A 5 Day Trip Itinerary for a getaway to Calgary, Canmore and Banff National Park
Get ready to hit the road and embark on a journey through Alberta’s Cow Town all while enjoying breathtaking views of the Canadian Rockies and surrounding areas.
You may also like: 15 Day Alberta Itinerary
Day 1: Calgary Downtown
Begin today with a 360-degree view of the bustling city skyline, the foothills and the magnificent Rocky Mountains, with a visit to the Calgary Tower. Free standing at 191 metres, this is a must see for any visitor to Calgary. If you have the courage, step onto the amazing glass floor which offers a bird’s eye view of the streets below. Complimentary with admission to the Observation deck are informative and inspiring multimedia tours offered in seven languages.
After your visit to the tower, head to the nearby Glewbow museum to discover some amazing artifacts, beautiful art and fantastic exhibits. Representing Western Canadian art and culture, with more than one million objects, documents, photographs and artworks, making it one of the biggest museums in Western Canada. Some special finds to be on the lookout for are Captain James Cook’s sword, a multimedia “hunting trophy”, a championship wrestling belt, ceremonial medals and the world’s oldest rock. See if you can locate them all!
Continuing the art experience outside, take a walk around the downtown to discover some of the interesting art instillations. The first one, just north in Olympic Plaza, is the Famous Five. Created by artist Barbara Paterson to recreate the moment when these famous ladies reunited over a cup of tea to celebrate their victory of women’s rights in the early 20th century. Especially interesting are the quotes selected to represent each of the five ladies. Get up close and personal with the ladies, have a seat, take a picture or stop and have a chat!
Just a couple streets further north, in front of the Bow Building, you will encounter a piece by Barcelona-based sculpture Jaume Plensa titled Wonderland. An enigmatic 12-metre high bust composed of white bent-wire, depicting a young girl’s head gazing serenely at the comings and goings. From afar the head appears to be almost opaque, meshing into a solid surface, however, up close it appears flimsy and almost non-existent. An interesting feature are the two door-sized openings that allow you to enter and wander through.
Lunch option: You can find plenty of great dining options including mouth watering options from Calgary Food Trucks as you wander through downtown. If you like a late breakfast, try 1886 Buffalo Café (187 Barclay Pde SW), housed inside the only surviving building from the old lumber yard.
If you have a sweet tooth, stop by Jelly Modern Doughnuts (1414 8th St SW). Bright pink and sugary-smelling, they have set the standard for weird doughnut flavors. The maple and bacon or bourbon vanilla varieties will make every other doughnut you’ve had seem bland in comparison.
You may like: Calgary Walking Tour
After lunch, pick up a bike from Rapid Rent (inside Eau Claire market) and take a ride along Calgary’s Pathway System which connects communities, parks and natural areas. It is the most extensive urban pathway and bike network in North America consisting of approximately 580km of regional paths, 220km of local paths and 95km of trails. Begin by crossing over the Bow River to Prince’s Island Park. This gorgeous urban park is a perfect place to relax, unwind and enjoy a bit of serenity in the center of the city. Many large events are held there throughout the year including the Canada Day celebration and Calgary Folk Festival.
Leaving the island and crossing back over to the mainland, continue along the Riverwalk pathway as it bends along the Elbow River until you see Fort Calgary on your right. At this stop take a step back in time to experience Calgary at the beginning of the 20th century. This fort built by the North West Mounted Police in 1875 was used as a base to overcome the illegal whisky trade along the Bow River. In 1970, an archaeological dig uncovered hundreds of artifacts many of which are now on display inside the fort.
When you leave the Fort, turn right and head west for a couple blocks to make a stop and admire the National Music Centre, Studio Bell. This whimsical, copper castle structure is an entertaining new museum that will take you on a ride through Canada’s musical history with cool artifacts and interactive displays. Test your skills at the drums, electric guitar or in the sound-recording room.
When you are done at the museum, take your time riding around before returning your bike and taking a rest at your hotel before dinner and a night out on the town.
