8 Tips for Visiting Banff on a Budget

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

A trip to Banff National Park is a bucket-list vacation for many. With towering, rugged Rocky Mountains, exciting wildlife, lush forests and turquoise-blue lakes, Banff is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

As you’d expect in a place with scenery this incredible, Banff is pretty expensive, but our money-saving tips make it easier to travel to Banff on a budget without sacrificing experiences.

Tips to Visit Banff on a Budget

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How Much Does a Trip to Banff Cost?

Hold onto your wallets – it’s expensive to visit Banff National Park! In fact, many studies have shown that Banff is the most expensive place to visit in Canada, especially in summer and during larch tree season.

Fall is one of the best time to go to Banff on a budget
Saddleback Pass Hike in fall – Lake Louise, Banff National Park

We’ll help you save money on your trip to Banff with our tips below, but to give you an idea of how much a trip to Banff costs:

The cost of a hotel room in Banff on a weekend in low season will cost anywhere between $200 – $700+ per night, while that same Banff hotel room in the high season will cost more than double at $700 – $1400+.

Data from a recent Government of Canada study shows that visitors to the Canadian Rockies spend 45% of their Banff travel budget on accommodations. Using this measure, we can back-calculate the average daily cost to visit Banff as:

  • Average daily cost to visit Banff in low season: $450 – $1500+

  • Average daily cost to visit Banff in high season: $1,500 – $3,100+
Walking around Banff is one of the best things to do in Banff on a Budget
Walk to the Vermillion Lakes for free to see this view of Mount Rundle

We live in Canmore (just minutes from Banff) and are always looking for ways to make visiting Banff more affordable. In addition, we’ve traveled to some of the world’s most expensive destinations (like Norway, Italy and Iceland) on a budget. Our experiences in Banff and abroad taught us how to travel on a budget without compromising on amazing experiences.

When we look at the average daily costs to visit Banff, we’re confident we could have an amazing trip to Banff for much less. Here’s how we would visit Banff on a budget.

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8 Tips to Visit Banff on a Budget

1. Find a Clean, Cheap Hotel in Banff

If the study about Banff travel costs is right about visitors spending 45% of their overall Banff travel budget on accommodations, the best place to save money traveling to Banff is on your choice of hotel.

A wide variety of quality Banff hotels serve the millions of visitors to this world-class national park annually. By utilizing some of these money-saving strategies, you can find a great place to stay in Banff on a budget:

Get a Banff Hotel Outside Downtown

Banff’s downtown is a fun & exciting place to visit. Jam packed with restaurants, souvenir shops, art galleries and more, a walk down Banff Avenue is always entertaining. Downtown Banff is quite small, occupying only a few city blocks, so the downtown Banff hotels can get quite expensive.

The easiest way to find a place to stay in Banff on a budget is to find a Banff hotel outside of downtown. The best budget hotel in Banff is the Dorothy Motel – it’s on the very far edge of town, about as far away as you can get, but it’s still less than a 20 minute walk to downtown Banff from there. Trust me – a 20 minute walk anywhere in Banff is a pleasure and the walk along Banff Avenue is beautiful!

If you don’t like walking, you can easily take the local Roam public transit bus which runs up and down Banff Avenue all day long.

How to get around Banff on a budget
Getting Around Banff on a Budget

Stay at a Simple Banff Hotel

If you get a hotel room in some old boring city, you may want to pay extra for a nice hotel with a pool, fitness room, hot tub, etc. But Banff is not that kind of place – people flock to Banff for the stunning mountain scenery and outstanding outdoor recreational activities.

As long as you find a clean Banff hotel with a comfortable bed, you won’t care if your Banff hotel doesn’t have a pool, hot tub or any other unnecessary hotel amenity. Trust me – you’ll be having so much fun enjoying Banff, you won’t even think about not having a pool at your Banff hotel.

Visit During the Banff Low Season

The typical cost of a hotel room in Banff during low season is less than half of what it costs during the peak tourist season. Both spring and fall are wonderful times to visit Banff with a wide variety of outdoor activities to enjoy.

