Banff and Jasper National Parks both sit snugly within the Canadian Rockies. You’ll find charming towns, stunning mountain landscapes, and crystal blue alpine lakes throughout both parks. But, there are some key differences when weighing Banff vs Jasper to keep in mind.
In general, choose Banff if you want to visit some iconic sites in the Canadian Rockies and would like a main town with a bit more going on. On the other hand, choose Jasper for fewer crowds, backcountry hiking and easier access for winter sports.
Here, we’re digging into everything from affordability to popularity for each park, so you can decide which one is the best fit for your trip. Keep reading for everything you need to know about Jasper vs Banff.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park is Canada’s first national park. Because of this, it also tends to be the most popular. It’s big—boasting 6,641 square kilometers of stunning landscapes to explore. It’s also home to some of the country’s most iconic natural sites like Lake Louise. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know when considering a visit to Banff.
It’s relatively easy to access Banff National Park. You will want a car to get around the park. There are shuttle services available, hop-on & hop-off buses and you can sign up for guided tours, but by far the best way to experience Banff in its entirety is by renting a vehicle.
Tours will take you to the park’s highlights, but if you want to hike or get away from the crowds, a car is needed. If you need to rent a car, you can browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices, or alternatively check out Outdoorsy for RV or campervan options.
The closest airport is the Calgary International Airport, located about 80 miles from the park. Drive straight along the Trans-Canada 1 highway to reach Banff.
Banff is also about a 9.5-hour drive from Vancouver, so if you’re not up for long driving times, it’s best to fly into an Alberta airport. Once in Banff, you’re most likely camping or staying at an Airbnb or lodge accommodation in the town of Banff or nearby Canmore.
It’s very easy from these places to hop in your car and visit the vast majority of highlights throughout the park. You’ll mostly drive along the Bow Valley Parkway and Icefields Parkway to see different parts of the park.
During your visit to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, we recommend hopping the shuttle from the town of Lake Louise. The parking lots at both lakes are small and usually fill up before 8 AM.
Personal vehicles are no longer allowed on the road to Moraine Lake in an effort to decrease congestion on the narrow, curvy road. You can remove the headache of finding a parking spot at the lake by riding the shuttle for a small fee.
Generally speaking, Banff is more expensive than Jasper. This is largely due to it being a more heavily-visited park (it sees over 4 million visitors every year!) In both parks, camping and cooking for yourself is the most affordable option.
However, you can splurge as much as you’d like by staying in upscale lodges and dining at nice restaurants. The Banff townsite is larger and more lively than the town of Jasper. It boasts more of a nightlife with bars, restaurants, and various other activities.
When directly comparing the costs of Banff vs. Jasper, Banff is more expensive, but only marginally if you’re doing the exact same thing in both parks. When creating your budget, take into consideration renting a car, purchasing or renting camping gear, gas, lodging, and food for your entire stay.
If you’re aiming to grocery shop and cook for yourself, we recommend getting your groceries in a larger town outside of the park. Food, gas, and other necessities are more expensive within Banff.
Things to do in Banff
Banff National Park is home to some of the most iconic landmarks you’ll see on a trip to the Canadian Rockies. Alpine lakes like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are picture-perfect landscapes that you’ll see photos of everywhere.
While visiting Lake Louise, make sure you stop into the Fairmont Chateau for a bite to eat. You should also veer away from the lake and take a stroll on the short hiking trail to Lake Agnes and the Beehive. Be wary, however, that all hikes near Lake Louise are going to be very busy all times of day.
If you want to break away from the crowds, head north up the Icefields Parkway. While driving, there are several scenic places to stop for photos and views. Along the way, visit Mistaya Canyon, Peyto Lake, and Bow Lake.
Near the Banff townsite sits Vermillion Lakes. This beautiful slice of landscape is a popular place to watch the sunset and sunrise, but it’s stunning anytime of day.
