The scenery of Banff & Jasper National Parks in Canada is simply incomparable. They’re both located in the Rocky Mountains, in the province of Alberta. This post will help you plan a trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains even if you don’t know where to start.
Visiting Banff & Jasper National Parks was one of the reasons I chose to live in the city of Vancouver during my Working Holiday Visa in 2014. They both have stunning landscapes and it’s the dream destination for any nature lover.
The Canadian Rockies mountain system extends almost 5000 kilometers from Alberta (Canada) to New México in the south of US. Banff is the most accessible park for its location, therefore it is the most popular and most visited. Jasper is a bit more far away so it is less touristy. Both sceneries are similar but each park has its own unique places to discover.
My recommendation is to visit both parks so you can drive through the route that connects both parks which is one of the most beautiful roadways, once rated one of the top 10 in the world by National Geographic.
Getting to Banff & Jasper National Parks
The best way to get to and explore Banff & Jasper National Parks is by car. Driving gives you the flexibility to explore at your own pace and stopping where you want. Traveling by motor home or camper van is also
an ideal way to get around as the parks are perfectly prepared with spots where you can park your RV overnight.
You can use rentalcars.com, a website that compares prices of all rental companies and usually offers a lower price than by booking directly with the rental company.
The route that leads to the parks starts near Calgary, the biggest city in Alberta so one of the easiest ways is to rent a car there. You can also drive from Vancouver and include other amazing places in your itinerary. This is the route I took: Vancouver – Kamloops – Calgary – Banff – Jasper – Kelowna – Whistler – Vancouver. There are many other variations on the route between the west coast and the mountains depending on your time and preference.
If you can’t rent a car, this are some options to get to the parks:
- Rocky Mountaineer: A luxury train that runs from April to October from Vancouver to Banff or Jasper. It is an incredible (expensive too) way to see the parks. You spend the nights in hotels included in the package.
- Greyhound: Greyhound buses run between Vancouver and the mountains. They go from one main city to the next as but do not stop at scenic areas.
- Tours: Several companies offer guided tours to the parks. In mi opinion if you can’t drive, taking a tour is the best option. Moose Travel offers tours from Vancouver or Banff. Other options include taking this sightseeing tour from Banff to Jasper or this 4-day tour from Vancouver.
When is the best time to visit the Rocky Mountains
During any season the rocky mountains have stunning landscapes and different activities depending on your likes.
- From June to September the weather is warm and it is the perfect season for hiking and other outdoor activities. This is also the season with the largest crowds and highest accommodation prices.
- From September to October there’s less crowds and accommodation prices are cheaper.
- From December to April the mountains are covered in snow and it’s the season for skiing and other winter sports. The closer to Christmas, the higher the prices as it’s a popular place to spend Christmas season.
- From March to April there’s still snow but the cold isn’t as extreme as during January or February.
As you can see, you can visit the parks the entire year. I visited in July and I could perfectly enjoy outdoor activities and hiking but some popular sights like Lake Louise were really crowded.
Essentials for this road trip
Admission to the parks
There different types of passes to enter the parks. You can get day passes, annual passes and group passes.
In 2018, each national park will offer a day where you can visit at no admission cost. For Banff & Jasper this day is the 23th of November. You can check out the free admission days for the rest of the parks here.
Single day passes prices:
- Adult (17-64 years old): CAD$ 9.80
- Senior: CAD$ 8.30
- Family/Group (up to 7 people in a vehicle): CAD$ 19.60
- Youth (0-17): free
Annual passes prices:
- Adult: CAD$67.70
- Senior: CAD$57.90
- Groups: CAD$136.40
How many days should you spend in the parks?
As a minimum I recommend a week. You need 3 or 4 days to see Banff’s main points of interest and another 2/3 days for Jasper’s.
There are many accommodation options in both parks including hotels, hostels, houses and campings. It’s best to book your accommodation months in advance, especially if you’re travelling during summer season.
If you plan to camp,check out Parks Canada Camping Reservations. If you are looking for hotels, hostels or apartments, you can easily book them online. You can use my discount links and save some money: €15 Booking discount and €35 discount at Airbnb.
