Road Trip to Banff, Alberta: 5 Day Travel Itinerary

Earlier this August, I went on a company road trip to Banff, Alberta for roughly a week. From Toronto to Calgary, it took around 35 hours (almost two full days of driving and making pitstops at gas stations). Tbh, this was one of my favourite trips of all time – not only because I was happy to be surrounded with other artists, but because SDE Weddings (the wedding video company I work for) is seriously like family to me.

Normally, we’d be jam-packed with wedding shoots during the summer & have no time to travel, but this year, things were different… More than half of our wedding season was gone due to COVID-19, which resulted in a lot us not having work, but amongst the chaos, we were able to safely travel and I’m very grateful for that opportunity despite everything that’s happened this year.

Accommodation

For accommodation, we rented an airbnb in Calgary. It was a large, clean, home that was comfortable for all of us to stay in, but the only down-side was that it would take us 1-2 hours every day to drive to Banff and back. This resulted in lack of sleep and travel exhaustion, but it was the trade-off for saving on costs. In the future, I would recommend staying in Canmore instead (~30 minutes away from Banff) to save on travel time and exhaustion.

Travel Tip: A few months later, I actually flew to Banff again for a proposal shoot and stayed at an Airbnb in Dead Man’s Flat (10 minutes away from Canmore). This was another affordable option that I discovered, and the specific Airbnb I stayed at actually provided a complimentary parking pass as well. The parking pass is something that you need in order to visit the national park, so keep an eye out for that as you’re surfing through Airbnbs if you’re looking to save on some cash.


BANFF, ALBERTA: 5 DAY ITINERARY – AT A GLANCE

Day 1: Dessert at Yelo’d, West Edmonton Mall
Day 2: Sulphur Mountain Banff Gondola, Lake Minnewanka
Day 3: Lake Louise, Columbia Icefield Skywalk, Athabasca Glaciers
Day 4: Outlet shopping at CrossIron Mills, Takakkaw Falls, Emerald Lake
Day 5: Downtown Banff, Canoeing at Emerald Lake

Not included, but would’ve loved to visit:

  • Moraine Lake: This is one of the most popular lakes in Banff, but the parking lot was full every time we tried to go. Your safest bet is to arrive at 5AM to guarantee yourself a spot.
  • Peyto Lake: Peyto Lake has a gorgeous view, but was unfortunately under construction during my time here. It should be opened now though!
  • Lake Agnes Tea House: This is a 2-4 hour hike from Lake Louise which I would’ve loved to visit, but we didn’t have time for it this time around.
  • Bow Lake is also a beautiful spot to visit (wide open area that’s perfect for flying drones). I was able to take some beautiful pictures here when I traveled during the winter time (film a proposal). Stay tuned for my post on “5 Instagrammable Places in Banff.”
(Bow Lake, Alberta)

Day One

EAT DESSERT AT YELO’D

After two full days of driving, we finally made it to Edmonton where we visited one of our coworker’s sister for lunch! Afterwards, we had some dessert at a small ice cream parlour called Yelo’d. I tried the pomegranate x coconut soft serve, while my other coworkers tried some cookie sandwiches, and ube x pistachio soft serve. I remember the taste was very satisfying, and wish we had time to explore more food during our time there haha.

VISIT WEST EDMONTON MALL

Since we were in Edmonton, we decided to make a stop to West Edmonton Mall since it’s known as the largest mall in Canada. I’ve always heard of that mall before, but visiting it for the time first was pretty cool. They had a large amusement park, skating rink, and indoor water park. There was also a giant pirate ship in the middle of the mall’s river, with a sign stating that people could rent it out as a venue for a wedding LOL. I thought it was pretty funny because I don’t know who would want to have a wedding in a mall with a bunch of outside spectators, but who knows haha. Anyways, after that we made our way to Calgary to check-in to our Airbnb, have a quick dinner, and pass out for the night.

(Treehouse Toys at West Edmonton Mall)

PURCHASE ATTRACTION TICKETS

For most of us, this was our first time visiting Banff, so we decided to hit the top tourist spots and purchased the “Banff Ultimate Explorer” combo package from PURSUIT which included: the Banff Gondola, Lake Minnewanka Cruise, and Columbia Icefield Skywalk. I’ll talk more about my experiences down below so you can get a feel for what you think is worth it, but just know that combo packages are a good option if you’re looking to visit a lot of places and save costs!


Day Two

We slept in a little since it was our first proper rest after being on the road for two days, but as soon as we woke up, we were all ready to travel!

RIDE THE BANFF GONDOLA TO SULPHUR MOUNTAIN

This was our first official day in Banff, and Sulphur Mountain is 100% a destination that you don’t want to miss during your time here. The mountain views are gorgeous here (especially during sunset), and there’s a beautiful boardwalk that’s perfect for photo opportunities too! Individual admission is around $50/person to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain, but you can package it with a lunch or dinner experience at the Sky Bistro as well. In our case, the Banff Gondola was included in our combo package.

Travel Tip: Be sure to check the operating hours and purchase tickets online ahead of time. The prices and hours fluctuate depending on the season.

(Engagement shoot at Sulphur Mountain)

RELAX ON THE LAKE MINNEWANKA CRUISE

After enjoying the hike at Sulphur Mountain, we drove to Lake Minnewanka nearby (10 minutes away) to enjoy the river cruise, which was also included in our attraction combo package. When we arrived there around 3:30pm, the cruise was actually full, but we were lucky enough to land a spot around 5:00pm.

