Imagine a place full of sparkling blue lakes, vibrant evergreen forests, and the most stunning jagged mountaintops in the world. Yup, that place exists, and it’s called Banff National Park. Whether you are a hardcore hiker or an adventure junkie or not, there are a TON of things to do in Banff Canada. From fun, short road trips around the area to wildlife watching to admiring some seriously incredible glacial lakes, this is a fabulous destination for everyone.
Situated in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, Canada, Banff is the perfect destination for a weekend trip. Located less than 2 hours from Calgary, its unspoiled nature is accessible via paved highways. While I was living and working in Calgary, I’d jump into the car on weekends and head out to Banff to enjoy breathtaking mountain views and fresh air.
In this post, I’m sharing the best 48-hour itinerary for Banff National Park for non-hikers. Read on to learn more!
Banff Travel Basics
How to Get to Banff National Park
Although Banff seems remote from photographs of the area, it’s actually quite easy to get to from the nearby city of Calgary, Canada. Calgary has an international airport that’s serviced by several major airlines, so finding a flight there is fairly straightforward.
However, before planning your trip, please bear in mind that entry rules for Canada have changed lately and you may need a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA).
Once you arrive in Calgary, I strongly recommend renting a car. Although you can get to Banff on a bus or shuttle, it’s a large park and it’s difficult to travel between attractions without your own transportation.
In Calgary’s airport, there are several major rental agencies. I’ve used Avis most of the times I’ve visited Banff with no complaints.
You don’t need a four wheel drive for most areas of Banff, although if you’re traveling in the spring, fall, or winter, it may come in handy in case of winter weather conditions.
After you’ve rented your car, you’ll take the Trans-Canada Highway from Calgary all the way to Banff, approximately 1.5 hours away.
Where to Stay in Banff National Park
As Banff grows in popularity, the number of hotels, lodges, and hostels continues to expand. This means there are several really wonderful choices for places to stay in Banff. In general, you have two choices for places to stay: accommodations in Banff’s town center, and accommodations in more scenic nature areas.
While I’ve often opted to go camping during my time in Banff (it’s a fabulous way to immerse yourself in the park!), here are a few accommodation options in Banff that come highly recommended by travelers:
- Luxury – Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel: This is one of Banff’s most iconic luxury lodges, situated in an evergreen forest in the Bow Valley.
- Mid-Range – Rundlestone Lodge: Rundlestone Lodge is a large, full-service hotel located in Banff Town. There, you’ll have easy access to the town center as well as the various amenities at the lodge.
- Budget – Samesun Hostel: A home away from home, Samesun Hostel is a wonderful place to stay for travelers on a budget. With both dorms and private rooms, budget travelers can find an accommodation option here that fits their preferences.
48 Hour Itinerary for Non-Hikers in Banff
Day 1: Heavenly Views & Hot Springs
9:00 AM – Rise and shine! Today, you’ll be exploring the area around Banff’s town center. But first, you’ve got to eat breakfast! If your accommodation doesn’t provide breakfast, you can grab some delicious bites in Banff’s town center.
Here are a few cafes in Banff town that you can try:
- Whitebark Cafe – A cute coffee shop that serves pastries, quiches, and other light breakfast snacks.
- Tooloulou’s – A locally-owned cafe with a Cajun-Canadian fusion menu. They’ve got hearty breakfast options at decent prices.
10:00 AM – Head over to Lake Minnewanka, which is one of the most famous lakes in the park. It’s a perfect, idyllic spot to enjoy the lakeside with a stunning mountain backdrop. Roll out a blanket and bask in the morning sun, or stroll around the lakeside trail and soak in the breeze.
In the summer, Lake Minnewanka has lots of opportunities to get out on the water, with kayak and paddleboard rentals available around the lake. There’s also a boat cruise you can take to a scenic spot called Devil’s Gap.
During the snowy months, you can also go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing here.
12:00 PM – If you’re feeling extra luxe, drive over to the Banff Springs Hotel for lunch. There are several restaurants and cafes on the property grounds, and it’ll give you an excuse to see this historic hotel up close.
However, if you’d rather save some money, drive over to the Surprise Corner instead. The Surprise Corner is a viewpoint just outside of Banff Town, where you can see the rooftop of the Banff Springs Hotel peeking out from the evergreen trees.
You can find the Surprise Corner on Google Maps, although it is not an official viewpoint and there’s no sign once you arrive. After you’ve admired the scenic views, head back to Banff town center for lunch.
2:00 PM – Depending on your travel preferences and interests, there are a ton of Banff activities that you can try. I’m leaving the next 4 hours open for you to do some activities that fit in with your personal passions!
But, of course, I won’t leave you in the dark without any tips on what to do. Here are a few suggestions for ways to spend the afternoon:
- For history lovers…If you’d like to take a guided tour to learn more about Banff’s history from the experts, take the Banff Historic Walking Tour (it leaves at 10 AM Thursday-Sunday, so you’ll need to move some things in this itinerary around). You can also pay a visit to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, which has lots of artifacts and exhibits about the history and culture of the region.
- For wildlife enthusiasts…There are a bunch of wildlife watching tours that depart daily from Banff. Guided by a local nature expert, these tours take you to areas with common wildlife sightings, giving you the opportunity to see species like grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, and more. Wildlife lovers can also check out the Banff Park Museum, which is the oldest natural history museum in Western Canada. It houses over 5,000 animal and plant specimens and provides information on the park’s biodiversity.
