One weekend in Banff is not nearly enough to see all that this iconic national park has to offer. However, spending 2 days in Banff National Park will give you a taste of this area. (We expect you’ll be planning a full week here the next time!)
The scenery of the Canadian Rockies really is unmatched so be prepared to enjoy towering mountains, incredible views, and gorgeous turquoise lakes.
We’ll cover where to stay and what to do on your weekend trip to Banff in this ultimate 2 day itinerary for Banff, so you will maximize your time. Get your planning started, below.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in July 2022 to keep the content fresh!
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CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn all about the essential attractions to see when you have 2 days in Banff, including:
- Where is Banff National Park?
- Where to Stay in Banff National Park
- Day One Itinerary – Icefields Parkway
- Day 2 – Sightseeing in Banff
- Final Thoughts on Spending 2 Days in Banff
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Banff
Where is Banff National Park?
You’ll find Banff National Park in southwestern Alberta, Canada. It’s located along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and covers an expansive 2,564 mi² (6640.73 km²).
To its west, the Banff National Park borders British Columbia.
To the south are the US states of Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
The closest airport to Banff is Calgary International Airport (YYC), which is a 90-minute–and very scenic!–drive to Banff.
The town of Banff is a resort town in a small valley within Banff National Park, where you’ll find boutiques, dining, souvenirs, and even château-style hotels.
Which brings us to where to stay in Banff.
Where to Stay in Banff National Park
When planning a Banff National Park weekend trip it will be very important to stay close to the town of Banff or Lake Louise since you are limited on time.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is one of the most popular luxury hotels in the area with gorgeous views of Lake Louise.
This year-round mountain resort is nestled in the heart of the park and offers guided tours. It’s perfect if you love spacious luxury accommodations. Opt for one of lake view rooms for the breathtaking scenery, but you’ll have to book well in advance since these fill up quickly.
The Post Hotel and Spa is also a great choice, as an award-winning boutique hotel on Lake Louise.
You can rent a room or suite, cabin, or family lodging. While at the Post Hotel and Spa, you’ll enjoy award-winning cuisine and wine. You might even take a dip in their Roman-style salt-water pool.
Banff has more shops and a larger downtown, while Lake Louise is a bit quieter and smaller than its neighboring town.
Best Time to Visit Banff
This is not an easy question to answer, simply because there are several great times to visit Banff. Banff is a destination that offers an entirely different experience, depending on the season.
Here’s what I mean.
If hiking, scenery, and warmer weather are your thing, then the best time to visit Banff will be from June to mid-September.
If you visit from mid-September to early October, you’ll catch the golden Larch trees in peak season.
For winter sports and magical snow scenes, the end of November or late January is ideal.
And the spring is a great time to capitalize on shoulder season rates. You’ll probably be able to get in some spring skiing or golfing—or both!—depending on the weather.
Honestly, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Banff National Park.
The only thing to keep in mind is that July and August are the peak tourism months if you’re hoping to avoid crowds.
But let’s talk now about what to do once you get there, whenever that happens to be. You’ll want to maximize these two days in Banff!
Day One Itinerary – Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in the world and the perfect way to see the highlights of Banff if you’re on a timeline.
This road stretches from Lake Louise to Jasper and would take three hours to drive straight through.
You’ll find so many gorgeous places to stop though, that it’s the perfect day trip.
On the first of your 2 days in Banff, here are the stops we recommend as you plan the drive.
Moraine Lake is a famous lake worldwide. It has even been featured on the Canadian $20 bill.
At about 15 km (9.3 mi) from Lake Louise, this is the perfect first stop.
Get out and take a few photos of Moraine Lake. You’ll find an easy walking trail up to an overlook area.
The lake is set in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. (You’ll understand the name once you see it.) It’s awe-inspiring to see the jagged mountains rising out of the earth with the lake at the base!
Peyto Lake is another popular lake and one of the most photographed. Here, you’ll find another short walking trail where you can get out, stretch your legs, and get some nice photos of the lake.
If you get started late and are short on time, then you may want to choose either Moraine or Peyto Lake to visit.
Both are stunning in their own way and have the gorgeous turquoise water that comes from being a glacier-fed lake.
The Weeping Wall is a great stop for a photo opp.
This cliff is located at the base of Cirrus Mountain facing the parkway.
It’s called the Weeping Wall because the water falling down the cliff side looks like rivers of tears. It’s over 330 ft (100 m) tall and you can see it from the pull-out on the other side of the road.
Bridal Veil Falls
This waterfall is right on the line where the parkway transitions from Banff to Jasper National Park.
You can easily see Bridal Veil Falls from the road. It’s another popular spot for photographers.
Park in the large parking area, where you can see the bottom portion of the waterfall. The estimated height of the upper and lower falls is 1200 ft (366 m)!
If you would like to see the upper portion of the falls, then you can take a short walk to the North Saskatchewan lookout.
Of course, you must stop at one of the icefields since that is what the parkway is named for! An icefield is a wide and flat area of floating ice often found in polar regions.
In this case, Columbia Icefield is quite literally a field of ice you can view from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. The Centre serves as the Visitor’s Centre and has a small museum where you can learn about glaciers.
This is where many tours begin as well.
TIP: The Discovery Centre closes down in the winter so beware of that when you plan your trip.
