Banff National Park, and Jasper National Park, its neighbor to the north, represent the best in travel. From its earliest days as a destination, visitors stepped off trains and marveled at where they had landed. Today, you can visit by car or train and see some of the world's greatest scenery.
Nearest Major Airports
Calgary International Airport is 144 kilometers (88 mi.) from Banff town site. Keep in mind that Banff National Park covers a very large area, so some parts of the park will be a much longer drive from Calgary. The closest U.S. airport of any size is Spokane International, 361 miles to the southwest. It's nearly an eight-hour car trip from there to Banff, much of it mountain driving. WestJet is a budget airline serving Calgary.
You might have heard that admission to all Canadian national parks is free. While there was some truth to that claim, for adults it has expired. The free admission was offered during the year 2017 to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary as a nation, Some of that offer remains in effect. As of January 2018, all visitors age 17 and younger are admitted at no cost to any national park.
Adults, take heart! The admission fee to Banff, Jasper, or any other Canadian park represents one of the best expenditures a budget traveler can make.
Adults pay a daily fee of $9.80 CAD (seniors $8.30). For couples traveling together, you can save money with a daily fixed fee for your entire carload of $19.60. The fee can be paid at visitor centers, and for convenience it's best to pay for all the days at once and display your receipt on the windshield. These fees also entitle you to enter any other Canadian national park during the time of validation.
For adults, a Discovery Pass good for one year of unlimited admissions is about $68 CAN ($58 for those 65 and older). A family pass that admits up to seven people in a vehicle is $136 CAN. Single location passes also are available for a few parks, allowing unlimited visits for one year.
Don't grumble about the fees. Fee revenue employs park personnel who help preserve these amazing places, making the parks accessible to the world for generations to come.
Highways pass through the borders of national parks, and those who are simply passing through do not pay entry fees. But those who actually visit the overlooks, hiking trails and other attractions must pay the fees. Don't think about skipping the fees. Those who are caught are subject to hefty fines.
Remember that as with U.S. national parks, entry fees do not include services such as lodging, camping, or tours.
Camping and Lodge Facilities
Banff has 12 campgrounds within its boundaries, representing a wide variety of services and comfort levels. Tunnel Mountain in the Banff townsite offers the widest array of services and higher prices. Others come down from that price for primitive sites in more remote areas.
Back country permits cost about $10 CAD. If you'll be in the area for more than a week, an annual permit is available for about $70 CAD.
Banff is located within the park boundaries and offers some limited budget room selections. Canmore, south of Banff, has a larger selection of budget inns and moderately priced rooms.
If you prefer to book a lodge or hotel, be assured that there are roughly 100 options within this relatively small town. Costs vary widely, from basic, rustic accommodations to the posh Fairmont Lake Louise, where rooms top $500 CAD/night. The hotel is worth visiting as a landmark.
A recent search on Airbnb.com revealed 50 properties priced below $150 CAD/night.
Top Free Attractions in the Park
Once you've paid your entry fee, there are scores of thrilling sites to experience that won't cost any additional money. One unforgettable journey is the Icefields Parkway, which starts just north of Lake Louise and continues into Jasper National Park to the north. Here you'll find dozens of pull offs, hiking trail heads and picnic areas amid some of the world's best scenery.
Three of the more famous Banff attractions are lakes: Louise, Moraine and Peyto. Their trademark turquoise waters and the mountains that frame them are gorgeous. If you visit prior to June, all three could still be frozen.
Parking and Transportation
Parking in the town of Banff is provided for free, even in municipal garages. Elsewhere, it's free when you can find it. Peak visitor months could make parking scarce or inconvenient at the major attractions.
Highway 1, also known as the Trans Canada Highway, cuts east-west across the park. It is four-lane in places and under improvement because of the large numbers of annual visitors. For a less traveled route, take Highway 1A, also known as the Bow River Parkway. It is two-lane and the speed limit is lower, but the views are better and entrances to attractions such as Johnston Canyon are more accessible.
Highway 93 begins its Banff N.P. trek near Lake Louise and stretches northward toward Jasper. It is also known as the Icefields Parkway and is perhaps among the most scenic drives in the world.