The Ultimate 8 Day Itinerary to Banff National Park and Jasper
Have you seen photos of the GORGEOUS blue water of Lake Louise in Banff National Park? That iconic image is what drew us to want to travel there. Even after pouring over a fellow blogger’s detailed itinerary to Banff National Park, we doubted the scenery could be as beautiful as the photos they shared. Thankfully, we were wrong! It looked EXACTLY like the photos online but even more beautiful in person. I still can’t believe it’s a real place.
We had 8 magical days to explore the region and definitely made the most of our time. Below is our adventure packed, ultimate 8 day itinerary to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. If you are a faster traveler, you could add Yoho National Park to this itinerary (I’ll note which day(s) I would add these stops). We were traveling with our 12 month old so excluded Yoho NP but someday we’d love to travel back to experience it.
Where to Fly Into
The easiest airport to fly into from most major cities is Calgary International Airport. We flew there direct from MSP airport and found it super easy to pick up our rental car right at the airport and be on our way. We drove straight to the town of Canmore where we based ourselves for a few nights at the start of the trip. If you need to stay at the airport on either end of your trip, I’d highly recommend Delta Hotels by Marriott which is walking distance from security.
When to Visit
We chose the month of August to visit because the stunning Lake Louise and Moraine Lake tend to be the most gorgeous blues at that time. Late June, July and early September are generally also good months for the same reason. The summertime always has a risk of wildfire but if you are visiting for multiple days, hopefully at least some of the days will be clear. We fortunately only experienced wildfire smoke on one of the days and it was minimal. Note that Canada’s wildfire index is a different scale than the US when looking at the weather app.
Where to Stay
First, you may be wondering where to base yourself for Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. Below are the four hotels we stayed at and I would recommend them all, especially for their convenience. The whole region is expensive so we balanced two expensive stays with one less expensive hotel. You can definitely find less expensive hotels and Airbnbs if you’re willing to drive a little further.
The Malcolm Hotel was the best value BY FAR. The rooms are stunning, the view of the mountain range is beautiful and the outdoor heated pool and hot tubs are a fantastic amenity. We booked our August stay during their legendary February happy hour sale for 50% off and I’ve never been so giddy about a deal. Every Thursday in February from 4-5pm local time you can book rooms at 50% off!. Watch their site to see if they’ll be doing it again in February 2024.
We loved having Canmore as our base for a few nights to acclimate to the region, enjoy hikes in the area and eat at some fantastic places. Of course the town of Banff is a great place to stay as well but prices are higher and Canmore is only a 25 minute drive away.
The Fairmont Lake Louise is an iconic hotel to stay at with a matching price tag. Our stay was around $700/night but we found it worth it for a few reasons:
- We had immediate access to Lake Louise at all times of the day and didn’t have to worry about parking
- We were able to rent a canoe to paddle on beautiful Lake Louise at a discounted rate and didn’t have to wait in line (there’s a separate hotel guest line)
- Great to have a base to relax in between activities, especially with a little one
- We were able to spend multiple days enjoying the views versus just driving there for a day trip
- The hotel has its own reasonably priced shuttle to bring you to Moraine Lake (which is now only accessible via shuttle, biking, walking or staying at Moraine Lake Lodge)
If you book this stay with your Platinum Amex, you can also enjoy amenities like dining and hotel credit plus an upgraded room. If you don’t already have the Platinum Amex, it could be worth it for all the perks. Check it out here – they’re currently offering 80,000 points as a signup bonus!
Another classic hotel stay is Jasper Park Lodge. The grounds and amenities at this hotel are what make the stay worth it. The rooms are very rustic and many don’t have air conditioning which is brutal in the summer. We switched rooms to one that had air conditioning which was much better so if you stay here, make sure to request this from the start. I loved starting our day at JPL with breakfast by the lake and a morning swim. The dinner on site was also great with stunning views over the lake and children eat free which was great for us.
If I had to do it over, I probably would stay at Pyramid Lake Lodge, which is less expensive and gets great reviews, and then purchase a day pass to enjoy the Jasper Park Lodge pool. If you go this route, make sure to dine at JPL too and possibly take out a canoe or paddle board on the lake – it’s a beautiful resort.
Read on for our itinerary to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park!
Day One: Calgary to Canmore
We flew into Calgary International Airport and picked up our car rental right across from baggage claim. Normally, we prefer Hertz or Avis but the rates were so high given the summer season. Going with Budget saved us over $1,000 and we had a great experience.
Day Two: Canmore and Kananaskis
One of the most popular places to start your day in Canmore is at Rocky Mountain Bagel Company. Definitely get a Maple bagel! A pro tip is to buy a bag of day old bagels at a great discount. We did this and enjoyed them as snacks over the next few days.
