BEST Banff Jasper Itinerary for 5 to 7 days: Canadian Rockies Road Trip 2023
Looking for the ultimate Banff and Jasper itinerary for your Canadian Rockies road trip?
The Canadian Rockies are home to the most famous national parks of Canada – Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
The snow-covered jagged mountain peaks, alpine blue lakes, mighty glaciers, powerful waterfalls, and abundant wildlife are absolutely breathtaking. No words can describe the feeling of experiencing the Canadian Rockies!
I recently spent the most amazing seven days in Banff and Jasper National Parks and Canadian Rockies with my family.
We explored all the sights and best things to do in Banff. We were awed by the beautiful Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. We experienced the stops on Icefields Parkway Drive and walked on the Athabasca Glacier. The lakes at Jasper were beautiful.
It was the most scenic vacation destination ever, and we were in constant awe of the postcard-perfect scenery at every turn. In this article, uncover the perfect itinerary to see Banff, Jasper, and Canadian Rockies in 7 days.
➡ In a hurry and looking for the best recommendations for your Canadian Rockies itinerary? Below are the top excursions for Banff-Jasper:
- Columbia Icefield Glacier and Skywalk combo tour – most popular thing to do near Banff!
- Lake Louise and Icefields Parkway day tour from Banff – Includes Moraine Lake!
- Banff Gondola round trip admission ticket
- 1-hour Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff
- Maligne Lake Cruise in Jasper with visit to Spirit Island
- 1-hour horseback riding along Bow river in Banff (beginner-friendly)
- Banff Food tour at Fairmont Banff Springs – perfect for foodies and history buffs
➡ For rental car, check rates and availability with Discover Cars for best rates
➡ Top Hotel Recommendations:
- Banff – Moose Hotel and Suites (mid-range) | Fairmont Banff Springs and Rimrock Resort (luxury)
- Lake Louise – Lake Louise Inn (mid-range) | Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (luxury)
- Jasper – The Crimson, Tekarra Lodge (mid-range) | Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (luxury)
Table of Contents
7 day Banff and Jasper itinerary with Lake Louise and Icefields Parkway
Following is a preview of my seven-day Canadian Rockies road trip itinerary:
- Day 0 – Arrive at Calgary airport the night before or early morning.
- Day 1 – Icefields Parkway drive from Banff to Jasper. Stay overnight in Jasper.
- Day 2 – Explore Jasper National Park, and stay overnight in Jasper.
- Day 3 – Columbia Icefields Glacier tour and Icefields Parkway drive back from Jasper to Lake Louise, stay overnight in Lake Louise.
- Day 4 – Explore Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Arrive in Banff, and stay overnight in Banff.
- Day 5, 6, and 7- Explore Banff National Park, and stay overnight in Banff for the remaining days.
This Banff to Jasper road trip itinerary is for seven days, but you can easily customize it to a 5 day Banff and Jasper Itinerary by reducing the days for exploring Banff towards the end.
You can also make a day trip from Banff to Lake Louise and not stay overnight at Lake Louise. I will explain later in the article how you can customize this itinerary for 5 days in Banff Jasper!
Day 1: Banff to Jasper via Icefields Parkway scenic drive
On Day 1 of our Banff to Jasper road trip Itinerary, we will explore the Icefields Parkway scenic drive and all the amazing stops and vista points on it.
We stayed overnight in Calgary and then started the next day morning for our Canadian Rockies road trip from Banff to Jasper. Plan to stay in Calgary for a day or two to explore the city.
After checkout from our Calgary hotel, we started on our scenic journey to Jasper. After about an hour’s drive, we stopped in Canmore downtown for lunch. This is where we first saw the snow-covered Canadian Rockies and were so impressed by them.
I remember wondering how the Icefields parkway drive would be any different from this view right here in Canmore.
I had no idea how much unspoiled natural beauty and wonder was in store for us in the next 7 days! That Rockies view in Canmore was just a teaser to everything that we were going to experience.
Icefields Parkway scenic drive from Banff to Jasper
The drive between Lake Louise and Jasper is the scenic Icefields Parkway drive which is rightly named one of the top 10 drives in the world.
➡ Short on time and do not wish to stay overnight in Jasper? You can also opt for this Small group day tour from Banff that covers Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Icefields Parkway Drive.
Every bend in the road brings terrific scenery that is postcard perfect. As we went in early June, there was a lot of snow on the mountains, and the white snow contrasted splendidly with the dark, jagged mountain peaks.
The entire drive is around 3 hours without any stops, but there are so many views and vistas along the way that cannot be missed. You should plan a whole day for the Icefields Parkway Drive.
If you start early in the day, you can make all the stops on the same day or keep some for the return drive back to Banff.
We stopped at all the viewpoints on our way to Jasper. We kept the Icefields Parkway glacier and Skywalk tour for the return drive as that was a 3-hour tour.
Spotting wildlife along Icefields Parkway drive
Just when we left Lake Louise and started the drive on the Icefields Parkway, we spotted a black bear on the side of the road! We were so excited to see a bear on our first day.
We looked from our car at a distance and did not disturb it in any way, and it kept on eating the roadside vegetation.
