Banff and Lake Louise are small mountain communities, but their spirit is big. Longtime locals will tell you that you need a day to get a taste for Banff National Park, three to just break the surface, and five or more to find out for yourself what they love about it.
Day one: Make your mountain connection
The Canadian Rockies will rise up to meet you as you make your way into Banff, and their sheer power is arresting. It’s also very effective at pulling your mind away from the minutia of the day-to-day and into mountain mode. This is step one to making the most of your time in Banff National Park.
When you check into your cozy hotel or lodge, it may be tempting to rush straight out and explore the town. But for once, time is on your side – with five days to explore, you can do so on your own terms. When you’re ready, amble out for a stroll along the bustling core of Banff Avenue and let your tastebuds guide you to Banff’s vibrant dining scene for dinner. Then visit local favourite BeaverTails for dessert and enjoy your tasty treat around the outdoor firepits at the downtown Banff skating rink.
Day two: Get the lay of the land
Any adventurer knows that the first step to exploring in the mountains is to get your bearings. Make an early-morning trip up the Banff Gondola to be on par with the snowy peaks as they’re lit up by sunrise alpenglow. Once the vivid pink colours have given way to clear morning sunshine, you’ll be able to drink in the views of mountains all around. Trace the winding Bow River westward down the Bow Valley, where you’re headed next.
Grab lunch to go from a local café like JK Bakery and then hit the road west. Take your time on the journey – you’re in no rush. Pull in at the Castle Mountain and Mount Temple viewpoints and always keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife making their own way through the park. Settle into your home for the next two nights in the village of Lake Louise and then stretch your legs on the riverside trail. A dose of fresh air will have you ready for to make dinner at the elegantly rustic Mount Fairview Dining Room the main event of the evening.
Day three: Indulge your senses
The snowy shores of Lake Louise in the morning belong only to the lucky overnight guests of the village and the resident wildlife they share it with. The options for your day here are plentiful, and each offers a unique experience. Layer up for old-fashioned mountain fun and rent snowshoes or skates to explore on or around the lake itself. To get a taste of traditional travel through the mountains in wintertime, join a horse-drawn sleigh ride around the lake or feel the rush of dogsledding along the nearby Continental Divide.
After a morning in the crisp outdoors, you’ll be ready to savour the flavours of Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The delectable sandwiches and thoughtfully-crafted pastries, along with the stunning views ahead of you, will keep you sipping your signature Fairmont tea well into the afternoon. To complete your day of winter wonder in Lake Louise, visit the spa for a massage or rejuvenating scrub and soak in the hot pool.
Day four: Hit the slopes, your way
Lining the route from Lake Louise back to Banff are the three iconic ski hills of Banff National Park. Spend the morning at Lake Louise Ski Resort, Banff Sunshine or Mt. Norquay. Each resort offers a wealth of ski and snowboard terrain for beginners and experts alike, but it’s not just about the skiing. Sample the slopes on snowshoes or a snow tube for a different kind of thrill.
Whichever adventure you choose, join in on the spirit of après-skiing in downtown Banff at the end of your day. Visit the Banff Avenue Brewing Company for a locally brewed ale or Park Distillery for the ultimate après cocktails.
Day five: Explore the artisan trail
Ease into the day with a peaceful yoga class at Banff Yoga Practice followed by brunch at Farm & Fire or Juniper Bistro. Then you’ll be ready to take to the streets and explore the local shops and art galleries of Banff. Make a loop along Banff Avenue and back down Bear Street to visit Canada House, All in the Wild Gallery, Willock & Sax Gallery and more.
Banff is home to many local events, and you’re likely to find yourself drawn into the festive atmosphere of Christmas, SnowDays or Banff Craft Beer Week. An afternoon spent on the spirited streets of Banff is the perfect wrap-up to your trip. Hold on tight to the moments you make here, and you’ll find they stay with you far beyond Banff and Lake Louise.