How to Spend 1 Week in Banff & Jasper National Park
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How to Spend 1 Week in Banff & Jasper National Park

Banff National Park and Jasper National Park both offer a breathtaking escape into nature's grandeur. These National Parks are nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on Alberta's western border with British Columbia.

Established in 1887, Banff National Park is Canada's oldest but most visited National Park, boasting its pristine lakes and stunning mountains. With the famous Lake Louise seen all over Instagram, this spot attracts over a million tourists year-round.

One of the largest National Parks in the Rockies, Jasper National Park is also know for its abundant wildlife and extensive trail network. Also, you'll find the world's second largest dark sky preserve!

These 2 National Parks boasts beautiful lakes, breathtaking glacier-covered mountains, and is often described as the most beautiful road-trip in the world. Spending a week in these iconic parks is an adventure of a lifetime. In this guide, we will show you how we spend a week to see both parks to help you with your trip planning and maximize your visit.

As you follow along with this guide, be sure to reference our custom map of Jasper and Banff National Park, including all campsites and most major hiking trails.

Things to decide before your trip:

Length & Distance

This blog post aims to guide you with your trip planning, not to give you a rigid day-to-day itinerary. Here are your options on which parks to visit, depending on the length of your stay:

  • If travelling for 3-6 days: Banff, Yoho
  • If travelling for 6-14 days: Banff, Yoho, Jasper
  • If travelling for 2+ weeks: Banff, Yoho, Jasper, Okanagan
Driving in the Canadian Rockies

Vehicle: Getting Around & Sleeping

Most commonly, travellers opt to rent a car and stay in hotels. But there are other options available for you to make the most out of your trip:

Rental Car + Hotel Stay

Pros: Easier to get around with a car, cheaper on gas, free car insurance via credit cards, unique and pretty accommodations.

Cons: Hotels are quite expensive, might be worth it if travelling with a large group.

RV + Campsites

Pros: More fun & authentic experience, campsites are cheaper, less spent on restaurant meals.

Cons: Driving/parking can be difficult for the inexperienced, campsites have less modern comforts like plumbing and heating.

Renting an RV to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks in 1 week

Private Tour Bus

Pros: Less planning and no driving required

Cons: Less free time and flexibility to explore the places you most want to see

For about $300 more than a car we opted to rent a small RV (can fit 4 passengers). Not only was it more cost-effective than booking hotels, it gave us the more adventurous experience that we were hoping for (imagine sleeping under the stars and waking up at the riverside). We’ll absolutely make the same decision the next time we go!

Getting There - Flying to Alberta

Nearby Airports

Calgary (YYC) airport is the closest airport and most often the ideal location to begin your journey. The length of your trip and where you complete your road trip will determine where you may want to fly out of:

  • Calgary (YYC) – This will always be the best option for short trips where you don’t adventure much further than Banff National Park. Even if you finish in Jasper, Calgary might make the most sense. Jasper to Calgary is 4.5 hours while Edmonton is only 3.5, however booking round-trip to Calgary can have a number of benefits. Round-trip flights may be cheaper, rental car bookings are cheaper when returning to the same destination, and most importantly your drive back to the airport is just as scenic as when you began your trip.
  • Edmonton (YEG) – This is the closest international airport to Jasper. If you’re only seeing Jasper, or just need more flexibility in terms of flight and car bookings, YEG can certainly be worthwhile looking into. Calgary rental cars can be expensive, and if your choice airline is sold out on your dates then Edmonton is your next best option.
  • Kelowna (YLW) or Vancouver (YVR) – if you’re continuing into BC on a longer trip, YLW or YVR may be your best options. Kelowna is in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, famous for its wineries and scenery at the foothills of the Rockies. Vancouver is an additional 4-hour drive, but will have considerably more flight options to/from Asia.

Things You Will Need

We get it, you can't wait to go on this trip, but before you visit the park, here are the essentials you need to prepare:

Flying to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks
  • Park Pass - You can buy a Day Pass or Discovery Pass online before your trip.
  • Book your campsites early as some spots can fill up fast.
  • Things to pack: DSLR, walking sticks, hiking backpack, shoes, jacket since it’s colder than expected. There are decent amount of stores in major towns, however there are big distances between them. So make sure you have all your personal essentials.
  • Note: You are not allowed to fly recreational drones in all of Canada’s National Parks. If you still wish to fly it, you can apply for a Restricted Activity Permit.
How to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks in 1 week

How to Spend 1 week in Banff and Jasper National Parks

This itinerary guide focuses on a week-long camper van trip. If your trip is shorter or longer, you can easily customize this itinerary to work best for you by skipping past destinations or adding the optional days suggested below.

