Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world and has everything you could want from a vacation, but it can be an expensive place to visit!
The good news is that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy it.
With a little planning and research, you can find ways to save money on your trip, and we tell you how.
Here we list tons of ideas on where to go, what to do, and how to travel cheaply once you’re here so you can enjoy the beauty of Banff National Park without spending a fortune.
How do we know you can do Banff on a budget? We do it all the time, and we spend a lot of time in Banff National Park.
That’s why we put together this comprehensive guide to help you plan your trip affordably.
Here are some of our favorite free or inexpensive things to see and do in the Canadian Rockies.
1. Plan your trip well in advance to save money
The majority of the cost of your trip will be on transport and hotels, so book everything, including your flights, hotels, and other transportation, as far in advance as possible.
This will save you money, sometimes a considerable amount.
We go to Banff for New Year’s every year, so I always book our hotel accommodation by mid-March of that year at the very latest for a couple of reasons:
1) It is far cheaper than leaving it to be booked a couple of months before you go.
b) The hotels have lots of availability and are not fully booked yet. This gives you the best rates and means you have lots more hotel room choices within your price range.
If you’re bringing your dog, book as early as you can because the pet-friendly hotels in Banff get booked up quickly.
2. Don’t get ripped off when hiring a car
The first cost you’ll need to consider is transportation.
Whether you’re flying into Calgary airport and renting a car or driving from another location in Canada or the US, you’ll need to factor in the cost of gas, park entry, and potentially parking.
If you plan on hiring a car when you get to Calgary Airport, it will (likely) be more expensive than renting one from outside the airport, so don’t mention that you just got off the plane.
A short Uber or taxi ride from the airport to one of the car rental locations in NW or NE Calgary can save you a lot of money.
And you should be able to return the car to the airport without paying extra.
Booking your car rental MONTHS in advance will also save you a fair amount of cash, and you’ll have more choices, meaning you’re more likely to find a car within your budget.
3. Save on car hire and take an airport shuttle to Banff
You might not want or need to rent a car, as you can get to and around Banff without one.
There are no public transit buses running from Calgary Airport to Banff, but there are several private companies that pick you up at the airport and take you to the hotels in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and Jasper.
Once you’re in Banff, you can get around easily and cheaply by using the popular local Roam transit service.
4. Use credit card points or online hotel booking companies
Do you use a credit card that lets you earn points toward travel? This is one way of keeping costs down for one of the most expensive parts of your trip.
One option is to use your credit card points to book a hotel room. Another way is to use points earned through online booking companies such as Expedia or Booking.com.
I find, more often than not, that Expedia has rooms at cheaper rates than Booking.com.
Signing up for newsletters from travel websites like Expedia, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, etc., can sometimes also save you money. For example, when booking accommodations through one of these sites, they usually offer discounts to new users. You’ll also get notified of the latest deals available.
In addition, you can easily find out which hotels in the Banff area have the best rates, so you won’t waste time looking for the cheapest place to stay.
And if you find a lower price elsewhere, you can usually price match or cancel your reservation free of charge.
Points earned on some store loyalty cards will let you use them towards flights, car hire, and hotel rooms, so it’s definitely worth looking into what they can save you.
Saving your points over time and using them toward your trip can significantly lower your costs when traveling on a budget to Banff.
5. Sign up for hotel newsletters for discounts
If you have a particular hotel in mind that you want to stay at but don’t want to book through one of the online travel sites, you can often save some money by signing up for the hotel’s newsletter.
If you book with the hotel direct, they may offer a discounted room rate and other exclusive offers such as free breakfast, which often isn’t included when booking through a travel website.
6. If Banff is too expensive, stay in Canmore instead.
Canmore, a 20-minute drive from Banff, is another touristy but less crowded small mountain town.
Many people, including us, love Canmore because it is quieter than Banff and offers access to the same activities, such as hiking and endless outdoor opportunities.
You also have the same beautiful mountain scenery in every direction.
As Canmore is just outside of Banff National Park, you don’t need a park pass to stay there, and the town has all the same things as Banff, such as restaurants, bars, and hotels, but it’s more affordable.
