Welcome to my Banff Travel Guide! If Banff isn’t already on your bucketlist, you need to add it! I booked a last minute trip with one of my girlfriends and we were able to do it in 2 nights and 3 days. Banff is the epitome of bucketlist goals and 100% IG worthy! It was one of the most magical places I’ve been to and there’s something about it that makes it so special and dreamy. It’s a national park in Alberta, Canada, and Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are the two lakes you MUST see. I went near the end of August and it wasn’t too cold but the weather was definitely hit or miss, however the views are still worth it! My Banff travel guide includes my itinerary and tips such as how to get to Banff, where to stay, what to do, and where to eat!
What I Packed for Banff
- Noon – Arrived at Calgary Airport / Get Car Rental
- Afternoon – Checked in to our hotel, unpacked, freshened up (gotta look cute for the gram!)
- Evening – Took a bus to ride the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain. Views at Sky Bistro. You HAVE to do this. It’s so worth it.
- Dinner – Had dinner at Park Distillery (scroll down to “Where to Eat” to see what I ordered here!)
- Morning – Woke up at 4am (you can do it!), got coffee and breakfast at Tim Hortons (it’s like their local version of McDonalds)!
- Drive to Moraine Lake (1 hour drive) – We got there around 6am and the parking lot was already full. We thought it was early enough but we had to wait around the lot for over 30 mins to find parking. Be patient and don’t give up if you can’t find parking! At Moraine Lake, make sure you hike the Rock Pile Trail to get the best 360 views, it was beautiful!
- Drive to Lake Louise (10 min drive from Moraine Lake) – PRO TIP! Once you get to Lake Louise, there will be traffic patrols directing you to go to the overflow area if the parking lot is full. The overflow area is literally another 10 minute drive back on the freeway to the “Park and Ride” exit. It’s a HUGE parking lot with a 2-hour wait line to get a ticket to go on a shuttle that will take you to Lake Louise. Forget all that and park at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel instead! To the right of Lake Louise, you’ll see the Fairmont and a sign that says “hotel guests” parking only. Tell them that you want to have lunch/dine at one of the hotel restaurants and they should let you in and validate your parking ticket. Thank me later on this one :)!
- Lunch – Lakeview Lounge was where we had lunch. Make sure you ask to sit outside. It was the most epic view of Lake Louise AND no lines! It was the best way to see and experience the amazing views and take a million pictures. The food, wine, and service was amazing.
- Drive on the Icefields Parkway towards Peyto Lake – The drive was incredibly breathtaking, we stopped at Bow Summit and took a few pics and drove back!
- Explore Downtown – Find time to explore downtown and all the cute boutique stores.
- Dinner – Had tapas at Block Kitchen and Bar (scroll down to “Where to Eat” to see my review and what we ordered).
- Evening – We relaxed at our hotel heated pool and spa with a bottle of wine, and enjoyed the sunset and views!
- Morning – Tried their local coffee Good Earth Cafe (scroll down to see what I ordered), grabbed donuts at Tim Hortons, and took pictures at the big BANFF letter sign! We wanted to try Tooloulou’s for breakfast but didn’t have a lot of time.
- Afternoon – Drove back to Calgary
- Explore Downtown Calgary (15 mins away from the airport) – We explored downtown Calgary for a bit and checked out the new beautiful Calgary Central Library. The $245 million building has a crystalline exterior and an atrium clad in timber slat. The architecture was amazing and we took a lot of pictures here! I LOVE architecture and design so made me so happy.
- Drove back to airport – Returned our rental and hopped on a 3-hour flight back home!
How to Get to Banff
The easiest way to get into Banff is to fly into Calgary Airport (YYC). From San Francisco (SFO), it was a quick 2 hour flight. Make sure you rent a car before your trip so you can just pick it up as soon as you get to the airport and skip the wait. We decided to drive everywhere including to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, the scenic drive alone was so easy and the views were amazing! Totally worth it rather than having to figure out their transportation system! Roam Transit is their public transportation.
