondola and Sky Bistro – We generally think that the Sulphur Mountain Gondola is overpriced, but if you combine it with dinner on top of a mountain it really turns into something spectacular. Head up in the early evening, watch the sun go down over the town and finally, gorge on a fantastic dinner from the Sky Bistro.
If you want to save money on the gondola, you can actually hike up Sulphur Mountain in 1.5 – 2 hours. It’s a great way to work up an appetite!
A busy start to the trip, but let’s keep pushing forward to day two!
Day 2 – Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
Day two of your adventure is going to take you to the most beautiful part of the Rockies and an absolute must on any Banff itinerary; the iconic Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. These are also the busiest places in the Canadian Rockies, and sometimes it really feels like all 4 million annual visitors are there at the same time.
Getting to Moraine Lake
If you’re going to visit Moraine Lake during Summer, there are basically two options.
- Arrive incredibly early to get a parking spot at the Moraine Lake Car Park (before sunrise)
- Book a spot on the Moraine Lake Shuttle Bus (or the Lake Louise Shuttle Bus). This year, 2020, a new system has been introduced. You can only get a ticket for the bus if you book online. I repeat, you cannot just show up! You can book your tickets here once they’re released on April 1.
Read our full guide to planning your visit to Moraine Lake here
Assuming you’re planning to book a bus ticket, I’d recommend booking a morning spot on the bus.
The drive from Banff to Lake Louise takes 45 minutes. Moraine Lake is roughly 20 minutes further. Don’t trust Google map’s insane 2 hours+ travel time estimate to go from Banff to Moraine Lake.
I suggest getting something really simple and fast from Banff before you head out. Tim Hortons is an obvious Canadian obsession that you absolutely should try. The one in Banff opens at 5am, even though Google says 6am. Get your food to go and eat it in the car!
If you can stomach it, I would recommend going to Moraine Lake first. It’s the quietest time of day and the sunrise across the Valley of the Ten Peaks is stunning.
Stay until the sun peaks out from behind the Rockpile and then head down to Lake Louise for a coffee or breakfast.
Most people won’t want to hit Moraine Lake at sunrise, so a more reasonable approach is to book a mid morning bus ticket and then head back down to Lake Louise towards midday.
If you get there bright and early, you might have time to squeeze in a short hike; in which case, why not try one of these 6 incredible hikes in the Moraine Lake area (obviously doing the 9 hour Temple hike is probably not on the table, but there are a couple of short ones that you could easily squeeze in!).
Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – As soon as you’ve had your fill of Moraine Lake, tear yourself away and head down to Lake Louise. Walk around the shore, rent a canoe (check here for the ultimate guide to renting a canoe in the Rockies), soak it all in!
FYI, the crowds at Lake Louise are insane. The later you arrive, the worse they’ll be.
By this point, you should have worked up a bit of an appetite, so it’s time to get fancy at the Fairmont. Afternoon at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is absolutely delightful and feels extremely decadent. Fill your boots with scones, finger sandwiches and a dessert buffet. Oh and a great selection of teas and champagne even! It’s surprisingly filling!
I’m a little embarrassed to say that we actually come here far too frequently and it’s actually one of the few places you can escape the crowds at Lake Louise. We seriously recommend booking ahead though.
Hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse – After lunch, it’s time to walk off that lunch, although you might feel like napping after all that cake.
Fortunately, one of Banff’s best short hikes is just steps from the shores of Lake Louise; the Lake Agnes Teahouse and Big Beehive Hike.
The Lake Agnes Tea House Hike and the Big Beehive hike is one of my absolute favourites. Last year I did it 3 times, because every time a friend visits I feel compelled to share it with them.
The hike to the teahouse takes around an hour, with the big Beehive hike adding 2 more hours to your round trip time (less if you’re fast). You can read more about the Tea house, their operating hours and the hikes here.
Note that the Teahouse hike is extremely busy, the Big Beehive hike beyond is far, far less crowded.
Lake Louise – There are a few amazing options for dinner while you’re still in Lake Louise, so the easiest thing is to eat before you head back to Banff.
Walliser Stube – The Walliser Stube is the absolute height of luxury at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s famous for its Chateau Fondue Experience, which is a cheese and mushroom truffle fondue, followed by a chateaubriand steak course, followed by a Toblerone chocolate fondue for dessert.
We were full before the main course when we visited. The food is unreal, the service is exemplary and you’ll barely be able to waddle back to your car afterwards. It does come with an extremely hefty price tag though!