Keep your eyes on the road and alongside for any wildlife spotting. If you see a car stopped on the side of the road, there is a high chance they have spotted some wildlife, so make sure to look around.
We saw two black bears, a family of bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and elk. Make sure to keep your distance from the animals and not disturb them.
Must do Stops along the Icefield Parkway
When you purchase the Parks Canada pass at the entrance to Banff National Park, they will provide you with a booklet with a map of the Icefields Parkway.
We used that map to find the stops along the way. There are signs alongside the road that match the order on the map, which makes it easy to know which stop to expect next.
Most stops are just quick views from the parking lot, but some need short walks/hikes to reach the waterfalls and viewpoints.
I will mention this in the individual stop descriptions below. Depending on the time you have in hand, you can do all of them or keep some for the drive back.
➡ The most popular stop on Icefields Parkway is the Columbia Icefields Center, where you can take a Columbia Icefield Glacier and Skywalk combo tour and walk on the Athabasca Glacier!
Bow Lake viewpoint
This lake can be viewed right from the parking lot, which is on the Icefields Parkway. As we went in early June, Bow Lake was still frozen.
It was a sight to behold as I had never seen a frozen lake before (Even though I live four hours’ drive away from Lake Tahoe in California!) Bow Lake was beautiful, with the snow-covered mountains in the backdrop.
Peyto Lake upper viewpoint
This viewpoint needs a little hike to reach. It is around a 15-minute hike on each side, so allow a total of 45 minutes for this stop.
In early June, this trail was covered in snow, and it was raining, so we had to skip this one. But we are told that this viewpoint has a postcard-perfect view and is a must.
Waterfowl Lake viewpoint
This lake can be viewed right from the parking lot and is just a 30-minute drive away from Bow Lake.
We were amazed to see that this lake was not frozen as opposed to Bow Lake, which was still frozen. It was drizzling and foggy, but it still was beautiful.
Saskatchewan river crossing
There is a café, gas station, and restrooms at this stop. It’s about midway on the Icefields Parkway and the last stop to fill gas before you reach Jasper.
I highly recommend filling gas in Banff or Jasper as it can be expensive here. We stopped at the café store for some snacks for the road.
We didn’t see any sign for this one, but it’s hard to miss. A huge roadside mountain with many small waterfalls, which probably gave it this unique name. You can see this stop from the roadside.
Big bend viewpoint
This viewpoint shows a panoramic view of the curvy Icefields parkway drive. You will have to look out for this one as it is on the top of the curve of a windy road you just drove on and is easy to miss.
I did not find this viewpoint listed in the map booklet either. While driving from Banff to Jasper, this will be on your side of the road.
Icefields Glacier and Skywalk tour
The Athabasca Glacier is on Icefields Parkway Drive. It is around 2 hours from Banff and 1 hour from Jasper.
The Columbia Icefields adventure tour company runs tours from mid-May to mid-October. The exact operating dates each year are weather dependent. The whole tour, including the Skywalk, takes around 3 hours.
➡ If you are driving yourself, check rates and availability for the Columbia Icefield Glacier and Skywalk combo tour, a not to miss experience on Icefields Parkway!
This is a must for anyone visiting this region as it is a unique experience to walk on the Athabasca glacier, a 10,000-year-old sheet of ice.
➡ Looking for a day tour from Banff to the Icefields Glacier? This highly-rated small group Athabasca Glacier tour from Banff includes transport, admission to the Columbia Icefields Glacier tour and Skywalk, and a picnic lunch.
We saved this tour for Day 3 for our return drive to Banff. Read about our Athabasca Glacier and Skywalk experience on Day 3 of this itinerary below.
The next stop very close to Jasper is Sunwapta Falls. The falls can be viewed from a platform very close to the parking lot, so not much walking is required. The falls were rushing and gorgeous. We stopped here for just 10 minutes to admire the falls.
The final stop in our scenic drive is Athabasca Falls. These falls are more massive and powerful than the Sunwapta Falls, and there is a nice boardwalk built to see the falls from different viewpoints.
This is around 30 minutes drive from Jasper and a must-see. The trail is short, easy, and very scenic. It can be completed in a 15-20 minutes stroll.
Stay overnight in Jasper
We finally reached Jasper after an amazing day and checked into Tekarra Lodge. It’s a beautiful lodge 5 minutes from Jasper town, along the river, with excellent views. We had a two-bedroom cottage with a kitchen and enough space to spread out. The lodge had a campfire and s’mores night!
Day 2: Exploring Jasper National Park
On Day 2 of our 7 days in the Canadian Rockies, we will explore Jasper National Park and its top tourist attractions.
In the morning, complete a spectacular hike on the Maligne Canyon, followed by a visit to Maligne Lake and Medicine Lake. In the evening, take the Jasper Skytram to see panoramic views of Jasper National Park from the top of Whistler Mountain.
➡ Looking for a tour from Jasper to Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake? This highly-rated small group Jasper National Park Tour includes the Maligne Canyon hike, Maligne Lake cruise or guided hike, Medicine Lake, and scenic stops.
Maligne canyon hike
Our first stop is Maligne Canyon. It’s around 15 minutes drive from Jasper downtown. It is a spectacular limestone canyon created by waterfalls and is a sight to see.