You can also enjoy the convenience of being close to the park and other attractions, like Lake Louise, while still having access to the amenities.
I would say Canmore is only slightly more affordable during peak seasons because it is becoming more popular, which, of course, means prices are rising accordingly.
But, as an alternative base for visitors to the town of Banff, there are some great places to stay that are budget friendly and have great views of the Rockies, but you must book early to get the best rates and choices, just like in Banff.
There are also numerous Airbnb and VRBO properties in Canmore that can offer you a lot more space than a hotel room, especially if traveling with kids, and still cost you less than a hotel in Banff.
7. Consider camping instead of staying in a hotel
If staying outside the park isn’t for you, then camping is another way to do Banff on a budget.
Camping is not only a great way to see Banff National Park and get back to nature, but it is far cheaper than staying in a hotel.
Here are some reasons why camping is a better option for you if you want to save some cash:
- Camping is much cheaper than staying in a hotel, and Banff National Park has some great campsites. There are even equipped campsites where a tent is already provided if you don’t want to bring your own.
- Camping allows you to see the park up close and personal, where you can wake up to views of the beautiful Rocky Mountains right outside your tent.
- Prices range from CAD 11.50 a night for a basic no-frills site through to CAD 74.75 for an equipped campsite plus CAD 9.25 for a fire permit, if you want a fire pit.
As you can see, camping instead of staying in a hotel can give you a lot more for your money.
Depending on what campground you choose, you’ll still have access to all the amenities of a hotel, but at a fraction of the cost.
8. Banff’s hostels for cost-effective lodging
There are plenty of places to stay in Banff, but if you’re looking for a lower-cost option, it’s worth checking out Banff’s hostels.
These offer dorm rooms and private rooms at lower prices, especially in the high season.
There are four hostels in Banff. Three are centrally located, and one is a little further outside of the downtown area.
Banff International Hostel – 449 Banff Avenue, Banff, AB, T1L 1A6. This hostel has both dorm rooms and private rooms and offers special packages and discounts to save you money.
Samesun Backpackers – 433 Banff Avenue, Banff, AB, T1L 1B4. This is the closest hostel to town and has private rooms and dorms.
YWCA – 102 Spray Avenue, Banff, AB, T1L 1A6. This hostel also has both private rooms and shared dorms.
Hi-Banff Alpine Centre – 801 Hidden Ridge Way, Banff, AB, T1L 1B3, is 1.9 km from downtown Banff, which is about a 25-minute walk or less than 5 minutes by car or the Roam Transit Banff local route 2 bus.
9. Visit during Banff’s off-seasons
We all want to save money, and by visiting from mid-September to November, and mid-March to June, which are outside the peak seasons, you can get a great deal on hotels in Banff.
You will pay significantly less than the peak season rates, and there are plenty more hotel rooms available.
During the summer months and over Christmas in Banff, the prices skyrocket, and many hotels have a 2-night minimum stay at weekends.
If you visit during these times, try to stay on weekdays as they are usually less expensive than on weekends.
I love going to Banff during the off-peak, shoulder months, as it is an especially great place to visit during this time.
Yes, summertime is awesome with long, warm, sunny days, but when you want a cheaper way to do Banff, out-of-season is the way to go.
And this comes with some advantages, as the crowds are smaller, the mountains aren’t quite as crowded, and the trails are definitely less busy.
If you’re looking to save money, consider traveling during the spring or fall instead.
Take my word for it, Banff is equally as beautiful during these times as well.
10. Avoid staying during a statutory holiday
Another consideration when booking your Banff vacation is that you will be charged more for your stay during some of Alberta’s nine statutory holidays: New Year’s Day, Alberta Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day, and Christmas Day (Boxing Day is not considered a holiday in Canada), as well as two general holidays, Easter Monday and Heritage Day.
Hotels charge a premium for stays during the main ones being Christmas and New Year and Canada Day on July 1st.
Canada Day is a very busy holiday in Banff because of all the activities the park puts on.
If you’re planning to book a room during these holidays, check what the price difference is as it can be a lot!