Deer Lodge’s Fairview Dining Room – Delicious food with a selection of Canadian exotic meats, and a cheaper option than Walliser Stube (not cheap though still). The charcuterie board is unreal, and if gelato is on the menu, be sure to order some!
Day 3 – The Icefields Parkway
Day 3 is a your chance to explore the world famous Icefields Parkway, and head to the Columbia Icefields. Frequently cited as one of the world’s most beautiful drives, you can’t afford to miss out on this incredible road trip.
With only 4 days on this Banff itinerary, you’ll probably be a little restricted to the ‘drive up spots’ along the Parkway, but you might be able to squeeze in a short hike if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. Let’s see how the day shapes up!
P.S there’s a lot of driving today, so make sure you leave town with a full tank of gas.
Top tip: Download the GyPSy app and purchase the “Icefield’s Parkway Tour” route guide for $6.99USD. It’s an audioguide for the drive between Lake Louise and Jasper that gives background to important locations as you pass them (via GPS). Not an ad, but I’ve heard great things from several visitors.
Trailhead Cafe – Day 3 will involve a lot of driving, so I’d suggest getting a good breakfast in. Head to the Trailhead Cafe for breakfast on the go. I love the avocado toast, but there are plenty of other options. Trailhead also makes the best grilled sandwiches in the Canadian Rockies, so be sure to come back for lunch another time.
Drive the Icefields Parkway – The Icefields Parkway is a 181 mile stretch of road between Lake Louise and Jasper, and is technically possible to do in a single day if you drive hard and don’t spend too long in any one place. The round trip journey between Banff and Jasper takes around 7 hours, assuming you didn’t stop at all.
With our limited time, we’ll only cover the first half of the drive to the Athabasca Glacier. This takes around 3 hours from Banff and 2 from Lake Louise.
If you want to explore the entire route then check out our complete guide to the Icefield’s Parkway instead.
Here are the stops I recommend making on the way to the Columbia Icefields:
- Herbert Lake – for beautiful morning reflections
- Bow Lake – (if you have a few hours spare, I definitely recommend the Bow Glacier Falls Hike)
- Peyto Lake – (walk up to the lookout- this will unfortunately be closed in Summer 2020 for renovations) – approx 20 minutes to walk.
- Waterfowl Lakes – a great spot to bring a kayak or paddle board
- Mistaya Canyon – a short walk to a waterfall
If you stop at each of these viewpoints, this will easily take you to until lunch time.
For lunch, I’d recommend bringing a packed lunch or sandwich from Lake Louise Village. You can buy lunch from the Icefields Discovery Centre, but it’s likely to be significantly more expensive.
Now that you’re at the Columbia Icefields, there are a variety of activities you can do:
- Columbia Icefields Glacier Adventure – take a giant bus onto the glacier. Quite expensive and not exactly environmentally friendly, although we’ve heard good things about it. Read our post on how the Columbia Glacier is receding thanks to global warming!
- Icefields Skywalk – a glass bottommed bridge over a valley. Exceptional views but a little on the expensive side. Read our full review here
- Stuttfield Glacier Viewpoint and Tangle Falls – Two viewpoints at the side of the road, just minutes from the icefields.
- Walk up to the Athabasca Glacier – This is our favourite free thing to do at the Icefieldds. Park in the parking lot and walk up the moraine to the toe of the glacier. The best part? It’s free!
- Wilcox Pass Hike – a free hike across from the Athabasca Glacier. Quite short with stunning views. Read more about it here
- Parker Ridge Hike – another short hike with stunning views of the Saskatchewan Glacier (2 hours round trip)
- Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre – Learn more about the history and geology of the Icefields
With so many things to see and do here, it’s easy to spend a good afternoon in the area. You can also continue on all the way to Jasper if you wanted to extend a night.
Another option would be to spend the night in the new Glacier View Lodge at the Icefields Discovery Centre (costs around $1000 per night), instead of driving back the same day.
After this, it’s time to start heading back to Banff. If it’s still early enough, you might even be able to squeeze in a detour to Emerald Lake and Natural Bridge.
Getting back to Banff is going to take up the rest of the day, but keep your eyes peeled for wildlife! Wildlife tends to come out towards dusk, so it’s the perfect time to drive!
If you manage to get back early enough, tonight would be a great opportunity to do something really Canadian and head to Park Distillery on Banff Ave. It’s a campfire inspired menu and their cocktails are fantastic.
