Last Updated on December 27, 2022 by Maggie McKneely
Looking for a Canadian Rockies itinerary? This 3-day plan will help you make the most of your limited time in this beautiful place!
*This post contains affiliate links. That just means that if you happen to click on one of those links and end up making a purchase, I make a small commission (and you will have made my day!)
3-Day Canadian Rockies Itinerary
The portion of the Rocky Mountains that extend into Canada is unlike anywhere else along that mighty mountain range. In Canada, the peaks tower thousands of feet above the valley floor. Massive glaciers stretch their toes down the slopes. Animals associated with the wild reaches of the north – caribou, gray wolves, grizzly bears, elk – roam the thick pine forests. Lakes so turquoise that they look photoshopped litter the landscape (Canada has a high-quality of life, and all those lakes probably have something to do with it!). It’s an incredible place that should be on everyone’s travel list and is definitely one of the best places to visit in Canada.
But if you’re short on time, it can also be overwhelming to try and plan out how to see everything you need to! The Canadian Rockies are actually split into 5 different National Parks (yes, 5!!!), spread throughout several Canadian provinces. My family spent 3 days and 3 nights in Banff National Park in Alberta, the largest and most centrally located of the parks.
While you’ll wish you had more time here, 3 days is enough to see all of the highlights if you’re short on time. To help you out, here’s a great 3-day Canadian Rockies itinerary. (Got more time? Consider adding this itinerary to a 3-week trip to Canada!)
Day 1: Banff
The closest airport to the Canadian Rockies is Calgary International. Alternatively, you can drive to Banff (which is what we did – make sure to read these tips for driving in Canada first!). Either way, part of Day 1 is going to be spent just arriving.
Since you’re short on time, you’ll want to stay somewhere centrally located. We stayed at the lovely Lake Louise Inn because Lake Louise is close to everywhere on this itinerary. However, you pay for the location, and Lake Louise is one of the most popular destinations in the world. The town of Banff is another good option that’ll save you a little bit of money. Just expect to pay more for everything (food, gas, lodging) inside any of the parks!
Since you’ve probably been traveling most of the day, spend the evening exploring the town of Banff. It’s an adorable place filled with lots of cute restaurants, chocolate shops, and gift stores. Check out one of the many breweries, such as Banff Ave. Brewing Company, or get a delicious pizza from Bear Street Tavern (the Tatanka is topped with smoked bison!). Or, if you’re feeling fancy, check out dinner at the famous Fairmont Banff Springs.
Day 2: Moraine Lake, Icefields Parkway
They say Moraine Lake is the most photographed spot in Canada, and I don’t doubt it. It’s one of the most naturally photogenic places that I’ve ever been to! And although it’s beautiful any time of day, sunrises over the lake are particularly famous. So start day 2 of your Canadian Rockies itinerary watching the sun light up the Valley of Ten Peaks.
The problem is, everyone else knows about Moraine’s famous sunrises too. If you want to catch the sunrise at Moraine Lake, get up early! I suggest getting to the parking lot at least 30 minutes before the official sunrise time. It’s a popular spot with very limited parking. When we were there in August, sunrise was at 6:15 AM, so we got there at 5:50 AM – and the parking lot was already full!! But the view is definitely worth dealing with the tourists.
After you get your Moraine Lake photos, grab some coffee and breakfast at Lake Louise Village before starting the next part of the day: the Icefields Parkway.
The Icefields Parkway is, without question, one of the most incredible drives in the world. For 144 miles (232 km), this highway travels through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. That’s 181 miles filled with massive mountain peaks, incredible blue lakes, caribou crossings, and glaciers that you can walk right up to. So, obviously, it’s a necessary part of any Canadian Rockies itinerary worth its salt!
But 144 miles is a long way, and with only 3 days to spend, you don’t need to do the entire thing. Instead, start at Lake Louise and drive 82 miles to Athabasca Glacier, and pick some key stopping points in between!
Places to stop between Lake Louise and Athabasca Glacier
This impressive glacier is visible from the parkway, but to get a great picture, be sure to make a quick stop at the overlook! It’s named “Crowfoot” because there used to be three “toes;” however, one of them broke off in the 1930s, and another is in the process of melting.
Nicknamed the “bluest lake in Canada,” Peyto Lake can be seen from the top of a short, paved trail off the parkway.
If you have a little extra time, the Parker Ridge Trail is a must. The entire round-trip is 5.5 miles, but you can do just half of that and still get excellent views of the mountains and the Saskatchewan Glacier.
Icefields Center, Toe of the Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier is the most-visited glacier in North America because of its easy accessibility. Do the short hike to walk right up to it (plus, it’s the only free way to see the glacier)! Also, be sure to check out the Icefields Visitors Center for more information about the Columbia Icefield and the glaciers, and for coffee with a view.
Tip: DO NOT get gas at the Saskatchewan Crossing gas station. We paid the equivalent of $7 a gallon here, at least double what gas costs outside of the park!
Day 3: Plain of 6 Glaciers
Lake Louise is, deservedly, the most iconic place in Banff and no Canadian Rockies itinerary would be complete without it. However, Lake Louise’s shore is always packed with thousands of other tourists! Fortunately, there’s a way to spend a full day at the lake without having to put up with all of the other visitors: the Plain of 6 Glaciers Hike.
The Plain of Six Glaciers trail winds its way around Lake Louise before climbing up through the incredible valley carved by Victoria Glacier. The hike ends at the very toe of the glacier, where you can treat yourself to coffee and chocolate cake at the historic Plain of Six Glaciers tea house.
To truly avoid the tourists, start this hike early in the day and allow for 5-6 hours to complete it. For more information on this must-do hike, visit my post all about the Plain of Six Glaciers.
After the hike, take the afternoon to relax and grab some ice cream from Lake Louise Village. You earned it – you just completed a whirlwind 3-day Canadian Rockies itinerary!
Tips for visiting the Canadian Rockies
- You will need to purchase a Parks Canada Pass in order to get into any of the national parks. One pass will get you into any of them though (you don’t need to buy a separate one for Banff, and then another for Jasper, etc.). Passes can be purchased either online or at the park entrance gate.
- There is almost no cell reception on the Icefields Parkway and it’s very spotty in other areas in the parks. So just FYI.
- Most of the scenic pull-outs and parking areas have outhouses if you need a bathroom stop.
- Accommodations and campsites fill up very quickly during the summer season, so make your reservations well in advance.
- The parks are open year-round, and while we were there in the summer, I hear that visiting both Banff and Jasper in the winter is a truly special experience.
Where to Stay
Like it? Pin it!