Where to stay in Banff
- Fairmont Château Lake Louise: A historic hotel located in Lake Louise, one of the most beautiful sites in the park. The rooms offer panoramic of and the Victoria Glacier. The ideal place to enjoy the park with luxury. Click here to find the best rates for Fairmont Château Lake Louise
- Banff Inn: An affordable hotel located near the center of Banff town. You can find rooms for up to 6 people. Click here to find the best rates for Banff Inn
- HI Banff Alpine Centre: If you’re looking for a hostel, I always recommend HI. Alpine Centre HI Banff offers private and dorm-style rooms. Good prices and location. Click here to find the best rates for HI Banff Alpine Center
Where to stay in Jasper
- Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge: A luxury hotel located on the shores of Beauvert
- Mount Robson Inn: An affordable hotel located in the heart of Jasper. The hotel offers a seasonal ski shuttle service. You can book rooms for up to 6 people. Click here to find the best rates for Mount Robson Inn
- HI – Jasper: If you’re looking for hostels, again I recommend HI. HI Jasper is located in a big cabin in the middle of the woods. A shuttle service is available during the summer months from Jasper Town.Click here to find the best rates for HI Jasper
What to see in Banff National Park
Banff town is one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations. Surrounded by mountains, and close to hot springs and lakes, it is a beautiful place to stop for a night or more. In Banff you will also see the historic Banff Springs Hotel, which opened in 1888. Banff is the perfect place to start your trip, buy anything you need or stop by the information center to get some maps.
Bow Falls are within walking distance of Banff. They have a relatively small size but it’s a pretty good place to start your visit to Banff National Park.
Tunnel Mountain Trail
A short hike you can take from downtown Banff that leads to a beautiful scenic vista.Totally worth the effort!
Located 5 km northeast of Banff town, you can find this beautiful glacial lake. There are short trails you can take that surround the lake. If you visit in summer you will probably see a lot of animals.
This was definitely my favourite lake in Banff National Park. It’s blue-green colour is just breathtaking. The area around the lake has several hiking trails. You can also rent a kayak and enjoy the lake from a different perspective. MUST VISIT.
Lake Louise is home to the famous Fairmont Château, a magical hotel located on the eastern shore of the lake with unique views of the lake. Lake Louise is one of the most popular lakes on the region and it can get overcrowded in summer, so I suggest to get there early. It is a beautiful spot, with incredible turquoise waters. In winter the lake is used for ice fishing and ice skating.
A glacier-fed lake with an incredible bluish color. You can hike to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint which offers stunning views of Peyto Lake.
Highway 93 (Icefields Parkway) connects Lake Louise with Jasper to the north.
What to see in Jasper National Park
The Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains. One of its most important glaciers is Athabasca Glacier which is easily accessible, and the most visited glacier in North America. You can take this tour from Jasper to explore the glacier.
- Glacier Skywalk
Glacier Skywalk is a glass platform offering a unique (and vertiginous) views of the mountain peak. The experience begins with a five-minute transfer from the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre.
Jasper is a small mountain town located in the Athabasca River valley. It is more rustic and smaller than Banff but also beautiful and less touristy. There aren’t many things to do in the town but it is the place where you can stop to buy anything you might need, stay for a night or visit the information center. If you’re visiting in summer, book your hotel in advance or you will end up sleeping in the car like me. LOL.
Pyramid and Patricia Lakes
These lakes aren’t so interesting compared to the rest but they are close to Jasper Town and they are perfect to relax and take in the views.
Near Jasper townsite, you can find this canyon which measures over 50 metres deep. A short hike goes to the upper reaches of the canyon. If you plan on visiting Maligne Lake you should definitely save some time and stop at Maligne Canyon.
If you have the opportunity to visit Jasper National Park in winter you can take this 3 hour tour and walk into the canyon to see frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and ancient fossils.
Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies and it’s definitely one of the most beautiful lakes in Canada. Surrounded by peaks, this lake is famed for the colour of its water and Spirit Island.
Miette Hot Springs
One of the highlights of visiting the Canadian Rockies is going to the hot springs. I visited the Miette Hot Springs which are located approximately 60 kilometres (37 miles) east of Jasper. It is perfect to relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Other hot springs options are visiting Banff Upper Hot Springs or Radium Hot Springs. Find more information here.
Some useful tips for visiting Banff & Jasper National Parks:
- Respect the wildlife: Do not feed, touch or approach wildlife.
- Hiking: Check the weather forecast, carry bear spray, bring enough water, wear the suitable clothing and shoes, hike in groups, do not feed or touch wildlife. Make noise, it prevents sudden bear encounters.
- If you visit the parks during summer season it is likely that you see bears. The Mountain National Parks are home to both grizzly and black bears. It is important that you read about the safety tips to prevent having an encounter. Follow the safety tips provided by Parks Canada.
Are you also visiting Vancouver Island? Check out why you should go camping on Vancouver Island
I hope this post has helped you plan your trip to Banff & Jasper National Parks. If you have any other questions please feel free to email me or leave a comment below.
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