To visit Banff on a budget, consider visiting in fall when hotel room rates drop
Taylor Lake in fall – Banff National Park

Visit Banff Mid-Week

If your schedule permits, a good strategy to find a place to stay in Banff on a budget is to get a Banff hotel room mid-week. Mid-week hotel savings may not be possible during the heart of peak season, where the cost of a Banff hotel room is consistently high throughout the week, but in off-season you can easily save 20-40% on a mid-week Banff hotel room.

Enjoying a walk on Banff Avenue is one of the best cheap things to do in Banff
Downtown Banff

Stay Near Banff in a Canmore Hotel

If you are looking to save money on a hotel in Banff, try getting a hotel in Canmore, the nearest city to Banff National Park. Canmore is a small town of 15,000 residents located just minutes outside the Banff National Park gates and a 20-minute drive to the Town of Banff.

Many people like that Canmore is not as touristy as Banff and you’ll still enjoy world-class Rocky Mountain views from all directions. There’s plenty of great outdoor things to do in Canmore and it is home to excellent restaurants and shops to explore.

Being an alternate base camp for visitors to Banff, there are lots of great affordable Canmore hotels and vacation rentals to choose from. As a general rule, you’ll find Canmore hotels are cheaper than a comparable hotel in Banff.

Canmore offers cheap accommodation near Banff, Canada
Looking down on Canmore at the top of Ha Ling Peak hike

Look for Deals on Banff Hotels

If you have some persistence, patience and a little luck, you can often find a good deal on a Banff hotel. Some Banff hotels offer discounts for Alberta residents, some offer Banff ski packages, etc. Start looking for your Banff hotel as far in advance as possible and keep checking back for a better rate.

For example, a stay at the iconic Banff Springs Hotel is a dream for many visitors to Banff. As a luxury hotel, it’s one of the most expensive hotels in Banff, but even here you can still find deals at the Banff Springs Hotel.

Cheap things to do in Banff - walk to Surprise Corner for this view of Bow Falls and the Banff Springs Hotel
Surprise Corner is one of the many free things to do near the Banff Springs Hotel

Stay at One of our Recommended Cheap Banff Hotels

The good news for visitors to Banff on a budget is that we’ve done all the leg work for you and have recommended the 7 best inexpensive places to stay in Banff. You’ll be happy to know there are a few budget options within our list of the best places to stay in Lake Louise.

cheap Banff accommodations - try the Tunnel Mountain hotel district
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort

If you are visiting Banff with loved ones (furry or not), we also have curated lists of the best family-friendly hotels in Banff and the best pet-friendly hotels in Banff.

2. Stay at a Banff Airbnb or VRBO

Vacation rentals are an excellent accommodation option for people visiting Banff on a budget. Banff Airbnb and VRBO rentals will follow the same seasonal pricing patterns as Banff hotels, but over our traveling history we have found vacation rentals to be more affordable than a comparable hotel. In addition, Banff Airbnb rentals have many extra amenities which are attractive for travelers to Banff on a budget.

  • Banff Airbnb and VRBO rentals often come with separate bedrooms. This is especially beneficial for families traveling to Banff with kids, or friends visiting Banff together. Separate bedrooms equals more privacy and better sleeps all around.

  • Laundry facilities mean you can pack less clothes for your trip to Banff. If your airline charges exorbitant extra luggage fees, save this money by packing a carry-on and doing laundry at your Banff Airbnb!
Staying at a Banff Airbnb or Banff VRBO is a great option for those visiting Banff on a budget

We’ve stayed at over 50 Airbnb and VRBO rentals all over the world. We always seek good value for our accommodation dollar and we usually find it with a vacation rental.

To find a great place to stay in Banff on a budget, take a look at our best places to stay in Banff on Airbnb and VRBO.

3. Save Money by Self-Catering in Banff

When you travel to Italy, eating Italian food at restaurants is an integral part of the experience. This is not true when you travel to Banff… no offense to Canadian cuisine, but you won’t be missing an integral cultural experience if you self-cater in Banff.

