This long weekend in and around Banff National Park checks off most of the classic attractions, but also gives you the chance to leave the busier areas behind for a flavor of a wilder Canadian Rocky Mountain experience.
The itinerary requires your own vehicle and would be best organized using Calgary as the gateway, then booking one night in Lake Louise, one night in Field and one night in Banff. If you’d rather be based in just one place, make it Lake Louise to save time in transit. If you only have two days then skip the Yoho portions of the itinerary on days two & three.
From Calgary head to the town of Banff, park downtown and wander Banff Avenue, its main shopping street, before walking the Bow Falls loop and and treating yourself to drink at the grandiose Banff Springs Hotel. Stop at the Banff Park Museum on the way back and you’ll have given yourself a good insight into Victorian-era Banff.
Consider climbing Tunnel Mountain for views over town. Easier alternatives for great views are the Banff Gondola, or simply the pullout beside a hairpin bend in the road up Mount Norquay. There’s a good selection of places for dinner in Banff, after which it’s worth driving north to accommodation around Lake Louise to save time the next day.
After a quick early-morning visit to Lake Louise, pick up picnic goodies at Laggan’s Bakery in the village, then make tracks north along the most spectacular portion of the Icefields Parkway. The best half-day hike along the stretch is Wilcox Pass, so save your legs for that, or head directly to the nearby Athabasca Glacier to explore that in a choice of activities that include exhibitions in the Icefields Centre; a bus with oversized wheels; guided hikes (that require a very early start from Lake Louise); and a stunning glass-platformed Glacier Sky Walk.
After all this return south along the Icefields Parkway for another night in Lake Louise or, better still, press on for another 20-minutes’ drive to the pretty, off-beat town of Field in Yoho National Park.
Get acquainted with the park at the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre, then head on a hike. You might be able to get lucky with a reservation for Lake O’Hara, but otherwise pick from hikes around Emerald Lake or up the Yoho Valley.
Afterward head back to Lake Louise Village for supplies and on to Banff along the Bow Valley Parkway, which should offer a great chance to spot wildlife as dusk falls. If you have time, hike in Johnson Canyon.
At the end of all this, you might appreciate a soak in Banff’s Upper Hot Springs.