24 Hours in Banff: 5 Interesting Things To Do in One Day

Did you know that you can explore the stunning scenery of Banff in just one day? Situated in the Canadian Rockies, Banff is a haven for hikers, nature lovers, and adventure seekers. It is renowned for its turquoise lakes, jagged peaks, and an abundance of wildlife. While it would be ideal to spend weeks exploring this place, a day visit can be equally rewarding. After a quick trip to Banff, I am sharing my top 5 interesting things to do if you only have 24 hours in Banff.

I loved Banff and the Canadian Rockies, and I look forward to returning with Buddy and Sal for a longer trip. 24 hours in Banff just isn’t enough time. But if you are making a quick stop from a work trip in Calgary, like so many of my conference attending colleagues did, then here are the things that I did in Banff that I loved and some things I missed.

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A mountain in the distance with a road of cars in the foreground and a garden. View of Banff Avenue from Cascade of Time Gardens. 4 Hours in Banff. MPA Project Travels.
View of Banff Avenue from Cascade of Time Gardens.

Only 24 Hours in Banff

Can you do Banff in a day?

Short answer, yes, but you won’t get to see and do everything. So plan on doing the things at the top of your list!

I visited Banff in August, one day before a work conference in Calgary. Right smack in the middle of a three weeklong work trip for my choreography job. Calgary was my last stop before heading home to Tucson. I had previously traveled to New Mexico, Sedona, and Phoenix. I had one day off, a Saturday, between my work in Phoenix and the conference beginning in Calgary. With Banff on my bucket list and Calgary being sooo close, I decided that even though it was not a lot of time, that I was going to visit Banff!

I flew from Phoenix to Calgary very early Saturday morning and immediately caught a shuttle from the Calgary airport to Banff. It was raining when I arrived, but the rain let that afternoon, allowing me to explore Banff.  I spent the evening walking and shopping in downtown Banff before turning in early. The next day, I had an early morning hike followed by an afternoon of site seeing in Banff, all before taking another shuttle to my hotel in Calgary to start the conference.

Where’s Buddy?

Because I visited Banff for only 24 hours right smack in the middle of a long work trip, and because Buddy was already in school at the time, he did not travel with me to Banff. It was a short 24-hour solo mom vacation, there is no teenage perspective on this post.

A luscious green forest and rocky mountains with a blue lake and river in the distance. Banff is in the lower left corner. 4 Hours in Banff. Banff National Park. MPA Project Travels.
View of Banff from Sulphur Mountain

5 Interesting Things to Do if you only have 24 Hours in Banff

1. Take a hike

Banff National Park is home to some of the most breathtaking hiking trails in the world. There are so many hikes to choose from! This is a Parks Canada list of day hikes in the Banff area. A guided hike is a great way to see the best trails with a knowledgeable guide. However, if you don’t have time for a guided hike, you can still enjoy the natural beauty on one of the many nature trails like the Bow River Trail in Banff.

If you opt for a guided day hike while visiting Banff, it will take up the majority of your 24-hour trip. So, if you are keen on exploring the town, a hike might not be the best option.

Great for: Hikers. Families with older kiddos and teens.

View from the Stanley Glacier Trail in Kootenay National Park. 4 Hours in Banff. MPA Project Travels.
Views from Stanley Glacier Trail

When I visited Banff, I opted for a guided hike. This is because I was traveling, and hiking, alone during berry season. I did not want to risk meeting a bear on the trail, so I opted for a guided hike. I booked a guided hike on Stanley Glacier Trail, which is in Kootenay National Park, not Banff National Park – go figure! Originally, I wanted to hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House at Lake Louse. However, the adventure companies only offer certain hikes on certain days. I was limited by my 24-hour time limit and opted to do the glacier hike because, as I am from the desert Southwestern United States, I had never seen a glacier!

I also wanted to hike the Bow River art in nature trail in Banff. But, I decided against it after reading the signs warning about bear encounters during berry season. Given that I was alone and without bear spray, I did not want to chance it!

 

2. Walk (and shop!) Banff Avenue

Banff Avenue is a lively hub of restaurants, cafes, and shops, making it an excellent place to stroll and soak up the atmosphere. You can find everything from souvenirs to clothing stores to restaurants here. Make sure to visit a candy shop for some Canadian candy. Or grab a BeaverTails Pastry at one of the shops in downtown Banff.

