5 days in the Rocky Mountains - Explore Banff and Canmore
My partner, friends, and I took this trip to the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada last September (2022). With a mix of adventure, sightseeing, and relaxation we thought this itinerary was the perfect balance. It allowed us to see all the main attractions while giving us a chance to appreciate all that the rocky mountains have to offer. This itinerary is great for both first time explorers to the Canmore and Banff area, and those who are returning to experience even more!
We rented a car and drove to the Rocky Mountains from the Calgary Airport. Having a car allowed us to be quite flexible with sightseeing and we highly recommend it. We used Discover Cars to find the best car rental deal.
Check out my blog posts here for more details about my trip to Banff and Canmore!
The Malcolm Hotel
Fox Hotel and Suites
Nights 2 & 3: We decided to stay at the Fox Hotel and Suites because of location and it's amenities! Located walking distance to the main streets of Banff and housing the Cave and Basin Themed Hot Pool made this hotel perfect for our group.
Click here if you are interested in seeing other hotel options in Banff.
Fairmont Château Lake Louise
Night 4: We decided to splurge on our last night and stay at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise. Having traveled far to come to the Rocky Mountains, I wanted to spend a solid amount of time at Lake Louise. I am SO glad we decided to stay here, as the lake became peaceful at night and in the morning before other tourists arrived.
One thing to note, if you decide not to stay at Fairmont Lake Louise then parking can become quite difficult depending on the time of year you are visiting. Read more about parking here.
Day 1: Canmore
Breakfast: Rocky Mountain Bagel Company
We started off our day with some freshly made bagels and coffee. Rocky Mountain Bagels is located along the main street of Canmore and was a fan favourite. There was a long line, but it moved fast.
Lots of indoor seating and some outdoor seating with blankets available for those crisp mornings!
White Water Rafting
We started the day with a little adventure! About a 25 minute drive outside of Canmore, we enjoyed exploring the Rocky Mountains by water. The rafting tour took us through the Horseshoe Canyon section of the Bow River.
If you are planning to visit Canmore in the winter, you may opt to do a dog sledding adventure instead. I’ve done this tour in the past with Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours and it is another unique way to explore the mountains!
Lunch: Communitea Cafe
Bow River Walk
1hr 30min·2:00PM - 3:30PM
We then decided to take a little walk along Bow River, which is the perfect way to explore Canmore even more.
From Communitea Cafe the Bow River is a 5-10 min walk away.
Enjoy the scenery, get a few steps in, and if you’re lucky spot some wildlife!
Check out this map for a suggested route.
Explore 8th Street
We then returned to Canmore’s main street and did some shopping. With many stores, galleries, and food options - there is something for everyone! I bought a few souvenirs from Alberta’s Own store and grabbed a Beavertail for a snack (and if you've never tried a Beavertail, you must!).
Check out this blog post for top stores on 8th street. My personal favourite is Cafe Books, with a hidden used book cafe at the back of the store.
Dinner: Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co.
We then enjoyed some wood fired pizza and pasta at the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. It was such a beautiful day outside that the restaurant’s large garage doors were open making it a great indoor/outdoor eating experience with stunning views of the mountains.
Relax at The Malcolm Hotel pool
I can’t imagine a better way to wind down a busy day than relaxing in the outdoor pool. One of the biggest perks of staying at The Malcolm Hotel is the stunning scenery that can be enjoyed from the pool. We took a plunge in the pool and then relaxed in the hot tub.
Day 2: Canmore to Banff
Sunrise Hike to Ha Ling Peak
4hr·6:00AM - 10:00AM
We started the day with a hike to Ha Ling Peak. Feeling extra adventurous, we decided to wake up early and get to the peak for sunrise! You definitely need proper hiking equipment for this, as you will begin the hike in the pitch dark.
You could easily push this hike back a few hours, and do it later in the morning if you would rather sleep in. The views at the top are so worth it!
Check out the blog post here for more details on this hike and other hikes in the area!
If you are not a hiker, you may opt to do a short hike such as Grassi Lakes or a walk around Quarry Lake instead.
Lunch and Drinks: The Grizzly Paw Taproom - Brewery Location
After our hike, we felt like we deserved a burger and beer. We decided to hit up the Grizzly Paw Taproom at Tank 310 for the Great White North burger and a sampler of their beer. The large windows overlook the mountain range, and we were even able to find the peak that we had just conquered!
Explore Banff Ave.
3hr 30min·2:30PM - 6:00PM
With our legs feeling tired from the hike this morning, we opted for a slower afternoon of soaking up the main street in Banff.
Like Canmore, Banff also has a main street. The main street in Banff has more stores such Lululemon, Patagonia, and The Bay. It also has many restaurants, galleries, and snack options.
I got myself a candy apple from The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and got a custom sweater from Lululemon!
Dinner: Hello Sunshine
Hello Sunshine is such a vibe and was one of my favourite meals of the trip. We shared a bunch of sushi and appetizers. I highly recommend the Lychee Cucumber Sour Cocktail.
They also have Karaoke rooms that you can rent if you are looking for something to do at night!