There are several trails here for people of all abilities to view the canyon and the waterfalls. There are six bridges built over the Maligne Canyon, and there are parking lots at the main canyon or near the first bridge, fifth bridge, and sixth bridge.
The most common way to see the falls with minimum hiking is to park at the main parking lot, where there is a restaurant, café, and restrooms. From there, you can start your hike and walk up to the second or third bridge, depending on your time availability. This area is also the most crowded.
Another popular and recommended path is to park at the fifth bridge or sixth bridge and walk to the first bridge. This way, you walk up towards the flow of the water and save the most dramatic falls viewing for the end.
If you park at the sixth bridge, it’s a much longer hike. We parked at the fifth bridge to shorten our hike and walked our way up. It drizzled slightly, which helped with the incline hike and kept us cool.
At the top, we ate at the Maligne Wilderness Kitchen café and started down again to reach the parking lot at the fifth bridge. We took the same route to go down alongside the river.
There are some alternate paths as well, which are steeper. It was a very scenic and refreshing hike to start our day in Jasper.
It was Monday morning in early June, but it was still very crowded near the first to third bridges. Crowds thin out as you go further down.
In the winter, the water freezes over, and they have tours to walk inside the frozen canyon. How amazing that would be, I have seen some pictures of the frozen waterfall, and they are mind-blowing. It’s like the water is frozen in time!
➡ If you are visiting Jasper and Maligne Canyon during the winter months of December to March, check out this highly-rated small group Maligne Canyon Ice Walk tour – walk inside a frozen canyon and see frozen waterfalls up close!
After the Maligne Canyon, we drove further on Maligne Road to see Maligne Lake. It’s a 30-minute drive from Maligne Canyon. It’s a beautiful secluded road with chances to spot wildlife.
On the way to Maligne Lake, you will come across Medicine Lake and Medicine Lake viewpoint which is an excellent stop to take photos.
Finally, we reached Maligne Lake, the parking lot was huge, and there were many people there.
Unfortunately, the Maligne Lake was still frozen, and the cruise was not operating yet. But even the frozen Maligne Lake is stunning. There is a boardwalk to walk on to see the beautiful lake. Maligne Lake is a very long narrow lake between mountain ranges.
The Maligne Lake Cruise is 1.5 hours long and takes you near Spirit Island, where you can take pictures of the beautiful island. If visiting between June and October, you should definitely go on the Maligne Lake Cruise.
➡ Check rates and availability for Maligne Lake cruise tickets
In the evening, we drove to the Jasper Skytram, which is a ten-minute drive from Jasper downtown. We bought the Jasper Skytram tickets and headed up to Whistler Mountain.
The Skytram takes groups of people at a time and is a 7-minute ride. There is a restaurant at the upper station. The upper Skytram station and the Whistler mountain peak are visible from almost everywhere in Jasper. It’s hard to miss.
Once you exit the upper station building, the mountaintop is very raw and welcoming. There are no boardwalks here, just a vast space to walk on and explore.
There is a Summit trail that is around a mile long but has a lot of elevation. In early June, there was still a lot of snow on the trails. We just looked around at the views but did not try to hike in the snow.
The panoramic views from the mountaintop are magical and therapeutic. You can gaze at several mountain ranges and see the entire mountain town of Jasper, the Valley of the Five Lakes, Beauvert Lake, Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, and many more turquoise-blue lakes and rivers.
After these incredible views, we called it a day and returned to our hotel.
Miette Hot Springs
Alternate Itinerary tip for Day 2: Instead of Jasper Skytram, you can also visit the Miette Hot Springs after Maligne Lake and visit Jasper Skytram on Day 3 morning.
Miette Hot Springs is an hour’s drive north of Jasper, so it’s best to fit it on the day when you are staying in Jasper for the night.
Miette hot springs feature the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies. The natural mineral water in these pools flows from the mountains and is cooled to around 40 degrees Celsius or 104 Fahrenheit.
They have showers and changing rooms here, and you can rent towels. If you have time after the hot springs, you can take a short stroll to the source of the hot springs, where the water is at the original hotter temperature.
Day 3: Columbia Icefields Glacier tour and Icefields Pkwy to Lake Louise
On Day 3 of our Jasper to Banff road trip, we will explore Jasper downtown in the morning and then drive back on Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise. If you did not take the Columbia Icefields Glacier tour during your road trip from Banff to Jasper, you should do it now.
After checkout, we stopped at the Jasper downtown for some food before starting our journey back on the Icefields Parkway.
The Jasper mountain town is bustling with hotels, lodges, and restaurants. The Jasper train station and the train tracks run parallel to the town.
Columbia Icefields Glacier tour and Skywalk
Around an hour’s drive from Jasper towards Lake Louise, you will reach the Columbia Icefields Center, where you can take a Glacier tour to walk on the Athabasca Glacier!
➡ Check rates and availability for the Columbia Icefield Glacier and Skywalk combo tour and walk on the Athabasca Glacier!
The entire tour is nicely organized. The Icefield Center has good facilities, a restaurant, and even a Starbucks to get some hot chocolate and snacks after the tour.
