A 2 Day Banff Itinerary That Actually Makes Sense

We hope you’re ready for a packed 48 hours in Banff if you want to see all the highlights quickly. You may get a bit tired from seeing so much beauty, but the good news is that with even with two days in Banff, you can see sights like Moraine Lake, the Icefields Parkway, and Peyto Lake.

You can also enjoy activities like paddling a canoe, riding in a scenic gondola, and climbing a mountain (Banff’s smallest). During this quick trip, you’ll use one of Canada’s most picturesque towns as your base, filled with wonderful shops, restaurants, hotels, and art galleries.

Day 1 – Downtown Banff Day

Early Morning Up the Banff Gondola

View From The Banff Gondola As It Ascends

One of the first things to do in Banff is get a sense of the place, and the best place to do this is from the top of the Banff Gondola. You get amazing views of the Bow Valley, Banff, and Cascade Mountain from the top. If you look hard, you can even see the Banff Springs Hotel, the most luxurious hotel in Banff.

The Banff Gondola is this region’s most renowned gondola. It takes visitors 2,292 ft up Sulphur Mountain in just 8 minutes. At the top is an elevated boardwalk where you can walk safely to Sanson’s Peak.

It’s a great activity for all ages and abilities, especially if you have never been on top of a mountain before! We highly recommend doing this first thing in the morning in the summer. Try to book the 8 a.m. upload time for the most crowd-free experience—you won’t regret starting your day here!

You can book your Banff Gondola tickets here. If you don’t have a vehicle, look into Roam Transit Route 1. If you want to combine tickets with an activity mentioned later, you can book a Banff Gondola + Lake Minnewanka Cruise ticket here.

Walk to Bow Falls

Natasha Looks Out To Bow Falls In The Fall

When you are done at the Banff Gondola, head back to downtown Banff and enjoy a nice stroll down the Bow Falls Trail to Bow Falls. The walk will take just 20 minutes, and once at the falls, you’ll get a nice view of the most famous waterfalls near the town center. As parking is limited in this area, we highly recommend walking to Bow Falls.

Stroll Downtown Banff

Natasha Stands On Banff Avenue In The Fall

After your morning on the Banff Gondola and Bow Falls, it’s time to explore Banff Avenue. This is where all the best shopping and some fantastic restaurants are. If you want to shop, Rocky Mountain Soap, Monods, and Cool As a Moose are some of our favorite shops in town! If you want a coffee, head to Wildflour or Whitebark, but chances are you’ll probably be ready for lunch after such an eventful morning.

Lunch Downtown

Cameron Walks Out Of Banff Ave Brewing After Lunch

If you visit Banff in the summer, you’ll enjoy the pedestrian-only Banff Avenue. Shutting down the street to vehicles means there are so many patios where you can enjoy the sunshine. A few of our favorites are Banff Ave Brewing, Anejo, and Nourish (over on Bear Street).

*Two Options*

We’re giving two options for your afternoon in Banff because, in reality, you probably won’t have time for both on your two-day Banff itinerary unless you are a quick hiker or do just a short walk around.

If You’re Up for A Hike

Natasha Looks Over Tunnel Mountain Viewpoint Towards Rundle And Golf Course
Enjoying the views of Mount Rundle from Tunnel Mountain

If you want to hike for the second half of your day, there are a few easy and moderate hikes around town. Let’s break them down.

Johnston Canyon

I’m listing this because most people want to see Johnston Canyon on their trip. However, the hike is extremely busy in the summer, especially in the afternoon. The trailhead is also located about 30 minutes from downtown Banff. The hike will take about 2-3 hours to complete. It’s a wonderful hike on elevated platforms with amazing views, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the crowds.

Tunnel Mountain

If you want to summit a small mountain in Banff, look into climbing Tunnel Mountain. The hike takes less than an hour, and once at the summit, you have astonishing views of the Bow Valley and the iconic Mount Rundle. Although it’s similar to the Banff Gondola, you’ll be surprised by the new perspective—particularly of Rundle Mountain.

Sundance Canyon Trail

The Sundance Canyon Trail is a great trail that starts at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. It’s fairly popular because it’s readily accessible and follows the Bow River for a few kilometers. Along the way are some great views of the Bow River and the surrounding mountains.

READ MORE: 30 Easy Hikes In Banff For The Whole Family

If You Want To See Lakes

If you want a trip full of lakes, this afternoon will be full of them! If you have a car, now is the time to hop in and begin your trip to Vermilion Lakes, just a few km from Banff.

Vermilion Lakes

Cameron And Natasha Sit On A Dock On Vermilion Lakes Looking Out To Rundle At Sunset

Just a bit out of town, you can head here for a quick stop with a beverage or stay longer with a good book. Some nice docks are here to relax and enjoy the Mount Rundle Views.

Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road

After Vermilion, get back in the car and start your drive on Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road, one of the most scenic drives in Western Canada. Following this itinerary, you will pass four stunning bodies of water.

Cascade Ponds

Cascade Ponds In The Late Evening Of Summer With A Reflection Of Rundle

Cascade Ponds is a fantastic place to head if you want to enjoy nature and the beautiful surroundings below Cascade Mountain. What I love about Cascade Ponds is that there are plenty of picnic benches and fire pits to enjoy with friends. It’s also a calm place to paddleboard if you want to get out on the water.

Johnson Lake

Natasha Swimming In Johnson Lake In Summer
Taking a dip in Johnson Lake

Continue on the scenic drive and look for the turnoff for Johnson Lake. Johnson Lake is one of our favorites because it’s often overlooked by the more popular Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. Head here for a pleasant stroll around the lake and enjoy the mountain scenery. If you don’t get enough walking in the morning, you can enjoy a leisurely afternoon walking around the lakeshore.

Two Jack Lake

Our Truck Drives Along Two Jack In The Fall With Mount Rundle In The Background

Once you’re done at Johnson Lake, continue to Two Jack Lake. Two Jack is one of my favorite lakes in Banff, mainly because it has gorgeous views of Mount Rundle. If you are a bit more of a novice paddler, this is a great lake to get out on the water (you must have your own paddleboard).

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka Shoreline In The Summer

Last but not least is Lake Minnewanka, which is just a few km past Two Jack. Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park, which is 21 km long! In the summer, you can rent a motorboat here with friends, as it’s one of the only lakes in Banff that allows motorboats. However, the most popular thing here is a cruise on the lake. If you’re only in Banff for two days and follow this itinerary, this is your only chance to enjoy a cruise on the waters of Banff.

Want an adult version of the cruise? Looking into the Beer Voyage cruise that operates every day, This 90-minute cruise runs daily at 5pm and allows guests to enjoy local craft brews while enjoying the views. Guests of 2 are given 4 beers total for the tasting, and you can bring home any unopened cans you don’t consume. If this will affect your driving to and from Lake Minnewanka, consider taking public transit to Lake Minnewanka.

Keep in mind that if you plan to bring your own watercraft or rent a stand-up paddleboard to these lakes, you can only put it in one body of water every 48 hours. More information is here.

Dinner Downtown

salktlik restaurant

End the day back in downtown Banff. If you want a low-key dinner option, we recommend heading to The Block (walk-ins only, and it’s a tiny restaurant) or Three Bears Brewery (amazing pizzas!). If you want something more memorable, we recommend Brazen, The Bison, or Saltlik (these are expensive, more “upscale” restaurants, and reservations are recommended).

Day 2 – Lake Day

Sunrise at Moraine Lake

sunrise on moraine lake

Wake up early – and by early, I mean you’ll probably not get much sleep. That’s because today is the day you’ll catch the sunrise on Moraine Lake. Sunrise on Moraine Lake happens as early as 5:30 am in the summer, meaning to get to the area for the Alpine Start Shuttle or to take a tour, you’re going to have a 2 or 3am wake-up call – trust me, though, it’s worth it.

You cannot drive your personal vehicles to Moraine Lake anymore, so to see the sunrise, you’re going to have to book the Alpine Start Shuttle by Parks Canada, book a private shuttle service like the Moraine Lake Bus Company, or look into a private tour like Radventures Earlybird Explorer Tour.

No matter which option you book, you’ll end up at Moraine Lake between 5 and 6 a.m. (depending on the tour you booked). Make sure you have a camera, and head up the Rockpile Trail to witness an incredible sunrise over the Ten Peaks.

Optional (if you think you have time)

  • Canoe on Moraine Lake: You can rent canoes at the Moraine Lake Boathouse
  • Hike: A nice short hike would be around the lakeshore, or you can enjoy a hike to Consolation Lakes.

Lake Louise

Paddlers On Lake Louise With Mount Victoria In The Background

Now it’s time to head to Lake Louise, which is possible via the Parks Canada Lake Connector Shuttle, and it’s also included in many Moraine Lake Tours. Once at Lake Louise, most people just walk the lakeshore, though if you think you have time, you can enjoy a few optional activities.

Canoe or Hike

Cameron Looks Out Over Lake Agnes In The Early Summer
  • Canoe: Canoe rentals at the Fairmont Boathouse are expensive. Still, there is always a line to rent a canoe and enjoy this epic lake from the water.
  • Hike: The Fairview Lookout Trail is a nice short hike, but if you want something a little more iconic and harder, you should try hiking up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. It all depends on how much time you think you have, how fast you hike, and how much uphill walking you are up for!