11. Food is pricey in Banff – shop before you arrive
It can be hard to buy food in Banff that isn’t expensive, but there are ways to save money.
One way is to shop before you get here.
If you’re coming from Calgary, stop at one of the many supermarkets there, such as Walmart, No Frills/Canadian Superstore, or Costco, and stock up on food and drink.
You could also take a slight detour on the way to Banff and drive into Cochrane, which has several supermarkets where food will be cheaper than in Banff and Canmore.
Most hotels have a microwave and fridge in the room, but there are several that do not so be sure to check when you book, as you don’t want any food that you’ve bought on the way to spoil.
Better still, book a room that has a kitchenette, such as at Banff Rocky Mountain Resort or Tunnel Mountain Resort.
We’ve found that both provide everything you need if you want to cook a few meals and save money by not dining out.
I know you don’t want to have to cook when you go on vacation, but it is cost-effective and does save you money.
It doesn’t mean you have to cook every day, either.
There are a couple of small supermarkets in Banff, but their prices are higher than what you will pay outside the park. However, they are great if you need some last-minute items.
The supermarkets in town are IGA Banff, 318 Marten Street, and Nesters Market, 122 Bear Street, Banff.
12. Eating out without breaking the bank
As I said above, planning ahead can help you keep costs down, and looking online at the many restaurants and places to eat before your visit can also help.
You’ll find that lots of the restaurants and pubs in Banff offer food and drink specials at certain times, such as Happy Hour.
Booking a table is definitely recommended in the summer and winter seasons. The cheaper places to eat fill up quickly, leaving you with little option but to eat in one of the more expensive ones.
As for cheap dining, there are a couple of Subways, one is at 137 Banff Avenue, and is open until 3 am. The other is downstairs inside the Cascade Plaza and closes at 8 pm.
I won’t bore you with what you can eat at Subway, but they offer food at a reasonable price.
One of the ways we save money is by downloading the A&W app, or you could sign up for offers on their website.
Click on the ‘coupons’ tab to see the deals. Those of you not from Canada might not have heard of A&W, it’s a fast food outlet similar to Mcdonald’s.
In Banff, it’s a short distance from the town centre at 601 Banff Avenue.
We often get their breakfast deals. As well as being filling, the cost for the four of us comes to less than $30—far less than what you would pay in your hotel or restaurant.
There is also an A&W in Canmore at 606 Bow Valley Trail.
Mcdonald’s, which is right in the town on Banff Avenue, has similar breakfast options, but A&W offers the best deals, and we think it tastes better.
For lunch and dinner, there are a few places to eat in the heart of the town, and all serve good, affordable food. These are:
- The Old Spaghetti Factory (especially the ‘It’s All Included’ meals)
- St James’ Gate Irish Pub on Wolf Street
- Tommy’s Neighborhood Pub. Both pubs allow children in until 9 pm.
13. Take a hike, it’s free!
Hiking is an excellent way to enjoy nature and get away from the crowds. It keeps you fit, and best of all, it doesn’t cost you anything.
Many of the park’s best-known hikes are easily accessible from the town of Banff itself and the village of Lake Louise.
Banff National Park has so many trails that you’ll be spoiled for choice.
In fact, you’ve got somewhere in the region of 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of maintained trails to choose from, and while some are short and easy hikes, others are longer and definitely more challenging.
Many of these paths lead to viewpoints where you can marvel at the mountain scenery. You can also take part in guided hikes if you want to learn more about what you’re seeing.
A bit of advice – remember to take bear spray with you if you plan on hiking especially between the beginning of April to the end of November.
Take it from me, for your own piece of mind, you’ll be glad you have it should you come face to face with a bear.
Several trailheads start just a few minutes walk from downtown Banff. These include Tunnel Mountain and Sundance Canyon Trail, and both are good if you want a day hike.
14. Watch a Movie at the Lux Cinema
Go catch a movie after a day hiking in the mountains at The Lux, located on the corners of Wolf and Bear Streets.
The cinema has four screens showing all the latest movies, classic films, documentaries, and foreign language films.
Go on a Tuesday evening and get the discounted ticket deal.
