Discovering Alberta's Beauty: An Enchanting 7-Day Itinerary Covering Calgary, Banff and the Kananaskis Mountains

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Advisor - Vivian Ho
Curated By

Vivian Ho

  • Alberta

  • Calgary

  • Adventure Travel

  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Travel

  • Nature Escapes

  • Canada

  • Mountains

  • Outdoors

  • Relaxation

Alberta is a captivating province of rugged mountains, vast prairies, and vibrant cities, where natural beauty meets modern exploration.
Curator’s statement

Banff is a destination you must visit once in your lifetime. Nestled within the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is an unparalleled sanctuary of natural splendor and adventure. Whether chasing the thrill of outdoor pursuits or seeking serenity in pristine landscapes, Banff promises a transformative journey that lingers in the soul long after departure. The peace of all the glacier-fed lakes and cascading waterfalls will leave your heart forever grateful for what Mother Nature can create.

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Day 1: Calgary

Peace Bridge is a graceful architectural landmark connecting urban vibrancy with scenic tranquility, spanning the Bow River in Alberta's largest city.

Most people will head straight to Banff when they arrive in Calgary, but the city of Calgary has so many interesting places worth visiting. Taking a whole day to wander around the city on foot is what I recommend doing.

Where to Stay

Fairmont Palliser

Where to Eat & Drink

  • Good Trade Coffee Company - An independent fair trade coffee shop in the Kensington Village neighborhood. Serving delicious coffee and ham & cheese croissants

  • Alforno Bakery & Cafe - An all-day casual cafe where you can stop for coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  • Orchard Restaurant - A beautiful Mediterranean restaurant with an open kitchen in a magical chandelier setting. Best for a drink at the bar and dinner.

  • Bridgette Bar - Located inside the design district of Calgary with a decent menu. A lively restaurant with an all-day dining option. Also, have a location in Canmore.

Top Things to Do

  • Visit the vibrant Kensington Village for a good cup of coffee and local shops.

  • For art and architecture fans: Don’t miss the Calgary Central Library and Wonderland Sculpture. Calgary’s newly designed library is a hidden gem in the city. Completely free for anyone to enter, and you can stay here for a while.

  • Devonian Garden: A beautiful indoor urban botanical garden perfect for all-year-round visits. Sit for a little bit to enjoy the greenery.

  • Stroll along the Bow River from the Soldiers Memorial Park to Eau Claire Park.

  • Watch the sunset over Calgary’s landmark Peace Bridge from Prince's Island Park in the evening.

Day 2 - 4: Canmore & Banff 

Lake Louise is a turquoise gem nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, offering unparalleled alpine beauty and serenity.

After spending a night in Calgary, it’s time to drive towards the Canmore and Banff area. Just a short 2-hour drive, make the first stop in Canmore to pack a bagel sandwich for a picnic from Rocky Mountain Bagel before hitting the Grassi Lakes Trail for a breathtaking view of the Bow Valley. Then get on the Banff Gondola ride to the top of the Sulphur Mountain summit for the timeless Rocky Mountain views. Spend two hours on the top of the gondola to enjoy the experience without feeling rushed. You can also dine atop the mountain or return to the cute Banff town for dinner.

Spending a full day at Moraine Lake and Lake Louis are highly recommended because there is so much you can do at these two lakes to fully explore the beauty of these places, including getting on a canoe and hiking hard trails like Agnes Lake or Little Beehive for a breathtaking view.

Then spend another full day driving down the icefields parkway toward Jasper National Park. The mountain scenery is unbelievably beautiful along the way. The top lakes and trails to stop at are Mistaya Canyon, Johnston Canyon, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake and Emerald Lake. All places are incredibly unique.

Where to Stay

Fairmont Banff Springs & Fairmont Chateau Lake Louis

Where to Eat & Drink

  • Whitebark Cafe - A delightful coffee shop in downtown Banff, perfect for a great morning cup of coffee and people watching.

  • Rocky Mountain Bagel - A fresh bagel shop in Canmore. It’s a perfect breakfast place; remember to pack a bagel lunch for a hike.

  • BeaverTails - This delicious Canadian Pastry is a must-try! Avalanche is one of my favorites. It’s incredibly satisfying to have one after an all-day hike!