During our waiting time, we did a fun photoshoot in the surrounding area, and I honestly had so much fun just seeing everyone taking pictures and video of each other. This was my first time traveling with other artists (I’m used to being that one friend who’s always last because I’m taking photos or videos), so it was super nice to be with like-minded creatives this time around and help each other out!


Day Three

On this morning, we woke up around 4:30AM to try and catch Moraine Lake… but by the time we got there around 7:00AM, the parking lot was full and wasn’t allowing entry. So we decided to skip it, and headed straight to Lake Louise.

BE STUNNED BY LAKE LOUISE

Lake Louise was one of the top destinations I was excited to visit because I’ve seen so many beautiful pictures of it before, and honestly, when we got there… I was blown away by the raw beauty of the lake. The colour was breathtaking, and the vibes were just so serene. It felt unreal, and I’m so happy that I was able to experience it with a group of amazing people too. If you ever visit Banff, definitely mark Lake Louise on your bucket-list.

EMBARK ON THE COLUMBIA ICEFIELD SKYWALK

After visiting Lake Louise, we drove towards Jasper (which was almost two hours away) for the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. I was pretty tired because we had an early morning (so I slept on the car ride there), but once we arrived, we all hopped out of the car – ready for our next adventure.

If I’m going to be honest, I don’t think the skywalk is a must-do in Banff. Compared to the mountain views at the Sulphur Mountain Banff Gondola, it didn’t feel like the skywalk was that epic or much of a difference. The only special attraction was “standing on glass,” but it was a super short walk and wasn’t that thrilling in my opinion. What made the skywalk enjoyable for me though was seeing my two other co-workers (who are deathly afraid of heights) doing their best to walk along the glass LOL. So sometimes, it really isn’t about what you do or where you go because the people around you make it worth it.

ADVENTURE UP TO ATHABASCA GLACIERS

Close-by to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk is the Athabasca Glaciers. This was a really windy hike with uneven paths of rocks, but it was soooo worth it. One of things I love about traveling in a group is how we sometimes push each other to do things that we normally wouldn’t. For us, hiking up this glacier was one of those times, but it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. I still remember when we finally reached the glacier, we were overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment, and it honestly felt so rewarding. Everyone was smiling at each other, and that moment will forever be remembered in my heart.


Day Four

The night before, we spent the night drinking a little, so we decided it would be best to sleep in and take it easy on this day.

GO OUTLET SHOPPING AT CROSSIRON MILLS

Since we were staying in Calgary for our Airbnb, we decided to search what was around us and found a mall called CrossIron Mills. We decided to check it out and also grab lunch before exploring more of Banff.

Travel Tip: In Alberta, tax is only 5% (as opposed to our regular 13% in Ontario), so take advantage of shopping here!

ENJOY TAKAKKAW FALLS

Our original plan was to visit Johnston Canyon (a popular tourist attraction that has some nice bridges and waterfalls), but the road was actually closed off for cars, and required us to hike a few hours to get there… so we decided to scrap it and found Takakkaw Falls instead which was honestly such a cool photoshoot location. We also saw a rainbow on the drive there, and at the actual falls! I was blown away because it was my first time seeing a rainbow from start to finish (and being sooo close to it).

STROLL ALONG EMERALD LAKE

After enjoying Takakkaw Falls, we made our way to Emerald Lake and I was pleasantly surprised by how calm and peaceful it was. Emerald Lake is considered small compared to Lake Louise (and it almost feels like a tiny town), but I would actually rank it as one of my top favourite spots in Banff because it’s an incredible photoshoot spot and perfect for relaxing. One of my favourite things that we did was take our shoes off by the rocks, and we were able to get some amazing reflection shots!


Day Five

Having missed Moraine Lake once, we tried to wake up early and try again.. but once again, had no luck. After driving around for other options, we decided to just stop for breakfast and freshen up.

EXPLORE DOWNTOWN, BANFF

Downtown Banff is a busy little town that’s perfect for grabbing a bite and souvenir shopping. During our time here, we stopped by Eggsmart for breakfast. I ordered some fresh fruits with french toast and thoroughly enjoyed it!

GO CANOEING AT EMERALD LAKE

Once we finished eating breakfast, we decided to try visiting Moraine Lake for the third time, but we still weren’t allowed entry into the parking lot. Eventually, we began to accept that we wouldn’t be able to visit Moraine Lake on this trip, and drove back to Emerald Lake.

By the fifth day, we were honestly pretty exhausted from the lack of sleep and constant driving, so we really just wanted to relax and thought that canoeing would be one of the best ways to do that – and we were right! Canoeing was such a beautiful and serene experience, and I highly recommend trying it out during your time in Banff!

Travel Tip: Canoe rentals were $70/hour at Emerald Lake, whereas renting a canoe at Lake Louise or Moraine Lake would be $125+/hour. I personally feel that renting a canoe at Emerald Lake is more worth it for the cost, and the lake was just as stunning.


I hope you enjoyed this Banff itinerary and found it informative for when you have the chance to visit Banff! Thanks so much for reading and feel free to leave me a comment if you have any questions or feedback!

Portrait photos by: Marthy Honculada
Landscape photos by: Justin Put

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