15. Take a leisurely walk around the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve walked around this magnificent hotel. I love strolling around it just as much as our teens do.
The best part is that you can take a walk around a lot of this world-famous hotel without actually having to be an overnight guest.
The hotel is known for its historic architecture, breathtaking views, and luxurious accommodations.
It is VERY expensive to stay here and not within a lot of people’s budgets, but just being able to walk around the “Castle in the Rockies” is an experience in itself.
16. Relax at Banff Upper Hot Springs
The hot springs in Banff are naturally heated and mineral-rich.
They are also a great way to relax and rejuvenate while surrounded by nature. You can sit back and soak in the hot springs while taking in the breathtaking scenery.
We think relaxing in the springs is especially nice on a snowy winter’s day, and just watch the snow gently fall down around you—it really doesn’t get much better than this!
The hot springs are open all year round, including statutory holidays, and are located near the top of Sulphur Mountain at 1 Mountain Ave, Banff AB T1L 1K2,
Taking a trip here is definitely reasonable as it’s less than $16.50 for an adult, and under $53 for a family of 4.
17. Do some wildlife watching
Let’s face it, (nearly) everyone who comes to Banff wants to see the park’s wildlife. There is the opportunity to spot bighorn sheep, elk, moose, bears, wolves, and so much more.
And if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a grizzly bear!
The best chance of seeing Banff’s wildlife is early in the morning and then from late afternoon going into the evening.
The scenic Bow Valley Parkway is considered a wilderness corridor, so take it slower on this road as you never know what might run out in front of you.
Lake Minnewanka Loop is another area where you are likely to see various animals.
18. Drive or cycle the scenic Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway is an alternative road to driving on the Trans-Canada Highway and is a much more leisurely way to see the mountain scenery between Banff and Lake Louise.
Stop off at the many viewpoints for spectacular views. There’s also a good chance of seeing wildlife here, so if you’re walking about, especially in the summer, remember your bear spray.
One of the most popular places to visit along the Bow Valley Parkway is Johnston Canyon.
It gets busy here, so finding a parking spot can take a while, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
In both summer and winter, Johnston Canyon is equally breathtaking, and adults and kids alike love this place.
The canyon has both lower falls and upper falls that you can walk to, and there are some great photo opportunities along the way.
If you’re visiting during winter, you’ll definitely need ice cleats/microspikes as it can get super slippery here.
19. Buy a day pass and explore using Roam Transit
Explore sites such as Johnston Canyon, and Lake Minnewanka or travel between Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise by hopping on one of the local Roam Transit buses for around only $5 for a day pass.
20. Explore Banff Avenue and Bear Street in downtown Banff
Banff might be a fairly small town, but it has a vibrant downtown area, so it’s worthwhile taking time to stroll along Banff Avenue and Bear Street and explore the many souvenir shops as well as the local art, jewelry, and clothes shops.
One place I recommend visiting on Banff Avenue is The Spirit of Christmas store. visit this shop regardless of the season.
All year round, it is completely dedicated to all things Christmas and has the most amazing ornaments and gifts.
Another great shop is Rocky Mountain Soap which is an all-natural skincare company that makes its products in Canmore.
All of their stuff smells fantastic, and you’ll find their shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel in several hotels in Banff now.
21. Take in the incredible views of Banff’s beautiful lakes
No trip to Banff National Park would be complete without visiting one, or a few, of the lakes, especially the world-famous Lake Louise.
Trust me when I say the scenery at all of the lakes is spectacular, and no matter how stunning they look online, nothing compares to seeing them in person.
Here are just a few of the must-see lakes in Banff National Park that will cost you nothing to visit except for paying for gas, parking, or a shuttle.
Lake Louise isn’t just one of the most popular tourist destinations in Banff National Park, it’s one of the most popular in all of Canada.
And it’s no wonder why, the lake and its surroundings are simply stunning.
The turquoise-blue water and the mountainous backdrop make it a truly breathtaking sight.
Lake Louise gets super busy in the peak seasons. We go in all seasons, and there are always lots of visitors, but don’t let that put you off.
