How To Spend 3 Days in Banff and Jasper Alberta

Nestled against the majestic Canadian Rockies lies the charming town of Banff. Surrounded by mountains, lakes, and the Bow River, you can spend one day exploring downtown Banff and engaging in activities like hiking, swimming, climbing, rafting, and even venturing to Jasper National Park to experience both UNESCO Parks. Visiting Banff or Jasper can be expensive, as an adult pass into the park costs $21 per day.

Therefore, it's crucial to have a well-planned itinerary to maximize your time there. While the summer months are the busiest and hotels tend to be booked almost a year in advance, the winter season offers its own unique experiences, such as ice climbing, hiking through canyons to witness frozen waterfalls, and skiing. In this article, I will provide a guide on how to spend three days in Banff, Alberta during the shoulder seasons, in collaboration with Pursuit. Pursuit is a reputable hospitality company that sponsored me with accommodations, transportation, and recommendations for sustainable dining options.

Quick itinerary/Key Takeaways

If you have a short attention span like me, then here is the quick and dirty of how to spend your three days in Banff and Jasper. 

Day 1

  • Arrive in Banff, stay at Mount Royal Hotel right in the heart of Banff
  • Visit the Buffalo First Nations Museum and take a look at the Banff Museum to see how this town was established and started without modern technology. 
  • Have dinner at Braazen with Canadian dishes that give a nod to the mountaineers of the past, and try some of their clever cocktails and mocktails. 

Day 2

  • Take an early morning hike to Bow Falls and wander around town pop into shops for Christmas gifts, shop outdoor gear, or get that new pair of hiking boots you've been dying for. 
  • Hop on the Brewster Bus to tour the Icefield Parkway with a quick stop at Comfort Glacier, Herbert Lake, Peyto Lake, Saskatchewan River Crossing, Turner Falls, or the weeping wall. Arrive at the Discovery Icefield Center for a light lunch and a pit stop.
  • Arrive in Jasper at Forest Park Hotel
  • Have Dinner at Terra where heart and soul of a chef is put on a plate giving homage to the staple foods of Alberta, where forest foraging meets farm to table experience.

Day 3

  • Have an early morning walk around Jasper and spot some local wild life like Big Horn Sheep, Elk, and if you are lucky (or unlucky for some) spot a Grizzly Bear!
  • Head out to Maligne Lake for an early morning tour to get the best lighting for Spirit Island tour. Take some time to do some hikes around Maligne Lake. 
  • After working up an appetite head to Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen for some smoky BBQ and butterfly pea flower mocktail
  • Head to Athabasca Falls, Miette Hot Springs, or simply lounge in the pool and hot tub at the hotel for some down time. 
  • Head to Pyramid Lake to take a canoe tour before trying Aalto, a Nordic inspired Canadian Restaurant with an elevated dining experience that is bringing back smoking, fermenting and salting to our tables in a sustainable way
  • After a relaxing dinner, you can either head to bed or get adventurous with the Jasper Planetarium to take a evening galaxy tour! Did you know Jasper is a dark sky park? 

Mount royal Hotel In Banff

The Mount Royal Hotel in Banff is a Pursuit property that goes back over 100 years! Taking old buildings and converting them to modern rooms with nods to the mountaineering past. It is located right in the heart of downtown with easy access to all the restaurants, and shopping. It is also easy walking distance to several hikes in town, museums, and has an incredible rooftop hot tub with 190 degree views of Banff. 

There is a small alcove with some old pamphlets, skis, oil can and mountaineering gear on the second floor. While it isn't much to look at, it was still nice to see the photos of people sledding down the street, the fire that broke out in the former garage shop, and the snowshoe relay race. 

The best rooms are going to be in the Cascade wing, it is a little quieter over there, and also where the hot tub is! There are two different hot tubs on the roof, with a platform to see the views. There are three couches on top, with a fireplace as well as beverages available to purchase in the lounge area near the hot tub. Be sure to plan accordingly as the hot tub does close around 10 pm and you don't have access to the roof after that. 