Day 3: Banff
Watch sunrise at Vermillion Lakes
1hr·7:00AM - 8:00AM
If you are lucky, Vermillion Lakes can bless you with some unreal sunrises behind the mountain peaks. We unfortunately had a cloudy morning, but still really enjoyed our time at Vermillion Lakes and decided to bring some blankets and sit on the dock while we watched the sun make its appearance periodically from behind the clouds.
Even if you decide that you would prefer to sleep in, I would still check this place out. It is less known, but still SO beautiful.
Explore the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr
2hr·11:00AM - 1:00PM
One of my favourite driving loops in the area is the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr. This drive is a great way to see a few different lakes, mountains, and if you’re lucky some wild life! The drive takes you past Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka, both lakes I highly recommend parking and exploring. You can pack a snack (or a lunch) and enjoy it at one of the picnic tables.
Lunch: Balkan Restaurant
After exploring the Minnewanka Scenic Dr, we enjoyed the lunch special at Balkan. The pork gyros with fries was the lunch special, and was enjoyed by all! This restaurant is definitely a great place to check out if you are in the mood for some Greek food.
The location of Balkan also allows you to check out any other stores you missed along Banff Ave.
Explore Fairmont Banff Springs
The Fairmont Banff Springs is a spectacular resort that should definitely be explored on your trip to the area. Having been built over 130 years ago, there is a reason this hotel is called the “Castle in the Rockies”. I loved going and exploring the surroundings, walking around the hotel, and grabbing a drink indoors. We grabbed a coffee and snack from Stock Food & Drink. If you are wanting even more of an experience at the hotel, you can book an afternoon tea inside the Fairmont or book a Castle Food Experience.
This hotel would also be a great choice for somewhere to stay if you are looking for the full Banff experience. Check their availability and prices here.
We then took the Gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain. With amazing views of the mountains around and the Banff village below, the Banff Gondola is such a fun experience and even more perfect if hiking is not your preferred activity. I would recommend walking along the boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak.
Make sure to book your Banff Gondola tickets ahead of time, book them here!
If heights aren’t your thing, you could opt to visit the Banff Hot Springs instead which is located close to the base of the Banff Gondola.
Dinner: Sky Bistro
We chose to have dinner at the Sky Bistro for a truly once in a lifetime experience. The Sky Bistro is located on the summit of Sulphur Mountain, so you have to take the Banff Gondola up to get to the restaurant. It is a little pricey, but considering the location we thought it was well worth it!
A reservation in advance is a must!
Day 4: Banff to Lake Louise
Banff Tour Option
Visit Hoodoos Viewpoint
1hr·10:00AM - 11:00AM
We then drove up to the Hoodoos Viewpoint. We walked along the Tunnel Mountain Trail and soaked in the great views of the Hoodoos, Bow River, and of Fairmont Banff Springs in the background.
There is a small parking lot where you can park, however it can fill up during the summer months.
Johnston Canyon Hike
We really enjoyed stopping at Johnston Canyon and getting some steps in before driving to Lake Louise. Johnston Canyon has both a Lower and Upper Falls. To get to Upper Falls it was about a 5km out and back trail that we felt was overall quite easy.
You can also continue the hike to the Ink Pots, however we opted to continue our drive to Lake Louise instead.
Johnston Canyon can get quite icy during the cooler months, so make sure to have appropriate equipment!
If you are wanting to do a guided visit to Johnston Canyon, check out this tour here!
Rent a canoe at Lake Louise
Seeing as Lake Louise is such an iconic spot, we wanted to rent a canoe and explore the lake a little more.
Canoe rentals are on a first come first serve basis at The Boathouse. The last rental time is 5pm so make sure to plan accordingly. If the line is too long, you can always plan to go first thing the following morning. The lake would be nice and peaceful at that time too!
Walk the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail
1hr·5:00PM - 6:00PM
We had some time to spare before our dinner reservations so we decided to do a little walk around the lake along the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail. If you walk far enough along the trail, you end up at the opposite end of the lake where you have great views of the Fairmont. We took our shoes off and explored the sandy ground and ice cold streams leading from the Glacier above to the lake. This was actually one of my favourite activities because it felt spontaneous.
Dinner: Lakeview Lounge
We finished off the day with dinner at the Lakeview Lounge where we were able to sit outside on the patio and soak in the views of the lake.
With heaters and blankets available to us, I felt cozy even as the sun set and the temperature dropped. We even spotted a bear and her cub on the hotel property!
Day 5: Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
Explore Moraine Lake
3hr·7:00AM - 10:00AM
The trip would not be complete without a visit to Moraine Lake. We decided to go early to get a parking spot at the lake. This was a good idea as the parking lot filled up quickly and people were turned away and required to take the shuttle to the lake instead. Once we completed the 10km drive to the lake, we climbed the Rockpiles and soaked in the amazing views.
You can also rent canoes at this lake!
To note, Moraine Lake is only open from June to October each year.
Hike The Beehive (with lunch along the way)
The last adventure we wanted to do on our trip was to hike to the Tea House and the Big Beehive at Lake Louise.
This hike is around 11km out and back and took us around 6 hours in total because we stopped at the Tea House (around 3.5km into the hike) for lunch and a break.
I would highly recommend this hike as the views of Lake Louise from above are stunning. If you are not a big hiker, even hiking up to the Tea House is a fun experience and can easily be done with children!
For more details about this hike, check out the blog post here.