The Canadian Rockies are spectacular. No matter where you look you’ll be looking at something beautiful, and it’s incredibly hard to take a bad picture! It can be a challenge to plan a trip to the Rockies if you’re not from the area though, so I have put together this guide to planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies to help you out!
Places to go in the Rockies
Alberta’s Rocky Mountains have two national parks that are popular to visit: Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. Depending on what you want to see & do, you can choose to visit one or the other, or both!
Banff National Park:
Banff National Park is home to the Town of Banff and is also the place to go if you want to see the iconic Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Banff is definitely the most popular place to visit in the Rockies, but rightfully so!
Jasper National Park:
Jasper National Park is home to the Town of Jasper, and is slightly less popular than Banff, but is still quite touristy! Jasper has some awesome hikes to do and is also home to some iconic spots, like Pyramid Lake and Maligne Canyon.
The Town of Banff and the Town of Jasper are actually connected by one of the most scenic drives in the world: The Icefields Parkway. It is possible to do this drive in one day, but to make the most out of all of the stops along the way and have time for a hike or two, I would recommend spending 2 days if possible! The Icefields Parkway is also the place I have seen the most wildlife during my time in the mountains!
How to Get to Banff and Jasper
If you’re flying into Canada, the two closest cities to the mountains are Calgary and Edmonton. If you fly into Edmonton, Jasper is the closest mountain town. If you’re flying into Calgary, Banff is the closest mountain town.
Rent a Car
The most popular option (and the best option!) is to rent some sort of vehicle. You can rent a car, SUV, travel van, or motor home, to give you the freedom to drive at your own pace through the mountains – something that is so worth it!!
If you have your own vehicle you can stop when you want to (if you see an animal or roadside turnout/viewpoint that looks nice), you can go where you want to when you want to – the mountains are yours! If you choose to rent a van or motorhome, this also gives you the option to sleep in your car.
- Canadream – (allows rentals from Calgary &/or Edmonton) campervan & RV rental company
- Wicked Campers (Based in Calgary) – campervan rental company
- Karma Campervans (Based in Calgary & Vancouver) – campervan rental company
Take the Bus
There are different shuttle bus options that will take you from the major cities (Edmonton or Calgary) and drop you off in either Jasper or Banff. Once you get to your destination it’ll be up to you to get yourself around, but this is a great option if renting a car is too expensive, but you still want to do your own thing! Public transportation and different shuttles are available once you get to Banff. Public transportation does not exist in Jasper.
*Greyhound bus used to be an option, but unfortunately Greyhound buses are no longer running on this route!
EDMONTON AIRPORT – JASPER
- Sundog Transportation & Tours: $99 CAD one way trip
CALGARY AIRPORT – BANFF
- Brewster Express: $72 CAD one way, $123 CAD roundtrip. Brewster Express also has the options of stopping in Kananaskis, Canmore, Lake Louise, or Jasper, and has transportation options between all of these destinations.
- Discover Banff Tours Shuttle Bus: $72 CAD one way
CALGARY AIRPORT – JASPER
- Brewster Express: $167 CAD one way, $284 CAD round trip (offered in the summertime only)
Join a Tour
If you don’t want to worry about planning your own trip, renting vehicles, finding transportation, etc., you can book an organized tour – they will take you everywhere and plan everything for you!
- Gadventures have a few tours going through Banff, most of them continue on into BC as well.
- Intrepid travel is another popular tour company that offers tours in Canada’s Rockies and a few that continue on into BC.
- Topdeck has a tour that starts and ends in Vancouver, taking you through BC and into the rockies on a 10 day tour, with some day tours included in the price. (~$3,099.00 CAD at the time of writing)
* I have never rented from or used any of these companies, but these are the companies I see around most often when I’m in Banff and Jasper and have heard good things! *
Fees to Enter Banff and Jasper National Park
Canada has fees to enter their National Parks. If you are on a tour, your company should handle the fees for the park, but if you are driving a vehicle into the National Park and parking, you must display your park pass in the windshield at all times. If you don’t, you are putting yourself at risk for a fine!
Daily fees are charged per person/group, per day.
A Parks Canada Discovery Pass allows you to visit any Canadian National Park and is valid for 1 year.
Where do I buy a National Park Pass?
When you arrive at the entrance to any National Park, there will be a toll booth that you have to pass through. These booths will have a Parks Canada member and they will help you figure out what pass to buy for your stay in the park.
You can also pay your admission fees at the visitor center in the Town of either Banff or Jasper.
You can order a discovery pass online in advance, at the toll booths, at the visitor center in the Town of Banff or Jasper, or at any MEC store location (only in bigger cities – Edmonton and Calgary)!
Popular Routes Around Alberta’s Mountains
Most routes tend to go in a circular direction, starting and ending in the same city:
Calgary – Canmore – Banff – Lake Louise – Icefields Parkway – Jasper – Edmonton (or drive back to Calgary the way you came) – Calgary
Edmonton – Jasper – Icefields Parkway – Lake Louise – Banff – Canmore – Calgary – Edmonton
You could work a day trip to Yoho National Park and Emerald Lake while in Banff as well!
Where to Stay in Banff and Jasper
Camping is a popular accommodation option when staying in Banff and Jasper National Park during the summer months. There are a few different options: backcountry camping and frontcountry camping, and there are reservable sites, or first-come first-serve sites.
Reservable sites for the camping season are usually available to book in January, and they are usually all reserved by February/March. So you do have to book early! Otherwise, you can keep checking back and hope for a cancellation.
First come first serve sites are non-reservable, and you can try to get a spot on the morning of your stay.
