Getting the Most Out of Your 48-Hour Visit to Banff National Park

Lake Louise

Day 1

Moraine Lake

First stop: Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is located near Lake Louise (your second stop) – and in our opinion, is even more scenic than the latter. Surrounded by mountains, the turquoise waters on a sunny day really really stand out and let you appreciate the beauty of this lake. In order to take it all in and enjoy the magic of Moraine Lake, we strongly suggest setting your alarm clocks early to beat the crowd. On our first trip to Moraine Lake, we arrived a little before 9 AM and were able to easily find parking AND take pictures with very fewer crowds in the background. On our second trip, we arrived closer to 10 AM and the lake-area parking was at full capacity so we could not enter (what a difference an hour makes here!). We had to return later in the day and even then it was still crowded – making it almost impossible to take a picture without having a bunch of people in the background.

Visitors who want to get even closer to Moraine Lake have the opportunity to canoe. The dock is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM from mid-June to mid-September and costs approximately $78 for an hour rental (a bit steep, I know). Each canoe accommodates two to three people and reservations are not accepted (canoes are available on a first come, first basis). Although just a few, we did see people bring their own kayaks – which is good to know as some Airbnb rentals included kayaks.

In addition to canoeing the lake, hiking trails is also accessible at Moraine Lake. The lake offers several beautiful hikes – including Rock Pile, Consolation Lakes, and the Larch Valley trail. As we decided to do our hiking at the trails near Lake Louise we have not done any of these hikes so we can’t speak to how strenuous they may or may not be. A cafe is also onsite – The Snowshoe Cafe – which offers tea, coffee, cold beverages, and sandwiches.

Lake Louise

Second Stop: Lake Louise

The famous Lake Louise definitely lives up to its hype and then some! Surrounded by soaring mountain peaks, Lake Louise is the perfect shade of turquoise. During the summer and winter months, visitors can canoe and skate on Lake Louise, respectively. Canoes can be rented at the Fairmont Chateau dock for $115 per hour or $105 per half an hour.

In addition to canoeing and skating, several trails are available for visitors to explore. During our most recent visit, we decided to hike to Mirror Lake which is the halfway point to the famous Lake Agnes Tea House. I have to stress how important it is: the hike to Mirror Lake is strenuous. Our group had to stop several times to catch our breath as the majority of the hike is at an incline. I will say that once we got to Mirror Lake we were pretty disappointed. I do not know if it was the time of the year (early September) that resulted in the lake being so lack luster but we were not impressed and were a little upset we hiked to see this! The view was much better on the ground!

Mirror Lake – definitely NOT impressed!

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

When planning your time at Lake Louise, make sure to visit the world-famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise(not to be confused with the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel). The first time we visited Lake Louise, we chose not to hike and instead opted to enjoy a bottle of wine on the rocking chairs of the property facing Lake Louise. The weather was just perfect and we definitely will be doing this again next time we visit versus hiking any of the nearby trails!

Additionally, if time-permitting, grab a bite to eat at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. We had lunch there on our last visit – the food was outstanding and service was impeccable! Highly recommended!

Peyto Lake

Third stop: Peyto Lake – Bow Summit

The bluest water in all of Banff National Park is found at Peyto Lake. The lake gets its color from the large amounts of glacier rock flour that flow into the lake during the summer months. The best place to view Peyto Lake is from the Bow Summit – approximately 36 minutes from Lake Louise. Once you arrive at Bow Summit, it is a quick 10 to 15 minute hike to the Peyto Lake lookout area. As this will be your third stop of the day, the crowds should be gone by that time – allowing you to get the best pictures possible!

Day 2

Johnston Canyon

First stop: Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is one of the easiest hikes in Banff National Park, making it the perfect place for families (including pets) to explore together. Johnston Canyon offers two trails – trail to Lower Johnston Falls and a trail to Upper Johnston Falls (which we haven’t had the chance to do yet).

The trail to Lower Johnston Canyon is just a little over one mile and runs parallel to Johnston creek – making almost every step along the trail the perfect picture opportunity. At the end of the Lower Johnston trail, visitors are able to walk through a tunnel and get a closer look of the waterfall.

Since the trail is great for beginners and it offers such scenic views, it is easily one of the most popular trails to do while visiting Banff National Park. As such, it is highly recommended that you arrive early in order to beat the crowds. The path has some bridges you will pass that are quite narrow – so you’d want to avoid having to constantly move aside as other hikers are passing through. Additionally, if you do arrive later to Johnston Canyon, be prepared to make a line to get a closer look of the waterfall and also having to park further away from the entrance. Just a few things to keep in mind when planning your arrival time to Johnston Canyon (hence why we suggest it to be the first stop of the day).

Banff Gondola

Second stop: Banff Gondola

Visitors who want to experience Banff National Park from a higher elevation point have the option of taking a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain. The glass enclosed gondola holds up to four individuals and offers each guest a 360 degree view. Just recently, the summit visitor center was remodeled enhancing the overall experience provided to visitors. Visitors can experience mountaintop dining, take a stroll on the rooftop observation deck, and so much more! Tickets can be purchased in advance for $58 per person.

48 Hours & Beyond

Unfortunately our schedules limited our time to two days to visit Banff National Park so we weren’t able to see more of this Canadian beauty. Needless to say, we have started making a list of different spots we definitely want to check out next time we are visiting Banff National Park and wanted to share it with all our readers in case you are planning to spend more time there than what we had:

  • Jasper National Park
  • Lake Minnewanka
  • Icefields Parkway

Important Tip

Make sure to stay as close as possible to the main attractions during your visit. The first time we visited Banff National Park, we Airbnb’d a condo near Calgary which was about an hour drive from Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. On our second trip, we stayed a little further away as we were a much larger group and wanted a house to accommodate all of us. Although we were able to all stay in the same place, this made our drives extremely long – almost three hours each way! We definitely won’t be doing that again as we ended up spending more time in the car than sight seeing!

Hope you enjoyed our two-day itinerary for Banff National Park! Make sure to let us know what your favorite things to do while visiting Banff! Happy travels!

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