Lunch at Trailhead Cafe

Inside Trailhead Cafe at Lake Louise

After Lake Louise and once you have your vehicle back (if you drove), we recommend heading to the Samson Mall in Lake Louise Village for lunch at the tiny but delicious Trailhead Cafe. This is our favorite place to eat in the small village. They make great coffee and innovative wraps (my favorite is their Greek wrap)!

Bow Lake

bow lake with a view of bow glacier falls
Bow Lake with a view of Bow Glacier Falls

If you have a car and it’s summer, you still have plenty of daylight hours left. The sun doesn’t set until 10 pm or later in June and July! If you have the energy, we recommend hopping on the Icefields Parkway for a little drive to a few more lakes!

Bow Lake will be the first large lake on the Parkway. It is another glacier-fed lake in Banff with bright blue colors. From the shore, you have terrific views of the Bow Glacier, which feeds the lake in the summer months and is the source of the Bow River.

If you can get the right angle, you may even be able to see Bow Glacier Falls. It is a tremendous hike, but with only two days to go, you’ll have to save it for your next trip. If you missed a snack at Trailhead Cafe, there’s a place to grab a bite at the small cafe attached to The Lodge on Bow Lake.

Peyto Lake

Natasha Looks Over Peyto Lake At Sunset Wearing A Flannel

Your next stop is another bright blue lake! We hope you’re not laked out yet; however, this is the last lake of your trip! Peyto Lake is another glacier-fed lake in Banff. Peyto Lake is likely the third most famous lake in Banff, mainly due to its distinctive shape of a fox, strikingly blue water, and the easily accessible scenic overlook near the parking area.

It’s a 10-minute uphill walk from the parking lot, but the view is more than worth the effort. To make the experience even more inclusive, there is a dedicated section accessible for people with disabilities, providing everyone with the opportunity to take in the breathtaking view.

The Bow Valley Parkway

A Scenic Viewpoint Over The Bow River Along The Bow Valley Parkway

Although it’s probably tempting to keep driving the Icefields Parkway, it’s time to turn around and return to Banff. If you’ve followed this entire 2-day itinerary for Banff, you are probably pooped by now. There’s much more to see here, but this gave you a small taste of the Canadian Rockies.

If it’s not dark, the best way to drive from Lake Louise to Banff is via the Bow Valley Parkway. This scenic drive runs parallel to the Trans Canada Highway. As it’s a scenic drive, you’ll go much slower on this road, taking in the sights. If you want to stop for a good view, look for Morant’s Curve on your right side.

Once you return to Banff, you might be tired from your big day out and not in the mood for a grand meal or reservations. For a quick and easy meal, we recommend Saffron (great Indian food), Hankii (Korean street food), Bear Street Tavern (pizza), or Banff Sushi House!

How to Get From YYC to Banff

banff-airporter passing by surprise corner

Whether you’re driving, traveling by bus, or booking the Banff Airporter, there are so many ways to get between Calgary and Banff. We break down all the best ways to get between the city and the mountains here.

Things to Keep in Mind

Natasha Paddles Along Moraine Lake At Sunset In A Flannel

Two days is just not enough time to visit the highlights of Banff, and you’ll likely want to return. This 2 Day Banff itinerary is jam-packed because of the short time, though if you don’t mind waking up early and staying out late, you’ll be able to see it all. We get nearly 17 hours of daylight in June and July!

Where To Stay: If you only have two days, you should stay in Banff over Lake Louise. We recommend staying on Banff Avenue at The Moose Hotel or the new Peaks Hotel on Lynx Street.

Consider a Tour: This itinerary may seem a little daunting, especially on the second day, as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are difficult to visit. There’s no parking at Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise is extremely limited. We recommend booking the Parks Canada Lake Louise shuttle or taking a tour like this one.

Moraine Lake Road to Moraine Lake opens on June 1st. This is also when the shuttles and tours start running to the lake. Lake Louise is accessible all year.

Consider the Hop On Hop Off Bus: The Hop On Hop Off Bus has become super popular in recent years. That’s because you can get to Johnston Canyon, Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise all in one day and on a pretty flexible schedule.

If you are visiting Banff without a car, we recommend looking into the Roam Transit. You can also get the one-day Roam Super Pass for $25.

This is a summer-focused itinerary. Please keep that in mind.

Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
  • Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service connecting you from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Banff or Canmore.
  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
  • Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
About Natasha

Natasha calls Canmore, Alberta home. After traveling across seven continents and 90 countries with Cameron, she settled down in the stunning Canadian Rockies. She loves to help others travel and make their planning easier. She is a winter enthusiast and loves to snowboard, ice skate, and snowshoe and enjoy all the fantastic summer opportunities in Banff like hiking, scrambling, and biking. You can find her in the mountains or enjoying a coffee by the river. Learn more on the about us page!

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