If you search Banff on instagram, you’ll find countless pictures of serene blue lakes and people canoeing in emerald waters. It’s no surprise that this gorgeous areea in the Canadian Rockies is currently one of the top places to visit. The natural beauty there is astounding and it is one of the prettiest areas on earth. Getting there is difficult, so now you need to know how to plan a trip to Banff.
When my two best friends, and I planned on going there over Memorial Day 2018, I never imagined it would cost an arm and a leg to get there. Or that it would consist of 11 hours of travel including two flights ✈️, a two hour long bus ride 🚌, and a drive from the bus stop to the hotel 🚗.
Exploring Banff is not usually cheap, but with some foresight you can do it. You can also visit in the shoulder seasons for better prices and less tourists! I have laid out everything you need to know about planning a trip to Banff in 5 easy steps.
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Table of Contents
5 Steps to Plan a Trip to Banff
My one piece of advice for planning a trip to Banff is PLAN EARLY!
1: Book your Flights or Transportation
You can get to Banff in a couple of ways: flying or driving. You will need to plan ahead for either of these options for them to go smoothly. If you decide to fly, then you will probably still want a car to get around the Canadian Rockies and visit various parks.
In order to get to Banff by airplane, you have to fly into Calgary International Airport (2 hours from Banff). We booked our flights four months out and they were still $700 from DC. You can monitor flight prices on Google Flights and Kayak, or subscribe to a service like Scott’s Cheap Flights for flight alerts.
Canadians visiting Banff should have no problems driving to the park. However, if you are an American then you need to ensure you have everything you need. Every traveler will need their passport as identification. Then, you will need to go to one of the border crossings. You can check wait times on their website to try and find an ideal time to pass through.
Currently, all travelers must use ArriveCAN within 72 hours of your arrival to Canada. This provides health information to the Canadian government.
2: Get your Lodging
Like I said earlier, Banff is a very popular tourist destination. The earlier you figure out your trips, the cheaper it will be. There are many plans to stay in the Banff area. You can choose to book a hotel near Banff or Lake Louise for easy access to activities. Below are some recommendations for the best hotels near the park.
Best Hotels in Banff:
- Moose Hotel & Suites
- Fairmont Banff Springs
- Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
- Rimrock Resort Hotel
Travelers who want to camp in the Banff area will need to book campgrounds. You can often book a campground in advance, and in some cases you can get them the day of your travels. If you want the best campgrounds, plan ahead and book them when you know your plans!
Tip: Unlike the US, there is no dispersed camping or staying outside of designated campgrounds. ⛺️
Things You Need to Book a Campground:
- National Park Entry Pass – Get it at the gate
- Camping Permit – Available online or at the campground kiosk
- Fire Permit – You only need this if you want to have a fire. Campers can get them at the campground.
3: Figure out Transportation
After you fly into Calgary, you will still need to drive about two hours to get to Banff National Park. I stayed in Lake Louise for the duration of my trip, which adds an additional half hour drive from the airport. You can either book a rental car or take a shuttle. The Brewster Express takes you directly from the airport to a hotel in the Banff area.
4: Make a Loose Itinerary
Once you have all the other things nailed down, you can plan an itinerary for your trip to Banff. There are many beautiful hikes and things to explore in the area. Also, you can go further to see other amazing destinations like Lake Louise, the Icefields Parkway, and Jasper National Park. If you want you can find my Banff itinerary here!
5: Prepare & Get Travel Gear
Banff gets a lot of wonderful weather, but it also changes rapidly in the mountains. Temperatures remain in the 60s for much of the late spring and early summer. Trails are covered in snow through much of the early summer. You may even see snow andPrepare for your trip by packing plenty of layers and bringing outdoor gear. You can find my complete packing guide below!
👟 Comfortable Walking Shoes
👖 Hiking Pants & Jeans
🧥 Jacket & Rain Jacket
👚 Shirts to Layer
🎒 Day pack for hikes or traveling
💦 Reusable water bottle or water reservoir
Banff is stunning and there really is no place like it, so you will have an amazing time! You should plan ahead and take the costs and weather into consideration. Please reach out if you have any questions at all!
Let me know if you enjoyed this guide in the comments
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