Once you’ve enjoyed the views from the lakeshore, you can escape to the quieter areas and enjoy a variety of activities in and around the lake, including hiking, canoeing, ice skating, and many others.
Taking the Parks Canada shuttle would be easier than trying to park here in the months mentioned above, as parking is extremely limited.
You also now have to pay to park at Lake Louise from May to October.
Lake Agnes Tea House
Lake Agnes is another gorgeous lake in Banff National Park, and its trail starts at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (make sure you wander around this luxurious hotel).
This super popular hike will take 1-2 hours to get to the tea house, which serves tea and coffee along with sandwiches and soups.
You can always pack your own snacks to save a bit of cash and still enjoy the views.
Lake Agnes is smaller than Lake Louise but still very picturesque.
The Lake Agnes Tea House is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm June 4 to October 10 and accepts Canadian and US cash only, or travelers cheques.
Moraine Lake is an extremely popular spot for tourists visiting the park.
The lake is located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, and aside from being known for its stunning turquoise waters, it is also known for being on the back of the Canadian $20 bill years ago.
You can take in the magnificent views of this lake by enjoying one of the area’s hikes, or you can just sit and gaze at the rugged scenery and take lots of pictures.
Parks Canada is no longer allowing personal vehicles access to the lake starting this year, 2023, but you can still get to Moraine Lake by booking either a Parks Canada Shuttle known as Park + Ride, the Roam Transit bus from Banff, or through one of the local tour operators.
Fares are also in addition to the park’s pass. For those of you that want to see the sunrise at Moraine Lake, the only option now is to either bike there or use one of the tour providers as they have been given permission to take tourists.
Disabled visitors with a parking hang tag can use the parking lot at Moraine Lake.
Your best bet is to book as soon as you can to avoid disappointment. Park’s Canada is releasing 40% of the tickets for reservation in the spring, and the remaining 60% are released 48 hours before departure dates.
The Vermilion Lakes are a set of three lakes located near the town of Banff.
The lakes are known for their stunning views of the Canadian Rockies which you can see from a canoe or by just strolling around.
You can walk the 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the town of Banff to get to the lakes, and once there, you’ll get the most amazing views of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain.
This area is so peaceful and relaxing that it’s no surprise that couples choose to marry here.
This lake is located on the Icefields Parkway, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Lake Louise, and should be on everyone’s “must-see” list.
It’s glacier-fed, so it has beautiful turquoise water as well as stunning mountain scenery.
Peyto Lake is definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Banff National Park.
22. Learn about the park at western Canada’s oldest natural history museum
There are also stuffed animals on display, so if you’ve got kids, they’ll love it. There’s a lot to learn and see here, and it only costs a few dollars to get in, while youths under 17 get free entry.
23. Don’t miss out on free activities provided by the town
Banff National Park is home to lots of free activities throughout the year, such as the SnowDays Festival every January, the Banff Marathon in June, and of course, Canada Day celebrations on July 1st.
There are many other free things to do in Banff, but these just give you some idea of what you can do for free in this mountain town.
24. Check Groupon for deals in Banff
Groupon sometimes has some good offers on tours and other activities.
We’ve found discounts for sleigh rides and the Banff Gondola from Groupon in the past, and it really saved us a fair amount of money.
It might not have what you are looking for at the time of your visit, but it is definitely worth checking out Groupon just in case.
Another site worth looking at is Travelzoo, they sometimes have deals at good prices.
Enjoy the Rocky Mountains without the expense
The Rocky Mountains provide some of the most beautiful views on the planet, but just like the rest of Canada, they can be such an expensive place to visit.
We certainly wouldn’t be able to spend the amount of time in Banff that we do if we didn’t find ways of keeping costs low, and we seem to have got this down to somewhat of a fine art now.
Everyone should be able to enjoy this special place and not have to sell the family heirlooms to be able to afford it – okay, I know that was a bit over the top, but you know what I mean.
I hope you found our tips on how to vacation in Banff National Park on a budget useful.
If you have any further ideas, please leave them in the comment section below; we’d love to hear them.
Thanks for reading!