I did a lot of research for our trip to Banff, but there were still some pretty important things I never found online and had to learn for myself the hard way. These are four things I think are important for anyone planning a winter trip to Banff.
1. You have to buy a park pass to visit.
The town of Banff and pretty much everything you’ll want to do and see, even the ski resorts, are in the National Park. Which means that you’ll need a park pass. Luckily, you’ll pass through an entrance station where you’ll be prompted to purchase one before you officially enter the park. But the prices are pretty steep if you plan on making a week long trip out of it. For one person it costs about $10 per day, and for two or more it’s about $20 per day. Definitely factor this in when you’re budgeting for your trip because it’s a sizeable chunk of change.
And don’t try to get away with not buying one thinking no one will check. In the parking lots of the ski resorts and around town you can see officials checking windshields and writing tickets for cars without passes.
If you’re visiting in 2017 you don’t have to worry about this since Canada is waiving national park fees in celebration of their sesquicentennial!
2. There’s not much to do after dark.
At least in the winter, once the sun goes down there’s nothing to do. I feel like a good portion of our trip was kind of wasted because we couldn’t find activities to fill our time at night. We would go eat dinner and then wander around aimlessly before giving up and going back to our room to hang out. We really struggled to kill time until midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The shops on Banff Ave are open decently late so if you need to do some souvenir shopping, you can do it at night. And there are lots of places to grab some drinks if that’s your thing.
I think this is really just a symptom of being a winter visitor. I’m here for all outdoors activities, and once the sun goes down I can’t really do anything. I’m sure in the summer, since the days are longer and the night temperatures are much nicer this wouldn’t be a problem.
3. The ski resorts are BUSY.
This is partly our fault for [apparently] visiting during the busiest week of the year, but Lake Louise and Sunshine Village were insane. Like traffic backed up 10 km down the entry road to the highway exit ramp and beyond.
If you are interested in Banff as a ski trip destination, plan for February or March. Not for the week in winter when basically everyone in Canada has holiday break. Oops…
I couldn’t capture the craziness of the crowds at Sunshine, so this picture doesn’t do it justice. But just take my word for it. There were hundreds of people lined up to take the gondolas up to the ski area. It was a madhouse.
4. Stay in Canmore.
Accommodations in Canmore are much more affordable and there’s a better selection for food, hotels, etc. The town also has a charm that’s very similar to Banff. It’s not far from the entrance to the National Park, so the drive to the town of Banff isn’t bad at all! It’s actually shorter than my daily commute to work in Houston.
We saved hundreds on our trip by staying in an Airbnb in Canmore. The neighborhood had the best views! Actually, I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a spot in the whole town that doesn’t have an amazing view like this one.
Happy travels, friends!