Looking to visit Banff, Alberta but only have a day to spend?
In this post, I’ll be sharing the perfect 24 hours in Banff itinerary to help you plan your upcoming trip.
You might be worried that you don’t have a lot of time, but I can assure you that 24 hours is enough time to fit in a lot of fun and memorable activities (If your well organized and go into it with a plan).
You’ll get our recommendations where to stay and things to do to get the most out of your 24 hour Banff visit.
Whats So Special About Banff National Park?
Banff National Park is Canadas oldest and most well known national park.
Established in 1885, it is the most visited national park in Canada and has been featured on many postcards, pictures, and movies throughout its history.
Banff National Park sprawls across 415 square kilometres, and is home to numerous mountains, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails, wildlife, and much more.
There’s no denying the charm of Banff National Park, and it’s out of this world scenery that attracts people from all over the world.
The town is also filled with beautiful hotels, restaurants, and stores.
It’s definitely a must see if you’re in the area.
Even if you don’t have a lot of time to spend exploring Banff, in 24 hours you can still see the best of what it has to offer.
From being awe inspired by the Rocky Mountains, to hiking along a frozen lake (in summer), wildlife sightings, beautiful waterfalls, and a lot more, you can experience a truly magical visit to Banff.
When To Visit Banff National Park
Banff National Park is open year round, but you may want to consider a few things when deciding when best to visit.
Weather, seasons, when you have vacation days, and even when your friends are available to travel with can all play a role in when you decide to visit.
You should also consider the types of activities that you would like to partake in during your stay.
Would you rather visit Banff to see the snow covered mountains? Or do you want to visit in summer when the fireflies are out? Perhaps a casual hike while enjoying the scenery is more up your alley.
Summer is certainly the most popular time to visit Banff National Park. The park is generally more crowded as people flock to the Rockies to see the beautiful lakes, flowers, and mountains.
If you want to avoid crowds then spring or fall would be a better time to visit Banff National Park. During these times of year most of the ice has melted from the lakes and rivers, but there are still quite a few snow covered peaks around.
Also keep in mind that in the winter months Banff National Park receives heavy snowfall and there are times where it’s almost impossible to drive around the area.
Getting To Banff National Park
Banff is located in the southwest corner of Alberta, Canada. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Calgary (and about a 21 minute drive from Canmore) via Highway 1.
The easiest way to get to Banff is by car. Banff National Park is home to two entrances, one in the south at you’ll enter highway 1 and the other entrance is in the north via Johnston Canyon (Highway 93).
It’s also possible to get there by bus. However, it’s important to note that most of the buses only go as far as Lake Louise or Banff town site.
Banff By Train
If you’re looking for another alternative, you can get into Banff by train. The VIA railway runs from Calgary to Vancouver and stops at Banff or Lake Louise.
There is one daily train from Vancouver to Banff. Traveling by train from Vancouver to Banff usually takes around 36 hours.
The cost of the trip is approximately $700 for an adult round trip ticket. It’s also worth noting that the train stations in Banff and Lake Louise are two different stations. For this reason you should plan which route you’re going to take well before your departure date.
Banff National Park Entrance Fees
When you visit Banff, you’ll need to get a Banff Park Pass or the Parks Canada Discovery Pass in order to gain entry.
The pass covers Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay (including Lake Louise), and Waterton Lakes National Parks. If you’re only visiting for 24 hours within 24 hours then you would only need to purchase the 24 hour day pass which costs $11.40
The park pass costs are as follows:
- Adult: $9.80
- Senior: $8.30
- Youth: free
- Family/Group: $19.60
- Commercial Group, per person: $8.30
Parks Canada Discovery Pass (One Year Pass)
- Adult: $67.70
- Senior: $57.90
- Family/Group: $136.40
Basically, if you’re staying more than seven days in any national park in Canada within a year, it would make sense to get the Discovery Pass. You can purchase it online or at any national park gate.
What to Bring When Visiting Banff
The weather in Banff is very unpredictable, so you’ll want to make sure that you pack clothes that are suitable for all kinds of weather conditions.
As a general rule of thumb; dress warmer when going to higher elevations and bring a few extra layers if you’re going to be outside for long periods of time.
Make sure to bring attire specific for the activities that you intend to do during your stay. For instance, If you plan to do some hiking, bring the appropriate hiking gear unless you plan to rent them when you arrive in Banff.
Best Places To Stay In Banff
Whether you are looking for a fancy hotel, a campsite or something in between Banff has you covered.
Banff Springs Hotel
The Banff Springs Hotel is the most famous hotel located in Banff. The first section of the hotel was built back in 1888 and since then it has been through many renovations to make it what it is today. The main building is 24 stories tall and it’s the second tallest building in the town of Banff behind the Fairmont Palliser.
A lot of famous people have stayed at this hotel including, Queen Elizabeth II, Walt Disney, Pierre Trudeau, King Edward VII and more. The hotel has also appeared in many movies over the years such as National Lampoons Vacation .
The rooms don’t come cheap, but most of them have a great view of the mountains.
The Rimrock Resort Hotel and Spa
The Rimrock Resort Hotel and Spa is another fancy hotel located in Banff. It was built back in 1973, but it looks much newer.
Some of the rooms have a nice view of the lake and the mountains. It is well worth it to get a room with a view if you can. Waking up to the mountain view is definitely something that I can never tire of.
It has a nice view of the lake and you can see some mountains from your room too.
This was where we stayed during our most recent trip to Banff and we enjoyed our stay there. The staff are extremely friendly and the rooms were very modern.
Banff Lake Lakeview Resort
This is a perfect place to stay if you are looking for something more budget-friendly. Located close to downtown Banff this hotel offers 24 hour reception and staff who will be able to help direct you to the best activities in town. There are several different types of suites available for you to choose from and they all feature free WiFi along with a mini-fridge, microwave, coffee maker, and fireplaces. The hotel is situated on a lake so if you have time in the morning feel free to take advantage of their canoe’s or kayaks.
If you don’t feel like staying in a hotel, there are many other options for accommodation such as cabins, hostels, and even camping.
I do recommend spending the night in Banff to get the most of your experience.
How To Navigate 24 hours in Banff
If you only have 24 hours to spend in Banff, I would recommend splitting your time into two days. By doing so, you can organize the two days in any way that suits you best. You also get time to rest in between.
Something to keep in mind before we dive into the itinerary is that I have recommended A LOT. If you do everything on this list, it would make for a fairly packed day- which is ok if that’s what you would like to do.
You can also pick and choose which activities to focus on and spend more time on.
If 24 hours isn’t enough, you can always plan another visit to Banff in the near future!
Day 1: Arrival
The Banff Gondola is a 8-minute ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. When you get to the top of Sulphur Mountain, you can enjoy the views, take some pictures and even visit the onsite gift shop selling everything from souvenirs to hot chocolate.
You’ll also find a restaurant and a coffee shop in the same building. They serve really good food and the view is amazing!
On a clear day, you will be able to see all of Banff. It’s quite spectacular because it feels like you are on top of the world when visiting Sulphur Mountain.
The Gondola opens at 8 am and closes when it begins to get dark. There are also night rides from 9 pm to 11 pm that are separate to 24 hours in Banff.
How Much: Adult tickets are $50 and up, but pricing varies depending on the time, season and how far in advance you book your ticket.
Children under the age of 5 can ride for free.
It is best to book online to get the best price and also to avoid waiting in long lines upon arrival. (https://bookings.banffjaspercollection.com/RKY/activities/details/1/YBA-BTC-BA-BGR/Attraction#/select-ticket/book-adventure)
Tip- You can ride the gondola DOWN for free after 7 PM. This would require you to hike to the top of sulfur mountain.
If you choose to go this route, be sure to pay attention to the gondola closing time so that you can meet if for your ride down.
Explore The Town Of Banff
You can end your First day in Banff by winding down with a walk through the town of Banff.
If you decided not to grab dinner at the Sky Bistro (Restaurant at the top of Sulphur Mountain), you could even grab dinner at one of the many restaurants downtown Banff.
The restaurants in Banff are excellent and have lots of different food options. Banff has grown to be such a popular tourist attraction that you’ll be able to find pretty much any type of food you’re looking for.
Visit The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Even if your not staying at this hotel, it is worth visiting if you have time during your stay in Banff.
Anyone is welcome to tour the beautiful facilities. You can also enjoy a meal at the Peak’s restaurant or take a stroll down to the main lobby area and check out the in-house shops.
If you go at night, you can also enjoy some live music from local musicians.
Day 2: Hiking
If your staying in Banff, take second day to explore some of the amazing sights that Banff National Park offers.
Depending on where you are staying, you may choose to have breakfast at your hotel or at one of the many other restaurants near you.
One popular breakfast spot is the Tooloulou Restaurant, which is also located in downtown Banff.
It’s a popular restaurant that serves really good, affordable breakfasts. The staff are also very friendly and welcoming too.
Alternatively, you could choose to have breakfast at the Fairmont Hotel. The Vermillion Room offers some of the best views in town as well as delicious food.
They also have a Sunday Brunch buffet.
This is one of my favorite places to eat whenever I’m in Banff, and if 24 hours is all that you have then this is a great place to get a bite to eat. They have an amazing 24-hour breakfast menu so you could eat there 24 hours in a row if that’s what your heart desires! The pancakes are my favorite!
Lake Minnewanka is one of the most beautiful and diverse in Banff. It is 15 minutes south of Banff on highway 1A. It’s an easy trail that shouldn’t take you more than an hour or so to complete.
Depending on the weather, you may even be able to swim in the lake! This is the perfect hike for 24 hours in Banff because it isn’t too hard and you can finish the hike early enough to fit in a couple of other activities.
Next up is Vermilion Lakes. This trail is about a 6 km hike that should take you a couple of hours to complete.
You certainly don’t have to do this hike if you have limited time, but you can still take in the scenic views.
When we visited, we just walked around a bit and took some pictures of the lake, mountains and surrounding areas.
If you have more time, I would recommend making the 40-minute drive to Lake Louise. Lake Louise is another amazing place to hike. It’s a longer, more difficult trail (about 8km one way), so I would only recommend doing the hike if you’ve got some experience under your belt.
There’s so much to do in Lake Louise on its own. From canoeing to hiking to ice skating (in the winter months), there is something for everyone.
If you have 24 hours in Lake Louise, I would highly recommend renting a canoe and paddling out onto the lake. It’s so peaceful and beautiful. It gives you a chance to really soak in all of the beauty of Lake Louise (and get some exercise if you’re into paddling).
If 24 hours is all you have in Banff, it will be difficult to fit this in.
I mention it just in case you are able to add an extra day to your Banff Trip.
The Icefields Parkway is an amazing scenic drive down to Jasper, which will take you through some of the most beautiful and diverse areas in Alberta. It’s a long drive (about 3 hours one way), but it is completely worth the views!
Is 24 hours Enough To Explore Banff?
While 24 hours is not enough to see all that Banff has to offer, there is certainly a lot you can fit into 24 hours in Banff.
Overall, our 24 hours in Banff felt truly magical and I would recommend everyone attempt to explore Banff even if 24 hours is all you have.