Athabasca glacier tour experience
First, you board a tour bus which takes you to the foot of the glacier and is a 10-minute ride, and then you change and board the massive Ice Explorer vehicle. These special vehicles are amazing and have the most enormous tires I have ever seen.
Our driver was really knowledgeable and gave a lot of good information about the Athabasca Glacier and the Ice Explorer vehicle. The vehicle goes down a very steep grade road, and it’s an extraordinary experience. Then it continues to drive on the glacier ice!
We were given around 15-20 minutes on the glacier. The ice is very slippery, but the views are mind-blowing. This was our family’s first experience walking on a glacier, and it was so cool!
It was very cold and windy on the glacier, so bring jackets, winter caps, and gloves. The glacier experience totally made our day and was the most memorable part of our trip.
➡ Looking for a day tour from Banff to the Icefields Glacier? This highly-rated small group Athabasca Glacier tour from Banff includes transport from Banff and tickets to the Columbia Icefields Glacier tour and Skywalk and a picnic lunch.
After the glacier experience, you board the tour bus again, and they take you to the Skywalk experience. The Skywalk has a glass floor and has jaw-dropping views of the Sunwapta Valley below. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking.
➡ Check rates and availability for the Columbia Icefield Glacier and Skywalk combo tour and walk on the Athabasca Glacier!
Stay overnight in Lake Louise
We made several stops on the Icefields Parkway before we reached our hotel at Lake Louise.
We stayed at Lake Louise Inn. It was a very good hotel, and the lobby was impressive. It had several restaurants, including a pizzeria. We ordered a pizza and called it a night.
Day 4: Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
On Day 4 of our Canadian Rockies itinerary, explore Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, the most beautiful lakes in the world!
➡ Looking for a day tour from Banff to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake? This highly-rated small group Lake Louise and Icefields Parkway tour from Banff includes Moraine Lake (seasonal), Lake Minnewanka in Banff, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake on Icefields Parkway as well!
This is the most famous lake in the Canadian Rockies. Before I saw this lake, I was wondering what all the hype was about. We had already seen so many amazing lakes on this trip. How different can it be?
We visited this lake in early June. A couple of days before, I checked the live webcams, and the lake was still partly frozen. I was hoping we would get to see the turquoise blue waters that it’s famous for. We got so lucky! The weather warmed up the day before, and the lake was fully melted!
Parking at Lake Louise
As Lake Louise is a must-do for anyone visiting the Canadian Rockies and Banff, the parking lot fills up pretty fast, sometimes before sunrise, especially in the summer months of July and August.
We went in early June on a Wednesday and reached there around 8 am. The parking lot was huge, but it seemed like the whole world was there! Luckily we got parking. In the busy months of July and August, the parking fills up very early in the morning, sometimes before sunrise!
There is a shuttle service that runs between Lake Louise Park and Ride and Lake Louise And Lake Moraine. Reservations are highly recommended during July and August and can be made on the Parks Canada website.
Lake Louise views
After exiting the parking lot, it is a very short walk to Lake Louise Lakeshore. It was a most breathtaking sight.
The turquoise blue water of the lake, the Victoria glacier, the majestic mountains backdrop, and the Fairmont Chateau Hotel, which stood like a crown, added to the beauty of the scene. It was indeed the most stunning scenery!
Lake Louise Lakeshore trail
It was drizzling slightly that morning, and we walked the Lakeshore trail. This is an almost flat, out-and-back trail on the right side of the lake along the shore that takes you to the other end of the lake.
The view of the Fairmont Hotel from the other end is magnificent. The total trail is around 3 miles out and back. It is very busy at the start of the trail but the crowds thin out in the latter half. It’s a beautiful walk with picture-perfect scenery.
Afternoon tea at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
While researching for our trip, I came across the Afternoon tea at the Fairmont, and I knew my girls would love it. It is expensive, but as we had never tried an afternoon tea experience before, we decided to splurge for it.
They have a regular menu, a vegetarian/vegan menu, and a children’s menu. The tea experience menu has three categories – Scones, Savories, and desserts.
The server showed us the tea menu, and they had a lot of options. Their tea special that day was the Masala chai, and we definitely opted for that. We each got our own teapots. The girls tried herb teas.
Our three-tiered trays arrived loaded with food. The presentation was top-notch. The top tray had scones and an assortment of custards, jams, and marmalades.
The middle tray had the savories, and the bottom tray had the desserts. We had a lot of fun trying everything and sharing it with each other. The masala chai was welcoming as it was cold and drizzling outside.
For my girls, this tea experience was the highlight of their trip. I was so glad we decided to try it!
Lake Agnes Teahouse hike
Alternate itinerary tip: If you are up for a more moderately challenging hike, the Lake Agnes trail that leads to the Lake Agnes teahouse is a very popular trail in Lake Louise.
This trail had a lot of deep snow in early June, so we did not attempt it. But from July onwards it should be doable.
The trail starts from the Lake Louise lakeshore area. It is around 5 miles out and back with 1,427 feet of elevation gain. The teahouse is very busy during the summer months, and there are lines out the door!
After feasting our eyes on the incredible Lake Louise, we went to Lake Moraine. It’s around a 30-minute drive from Lake Louise.
I was not sure how Lake Moraine could match the view we had just experienced at Lake Louise and was expecting it to be just a quick stop. Moraine Lake was so beautiful and so worth it! Do not miss this!