A fried pastry sits in a red and white package. BeaverTails. 24 Hours in Banff. MPA Project Travels.
A famous BeaverTail

During my 24-hour visit to Banff, I walked and shopped on Banff Avenue twice! The first time was the day I arrived. After checking in to my hotel, I walked to the Visitor Centre on Banff Avenue before stopping by a Christmas shop to buy a Banff ornament for my tree. Next, I headed to the Cascade of Time Garden (more on that later). After my time in the garden, I found a nice restaurant – and it was hard to choose as there are so many options! – on Banff Avenue to eat dinner.

Ketchup Chips from Old Dutch. Caramilk and a Canadian Kit Kat. 24 Hours in Banff. MPA Project Travels.
My Canadian grocery store haul

The following day, after my hike, I headed down Banff Avenue to grab a BeaverTails Pastry before catching a shuttle to the Gondola. I definitely could have spent more time on Banff Avenue both window-shopping and shopping, shopping.

Pro Tip: If you are looking for snacks for your hike or a place to get some of Canada’s ketchup chips, visit a local grocery store.

IGA Banff is near downtown Banff, and I went there to buy some granola bars and try out the ketchup chips.

Great for: Shoppers and families of all ages!

3. Visit the Cascade of Time Garden

Located just a few minutes’ walk from downtown Banff, the Cascade of Time Garden is a gem. This botanical garden is a sanctuary for plant lovers and is home to a diverse range of flora. You can take a peaceful stroll along the paths and enjoy the views of the cascading waterfalls and vibrant flowers. It is a great spot to bring the kids and enjoy a peaceful walk while taking in the scenic views.

A wooden bench with black letters that reads Welcome to the Cascades of Time Garden in English and French. 24 Hours in Banff. MPA Project Travels.

Despite leaving Phoenix early in the morning, I arrived in Banff after the museums were closed. This led me to exploring the Cascade of Time Garden. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. There were many families in the garden, including some children who were playing as princesses. It was a lovely time. And the flowers were beautiful!

Great for: Families with littles, travelers of all ages.

4. Ride the Banff Gondola

For panoramic views of the Banff National Park, hop on the Banff Gondola. This cable car ride takes you a scenic 8-minute ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. There you can enjoy a stunning view of six mountain ranges with panoramic views of the towering mountains and the valley below. You can even walk along the boardwalk to Sanson Peak to see incredible views of Banff National Park and the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

I rode the Banff Gondola after returning from my guided hike. My timed ticket was purchased on my phone an hour before I went up. I am glad I bought it early as there was a line to buy tickets onsite.

My timed ticket up to Sulphur Mountain was for 4:30pm. It is best to get in line 10 minutes before your ticket. The lines do get long. And yes, as a solo traveler, I was able to ride in a gondola by myself!

A woman with dark sunglasses and brown hair stands in front of a gorgeous landscape. 24 Hours in Banff. Banff National Par. MPA Project Travels.
A selfie after a solo gondola ride

Once at the top, there are several restaurants, a bar, and sometimes they have live music. There is also an interactive exhibit that is perfect for kiddos. And of course, there is the wooden boardwalk that you can take to explore the area. Unfortunately, my timed return ticket was at 5:10pm – I had to catch the shuttle to Calgary – so I did not get the chance to walk the boardwalk. Next time!

It is chilly up at the top, so make sure you have layers and jackets to keep you warm. I visited in August and the heaters were on and there were signs warning of snow.

 


Is the Banff Gondola worth it?

In short, yes. But know that gondola tickets are pricey.

I highly recommend riding the Banff Gondola when visiting Banff. The views were amazing! You won’t see anything like that anywhere else.

Tickets are a bit pricey. But there is a free shuttle that picks up visitors from three different places in Banff and takes you to the gondola. It is a 30-minute ride one way. Make sure you plan accordingly in case you have another activity scheduled before or after your gondola ride. Or in case you might have to catch a shuttle like I did!

A Canadian flag flies over a mountain dotted with green pine trees.24 Hours in Banff. Banff National Park. MPA Project Travels.
The boardwalk to Sanson Peak atop Sulphur Mountain

Pro tip: The gondola does sway a bit, especially after it passes a tower. So be mindful of that if you get dizzy easily.

Good for: Families of all ages. Travelers who are not afraid of heights.

5. Visit a museum

If you are visiting on a rainy day, or perhaps need a break from all the outdoor adventures, visit one of the local museums. Banff has a handful of museums: the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and the Buffalo Nations Museum. Both museums give insight into the area’s rich natural and cultural history.

Because my 24 hours in Banff National Park included a late afternoon Saturday arrival and a late Sunday afternoon departure, I missed the museums! They were closed when I arrived and not open on Sundays. I am bummed that I missed them but plan on checking them out next time I visit.

Speaking of things I missed.