You’ll likely see people kayaking out on the lakes. Next, head over to Johnston Canyon—a stunning slot canyon with a suspension-bridge path bolted to the side of the canyon. You can hike to the Upper Canyon Falls or the Lower Canyon Falls.
Finally, you should try to visit the famous Moraine Lake. Visitors are required to take a shuttle from the Lake Louise townsite as private vehicles are no longer allowed on the road to Moraine. However, upon arrival, you’ll be rewarded with exceptional views. You can take an organised sunrise tour.
If you have some extra time to spare, take a brief detour over to Yoho National Park. It’s a relatively small park tucked directly west of Banff. Here, stop at Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, and Takakkaw Falls.
Emerald Lake is a stunning, deep blue lake that is also the trailhead for several excellent hikes in the area. Takakkaw Falls is the second-tallest waterfall in Canada. All these sites are only about a 40-minute to 1-hour drive from Lake Louise.
You won’t run out of things to do in Banff National Park. Between going on hikes, exploring the park’s highlights, and seeking out stunning lookouts, there will always be something to explore.
Where to Stay in Banff
High Country Inn – Located in the town of Banff, this 3-star hotel is a great place to base yourself in the national park. Offering an array of lovely rooms to choose from, they also have an excellent location for seeing all this area has available. Click here to check availability
Canalta Lodge – This hotel is great for those looking for an upmarket stay when visiting the national park. Located in Banff town, they have a number of plush rooms on offer along with a myriad of delightful amenities for guests to take advantage of. Click here to check availability
Private Rental – A private vacation rental is a great choice for those after a self-catering option in Banff. There are a number of properties available – like this secluded studio – that can suit all kinds of visitors. Click here to browse Banff private rentals
Samesun Banff – If you’re looking to cut costs while visiting Banff then this highly-rated hostel is the perfect choice. They have both private rooms and dorm beds along with excellent self-catering facilities and common areas. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Banff hotels!
Jasper National Park
There’s a lot to cover during a visit to Banff. You might be surprised to learn that Jasper National Park is even bigger than Banff. Jasper covers over 11,000 square kilometers, making it about twice the size of Banff and the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Let’s take a closer look at everything to know about visiting Jasper.
There are two airports near Jasper: Calgary International Airport and Edmonton International Airport. Calgary is about a five-hour drive away from the park while Edmonton is four hours away by car.
Similar to Banff, the best way to see Jasper National Park is by car. Jasper also offers shuttles and guided tours, but doing so limits how you experience the park.
If time is available, many people visit Jasper and Banff in tandem. They fly into Calgary and rent a car, then visit Banff before driving north through Banff to reach Jasper. Jasper has fewer people than Banff, so you won’t encounter as huge of crowds at the most popular landmarks.
As we mentioned above, Jasper tends to be more affordable than Banff. If you’re traveling on a budget, there are ways to see both parks without going overboard. For example, shopping for camping groceries outside the parks and avoiding the gateway towns will decrease the cost substantially.
As soon as you enter the park, purchasing anything at stores will become more expensive. All around, Jasper tends to be slightly more affordable than Banff in this department.
For lodging, camping is by far the most affordable option. Campground sites are very affordable compared to staying at a lodge or Airbnb. That said, try to reserve your campsite as far in advance as possible.
During the peak summer months, campsites in both parks fill up fast. Jasper campsites tend to be more available and affordable than Banff. The same principle goes for lodges, but the price difference is small.
Things to do in Jasper
Jasper is just about twice as big as Banff, which means it’s loaded with stunning natural sites to explore. Start your time in Jasper by visiting some of the classics like Columbia Icefields and Athabasca Glacier.
Athabasca Glacier is the large glacier that sticks out at the bottom of the Columbia Icefields. You can do a nearby hike to get a birds-eye view or hike to the glacier itself. Closer to the townsite of Jasper, you’ll find Athabasca Falls. This tiered waterfall drops an impressive 79 feet.