Camping in Banff National Park
My favourite campground in Banff is Two Jack Lakeside Campground – but it fills up super fast! Like within minutes of becoming available to book – so act fast!
Find more information on all of the campgrounds in Banff National Park here.
Camping in Jasper National Park
My favourite campground in Jasper is Wapiti Campground, but a lot of the campgrounds in Jasper are pretty similar (in my opinion). Snaring is typically the most popular, but it fills up super fast (I’ve never had the chance to stay here – yet!).
Find more information on all of the campgrounds in Jasper National park here.
Camping on the Icefields Parkway
The campgrounds along the Icefields Parkway are technically located in either Jasper National Park or Banff National Park, so you’ll find information on each campground in the two links above, and most (if not all) are first-come first-serve sites.
My favourite campground along the Parkway is Wilcox Creek Campground (the only downfall being there are no services at this campground!)
Staying in a hotel is a more comfortable, but also more expensive choice. When booking hotels, I like to use booking.com because most of their options offer free cancellation up to a certain date before your trip.
Hotels in Banff National Park
It can be pretty expensive to stay within the town of Banff, therefore a popular choice would be to stay in the mountain town just outside of Banff: Canmore. Canmore is a 20 minute drive from the town of Banff, and so it tends to be a little bit cheaper, and still beautiful!
I have only ever stayed at Canalta Lodge in Banff, and highly recommend it! It’s absolutely beautiful, but can be a bit pricey.
For a luxury experience, check out the Fairmont Banff Springs or the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Check out booking.com for more hotels in Banff.
Hotels in Canmore:
- The Windtower Lodge & Suites (can get pricey depending on the season, but I’ve seen good prices as well).
- The Rundle Chalets for a more rustic experience.
Check out booking.com for more hotels in Canmore – I usually sort the price low – high when on a budget 🙂
Hotels in Jasper National Park
The only hotel I’ve stayed at while in Jasper is the Astoria Hotel. It was a great price and not bad!
I have also heard good things about:
- The Pocahontas Cabins (they are around 30 minutes out of town)
- The Pyramid Lake Resort.
- Jasper Inn & Suites.
- Check out the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for a more luxury experience.
Check out booking.com for more hotels in Jasper.
Hotels on the Icefields Parkway
On the Icefields Parkway, there are a few hotels to stay at. Because the Parkway is a famous drive, the hotels along this road can be a bit more expensive! You can stay along the drive, or base yourself in Jasper or Banff/Canmore to explore the parkway. I’ve never stayed at any of these hotels, but a few options are:
- Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
- The Crossing Resort
- Glacier View Lodge
There are hostels in the Rocky Mountains as well! They are most likely cheaper than hotels, but do your research! I have never stayed at a hostel in the national parks, but these are your options!
Hostels in Banff National Park
- Banff International Hostel
- Samesun Banff
- HI-Banff Alpine Centre
- The Canmore Hotel Hostel
Jasper National Park Hostels
- HI-Athabasca Falls
- HI-Maligne Canyon
- HI Jasper
- Jasper Downtown Hostel
- Mt Edith Cavell Wilderness Hostel
Icefields Parkway Hostels
- HI Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel
- HI Beauty Creek Wilderness Hostel
Getting Around While There
It’s possible to get around without a car, but if you can I would highly recommend traveling by car. It gives you the freedom to go where you want to, when you want to, and spend the amount of time you want to at each place. A lot of public transportation/shuttles don’t go to the hike trailheads, and it can be hard to find a tour that will take you to all of the highlights. Nonetheless, you can still enjoy your trip without a vehicle!
The local bus is a great and cost efficient way to get around if you don’t have access to a car.
Banff National Park
In the Banff area, you can use the local bus to get between & around the Towns of Banff and Canmore. You can also get to some of the popular attractions using the regional routes these buses offer (Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon). The local bus is called Roam!
Jasper National Park
There is no true local bus in Jasper!
There is no local bus along the icefields parkway.
A tour or shuttle bus can get you around as well, and you’ll have the pro of not having to worry about finding a seat or where to get on/off of the bus. However, some shuttles may not stop at all highlights/viewpoints or where you want them to.
Banff National Park
Banff has a new hop on-hop off bus service that takes you to a few highlights in the area, with onboard hosts you can ask any questions you may have. It only runs in the spring/summer/fall months, so, unfortunately, it’s not an option for winter travel. This bus also gives you the freedom to spend as much time as you want at each location.
There are other shuttles available check out Sundog Tours and look at either summer or winter (depending on the season you’re planning to visit). Also, check out Brewster Express to get between hotspots.
Jasper National Park
Maligne Adventures has a shuttle between Jasper and Maligne Lake.
If you’re skiing/snowboarding, there is a shuttle bus between Jasper and Marmot Basin.
Tour operators such as Gadventures have the Icefields Parkway worked into larger trips within Canada’s Rockies.
Drive yourself if you have access to a vehicle!
Most areas of the National Parks are only accessible by car. It’s unfortunate, but if you can afford a rental or have your own vehicle, you will definitely have the most freedom! I highly highly recommend renting your own car.
Note – if driving the Icefields Parkway, make sure to gas up at either Jasper or Banff Town, because there is only one gas station on the entire Parkway and it tends to be crazy expensive!
The Rocky Mountains are incredible. Hopefully, this guide for planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies helps you plan your trip or inspires you to visit!
* This post is not sponsored *
Hey! I’m Kat. Based in Alberta, Canada I love to travel to the Rockies and explore new places around the world. Follow along on my adventures and find inspiration and tips for your own travels.