If you can visit both Banff and Jasper National Parks, you definitely should. In addition to a trip bookended by two of Canada's most stunning national parks, you'll also get to drive along the Rocky Mountains and through the Columbia Icefields, which is one of the most beautiful drives in the world.
If you can't fit both parks into your itinerary, you might be wondering how to choose between them. In a nutshell, Banff is a ramped-up Jasper with more of everything except natural beauty and wildlife, which they both have an abundance. While Banff is busier with more tourists, Jasper is smaller and more laid back. Depending on what you're looking for, considering the advantages of each destination will help you make your choice
Banff Is Easier to Get To
From the Calgary International Airport, Banff is only a two hour drive and there's even an airport shuttle you can take if you don't want to rent a car. Jasper is a four hour drive from the Edmonton International Airport and an over five hour drive from the Calgary International Airport.
If you are looking for a place that is more remote and less crowded, the further north Jasper might be a better fit for you, since Banff tends to be chock-full of tour busses from Calgary.
Jasper Has a VIA Rail Stop
Jasper is one of the stops on the VIA Rail route. This cross country train makes its way through Jasper on the route between Vancouver and Toronto once or twice a week, depending on the season. If you're interested in Jasper, the VIA Rail is also a great way to see more of Canada, as you can take in the Rockies from the glass dome observation car.
Although flying between Jasper and Vancouver may be faster and possibly less expensive, there is no better way to appreciate the Rocky Mountains than to be in the midst of them. Plus, your ticket will also save you a night of accommodation and some meals, depending on which package you buy.
Banff Has More and Better Ski Hills
Banff is an ideal launching pad for exploring the big three local ski hills, which are some of the best in Canada. A Tri-Area Lift Ticket gives access to the slopes at Norquay, Sunshine, and Lake Louise.
Jasper has the lesser known, but much loved, Marmot Basin, which is generally not as crowded as the hills closer to Banff. However, it does have 91 marked runs and a ski season that generally runs from late November until early May.
Many Jasper Attractions Close in Winter
Unlike Banff, which draws tourists year-round, Jasper does not keep its attractions manned during the low season. While the gondola in Jasper is open all year, the Jasper SkyTram closes between October and March. This is also true for the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park, which close in October, whereas the Banff Upper Hot Springs remain open at reduced hours through the winter months.
Jasper is Less Busy
Many locals will say that Jasper is the way Banff used to be. With a population of 4,500, the town of Jasper is half the size of Banff and more laid back. You are more likely to encounter locals in Jasper, whereas in Banff, many of your interactions will be with seasonal workers from Australia or Ontario. For many visitors, the crowds in Banff, especially in the summer, can be overwhelming and they are willing to make the added effort to move on to Jasper afterwards.
Banff Is Easier to Visit on a Whim
Because Banff is relatively close to Calgary and has the infrastructure to accommodate a large amount of people, it's pretty easy to get in and out in a day with little planning. In addition, Banff has outlying areas such as Canmore, that can handle accommodation overflow. If visiting Jasper, it's recommended that you plan in advance and book your accommodation and tour operator ahead of time.