Each wing in the hotel has a theme, the Cascade Wing was once the Cascade Hotel, until it came under Mount Royal's Roof in 1994. There is the 1950's wing, where a former garage and a retail space was transformed into another area of the hotel; or the 1940's Wing that has artist and sculptor Charlie Biel on the Mount Royal's Banff Ave Exterior. 

I found the rooms to be cozy with hints of indigenous patterns on the headboards. The in room coffee bar was really good (just a little hard to figure out for the first time, lol)! It can get a little noisy at night on the weekends, but I always sleep with a pair of earplugs and slept like a log! I really liked the velvet blackout curtains, especially when I visited in May there was still light on the horizon around 11 pm and the sun rises at 5:30 am. 

Brazen Restaurant

Brazen is an ode to mountaineers and brave explorers of the past. The dishes are interactive and all have different elements of the past and present. There are contemporary takes on cocktails that come out smoking, bubbling, and even some brewed right in front of you where like magic a dark blue drink changes to a pinkish purple all before your eyes! This change in color doesn't happen by artificial means but by naturally adding alcohol to a butterfly pea flower! Don't worry no butterflies were actually harmed in the making of this drink as it is actually a type of plant called Clitoria ternate plant (not that THAT name is any better LOL).

My senses were delighted from start to finish with the alchemist cocktails, then flambéd ginger beef with spicy shishito peppers that makes you feel like you are out by the campfire - yet seated inside a cozy restaurant. You also have a choice of Ramen Eggs, Duck Croquettes, Tandoori Bison, Prawn cocktails, Green Tea Mussels, Gnocchi Carbonara, Salmon Gravlax, pork belly, street corn ribs and don't forget the Pavlova (wipes drool from mouth) the also have a Creme Brûlée with cookie crumble that looks like it an ash tray with white chocolate cigarettes. 

Each dish here is a masterclass in culinary creativity and with the open floor plan, multiple entrances to the restaurant, spacious and comfy seats you really can make an experience in Banff just around dining at lush places like this. 

They do have a kids menu here, and also serve breakfast. It does get quite busy in the evenings being that it is in the heart of downtown Banff, so make sure you make a reservation if you have more than two people in your party. 

Things To Do In Downtown Banff

Most people who visit Banff stay for a few days to hit some of the major hot spots like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and the popular Johnston Canyon then head to the Icefields Parkway. However, many miss the easy hike to Sunshine Meadows where you can get a lift ticket (about $55) up the Gondola which also has hikes at the top. 

If you wake up early in the morning you can get a beautiful morning sun on the mountains in town, the quiet reflection on the Bow River that are so incredibly peaceful. There is also the quick and easy hike to Bow Falls that RUSHES down the canyon and is situated right below the Fairmont Hotel (where the super rich bougie people stay). For us poor people, staying at Mount Royal is more affordable and only a 15-20 minute hike to Bow Falls, and gives you that Bougie Banff experience without breaking the bank. (Say THAT ten times fast).  

You also have the Tunnel Mountain Trail that is 2.8 miles long with 872 feet in elevation gain. It is great for sunrise or sunset hiking, and takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours (for painfully slow hikers like me- insert embarrassed grin). From the top of this trail you can see Rundel Mountain, Vermillion Lakes, Sulfur Mountain, Mount Bourgeau, and the Cascade mountains to the north of town. 

Take a gander at the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum (plan for 1-2 hours here) where you can see how the first nations used the area, helped to develop it, and what life was like prior to encountering the Europeans that made the area popular with the natural Hot Springs retreat. 

There is also the Whyte Museum with a healthy dose of art, history and local folklore that would only take about 20 minutes to get through. Other notable spots are the Banff Park Museum, Lake Minnewanka boat tour, and the Banff Legacy Trail. 

If you have more time in Banff, I highly suggest heading to upper hot springs for a nice soak as this is the whole reason Banff started to become popular (besides the railway of course). Who doesn't love a nice hot bath that you don't have to draw yourself and comes with healthy minerals and beautiful surroundings. While you are near the upper hot springs also pop into the Cave and Basin National Historic Site as well. 

