Banff National Park in Alberta is a place of superlatives. Canada’s oldest national park is also its most visited, receiving over four million annual guests from around the world in comparison to neighboring Jasper National Park's two million. Visit Banff for yourself, and you won’t need to wonder why.
Located on the border between Alberta and British Columbia, and close to the border with the US, Banff’s natural scenery is nothing short of majestic. Sky-piercing mountains shelter rivers and lakes of an almost unearthly turquoise color. Deep forests are home to some of the continent's most charismatic wildlife, including elk, moose, cougars, wolves, and black and grizzly bears. Straddling the Continental Divide, Banff feels like another world.
But there’s more to do in this national park than simply gaze at the stunning views. The large amounts of tourists Banff receives each year ensure that there is plenty to keep you occupied in this mountain paradise. You could spend weeks in this park and never run out of activities, whether you visit during the reliably sunny summer or the cold, dry winter.
Due to its splendid location, Banff shares its corner of the Rocky Mountains with several other national parks. So during your visit, you have the option to explore other world-famous locations such as Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, and Yoho National Park. Taken together, these parks represent some of the most stunning and unspoiled wilderness areas anywhere. And yet, Banff is little more than an hour from a major city, Calgary. So while it may not always feel like it, Banff is extremely easy to get to, no matter what you're driving.
An RV rental is the ideal way to explore this breathtaking part of the world. But no matter how you get to Banff National Park, you won’t regret that you did.
Surrounded by frowning mountains, Banff can feel exceptionally isolated. But it really isn’t. Calgary, one of Canada’s major cities, is little more than an hour away. In fact, it’s about an hour and a half drive from Calgary International Airport to the village of Banff. The road between the city and the mountains is part of the country-spanning Trans Canada Highway and is rigorously maintained. The highway is at least two lanes wide in each direction, so you can enjoy the stunning scenery from the slow lane while you let the traffic pass you by.
Be aware, though, that in Alberta, as far as traffic is concerned, there are really only two seasons: winter and construction. In this province, the snow usually begins to fall before Halloween, and can stick around until April, May, or even later. Therefore, all road maintenance needs to be done in the summer months. Combined with the Park's popularity, this can lead to some traffic jams in the busy summer season.
Of course, coming from Calgary isn't the only way to get to Banff. If you’ve been visiting Jasper National Park, you can reach Banff by heading south on the Icefields Parkway, allowing yourself to experience one of the most beautiful drives in the world. It’s around 290 km (180 miles) from Jasper to Banff, which would ordinarily take approximately 3 1/2 hours. But you'll take much longer with all the frequent stops to admire the mountains, the glaciers, and the frequent encounters with wildlife such as bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.
Banff can also be reached from the West via the Trans Canada Highway, which runs all the way to Vancouver. It’s a nine-hour-plus, 850 km (530 miles) journey from the coastal city. But it’s a breathtaking road trip, and one well worth making if you have the time.
Banff is also relatively close to the US border and can be reached from Washington and Montana. Spokane, Washington, is 576 km (358 miles) away and is the closest US city to the park.
The village of Banff is small, and in the busy summer months, parking can be a challenge at some of the more popular attractions. However, once you get out of the village itself, the roads are wide and the trailheads normally have generously sized lots. If you're going to one of the more popular attractions such as Moraine Lake, try to go early. The parking for RVs is limited and quickly fills up in the summer.
Banff began its life as a train station, and it is still possible to reach the park by train today. The Rocky Mountaineer travels all the way from Vancouver and offers a slow but incredibly scenic way to reach Banff. There is also a shuttle bus from Calgary to Banff, and a bus that travels between Jasper and Banff National Parks.
The Rampart Creek Campground is open from the end of May to mid-October. Sites are reservable during the peak season from mid-June to the end of September. Otherwise, they are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Campers, motorhomes, and trailers up to 35 feet can usually find space here, but some of the campground loops only accommodate rigs under 25 feet. Luckily there are 50 different campsites to choose from.
There are no hookups at Rampart Creek, but drinking water is available from spigots. Food lockers are provided for walk-in campers to keep food safe from bears and other wildlife. Dry toilets are the only option here, and as with all the campgrounds along the Icefields Parkway, there is no cell phone service.
Traveling 60 km (37 miles) northwest of the town of Banff brings you to the Lake Louise Campground. The scenic drive offers snow-capped mountains, bright green lakes, and you never know what type of wildlife might be around the next corner. The campground is 1 km (0.6 miles) from the main village of Lake Louise, and the iconic lake is a mere 4 km (2.5 miles) away.
There are two sections at the Lake Louise Campground: the tent area and the trailer area. All tents and soft-sided campers/tent-trailers must camp in the tent section. The area is surrounded by an electric fence to prevent bear encounters.
Hard-sided RVs will find suitable accommodation in the trailer area as long as they are less than 75 feet long. The sites with 15 amp or 30amp electric hookups are only big enough for rigs up to 50 feet. All sites have picnic tables, whereas only some have fire pits. Check whether fires are permitted in your selected loop before booking if that's important to you. There is an onsite dump station, and for convenience, this campground provides hot showers and flush toilets.
The campgrounds at Two Jack are broken into two distinct sections. The Lakeside area has ten Otentiks as well as campsites for RVs up to 27 feet in length. It also offers flush toilets and showers. Campers can use the picnic shelters, and the individual sites have their own picnic tables and fire pits.
The Main section of the Two Jack Area boasts 380 primitive campsites without hookups. RVs up to 27 feet can be parked on the gravel pads of the sites. This area also has picnic shelters, flush toilets, and showers.
A unique attraction of the Two Jack Main Campground is the 32 fully-equipped sites that they offer. Visitors who arrive in Banff and want a primitive tent-camping experience but don't have any gear can camp here. The equipment provided includes a tent, sleeping pads, propane, stove, and lantern — everything you need for an amazing nature escape.
Tunnel Mountain has over 800 campsites spread over three major areas: Village I, Village II, and Trailer Court. For campers looking for a unique experience, you can also reserve one of the 21 Otentiks at Village II.
An Otentik offers a different camping experience. It's a wooden A-frame structure with a wooden floor. and both the walls and roof are covered in a thick, waterproof canvas. They usually contain bunks and a table.
The campsites at Village I can accommodate campers and trailers up to 35 feet in length. There are no hookups here, but both flush toilets and showers are available. There is also a dump station between the A and B loops.
Found closer to Banff, Village II is open year-round and has a total of 188 sites. A rig up to 50 feet can stay at one of the electric hookup campsites. Options for electric are 15, 30, and 50 amp, and like Village I, there are flush toilets, a dump station, and showers onsite. At the entrance of the campground, there's a bus stop for the local route to help you to get around.
Most RV road trippers will want to head to the trailer section of Tunnel Mountain. Rigs up to 50 feet in length are welcome at the full hookup sites. The pads are gravel, and this whole area prohibits any open fires. There are restrooms with flush toilets, showers, and hot and cold running water.
Aside from the four main campgrounds offering campsites for reservation, Banff National Park also has a variety of sites that are first-come, first-served. The Castle Mountain and Protection Mountain Campgrounds are located on the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. Castle Mountain requires self-registration and has picnic shelters, fire rings, and flush toilets. There is space for RVs up to 24 feet. At Protection Mountain, some of the 72 sites have fire pits, and some don't. It also has flush toilets and room for large trailers and motorhomes under 75 feet. Mosquito Creek Campground has 32 total sites and allows RVs under 35 feet. The toilets are dry (non-flushing), but campers can access drinking water, one picnic shelter, and food lockers. The campground at Silverthorn Creek accommodates rigs up to 70 feet and has dry toilets like Mosquito Creek. There is no drinking water available here; it must be obtained at the nearby Waterfowl Lakes Campground. Waterfowl Lakes has both dry and flush toilets as well as a dump station. RVs under 30 feet will find enough room for the night here.
The modern town of Banff began its life as a resort built by the Canadian National Railway. It wasn’t just the mountains and the lakes that drew people here at the turn of the last century. Banff’s famous hot springs led to the creation of the iconic castle-like hotel that is still in operation today.
You don’t need to stay at the hotel to enjoy its amenities. After a day out in the cold exploring the mountains, nothing is more pleasant than relaxing in the pool fed by the natural hot springs. The hotel offers a range of spa treatments if you feel like pampering yourself. Let the warm, mineral-rich water soak your cares away as you enjoy this classic Rocky Mountain experience.
Banff’s abundant lakes don’t become any less beautiful once the snow begins to fall. The deep-freeze of the Albertan winter makes the iconic lakes into the perfect outdoor skating rings. There's something magical about gliding over the frozen surface of a lake underneath the snow-covered mountains. At the Banff Springs Hotel, the outdoor rink has a heated shelter and a crackling fire where you can warm up between skating sessions. For an even more magical experience, you could make the short drive to Lake Louise. During the annual Ice Magic Festival, an ice castle is built right on the lake.
Banff's climate is relatively dry, making rain in summer thankfully rare. However, Alberta's cold winters mean that any snow that does fall sticks around for months at a time. Combine this abundant snow with mountain slopes, and you have a perfect location for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and tubing.
Mount Norquay is only 10 minutes from the village of Banff and offers an excellent place for a family ski trip. Tube Town keeps younger children occupied while the adults hit the pristine powder of the alpine slopes. The slopes are also lit for night skiing, an unforgettable experience under a starry sky.
Banff Sunshine Village is only 15 minutes from town but offers some truly world-class terrain. If you’re looking to test your skills, over 3000 acres are just waiting to be explored here.
With an abundance of pristine glacial lakes, Banff is a popular destination for boaters. Whether you choose a canoe, kayak, standup paddleboard, or fishing boat to get out on the water, you’ll have your pick of places to spend a relaxing day.
Don’t worry if you didn’t bring a boat of your own. Several businesses offer rentals in both Banff and the nearby town of Lake Louise so that you can get out on the water and away from the crowds. And if you’re after more of an adrenaline rush, tour companies offer white water rafting excursions that make for an unforgettable mountain adventure.
Surrounded as it is by unspoiled wilderness, Banff is a haven for wildlife. The list of species that can be seen in the park is long and includes bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, elk, and black bear. While it’s rarer to see more reclusive animals such as mountain lions, wolves, and grizzly bears, all of these species do live in the park and are sometimes encountered by visitors with luck on their side. Additionally, bison were reintroduced to the park in 2017.
Encountering wildlife in Banff can be much easier than you may think. Elk are routinely spotted within the village itself, where they take advantage of the presence of humans to scare off the predators that hunt them. Also, despite the best efforts of the conservation officers, black bears sometimes wander into town, drawn by the food left behind by tourists.
During the summer months, black bears can be easily found along the Bow Valley Parkway. This quiet backroad used to be the main highway through Banff until the Trans Canada Highway replaced it. Remember that the safest way to observe these charismatic animals is from your car, and never feed a bear or any other wildlife. Stay in your vehicle and appreciate the opportunity to see these animals in their natural habitat.
Banff National Park occupies close to 7000 square kilometers of mountain wilderness, and so the hiking options are virtually endless. Trails vary from leisurely strolls around the lake to challenging multi-day expeditions over rugged mountains. Whatever level of activity you’re after, you can find it in Banff.
For an easy stroll, take in the gorgeous backdrop of nearby Lake Louise on the Lake Agnes teahouse trail. Along the way, you can stop into the popular teahouse for a drink and a snack while you enjoy views of the lake.
Moraine Lake is one of Banff’s most popular attractions, immortalized in the work of many Canadian artists and millions of photos. But the bright blue of the water needs to be seen to be believed. The hike around the lake is flat and a relatively short three km/1.9 miles in length. But if you’re up to it, climb the rock pile at the northern end of the lake for an unforgettable view of the water and the mountains that surround it.
However, for a real challenge, try the Cory pass - Mount Edith circuit. This 13 km/8 mile loop has an elevation gain of 1000 m/3280 feet and is recommended only for competent hikers. However, the reward is views over the mountains that very few visitors to this popular park will see.