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Banff National Park has become increasingly popular and we can completely understand why. The park is easily accessible and the views are overwhelmingly breathtaking. Crystal has been wanting to go for the past five years and our schedules finally aligned to make this four day trip a reality. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s massive. We had four days and still couldn’t manage to fit everything we wanted to see. But that just means we’ll have to make another trip.
We packed a lot of activities into our days and since most of the attractions we visited were popular sites, our itinerary consists of very early mornings to beat the crowds. Plus, we wanted to capture the sunrise and snag a parking spot (they are very limited).
One note: You might want to consider this a 4.5 day itinerary since we arrived in Calgary the night before and drove to Banff that evening. It’s a quick 1.5 hour drive from the Calgary airport to downtown Banff.
Banff Day 1
Sunrise Moraine Lake
Make sure you head to bed early the night before because you do not want to miss out on the sunrise at Moraine Lake. The drive to Moraine Lake from our hotel was about an hour, so we left around 5AM. When we arrived, the parking lot was already starting to fill up and we were amongst some of the last handful of cars to grab a parking spot before the lot was closed. The bright blue colors of Moraine Lake was absolutely stunning and worth the early wake up call.
Rockpile Trail at Moraine Lake
We also did a short hike up Rockpile Trail to get a view of Moraine Lake from above. This is a very easy trail and we absolutely recommend it. The hike went by so fast as the views along the way were so beautiful. We stopped several times to view the surroundings as the sun began to rise and illuminate the mountains.
Canoeing at Moraine Lake
After our little hike, we headed back down to explore the canoeing options. It was a bit chilly, so we hesitated at first but ultimately decided we needed to take advantage of this once-in-a-life-time experience. We pretty much had the lake to ourselves and it was so calming and peaceful.
Lake Louise Summer Gondola
Our morning at Moraine Lake was amazing and we were ready to grab some lunch. We heading to the Lake Louise Summer Gondola to grab some lunch at the Whitehorn Bistro. When we arrived at the gondola, there were several ticket and dining options and the staff was very friendly and guided us on the various options we had.
We arrived back at our hotel after our Summer Gondola ride and took a little nap. We were pretty tired from our early morning and the driving. When it was time for dinner, we headed to Ramen Arashi which was located very close to our hotel. Dinner here was just what we needed. The service was fast and the food was delicious. We are huge fans of ramen, so we were happy to have found a great ramen shop in Banff.
Crystal booked a private night photography session online prior to our trip in Banff. It started raining and it was a bit cloudy, but she managed to get a few shots of the beautiful night skies of Banff. We wish we could have had a clear night, but mountain weather is very unpredictable and you just have to work with what you get.
Banff Day 2
Since we had a long day (and late night) on our first day in Banff, we slept in a little on our second day. After we had our complimentary breakfast at Canalta Lodge, we headed to the Banff train station to catch the $5 shuttle to Johnston Canyon since parking would have most likely been full by the time we got there. Johnston Canyon was a beautiful one hour hike where we got to see the Lower Falls and Upper Falls. We love hiking to waterfalls and we equally love hikes that aren’t very strenuous.
Dinner at Block Kitchen & Bar
We wanted to dine at this restaurant on our first day in Banff, but the wait was super long. Since they don’t take reservations, we decided to head here right before dinner hours. We arrived around 6 PM and it was perfect timing as we were seated within fifteen minutes. The drinks here are flavorful, unique, and crafted to perfection. The food is a fun twist on Asian cuisine and we thoroughly enjoyed every one of our tapas style dishes.
Banff Day 3
Sunrise Lake Louise
We woke up in the wee hours to catch the beautiful sunrise at Lake Louise. This attraction is very popular and especially busy on a Saturday. Luckily, with our will power to get there early, we avoided the crowds, snagged a prime parking spot, and soaked in the beautiful views as the sun lit up the mountains.
Brunch at Tooloulous
We headed back to Downtown Banff after our early morning in Lake Louise to grab brunch at this Louisiana inspired cajun restaurant. We filled our tummies with generous portions of pancakes, eggs benedict and breakfast burritos.
Explore Downtown Banff
Initially, we didn’t’ have any plans to explore Downtown Banff, but it was such a beautiful day that we decided to take a walk around. We’re so glad we did because we walked across a beautiful bridge and came across a gorgeous flower garden. We even snuck in a little shopping.
Sulphur Mountain Summit
We highly recommend the Banff gondola to experience the summit at Sulphur Mountain. It was quite chilly at the summit, but the views made it all worth it. The deck at the summit was pretty big and there were activities both indoors and outdoors. We had dinner reservations so we didn’t have too much time to explore, so we walked around and took some photos before we headed to Sky Bistro.
Dinner at Sky Bistro
You definitely need reservations for Sky Bistro. The views here are spectacular and it adds so much to the dining experience. We enjoyed our dishes and had a wonderful evening celebrating Crystal’s birthday and ended it with a delicious strawberry shortcake for dessert.
Banff Day 4
Sunrise at Vermilion Lakes
We had to squeeze in one more sunrise on our last day in Banff. This location was very close to our hotel, so we didn’t have to wake up as early. The sunrise at Vermillion Lakes revealed a colorful purple sky, which was such a gorgeous site to see to start our last morning in Banff.
We were traveling with a couple of friends and while they decided to take a chairlift up Mount Norquay, Crystal and I decided to take some scenic photos around the area. As we were driving up the road, there was a perfect spot to park and soak in the views of Banff. It was a big open field and we even got to see Vermilion Lakes in the distance where we were at earlier in the morning.
Lunch at Saltlik
We actually had dinner at Saltlik the first night we arrived in Banff and we loved this place so much that we went back for our final meal in Banff. There were other restaurants, but the lines were long and we wanted to be seated immediately since we wanted to explore a little bit more of Banff before we departed the park.
Cave & Basin
We almost passed up on visiting Cave & Basin as it seemed like it wasn’t that memorable when we asked our server about it. We’re glad we decided to disregard the underwhelming response of this place because we actually really enjoyed it. The views weren’t anything like Moraine Lake or Lake Louise, but it was a fun informative site that ended with a fun little walk through a cave that lead to a gorgeous hot spring.
Drive to Calgary
We had a very early morning flight the next day, so we decided it was best to head back to Calgary for the day prior to our flight.
We had an amazing time in Banff and can’t wait to make plans to revisit. We didn’t have time to explore Jasper National Park, which is a 3.5 to 4-hour drive from downtown Banff, and heard that the drive was an incredible scenic drive. Everything we did in Banff was so memorable and truly picture perfect. It’s definitely worth the visit!