Tonight, take a walk along the pedestrian friendly, Stephen Avenue walkway, known for having some of the finest restaurants, cafes, and entertainment venues. Located between 2nd and 3rd street, are large white sculptures referred to as the “Galleria Trees.” Become acquainted with these sculptures through the music and lighting programmed by Downtown Calgary.
Diner option: One18 Empire, voted one of Calgary’s top 10 best new restaurants. A whisk(e)y-inspired bar and restaurant with a focus on sharable, locally sourced dishes, masterfully paired with a selection of onsite reserve. 820 Centre St. S
After your dinner, enjoy a concert by Calgary Philharmonic or revel in lush theatre production taking place at Arts Commons!
Day 2: Calgary
For your last day in Calgary before hitting the road and heading into the Rockies, choose between one of these options.
Outdoors & Adventure:
Also located just outside the downtown, Winsport is Calgary’s venue for winter sports competitions and summer recreation. When winter falls it’s the place to be for skiing, snowboarding, bobsled rides, ice hockey and skating, but summer brings a whole new assortment of fun activities. From kid’s bungee to indoor ice skating, mini golf, luge rides, downhill mountain bike trails for all levels and North America’s fastest zip line ride with a vertical drop of more than 300 ft. In addition to all the adrenaline activities you can also drop in to the Canada Sports Hall of Fame with galleries and interactive displays. This venue is also a high performance athletic training center so keep an eye out for some professional athletes.
History & Culture:
The Military Museums: Take a detour for an hour or so to visit this gem of a museum that is the perfect place to discover Canada’s military/peace keeping contributions to the world.
Heritage Park Historical Village: Experience what Calgary used to look like from 1915 and earlier. Heritage Park Historical Village, a 10 hectar recreated town, offers activities for the young and young-at-heart to keep you captivated in the past. Whether it’s the thundering steam train, antique midway rides, costumed interpreters or beautifully preserved heritage buildings and homesteads, you will have a difficult time deciding what to do next. Explore hundreds of exhibits, rides, shops, restaurants and daily demonstrations.
Easily reached by car in 20 minutes with lots of parking or you can take the free shuttle from Heritage LRT Station.
Wind down from a busy day tonight with a relaxing and scenic cruise along the Glenmore Reservoir, aboard the S.S. Moyie Paddlewheeler. From July to September, Heritage Park Captain’s Cruises offers unique rides on Calgary’s only paddlewheel boat to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Glenmore Reservoir and the Rocky Mountains. During the journey you will enjoy a tasty snacks, a selection of beer & wine all while listening to live jazz music. Reservations are recommended.
Day 3: Calgary to Canmore
Get ready to leave the city behind and tackle the great outdoors – Take the Trans-Canada Hwy West drive to Canmore.
Nestled along the banks of the glacier-fed Bow River and dramatic rocky peaks, just one-hour from Calgary and only 5 minutes from Banff National Park. Known for its incredible variety of activities and small-town atmosphere. Several walking and cycling trails will take you through the six square blocks that make up the downtown core where you can shop for quaint gifts, visit museums or look through one of several art galleries. If adventure is more your things, skiing, hiking, biking and fishing are just some of the activities you can enjoy in this scenic mountain community.
You may also foray into Kananaskis Country on the way to Canmore.
For the day, here are a variety of activities to consider:
Grassi Lake Hike: The trail winds past a waterfall where it eventually leads you to two majestic turquoise lakes. You can’t miss the panoramic views of Canmore that surround you every step of the hike.
Caving under Grotto Mountain: Something to be enjoyed year-round thanks to a constant internal temperature of 5 degrees inside the caves. Take a natural history tour through Rat’s Nest Cave, a 4km cave created by the meltwaters of ancient glaciers. This natural wild cave has no artificial lighting or handrails.
Climbing: Canmore offers some of the best outdoor rock climbing areas in the world. In addition to long, challenging multi-pitch routes there are great beginner crags and climbing areas. Climbing season is typically May to October but ice climbing is also available in the winter.