This guide aims to provide several options for each portion of your journey. You will not be able to do them all in each day. It’s best to be somewhat flexible during your trip. Have an idea of your must-see destinations and decide the remainder depending on weather and energy levels.

Optional: Spend a day in Calgary

Calgary at night

Depending on the time of your flight and the length of your trip, it might be worth seeing the city before heading out. Calgary airport is strategically located in the middle of town. The RV pickup locations are in the north side.

The city’s public transport is excellent and you can easily take a bus downtown. Downtown has decent nightlife, with good food, bars and walking streets. We loved our stroll and food trip in Chinatown. The Calgary Tower is lit up at night, as is the Stephen Avenue Walk.

Unless you’re visiting for the Calgary Stampede, I wouldn’t spend more than a day in the city. The mountains are what you’re here for!

If spending the night in Calgary, the two most convenient locations would be near the airport (closest to your drive to Banff), or downtown after seeing the sights.

Day 1: Banff

The town of Banff within the Rocky Mountains park.

Drive: 138km, 1.5 hours

Hikes & Sights

All destinations are in order along your drive, to make it easier to plan an efficient route and decide which stops to see and which to skip.

  • Bow Falls Viewpoint: 2.7km easy trail. This out & back trail begins in the town of Banff and follows the Bow River.
  • Sulphur Mountain Trail: 10.8km hard trail taking 4.5 hours, providing excellent views year-round.

Tours/Attractions

  • Town of Canmore: Located close to Bow River, has the same scenic views as the town of Banff.
  • Town of Banff: Take a leisurely stroll along Banff Avenue, filled with boutique shops, cafes, and galleries.
  • Lake Minnewanka cruise
  • Horseshoe Canyon Whitewater Rafting - If you are looking for more adventure, this is perfect as you enjoy scenic views of Bow River.
  • Banff Upper Hot Springs
  • Banff Gondola: This will take you to the Gondola takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Explore the observation deck & interpretive center.
Town of Canmore. How to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks in 1 week

Campgrounds

  • Tunnel Mountain Village: $30-$42.50/night. This is closer to the highway. Village 1 is unserviced. Village 2 has hot shower, sewer and electricity.
  • Two Jack Lakeside Campground: $30-$78/night. This rustic campground is further from the highway, with nice views of Lake Minnewanka. They have an unserviced and serviced area.

Where to Stay:

  • Samesun Banff Hostel - Located close to downtown Banff and a great option for budget travelers
  • Banff Inn - Another stay with a great location and amazing views of the Rockies. You can also soak and unwind in their 2 indoor pools and a hot tub.

Our Plan

We opted to combine this day and day 3 (Lake Louise) of our guide; if we had a couple more days (or weren’t planning on going further than Lake Louise) we would have spent a night in the town of Banff. The town looks lively with the views of the mountains, however we find it touristy and expensive. The scenery also gets better as you progress deeper into the mountains.

Day 2: Lake Louise

Lake Louise. How to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks in 1 week

Drive: 58km, 40 minutes

Hikes & Sights

  • Johnston Canyon: One of the first stops from the town of Banff to Lake Louise. This is a moderate, out-and-back scenic trail. You can walk 2.3 km to Lower Falls, 5.5 km to Upper Falls, or 11.3 km to Ink Pots
  • Silverton Falls: 1.8km moderate out and back that leads to a scenic waterfall.
  • Lake Louise: Witness the breathtaking views of Lake Louise and the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. In the summer, the parking lot may fill at 6 am and will remain full all day. If you want to see this beautiful lake, you need to do some planning in advance.
    • You can see the lake views near the parking lot or explore further on the trails. There are several trail options from Lake Louise: an easy 4.5km out and back trail along the lake; you can take Lake Agnes Trail, 7.4km hike up the mountain to the famous tea-house; or you can complete it and reach the Big Beehive Trail and have a stunning view of Lake Louise.
  • Moraine Lake: This is perhaps even more picturesque than Lake Louise, a breathtaking view out of a postcard. You can simply see the lake near the parking lot or take the 3.7km shoreline trail for more views. As of 2023 you're no longer allowed to drive to the parking lot yourself. Booking a Parks Canada shuttle is your best way to ensure you have transportation between here and Lake Louise.
  • Visit both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on an open-top double-decker shuttle.
Moraine Lake at sunset, part of Banff National Park

Tours/Attractions

  • Lake Louise Ski Resort - This is open year round offering stunning views of glacier-covered mountains and diverse wildlife
  • Lake Louise Canoe rental - Located at the west end of the Lake, rent from Lake Louise Boathouse on a first come first served bases.
  • Hop-on Hop-off Bus Day Pass - if you want to see the highlights of Banff National Park without the hassle of driving or parking.

