Canada’s oldest national park is not only home to incredible wildlife and breathtaking nature, it’s also an up-and-coming destination for eco tourism. From Banff’s Zero Waste Trail initiative to eliminate all waste going to landfill by 2050, to the abundance of eco resorts and sustainable restaurants, it’s easy to make your 48 hours in Banff both unforgettable and kind to the earth.
Day 1: Stay in an Eco Lodge in Banff and Take a Tour
You’ll most likely fly into Calgary International Airport to get to Banff, which is a scenic 90-minute drive from the national park. Car rentals are available, but you can also take the more eco-friendly airport shuttle—and don’t worry, there are plenty of public transportation options for getting around the park as well.
Once you arrive in Banff, you’ll need a homebase for your quick trip. I recommend staying right in the midst of the town of Banff for ease and comfort. The lovely Banff Aspen Lodge has a myriad of impressive sustainability initiatives in place, including a property-wide recycling program and motion-sensing hallway lights to reduce energy use. Or you could stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs, a towering castle of a hotel that’s part of a rigorous Energy and Carbon Management Program and has an inspiring mission to protect the world’s honey bee population. Don’t fear if the Fairmont is a bit outside of your budget, there are loads of other places to stay in Banff at every price point.
If you’re staying in these eco-friendly accommodations in Banff over a weekend, stop by Nourish Bistro for mouth watering plant-based fare that’s all thoughtfully and locally sourced, from beetroot bruschetta to wild mushroom ravioli. In Lake Louise, a visit to the Poppy Brasserie at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is sure to satisfy any breakfast craving.
Then, it’s time to explore the town of Banff and the national park! History buffs will love Banff’s Walking History Tour. Simply download the free PDF and you’re ready to explore this delightful mountain locale, from its charming downtown to its quaint cemeteries. For those wanting to jump right into the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies, a guided conservation hike is a great way to get an inside peek at the preservation efforts Parks Canada is committed to at Banff.
The Roam buses will reliably shuttle you around both Banff and Lake Louise. In Banff, you can also rent a bike from locally owned and family-run Banff Cycle to get some exercise in and reduce your carbon footprint even further. If Banff Cycle is a bit busy, there are loads of other bicycle rental shops in Banff. Hit Snowtips-Bactrax and Chateau Mountain Sports for road and mountain bikes. For something a little more relaxed, pop in at Ultimate Banff or Banff Adventures to hire a cruiser or e-bike.
In case you haven’t already realised, bikes are a big deal in Banff. Community Cruisers, a not-for-profit organization that promotes bicycle use, recently opened a Banff hub. The workshop has affordable used bikes and bike parts; access to tools, equipment, and mentors for bike repairs; and will accept donated bikes and parts. All in the name of improving health, sustainability, and equity for people of all ages, abilities, and financial means.
For extra peace and tranquility during the winter months, you can get out of town for some skiing. The Banff eco resort of Mount Norquay is a ski resort that’s powered completely by green energy. They’re also working to reduce their single-use plastics, so be sure to take a reusable cup along if you want to get some hot chocolate on the slopes.
To wind down the day, grab something tasty at the Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar. Favorites include their seared local salmon and watermelon tofu salad. Park Distillery is fueled by green power and diverts nearly all their waste—paper, cardboard, plastic, and metal—to either compost or recycling. Or book at another one of Banff’s many restaurants to enjoy some simply sublime fare.
Day 2: See Lake Louise and Look Out for Wildlife
Start your second day right with a visit to Wild Flour Bakery, a certified Trailblazer on Banff’s Zero Waste Trail for their waste prevention and diversion practices. You can either grab a quick fresh pastry and coffee or linger over their delicious frittatas. No matter what, I highly recommend ordering to-go from their lunch menu before you settle the bill. You’ll want something yummy to snack on later because today, we’re headed 45 minutes outside of Banff to the stunning Lake Louise!
Take the Roam Route 8X for direct service to the Lake Louise area via the Trans-Canada highway. Public transportation is greener than driving yourself, plus you’ll also avoid the misery that comes with trying to find parking at the ever-popular Lake Louise.
To soak in the natural beauty while staying eco-friendly, opt for power-free activities. You can rent a canoe to paddle around and explore for yourself. There are also an abundance of hikes that start at Lake Louise and take you up into the mountains for spectacular views of the brilliant turquoise waters below. Popular day hikes in Lake Louise include the Beehive Circuit, the Plain of Six Glaciers, and the trek to Lake Agnes.
After a morning of strenuous exercise, it’s time to relax. Make your way to the luxurious (and eco-friendly) Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for their indulgent afternoon tea. As part of the Fairmont group, your tea time helps protect the world’s honey bee population—how cool is that?
In the evening, get ready to jump back into action with a wildlife tour. Discover Banff Tours—which became a 100% carbon neutral company in 2019—offers many ways to witness Banff’s wildlife safely and sustainably. My favorite is their Evening Wildlife Safari. They see wildlife on 95% of their tours, giving you a good shot at spotting grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, wolves, and other creatures in their natural habitat. Plus, you’ll have the added thrill of knowing that all the habitat you’re touring is kept safe through Discover Banff’s eco-conscious practices!
Whether you take a guided tour or attempt to catch sight of Banff’s wildlife on your own, it’s important to do so safely and responsibly. Parks Canada recommends keeping a safe distance from all wild animals and staying on established trails to avoid trampling vegetation. Do your part to keep carnivores wild by picnicking responsibly in the park: keep food locked away in your car or bear canisters when not eating and never approach or attempt to feed wildlife.
After the evening safari, wrap up your 48 hours in Banff with a meal at the sustainable and always delicious Pacini Restaurant. No problem if you’ve got leftovers, as their takeaway containers are recyclable and many are even compostable.
Eco Tourism in Banff Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Not only is eco tourism in Banff, Canada good for you and good for the planet, it’s actually pretty darn easy. With this itinerary, you’re ready to make the most of your 48 hours in beautiful Banff all while staying sustainable!
Regardless of when you visit Banff, you’re sure to discover a sustainable wonderland. For more planning and travel tips, check out our Banff Travel Guide.