Note: Starting in 2023, you cannot drive your personal vehicle to Moraine Lake in an attempt to reduce parking congestion. You have to either make advance reservations on the Parks Canada Shuttle, use the ROAM Transit bus, or use a commercial transport provider like Hop-on Ho-off Banff Bus or a day tour from Banff.
When we reached Lake Moraine, it was a winter wonderland! The lake was still solid frozen with snow on it, and everyone was playing in the snow. It was amazing.
There is a massive rock pile on one end, the lake in the middle, and snow-covered mountains around it. There are steps on the back side of the rock pile to reach the top. From the top of the rock pile, you will enjoy picture-perfect views of Moraine Lake.
What to do at Moraine Lake
Apart from admiring the views at Moraine Lake, other popular activities here are hiking, canoeing, and paddleboarding.
The Lake Moraine Lakeshore Trail is a great easy walk to admire the views of the lake and the surrounding mountain ranges. The short hike to the top of the rock pile also will reward you with excellent views!
Sunrise and sunset at Moraine Lake
If you are staying overnight in Lake Louise and are up for waking up super early, many folks go to lake Moraine at sunrise to take pictures. I heard it gets very crowded, and people are waiting with tripods everywhere to take the perfect sunrise shot.
But keep in mind the sunrise in that region during the summer months is around 5:30 AM, and sunset is around 10 PM. Both times were not doable for us, so we just went in the early evening.
Note: Starting in 2023, you can no longer drive to Moraine Lake in your personal vehicle. Commercial vehicles are still allowed. Parks Canada Shuttle does not operate before 6 AM. The only way to go to Moraine Lake for sunrise viewing would be through a commercial operator.
Drive back to Banff
After a fantastic day at Lake Louise and Lake Moraine and a lifetime of memories, we started for our Banff hotel.
We stayed at the Moose hotel and suites in Banff town. We had a comfortable suite with a separate living room. The location was perfect, and we could walk to all the restaurants and stores downtown.
Day 5: Banff Gondola and Banff Hot Springs
On Day 5 of our 7 days in Banff itinerary, we will explore the two most popular Banff National Park attractions – Banff Gondola and Banff Hot Springs.
In the morning, we headed to the Banff gondola. It’s around a 12-minute drive from Banff downtown. There is a free shuttle to Banff Gondola from downtown, and it’s highly recommended to use the shuttle during the peak summer months as parking can be limited at the Gondola.
➡ Check rates and availability for Banff Gondola tickets
The lower gondola station was very crowded. There is a huge Starbucks at the lower station and restroom facilities. Our gondola time was 12:10 PM, but the boarding line was quite long, and it took us another 30 minutes to board the gondola.
The Banff gondola takes you up the Sulfur Mountain. Each gondola car can seat four people comfortably. You can split into multiple cars if you have a larger group.
The views going up on the Gondola are really mind-blowing, and I am always amazed at the construction marvel of how high the gondolas take us.
The upper gondola station is huge, with three levels. There are two restaurants, a coffee shop, a theater, a souvenir shop, an excellent upstairs terrace for 360-degree views, and restrooms.
Once you exit the upper station, there is an easy boardwalk trail that goes all the way to Sanson’s Peak and the historic Cosmic Ray station.
The boardwalk trail is a little less than 2 miles and is worth doing because of the incredible views of the surrounding mountain peaks, Banff town, turquoise blue lakes, and Bow Valley. The Cosmic Ray station at the other end of the trail is a fascinating piece of history.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Banff hot springs are right across the Banff Gondola, and it makes sense to visit both of them on the same day. If you visited the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper, then you can skip this one and do some hiking instead or explore Banff downtown.
The waters of Banff hot springs are heated geothermally and are mineral rich. The hot springs are very crowded as people love to sit and relax in the healing and therapeutic mineral-rich water.
The facilities have restrooms, showers, locker rooms, and towel rentals. There is also a café to enjoy some snacks afterward.
A local tip is to visit the hot springs in the early morning instead of the evening for a more relaxing and less crowded experience.
Day 6: Lake Minnewanka and Johnston Canyon in Banff
On Day 6 of our Banff Itinerary, we will explore Lake Minnewanka and Johnston Canyon lower and upper falls in Banff National Park.
In the morning, we went to Lake Minnewanka. We had a cruise time of noon booked. We were able to find parking, but there is a free shuttle that runs from Banff downtown if you have a cruise ticket.
➡ Check rates and availability for Lake Minnewanka cruise tickets
Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake around 21 kilometers (13 miles long) and is a very popular lake in summer for hiking, biking, fishing, diving, canoeing, and boating. There are canoe and boat rentals available, café, picnic tables, and restrooms.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and the turquoise water of the lake shone with the sun’s rays. The mountain ranges, and the alpine forests around it provided the perfect backdrop.
Once you check in at the gift shop ticket counter, you get pre-assigned seats for the boat. Our boat cruise staff was a skilled boat captain and a tour guide that told us all about the history of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
The lake was called Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits) because the people respected and feared the lake for its resident spirits. There are historic artifacts thousands of years old, buried at Lake Minnewanka shores, that are protected.