Campgrounds

  • Johnston Canyon Campground - $30.50, This is an unserviced campground but with washrooms and showers.
  • Lake Louise Hardsided Campground - $36, has electricity, shower and drinking water. For hard-sided camping units only.
  • Lake Louise Softsided Campground - $30.50, has shower and drinking water. This is the trailer/tent campground; for soft-sided pop-outs units only.

Where to Stay:

The famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Banff National Park

Our Plan

As mentioned, we combined this day with our quick stops in Banff. We drove past the entrance to Moraine Lake and noticed it was at capacity, so we went to Lake Louise. We did the hike to the Tea House with the view of Lake Agnes and after a stop for tea and sandwiches, continued onward to the summit called the Big Beehive. After a much needed rest and meal, we were able to get into Moraine Lake at sunset for some great photography.

Day 3: Yoho National Park Detour

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

As you can see in this map, Yoho Park in British Columbia is really close to Lake Louise. In just half hour, you can reach the beautiful Emerald Lake.

Drive: 39km, 35 minutes to Emerald Lake or 84km, 1 hour to Golden, BC

Hikes & Sights

  • Lake O’Hara: Many travellers say this is the #1 view in Yoho, and with that you need a reservation up to a year in advance for day trip use or camping. You also have to take a shuttle that will take you 11km up to Lake O'Hara, however availability is decided by random draw. Here, there’s a 2.9km Lake O’Hara Shoreline Trail which is a moderate 2.9km loop, and a hard 11.1km Alpine Circuit.
  • Emerald Lake: Another picturesque spot where you can stay by the lakeside, canoe or do the easy 5.1 km loop trail
  • Wapta Falls - Take the easy 4.8km out and back trail to see the stunning Wapta Falls.

Tours/Attractions

  • Emerald Lake Canoeing: You can rent a canoe from the Boathouse for $90/hour (no half hour) on a first come first served basis.
  • Golden Skybridge & Zipline: You can experience walking through two sky-high canyon suspension bridges. You can do ziplining and axe-throwing here as well. And there is a 10% off when you book online.
  • River Rafting with Lunch: Also located in BC, this family-friendly activity takes 4 hours taking you down Kicking Horse River.

Campgrounds

  • Lake O’Hara Campground - Limited slots (30 sites only, and just overnight guests)
  • Takakkaw Falls Campground - $19.75. This is a walk-in and tent-only campground - no reservations allowed.

Where to Stay:

  • HI Mosquito Creek Hostel - With wooden furnishings, this hostel gives off a rustic vibe. They also offers wood heated sauna and shared kitchen facilities
  • Saskatchewan River Crossing - If you want to skip Yoho National Park and wants to keep driving to Jasper, this stay is at a great location. They also offer a fitness center with sauna, a pub and a petrol station.

Our Plan

We didn’t have any luck getting day use or camping access in Lake O’Hara. On our final day of our trip, returning from Jasper, we took a detour to cross the provincial boarder and see Emerald Lake. We felt this made more sense than doing this on our busy Lake Louise and Moraine Lake day.

Day 4: Icefields Parkway Pt. 1

Birdwatching at a campground in Banff and Jasper National Parks in 1 week .

Drive: 55 km, 45 minutes to 93km, 1 hour 11 minutes (depending on campground)

Hikes & Sights

  • Hector Lake Viewpoint: This can be a quick 5-minute photo stop along the highway overlooking Hector Lake.
  • Bow Lake Viewpoint: This is another quick stop with stunning views of Bow Lake
  • Bow Glacier Falls: Take a moderate 8km, extremely scenic hike ending at the base of this beautiful waterfalls
  • Bow Summit & Peyto Lake viewpoint: The view of the Peyto Lake from this spot is one of single most photographed spot in the Rockies. Take a 6km moderate hike to reach the summit overlooking Peyto Lake and you'll see why.
  • Mistaya Canyon: You can do the moderate out and back Mistaya Canyon Trail for 1.1 km, or continue along to finish the Mistaya Canyon Loop for 1.9 km.
Mistaya Canyon in Jasper National Park

Tours/Attractions

There are not a lot of activities on this strip other than the stunning lakes, waterfalls and hiking trails. You can visit Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre for the Skywalk and Ice Explorer but more to that on Icefield Parkway part 2.

Campgrounds

  • Silverhorn Creek: $19.75. This is an unserviced, RV-friendly campground with amazing views of Icefields Parkway; closest to Lake Louise.
  • Waterfowl Lakes: $24. This is an unserviced campground with toilets. Drive-in only, not available for advanced booking. Excellent views of Upper and Lower Waterfowl Lakes.
  • Rampart Creek: $19.75. This is an unserviced, RV-friendly campground; furthest from Lake Louise if wanting to make some distance.
Rampart Creek campground with an RV to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks in 1 week

Where to Stay:

  • Saskatchewan River Crossing - As previously mentioned in Day 4, this is one of the limited accommodation options you have in the area.
  • HI Rampart Creek Hostel - Another hostel that gives off a rustic vibe with wooden furnishings. You can relax by shared lounge or outdoor fire pit.

Our Plan

The hikes around Bow & Peyto lake were unfortunately closed when we travelled so we explored our alternative options and rested between our bigger hiking days. Mistaya Canyon was a great hike and there’s countless viewpoints along the highway for quick photo stops. Just avoid our near-crisis: be sure to stop at Saskatchewan River Crossing for gas. The next gas station isn’t for hours.

Day 5: Icefields Parkway Pt. 2

View from Parker Ridge Trail in Jasper National Park
View of the Athabasca Glacier from Parker Ridge Trail

Drive: 155 km, 2 hours from Saskatchewan River Crossing to Jasper

Hikes & Sights

  • Big Bend viewpoints: Your first notable stop along your route will be the area around Big Bend; there’s plenty of parking areas to stop for a few minutes for photos and take in the views. Weeping Wall and Bridal Veil Falls are both visible from the road.
  • Panther Falls: You can also take a moderate out-and-back hike for 1.3 km hike if you want to get up close to the falls. This trail was also used to see Bridal Falls, but unfortunately, it does not connect anymore.
  • Parker Ridge: Take this 5.1km, 2.5 hour moderate hike up a mountain with diverse scenery and excellent views at the peak. You’ll be able to see the Athabasca Glacier from the ridge along with ample bird-life.
  • Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail: You can hike a moderate 1.4 km for average of 30 mins or do the 4.3 km Forefield Trail of the Athabasca Glacier for 1.5 hours and see the glacier before it melts,
  • Tangle Creek Falls: Take a quick stop to see this multi-tiered waterfall from the highway, no hike required.
  • Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint: Take another quick stop to see this waterfall from the highway, no walk needed
  • Beauty Creek to Stanley Falls: Take this easy 3.9km out and back hike through a canyon to see the scenic Stanley Falls
  • Sunwapta Falls: You can hike the 3.2km moderate out and back trail. Do not stop at the first waterfall, continue further to the lower falls.
  • Goats & Glacier Lookout: With this kind of name we just had to stop here. We didn’t see any mountain goats but we did find ‘evidence’ of them. This is a beautiful lookout point to see the glacial mountains and the the Athabasca river.
  • Athabasca Falls: This is an easy 1 km and scenic trail. Lots of informative signs and beautiful lookout spots.
Goats and Glaciers lookout point in Jasper National Park

Tours/Attractions

  • Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre – After seeing all the glaciers from the distance, how about walking on one? You can take an Ice Explorer to Athabasca Glacier and take a short walk on a 25,000 year old glacier. You can also walk along a glass-bottomed floor Skywalk. You can book these separate or as a package. Even if you don't book a tour, the building is worth checking out as it has great information about the area.

Campgrounds

  • Wabasso Campground - $17.50-$47; has unserviced and electrical sites
  • Wapiti Campground - $17.50-$47; has unserviced and electrical sites

Our Plan

As you go deeper in the Rockies, the views become increasingly scenic. We loved how we are surrounded by glaciers and we got to know more about them. We became more educated of the landscapes and are more committed to help in protecting the planet. The Columbia Icefields' Ice Explorer and Skywalk was an unforgettable experience. We even drank the crystal-clear water from the stream coming from the glacier!

