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 and a must see. No words can describe the feeling of seeing the Canadian Rockies.
We recently spent the most amazing 7 days in Banff and Jasper National Parks. It was the most scenic vacation destination ever and we were in constant awe of the postcard perfect scenery at every turn.
Complete Banff Jasper itinerary with Lake Louise and Icefields Parkway
This 7 day Canadian Rockies itinerary flows as below:
- Arrive at Calgary airport the night before or early morning
- Day 1 – Icefields Parkway drive to Jasper, overnight in Jasper
- Day 2- Explore Jasper National Park, overnight in Jasper
- Day 3-Columbia Icefields Glacier tour. Arrive Lake Louise, overnight in Lake Louise
- Day 4-Explore Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Arrive Banff, overnight in Banff
- Day 5, 6, 7- Explore Banff National Park, overnight in Banff
This Banff Jasper itinerary is for 7 days but if you can easily make it a 5 day Banff Jasper Itinerary by reducing the days for exploring Banff towards the end. You can also just do a day trip from Banff to Lake Louise and not stay overnight at Lake Louise. 5 day Banff Jasper Itinerary modification is listed later in the post.
Day 1: Icefields parkway scenic drive to Jasper
In Day 1 of our Banff Jasper Itinerary we will explore the Icefields Parkway scenic drive and all the amazing stops and vista points on it.
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 drive
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. Every bend in the road brings amazing 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. 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 Icefield parkway drive
Just when we left lake Louise and started the drive on the Icefield 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, 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 which has 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 in 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 small 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.
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’s a 10 to 15 minute hike 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 was completely melted as opposed to Bow lake that was still frozen. It was drizzling and foggy but 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 was told it’s recommended to fill 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 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 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 the 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. Exact operating dates each year are weather dependent. The whole tour including the skywalk takes around 3 hours. This is a must for anyone visiting this region as it is a very unique experience to walk on the Athabasca glacier, a 10,000 year old sheet of ice. You can book the tour through the link below
We saved this tour for Day 3 for our return drive to Banff. Read about the Athabasca glacier and skywalk experience in Day 3 of this itinerary below.
The next stop very close to Jasper is the 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 a short, easy trail and very scenic. It can be completed in a 15-20 minutes stroll.
We finally reached Jasper after an amazing day and checked into Tekarra Lodge.
Day 2: Exploring Jasper – Maligne Canyon, Maligne Lake, Jasper Skytram, Miette Hot Springs
In Day 2 of our Banff Jasper Itinerary we will explore Jasper National Park and all its toursit attractions.
In the morning we set out to explore the Lake Maligne area and the Lake Maligne canyon. In the evening we went up the Jasper sky tram to see the views from the top of Whistler mountain.
Maligne canyon hike
Our first stop was 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 hike at the fifth bridge or sixth bridge and walk to the first bridge. That 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 was drizzling slightly but that helped with the incline hike and kept us cool.
At the top we fueled ourselves 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 more steep. It was a very scenic and refreshing hike on our Day 2 morning. It was Monday morning in early June but 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 frozen in time.
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.
In between there is Medicine Lake viewpoint which is a good stop to take photos.
Finally we reached Maligne lake, the parking lot was huge and there were a lot of people there. Most of the time on this trip the roads are quite empty but whenever we reached any parking lot it was as if everyone was there!
Unfortunately the Maligne lake was still frozen and the cruise was not operating yet. But the entire area is really beautiful. There is a boardwalk to walk on the see the beautiful lake. Maligne lake is a very long narrow lake between mountain ranges.
The cruise takes you near Spirit Island where you can take pictures of the beautiful island. If you visit when the cruise is operating, definitely add it to your list.
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 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. Later we realized that 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 which 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 5 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 headed back 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 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 is flowing from the mountains and 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: Jasper downtown, Columbia Icefields Glacier tour and Icefields pkwy to Lake Louise
In Day 3 of our Banff Jasper Itinerary we will explore Jasper downtown and then drive back on Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise. We took the Columbia Icefields Glacier tour on the way.
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
The Athabasca glacier is en route to the IceFields parkway. 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. Exact operating dates each year are weather dependent. The whole tour including the skywalk takes around 3 hours. This is a must for anyone visiting this region as it is a very unique experience to walk on the Athabasca glacier, a 10,000 year old sheet of ice.
You can book the tour through the link below. We purchased this tour as part of the Banff explorer package from the Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection website.
The entire tour is nicely organized. The Icefield center has good facilities, restrooms and even a Starbucks to get some hot chocolate and snacks after the tour.
Athabasca glacier experience:
First you board a tour bus which is a 10 minute ride, and then you change and board the massive Ice Explorer vehicle. These special vehicles are amazing and had the biggest tires I had ever seen. Our driver was really nice 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 a cool experience. Then it continues to drive on the glacier!