The Icefields Parkway To Jasper

Rated as one of the top 10 most scenic drives in the world, the Icefields Parkway is a MUST when spending 3 days in Banff and Jasper. These Icefields were once filled to the brim over 8,000 years ago. You can tell by looking at the different valleys, which had been filled with ice (v-shaped), and which were migration paths for the glaciers (u-shaped). 

The waters here flow into the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific and are very important part of the global water supply. In fact the water from these ice fields supply much of the Western United States with its waters. Being from Utah, this was particularly interesting for me as we are a desert state and often worried about our water supply every year.  

Along the drive as you get closer to Jasper you will see less of the high altitude pine trees, and the deciduous trees (the ones that provide incredible fall colors) dot the road. If you are here in Spring, there are dandelions that light up the sides of the road in a brilliant yellow. This is fortuitous because Black Bears happen to LOVE to eat dandelions! If there is a stoppage of cars ahead of you, then get your camera ready, our Pursuit driver called this a 'Bear Dam'- get your quick photo before the game wardens shoo the bear away. 

One thing to note before visiting Banff or Jasper - it is now illegal to exit your vehicle if you see an animal. The fines are exponential, upwards of $25,000 to $125,000 for being dumb basically. So consider yourself warned about not being dumb, and please for the love of all wildlife - DON'T do it for the Gram or to get views on TikTok - or be prepared to make international news. 

Forest Park Hotel Jasper

This hotel really is a PARK from the moment you walk in to the moment you check out. There are stuffed wildlife in glass cases providing education about the local animals, what they eat, what they weigh and all sorts of tidbits (I'm sure kids will get a kick out of these without being scared).

There is also the inviting smell of the indoor pool and Jacuzzi located right behind the giant fireplace and restaurant in the middle of this hotel. The natural light flooding in from the expansive (almost convention like space) really makes it feel like no matter WHAT time of year you visit this place will not disappoint in being able to have fun. 

As I visited in the Spring (May to be exact) they had the colorful lounge chairs out, the fire pits dotting the property - even about 12 gentleman out back having a beer and a cigar around a fire near the hills that hug the property. Canadians are so inviting, warm, and love a good joke - be prepared to be invited to join the party and make some new best friends along the way.

The Pursuit staff give us a warning, that the Mama Elk like to hang out at this hotel, and can get very protective of their babies. If you are visiting in Spring, make sure you don't startle animals, and give them at least 200 yards or more of space especially with babies - I would just tell you to hide behind something solid (like a tree, pole, or window) and OBSERVE BUT DON'T DISTURB. 

The newest rooms at the Forest Park Hotel (and the quietest) are going to be in the 400-600 range. This is a bit of a walk with luggage if you don't have a car, but well worth it for the cozy beds, the semi-private patios with incredible views of the surrounding mountains. 

The rooms come with multi-use shampoo, lotion, body wash, and conditioner with hot spacious showers that even allow you to change the amount of water pressure that you prefer. The rooms are clean, quiet, and have ample space to spread out your stuff (ahem, I have a lot of camera gear - so the space was really nice). There is a comfy little couch, a place to put your luggage, a fridge, dishwasher (complete with soap provided), cutlery, plates, pots, pans, spoons, a microwave and stove. 

This place really is set up so nicely for families, and offers spa experiences for more romantic moments as well. It is about a 15 minute walk to the center of town in Jasper and there is plenty of parking here if you decide to travel in your own car (unlike in Banff). 

Terra Restaurant in Jasper

Walk into nature and find out what forest foraging meets farm to table tastes like at Terra. This raw tase of Jasper incorporates some of the top seven staples of Alberta onto the plate: Bison, Legumes, root vegetables, canola, and Saskatoon Berry. The cocktails and mocktails are deliciously creative and even have off the cocktail menu options. Make sure to ask for a shaft at the very end (yes I know, it sounds weird) but they were a REAL hit with the group I was with. 

This site is also part of the Pursuit Banff and Jasper collection, as such they have fostered each of their restaurants to have top quality produce, menus, and drinks. Talking to the food and beverage manager, he informed me that they are planning on getting every single one of their restaurants equipped with a Sommelier. Highly impressive to me personally to take such care in ensuring every possible luxury for your dining experience. 

