I’ve been over this topic before in previous blog posts. The how can I travel when I have a limited amount of time issue? Or how can I see everything in such a short amount of time? I think there are two ways you can travel - spend a ton of time in each place really exploring every aspect of the culture or only get a taste of each location. This post is definitely about the latter.
In all honesty, the latter is mostly how I tend to plan my trips. Who really has the time to spend weeks or even months on end in one location? The issue I usually have is that there is just so much to see in the world. I would rather sacrifice some of the time I can to spend in a single place and instead see way more in that period. Does anyone else have that problem?
Did you know that there were 3 Canadian National Parks all within a few hours of each other in the Alberta province? Ok, Yoho is technically part of the British Columbia province, however, since it is right on the border, it’s easy to mistake it for Alberta. Most people only think of Banff when they think of the Canadian Rockies probably because it’s more prevalent on social media. Jasper National Park is about three and a half hours from Banff town. Or only three hours from Lake Louise. Yoho is just an hour from Banff.
Sidenote: most people also don’t realize that Banff is pretty spaced apart. A rental car is completely necessary on any trip around the Canadian Rockies. Firstly because it is over an hour drive just from Calgary (where the airport is) to Banff town. I say Banff town because the town isn’t necessarily all of the lakes are. Lake Louise is a good half hour from the town.
This Canadian Rockies tour is perfect for a long weekend away. I’ll give you a breakdown of all of the logistics to make this 4-day trip a success. Best part is, if you have a 9-5 weekday job, you could book this trip while only requesting one day off.
DAY 1 [THURSDAY NIGHT]
Plan: Fly into Calgary.
Travel: This is going to be your travel day. If you can’t get any time off, grab a late flight out and fly into Calgary (YYC) International Airport.
Lodging: I would suggest staying as far to the west of Calgary as you can find. It will save you a good 20-30 minutes in the morning. I’ve stayed in both the city and the western end. If you want check out Calgary in the morning then definitely stay in the city. You can check out my guide to Calgary, here. Otherwise, if you’re crazy like me, and want to try to catch the sunrise somewhere in Banff the option is your best bet. You’ll have a bit longer of a drive after leaving the airport, but I’d say its worth it. We found a cozy Airbnb for just $20/each for the night.
DAY 2 [FRIDAY]
Plan: Drive to Banff for the morning, then head to Jasper.
Stops: Lake Moraine (Banff), Bow Lake (Banff), Sunwapta Falls (Jasper), Athabasca Falls (Jasper), Maligne Lake (Jasper)
Lodging: Grab a room in Jasper town or do like we did and camp out in your car at Maligne Lake for a sunrise paddle to Spirit Island. I’ll save that story for another blog post.
If you’re up early and want your first experience in Banff to be around the least amount of people, head straight to Lake Moraine. From west Calgary, it’s about a two hour drive. If you arrive at Lake Moraine well before 8am, you should be met with a tourist free experience. Also, if you arrive early, you may be able to park in the parking lot directly at Lake Moraine and avoid having to park far and wait for a shuttle. If the road to park at Lake Moraine is closed, don’t worry. This happened to us and we just waited for a five minutes in the narrow lot across from the intersection until some cars left and the park workers motioned for more cars to enter.
I would highly recommend climbing up the rocks on the left when walking toward the lake from the parking lot. You can get a much better vantage point and hopefully avoid some people in the process. Bring your hiking shoes today.
Grab some lunch before heading on the Icefields Parkway on the way to Jasper National Park. This scenic drive is incredibly beautiful but stops to gas up or grab food are few and far between. You may have the urge stop along the way to grab photos.
About twenty minutes outside of the town of Jasper, you’ll find Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls. Both of these stops can be quick as they’re pretty fenced off and have designated viewing points just off of the parking lots. They are also located right near each other.
The drive from the town to Maligne Lake is a little over an hour. You should have plenty of time on this schedule to head here for a beautiful sunset.
DAY 3 [SATURDAY]
Plan: Explore Jasper for the morning, then head back through Banff to Yoho.
Stops: Spirit Island (Jasper), Emerald Lake (Yoho)
Lodging: You have two options for locations of lodging. You can stay closer to Lake Louise or you can venture into British Columbia. Both are within a half hour of each other. We stayed in a beautiful cabin in BC and had no problem with drive time. Read about our cabin, here.
You can spend the morning exploring Jasper or grabbing a boat tour to see Spirit Island.
After a morning spent exploring, you’ll want to get set for another long drive. This time heading back to Yoho National Park. Yes, it does seem like a daunting task, driving back and forth, but what road trip isn’t tiring? In the end, I was so glad I was able to fit in so many destinations in such a short time despite the long car times.
Once you’ve driven back into Banff, we took the time to check into our lodging for the night and relax for a couple of hours before heading out again.
One of the best parts about being further north is that the sunsets are much later or least in the summer they are. With the sun not setting until around 9pm, we had plenty of time to drive around and take our time at each stop. Because of this, we were able to spend some time in the early evening exploring around Emerald Lake in Yoho.
Tip: It seemed most of the busy tourist times were in the morning and afternoon. By the early evening, people headed to dinner or their hotels leaving the lakes virtually empty. I guess not as people take advantage of the late daylight!
DAY 4 [SUNDAY]
Plan: Explore Banff and head back toward Calgary.
Stops: Lake Louise (Banff), Peyto Lake (Banff), Lake Minnewanka (Banff), Canmore Rope Swing (Canmore)
Start early and head to Lake Louise today. Even though Lake Louise and Lake Moraine are located just minutes from each other, I would suggest splitting up visiting these destinations into two days if you can. If you go to one early morning, by the time you’re ready to visit the next, it will undoubtedly be crowded and overrun with tourists already.
You can of course switch it up and visit Lake Louise first and swap out today to visit Lake Moraine.
Lake Louise has much more parking than Louise. There’s an overflow lot for the overflow lot. That being said, this lake is much more of laid back walk around the lake, type of lake. Unless you’re planning to hike up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, this can be a quicker stop.
After Lake Louise, head over to Peyto Lake, which is technically Bow Summit. When you visit, you don’t actually go down to the lake, its more a view point from afar from Bow Summit. It’s just a short fifteen minute hike up a paved street to the first view point.
Feel free to explore Banff as you want here, while making your way toward Calgary. I’d recommend Lake Minnewanka or Vermillion Lakes. As you pass through Canmore, grab a few snaps at the Canmore Rope Swing which is also just minutes from an amazing poutine shop called, La Belle Patate.
ADDITIONAL TRAVEL DAY [MONDAY]
There are 2 options for flying home. You can find a flight late Sunday to head back home or if it works for you, find an early morning flight Monday morning. We were able to find a super early flight that landed in Los Angeles before 9am, just in time to head to work. This option is a bit risky and requires getting up extremely early but allowed us to maximize our fourth day and not have to rush to head to the airport.
If you have time, check out these other scenic locations: Bow Lake (Banff), Vermillion Lakes (Banff), Johnston Canyon (Banff), Pyramid Lake (Jasper), Lake O’Hara (Yoho).
Hope this detailed 4-day itinerary helps you plan your trip to the scenic Canadian Rockies!
Yours Truly // Shannon