If it’s your first time planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies, this question can be overwhelming. There are so many amazing places and goose bump moments to experience in each of these destinations.
If you’re doing your Banff vs Jasper research, you know this is a difficult question to answer!
But I got you.
Since I live within a few hours of Canada’s beloved Rocky Mountains, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to each of them dozens of times over the last few years.
I’ve done my fair share of playing around in my (extended) backyard…everything from road trips and snowboarding and hiking, to hot spring dips and craft brewery sips.
Alberta is an incredible province with so many things to do.
In this post, you will find a basic overview of Banff and Jasper. Then, I compare activities (both summer and winter) and accommodation options and choose my winners for each category.
Both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park are beautiful and welcoming places to visit for different and similar reasons. I hope everyone can visit them both, but I know it’s not always attainable.
So if you do have to choose only one place to visit, this guide will help you break it down into what’s most important for you! Thus, helping you solve you Banff vs Jasper debate!
Related Post: Travel Hacks for Visiting Banff in Winter
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Jasper National Park: an Overview
Jasper, Alberta is at the north end of the Icefields Parkway and was voted the best ski town in North America is 2018 by USA Today. It has one major ski resort called Marmot Basin. It’s 20 minutes from the town site.
The Jasper town site is smaller, quieter and less busy than Banff. I like the shopping better in Jasper, as most of the shops are locally owned, and not branded franchises you find everywhere else.
Jasper has many accommodation options ranging from budget motels and hostels, to mid range hotels and luxury hotels. There are also several cabin-style options on the outskirts of town.
Jasper has a great mix of beautiful hikes and turquoise lake viewing. Spirit Island on Maligne Lake is one of the most photographed spots in the national park (you can take a small cruise to get there).
Athabasca Falls are worth a visit and Maligne Canyon is a well-known gem. You can also do an ice walk in Maligne Canyon in the winter.
Jasper is also a designated Dark Sky Preserve, so star lovers and nighttime photographers will love the lack of light pollution. You might get lucky and be able to view the northern lights depending on the time of year.
You Might Also Like: The 4 Best Ski Resorts in Alberta | Everything You Need to Know
Banff National Park: an Overview
Banff is the most well known destinations in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, and is a much larger area than Jasper. What’s different in Banff compared to Jasper is that there are a few different towns to visit within.
The small village of Lake Louise is about 30 minutes outside of Banff and is a must visit spot if you’re in the area.
And Canmore is a town just outside of the national park which is a great spot for saving money on accommodations.
There are several ski resorts to visit, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay Ski Resort are all world class ski resorts. Mt. Norquay is the closest to Banff, followed by Sunshine Village, then Lake Louise being the furthest, about 45 minute drive away.
Banff National Park has many options for outdoor recreation activities like hiking, waterfall viewing, swimming, canoeing.
As far as the best time to visit Banff? Any time of year! But for summer activities, I recommend either the end of May or mid-September. These are just on the edge of busy peak season, so you won’t get the crowds but you still get the nice weather.
And if you want winter magic – try early December or the end of January for good snow (and frozen lakes) and less tourists!
The Town of Banff has high end shopping and many options for spa and luxury hotel experiences. Compared to Jasper, there are more dining options to choose from.
I would also say based on size, there are more iconic viewing points that are easily accessible by short hikes or walks compared to Jasper.
You might also like: 8 Magical Winter Experiences in the Canadian Rockies
Jasper vs. Banff: A Comparison of Things to Do
Summer Activities in Jasper and Banff
Easy Hikes – Winner: Banff
Banff also has more options for accessible hikes that offer spectacular views. Tunnel Mountain is easily accessible from downtown. Hoodoo Trail from surprise corner provides another beautiful viewing angle.
And the Bow River Walk is a short 20 minute stroll that still provides stunning views.
Jasper easy hike runner up: Mount Edith Cavell Hike.
Advanced Hikes – Winner: Jasper
I find that Jasper offers lots of hiking trails with unique scrambles and more views of jagged mountain tops. Check out the Sulphur Skyline Trail or Wilcox Pass Hike.
Banff advanced hike runner up: Ha Ling Peak. This hike is actually just outside of Canmore, which is only 20 minutes from Banff. Being outside of the national park means you also don’t need to purchase a park pass.
It’s quite popular, but that also means no bears!
The trail head has a large parking lot with a few outhouse washrooms as well. And the views from the top are stunning! It took us about 2 hours to get to the top.