It isn't just the drinks though, from the minute you step into the restaurant, to the moment you leave - it isn't just a 'going to dinner' outing, this is an experience of all the senses to walk into a place like this. The decor and colors don't distract from the food, it adds to it, the open windows that make you feel like if you shut your eyes you are dining in a field. The pine scented air, and spacious seating plan just invite relaxation and indulgence. Even the lamp shades look like birds nests with lights that glow like eggs inside the nest (such a nice touch & truly entranced me with the creativity of it. 

Once you taste the first bite of the home made sourdough bread soaked in maple miso butter - you are already converted to worshipping the ground the chef walks on. Dish after dish that I tasted was like reading a love story of home, mountains, and food with every bite. I have only ever been to one restaurant (the Michelin Star Restaurant in Dubrovnik) where I have felt emotional from eating the food. I'm known to my friends as someone who doesn't beat around the bush, especially with things I like and don't like - this place is amazing and I would take a trip here JUST to eat honestly. 

While the menu here does change seasonally, when I visited in May of 2023 our small plates started with pea soup with ricotta and house cured Guanciale, the roasted rainbow carrots with Hummus and Za'atar, and corn ribs with ginger aioli with red chili powder and lime all spoke of letting the natural flavors and quality of the produce shine without covering it up with excess oil or spices. 

They have classics like a Rib Eye, but it is a locally sourced 10 oz Ribeye with foraged mushroom Demi, a Halibut Steak with parsley cream and Salmon Roe. I personally LOVED the Ocean Wise British Columbian Kuterra Salmon with salmon roe butter and the crispy skin. There is also Duck with smoked black garlic mushroom and maple soy, riccioli pasta with wild greens, asparagus, pecorino, and the special surprise of the farmers cut! Check out Terra's current menu here. 

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Maligne Lake Tour To Spirit Island

Maligne Lake is a bit off the beaten path place that holds significant spiritual connections for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. Typically open from June to August, this short window allows a visit to the seclusive Spirit Island via a 30 minute boat ride. The lake is surrounded by 100-150 year old pine trees, and is the largest natural lake in Jasper. The lake was originally known as "Chaba Imne" or Beaver Lake, it was Mary Schaeffer, a walthy Quaker from Philadelphia that got a map from Samson Beaver and called the box canyon where spirit island sits "the Hall of Gods". Mary even wrote in her journal, "if Lake Louise is a pearl, MALIGNE LAKE is the entire pearl necklace". 

While there is a modern legend about the island being the place that a man and a woman of warring tribes fell in love - and then the woman's father found out and forbad her from meeting her lover again. Then the man continued to visit the island every year until he died and still is said to haunt the island. Well......this legend isn't actually true, according to the Stoney Tribe. What IS true, is that the island holds very sacred powers to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, they travel here once a year to have coming of age ceremonies and spiritual meetings with the Elders. 

Surrounded by the Queen Elizabeth range and Maligne Range, the Stoney tribe believe that the mountains in the range (specifically those with the profile visible) are the ancestors of their tribe watching over them. The waves in the lake are like seahorses waving to you like old friends. There is certainly a sacredness to this place, it felt like the soul was elevated and the demons disappear while visiting. The peace that follows leaves you moved, and wanting more - trust me - visiting once isn't going to be enough. If you have more time to spend here, DO IT. 

The closer to Spirit island you get, the more the water surrounding the lake turns to a brilliant Emerald Greenish-Blue. 

The lake itself is a glacier fed lake, so stays a chilly 5 C or 41 F so swimming isn't recommended. Near spirit island you can see the Coronet Glacier that feeds both this lake, and Medicine Lake that you pass on your way to Maligne Lake. 

To get to spirit island, you can do it by Kayak or Canoe (but it would take all day and there is no one to rescue you should you fall in). I visited by doing a classic cruise with Pursuit Jasper Collection that is $78/person and is an educational cruise to the island along with 15 minutes at the island. You CANNOT STEP ON THE ISLAND, but they do have paths you can take for epic photos of the island that are on the nearby shore. 