We were given 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. Overall, it totally made our day and was the most memorable part of our trip.
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.
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, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Lake Moraine
In Day 4 of our Banff Jasper Itinerary we will explore Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, the most beautiful lakes in the world!
This is the most famous lake in the Canadian Rockies. Before I saw this lake I was wondering what all the hype is about. We had already seen so many amazing lakes on this trip, how different can it be?
We visited this lake on June 8th. Till 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 blue waters that it’s famous for. We got so lucky. The weather warmed up a day before and it was fully melted!
Parking at lake Louise
As Lake Louise is a must do for anyone visiting this area the parking lot fills up pretty fast. We went in early June on a Wednesday and reached there around 10 am. The parking lot was huge but it seemed like the whole world was there! Luckily we got parking. In the busy months of June and July parking fills up very early in the morning.
There is a shuttle service that runs between the Lake Louise Park and Ride and the Lake Louise And Lake Moraine. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made on the Parks Canada website.
Lake Louise views
After exiting the parking lot it is a very short walk to the Lakeshore. It was a most breathtaking sight. The turquoise blue water of the lake, the Victoria glacier, the majestic mountains backdrop, and in front of all the Fairmont Chateau which stood like a crown adding to the beauty of the scene. It was truly more magical than the other lakes we had seen.
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 really beautiful. 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 later half. It’s a beautiful walk with picture perfect scenery.
Afternoon tea at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
When I was researching for this 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. It was 70$ per person and 40$ for the children when we visited.
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. As we are vegetarian but eat eggs, we chose the scones and the desserts from the regular menu but the savories from the vegan menu. The kids got the children’s menu.
The server showed us the tea menu and they had a lot of options. Their special was the Masala chai, and being Indians we definitely opted for that. We each got our own tea pots. The girls tried herb teas.
Our 3 tiered trays arrived loaded with food. The presentation was top-notch. The top tray had the 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 with each other. The masala chai was not like we make at home, but it was close and 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.
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 July onwards it should be doable. The trail starts from Lake Louise lakeshore area. It is around 5 miles out and back with 1,427 feet elevation. 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 minutes drive from Lake Louise. I was not sure how Lake Moraine could match the view we just experienced at Lake Louise and was expecting it to be just a quick stop. Boy, was I wrong.
The parking lot was quite large and we were easily able to find parking. But it was a Wednesday in early June. It might be best to book shuttle reservations for Lake Louise and Lake Moraine if visiting in the busy months of July and August.
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. My kids went crazy and played in the snow for quite a bit.
There is a huge rockpile on one end, the frozen lake in the middle, and snow covered mountains around it. I sat on the rockpile and admired the majestic views and happy people all around playing on the frozen lake. It was a meditative experience, and something I will always remember as my happy place.
Alternate itinerary tip: If you are staying overnight in Lake Louise, and are up for waking up super early like around 4 am, 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 early evening.
After an amazing 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. We had a comfortable suite with a separate living room. As we were staying for 3 nights we splurged a little on this hotel. The location was perfect and we could walk to all the restaurants and shops downtown.
Day 5: Banff Gondola and Banff Hot Springs
In Day 5 of our Banff Jasper Itinerary we will explore Banff National Park attractions – Banff Gondola and Banff Hot Springs.
In the morning we headed to the Banff gondola. It’s around 12 minutes drive from Banff downtown. There is a free shuttle to Banff Gondola from the downtown and it’s highly recommended to use the shuttle during the peak summer months as parking can be limited at the Gondola. You can find the shuttle schedule below:
We pre-booked our Gondola time when we purchased the Banff explorer package. You can look at the combo packages at the link below. If you are doing the Lake Maligne cruise in Jasper then go for the Jasper explorer package instead. Lake Maligne cruise was not running in early June when we went so we opted for the Lake Minnewanka cruise which is part of the Banff explorer package. The combo package saves around 25% as compared to buying the individual attractions.
The lower gondola station was very crowded. There is a huge Starbucks at the lower station and restroom facilities. Our gondola time was for 12:10 PM but the boarding line was quite long and 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 3 levels. There are two restaurants, a coffee shop, a theater, a souvenir shop, a cool 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 the 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 hike 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 rental. There is also a café to enjoy some snacks afterwards.
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
In Day 6 of our Banff Jasper Itinerary we will explore Lake Minnewanka and Johnston Canyon hike and waterfalls in Banff National Park.
In the morning we went to Lake Minnewanka. We had a cruise time of noon booked as part of the Banff explorer package. We were able to find parking, but there is a free shuttle that runs from Banff downtown if you have a cruise ticket.
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, a 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 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! There are historic artifacts thousands of years old, buried at Lake Minnewanka shores that are protected.
