My parents went to Banff years ago and raved about the magical feeling you experience while you are there. We decided to make it into a girl’s trip with our friends Beth, Beth, and Mckenzie. We visited in August and had weather in the 60-70s with two rainy days. Check out our Banff travel guide below!
How we traveled there
We flew from Denver to Calgary International Airport (YYC) and then drove 1.5 hours to Banff with a rental car. A car is not needed in Banff as long as you are willing to take the shuttle to downtown Banff and also for hiking.
Where we stayed
We stayed in Banff at this VRBO. It had 3 queen-sized beds with one in a bedroom and two in the lofted space. This place was a tight fit for 5 people but we made it work. It had an oven and stove top where we cooked some meals and a small balcony. This place was up the road from the downtown area which took a 15-20 minute walk to get to. We also took the free bus a few times and found the schedule was accurate.
What activities we experienced
We visited Lake Louise and Lake Morraine which were both stunning. Rock dust from glaciers rubbing against bedrock creates the beautiful turquoise color of the water. We drove 40 minutes to the Lake Louise Ski Resort to park then took the shuttle to Lake Louise which was $7/pp. We pre-bought our tickets for a specific hour shuttle slot but you can also purchase them there. The shuttle took 10-15 minutes to get to Lake Louise. If you don’t have a Canadian national park pass then you can purchase a day pass at a kiosk before walking up to Lake Louise.
We hiked Little Beehive which had a beautiful birds eye view of Lake Louise. About 1/3 of the way down we stopped at Lake Agnes Tea House. We didn’t stay since the line was too long but they are known for chocolate cake and tea. Get there early if you want to taste it. Our friend was experiencing altitude sickness since the elevation was an adjustment. We recommend carrying oxygen boost canisters on hikes and not pushing yourself if your symptoms get worse.
It was pouring rain on our hike down from the tea house. Don’t forget your waterproof hiking shoes and raincoat. As a hiker, I would rate these hikes as moderate at 5.7 miles with 1,955 feet of elevation gain.
We took the same shuttle service to Lake Moraine which was 20-25 minutes from Lake Louise. While you are there climb up the rock pile to get an elevated view of Lake Moraine. Due to the rain, we quickly took in the views and then hopped on the shuttle back to the ski resort to grab our car. I wish we had more time to spend at Lake Moraine to soak in its beauty. Because it was raining so hard, the shuttle line was at least 30 minutes long. If you need a pick me up there is a small coffee and snack station close to the Lake Moraine shuttle.
The Banff Fairmont is a famous castle-like hotel with beautiful views of the mountains. We booked a day spa pass through Resort Pass to experience the spa and hotel without staying there overnight. It was $76pp for 3 hours with access to whirlpools, a mineral treatment pool, an outdoor whirlpool, a sauna, and steam rooms. We enjoyed the relaxation and getting to experience the Banff Fairmont.
On our last day, we visited Lake Minnewanka. We planned to take a boat tour of the lake but due to thunder and rain, it was canceled. It is the 2nd longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies which is why a boat tour is a great way to see more of it. After leaving Lake Minnewanka we quickly stopped at Two Jack Lake to check out the views.
Where we ate
Before arriving in Banff we stopped at the Safeway grocery store in Canmore to stock up on food and alcohol knowing Banff is expensive.
We were impressed with the food in Banff. We recommend getting a reservation for Farm + Fire.
- Farm + Fire – my favorite
- Nourish – vegan and vegetarian dishes
- Avesta Shawarma
- Bear Street Tavern – They had pizza with gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan options
- The Grizzly Paw – On our last day, it rained all day. We decided to head to Canmore to have lunch.
Where we drank
- Rose & Crown – this was a dive bar upstairs with great live music
- Tommy’s Neighborhood Bar – a divey place with darts (Elyse’s favorite drinking activity)
- Pump and Tap – a really fun, chill bar that only takes cash. Get the drinks in the teapots!
What we recommend knowing/preparing
- Bear spray – we were able to rent it through the building we were staying in. We didn’t need it but bears are common in Banff. You can’t travel with bear spray on the plane and it’s expensive to purchase, but we’d recommend having it if you’re going to hike.
- Rain gear – it rained two days while we were there. Bring a raincoat and waterproof hiking boots.
- Our credit cards worked everywhere
- Staying in Banff means you are staying in the Banff National Park. On your way to Banff, there is a stop-off on the highway to purchase your park pass but you can also do it online or at the Banff Visitors Center.
- Banff is 1.5 hours away from the Calgary airport which most people fly into. Plan to rent a car or purchase a shuttle ticket. Our friend who had an earlier flight back home took this shuttle service from Banff to the Calgary airport.
- Check out our travel tips page for general recommendations
What we didn’t do but looked into
- Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar
- The Block Restaurant
- Lake Louise Canoeing – if you are not up for a hike, a kayak is a great way to explore the lake. It is first come first serve and starts at $135 per hour.
- Banff Gondola – $55/pp, you don’t need to get tickets in advance. There are restaurants and trails at the top along with beautiful views of the Banff Mountains. Peak Patio is the casual restaurant and Sky Bistro is the fancier restaurant at the top.
- Banff Upper Hot Springs
- Best short hikes in Banff
- C Level Cirque hike
- Sentinel Pass/Larch Valley – a hike that was recommended to us
- Healy Pass – a hike that was recommended to us
What we packed
- Active clothes for hiking
- Raincoat and waterproof hiking boots
- Small hiking backpack
- Nice clothes for dinner but nothing too fancy
- Light jackets and sweaters
- Passport & our global entry cards
- Check out our recommendations for travel clothing and essentials