There is a buried resort town in the lake, Minnewanka Landing, which was submerged when a dam built in 1941 raised the water level by 30 meters. How cool is that!
The boat cruise takes you near the Devil’s gap, which is an opening between the mountain ranges. The boat has a small deck in the back, and you can enjoy the panoramic scenery from there.
Overall it was a very relaxing and informative cruise, and an hour went by too fast. After the cruise, if you are up for it, you can hike the Minnewanka Lakeside trail. We were planning to hike the Johnston Canyon later that day so we skipped the hike.
We headed back to Banff downtown for lunch.
Johnston Canyon hike and waterfalls
After lunch, we went to Johnston Canyon to see the waterfalls. It’s around a 30-minute drive from Banff downtown. This is the most famous hike in Banff, and it’s very popular and crowded. The Johnston Canyon is carved by thousands of years of water erosion, and the views are phenomenal.
The Johnston Canyon hike has three levels. Johnston Canyon hike to the lower falls is 1.4 miles out and back with 344 feet of elevation. This is the easiest trail, and most people should be able to do this.
From the lower falls, the hike to the upper falls is another 1.8 miles and 500 feet elevation. The crowds here are much less than on the lower falls trail.
After the upper falls, the hike to the Ink Pots is very strenuous, with another 4 miles and around 1100 feet elevation. We did the hike up to the Upper Falls.
We reached Johnston Canyon in the evening around 5 PM. In Summer, we prefer hikes in the late afternoons as the weather cools down a bit and gets more pleasant. The crowds are also lesser in the evenings than in the mornings on popular hikes.
The parking lot is huge and free. During the busy summer months, an alternative is to take the ROAM Public Transit Route 9 from Banff to avoid parking issues.
You can also use the Hop-On and Hop-Off Banff Bus to travel between Banff, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake.
Johnston Canyon hike to the Lower Falls
We started our ascent to the lower falls along a paved trail. The trail started out in a forest setting and then through boardwalks along the canyon. Johnston Creek is next to the trail almost the entire time.
The lower falls arrived in less than 30 minutes and were spectacular. There is a tunnel cut across a canyon rock to see the falls up close. There might be a line to get across the tunnel, but the view of the falls from the tunnel is worth the wait! You can feel the mist of the water inside the cave.
Johnston Canyon hike to the Upper Falls
Next, we started for the upper falls. This part is a bit tiring, and there is some incline. My kids wanted to give up, but we kept them going. Finally, we reached the upper falls in another 40 minutes or so. We were so glad we pushed ourselves!
The upper falls are truly awe-inspiring. Watching the water cascade down from such a height is a humbling experience. There were still some ice sheets on the sides of the canyon, and it was quite cool up there.
There is a viewing platform constructed along the canyon that offers breathtaking views of the upper falls. After completing the hike, the mist from the waterfall was a welcome relief.
Descending was quite effortless, and we reached the parking lot in just about 30 minutes. The entire hike lasted between 2 to 3 hours. Make sure to carry enough water for the hike.
There is a restaurant at the base of the Johnston Canyon, a gift shop, and restrooms.
Just like with Maligne Canyon, during winter months, the waterfalls and Johnston creek freeze, and you can walk in the frozen canyon through guided tours.
After a refreshing hike, we headed back to Banff downtown for dinner.
Day 7: Cave and Basin, Banff downtown, horseback riding
Day 7 was the last day of our Canadian Rockies road trip, and we wanted to do a morning activity and then relax and explore the Banff downtown area.
Horseback riding along Bow River
For our morning activity, we chose horseback riding and headed to the stables in Banff. We had booked a 1-hour scenic horse ride along the Bow River.
➡ Check rates and availability for 1-hour horseback riding along Bow river in Banff (beginner-friendly)
The stables were huge, and they had lots of horses. While we were waiting, a group of 12-14 riders was ready to leave, and we passed another group that was returning just when we started.
We were assigned our horses and given a few minutes to warm up to our horses. This was our second time trying horse riding, but I was still a bit nervous.
The riders in charge there were really nice and knew their horses quite well. My kids were quite comfortable with the horses. The horses walk nose to tail in a line, and there is no galloping. One staff rider rode in the front and another at the end of the line.
The trail was nice and scenic. The latter half was along the Bow River, and we could see the mountains in the backdrop.
There was tall grass growing on the side of the trail, and the horses would take every occasion to stop to eat the grass and stop the entire line! Overall it was a fun experience.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
On the way back to Banff downtown, we passed the Cave and Basin national historic site and made an unplanned stop to explore. We had seen the Cave and Basin banners on the lampposts in Banff downtown.
Our Canada Discovery pass gave us free access to the site. We still needed to get our pass checked and get a hand stamp from the gift shop. Tickets can be purchased at the gift shop as well.
The Cave and Basin have been a special place for the Banff people for over a thousand years, and today the site is a museum with tours, interactive exhibits, and short film presentations.
The Cave and Basin are natural hot springs heated geothermally. As the Cave and Basin are protected, you are not allowed to touch the water here.
The Cave and Basin are home to an endangered Banff Snail, which lives in the water. The tour guide showed us the snails in the water. The sulfur smell is very strong in the Cave.