The study of Banff travel costs shows that the second largest expense for visitors to Banff is on food and beverage. Visitors to Banff on average spend 21% of their overall Banff vacation budget on food and drink.

Banff has many excellent restaurants, and we recommend you try some, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat 3 full meals every day at Banff restaurants. Buying groceries and cooking many of your own meals will significantly reduce the cost of your Banff vacation.

When visiting Banff on a budget, get most of your food at a Banff grocery store and treat yourself to some great Banff restaurant experiences

Most of the rooms at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort (one of our recommended affordable places to stay in Banff) have a full kitchen. And of course, most Banff VRBO rentals will have a kitchen as well. Having your own kitchen really helps you more easily enjoy Banff on a budget.

Even better, pack up your lunch and enjoy many of Banff’s best picnic areas!

A Banff Self-Catering Strategy

A self-catering strategy we use all the time is to eat breakfast at the VRBO and pack a lunch to eat on the go. We love this self-catering strategy as it’s a healthier way to eat, and saves you both time and money. When you visit a world class destination like Banff, sitting in a restaurant for breakfast and/or lunch is a huge waste of time – you should be outside having fun!

When visiting Banff on a budget, buying food at the Banff grocery store is healthier and cheaper than eating at a Banff restaurant
Shopping at a Banff grocery store is healthier and cheaper

One thing to note is that even food purchased at the grocery store in Banff is expensive. If you have your own car, stop at Costco or a grocery store in Calgary and pick-up your breakfast and lunch supplies. Be sure to grab some high energy snacks to keep you going on your daily adventures.

We love supporting local Bow Valley businesses, but we find the grocery stores here are really expensive relative to Calgary, the selection isn’t as good and the produce can be quite awful at times. We’re here to help you travel to Banff on a budget, so if you can, buy your groceries in Calgary instead of Banff.

By following our self-catering strategy, you’ll have significantly more time and money to enjoy Banff. Plus, at the end of the day, you’ll feel like you earned your meal at one of Banff’s excellent restaurants.

When traveling to Banff on a budget, limit the number of times you eat at Banff restaurants

4. Visit Banff without a Car

The third biggest component of the cost of a trip to Banff is transportation. On average, visitors spend 16% of their Banff travel budget on transportation.  

Measuring a mind-boggling 6,641 km², Banff National Park is a vast mountain wilderness. It’s tempting to think you must have a rental car to visit Banff, but in fact it’s easy to get to Banff without a car, and once you are there, it’s also very easy to get around Banff without a car.

If you visit Banff on a budget without a car, you'll also help the environment and reduce vehicle congestion in the national park

With over 4 million visitors to Banff a year, vehicle congestion and crowded parking lots are a problem, so Banff officials have put in a lot of effort to make visiting the top attractions in Banff without a car as easy and cheap as possible. You’d be surprised at the number of Banff hiking trails you can do without a car.

You might even prefer using the public buses or a Parks Canada shuttle to get to Moraine Lake or a Lake Louise shuttle to avoid the crowded parking lots, or worse, risk not getting a parking spot at all.

Parks Canada has closed the Moraine Lake Road to private vehicles. To visit Moraine Lake in 2024, plan ahead by booking a shuttle so you aren’t disappointed.

There’s no doubt having a rental car gives you ultimate freedom to explore Banff on your own schedule. If you are traveling to Banff on a budget, take a peek at the cost to rent a car for Banff, then read the following Banff without a car guides to get a feel for the cost / benefit of this travel expense.

Guides to Visiting Banff without a car:

Roam public transportation is an easy way to get around Banff on a budget
Roam transit serves most of Banff National Park

If you have the flexibility to come to Banff without a car, you’d be helping the environment and helping solve the vehicle congestion problem. These convenient Banff hotels are great for visitors coming to Banff without a car.

5. Visit Banff on a Group Tour

Another excellent strategy for those looking to visit Banff on a budget is to join an organized group tour with an adventure travel company such as G Adventures. We have traveled extensively with G Adventures and have always felt we got excellent value for our money.