Nearby is Rocky Mountain Soap Company which is worth a quick visit. Their soap is all natural and fantastic. I bought a clothing stain remover soap bar to keep with us when we travel and it works SO well.
Just outside of Canmore is the popular Grassi Lakes hike. It’s a gorgeous 2 mile out and back hike that has beautiful turquoise lakes. The views of the valley are also fantastic. There are two routes to get to the lakes. We took the easy route up and the moderate route back so we could experience both. It took us about 90 minutes total. Note you’ll need to buy a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to hike there. This pass also is valid for the stops note below after lunch.
After hiking, we decided to check out what I think is the best hidden gem in Canmore for lunch. The Bow Valley Garden Centre has a beautiful Japanese tea house: Wagashi Tea House. We loved the bento box lunch, green tea ice cream and the stunning views of the mountain ranges.
After lunch, we explored the beautiful Kananaskis area which is about one hour from Canmore. The drive in this region has some of the best views we’ve ever seen. Our first stop was the Blackshale Suspension Bridge. Parking is available on the side of the road and from there it’s a short hike (<0.5 miles) up to the bridge. The trails continue if you want to hike further. We turned back, however, so we could go explore the lakes in the area.
Hiking Upper Kananaskis Lake was my goal but we didn’t have enough time for the full hike. Instead, we enjoyed views from Lower Kananasksis Lake and at the Interlakes Parking lot. If you have more time (4-5 hours) to hike the Upper Kananaskis Lake loop, it looks worth it!
Day Three: Canmore and Banff
With our toddler along, it was easier to enjoy brunch at Sauvage instead of the longer tasting menu dinner. The brunch was INCREDIBLE! Highly recommend this (even if you do go for dinner). They only offer brunch in the summer, however, so if you need another spot, check out Communitea Cafe.
Banff is only 25 minutes away from Canmore by car and there’s a free parking lot by the train station. The train station is just a short walk from the main town area. Some of my favorite things to do in Banff were:
- Shop for tea at Jolene’s Tea House. Everything I bought there has been so good to enjoy at home. The Jasmine Gold Dragon is my favorite.
- Dine at Farm & Fire – loved enjoying dinner on their patio! Their brunch also gets great reviews.
- Have a drink at Three Bears Brewery
We didn’t take the popular Banff gondola up to Sulphur Mountain but that is another great option for fantastic views. Highly recommend getting the Pursuit Pass if you’re interested in doing multiple activities. For example, the gondola, Maligne Lake cruise, Icefield Adventure, etc. It could save you money!
I also had Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar marked to visit but we didn’t have time. It gets great reviews!
Back in Canmore, we loved dining at Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. for dinner. Another casual and low cost option is Canmore Shawarma, which was delicious. This was one of the more low key days of our itinerary to Banff National Park which was nice!
Day Four: Canmore to Lake Louise
Along the way, we stopped at the super popular Johnston Canyon. This canyon gets very busy but the further you go, the more the crowds thin out. We hiked all the way to the end at the Upper Falls. It was worth the extra time to hike. Overall, we spent about 90 minutes here.
Another great less busy option nearby Johnston Canyon is Marble Canyon. If we had had more time, we would have done both.
From here, we checked into The Fairmont Lake Louise and enjoyed a casual dinner from the Pantry on site (the most cost effective spot for dinner). Another fun idea is to enjoy Afternoon Tea or dine in an on site restaurant.
The Fairmont includes a lot of fun activities so check their daily schedule! I almost did a polar plunge but ended up getting to the hotel too late. If you stay there, definitely add some of their activities to your itinerary to Banff National Park.
Day Five: Lake Louise
This morning we enjoyed breakfast from The Pantry at the hotel before starting off to hike Little Beehive. This is the most iconic hike in the region so take your time to enjoy it!! A lot of people recommend starting off early to have the trail to yourself. Since we traveled with our toddler, we enjoyed a more leisurely morning and started off around 10am and found the trails to not be overly crowded so don’t fret if you’re not a morning person.
The hike is 6 miles round-trip and took us about four hours since we stopped for lunch midway at Lake Agnes Tea House and took a lot of photos along the way.
A lot of people skip Lake Agnes Tea House because they say it’s touristy and overcrowded. While it certainly looks busy, we waited less than 10 minutes for a table and loved having lunch there. The food and tea were good (get the maple black tea!) and eating in a historic teahouse was a great experience! I also found it fascinating they helicopter supplies in a couple times per year and the workers carry up other supplies as they need too. A lot of work goes into the operation and I’m glad we got to experience it. I would have been bummed to miss this stop on our itinerary to Banff National Park.