This place was also home to a bathhouse which is now closed. There is no bathing in the hot springs allowed at this site. You will have to go to Banff Hot Springs for that.
The whole museum can be seen in an hour. There are several trails from the Cave and Basin if you would like to explore more.
Explore Banff town
The downtown scene at Banff has a really cool vibe, with stunning snow-covered mountains as the backdrop.
After lunch at Banff downtown, we spent a lazy afternoon strolling in the downtown area and browsing local shops and boutiques. We tried Rocky Mountain chocolates and Rocky Mountain Soap Co. We also did some souvenir shopping.
Where to eat in Banff
Below are some excellent restaurants we tried in Banff during our three days in Banff:
Magpie and Stump – Mexican cuisine. This place had great decor, and the upstairs patio was beautiful.
Saffron Indian bistro – Indian cuisine. Really good Indian food, which satisfied our home food cravings.
Balkan – Greek cuisine. They had entertainment on Thursday, so we went to check it out. They had good vegetarian options.
Uno pizza – Really good pizza and appetizers!
Beavertails – My kids loved the Canadian pastries, and you can customize your toppings.
White Bark Café – I read somewhere about this café, and it did not disappoint!
➡ Check rates and availability for this Banff Food tour at Fairmont Banff Springs – perfect for foodies and history buffs!
Return to Calgary
In the evening, we drove back to our Calgary airport hotel, bringing an end to our epic Canadian Rockies road trip. We had an early morning flight the next day back to San Francisco.
Banff Jasper itinerary for 5 days
If you have 5 days to see Canadian Rockies, you can modify the above 7 day Banff to Jasper itinerary to make it 5 day itinerary as suggested below:
- Arrive at Calgary airport the night before or early morning
- Day 1 – Icefields Parkway Drive to Jasper, Columbia Icefields Glacier tour. Stay overnight at Jasper.
- Day 2- Explore Jasper National Park, arrive at Lake Louise. Stay overnight at Lake Louise.
- Day 3-Explore Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Stay overnight at Banff.
- Day 4, 5-Explore Banff National Park
Where to Stay for the Canadian Rockies Road Trip
This needs a little planning as the drive from Banff to Jasper is roughly 4 hours, with Icefields Parkway’s scenic route in between.
As there are several stops on the Icefields Parkway to check out, it pretty much takes the whole day for the drive, and a couple of nights in Jasper are a must to visit all the beautiful attractions near Jasper.
We broke down our road trip stay in the order below:
- 1 night in Calgary
- 2 nights in Jasper
- 1 night in Lake Louise
- 3 nights in Banff
- 1 night in Calgary
But it all depends on hotel availability. You can also start with Banff first and keep Jasper in the end.
Money-saving tip: If your flight is arriving late in the evening in Calgary and/or leaving early in the morning on the return trip, consider staying the shoulder nights in an airport hotel in Calgary.
Our flight landed at 11 PM, and it was so convenient to drive 5 minutes to our Calgary Hyatt Place hotel.
Similarly, on return, we had a morning flight, and we arrived the night before. We saved quite a bit as hotels near Calgary airport are cheaper than Banff. Also, we started our trip on the scenic route refreshed in the morning.
Where to stay in Banff
There are several accommodation options in Banff, ranging from luxurious to affordable hotels.
The Banff downtown area has plenty of hotels and is the most convenient place to stay as you can walk to all restaurants and shops. Also, many attractions offer shuttle service from the Banff town area.
Luxury resorts: Fairmont Banff Springs and Rimrock Resort. These resorts are a bit outside of the main Banff town area, so you will have to drive to Banff downtown for restaurants. There are plenty of restaurants within these resorts as well if you decide to stay in, but do make a trip to explore Banff town.
Mid-range hotels: Moose Hotel and Suites is a great option to stay in Banff, and this is where we stayed. It is in an excellent location and very accessible. Peaks Hotel and Suites is another great hotel in a prime location. You can walk to all the restaurants and stores from both of these hotels.
Economy hotels: Best Western Plus is a good budget-friendly option and yet close to all the action on Banff Avenue. But for more savings, look at accommodations in Canmore as well.
➡ Check rates and availability for your stay in Banff
Where to stay in Canmore
Staying in the town of Canmore instead of Banff is a budget-friendly alternative if you do not mind the extra 30-minute drive to Banff attractions.
Canmore Inn and Suites is a great mid-range hotel in Canmore with a pool and waterslide. This property has larger suites for families and an Indian restaurant onsite.
Canmore accommodations can be cheaper than Banff. If you like to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle, choose to stay in Banff town.
➡ Check rates and availability for your stay in Canmore
Where to stay in Lake Louise
Spending a night in the Lake Louise area is a good idea, especially if you want to stay to see sunrise or sunset at Lake Louise or Lake Moraine or if you want more time to do some hikes or just admire the views.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the ultimate resort if you want to splurge for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Another affordable option is staying at the Lake Louise Inn where we stayed, and it was really a great stay. The lobby was impressive, with several restaurants for dinner and a breakfast restaurant with a great breakfast buffet spread.
➡ Check rates and availability for your stay in Lake Louise
Where to stay in Jasper National Park
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a luxury resort in Jasper and is lake-front with beautiful scenery and epic views.