The Canadian Rockies – National Parks tour by G Adventures is an awesome 14 day tour between Calgary and Vancouver, with stops in some of our favorite destinations in Western Canada, such as Banff, Jasper, Whistler, Tofino and Victoria. This amazing budget Banff tour only costs roughly $200 -$225 per day depending on season.

Want to visit Banff on a budget? Try joining a group tour to Banff

There are several other Banff tours by G Adventures with a higher level of service which are a bit more expensive. But, even the most expensive tour through Banff is well below the average daily cost to visit Banff.

It’s important to read each tour description carefully as inclusions and amenities can vary from trip-to-trip.

6. Enjoy the Many Free Things to do in Banff

Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Chances are good that you wish to visit Banff as you love the outdoors, which is great news as most of the best things to do in Banff are free!

Hiking in Banff is the best thing to do when visiting Banff on a budget - it's beautiful, healthy and free
The Plain of the Six Glaciers Hike in Lake Louise, Banff

It’s true, some of the top Banff attractions are expensive, like downhill skiing in Banff at the Ski Big 3 resorts or the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain. But outside of this, just about everything else to do in Banff is free. You could spend weeks in Banff exploring the most incredible scenery you’ll ever see, and you don’t need to spend a cent.

In summer, you can enjoy endless miles of hiking trails in Banff National Park. For your Banff hiking inspiration, check out:

There are also some incredible cycling opportunities in Banff National Park, like biking the Banff Legacy Trail or cycling Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon.

In the winter, you can enjoy excellent easy winter hikes without any extra equipment. If you have your own gear or have room in your budget for rentals, there are many more Banff winter activities you can do for free:

  1. Try one of the easy cross-country ski trails in Banff
  2. Skate in Banff on a frozen lake
  3. Go on a super-fun ice walk at Johnston Canyon.

7. Skip the Banff Gondola

Speaking of the best free things to do in Banff, did you know you can skip taking the expensive Banff Gondola and hike up Sulphur Mountain instead? I love hiking up Sulphur Mountain knowing that I’m getting a great workout, enjoying incredible views of Banff and saving a ton of cash.

Once at the top of Sulphur Mountain, you are free to enjoy all the same facilities at the top as the people who paid to take the Banff Gondola up. Trust me, if you are traveling to Banff on a budget, this is an excellent way to save some money and have an amazing experience doing so.

Hiking Sulphur Mountain instead of taking the Banff Gondola is one of our favorite cheap things to do in Banff
Save money in Banff by hiking up Sulphur Mountain.

The Sulphur Mountain hike is 10km return (5km each way) with approximately 750m of elevation gain. It takes about 2.5 hours to complete the round-trip hike. Granted, the Sulphur Mountain hike is difficult, but it’s common to see people of all ages and abilities making their way to the top.

8. Rent Gear instead of Buying

If you are visiting Banff on a budget, you may wish to avoid purchasing your own expensive sports gear like downhill skis, snowshoes, stand-up paddleboards, etc. You can easily travel to Banff without your own sports gear as you can rent your stuff there.

To reduce the cost of a trip to Banff, try renting your gear instead of buying
SUP on Johnson Lake, Banff, Canada

If you can rent your gear in Calgary, you’ll likely enjoy the lowest prices, but Canmore and Banff have a good selection of gear rental shops as well.

Banff National Park is Worth Every Loonie

In closing, don’t let the potential high cost of traveling to Banff scare you off – you can still travel to Banff on a budget. With these 8 easy tips you can easily save tons of money and make your trip to Banff much more affordable. In the end, you will find Banff is more expensive than most destinations, but it is truly worth every single Loonie!

Hiking is one of the best cheap things to do in Banff

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A trip to Banff National Park is a bucket-list vacation for many. With towering, rugged Rocky Mountains, exciting wildlife, lush forests and turquoise-blue lakes, Banff is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. As you'd expect in a place with scenery this incredible, Banff is pretty expensive, but our money-saving tips make it easier to travel to Banff on a budget without sacrificing experiences.
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.