4 day Road Trip Itinerary – Banff National Park
My husband and I visited Banff National Park in September. I was 8 months pregnant with our first child during the trip. But that didn’t stop me from going on some of the most incredible hikes to see the best views I have ever seen in my life. It’s hard to squeeze everything into 4 days. Honestly, I could have spent a month here. But, if you are limited with time, see below for our itinerary with tips on how we used our time wisely in the 4 days we had in the park.
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How to Get to Banff National Park: Fly to Calgary – Rent a Car
To tell you the truth, I had never even heard of Banff until this year. I stumbled upon Banff when researching day-trips from Seattle. We were going to Seattle to visit a friend. When I saw pictures of Jasper and Banff national park, I cut our time in Seattle short and booked a direct flight on Air Canada (only 45 minutes) from Seattle to Calgary. Then we booked a rental car from there.
You can also drive from Seattle to Banff within about 12 hours. That’s with little to no stops and depends on which route you take. But based on my past road trips, 12 hours can turn into 2 days with all the stopping for pictures. After all, you are driving through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, so pictures are inevitable. Add the process of crossing the Canadian border, and 12 hours becomes very unlikely. I chose to fly because I only had 4 days of vacation and I wanted every minute of it to be exploring this national park. If you have longer than 3-4 days it might be more economical to drive from Seattle.
We managed to squeeze ALOT into our 4 days in Banff National Park. When I research and plan my trips, I will organize my itinerary based on the locations of each site I want to see. This way you can fit as much as possible into a short amount of vacation time. Here’s the run down:
Itinerary Day 1 – Downtown Banff & Banff Gondola :
Fly into Calgary Airport and rent a car. (HOW to fly to Calagary for Nearly Free). The drive from Calgary to Banff is about 1 hour. There are many gorgeous luxury hotels in Banff but they come at a hefty price tag. We stayed at Banff Park Lodge, which I highly recommend for a budget friendly hotel. It is centrally located and just two blocks from the main street with all the bars, shopping, and restaurants. After checking in, explore the downtown area before going to the Banff Gondola (only 5 minute drive from hotel). I read that you can hike up to the top, but it was getting late and I was antsy to see the view from above. So we paid the CA$56 and were at the top within 5 minutes.
After the Gondola, go have drinks at Banff Avenue Brewing Co (their balcony overlooks the main street) and then dinner at Bear Street Tavern (delicious pizza!). Both places are highly rated on Trip Advisor.
Itinerary Day 2 – Johnston Canyon & Peyto Lake:
Wake up early, grab some coffee and a quick breakfast on Banff Avenue. Then hop in the car and head towards Johnston Canyon via the Bow Valley Parkway. You can also take the Trans Canadian Highway to get there faster, but I highly recommend taking the Bow Valley Parkway. If you drive slow enough, you have a good chance of seeing all sorts of wildlife….bears, elk, long horned sheep, etc.
Once you arrive to the Johnston Canyon parking lot, hike the Upper Falls trail for a beautiful 3-mile round-trip EASY hike to the waterfalls. You can also do the .68 miles to the Lower Falls, but we skipped out on that, as I was starved after the hike. Keep in mind…8 months pregnant!
Pictures from our Johnston Canyon Hike:
After our hike we had lunch at Bridges Restaurant, just up the road from the Johnston Canyon trail head. This is a perfect place to take a quick rest and have a beer, or inhale 2 burgers….whatever.
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PEYTO LAKE (day 2 afternoon)
After Johnston Canyon, continue on to Peyto Lake via the Icefields Parkway scenic drive (about 55 minutes north). Peyto lake is stunning! Check out my blog post (click here) for how to find the secret hiking trail that gets you to the VIEW pictured below. Most people stop at the main viewing point. Don’t do that. You will miss out! I’m pretty certain the pictures in that post will have you booking your flight to Banff today!
After a day of exploring Johnston Canyon and Peyto lake, continue to to Lake Louise where you will spend the night. We arrived at Lake Louise Inn, our hotel near Lake Louise, and took a quick power nap. That evening head over to watch the sun set over Lake Louise. I recommend having dinner at one of the many restaurant options in the Fairmont Chateau overlooking Lake Louise…another Must!
Itinerary Day 3 – Moraine Lake & Lake Louise + Tea House:
Wake early and head straight to Moraine Lake to get a parking spot before the crowds show up! I’ve read that parking is so limited nowadays that you may need to take a bus. Hike up Rock Pile trail for an amazing view of of the lake from above. Then rent a canoe and take it out onto the lake. Check out my post on tips for exploring Moraine Lake (click here).
After a morning of exploring Moraine Lake, head back to Lake Louise for lunch with a view at the Fairmont Chateau (it’s right next to the lake.) Afterwards, hike up to the Tea House. The trail starts to the right of Lake Louise. It’s about a 1.5 mile hike, straight up the mountain. Not easy when you are 8 months pregnant. And yes, I hiked in my purple rain boots which was not as bad of an idea as you may think. The trail can be quite muddy and they had great grip and were super comfy. You can get some here.)
There is another lake at the top (see pic above). It is right next the the Tea House and has hiking trails surrounding it.
That evening head back to Downtown Banff for dinner & drinks at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. This hotel is absolutely beautiful! It’s definitely worth stopping in, even if you don’t want to eat or drink. (see pics below).
Itinerary DAY 4 – Grassi Lakes Trail in Canmore
Before we headed to the airport for a 3pm flight in Calgary, we woke up early to hike the Grassi Lakes trail in Canmore on our way out of the national park. I do recommend this hike but maybe not so early in the morning. We got there at 6:30am with no one around and tons of warnings about bears in the vicinity. We risked it because an early morning jogger had just come out from the trail and said she hadn’t seen anything. Of course we had no bear spray with us. She gave us a tip to just yell out “Hey-ho” every five minutes or so to keep bears at bay. The lady claimed “they are more scared of us.” You can imagine how ridiculous we looked. Just the two of us hiking alone in the woods… screaming every so often. That sunrise over the mountains, reflecting off the lake, was totally worth it.
TIP: After about 5 minutes into the Grassi Lakes trail entrance, you will come to a fork in the road. You can take the “Difficult Side” on the left or the “easy side” on the right. We took the difficult side up and the easy side down. Either way, make sure you take the difficult side at least once (either up or down). Because that is where the best views are!
As far as “babymoons” go, Banff National Park was one for the books. It was definitely an adventurous one, with all the hiking, canoeing, exploring. I do plan on going back one day, just hopefully not 8 months pregnant. I might try something a bit more relaxing for our next babymoon (if that’s in the stars). Perhaps with a beach and a hammock.
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Have you been to Alberta? What did we miss?