After getting back to the hotel, it would be a good time to rent a canoe and go out on Lake Louise, if the water isn’t too choppy. We skipped it after our hike since the water was choppy and we didn’t want to go out with our toddler. Alternatively, it could be a good time to go check out Yoho National Park. The top spots on my list are:
- Emerald Lake (32 minutes from Lake Louise)
- Takakaw Falls (45 minutes from Lake Louise)
- Wapta Falls (one hour from Lake Louise)
If you visited all of these spots in Yoho, it would be about 4 hours of driving round trip, plus the time to do the activities so definitely plan accordingly. If you did add Yoho today, I would start the Beehive hike early.
For dinner, sit at an outdoor table at Alpine Social. If you’re celebrating something special, make sure to tell the staff. We were celebrating our dating anniversary and they treated us to drinks, dessert and a coupon for a free canoe rental (I don’t know if they always do this but they provided great service!). Also, order a Lake Louise Spritz! When at Lake Louise… 🙂
Day Six: Lake Louise to Jasper
We grabbed breakfast from The Pantry again today before taking the hotel shuttle to Moraine Lake. The shuttle cost $25 per person in August 2023 (our son was free but did require a seat / his carseat). We took the first shuttle so we could enjoy the lake before the crowds arrive – highly recommend!
Moraine Lake Lodge is another great hotel in the area with similar rates to The Fairmont. The benefits of Moraine Lake Lodge are access at all times of day to the beautiful lake, included breakfast and free canoe rentals. I personally don’t think there’s enough to do there vs. Lake Louise so we opted to stay at The Fairmont and just take the shuttle to Moraine Lake.
We spent 3 hours at the lake which was plenty of time to enjoy the views, walk alongside it and stop by the gift shop. Many people do like Moraine Lake better than Lake Louise so definitely think through how much time you’d like to spend there on your overall itinerary to Banff National Park.
After we got back to the hotel, we finally did a canoe rental on a very calm Lake Louise (and no waiting in line since we stayed at the hotel!).
After canoeing, we checked out and stopped at Trailhead Cafe for lunch on our way out of town. Then we started the incredibly scenic three hour drive to Jasper National Park. We enjoyed quite a few stops on the way which helped break up the (gorgeous) drive!
- Bow Lake Lookout – right off the road, a very short walk down to the lake
- Peyto Lake Lookout – a fairly short hike to the lookout spot. There are trails so you can make this a longer stop too
- Sunwapta Falls – a short hike from the parking lot
- Athabasca Falls – another short hike from the parking lot
Day Seven: Jasper
This morning we enjoyed breakfast at Jasper Park Lodge and sat by the lake with gorgeous views of the mountain range. If you’re feeling brave, do a polar plunge dip! I did and it was a great way to start the day. If you want to head into town for breakfast, check out Snowdome Coffee.
We also enjoyed the pool and hot tub (a perk of staying at JPL!) in the morning. Then, we drove to Maligne Lake (about one hour away) for a cruise to Spirit Island. This boat ride was one of the most scenic rides of my life. I was floored by the scenery! The island was also magical – we had about 30 minutes to enjoy the island before cruising back. In total, the experience was about 2.5 hours.
From here, we drove to hike the Path of the Glacier Trail (trailhead is at Mt. Edith Cavell Parking Lot). This short hike led to a glacial fed pond where you can see the glacier! There were little glacial bits floating in the lake as well which was incredible to see.
Another popular hike option that we ran out of time for is the Valley of the Five Lakes.
On the way back to Jasper Park Lodge for dinner, we stopped in town at Scoop & Loops for maple ice cream.
Dinner at Jasper Park Lodge on the patio was great overlooking the lake. Our son ate free too which was a nice perk! Another dinner spot that was on our list but we didn’t get to was Kumama Bistro and Canteen.
Day Eight: Jasper to Calgary
On our last morning, we enjoyed more pool time before grabbing breakfast in town at Sunhouse Cafe. It’s a beautiful restaurant with delicious food and drinks.
From there, we started our way back to Calgary and enjoyed the Columbia Icefield Adventure on the way. It was so cool (literally) to walk on a glacier! Make sure to bring a waterbottle to fill up with fresh cold glacial water!
This could also be a good day to enjoy the Yoho National Park stops noted above, depending on when you leave Jasper (it will just be a lot of driving).
We stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott this evening at the airport before a super early morning flight back to Minneapolis. It’s a great hotel with really nice service and you can’t beat walking just a few minutes to the airport!
This was one of our favorite trips ever and I hope this itinerary to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park helps you plan a great trip! For more International travel itineraries, check out my page here. US travel ideas can be found by checking out my guides here.