Canoeing on Turquoise Lakes
Most people want to experience canoeing on Lake Louise, but it’s expensive and the wait times are crazy. For postcard perfect views of turquoise water, go canoeing at Moraine Lake (about an hour north of Banff).
Here you can stay at the beautiful lodge, go canoeing or go for a hike, enjoy a hot tub and a hot meal all without having to drive anywhere!
Jasper canoeing runner up: If you are wanting to canoe in Jasper though, my recommendation is Pyramid Lake Resort.
It’s actually very similar to Lake Louise, with its emerald waters enclosed by mountain peaks and a beautiful lodge in the background.
Jasper Tip: Not into canoeing but still want to see epic turquoise lakes? Visit the Valley of the Five Lakes hiking area. You pass by 5 gorgeous lakes in different shades of turquoise.
Tram and Gondola Viewing
I recommend the Jasper Skytram, as it’s the longest aerial tramway in Canada! The views from the top are a little more rugged, and you can do tons of hikes from up here, including a hike to the summit.
The Banff Gondola has equally good views and is also open year-round. A word of advice, always buy your admission tickets in advance to save money and avoid lineups!
Best Glacier Views
Jasper offers a couple of unreal experiences to view massive glaciers in the Canadian Rockies.
This tour will take you on an excursion to walk on the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefields and then the breathtaking walk on the glass bridge of the Glacier Skywalk.
Two reasons why Jasper is the winner here: Horsehoe Lake and Annette Lake.
Winter Activities in Banff and Jasper
The Maligne Canyon Ice Walk is one of the most breathtaking winter experiences in the Canadian Rockies.
You can walk right into the depths of the limestone canyon and marvel at the frozen waterfalls and 10,000 year old fossils carved into the stone.
Maligne Rafting Adventures offers the best tour experience, which includes ice cleat and warm winter boot rentals with the tour package!
It’s a great way to spend a few hours if you’re a non-skier or if you’re taking a rest day from the ski hill.
Winter hike runner up: Johnston Canyon in Banff. You can also find frozen waterfalls on this relatively easy hike.
The reason this winter hike is only a runner up is because it is much busier and more crowded than the Maligne Canyon.
Outdoor Ice Skating
Winner: Banff National Park
While there are choices to skate outdoors in Jasper, between Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore, there are so many options to choose from in Banff National Park.
Check out my list here for the best places to skate on frozen lakes and ponds in Banff National Park.
You can also read about more things to do in Banff in either winter or summer over at My Backpacker Life.
Best Hot Springs
While the Miette Hot Springs are only open from May-October, these hot springs are the winner because they’re less busy and offer better views than the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Banff vs Jasper Hotels
Luxury and High End Hotels
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is the winner here.
This castle-like hotel is straight out of a fairytale and is often the choice for celebrities when they’re in town. and as a Fairmont property, you know it be a luxurious stay.
Another great choice with equally stunning views is the Emerald Lake Lodge.
Runner Up Luxury Hotels in Jasper
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a beautiful property located a few minutes outside of the Jasper town site.
My favorite part of this hotel is the view from the massive outdoor hot tub!
These cozy cabins are tucked away in a quiet area just outside of town.
As an added bonus, they’re pet friendly the closest accommodation to the Miette Hot Springs.
Another great choice are the Jasper East Cabins.
If you really want to escape the crowds and enjoy a weekend of tranquility, these cabins are sure to meet your needs.
Runner up: Canmore
On the north end of Canmore, just 10 minutes outside of Banff are the Rundle Cabins.
These cabins offer great value if you’re looking for cabin-style lodging with full kitchenettes.
Banff vs Jasper: Where to Eat
Winner: Sushi House Banff
It’s a tie!
In Jasper, the best pizza is found at Jasper Pizza Place! They use a wood-fired oven to cook the pizza, and it’s always busy here so you know it’s good!
In Banff, especially when you need a late night slice of pie, Aardvark Pizza is your spot. Also, free delivery anywhere in Banff! At less than 5 bucks for a huge slice, you can’t go wrong. They’re open until 4am!
Winner: St. James Gate in Banff
Winner: Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper
Want to see more of Alberta? Check out these 6 Iconic and Unique Road Trips!
Is There a Winner in the Banff vs Jasper Debate?
In the end, no matter where you choose to go, it will be an incredible experience.
I know I didn’t declare a winner in the Banff vs Jasper debate, as there are so many great things to do and see in each of these national parks.
Whether you visit Banff or Jasper, I can make one promise though: you will absolutely like where you’re going!
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