Maligne Canyon is one of Jasper’s most unique features. This massive gorge is more than 160 feet deep in some places, having been carved by the rushing river below. You can walk along the interpretive path to visit several different outlooks over the gorge.
Nearby, you’ll find Maligne Lake and Spirit Island. Maligne Lake is the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies. We recommended doing a boat tour around the lake with a stop at Spirit Island. Photos of Spirit Island with the lake and mountains in the background is one of the most iconic photos of Jasper.
If you’re on the hunt for wildlife, head to Cavell Meadows or Medicine Lake. The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning or in the evening. The evenings tend to be busier.
Be on the lookout for moose, mountain goats, bears, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and a variety of birds. Bring comfortable walking shoes and keep your eyes peeled or join a wildlife tour.
You can’t leave Jasper National Park without first visiting Sunwapta Falls and Valley. You’ll see several different parts of Sunwapta Valley as you make your way through the park. Sunwapta Falls is where two valleys of different depths meet.
And of course, no visit to Jasper is complete without riding the Jasper SkyTram to get panoramic views over the national park.
If you have some time to spare, visit Miette Hot Springs on the Sulphur Skyline Loop or Lac Beauvert. The hot springs are high above the valley, so you can soak in the warm mineral water while taking in beautiful views.
The lake is near the Jasper townsite and a popular destination for paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, and relaxing. It’s a large, tranquil lake with beautiful views.
And if you’re visiting in winter, you can even ski at resorts in Jasper like Marmot Basin.
Whether you have enough time to see everything on this list or must prioritize during your visit to Jasper National Park, you’ll leave the Canadian Rockies in awe.
Where to Stay in Jasper
Mount Robson Inn – Located in the heart of Jasper Town, this 3-star hotel is perfect for those looking for a comfortable and convenient stay in the national park. They have a number of great rooms to choose from and also offer excellent mountain views. Click here to check availability
Miette Hot Springs Bungalows – These bungalows located outside the town of Jasper are perfect for those who want to mix privacy and luxury. They have a range of options to choose from and plenty of great amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Private Rental – Those who would rather have a self-catering option while visiting Jasper will find plenty of options available. There are all kinds of properties on offer – such as this two-bedroom apartment in the town of Jasper. Click here to browse more Jasper private rentals
HI Jasper – Those traveling solo or on a budget while in Jasper will love this hostel. Situated in downtown Jasper, they have both privates and dorms along with a cosy fireplace and good common areas. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Jasper hotels!
Banff or Jasper: Which is Better to Visit
Choosing whether to visit Banff or Jasper can be a tough decision. The good news? These parks are located directly next to each other, so if you have enough time, you can visit both. You can opt to pick and choose landmarks across either park to create an itinerary that works best for you.
If you don’t mind the crowds when exploring a national park’s most famous sites, visit Banff. The same goes if you want to check off seeing the most iconic landmarks in the Canadian Rockies.
Banff National Park is well-known because it’s home to these sites. There are plenty of sections of Banff where you can get away from the crowds.
That said, if you want to overall encounter fewer crowds, head to Jasper.
If you’re interested in driving between landmarks across a relatively small area, Banff is a better option. If you want to stay in a town that has many bars, restaurants, and nightlife, Banff is also the place for this.
The townsite of Jasper has plenty of tasty restaurants, but is more laid-back compared to the townsite of Banff. However, if you’re more interested in camping and cooking for yourself, you’ll enjoy the many campgrounds, both remote and not, located within Jasper.
If you want plenty of access to backcountry hiking, Jasper is the best place for you.
If you’re visiting in winter, most people would recommend prioritizing Jasper. There is way more you can do during the cold months compared to Banff as Jasper is much larger than Banff. When it comes to cost, Banff is more expensive than Jasper.
Whether you choose to visit Jasper or Banff, you’ll have no shortage of unforgettable sites to explore.
Are you visiting Banff or Jasper? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!