If you want more time seeing the island (I HIGHLY suggest doing this) you can get a Premium Cruise there for $104 /adult, and allots you a full 30 minutes on the shore near spirit island. They also have a Pursuit pass you can get that is $146/adult that includes the Columbia Icefield Adventure (including the Skywalk and the Maligne Lake Cruise). 

For the best lighting of the island I would take a morning cruise, the sun will be behind you and the island won't be backlit so you don't get just the silhouette of the isand, and the nasty shadows on your face that make you look 500 years old.

If you do visit in the afternoon, make sure to bring a small light with you to light you up so you can overcome the back lit island as the sun will be directly shining into the camera. The first Ship is at 9 am and the last ship ranges from 4 pm - 6pm depending on the time of year. Find your tickets to Maligne Lake Cruise here

Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen

Structured around shareable plates (like the wilderness platter), smokey game, the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen is a great place to stop after your visit to Maligne Lake. You will NOT leave this place feeling anything but full, happy, and needing a place to lay down in a blissful food coma. 

I personally LOVED the Valley Lemonade (again with the butterfly pea flower), the Chill Out Mocktail with Stawberry and Jasmin. For the mains try the double smoked chicken wings, smoked fried oyster mushrooms, sweet potatoes with onion hummus and aeoli. The BBQ ribs, brisket and pork were a real hit, along with the micro greens provided to help digest this deliciously filling meal. 

There are lounge chairs out front, a patio seating out back that overlooks the rushing river (see photo of river below), and a store with loads of stories about mountaineers past, indigenous legends and heroes, and memorabilia to mark your trip here with lots of great gifts for the mountain lovers for Christmas. 

Check out Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen Menu here

Easy Hikes Near Jasper

If you don't slip into a food coma after the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen then I suggest doing some easy hikes near Jasper. While this may be a stretch to be able to do these given you only have 3 days in Banff and Jasper - just keep telling yourself sleep is over rated, and you need to get your money's worth while paying for the park pass. 

  • Maligne Canyon Trail (2.7 miles (4.4 km) out & back loop trail - easy/moderate): payoff is waterfalls, fossils, plants all with interpretive signs along the trail to help you learn. 
  • Valley of Five Lakes (2.8 miles (4.5 km) loop - easy/moderate): payoff is five gorgeous lakes
  • Moose Lake Loop (1.7 miles (2.7 km) loop - easy): Payoff is a beautiful forest hike with Maligne Lake peeking through the ancient trees. 
  • Mona & Lorraine Lakes (Skyline Trail - 1.2 miles (2 km) in and out - easy): Payoff is the beautiful Loraine Lake and Mona Lake as well as Evelyn Creek which you can extend to a moderate hike via Little Shovel Pass. 
  • Athabasca Falls (1.2 miles (2 km) - easy and paved out and back) - This is one of the most powerful falls in Jasper. It is a class 5 waterfall with a 79 ft (24 m) drop. There are a series of trails here to view the falls from several different view points. 

When hiking in Banff and jasper always make sure to wear a bell to warn wildlife (and bears) you are there. Bring a satellite SOS device if you are hiking alone along with a whistle and first aid kit. It is especially important to bring bear spray in these areas as Jasper has much more wildlife who are very active and protective of their young in the Spring and during rutting season in the fall. 

Jasper Dark Sky Park

During the Fall Jasper has a Dark Sky Park Festival! It is held every year in October and is Canada's largest celebration of the night sky that draws thousands of people (including speakers from NASA). There are dinner and telescopes on the mountain top, open-top bus tours, Peak-nic under the stars with a food tour, a signature planetarium experience and plenty of food and education to be had by the whole family.

Check out Jasper Planetarium on dates and plans for this years festival, and for other dark sky tours that happen throughout the year.  

Aalto For Dinner

While touring Jasper and Banff for the short Memorial Day weekend, we were invited to a sneak peek of Pursuits newest restaurant Aalto. Aalto is Finnish for wave, which is fitting as it sits on Pyramid Lake a mere 15 minute drive from downtown Jasper. The same Chef that created the succulent dinner at Terra is also crafting the menu at Aalto and hopes to have this place listed as one of the top ten restaurants in the world in the near future. 

