How to Spend 3 Days in Banff in Winter

banff in 3 days lake
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There are not many places as naturally stunning as Banff, Canada. With beautiful glacier-fed lakes, giant mountains surrounding the roads, and abundant wildlife, this is a popular destination to visit. Finding fun ways to fill 3 days in Banff won’t be a problem.

Banff is particularly special to me because it was the first solo trip I ever took. When I saw it was barely a two-hour flight to Calgary and then I could drive to Banff, I booked a ticket immediately. I spent a few days in Calgary in winter and then headed to Banff. With so many things to do in Banff in winter, I knew my vacation in Banff in 3 days would be a blast.

My trip took place in February, so that’s why you’ll notice the snow in most of my pictures. However, many of the things to do in Banff are year-round with the exception of snow sports, so you can easily customize this Banff 3 day itinerary.

3 Days in Banff: Travel Tips

Here are some tips to help you during your trip to Banff in 3 days.

How to Get to Banff in Winter

3 Days in Banff - The Best Things to Do and See transcanada highway banff

Banff is on the TransCanada Highway, which is well maintained all throughout the year. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll likely fly into Calgary and rent a car if you’re from out of town. The drive from Calgary to Banff is only about 1.5 hours and is scenic the entire way.

You can also drive from the west if you’re on a Vancouver weekend trip. Vancouver is about 530 miles from Banff, so plan on stopping a few times during your drive (and make sure to look at a road trip packing list before you go).

The Best Time to Go to Banff in Winter

There’s no bad time to visit Banff, as each season has its own advantages. Many people want to come to Banff to see wildlife, explore the best Banff hikes, and see the gorgeous colors of Lake Lousie when the snow melts.

If that sounds like the Banff itinerary you want, the best time to go to Banff is summer, where the weather averages around 65-72°F in the summer. This is also the best time if you plan on doing a long drive to Banff, such as a Seattle road trip.

However, others don’t care about that and mainly want to ski and go ice hiking. If you love the snow, the best time to go to Banff for you will be in winter. The weather averages around 23-31°F in the winter – cold but not unbearable.

Spring and fall are a toss-up depending on the year – you’ll likely have some snow in the area but not enough to ski. However, these seasons tend to be the most affordable as far as lodging goes and there will be fewer crowds, which is a plus to many people when in Banff in 3 days.

Where to Stay in Banff

You have many options for lodging in and near the area for your 3 day Banff itinerary depending on your preference and budget.

  • Bow View Lodge – I stayed here when I visited on a budget and was happy with its close proximity to town and free parking. (rates start at $71 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
  • Banff Park Lodge – This hotel is near the city center and has a bar and pool, which is perfect after a long day of exploring. (rates start at $95 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)

The Best Things to Do in Banff in 3 Days

Here are a few ideas for what to do for a 3 day Banff itinerary.

Photograph Bow Falls

3 Days in Banff - The Best Things to Do and See

You’ll want to visit Bow Falls when you’re in Banff for 3 days. Located on the Bow River, its claim to fame is being the place where Marilyn Monroe’s movie River of No Return was filmed in 1953. This is a beautiful place to get pictures during your Banff vacation.

Visit Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

what to do in banff fairmont hotel

If you visit Bow Falls, make sure to walk across to the nearby Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (formerly Banff Springs Hotel). This luxurious hotel has been frequented by many famous people and was the place to stay back in the day.

You can walk through the lobby and admire the architecture throughout the building. I also recommend getting a drink at the bar if you have time. If it’s in your budget, spend one of your 3 days in Banff here to treat yourself. (book your room on Booking.com, Hotels.com, or read reviews on TripAdvisor)

Ride the Gondola

3 Days in Banff - The Best Things to Do and See

Riding the Banff Gondola is one of the best ways to see panoramic views of the area as you go to the top of Sulphur Mountain, so you’ll want to add it to your Banff itinerary for 3 days. You’ll be able to view six different mountain ranges from the top. You can buy your tickets online before you go so you’ll be ready to hop on during your 3 days in Banff.

Take a Tour of Banff

3 Days in Banff - The Best Things to Do and See

While I was there, I had the chance to go on a tour of the area. I typically shy away from guided tours, but there’s plenty you’ll want to see on a tour that you might discover on your own.

Here are a few suggested tours to add to your Banff trip itinerary:

Walk on a Frozen Lake

3 days in banff lake

Since I went to Banff in the winter, Lake Minnewanka was completely frozen over. This was my first time walking on a frozen lake and I scared until my tour guide showed me just how thick the ice is in the winter. That said, use caution if you’re not with a professional.