From Calgary Airport to Downtown Banff was a 1.5 hour drive. You will go through the national park entrance where you will have to pay for however many nights you’re staying, get a receipt, and stick it on your car dashboard and you’re set for your entire trip! They take Visa, so you don’t need to worry about getting Canadian dollars.
Where to Stay in Banff
- Fairmont Banff Springs vs. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – If you’re willing to splurge on lodging, I would recommend staying at the Fairmont, but obviously not for everyone! Fairmont Banff Springs is closer to downtown Banff which has all the best restaurants and shops so I would recommend staying here instead. Fairmont Chateau is at Lake Louise and close to all the beautiful lakes but there’s not much to do in this area other than just that! An hour distance from each other.
- Moose Hotel and Suites – This is where we stayed! If you want a more affordable hotel, this was perfect if you’re looking for cabin/naturey vibes! It had a cute outdoor heated pool area on the 4th floor with amazing views. It’s located at the end of the downtown strip so it was accessible and we walked everywhere!
What to Do in Banff
- Lake Louise – The most popular lake in Banff where you can canoe, hike trails, dine, and take all of your IG-worthy photos! Hike 1 hour to Lake Agnes Tea House and have some tea if you have time! We didn’t have time for this but heard it was amazing.
- Moraine Lake – This lake is half the size of Lake Louise but in my opinion, it was more special and pretty. The lake was more turquoise! Make sure you hike up the Rock Pile Trail, it was a quick and easy 5-10 minute hike to see 360 views!
- Check out Downtown Banff for all the amazing restaurants and cute boutiques.
- Take the Banff Gondola up to Sulphur Mountains for the most epic views ever of the Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park! You’ll get a 360 degree view of six different mountain ranges. It was only a 5 minute drive/a few bus stops from downtown, make sure you get tickets ahead of time and try to catch the sunset! You can dine at Sky Bistro restaurant or the buffet which is both located on the same floor with amazing views! We didn’t end up dining here because of the weather, but it looked really nice.
Where to Eat in Banff
- Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar – This was a great lunch or dinner option. Make sure you ask to sit upstairs at the outdoor patio to get views of downtown. It’s so cute and charming. Their drink menu was so good. I really wanted to try their maple rye, but I got one of their gin cocktails instead! It was so good. We ordered a burger, salad, and of course tried the poutine (not your ordinary poutine, it had pork baked beans, diced prime rib, and cheese curds). One of my favorites restaurants! Don’t forget to ask for blankets if it’s cold!
- Block Kitchen & Bar – Another great option for dinner if you want tapas and Asian fusion food. We ordered the special menu’s Thai mussels, chicken karaage (highly recommend), and ramen salad.
- Lakeview Lounge at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – Good option and easy access to Lake Louise, lovely experience and so peaceful! You’re really paying for the view and experience. You’re only in Banff once, so do it!
- Cow’s Icecream – I’m a big icecream person so I loved this place! Lines were long but we got lucky. I got the Maple Walnut and it was SO good! My friend got the Royal Cownadian Mint.
- Banff Ave Brewing Co – We wanted to see what the “stout” was all “about”! Haha get it? The beer was good, we got a flight and paired it with poutine! Make sure you sit outside at the patio to overlook downtown. Beer and fries, eh?! Heck yes!
- Good Earth Cafe – The quality of the coffee was solid. I got their latte and it was good. It wasn’t anything super special but I would still recommend at least giving it a SHOT if you’re a coffee person! 🙂
- Bear Street Tavern – We went here but they were closed for an event! Really wanted to try this and heard they have the best pizzas.
- TooLouLou’s – We didn’t have time to try this, but if you like Cajun, I heard it’s a really popular brunch option!
- Ramen Arashi – We walked passed this a few times in downtown, but didn’t have time to try it. But ramen is always perfect on a cold day or night!