This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
Banff National Park is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. There’s a good reason why millions of tourists flock to take in the breathtaking mountain scenery and bright blue lakes every year.
However, there’s no doubt that it’s also a pricey vacation. There’s plenty of free entertainment such as endless hikes, but with accommodation and transport costs, Banff can be seriously expensive.
After living in Alberta for a few years and visiting Banff multiple times, I’ve picked up some pretty handy tips for saving money when I’m heading up to the mountains.
So if you have big plans to visit Banff National Park in the future, these are some of the ways I avoid spending too much money. Trust me, your wallet will thank you!
Book a campsite rather than a hotel
If you’ve ever looked at hotel prices in Banff, especially in the height of summer, you’ll know only too well how pricey even the most basic of accommodation can get in the town.
Rather than handing over hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars on hotels, camping in Banff is actually pretty affordable and honestly gives you way better views that you’d get at most of the hotels anyway.
If you have all of your own equipment for sleeping and cooking, you can book sites all over Banff National Park. Spots like Tunnel Mountain and Two Jack Lake start from just $29.25 per night.
However if you’re coming from further afield and you don’t want to have to cart a lot of camping gear with you, there are also tons of glamping sites that include all the necessities you’d need for a comfortable trip and they’re still pretty cheap in comparison to hotels.
Parks Canada even have their own cabins which you can stay in for $128 a night at the Tunnel Mountain and Two Jack Lake campsites. They come with lighting, electrics, heating, fire pits and a two-burner stove.
So if you’re heading to Banff, make sure you do your research on what kind of accommodation is out there because you might find some surprising bargains.
Visit in the shoulder season
If you’re choosing not to camp (which is completely fair), it instead might be worth looking at different times of year to visit in order to get better hotel prices.
As you’d probably expect, coming to the national park right in the middle of summer or at the height of ski season is going to cost you.
According to Banff & Lake Louise Tourism, shoulder seasons in the park are usually in spring between late March to mid-June and then again in fall, from late September through mid-December.
Travelling to Banff around these times likely means you’ll find a cheaper hotel as there isn’t as much demand. You’re also less likely to need to fight your way through the crowds at popular tourist attractions like Lake Louise.
However it is worth bearing in mind that during shoulder seasons, some spots like Moraine Lake are closed from mid-October until the following June. If you’re desperate to see it, you’ll only have a small window in shoulder season.
If you’re able to be flexible with your travel plans, you’ll definitely see the benefits.
Skip Moraine Lake or Lake Louise
This might be a hot take, but if you’re visiting Banff, going to the biggest tourist spots like Lake Louise or Moraine Lake isn’t completely necessary.
Yes, they are beautiful but they’re always so crowded and both come with additional costs like parking or in Moraine Lake’s case, you’ll need to get a shuttle bus as personal vehicles aren’t allowed up to the lake shore anymore.
Banff National Park has so many incredible spots that you don’t have to pay extra for. If you want to see stunning blue water, head to Peyto Lake instead or the mirror-like Bow Lake.
You can also check out any of the lakes on the Minnewanka loop which are all so breath-taking and while they can also get busy, it’s usually still a lot relaxed than Lake Louise or Moraine.
Head to the grocery store before you hit Banff
Along with pricey hotels, going out for food in Banff is also going to cost you a pretty penny, especially if you’re eating out for every meal.
While it may seem obvious, the grocery store is going to be your best friend in this case. Banff has a couple of grocery stores in the town where you can pick up supplies before you head out for a long day of hiking or exploring, instead of heading to cafes at attractions.
If you’re travelling into Banff from Calgary, you might find even more savings by going to the grocery stores in the city. There are way more options available including several branches of Costco so it’s probably worth making a pit stop before hitting the road.
Skip the Banff Gondola and hike instead
For some of the most incredible panoramic views of Banff National Park, you’ll want to hike up to one of the many mountain tops.
While you can grab the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, prices start from $60 per person so it’s definitely not cheap.
However, if you’re up to the challenge, you can actually hike Sulphur Mountain instead. The total hike is around four hours, with an elevation of 655 metres, according to Parks Canada, so it’s not easy but the journey will give you incredible views over the town of Banff, the Rockies and the Bow and Spray Valleys.
If you still want all the views over the town of Banff and the glorious mountains but you want a slightly less intense hike, you might want to tackle the much easier Tunnel Mountain hike instead. In comparison, Tunnel Mountain only has 260 metres of elevation gain and takes around two hours to complete.
With either of these hikes, you’ll still get all the views without having to spend the cash.
Buy a yearly pass instead of day passes
As Banff is a national park, you’ll have to spend money before you even get to visit any of the most scenic spots.
Admission to Banff for the day costs $10.50 per adult and group tickets cost $21 if you’re all in the same vehicle. If you’re going for a few days, the prices can quickly rack up.
In comparison, a yearly Parks Canada Discovery Pass costs $72.25 for an adult, or $145.25 for a group and it gets you unlimited admission to over 80 destinations across Canada.
So whether you have one long Banff trip, or you plan on going a few times throughout the year, you could end up saving in the long run.
Before you get going, check out our Responsible Travel Guide so you can be informed, be safe, be smart, and most of all, be respectful on your adventure.