During the summer, Lake Minnewanka is a beautiful place to have a picnic, go on some of the best Banff hikes in the area, and canoe on the glacier-fed lake.

Ski or Snowboard

banff itinerary skiing

Skiing is an obvious choice as one of the best things to do in Banff in winter. While Whistler may be one of the most popular places to ski in Canada, there are multiple places to choose from here, including Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, or Sunshine Village.

Most of them have rental shops so you don’t have to worry about lugging your skis or snowboard unless you really want your own for your 3 day Banff itinerary. Make sure to look over your ski vacation packing list before you head out to make it easier.

Go Hiking

3 days in banff hiking

Banff is a hiker’s paradise, so make sure to go on at least one trail during your time in Banff in 3 days. Some of the best hikes in Banff National Park include the following:

  • Cascade Amphitheatre – 8 miles roundtrip, 2100-feet elevation gain
  • Lake Agnes Teahouse – 4.5 miles roundtrip, 1280-feet elevation gain
  • Moraine Lake Shoreline – 2 miles roundtrip, no elevation gain
  • Helen Lake – 7.5 miles roundtrip, 1450-feet elevation gain

Hiking is by far one of the most popular things to do in Banff in summer, so make sure you start early before the trails get crowded.

Visit the Famous Lake Louise

what to do in banff lake louise snow

This beautiful lake is unfortunately frozen over during the winter (I didn’t take that into account when I originally planned this trip!), but you can walk all the way across it if you’re brave enough. You’ll want to put this on your Banff trip itinerary if you like an adventure.

They set up an ice castle and even a hockey rink to make the most of the frozen space. While you’re up by Lake Louise, I recommend extending your trip and heading up to Jasper. This area is gorgeous, and there are so many things to do in Jasper National Park.

what to do in banff lake louise

I recommend going inside the Fairmont Chateau and getting a cocktail in the Lakeview Lounge. As the name indicates, this lounge has a gorgeous view of the lake. Most of the hotel is roped off if you’re not a guest, but you can still look at some of the shops by the restaurant.

Soak in Banff Upper Hot Springs

what to do in banff upper hot springs

Visiting Banff Upper Hot Springs is a must during your 3 days in Banff. I’ve explored Scenic Hot Springs in Seattle before but had never been to one like this.

The First Nations people first used them around the 1880s, and these became more popular when Banff National Park was established in 1885. The bathhouse has been reconstructed several times since, but it’s still the same water flowing in.

You can rent almost anything you need if you don’t want to bring your own. They have towels, swimsuits, and lockers for rent. They offer the old-timey swimsuits if you want to feel nostalgic, as I did. I had a very relaxing experience soaking in the mineral water with a view of the Rocky Mountains.

The hot springs doesn’t accept reservations, so it’s first come first serve. That means you should expect a wait if you go mid-day.

Go Ice Walking

ice hiking johnston canyon

The Johnston Canyon Ice Walk is another must-do during your 3 days in Banff. Make sure you rent crampons in town and dress warmly. You can do a short hike or a long hike depending on what you’re in the mood for.

There are two canyons you can see here – the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls. The Lower Falls are closer and are only a 0.5-mile walk from the trailhead.

The Upper Falls are 1.5 miles from the trailhead, but if you have the right shoes and enough time it’s a beautiful walk. You alternate walking through the forest and walking along bridges next to the river. I found the walk to be very peaceful, as it was pretty empty mid-morning.

When I got to the Upper Falls, the frozen waterfalls wasn’t the part that stunned me the most. There were actually people climbing them! They looked like they had done it many times before, but I think I’d be too scared of the ice cracking to do that. I still loved putting this on my 3 day Banff itineary.

Start Your Morning at Moraine Lake

banff in 3 days moraine lake

This is the other famous lake that you’ll probably recognize from the pictures. Moraine Lake seems unreal with how brightly colored the water is. I recommend coming here at sunset or sunrise to get some amazing pictures. You can hike around the lake or take a relaxing canoe ride as well.

How to Spend 3 Days in Banff

Here is my suggested Banff itinerary for 3 days based on my own trip. You can pick and choose from the list of things to do in Banff to create your own custom schedule for visiting Banff in 3 days.

Day 1 – Explore the Town

downtown banff

On the first day of your Banff trip itinerary, I recommend getting into the area as soon as possible. You’ll want to maximize your 3 days in Banff, so ideally aim to get into town by lunch. I recommend stopping at Banff Brewing Company to relax for a bit and watch sports on TV.

During the afternoon, walk around town to explore the shops and get any souvenirs you may want. This is also a good place to get the last-minute gear you may need for hiking or skiing. If you have a sweets craving, you’ll love getting a piece of fudge at The Fudgery.

For dinner, visit Bear Street Tavern to sit outside on the patio for options like pizza or Canadian poutine and a pint. Head to the Upper Hot Springs for a relaxing end to your first day of exploring Banff in 3 days.

Day 2 – Spend the Day Outdoors

ice hiking johnston canyon frozen upper falls

Today will be an active day, so make sure to fill up on breakfast in the morning. There are many amazing breakfast spots in Banff to check out.

After breakfast, head to Johnston Canyon to explore the area. You can hike here no matter what season it is. During the summer, it’ll be a generally easy hike and you’ll have beautiful waterfalls at the end. During the winter, you’ll need to rent crampons in town to help you hike uphill in the snow. The reward is stunning, frozen waterfalls at the end of your Banff hike.

Grab lunch somewhere local and head up the highway to Lake Louise. There are plenty of hikes near Lake Louise if you want to get more activity in.

Otherwise, you can explore the area around the lake and visit Fairmont Chateau. You can decide to stay here for dinner or just get a drink in the lounge. I also recommend staying here for the sunset if you want to get some amazing photos.

Day 3 – Watch the Sunrise and Head Home

what to do in banff road

You’ll want to start your last of 3 days in Banff early, as you’ll be catching the sunrise at Moraine Lake. You can grab coffee and pastries on the way to hold you over until you get back into town.

A fun place to stop for the rest of the morning is the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. You’ll learn about the cultural heritage of the area and see artifacts from back in the day. You can even see historic log homes to imagine what life used to be like.

For lunch, stop at Elk & Oarsman on the way out of town. This is a fun sports bar that has an outdoor rooftop patio when it’s sunny.

There you have it – your 3 day Banff itinerary! While this has suggested stops, you can customize this as you need to fit your timeline and based on what you want to see. Spending 3 days in Banff is an amazing vacation to book, so hopefully you’ll come home feeling inspired.

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How to Spend 3 Days in Banff in Winter

34 thoughts on “How to Spend 3 Days in Banff in Winter

  1. Lauren says:

    This is one of my top places to go next so I’ll definitely save this post so I can look back for ideas! Thanks for sharing such great info!

  2. Mimi Rose says:

    Banff has been on my list for awhile and this post just sold me that I need to get there pronto (or at least during my Canada trip in October!). Beautiful pictures as always, Marissa, thanks for taking us along on your Canadian adventures.

  3. H.Evans says:

    Wow , That is breath taking. I am not a cold weather person , but those photos make me want to visit.

  4. Mayra Murillo says:

    These shots are breathtaking! I would love to visit a place like that. It looks so peaceful. I never thought of adding this city to my list of places I want to go to but I think I just might!

  5. Postcards To Seattle says:

    Thanks Mimi! I hope you get up there – I know you’ll love it! Looking forward to hearing about your adventures.

  6. Christie says:

    My gosh! Banff looks so magical! I’ve never seen snow before, so your photos are 100x more gorgeous to me aha.
    You lucky girl, looks amazing. 🙂

    Christie’s Take on Life. x

  7. Postcards To Seattle says:

    Thanks Christy! I hope you get to see snow soon, I can’t live without it. 🙂

  8. Anne Thornley-Brown says:

    I live in Canada. (I grew up in Montreal.) I have never been to Banff or Lake Louise but these are definitely places I plan to visit one of these days.

  9. Joyfully Frugal says:

    This is stunning! Banff has been on my list of places to go for awhile – thanks for providing these awesome suggestions!

  10. Kelly says:

    I have been wanting to go to Banff for a few years now…also from seeing all the beautiful pictures of Lake Louise. I love everything you have outlined here and will pin it for later. The ice castle looks awesome! I would have been sad to miss seeing the pretty colors of the lake though. I went to Montreal this past summer and had the maple cookies….so good!!!!

  11. Polly says:

    Such beautiful photos! The ice castle looks so amazing! My husband and I were just talking where we should go on a short family trip and I think this might be a possible option since it looks like a lot of fun!

  12. Adria | The Emerald Palate says:

    Ahh I was just talking about how I want to go to Banff. Looks like it was a fun trip! Hoping to explore it soon!

  13. Ana says:

    I had NEVER eared of this place before I read your post and now I really would like to visit!
    Great photography <3

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