Tekarra Lodge is a great accommodation option 5 minutes away from Jasper downtown and has individual cabins with kitchens. We had a 2 bedroom cabin, and it was pretty comfortable. You feel amidst the wilderness here while still being close to the downtown shops and restaurants.
The Crimson is a good option if you are looking for accommodation in the Jasper downtown area. You can walk to the many shops and restaurants here.
➡ Check rates and availability for your stay in Jasper
Where to stay in Calgary
In Calgary, as we were only staying the night before and after our flights, we stayed at the Hyatt Place near Calgary airport. It is just 5 minute’s drive from the airport and has free breakfast which was great.
➡ Check rates and availability for your stay in Calgary
Travel tips and FAQs for visiting Banff, Jasper, and Canadian Rockies
Below are travel tips that will help you make the most of your trip to the Canadian Rockies and Banff and Jasper:
When is the best time to visit Banff and the Canadian Rockies?
Banff and the Canadian Rockies area are beautiful year-round, but its busy tourist sightseeing season is mainly June to September, as summer in Banff is the only time the lakes are not frozen, and most roads and tours/activities are open.
June and September are the shoulder seasons, with the busiest seasons being July and August.
We decided to go in early June to avoid the crowds and make it more affordable. Keep in mind it does rain quite a lot in June, but we took a chance. It rained one and half days out of our seven-day trip so it was not bad at all.
How many days are needed for Banff and Canadian Rockies road trip?
As you would need a few days in both Banff and Jasper and a day to drive the Icefields Parkway, between 5 to 7 days is ideal if you want to cover Banff, Lake Louise, Icefield Parkway, and Jasper.
If you plan to do longer hikes or visit the nearby National parks, then you will need a few extra days.
This Canadian Rockies itinerary covering Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise, and Icefields Parkway Drive is for 7 days.
But it can be easily modified for 5 days in Banff and Jasper road trip. Just reduce one night in Banff and make a day trip to Lake Louise.
How to get to Banff and the Canadian Rockies?
Flying in and out of Calgary Airport will be the fastest way to get to the Canadian Rockies. From there, you can drive to Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper or use a transfer service.
- Banff is around a 1.5-hour drive from Calgary over the scenic Trans-Canada Hwy AB-1.
- Lake Louise is around a 40-minute drive from Banff.
- Jasper is around a 3-hour drive from Lake Louise.
- The total drive from Calgary to Jasper will be around 5 hours without any stops.
Rent a car
You will need a rental car for your Canadian Rockies Road trip. It’s best to rent a car at the Calgary International Airport.
➡ Check rates and availability with Discover Cars as they check top car rental brands and provide the best rental car rates!
Use a shuttle or private transfer service
It is becoming increasingly popular to ditch the rental car and use a transfer service to Banff and then do sightseeing via tours to avoid the hassle of parking, especially during the busy tourist months of July and August.
➡ This shared Alberta Transfer service is an affordable way to transfer between Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise, Calgary, and Kananaskis.
➡ This Calgary YYC Airport to Banff private shuttle will be exclusive to your group and will pick up from Calgary Airport and drop you off at your Banff hotel.
How to get around Banff and the Canadian Rockies?
You can use a rental car to get around Banff and the Canadian Rockies.
For attractions within Banff, you can also use the ROAM transit service that stops at major Banff attractions.
Another alternative is to use the Hop-On and Hop-Off Banff Bus to travel between Banff, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake. As you can no longer drive your personal vehicle to Moraine Lake (starting 2023), this is a great option.
Day pass or annual pass for Banff and Jasper national parks?
The entire Banff and Jasper area, including the towns, fall under the National Parks, and you need a permit to enter. You can purchase a day pass or an annual pass at the entry checkpoint into Banff.
You can also purchase it from the Parks Canada website, but they add shipping costs as they ship the actual physical pass to you. It’s easier to just buy it at the gate when you enter Banff National Park.
The Discovery annual pass is good for a year for up to seven people in a vehicle. We bought the Discovery annual pass as we were going to be there for 7 days, and it turned out to be cheaper than the daily passes.
Just remember to bring it back with you and not forget it in your rental car like we did! You can reuse it if you plan to visit any other national parks in Canada in the one-year timeframe.
Final Takeaways: Canadian Rockies itinerary 5 to 7 days
Hope my Banff and Jasper itinerary helps you plan the most memorable road trip to the Canadian Rockies.
Soak in the majestic views and collect memories of a lifetime in Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway, and Jasper National Park.
Summary of Banff and Jasper itinerary 7 days:
- Day 1: Banff to Jasper via Icefields Parkway scenic drive
- Day 2: Explore Jasper National Park – Maligne Canyon hike, Maligne Lake, Jasper Skytram
- Day 3: Columbia Icefields Glacier tour and Icefields Pkwy to Lake Louise
- Day 4: Explore Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
- Day 5: Explore Banff: Banff Gondola and Banff Hot Springs
- Day 6: Explore Banff: Lake Minnewanka and Johnston Canyon hike
- Day 7: Explore Banff: Cave and Basin, Banff downtown, horseback riding
Going to Banff and the Canadian Rockies? Check out my other posts from the Canadian Rockies series: