The majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains are a bucket list destination for many travellers. Banff and Jasper National Parks offer easy access to this stunning natural beauty and striking mountain range. These Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Explore these beautiful parks, the Athabasca Glacier and the two small towns of Banff and Jasper on this 5-Day Road Trip.
Table of Contents
Banff to Jasper Itinerary
- Banff National Park: 3 Days
Banff Townsite – Explore the top of Sulphur Mountain and relax in the famous hot springs.
Hike Banff – Enjoy one or more of the Easy Hikes in Banff.
Lake Louise – See the iconic lake and hike to the Six Glaciers Teahouse.
- Columbia Icefield: 1 Day
Take an ice explorer onto the Athabasca Glacier.
- Jasper National Park: 1 Day
See the area from the top of Whistlers Peak.
Banff to Jasper Map
Banff National Park
In 1883 workers, building Canada’s transcontinental railroad through the Bow Valley, discovered a series of hot springs. The competition to make them a tourist attraction prompted the government to step in to protect them. Canada’s first national park was created in 1885.
This nature reserve encompassed the springs and the surrounding mountains, lakes and valleys which eventually became Banff National Park.
- Banff Day 1: Sulphur Mountain and Banff Townsite
- Take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain.
- Check out the Banff Springs Hotel.
- Discover the history of the town and park at the Whyte Museum.
- Relax in the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
- Banff Day 2: Hike the area
- Explore the area, hiking some of its easy trails, including: Bow Falls, walk along the Bow River, see Sunshine Meadows.
- In town, enjoy Banff Avenue’s shopping and dinner spots.
- Banff Day 3: Lake Louise
- Hike the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail from Chateau Lake Louise.
- Banff Optional Day:
- Visit a Banff Museum.
- Enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Minnewanka OR
- Hike to the icefield at C-Level Cirque.
One of the Banff must-do’s, is to ride the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Enjoy a panoramic view of town and the whole Bow Valley at the summit, 2088 metres above the valley floor. Hike the 1-kilometre boardwalk trail along the mountain ridge to Sanson’s Peak. Inside the chalet there are restaurants, an interpretive museum and a multi-sensory theatre. For those wanting a challenge, hike the 5.5-kilometre Sulphur Mountain Trail either up or down avoiding the gondola charge.
There are many attractions in the town of Banff. It also makes a great base for the many hikes and outdoor activities nearby.
Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888 to cater to the wealthy tourists who arrived by rail to enjoy the hot springs. Its revivalist architecture, fine dining, and the rumours of ghosts continue to make this luxury hotel a popular spot. Enjoy a visit, even for just a brief glimpse if the budget doesn’t allow a night’s stay.
The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is a must-see museum in Banff. It features rotating art exhibitions that depict the landscapes of the Rocky Mountains. There are exhibits showing the history and struggles of the early pioneers that came to Banff.
Cave and Basin National Historic tells the story of the beginning of Canada’s National Park system. This is where three railway workers discovered the original hot springs. Due to the popularity of thermal treatments with well-heeled tourists, the government quickly protected the springs.
Guided tours are available to the original cave and the outdoor springs. The museum has interactive exhibits about the Parks Canada story. Even though swimming in the Cave and Basin Springs are not allowed anymore, there is an option nearby.
At the Banff Upper Hot Springs, soak and relax with stunning views of nearby Mount Rundle. The water temperature varies between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius. This is the perfect way to end your day.
To fill an hour or two on a rainy day or an extra day, there are several museums in Banff which provide information about the history and culture of the area, including: Banff Park Museum, Buffalo Nations Museum and the Historic Luxton Home Museum.
A stroll of Banff Avenue provides lots of shopping and dining options.
Banff to Lake Louise
The Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) is the fastest route from Banff to Lake Louise.
With more time, take the slower, meandering, Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A). Enjoy its viewpoints: Backswamp Viewpoint, Castle Cliff Viewpoint and the famous Morant’s Curve.
Johnston Canyon is a great stop for a hike. The 1-hour hike traverses the canyon over bridges, to both the Lower and Upper Falls.
Where can I Park in Lake Louise?
Lake Louise is one of the busiest and most popular places in Banff National Park. Finding parking is often an issue. Our recommendation is to park at the Park and Ride Connector lot located south of town.
From this location, the Parks Canada Shuttle takes passengers to: Moraine Lake, Lake Louise Lakeshore and a Lake Connector Stop between the two.
New in 2023 – Moraine Lake Road is closed to personal vehicles.
See the Parks Canada’s Getting around the Lake Louise area webpage for shuttle schedules and pricing.
The village of Lake Louise is named after its famous turquoise beauty, Lake Louise. This iconic lake is one of the most photographed places in all of Canada.
Start your visit at Chateau Lake Louise. The first chateau, built in 1890, was a one-story log building with huge windows and a verandah overlooking the lovely turquoise lake. With an increasing number tourists arriving, the hotel was expanded into today’s stunning, internationally-renowned hotel.
Be sure to get a picture with the backdrop of the Lake Louise and the high peaks of Rocky Mountains.
Canoeing on the lake is popular in the summer and skating in the winter.
Enjoy a short hike beside the lake or, better yet, we recommend making a day of it on the Plain of Six Glaciers Day Hike.
On an extra day, take the shuttle to Moraine Lake. This is another spectacular blue lake. Set in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, this area has more rugged hiking opportunities.
Banff National Park Hikes
There is an abundance of hiking trails in Banff of all lengths and degrees of difficulty.
If travelling with kids, one of the easiest hikes is a walk along the Bow River in the Banff Townsite. On the north side of the river, hike to the Surprise Corner Viewpoint. Walkers can continue on the Hoodoos Trail for a longer and more difficult hike. On the south side of the Bow River, walk to the Bow Falls Viewpoint, stopping by the Cascade of Time Garden on the way.
Take a short drive to Lake Minnewanka. The Steward Canyon trail is an easy 1.5-kilometre trail that follows the shoreline. A 1-hour cruise of this beautiful lake and landscape is also available.
For a more challenging hike, drive to Bankhead. The trailhead for the C-Level Cirque Hiking Trail is located at the Upper Bankhead Day-Use Area. On this 3.9-kilometre, 3-hour hike, see the foundations of the former mining operation. The trail continues to great views of the massive glacier on Cascade Mountain.
Easy Hikes in Banff
The following table shows our suggested hikes. Most of these trails are within walking distance of town, or a short bus or car ride away.
|Trail||Parks Canada Classification||Distance||Time (Round Trip)|
|Banff Town: Bow River Trail||Easy||varies||varies|
|Fenland Trail||Easy||2.1 km loop||40 minutes|
|Marsh Loop||Easy||2.6 km loop||1 hour|
|Tunnel Campground Loop||Easy||6.4 km one way||1.5 hours|
|Stewart Canyon||Easy||1.5 km one way||1 hour|
|Johnson Lake||Easy||2.8 km one way||1 hour|
|Sunshine Meadows||Easy||10 km of trails||4 to 5 hours|
|Sundance Canyon||Easy/Moderate||3.7 km one way plus 1.6 km loop||3 hours|
|Tunnel Mountain Summit||Moderate||2.4 km one way||2 hour|
|Surprise Corner to Hoodoos||Moderate||4.8 km one way||3 hours|
|C-Level Cirque||Moderate||3.9 km one way||3 hours|
For more moderate and longer hikes, there are several options just outside of town.
For a complete list see the Parks Canada Day Hikes in the Banff Area.
Plain of Six Glaciers Day Hike
The Plain of Six Glaciers hike is one of the best in Banff National Park. The hike from the trailhead behind Chateau Lake Louise to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse is 5.3 kilometres long. In total, the elevation gain is 385 metres and it takes about 4 hours to complete the round-trip hike.
From the Chateau, walk to the other end of Lake Louise on the flat Lakeshore Trail and begin to climb. Mountain goats are often seen on the steep sides of the valley. At the rustic Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, enjoy a bite to eat. The wrap-around-deck allows time to rest awhile and enjoy the mountain views. The Abbot Pass Viewpoint is a further 1.5-kilometre hike west, but the views of Victoria Glacier are worth the additional time. We spent about an hour here walking the ridge, enjoying the views of the glacier.
For more details on how to tackle this amazing hike, check out our full article, Plain of Six Glaciers – The Best Lake Louise Hike.
The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) runs from Lake Louise in Banff National Park to the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park.
Lake Louise to Columbia Icefield
Leaving Lake Louise, the journey continues north towards the Columbia Icefield. There are many great opportunities to pull over for photos along the way.
The first stop is at Bow Lake. Pull over at the highway viewpoint, or better yet, drive to the car lot beside Bow Lake Lodge for some great photos.
Drive on to Peyto Lake’s Upper Viewpoint. The viewpoint, at 100 metres over the water, is picture perfect. The unbelievable blue colour of Peyto Lake is jaw-dropping.
Mistaya Canyon is further up the highway. The trailhead is located right at the highway pull off. Stretch your legs for a short hike to see the canyon and the waterfalls.
Just off the highway is Weeping Wall, a water cascade that looks like tears flowing down the side of the mountain.
The largest icefield in the Rockies, the Columbia Icefield are a must-see attraction.
Stop at the Glacier Discovery Centre. Learn about the icefield through its interpretive exhibits. The Ice Explorer Tour begins here. From the large patio, enjoy a break with views of the Athabasca Glacier or grab some food from the restaurants inside the centre.
The Ice Explorer is a bus-like, all-terrain vehicle which carries up to 56 passengers. A fleet of these vehicles travel to and on top of the Athabasca Glacier, the most visited glacier in North America. Passengers get up close views of the ice and crevasses as their vehicle crawls over this 400-year-old ice sheet. Better yet, exit the vehicle and experience the thrill of walking on the glacier itself and drinking pure glacial meltwater.
Upon returning to the Glacier Discovery Centre, board another bus for the next adventure, the Skyway.
The Columbia Icefield Skyway is 5 minutes further north on the parkway. It is a 1-kilometre cliff-edge walkway leading to a glass-floored observation platform over the Sunwapta Valley, 280 metres below. The Skyway is a unique way to view the glacier-carved valleys and mountains.
Be sure to make reservations in advance to get your Columbia Icefield Adventure Tickets.
While the Skyway can be done separately, we recommend doing the full Columbia Icefield Adventure.
Columbia Icefield to Jasper
There are many places to pull over and see the stunning region between the Columbia Icefield and the town of Jasper.
Be sure to make stops at Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint, Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Falls for more stunning photos.
Jasper National Park
Jasper is not swamped with tourists like Banff, which makes visiting this area even more enjoyable. There are plenty of outdoor options.
Jasper, a beautiful mountain town, is the heart of Jasper National Park. Start your day by taking the Jasper SkyTram up to Whistlers Peak. On a clear day, there are great views of the town and the surrounding mountains. In town, visit the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives. Learn about the railway and the early development of the park.
South of town, visit the Cavell area to hike the Path of the Glacier Trail, an easy 1-hour 1.6-kilometre return hike. At Cavell Pond, a short hike from the parking lot, see the layered ice of the Cavell Glacier. Look up at the amazing Angel Glacier coming down the face of Mount Edith Cavell.
North of Jasper, visit any of the small lakes, called Patricia, Pyramid, Annette and Edith Lakes, for hiking, kayaking, and if you dare, swimming.
At the Miette Hot Springs, enjoy a relaxing soak, as the water temperature is always kept between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius.
Jasper to Maligne Lake – Additional Day
On an extra day in Jasper National Park, we recommend the 46-kilometre scenic drive between Jasper and Maligne Lake.
Stop at Maligne Canyon. The trail crosses bridges over this 50-metre-deep limestone gorge with several views of waterfalls.
After passing Medicine Lake, the scenic drive ends at Maligne Lake.
The Mary Schäffer Loop, an easy 3.2-kilometre loop trail, has interpretive panels about Schäffer, one of the earliest explorers to this area. Walk by the historic boathouse and enjoy several great views of the lake before looping back to the parking lot.
Enjoy the Maligne Lake Cruise. This 1.5-hour cruise crosses the emerald lake to picturesque Spirit Island, a spiritual place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation’s people.
Options to Return to the City
After completing this Road Trip, there are a few options to return to the city.
Drive from Jasper to Banff, reversing this route. Enjoy different stops and hikes. From Banff, return to Calgary.
Alternatively, from Jasper, continue eastward to Edmonton.
For more great Alberta destinations, be sure to check out our article Best Alberta Road Trips.
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