- For road trippers…Hop in your car and drive around the park! There are so many areas to explore by car in Banff. Head to Vermillion Lakes for another gorgeous lake view, or toward Mount Rundle for stunning mountain peaks.
6:00 PM – Drive to the Banff Upper Hot Springs to take a relaxing evening dip in the steamy pool. Located just outside of Banff town on the side of a mountain, the hot springs are one of the best ways to unwind after an active day in the park.
At just $9.80 CAD per person, it’s an affordable way to sit back and relax during your trip (and trust me, the super-hot pool feels really, really good on tired muscles!). If you need to rent a swimsuit, towel, or locker, they also offer those services for an additional fee.
8:00 PM – Once you’ve dried off from the hot springs, grab dinner in Banff’s town center! There are tons of choices in Banff’s town center, depending on what you’re craving. From my own personal experience, here are a few dinner favorites in Banff:
- Park Distillery – My favorite restaurant in Banff. I’ve specifically chosen this restaurant for tomorrow’s dinner, so if you are looking for something different, I suggest choosing another option for your first night!
- Banff Ave Brewing Co – With a classic brewery vibe, this laid-back brewhouse has delicious food options, from bar snacks like pretzels to homemade sandwiches, salads, and soups, it’s a great, relaxed option for the casual beer lover.
- Saltlik – A Canadian favorite, Saltlik is a steakhouse that serves up some of the best meat dishes in the country.
- The Bison – A spacious restaurant featuring regionally-inspired dishes prepared in an open kitchen, with awesome views of the surrounding mountains.
9:00 PM – If the sky is clear, hop back in the car for some epic stargazing. Banff is far away from the city lights of Calgary so that you can see some really beautiful night skies. Sometimes, you can even see the Milky Way or the northern lights!
In order to get a full view of the night sky, you’ll need to find a spot that’s free of tree cover and away from the lights of the town center. Lake areas are best for this, as the lake creates a clearing from the trees and enables you to see wide open skies on a clear night.
Some of the most wonderful places to go stargazing in Banff include:
- Lake Minnewanka
- Vermilion Lakes
- Two Jack Lake
If you’re planning on spending a lot of time stargazing, be sure to bundle up, as Banff does get chilly in the night time.
Day 2: Glacial Lakes & Gondola Rides
7:00 AM – I know, I know. Today requires a really early start, but I promise the views will be worth it! Wake up and head straight to Lake Louise so you can snag a nearby parking spot. From Banff town, the drive to Lake Louise takes approximately 40 minutes.
Once you get to Lake Louise, you’ll be treated with smaller morning crowds and beautiful views of the lake and nearby glacier.
If you’re hungry and willing to splurge, head to Poppy Brasserie in the Chateau Lake Louise to have brunch. You might have to wait a little while (preference is given to hotel guests), but a delicious brunch with views of the lake below is 100% worth it. For those on more of a budget, you can head out to the Lake Louise Visitor’s Center area, which has a couple of cafes and small restaurants to choose from.
10:00 AM – Next, you’ll head to Moraine Lake, which is right next to Lake Louise. If you’ve ever seen photographs of Banff before, you’ll probably recognize Moraine Lake as one of the most iconic photo spots. With pointed rocky peaks reflecting into a still, teal glacial lake, the landscape here looks totally surreal. You can admire the lake from the shores, or walk around it a little bit to get a few different perspectives.
If you are in Banff National Park in the summertime, you may want to try and come to Moraine Lake even earlier, as the crowds here get a bit out of hand in the late morning and early afternoon.
11:00 AM – Make your way towards the magnificent Peyto Lake, which is ~40 more minutes away from Lake Louise to the north.
Peyto Lake is right off the Icefields Parkway and you can admire it from a higher-altitude viewpoint. On sunny days, the lake looks like a surreal, turquoise blue surrounded by green pine trees. It looks like an actual painting.
1:00 PM – From Peyto Lake, you’ll drive to Johnston Canyon. You can either stop at the Lake Louise Visitor’s Center area for a quick lunch or head all the way to Johnston Canyon, which is about an hour from Peyto Lake. There’s a small cafe near the Johnston Canyon Parking Lot where you can grab sandwiches or snacks.
Now, I realize I said this was an itinerary for non-hikers, but I wouldn’t really consider Johnston Canyon a hike. More like a walk along with platforms built into a stunning rocky canyon. It’s definitely worth taking the short walk to the Upper Falls, which is fairly flat and takes around 30 minutes.
If you’re up for a bit more walking, you can continue down the trails to another set of waterfalls and a set of vibrant-colored water pools known as the Ink Pots.
4:00 PM – Head to the Banff Gondola, which takes you to one of the most stunning viewpoints in the entire park. The gondola departs from just outside of Banff National Park and takes 8 minutes to arrive at the summit of Sulphur Mountain.
At the top, you’ll find a wide observation deck with breathtaking panoramas of the Canadian Rockies, as well as a cafe and restaurant where you can grab a snack or a high-end dinner amidst some of the best views in the area.
7:00 PM – To wrap up your amazing 48 hours in Banff, grab a delicious dinner at Park Distillery. This locally-owned restaurant is my favorite in Banff town center. The restaurant doubles as a distillery that makes its own liquors, so in addition to its amazing food, there are also unique signature cocktails you can enjoy while toasting to your adventure in the Canadian Rockies!
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