Banff, located in Alberta, Canada, is one of the most incredible places I have ever visited. We’re talking Gatorade blue lakes, we’re talking glaciers, we’re talking stunning Canadian Rockies, we’re talking GRAVY ON FRENCH FRIES. Need I say more? No but I will.
The general area where Banff is located is quite literally brimming with natural beauty. Sharing a border with British Columbia, there are a multitude of Canadian Provincial parks to visit and each has something unique and stunning to offer. There are few places I’ve encountered with truly something amazing to see at every turn and stop.
Canada has a reputation for being somewhat expensive but I think there are definitely ways to cut costs and still have the time of your life. Banff is a dream for every mountain lover, so without further rambling (just kidding we know there will be more rambling) here is my guide for planning a trip there!
WHEN TO GO:
We, and by we I mean myself and 3 of my cousins, visited Banff in mid October. This is considered “shoulder season” because the high volume of visitors of summer and early fall have ended but the increased tourism of skiing in the winter has yet to start. I HIGHLY recommend at least considering traveling to Banff during the fall “shoulder season” for several reasons. First, it’s cheaper. Less tourism means less demand and awesome discounts. Second, fewer crowds. Banff is beautiful but it can be BUSY. Not just a little bit busy but packed! We heard stories of 10 rows of people lining up to get a pictures in front of a Lake Louise during the summer. When we were there crowds were never a major issue. Third, it’s a winter wonderland but not too much of a winter wonderland (usually). At that point in the season- snowfall has definitely occurred in higher elevations however it’s not frequent or heavy enough to seriously effect roads and access to MOST attractions. We unfortunately did not get to see Morraine Lake, however the combo of mild-ish cold weather (think high 30’s to 40’s) mixed with the snowfall makes for a magical snowglobe-ish vibe.
Of course there are downsides to shoulder season. The main being the weather can be very unpredictable and your trip can coincide with a blizzard. Additionally, a lot of tours are canceled during this time, however I felt the benefits outweighed the risks.
HOW TO GET THERE:
If you live in the US or Canada, a road trip is always an option (and in my opinion a wonderful idea if you have the time) but it’s not for everybody. That being said, the closest airport to Banff is Calgary, and it’s around an hour from the mountain town. So when researching flights, look for flights to Calgary. I can’t speak to all times of year, but during shoulder season, flights are far from what most would consider outrageously expensive. If you go on google flights (aka the go-to cheap flight finder) the average cost for a plane ticket to Calgary from Atlanta rountrip is around $280-$350 in September and October. One thing I’ve noticed is that people expect flights to destinations such as Banff to be far more expensive than they are. Of course sometimes the flights can be $750 but with research you can snag a great deal. Now once you have gotten to Calgary, you need a way to get to Banff! Like with most outdoorsy vacations, a car rental is almost a must. We opted for an SUV and rented it at the airport. We could have gotten away with a car, however just incase the weather goes a lil crazy it’s nice to have four-wheel drive. The drive to Banff is quite straightforward and we had phone service for the entirety of the drive. If you are from the US, your phone plan may cover Canada however it’s best to confirm this before using data. It can be the difference between a 5 dollar per day charge and a 500 dollar phone bill. NOT TODAY SATAN.
WHERE TO STAY:
So in the past, I have been the biggest Airbnb fanboy. But I have to stay, there are definitely some gems to be found on regular hotel sites. We stayed at Hidden Ridge Resort in Banff. I will link it at the bottom. We ended up getting a great deal to upgrade to a nicer three story chalet condo (ANOTHER SHOULDER SEASON PERK MY DUDES). And while there were only 4 of us, the condo could easily have slept a few more. The staff were super friendly and accommodating, they even gave me super glue when my hiking shoes broke :,) By far though, the best parts of our resort were the gorgeous views, AND THE DOPE AS HECK HOTTUB WITH A FIRE PIT.
Honeslty, there are so many incredible lodging options in Banff and it can be hard to choose how much to spend and where to stay. The accommodations run from Castle-Like inns overlooking the Rockies to tiny one- room cabins and everything in between. I was thrilled with where we chose for our home base and I highly recommend it.
WHERE TO GO:
I plan on making our itenerary (including what we did and ate) on a separate blog post, but when planning a trip it’s always a good idea to have in mind what you want to see. The town of Banff has a lot of shopping and dining options and it is where we ate and explored every night. Most of our daily activities were outdoors. The scenic drives and hikes were free except for the National Park Entry Pass which was around 50 dollars for the week.
The must see area for Banff are Lake Louise, Morraine Lake (if open) Johnston Canyon, and Peyto Lake.
However there is so much more than just the signature sites! We also drove into Jasper National Park and saw the Athabasa Glacier and did the terrifying and stunning glacier skywalk with a glass bottom, I think this was around $35 dollars per person but I will link it below. Even if you don’t pay for the excursion you are able to hike closer to the glacier which is a very *~cool~* experience (and also free which is neat).
Another lesser known area we visited was Yoho National Park. Below is a casual picture of the water at Natural Bridge, a place we randomly stopped at. No big deal, this is a very normal, not at all breathtaking place.
Like I said, there will be a companion iternaey for Banff if you want to know exactly what we did on which days, but overall, just do your research! Keep an open and flexible schedule because the weather and road conditions may vary and no matter what, just know you will see some spectacular things!
LETS TALK BUDGET
OKAY, here is the most important part- how much is this adventure going to cost?! Well, I’m going to give you my best breakdown, obviously this may vary based on your preferences and I for sure think this could be cheaper but this is about what I spent for a 6 day and 5 night trip.
FLIGHT - $350 round trip from Knoxville
RENTAL CAR/GAS - SUV rental was around $350 total with insurance. Since this was split 4 ways I think it came to around $85 per person. If you add the cost of fuel I would say it was around $425 total or around $110 per person. We did go with a national rental car chain and rented a full size SUV so of course a smaller car or rental chain would be cheaper.
LODGING - The total cost of the room was around $1000 for all nights including tax. Split 4 ways, it was $250 each in total or $45 per night. We did stay in a nice resort, so lodging is for sure something you can adjust to your budget. A quick search on Kayak or Airbnb for Banff and the related areas, such as Canmore, will give some even more affordable options.
FOOD - Food in Banff is not cheap but it’s defintiely not as expensive as some places I’ve been (here’s looking at you Hawaii). We usually ate two meals per day and supplemented with snacks. I think in total I spent $250 on food and drinks. Most breakfasts were 10 dollars and I spent around 20 dollars on dinner (and unusually a drink). We stuck to diners and pubs, the food was pretty affordable and really yummy!
ACTIVITIES - As I mentioned before, we bought a week long park pass that was around 12 dollars per person. We also rode the Banff Gondola, which was 60 dollars per person, and participated on the Glacier Skywalk (which my amazing and adventurous cousin Teresa paid for) but it was 35 dollars per person. All these activists will be linked below, but in total between this and random purchases, I spent around $125 dollars.
TOTAL: Appox. $1,100
SO YEAH. THATS MY GUIDE TO PLANNING A TRIP TO CANADA.
I hope this guide was helpful in planning your real life adventures! :,)
stay tuned for the detailed itinerary... ***insert sunglasses emojii***
LINKS AND SUCH: