Jasper vs Banff: Which Rockies National Park Is Best?

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If you’ve seen any pictures of Canada’s nature, they are likely from either Jasper or Banff National Parks. They are the most visited national parks in Canada. They are neighbors, so many people visit both when coming to the Canadian Rockies. But what if you could only choose one? This guide, by Maya from Travel With The Smile, will detail the differences between the two in our Jasper vs Banff showdown.

Jasper or Banff: Which National Park Is The Best For You?

While I always recommend visiting the Rockies for at least a week, the ideal time would be two weeks; understandably, not everyone has this time available.

The following Jasper versus Banff comparison breaks down similarities and differences between the parks to help you choose which one to visit.

It features things to do in Jasper and Banff National Parks, atmosphere, transportation, and accommodation options in mountain towns lying in their hearts and sharing their names, Jasper and Banff.

They are connected with Icefields Parkway, an insanely scenic road often on the list of the most beautiful drives in the world. You may also like our guide to Vancouver.

Peyto Lake in Banff Canada

Peyto Lake in Banff, Canada

Jasper versus Banff: Geographical Differences and Atmosphere

Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, covering 10,878 km2. At the same time, Banff National Park is about half the size, covering 6,641 km2, and is Canada’s oldest national park.

Because Jasper and Banff National Parks are so close, their climate and weather are typically the same.

Most visitors come in the summer when the weather is most stable, but you should still come prepared with a jacket in case of snow. In summer 2019, a sudden snowstorm on Icefields Parkway left many drivers stranded.

The highest point on Icefields Parkway is Bow Summit, which is 2,027 meters above sea level; therefore, it can snow any day.

Mountain towns Jasper and Banff are both charming in their way, and both have pros and cons for visiting. It depends on your preferences and what kind of vacation you want.

Even though Jasper National Park is much bigger than its neighbour Banff, the town of Jasper is smaller with only 5,690 citizens and Banff is almost at 10,000.

During summer, the highest season, Jasper is still a pleasure to walk around and enjoy the surroundings, but Banff is a different story.

The traffic often collapses, finding a parking spot might be a miracle, and the main downtown street is crowded with tourists.

High mountain peaks surround both towns.

In Banff, the mountains are much closer to the city and appear to be bigger while in Jasper, the town is situated in a large valley and mountains are a bit further from town.

Banff appears busy and crowded most of the year, and Jasper is much quieter, especially when the summer ends.

Many of Banff’s year-round visitors are locals from Calgary enjoying a weekend, a vacation, or prevalent bachelorette parties due to Banff’s bustling nightlife.

The reason is not only the popularity of each but also the distance from major cities.

Banff National Park

Banff National Park

How to Get Around Jasper and Banff

While the closest international airport to Jasper is in Edmonton, 365 km away; the nearest airport Banff is in Calgary; only 126 km.

Therefore visiting Banff is incredibly easy; you take Trans-Canada Highway and can drink beer in Banff in two hours.

After driving in the foothills, you will soon enter the Rockies and pass Kananaskis Country and Canmore, another stunning mountain town.

The drive from Edmonton to Jasper is not very scenic and takes around 4 hours.

Even if you’d like to visit Jasper, I recommend flying to Calgary.

You can drive through Banff and the Icefields Parkway in a day; it’s worth it, even just for a quick drive-through. The most important things to consider before visiting the Canadian Rockies are a car or campervan rental and accommodation.

Some shuttle buses connect big cities with small mountain towns, but it’s always more accessible and more budget-friendly to rent a car or a small campervan.

Jasper’s tourist attractions are spread around town and take some time.

For example, the popular Maligne Lake is a 48 km drive away.

Since no public transport is available, you need to drive everywhere.

Banff has public transport and popular tourist attractions such as Banff gondola, Lake Minnewanka, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

The transport to most hiking trails is not available without a car.

And public transport along the Icefields Parkway is unavailable unless you join a tour.

Icelands Parkway Rockies Canada

Icelands Parkway Rockies, Canada

Accommodation Options in Jasper and Banff

Accommodation can get very expensive in both Jasper and Banff.

They both have a lot of hotels and lodges, costing upwards of CAD 300 per night during summer, and they are usually booked months in advance.

To save some money, consider staying just outside the national parks.

If you’re visiting Jasper, you can stay in Hinton.

In the case of Banff, cheaper accommodation can usually be found in Canmore, just 20 minutes away and accessible by public transport.

Hostels are also an option.

You can read Two Scots Abroad’s guide to cheap accommodation in Banff here.

Hands down, the most budget-friendly option with increasing yearly popularity is camping.

You can bring or rent a tent, a small campervan, or a bigger RV, and you can easily save a lot on accommodation and sleep in campgrounds.

There are 11 campgrounds in Jasper National Park and 14 in Banff National Park.

This way, you are more flexible and can stop in a campground when you finish your day.

Campgrounds booked in advance are more accessible, especially for weekends and summer.

But if you are not renting an RV and don’t need full hookups, finding a campground shouldn’t be a problem.

Elk Under Rundle Mountain Banff National Park Canada

Elk Under Rundle Mountain Banff National Park, Canada

Jasper Versus Banff: Nature and Highlights

Natural wonders and wildlife watching are the reasons people visit the Canadian Rockies.

Both national parks offer endless options for hiking, stunning turquoise lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers.

Jasper has more options for easy hikes with almost no elevation.

Banff has more convenient sightseeing options around town without the need to drive.

Visitors in Jasper are more spread out through the valleys than in Banff giving the wildlife more space so wildlife watching is better in Jasper.

Banff has the most popular lakes with insane shades of blue.

Jasper has fewer yearly visitors while Banff has almost twice as much so you can expect to enjoy the wilderness in Jasper more.

Banff is closer to other national parks, such as Kootenay and Yoho in British Columbia.

As you can see, both Jasper and Banff offer many activities.

Highlights of Jasper National Park

  • Wilcox Pass Hike for a bird’s eye view of Athabasca Glacier
  • Visiting Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield
  • Hiking the Mount Edith Cavell and Valley of the Five Lakes
  • Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls
  • SkyTram to Whistlers Peak
  • Cruising the Maligne Lake
  • Visiting Pyramid Island and Pyramid Lake
  • Swimming in Lake Annette or Lake Edith
  • Mountain biking around town
  • Wildlife watching

Important Tips About Wildlife

The most common wildlife in the Rockies are elk, deer, black bears, grizzly bears, and moose.

It’s an experience of a lifetime to see a mama bear playing with her young cubs or see a herd of elk crossing the river.

Just remember that these animals are wild and shouldn’t be fed or approached.

They might seem to be enjoying eating the grass but can charge at you within a few seconds.

Parks Canada advises all visitors to carry a bear spray while visiting the Rockies.

You can spot a bear anytime, no matter how famous or remote the hiking trail is.

Learn when and how to use a bear spray and stay informed about the bear’s behaviour.

Cinnamon Bear Jasper

Highlights of Banff National Park

  • Swimming in Johnson Lake
  • Cruising on Lake Minnewanka
  • Hiking up the Sulphur Mountain
  • Biking along Vermilion Lakes
  • Hiking to Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots
  • Visiting the popular lakes – Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake
  • Watching a sunrise at Two Jack Lake
  • Canoeing on Bow River
  • Biking the Legacy Trail from Banff to Canmore
  • Taking Lake Louise gondola to see a grizzly bear
Aylmer Lookout Banff Canada

Final Words

No matter which national park you visit, I guarantee you will plan a return visit to see more. Even though it might seem that Banff is easier to visit due to its proximity to Calgary and public transport options, Jasper has many natural wonders as well, and many beautiful places are hidden away from bus stops.

If you drive the Icefields Parkway to Jasper, you will see that both national parks are incredibly picturesque. If you’d like more amazing mountain sceneries with a mix of ocean views, check out Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Pin to your Canada travel guide board

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What’s the verdict? Tell us in the comments below

6 thoughts on “Jasper vs Banff: Which Rockies National Park Is Best?

  1. David says:

    There may not be public transportation in Jasper or on the Icefields Parkway, there are companies running shuttles to Jasper. Brewster Express starting in Calgary and Sundog starting in Banff both run buses to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway. Sundog also runs a shuttle from Edmonton to Jasper. So you can visit the town of Jasper without a vehicle though you would not be able to make all the stops you can in a car. Bicycle rentals are available in the Jasper townsite and many trailheads are a short walk from town.

  2. Alex says:

    Thanks Gemma for your review! I’m from Argentina and in August we’re visiting Edmonton, and we think it will be nice to have some days in Jasper national park; but unfortunately we’ll stay a few days… We think also to travel by car to Vancouver, so we can take advantage to have some days there. Is still a got idea, right?! Thanks again!!!

    • Gemma says:

      Hi Alex, thank you for your email! I did a group tour from Vancouver through the Rockies and back again over five days. We got to see lots but there was very little time for spontaneous events or hikes. Whatever you decide you’ll have an amazing time!

  3. Lise Bury says:

    Very well written and very informative. I was very impressed and learned a lot, I have a much better idea as to where attractions are located and ease of access to them between Banff and Jasper. I was a bit worried about the hike (length and elevation) in either parks as my husband has mobility issues. Your information made me realize that it would be better to book an organized trip through a travel agency and leave all the worries to them. Thank you again, happy trails…

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