Day 6: Jasper

Maligne Lake boathouse in Jasper National Park

Drive: 100km, 2 hours if seeing Maligne Lake, or <30 minutes if not.

Hikes & Sights

  • Valley of the Five Lakes: A very scenic 4 km moderately-challenging loop trail you shouldn't miss.
  • Maligne Lookout: A quick stop that gives you a panoramic view of the mountains.
  • Maligne Canyon: This loop trailhead is close to the lookout spot. This is a moderate 3.7 km hike passing through 6 bridges (most people just do the first 4). This is a pretty popular spot and can get crowded.
  • Maligne Lake Viewpoint: If you can't get enough of the beautiful lake, you can take this hard 6.9km hike that takes you to the top of the neighbouring mountain for a great view of the lake.
  • Spirit Island - Sought-after by photographers, this island is located in the Maligne Lake and can only be reached by a cruise.
Town of Jasper. How to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks in 1 week

Tours/Attractions

  • Town of Jasper - Discover the charm of Jasper town, visit local shops, and enjoy a stroll surrounded by picturesque views.
  • Helicopter Tour - Take a panoramic tour of the glaciers and lakes. This is surely an adventure of a lifetime.
  • Jasper Skytram - Take the highest and longest tramway in Canada and see panoramic views of Jasper National Park. The ride takes 8 min takin you 2,263 metres (7,425 ft) above sea level.
  • Jasper Planetarium and Dark Sky Experience - Learn about planets and deep space objects, have access to the Dome Theatre and optical telescopes.
  • Maligne Lake Cruise: Soak yourself in the beauty of Maligne Lake and visit the famous Spirit Island.
  • Rafting Trip: This 2hr easy rafting tour will take you down Athabasca River - the same route taken by fur traders 200 years ago.
River Rafting in Jasper National Park

Campgrounds

  • Wabasso Campground - $17.50-$47; has unserviced and electrical sites
  • Wapiti Campground - $17.50-$47; has unserviced and electrical sites

Where to Stay

  • Astoria Hotel - Stay in the heart of Jasper, you can enjoy strolling downtown, shopping, dining or simply enjoying the scenic views.
  • Roche Bonhomme Rustic Suite - Also located downtown, enjoy a rustic vibe with garden and terrace.

Our Plan

We hiked to Stanley Falls in the morning followed by a river rafting tour. In the afternoon we hiked Maligne Canyon and then continued onward to the lake. Maligne Lake is a bit of a detour but the area is beautiful and the drive is as picturesque as the rest of your journey. On our way back to the campgrounds we had an amazing dinner in Jasper and were greeted by a deer while souvenir shopping.

Day 7: Return & Final Stops

Drive: 420km, 5 hours to Calgary

Our Plan

We allocated an entire day to drive back through the mountains and revisit anything we couldn’t fit into the first part of our journey. Our plan was to have no plan and it worked out brilliantly. There were a couple quick hikes that we wanted to do and several lookout points that we initially drove past and wanted to return to. We thought we might use this day to return to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake if we were unable to get in our on first visit or if visibility was poor. Luckily we had excellent weather on our first day so we stopped by Emerald Lake on our way back to Calgary.

We were really glad we had a day like this and if you have the time, you could do this over two days to split up the drive and explore more.

Cost Breakdown

This is the cost breakdown for 2 people over 7 days.

RV rental: $1,180. Rented through Canadream.

Calgary hotel: $150 for 1 night.

Campsites: $283 for 5 nights.

National Parks Pass: $80 for 4 days.

Tours: $376 for Icefields, Skywalk and River Rafting.

Food: $212. This includes only one $70 restaurant in Jasper. We cooked in our RV.

Parking: $12 at Lake Louise. This was the only spot we visited with paid parking.

Gas: $264. This was round-trip from Calgary to Jasper.

Uber: $150 to downtown Calgary the night before we picked up our RV, then to the RV office, then from the RV office back to the airport after drop-off.

Total: $2,707, or $1,350 per person.

Conclusion

Exploring the Canadian Rockies is a dream and an adventure of a lifetime from canoeing at Lake Louise to riding the Ice Explorer and walking on glaciers. We hope this guide helps you in planning a memorable trip to make the most out of your visit. Comment or send us an email if you have any questions! And if you are ready, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and embark on your own adventure – the Rockies are calling, and they're waiting to share their magic with you. Safe travels!

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