  • Banff Ave Brewing Co. - A casual spot for beer and bites.

  • Farm & Fire - A woodfire kitchen in downtown Banff. Great for lunch or dinner.

  • Rundle Bar at Fairmont Banff Springs - Looking for a more upscale bar to indulge in after being out the whole day? This is the place to be.

Top Things to Do

  • Grassi Lakes Trails - A two-mile loop trail near Canmore that leads you to a breathtaking view of Bow Valley, waterfalls and two turquoise lakes. Hint: go clockwise on the trial instead of counter clock to avoid one of the steepest hills.

  • Ride the Banff Gondola - A must-do in Banff for a gorgeous Canadian Rockies summit view. The view up here is like no other!

  • Watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake and go on a canoe ride - “The Jewel of the Rockies” The sunrise view at Moraine Lake is something you must see with your own eyes! Get on a canoe in the afternoon and canoe in the most gorgeous water.

  • Visit the famous Lake Louise and hike the Little Beehive trail to the Agnes Tea House to view Lake Louis from above - Lake Louis is a must when visiting Banff. But the real deal is when you hike the 5.7 miles trail upward to see it from above. This is a challenging hike, so make sure you are prepared.

  • Peyto Lake Panorama View - A hidden gem viewpoint at Peyto Lake. Trails aren’t marked, so make sure you have the hiking map downloaded before hitting the trail.

  • Bow Lake - This is another one of my favorite lakes in Banff. The scenery makes you feel like you are suddenly in Bora Bora. Worth stopping by for an afternoon picnic by the lake.

  • Emerald Lake - Like its name Emerald, this lake has a beautiful green color. One of the most famous lakes for water activities, including SUP and canoeing.

Day 5 - 7: Kananaskis Mountains 

Elbow Lake is a hidden wilderness oasis in the Kananaskis Country, inviting hikers to discover pristine alpine waters amidst the breathtaking Rocky Mountain landscape.

After spending time in the Banff area, make a trip to the Kananaskis Mountain on the last two days of your trip. This is such an area that many travelers can easily overlook, and it’s so worth a trip! Less crowd compared to Banff, but with so much beauty to explore. The best way to end the journey is to experience the healing Nordic Spa at the Kananaskis Village.

Where to Stay

Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Autograph Collection

Where to Eat & Drink

The Kananaskis Mountain area has limited dining options, and the best available dining options are all within the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge and village, including:

Top Things to Do

  • Take a hike to Elbow Lake - Another breathtaking lake in the Kananaskis Mountain area with a well-developed campsite for backcountry camping. Popular for fishing and horseback riding.

  • Explore Troll Falls to Marmot Falls trail - A hidden-gem trail in the area, and Marmot Falls is the one waterfall you can walk behind!

  • Take an evening walk in the Kananaskis Village and stop along the viewpoints for incredible views of the mountains. You will feel cured.

  • Kananaskis Nordic Spa - An alpine sanctuary and a must-do while in Kananaskis! Treat yourself to a day of hydrotherapy to relax your mind and body after a week of adventure in the mountains.

Getting Around 

This is one of the best places for road trips, so renting a car to get around is a must. Most places in Banff National Park can be reached by driving, and parking is never an issue. The only two lakes that require a bit of planning are the most famous Moraine Lake and Lake Louis. If you are not staying at Lake Louise or Moraine Lake - the only ways to access these two lakes are by the national park shuttle (ticket must be reserved in advance) or by joining a private tour group. The shuttle program is very well designed and operated in Banff. I also encourage purchasing national park passes ahead of time so you can bypass the traffic line at the entrance.  

When to Visit 

Summer is the best and most popular time to visit. This is when the temperature is warmer, and all road accesses are open! Moraine Lake is also only accessible from May to October. Due to snow, the Kananaskis Mountains’ roads are partially closed from November to May. Banff’s lodgings are also extremely popular, so this destination will be a struggle if you are a last-minute traveler. Start planning at least four months in advance is strongly encouraged.  

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Belize Unveiled: A Week of Adventure, Jungle Ruins and Island Bliss.

Advisor - Vivian Ho

Travel Advisor

Vivian Ho

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Canada.