Canoe & Paddleboard: Whether you prefer to stand or sit, a ride along the Bow River is a quintessential Canadian activity and peaceful way to explore Banff National Park. Rent a canoe, kayak or SUP to explore on your own or join a guided tour.
Mountain Biking: A hub of adventure for cycling enthusiasts with a network of 100km of scenic paths ideal for road biking to adrenaline-pumping downhill tracks. This is truly Canmore’s sport. A selection of places in the downtown offer rentals or join a guided tour.
Food Tour: If you’re not an adventure enthusiast, join other foodies and get to know the gourmet side of Canmore on a 3.5-hour food tour and enjoy authentic connections to Alberta’s culture.
After a day outside enjoying the nature and fresh air, spend some time downtown enjoying a stroll down Main Street and checking out some incredible galleries, on-of-a-kind shops and world-renowned restaurants. A shopping experience unique to anywhere else.
Dinner option: Crazyweed Kitchen, an award-winning restaurant with a diverse palate for fusion style cooking, comfort foods and an impressive wine list. 1600 Railway Ave.
Day 4: Banff Town
Today, depending on your interest decide where you want to hike and experience the view from top of the mountain. Plan for 2 to 3 hours.
- Sunshine Meadows – A Hikers Paradise: Ride the Standish quad chairlift (Sunshine Village Ski Lift) to over 2,400 m (7,875 ft) – the highest Gondola / Chairlift access sightseeing elevation in the Banff and Lake Louise area – and experience 360 degree views of the Rocky Mountains that surround you. From there, catch even more breathtaking scenery from the Standish viewpoint platform and take in the view of the three high-alpine lakes; Larynx, Grizzly and Rock Isle. Cost: ~19 to $42
- Mt Norquay: Ride up the North American chairlift: 2 person open air chair lift, to enjoy the stunning scenery and view of the mountain vistas. Once on top, stroll the viewing pathway to the lookout point, and take in the amazing view of Bow Valley, Sundance Range, Mount Rundle, Tunnel Mountain, and Banff. If you are the adventurous type, join for Via Ferratta – make your way up the cliffs above the ski area assisted by a fixed anchoring system of cables, ladders and a suspension bridge. Cost: $19.95 to $29.95
- Banff Gondola: A gondola ride can be taken up Sulphur Mountain to enjoy panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies. Built in 1959, the Sulphur Mountain Gondola is the only bi-cable gondola in Canada. A four person enclosed cars takes 8 minutes to reach the top of the Sulphur mountain where Bow valley, cascade mountain, Lake Minnewanka can be see from the mountain top. Cost: $28.00 to $62.00
Lunch: All the above places offer lunch from luxurious dining to cafe options.
See here for itineraries:
- Take some time to stop and visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. This restored landmark commemorates the 1883 discovery of the hot springs that led to the creation of Canada’s first national park.
- Drive the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Loop and take a cruise on the Lake.
- See Bow Falls + Hoodoos
- Visit Vermilion Lakes
Complete your visit with a relaxing soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs mineral pools.
If you still have energy after dinner, Banff Avenue in downtown Banff is full of high energy night spots where you can dance and laugh the night away. But for a truly authentic experience don’t leave the west without visiting a Canadian western saloon for a cold drink, hearty food, line dancing, mechanical bull riding and calf roping. Wild Bill is legendary for offering all the fun and excitement of the wild west.
Après, a way of life in Banff! Spend a leisurely, evening enjoying the sunshine and a beer brewed with glacial water on a patio while listening to upbeat tunes and relaxing. Or sip a tea and make new friends at a plush hotel lounge.
Day 5: Lake Louise
Rise and Shine! Today os going to be a very busy day! In the morning (start as early as you can): Get onto to Bow Valley Parkway and stop at Johnston Canyon (best to be here before 08:00 am.)Hike this spectacular Canyon formed by rushing waters 8000 years ago. Do the smaller hike (1 mile round trip) and get back on Bow Valley Parkway to Moraine Lake in the village of Lake Louise. There is a cafe at the Johnston Canyon Resort, located near the Canyon.