The boat cruise takes you near to the Devil’s gap which is an opening between the mountain ranges. The boat has a small deck in the back and you can view the open waters 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 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 minutes 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. The hike to the lower falls is 1.4 miles out and back with 344 feet elevation. This is the most easy 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 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 5PM. In summers we prefer hikes in the late afternoons as the weather cools down a bit and gets more pleasant. The crowds are also lesser in evenings than in 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.
Johnston Canyon hike to the Lower falls
We started our ascent to the lower falls. The trail is paved the whole way and there is hand rail at most parts. The trail started out with an easy walk along a forest and then through boardwalks along the canyon. You can see the rushing Jonston creek next to the trail pretty much the entire time.
The lower falls arrived in less than 30 minutes and are 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, make sure you don’t miss that. The tunnel is short and takes hardly a couple of minutes. Watch your head! You will see and experience the mist from the falls up close.
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 really magnificent. It is quite humbling to see the water roar and drop from that height. There were still some ice sheets on the sides of the canyon and it was quite cool up there. There is a nice viewing platform built on the canyon for some great views. The mist from the waterfall was so welcoming after the hike!
The descent was fairly easy and we made all the way to the parking lot in around 30 minutes. It was a total of 2-3 hours for the entire hike. 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, horse riding
Day 7 in Banff Jasper itinerary was the last day on our trip and we wanted to do a morning activity and then just relax and explore the Banff downtown area.
For our morning activity we chose horse riding and headed to the stables of Banff Trail Riders company. We had booked a 1 hour scenic horse ride along the Bow river. 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 ladies 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. We had one staff rider in the front and one at the end of the line. The trail was nice and scenic, there were a lot of mosquitoes in one area though. The later 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 been seeing the Cave and Basin banners on the lampposts in the 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 has 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.
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.
Some restaurants we tried in Banff during our 3 days here:
Magpie and Stump – Mexican cuisine. This place had a cool vibe and the upstairs patio was beautiful.
Saffron Indian bistro – Indian cuisine. Really good Indian food, satisfied our home food craving.
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!
In the evening we drove back to Calgary to our airport hotel bringing an end to our epic vacation. We had an early morning flight the next day back to San Francisco.
Banff Jasper itinerary for 5 days
If you just have 5 days to see Canadian Rockies, you can modify the above 7 day Banff Jasper itinerary to make it 5 days.
- 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 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
When to visit Banff and Canadian Rockies
Banff and the Canadian Rockies area is 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
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 just want to cover Jasper-Lake Louise-Banff. If you plan to do longer hikes or visit the nearby national parks then you will need a few extra days.
This Banff Jasper itinerary is for 7 days. But it can be easily modified to make a 5 day Banff Jasper itinerary. Just reduce 2 night in Banff and do not stay overnight in Lake Louise.
Where to fly into for Banff and 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.
- Banff is around 1.5 hours drive from Calgary over the scenic Trans-Canada Hwy AB-1.
- Lake Louise is around 40 minutes drive from Banff.
- Jasper is around 3 hours drive from Lake Louise.
- The total drive from Calgary to Jasper will be around 5 hours without any stops.
Where to stay in the Canadian Rockies
This needs a little planning as the drive from Banff to Jasper is roughly 4 hours with Icefields pkwy scenic route in between. As there are several stops on the Icefields pkwy 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 stayed 1 night in Calgary, 2 nights in Jasper, 1 night in Lake Louise, 3 nights in Banff, and 1 night in Calgary again in that order. 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 day 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 Calgary hotels 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 Banff town area.
Luxurious resorts: Fairmont Banff Springs and Rimrock resort hotel. These resorts are a little outside of the 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.
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.
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 accommodations can be cheaper than Banff. If you like to be in the middle of the hustle bustle choose to stay in Banff town.
Where to stay in Lake Louise
Spending a night in Lake Louise area is a good idea, especially if you want to stay to see sunrise or sunset at Lake Louise or Lake Moraine.
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. We were pleasantly surprised as Lake Louise Inn was a great hotel. The lobby was impressive and it has several restaurants for dinner and a breakfast restaurant with a great breakfast buffet spread.
Where to stay in Jasper National Park
Tekarra Lodge is a great accommodation option 5 minutes away from Jasper downtown and has individual cabins with kitchen. We had a 2 bedroom cabin and it was quite 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 something in the Jasper downtown. You can walk to the many shops and restaurants here.
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 has free breakfast which was great.
Day pass or annual pass for Banff and Jasper national parks
The entire Banff and Jasper area including the downtowns 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 cost as they ship the actual physical pass to you. Its 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.
In Conclusion: Banff Jasper itinerary 5 to 7 days
Hope my Banff Jasper Itinerary helps you plan the most memorable 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.
Going to Banff and the Canadian Rockies? Check out my other posts from the Canadian Rockies series: