Wilderness wonderland. Culinary hotspot. Adventure lover playground. Canada’s oldest National Park is its most popular. With 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles) of protected Canadian Rockies, deciding what to do in Banff can be a challenge. From our decades of hiking, cycling and exploring, comes our 3 day Banff itinerary.
With pristine wilderness delivering astonishing vistas at every turn, the UNESCO World Heritage site is a world renowned destination. With over 4 million visitors per year, Banff hotels can book quickly.
According to Banff Lake Louise Tourism, occupancy in 2021 from January to May is at about 24% vs. 40% in 2020 and in the 65% range in 2019. Still we suggest planning well in advance as tourism in this mountain paradise recovers.
Planning an itinerary for Banff, mixing scheduled activities with free time in the land of mountains, glaciers, valleys and forests is our suggestion.
Before making plans for your Banff itinerary or things to do in Banff National Park, consult travel information and advisories provided by Banff Lake Louise Tourism. For a full planning guide click here.
Banff Itinerary – What to do in Banff in 3 days
History of Banff National Park
In 1883, a trio of railway workers from the Canadian Pacific Railway, happened upon a thermal hot spring. Imagining the potential profit of bringing tourists via the railway, thus began their development of the Banff cave and thermal waters.
Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, held a very different vision. After conflict arose over claims to the Banff Cave and Basin, he created a 26 square kilometer (10 square mile) reserve.
This would be the beginning of Canada’s National Park system. The hot pools and surrounding land would be protected as Canada’s first national park.
Banff National Park is Canada’s most popular. The best way to experience Banff is to park your vehicle. Then using the over 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) of trails, explore by foot, bicycle, horseback and public transit.
Day 1 – Banff Trip Itinerary
Park for free at the Banff Train Station
Open from 6am to 11pm daily, over 500 free parking stalls are available to start your 3 days in Banff. Motorhomes and RV spaces are provided. There is a 9 hour time limit per day for parking.
The Train Station parking is at 327 Railway Avenue. Take the Norquay Road exit into Banff and turn left on Railway Avenue.
For information on the options for public transit available to explore Banff National Park click here.
E-Bike and hike Johnston Canyon – White Mountain Adventures
Walk from the parking lot to the White Mountain Adventures office at 202 Bear Street. At a comfortable pace this should take no more than 10 minutes.
No time to read further? Click on our video below to see one of our top suggestions of what to do in Banff.
I love cycling and I despise cycling. Red-faced and gasping on my regular bike, I have pedaled up seemingly never ending hills.
The beauty of Johnston Canyon, one of Banff National Park’s most popular destinations, is undeniable. We have cycled the closed-to-traffic Bow Valley Parkway frequently. The sweat dripping in my eyes often obscuring the gorgeous waterfalls.
The day of our e-bike tour with White Mountain Adventures I feel as though a new world opens before me.
Shuttling by van to Johnston Canyon, I fret about the e-bike. Will I be able to control it? Will the e-bike be too heavy?
After our guided hike through the magnificent canyon, the e-bike instruction and practice in the parking lot begins. My anxiety soon turns to confidence and we are easily pedaling uphill.
The grin never leaves my face. A whole new world of cycling possibility is opening up on this Banff itinerary.
White Mountain Adventures offers other e-bike tours as well as hiking, heli-hiking and ATV assisted hikes.
Lunch at Three Bears Brewery
Once the e-bike tour is complete, walk across the street to Three Bears Brewery. The design leaves one feeling as though the outdoors has come inside.
On the second floor, the open ceiling and patio overlooking the new pedestrian area of Bear Street, gives an outdoorsy mountain feel. That and the 25 foot pine tree in the restaurant.
No ordinary pub food here. My pick is the tomato and whipped feta salad and of course one of the craft beers made in house.
Check into the Dorothy Motel
Banff’s first boutique motel nestles against the forest with stunning Cascade Mountain as a backdrop. Inspired by strong women from the Banff area, who made the backcountry their home, the Dorothy Motel is accommodation made simple for other explorers.
For your time in Banff, the Dorothy offers a mini-fridge, microwave, in-room safe, air conditioning, WIFI, bike storage and a bike repair station.
We found the rooms to be immaculately clean and completely renovated. The location is quiet, due to being at the far end of Banff Avenue. It is about a 20 minute walk to downtown Banff or a 5 minute bike ride. A ROAM bus stop is also nearby.
If you choose to cycle downtown, a free bike valet service is open from 10:30an to 7:30pm 7 days a week, near the visitor centre building.
Please note that the check in process for the motel is at the Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa at 521 Banff Avenue. There are no staff or front desk services on site at the Dorothy Motel.
Dinner at Shoku Izakaya
This Japanese pub/tavern concept restaurant opened in 2021. The Shoku Izakaya is quickly gaining popularity in Banff. When planning your Banff National Park itinerary we suggest this scrumptious stop.
It’s not often we splurge on cocktails, however our Mango Togarashi Mojito and Nigori Colada left us feeling transported to Japan, or possibly the Caribbean.
Asian influenced dishes from grilled meat and fish to vegan rolls, fill the mouth-watering menu.
The restaurant does not take reservations and thus, due to the stream of patrons we saw coming on a Monday night, we suggest you arrive early for dinner.
Day 2 Banff National Park Itinerary
Breakfast and lunch to go at The Uprising Bake Shop and Espresso Bar
Tantalizing aromas of freshly baked bread draw us nose first through the door. A chocolate croissant for breakfast? Seems like a brilliant idea.
Should you want something more substantial, The Uprising, in the heart of Banff, has several options.
With 20 years of bakery experience, owner Patrik Beil’s passion for freshness ensures every item is 100% made from scratch. Every baked good is made each morning in a traditional bake shop style.
The European style pastries are hard to resist, which I could not. Freshly made breakfast bagels, open-faced sourdough sandwiches and lunches-to-go are available.
Grab a barista made latte or cappuccino with your lunch and head to the next stop on your Banff travel itinerary.
Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata
No time to read on? Click on our video below to see one of our top picks of things to do in Banff in summer.
Italian for iron road, Via Ferratas are protected mountain routes equipped with fixed cables, rungs or ladders and bridges. Today more than one thousand exist worldwide, with the majority being in Europe.
Just outside of Banff, Alberta, Mt. Norquay provides six breathtaking Via Ferrata routes to choose from.
This being our fifth time on the Banff adventure, it is our personal choice of the best of the Banff activities summer has to offer.
The origin of the Via Ferrata rests in finding ways for inexperienced climbers to safely navigate a mountain and are most commonly associated with the First World War. Several Via Ferratas were built in the Italian Dolomites to aid in the safe movement of troops across mountain passes.
By placing steel steps, long handles referred to as towel racks, ladder rungs and the cable in the rock, climbers can securely traverse a mountain route. No previous climbing experience is required and a mountain guide is always present.
To book your own Via Ferrata adventure at Mt. Norquay click here.
Dinner at Maclab Bistro
With the largest patio in the Bow Valley, Maclab Bistro is one of Banff’s hidden gems. Located at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the views overlooking the town of Banff are spectacular.
If you prefer to dine in Banff downtown, The Radiant with its founding principles of beauty, indulgence, inclusivity and arts and culture, is a new and unique addition to the dining and entertainment scene on Banff Avenue.
Day 3 Banff itinerary – Options
After the e-bike tour to Johnston Canyon and the Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay, you may decide that what to see in Banff includes a patio and a beverage to relax. Fair enough.
For those looking for more Banff sightseeing or adventure options on their Banff itinerary, here are some choices.
Explore Banff National Park on Horseback – Banff Trail Riders
From 1 hour to multi-day experiences, Banff Trail Riders offer off the beaten path access to some of Canada’s most beautiful scenery. The horseback trails follow some of the same historic routes that the original explorers of the Canadian Rockies created in the 1920’s.
Lake Minnewaska Cruise
Archaeological evidence of stone tools suggests the original shores of Alberta’s Lake Minnewanka, served as camping and hunting grounds for as long as 10,000 years. The Stoney Nakoda people named the glacial lake Minn-waki or Lake of the Spirits.
A Lake Minnewanka boat tour is an easy way to experience the beauty of the surrounding mountains while learning about the history and geology of the area.
For more than a century, the Lake Minnewanka boat tours have given visitors some of the most extraordinary views of Canada’s first National Park.
Open Top Tour of Banff National Park
One of the newest possibilities on a Banff itinerary, is a ride in a 1930’s feel vintage inspired, open top coach. With a guide in period costume and the modern convenience of USB charging ports for your phone, it is a new versus old twist in Banff tours.
All you need to do is sit back and relax, enjoy the glorious scenery and listen to the fascinating stories of the Open Top Tour.
Add Lake Louise and Moraine Lake to your Banff itinerary
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are two of the most popular destinations within Banff National Park. They are turquoise jewels within the Canadian Rockies.
We have written an article on how to get to Moraine Lake, as the parking lot often fills before sunrise.
The easiest way to guarantee access to both lakes is to book a tour. Discover Banff Tours offers hotel pick up as well private or group tours.
Mountain Park Transportation offers direct shuttle services from the Calgary International Airport, Lake Louise, Banff and Moraine Lake.
For further information on what there is to do in Banff, the Banff Visitor Centre is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm at 224 Banff Avenue.
What is your top pick of things to do in Banff?
Our 3 day Banff itinerary is in partnership with Banff Lake Louise Tourism and our recent visit was hosted. Our gushing opinions and love of Banff National Park are our own.