Late Dinner options in Banff
Depending on when you get back to Banff, you may have limited options for dinner (if it’s too late). For late night dinner, check out Eddie’s Burger Bar or Aardvarks Pizza and Subs. Both are open late and do takeout.
For our final day in this 4 day Banff itinerary, I would recommend going for a hike in Kananaskis and exploring a little more of the Bow Valley Parkway. You haven’t spent any time there yet, so this’ll give you a chance to see a completely different side to the Rockies.
Canmore – For the best breakfast in Canmore, I recommend heading to the Summit Cafe. They offer reasonably priced, hearty breakfasts with a nice variety of options. My personal favourite is the Huevos Rancheros.
Grab lunch supplies
As today is a hike day, I’d also recommend heading to a grocery store in Canmore to grab a few supplies. You can get everything you need from Save on Foods in Canmore.
Mid morning to afternoon
Time for a hike – There are literally dozens of great hikes in Canmore and Kananaskis, so the hike you choose will depend on your skill level and desired intensity. Read about 12 of the best hikes in Kananaskis for some detailed options.
- Grassi Lakes
- Upper Kananaskis Lakes (around the lake shore)
- Rawson Lake
- Ptarmigan Cirque
Medium hikes (4-6 hours with steep elevation changes)
- Ha Ling
- Lady MacDonald
- Grizzly Peak
- Pocaterra Ridge
Hard Hikes (long hours and steep)
- Smutwood Peak
- Sarrail Ridge
- Mt. Indefatigable
Again, you can read more about most of these hikes here
Depending on the hike you choose, you may have a few hours to spare at the end of your day. If it’s close enough to lunch time, I’d seriously recommend heading to Poutine 514 for an intense calorie injection! It’s our favourite ‘post-hike’ meal.
If you still have plenty of time left in the day and energy, I’d recommend heading to the Canmore Nordic Centre and trying a beginner (or advanced) mountain biking trail.
You could also head back to Banff and check out some of the cultural aspects to Banff, such as the Indian Trading Post, or the Cave and Basin Museum
The Eden Restaurant – For your last dinner in our Banff itinerary, I’d recommend leaving in style and heading to a fancier restaurant. Banff’s fanciest restaurant can be found at the Rimrock Hotel, and is Banff’s only 5 diamond restaurant.
At the Eden, you can do the multi-course taster menu with wine pairings, or you can opt for a simpler 3 course meal. Either way, the food is absolutely spectacular, although quite pricey.
If you’re looking for a budget meal, our absolute favourite is the Old Spaghetti Factory, where you can gorge yourself for around $15. Each meal comes with a soup or salad, unlimited bread, ice cream and tea and coffee. It’s amazing.
Extra reading for “type A travellers”
Although this four day itinerary is quite slow paced, I do realise that some “type A travellers” like to cram as much as possible into each day. Worry not, this sums us up perfectly and I’ve got you covered.
In the summer, Banff gets up to 17 hours during it’s longest days, so fitting 2 or almost 3 of my suggested days into a single day can be possible if you’re up for it.
Aside from the hiking and all the restaurants, I regularly do this with visiting groups. We hit up everything in Banff, everything at Lake Louise and some of the Icefields Parkway in one long, 12-14 hour day. It’s a grind, but it can be done!
You could also try and squeeze in a visit to the gorgeous Jasper National Park or explore the beautiful Yoho National Park, just minutes across the BC border.
If you’re one of those people that needs a bit extra, I’d recommend reading our list of100 things to do in Banff to pad out your itinerary or reach out to me for more advice!
Planning your visit to Banff
Here are a few more resources to help you plan your summer trip to Banff or flesh out your summer Banff itinerary:
- How to pack for the mountains
- 100 things to do in Banff
- The Ultimate guide to hotels in Banff and Canmore
- How to plan your visit to Moraine Lake
- When is the best time to visit Banff National Park?
- 12 Amazing hikes in Kananaskis
- 6 Incredible hikes at Moraine Lake
- The Ultimate Guide to renting a canoe in Banff National Park and Jasper
I tried really hard to make this Banff itinerary as realistic as possible. The reality is that most people only knock out one or two activities per day, and so created this on that basis. The goal of the 4 day Banff itinerary is to give you as much variety as possible, while still seeing the absolute bucketlist items.
Next on the to do list is putting together a 7 day Banff itinerary and 14 day Banff itinerary with more ideas! Get in touch if you need more ideas or check out our list of 100 things to do in Banff and Canmore!