If you know Banff, then you know it’s not exactly a budget destination. However, it is a bucket-list destination, and those of us who usually travel on a budget can still make it happen in a relatively affordable fashion.
I have been to Banff in summer and in winter, and these are the tips I’ve come up with to help others see this incredibly beautiful, must-see destination without completely breaking the bank.
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1. Bring your own alcohol if coming from the US
Alcohol in Canada is expensive, period. A $4 bottle of wine in the US will cost upwards of $10, and a 4 or 6-pack of the cheapest, lightest beer you can find will as well.
If you are driving from the US (Banff is just across the border from Montana), stop and grab your alcohol supply before you hit the border. Technically, you are allowed to bring in 24- 12 oz beers, or 1.5 liters of wine, or 40 oz of liquor free of taxes, says Canada. We have crossed with a bit more than that, and the border guards really don’t seem to care.
2. Take advantage of gas prices and drive from the US if you can
As of publishing, gas prices are low compared to the last several years. It doesn’t cost that much to get there if you can reach it by car from where you are.
Otherwise, Calgary has a great airport just over an hour from Banff, but then you’ll need to rent a car or arrange transportation.
3. Go now while the US dollar is strong
The US dollar is about the strongest it’s been in the last five years against the Canadian dollar, equaling about $1.32 as of publishing. This automatically means we’re only spending 75 cents to their dollar on every price you see. Magic.
4. Camp instead of staying at a hotel
This is obviously a summer option, but there are plenty of campsites in Banff. The Tunnel Mountain Village Campgrounds alone have over 800 sites, and between the 13 campgrounds available in the area, there are nearly 2,500 campsites available in peak season.
This means that you can find a place to sleep in Banff starting at less than $20 per night. Most sites will cost somewhere around $30 per night (Canadian), which is a steal.
Also, it’s an absolutely breathtaking place to camp.
5. Stay in Canmore instead of Banff
If you don’t want to camp and still want to save money, consider staying in Canmore, which is only a 20-minute drive from Banff towards Calgary.
It is more affordable, less crowded, and equally beautiful. There are several delicious restaurants and breweries to choose from, and Canmore has its own beautiful charm about it.
I actually preferred being in Canmore over Banff during tourist season because of the sheer numbers of people in the tiny town of Banff.
6. Buy food at a grocery store instead of eating out at restaurants
If you’re camping, chances are you’ll have a stove or something you can use to cook over the fire. If you’re at a timeshare or apartment of some kind, you should have a kitchen.
Even if you don’t have anything, you can still hit up the Safeway, or a store called Nesters Market, with a great deli right downtown and take your food away for a picnic with a view.
Downtown Banff restaurants are pricey, but you don’t have to buy
7. Consider purchasing an annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass instead of a daily park pass.
You must pay for your park pass by the day, and $20 per day can add up very quickly. Not only is a Discovery Pass good for multiple entries over the course of a year, but you only have to spend 7 days in any of Canada’s participating parks to make it worth it.
A family pass is good for up to 7 people in one vehicle, and at $136, that can easily become an affordable way to see Canada’s parks.
8. Instead of paying for the gondola, hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain
The view from the top of the gondola is beautiful, and it can be a fun family activity, but at nearly $40 per person, it’s hardly worth it when you can opt to hike to the exact same spot for free.
9. Get discounted lift tickets for Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village on Liftopia
Liftopia often has conditions around the purchase of tickets, and sometimes certain dates aren’t available, but if you get lucky, you may be able to find discounted lift tickets for Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village ahead of time through Liftopia.
10. Buy a SkiBig3 pass online anytime and save money on tickets to three ski resorts
Unlike Liftopia, this discount is always available. With SkiBig3, you can purchase combination tickets valid for multiple days at all three of Banff’s ski resorts: Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sunshine Village, and Mt. Norquay.
If you like to plan in advance, even better, because you can take advantage of early season purchase discounts on top of saving money on all three resorts. While you’re at it, check out their vacation packages as well, sometimes it’s the best value to book everything at once.
Try some of these budget travel tips to save even more money on your trip to Banff Lake Louise.