Banff and Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada are incredible places to travel. Everywhere you look you will be captivated by beautiful surroundings, with mountains and lakes almost always in view. Before you arrive though, there are a few things to be aware of!
- There are fees to visit and stay within national parks in Canada if you are driving a car. The rates vary, depending on what you are doing and how long you are staying, so keep this in mind when budgeting for your trip! Either way, you’ll need to purchase a park pass for the duration of your stay.
- You must buy a park pass if you are either stopping somewhere in the National Park, or if you are driving on scenic parkways within the National Park
- If you are apart of a group tour and are in a bus — these fees are probably taken care of already! (But double check with your tour operator)
2. Camping fills up fast
- Camping reservations within the National Parks opens online in January. So, if you are looking to stay at a certain campground for certain dates, I would recommend booking as early as possible!
- If you’re not able to secure a site for the dates you want, there are a lot of “first come first serve” campsites/campgrounds that are not available for reservation, you just have to make sure you get there early the day that you want the site!
3. Go early to avoid crowds
Popular places, such as Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon, become incredibly busy during the day and are popular year round. If you want to try to avoid the crowds, the only thing you can really do is to get up early and try to get to these popular places first!
It can even be hard to find parking in some of these locations if you arrive in the middle of the day. So plan to do the more popular places earlier in the day!
This is especially true if you are looking to get photos with as little people as possible in them, or if you are planning to do some of the more popular hikes. Hiking with less of a crowd is typically more enjoyable! This is true for the Lake Louise Lake Agnes Teahouse hike, Johnston Canyon hike, Valley of the 5 Lakes, and iconic lookout points such as Peyto Lake or Lake Louise.
4. If you want to see the beautiful blue lakes and green trees, plan your trip for the summer
- A lot of people actually don’t consider this when planning their trip – but the seasons in the mountains do vary! If you want the sunny days and blue lakes, you have to plan your trip between the middle of June – August.
- Spring can still be cold and snowy in the mountains (April – late May).
- September – October the leaves change for fall, and near the middle to end of September you are at risk for snowfall!
- Winter is usually middle/late September to around the end of March
- The weather can be pretty unpredictable in the mountains, so be prepared for at least one cold day during your trip because it is possible!
5. You need a fire permit if camping during the summer
Usually when booking a campsite online you have to pay for the fire permit no matter what (you can book campsites within the national park here). The cost for the permit is $8.80 per campsite, per night.
6. Don’t bring your own firewood
The price you pay for your fire permit includes the cost of firewood. Banff and Jasper National Park don’t want you to bring your own wood into the park, because of the risk of pests such as the Mountain Pine Beetle. In order to keep the parks healthy, you have access to unlimited firewood, which is usually at the entrance of your campsite!
7. Forest fires are real and theres a high chance of a fire ban
- I swear half the time I go camping there is a fire ban happening, which means no fires are allowed within the National Parks.
- Signs will be posted throughout the National Parks, and campground rangers should let you know upon arrival as well.
- Be prepared that this could happen during your trip, and could cause the air to look and smell smoky!
- If you did pay for a fire permit before arriving, you should get the payment back if there is a fire ban.
- There is a huge fine if you have a fire during a fire ban, so just don’t do it. If you have access to a propane gas fire pit then this is usually aloud, but double check with the rangers before lighting it!
8. The best hiking is July – September
It is very possible for snow to linger into the month of June in the mountains, and for this reason some hiking trails can still be closed until it melts in July!
9. Winter can get COLD
You need to pack at least a toque, gloves, warm socks, a warm jacket, and multiple layers if you want to stay warm.
10. The roads can be very icy in the winter
If you rent a car please be careful when driving! The mountain roads can be twisty and icy. Take your time and be aware when driving.
11. Moraine Lake closes in the winter
The road to Moraine Lake closes usually mid October until the middle of May, because of the risk of avalanches. So if you’re planning your trip around this time, you may not be able to see this popular lake!
12. Bears are real!
Make sure you pack warm and are prepared for the cold! It snows in the winter, and sometimes in the fall and spring, with the weather possibly dropping to -30 C!
- You will see garbage cans everywhere that are bear proof, throughout the town and the national park. Please use these! If you don’t find one right away, carry your garbage with you until you can dispose of it properly.
- Keep your campsite clean. You will get in trouble if you are leaving your campsite a mess. Keep your garbage cleaned up and food locked up in your car, or in the food lockers that are provided at the campsite (or sometimes suspended in the trees).
- Keep anything scented locked away as well. Park rangers monitor this closely, and will not tolerate it if you are not following the rules!
- Be aware of bears when you are hiking in the area as well. Always hike in a group, and carry bear spray just in case!
Here is more information for being bear aware!
There is a ton of wildlife within Banff and Jasper National Park, including grizzly bears, black bears, elk, moose, billygoats, big horn sheep, and more! If you do see animals while driving, remember to keep your distance! They are wild animals and are unpredictable. Do not approach them just to get a photo! Take your pictures from a distance and respect their space. If you see a bear, stay in your car!
I typically see most wildlife along the Ice Fields Parkway, between the towns of Banff and Jasper. Elk do frequently go into the towns as well!
14. If you are driving, there are limited gas stations!
Pay attention to your gas tank if you are driving between Banff and Jasper National Park, especially if you are driving along the Icefields Parkway. Gas stations can be few and far between. There are a lot of gas stations in the town of Banff and Canmore, and Jasper, but along the parkway there is one in Lake Louise, and one at a place called The Crossing.
The gas in Lake Louise and at The Crossing are usually a lot more expensive, because if you need gas you don’t really have any other option but to fill up there!
Banff Now – For real time information on parking/traffic in specific areas
Trail Conditions – Information about the difficulty level of hiking trails, and the conditions each trail is in
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Banff & Jasper National Park are so beautiful, and hopefully, these suggestions help you plan your trip or inspire you to visit! Comment below or send me an email with any questions, or just to say hello!