A high goal, but so far from what I've seen come out of his kitchen - I don't doubt he will reach this goal. While the restaurant itself wasn't completed when we dined here, the food was the star of the show, and transported you to a place of paradise with each bite.

The photo on the left below is a sneak peek of how Aalto will look when completed. 

This menu is a place where Alpine meets shoreline, with Nordic inspired dishes and a modern Canadian twist to each. The chef wanted to bring back the essence of how cooking in Canada and colder climates used to be with salting, smoking and fermenting all sorts of food. Cooking this way helps cut down on waste, preserves food, and provides healthy microbiome to the gut that elevates health in so many different ways. There have been studies recently linking poor gut biome to things like anxiety and high incidences of Parkinson's disease. While these studies are still new, it does make me think we should be paying attention to this more than we are when choosing what and where to eat. 

Sustainability is at the forefront of each dish that is created. They use Rationale ovens that use 35% less power providing heavy energy savings as well as product retention and a better delivery on the protein you are provided. They participate in the Jasper food recovery system, last minute staff meals and are committed to continually find ways of sustainably move forward in their efforts to honor nature in their systems as well as their food. 

The menu does change seasonally to ensure the best products and most sustainably sourced foods reach your lips. You can expect things like nettle and pine infused lavage, the Landon Sea platter with elk pastrami, house cured gravlax, pickled dijon, smoked oysters, beet chips, dandelion jelly, northern divine sturgeon caviar, wasabi peas, cantonnier cheese, BC Gindara Sable fish, Alberta Beef Coulette, Kennebec Dumplings, Seasonal Tartar, Mushroom Goulash with creamed buckwheat, charred beets, east coast oysters with ice wine mignonette, and seared duck Brest with roasted funnel sun choke-apple Puree, and micro radishes. 

The list goes on and on, and because it is associated with Pyramid Lake Lodge, and soon to be luxuriously cozy Founders Cabins they offer breakfast, a grazing lunch menu, and the elevated dining experience for dinner while gazing over the lake. You might even spot wildlife along the shoreline as we did with a Grizzly mama bear and her cub that were curious about the delicious smells coming from this place. Don't worry the game wardens shooed them off within 30 seconds of being spotted on the shore so you can eat your dinner (without becoming dinner) and enjoy the views in peace. 

Photo credit: Aalto by Pursuit - Photo credit: Pyramid Lake Lodge by Pursuit 

Other Tips For Spending 3 Days In Banff and Jasper

You can live and work in Jasper and Banff your entire life and still not be able to see and do it all. The vast wilderness is beautifully protected by not just Canada, but also UNESCO. The rich flora and fauna diversity here, crystal clear lakes, endless waterfalls and wild animals are unlike anything you will experience. 

I suggest narrowing your trip down by a theme, choose what it is that is MOST important to you to not just get pictures of - but more importantly to make this trip meaningful. If I may humbly suggest to use Pursuit to help structure your trip - they really do bring the best of the best to your feet and work with you to provide the experience of a lifetime while also supporting the First Nations here and keep sustainability at the forefront of everything they do. 

If you don't use Pursuit to help craft your trip, then I suggest booking your hotels at least a year in advance, getting on the mailing list of every campsite to know when sites open and how to appropriately reserve them. If you are planning on driving in the park, make SURE you know if your hotel has parking available or not and how much it is going to cost. Use the ROAM public transport as much as possible as they are cutting off being able to use personal vehicles to places like Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. Save up as much as you can for this trip, while the exchange rate from the dollar to Canadian dollars is favorable to your pocket, it is still a very expensive trip for most people. 

No matter what you decide to do, places you choose to visit, hikes you end up doing, or restaurants you indulge on delicious food at - I guarantee you will never feel like it is enough time, and you will leave this area transformed and longing to help protect it for future generations. 

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My name is Janiel, a leader in the travel industry with over 20+ years of experience with international travel. I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodor's TravelAtlas Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel YouTubeInstagramTwitterFacebookPinterestTikTok.  To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here