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How To Spend 72 Hours in Banff National Park

Published Date
Jun 25, 2019
Hiking in Lake Louise

Banff National Park is both beautiful and vast, home to adventures of every style and skill. Covering 6,641 km2, it is home to two exciting towns, vibrant culture and rich heritage, abundant wildlife species, grandiose mountain vistas, and endless opportunity for adventure. You won’t soon find yourself bored on a trip to Canada’s first national park.

Three days will just scratch the surface of what’s on offer here in Banff and Lake Louise, but you can cover a lot of ground in just 72 hours!

Vermilion LakesVermilion LakesVermilion Lakes

Day One: Banff

Wander on a Morning Walk

Early risers know a different world exists before 9 a.m. Enjoy the quiet golden hours with a refreshing walk to Bow Falls or the Fenland Loop. Want to sweat it out first thing? Summiting Tunnel Mountain is a quick and easy way to elevate your heart rate. For other great hike ideas, check out the Locals’ Favourite Hikes in Banff National Park.

Fuel up for Adventure

After working up your appetite, downtown Banff hosts several restaurants serving up hearty breakfast fare. Check out The Maple Leaf in downtown Banff for an authentic Canadian brunch experience. The Juniper Bistro is a bit off the beaten path, but worth the extra leg (or bike) work to enjoy their locally-inspired Canadian cuisine.

Insider Tip: Rent a bike at the beginning of the day to make your way around Banff. Most locations are walkable, but a bike will speed up the journey.

Discover Local Culture & History

Learning about the history, culture, and geography of Banff National Park will make your discovery of the area all-the-more enriched. The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies offers both contemporary and historical snapshots of the people and events that shape Banff. Afterwards, head over the Bow River to the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum to immerse yourself in the heritage of the First Nations People of the Northern Plains and Canadian Rockies.

Wade Through the Midday Waters

By the time the sun of early afternoon hits, Banff’s nearby lakes and river are the perfect treat to beat the heat. Rent an inflatable stand-up paddleboard from the SkiBig3 Adventure Hub on Banff Avenue. Or, hop on over to the Banff Canoe Club and paddle up the Bow River. Pack a lunch for the perfect mid-lake picnic.

Spike Your Afternoon Adrenaline

After a leisurely start to the day, it’s time to kick things up a notch. Adventure awaits those who seek it, and can range from a boat tour on Lake Minnewanka, a horse ride from the historic Warner’s Stables, mountain biking any of the nearby trails, or dig even deeper with raft tours and caving adventures.

Indulge in a Mountaintop Dinner

With that much action packed in a day, a fine dining experience to delight the senses is the perfect way to wind down. Take it to the mountaintop with the Banff Gondola’s Sky Bistro on Sulphur Mountain. This is the perfect time of day to take in the sights below, as the sun slowly fades across the valley. For more culinary inspiration, check out 7 Scenic Restaurants in Banff National Park.

Day Two: Banff to Columbia Icefield

Columbia Icefield SkywalkColumbia Icefield SkywalkColumbia Icefield Skywalk

Take a Drive on the Wild Side

The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the world. The best way to explore this breathtaking region is on a guided tour with Discover Banff Tours or Brewster Sightseeing. With natural wonders like Crowfoot Glacier, Athabasca Icefields, Bow Lake, Mistaya Canyon, and Parker Ridge, you’ll find this pace a lovely complement to the bustle of Banff.

Walk Amongst Glacial Giants

No visit along the Icefields Parkway would be complete without taking part in the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure. From the foot of Athabasca Glacier, embark on a massive Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle to a 10,000 year old sheet of glacial ice. Afterward, a visit to the glass-floored Glacier Skywalk will have you seemingly suspended 280 meters above the Sunwapta Valley below.

Day Three: Lake Louise

Moraine LakeMoraine LakeMoraine Lake

Fuel up Before Your Visit!

Several locales in the area wake up with the sun to suit your alpine adventures. Poppy Brasserie is a casual French-Canadian spot serving locally sourced entrees and breakfast buffet starting at 6 a.m. Or grab breakfast to go starting at 7 a.m. from Laggan’s bakery or Trailhead Cafe in the village.

Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

With two picturesque mountain lakes located within minutes of Lake Louise village, this area is one of the most highly visited destinations in the Canadian Rockies. Did you know that during peak summer periods the wait time for shuttles to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake can be up to 2 hours? The local's will tell you that the quickest way to travel to Lake Louise is to take transit directly from Banff. Skip the queue, get dropped off right at the lakeshore, and spend more time exploring!

Hike to an Historic Tea House

Hiking to Lake Agnes Tea House and Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House are authentic experiences not be missed, accessed via Lake Louise shoreline trail. The former is shorter with more elevation gain, while the latter covers more low-elevation distance. Remember to bring some cash with you - their tea and baked goods taste delicious in the alpine. For more on hiking to the tea houses, including detailed trail descriptions, check out Tea House Hikes in Banff National Park.

Ride the Lake Louise Summer Gondola

When the ski hill sheds its winter coat, it comes alive with summer wildlife. The Lake Louise Summer Gondola is the ideal basecamp to explore the area with a free shuttle from Lake Louise and plenty of parking. The interpretive centre is a great opportunity to learn more about the local wildlife and with the grassy slopes being prime grizzly bear habitat, there’s a high chance to safely spot one in person.

Tera Swanson

Tera Swanson

Tera is a freelance writer and graduate from Mount Royal University’s Journalism undergraduate program. Whether laced into hiking boots or clipped into skis, her favourite way to explore the mountains is on her own two feet. She’s always up for anything that will end in the telling of a good story; be it through photography, from pen to paper, or over a locally brewed amber ale.