What I missed during my 24 hours in Banff

24 hours is just not enough time in Banff! Below are the things that I missed.

  • Museums
    • Banff Park Museum
    • Buffalo Nations Museum
    • Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
  • Lakes
    • Lake Louise
    • Vermillion Lake
    • Lake Minnewanka
    • Peyto Lake
    • Lake Moraine
  • Care and Basin National Historical Site
  • Banff Upper Hot Springs
  • Columbia Icefield
  • Johnston Canyon
a large aquamarine river with mountains in the background. 24 Hours in Banff. Banff National Park. MPA Project Travels.
The Bow River in Banff

Where to stay in Banff

Banff offers plenty of options for accommodation, ranging from luxurious resorts to budget-friendly hostels.  You are sure to find accommodations that work for your travel style and budget.

Book your room now!

Because I booked this trip very last minute, my accommodation options were limited. I stayed at the recently remodeled The Banff Aspen Lodge which was wonderful. The room was so big for just me! The room could have comfortably fit me, Buddy, and Sal. I would definitely stay there again.

One thing I did notice in the reviews of Banff Aspen Lodge is that they do not have air conditioning. That was a big concern for other travelers. However, because I was coming from Phoenix in August, I figured I would be okay because anywhere would be cooler than the desert. And, I visited during a cold snap and had to turn the heater on that night because it was cold for me – 48 degrees! Go figure!

The hotel did offer 2 large fans which I think would have worked fine if the weather would have been warmer.

Getting to Banff

Banff National Park is easily accessible by car or bus from Calgary Airport, which is approximately 90 mi (145 km) away. There are many shuttle options. In fact, I booked with two different shuttle companies to arrive and depart Banff. I did this because only a certain company would drop me off at my hotel in Calgary.

Of course, you can always get a rental car to drive around Banff if that is more your style. When I visit with Sal and Buddy, this is how we plan on getting around.

What to pack for your trip to Banff National Park

If you are coming for a short 24 adventure in Banff, my best advice is to pack light. And if you are going hiking, make sure to bring your hiking gear!

These are a few things that I brough with me for my 24-hour trip to Banff.

I also packed my work clothes, supplies, laptop and whatnot – all in a carry-on! I packed a backpack within a backpack to make it all work!

Banff offers a perfect blend of adventure, stunning scenery, and cultural attractions that make it an ideal location for a day trip. Whether you are a solo traveler or hiker, there is something for everyone in this beautiful place. In Banff, you can hike, shop, visit a garden, ride a cable car, and learn about Banff’s history – all in just one day! So, grab your hiking boots, head off on an adventure, and enjoy Banff in just 24 hours.

Have you visited Banff? If so, what was your favorite activity? Let us know in the comments below.

Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.

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Hello! We are Yvonne & Buddy and we create family travel blogs based on firsthand knowledge and experiences of a destination. Our goal is to inspire teens, parents, and families to share time together engaging in new experiences whether the destination is near or far from home. Come join us on our travels!

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18 thoughts on “24 Hours in Banff: 5 Interesting Things To Do in One Day

  1. You had a busy day in Banff but managed to see a lot. It is an amazing spot for great outdoor sights. And who can pass on a sweet BeaverTail ? We have missed the Cascade of Time Garden on previous visits to will have to plan that for another trip. Banff is always worth a short or long visit.

  2. Wow, now I want to go to Banff. It was always on my list and gondolas frighten me, but I have to go. Thanks for sharing these tips!

  3. I absolutely LOVE Banff. I visited for the first time this past January ’23. It was a stunning winter wonderland. It’s so nice to see pictures of how gorgeous it is in other seasons. I completely agree, the gondola is expensive but worth it and everyone MUST try Beavertails!

  4. You might have been disappointed to go to Stanley Glacier rather than Lake Agnes, but to be honest, I think you end up with the better option! That hike is amaaaazing the way you get to hike between the giant walls of rock. Lake Agnes is better for the cake at the end, but you’d’ve had to share the trail with hundreds more hikers!

    Great post! I flipping love Banff. 😀

  5. The Cascade of Time Garden looks beautiful and I’d love to ride the gondola. Lovely list of things to do!

  6. Banff looks like a really lovely city to visit! It’s nice you can do so much in just 24 hours. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  7. ahhh what a beautiful park. Definitely hope to get there one day. Sounds like there is so much to do!

  8. You certainly had a full 24 hours and managed to see quite a lot. Banff looks like a beautiful place to visit with stunning scenery.

  9. Banff has been the top of my list for some time and this makes me want to go even more! It’s amazing how much you managed to do and see in just 24 hours, especially as you did a hike too! Thanks for sharing!

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