Also known as the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, you can access this attraction from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre.
You do have to buy tickets for this and you are let on the platform at the time that your ticket states.
The Skywalk has a glass bottom and is 0.6 mi (1 km) long.
There are signs along the walk to teach you about the area and what you may see.
This is not for those afraid of heights as you’ll be 918 ft (280 m) over the Sunwapta Valley.
In the late spring and early summer, this class 6 waterfall thunders with the volume of water moving through it. This is when the snow is melting and cascading down the mountain.
Sunwapta Falls is one of the last stops before you reach the town of Jasper. Athabasca Falls is the last popular stop between Sunwapta and Jasper.
These falls have an impressive drop as it’s a total of 60 ft (18 m). Between the height and the volume of the falls, they are incredibly impressive!
NOTE: There are 10 broad classes of waterfalls based on average water volume, with Niagra Falls being a 10.
Day 2 of 2 Days in Banff | Sightseeing in Banff
Now for Day 2 of your two day itinerary for Banff.
Today you’ll see more lakes, waterfalls, and mountains. What a vacation!
The scenery really is the draw to this area, but if you would rather spend some time in town, then there is plenty to do downtown as well.
Swap out one of the lakes or the afternoon at Johnston Canyon for walking the quaint streets of Banff. You’ll find plenty of shops and art galleries to explore.
Beautiful Lake Louise quickly gets crowded no matter what time of year, so try to get there early so you avoid the crowds. The beauty here really is unmatched.
The lake is nestled below Mount Victoria and offers plenty of walking trails. You’ll have an opportunity to canoe out on the lake if it’s warm enough.
If you are an early riser, then this is a perfect spot to catch the sunrise. It will be one that you won’t soon forget.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise
Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff. And, it’s the only one that offers cruises. A cruise is the perfect way to get out on the water if you would rather not rent a kayak or a canoe.
There is also a chance you will see wildlife on your cruise – people have seen big horn sheep, deer, and occasionally bear.
The captain will also offer commentary throughout your trip, so you will learn interesting facts about the area. You can even opt to take a Beer Voyage if you like craft beer.
Johnston Canyon (Easy Hike)
The hike to the lower falls of Johnston Canyon is an easy 0.7 mi (1.1 km) walk. You’ll venture through the canyon with its towering walls and be awe-struck by this scenery.
Being awe-struck seems to come with the territory here.
You’ll walk along catwalks that have been attached to the canyon walls. The trail is one of the busiest in the park so you may want to go in an “off-time.” Hopefully by late afternoon, at least some people will have made their way out.
After the lower falls, the trail gets narrower and much steeper, so it’s a bit tougher.
Banff Scenic Gondola
For your last activity in Banff, head to the top of a mountain for a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
At the top of the Banff Gondola, you’ll find the Gondola Summit, a boardwalk, and Sanson’s Peak where the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station is located. The Cosmic Ray station is one of nine Canadian sites to study cosmic rays in 1957-8 – this one having the highest elevation.
You’ll have no trouble grabbing a bite, with several good places to eat.
Sky Bistro and Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen both offer delicious sit-down meals.
If you want something quick, then stop by Castle Mountain Coffee.
For an unforgettable sunset view, hang out at Peak Patio and enjoy drinks with appetizers. This is one of the most popular places for sunset, and a delightful way to end your 2 days in Banff.
Enjoy your last night in town, dining at the top of the Canadian Rockies. Soak it all in and start planning your return trip!
Final Thoughts on A Weekend in Banff
So, that was a lot of ground to cover for 2 days in Banff. But it’s totally doable! If nothing else, it gives you a taste of the amazing attractions in Banff National Park – and will whet your appetite for a return visit.
Frequently Asked Questions About Banff
Here are answers to some common questions readers ask about Banff.
Is 2 days in Banff enough?
2 days in Banff will give you a good taste of the area and allow you to see some of the major attractions. But if you can spare three or more days, of course you can explore Banff further. Two days in Banff is the minimum, but 5 days in Banff is ideal.
Is Banff or Jasper better?
Both Banff and Jasper are amazing destinations in Alberta Canada for scenery and activities. But If you’re looking for better skiing, Banff is better than Jasper. That’s because of the number and variety of hills. Banff offers some of the best skiing at Lake Louse, Norquat, and Sunshine Village. Banff also has a better nightlife.
Jasper is great for relaxing in the summer, draws less crowds, and is reachable by train.
But honestly, both are worthwhile destinations when you’re visiting Canadian Rockies.
Do I need a car in Banff?
You can explore Banff without a car if your hotel provides a complimenary shuttle service within the town. But, you’ll have more freedom if you rent a car in Banff. And, you might get some great rates, especially in the winter.
Does Banff have Northern Lights?
Yes! So you may be able to tick the Northern Lights experience off your bucket list when you visit Banff. You can see them at several times throughout the year, but October to May is prime viewing time. So, you may want to plan your trip around then if you hope to see the Northern Lights in Banff.
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Mikaela at Voyageur Tripper has been canoeing, hiking, and camping for over ten years. She previously worked as a canoeing guide in Canada and spent a season guiding hiking and kayaking tours in the high Arctic. Mikaela is a Wilderness First Responder and Whitewater Rescue Technician.
Photos: Canva Pro, unless otherwise noted.
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