Tip: Bow Valley Parkway has travel restrictions from March 1st to June 25th. Travel is not permitted between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on the 17-kilometre section of the parkway from Johnston Canyon Campground to the Fireside Picnic Area. If you are visiting during this period, take TransCanada Highway.
As you continue driving towards the hamlet of Lake Louise, watch out for wildlife along the way. The drive requires ~ 2 hours.
By ~ 11 am – Visit the famous glacier-fed Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, one of the most photographed lakes in the world. Throughout the summer its vivid turquoise color changes in intensity as the glaciers melt. The scene is so stunning it is almost unreal. Sit for a while and take it all in or explore its depths by canoe or hiking. Canoes can be rented from the Moraine Lake Boathouse. ~ 2 hours. Summer months are extremely busy, so possibilities of detours are very high. See the link above to see how to get around.
Let your next stop be Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola & Wildlife Interpretive Centre (home of Lake Louise Ski Resort) for the best Grizzly Bear viewing and opportunity to dine on delicious mountain inspired dishes. Make sure to bring your camera to capture the soaring peaks, stunning glaciers, lush alpine wildflowers and the unspoiled beauty of summer and Lake Louise from atop the awe-inspiring viewpoint. Have lunch here. ~ 2 hours.
Tip: Get on the free shuttle to Lake Louise from Lake Louise Gondola. Summer months are crazy busy and it is better to leave the car at the Ski Resort (Better still, if you staying the night at Lake Louise find out whether they have transportation to Moraine Lake & Lake Louise. )
Another option is to drive straight to Lake Louise overflow parking lot and leave your car/trailer/RV there and take the free shuttle to Lake Louise. The shuttle leaves every 15 minutes to Lake Louise from 08:00 AM to 04:00 PM and until 06:15 PM (until September 10, 2017) from Lake Louise to overflow parking lot.
Continue to Lake Louise. Delight in the famous turquoise coloured Lake that beckons wandering souls from far and wide! Canoe the Lake, walk around the trail and have tea or dinner at the Famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. There is also a deli where you can do takeaway! ~ 3 hours.
If you feel the above day is too busy, skip Johnston Canyon (drive Bow Valley parkway) and or Lake Louise Gondola.
Below map might show travel via TransCanada, but continue via Bow Valley Parkway after Johnston Canyon.
If you are avid hiker (you will need half a day atleast):
If you are interested: You can go horse riding on Lake Agnes Trail.
Take a 7km round trip hike past Mirror Lake and the waterfall that cascades out of Lake Agnes to the historic Lake Agnes Tea House where you can enjoy some delicious scones and specialty tea in the picturesque alpine valley. This family-run tea house has no running water or electricity and some supplies are flown in seasonally by helicopter.
If you are a keen hiker, take the tea house challenge and continue to the less-travelled of the two, the Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse. Built in 1924 and originally used to house mountaineers enroute to Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy. It offers refreshments and food to hikers and rewards you with stunning views of the glaciers and mountains that surround Lake Louise.
If you have more time: Day 6: Icefields Parkway and Beyond
Jump in the car and take a drive along the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 N), one of Canada’s national treasures. This world-class journey, stretching 232km offers passage to a vast wilderness of pristine mountain lakes, ancient glaciers and broad sweeping valleys! Winding its way through two national parks and boasting a unique landscape rich in history and natural beauty.
- Hike up to see the views of Peyto Lake!
- Located along the way is the Glacier Discover Centre where you can board one of the massive Ice Explorer vehicles to take you on a remarkable journey into the Athabasca Glacier.
- Take a walk on ice up to 360m thick then top it off on the cliff-edged, glass-floor of the Glacier Skywalk, suspended 280m over the Sunwapta Valley for stunning aerial views of glittering glaciers and rugged mountain peaks.
Continue onto Jasper Town. See here for Itinerary, use from point 6 on Day 2. If you are continuing to Edmonton, use Highway AB-2 S to return to Calgary ~ 3 hrs. Otherwise, from Jasper return via Icefields Parkway and TransCanada Highway back to Calgary.
Since you are in Alberta, why not plan a 15 day trip to see BEST OF ALBERTA.