There is an enormous choice of accommodations both inside and around the national parks, ranging from campgrounds and hostels through to B&Bs, country cabins and top-end hotels. Rates are a lot more expensive compared to many other areas of Canada and the US, however, and it can be extremely hard to find a room if you leave things to the last minute.
- Prices increase considerably during the peak summer months of July and August, and during the main ski season from December to March. Book well ahead if you want to stay during either period.
- In Banff and Jasper, most of the accommodations are concentrated around the main townsites.
- Staying beyond the park boundaries can be a good way to find cheaper hotel rates. For example, consider staying in Canmore for visiting Banff; Field for Lake Louise; or St Mary, Babb or Polebridge for East and West Glacier. The downside of course is, rather than being surrounded by beautiful pristine wilderness you might be situated along an ordinary commercial strip.
- Skiing as part of an organized package (including lift passes and accommodations) is usually much cheaper than booking both separately – but not always. Many hotels offer good deals during ski season to compete with package tours.
Accommodation Price Ranges
The following price ranges are based on a double room with private bathroom in high season; cheaper rates may be available in shoulder and low seasons. Prices are based on Canadian dollars (C$) in Canada and US dollars (US$) in the United States.
$ less than $100
$$$ more than $250
B&Bs & Guesthouses
Staying with locals can be a great way to immerse yourself in the park and get some insiders’ tips on the best things to see and do during your stay. Many residents offer B&B rooms in their own homes to travelers, but standards vary widely. Some places are fairly basic, while others will give many top-end hotels a run for their money. B&Bs are less common in Glacier than the Canadian parks.
- Breakfast is nearly always included in room rates, but if you have special requirements (eg vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free), let the owners know in advance.
- Not all B&B rooms have private bathrooms, so check before booking if that’s important to you.
- Remember to check the B&B’s policies on pets, kids and credit cards. Some will accept all three, while others won’t accept any.
Camping is a wonderful (and popular) way of experiencing the national parks. All of the Canadian and US parks offer a good range of frontcountry campgrounds that are accessible from the main roads.
Facilities vary widely: large campgrounds might have flush toilets, drinking water, public phones, fire pits and RV hookups, while others might only have pit toilets and a standpipe for drinking water. In general, the more popular campgrounds (especially those close to tourist centers) are better equipped than those further afield.
- In the Canadian parks, the only campgrounds that currently accept reservations are Tunnel Mountain, Two Jack, Johnstone Canyon and Lake Louise (in Banff); Pocahontas, Whistlers, Wapiti and Wabasso (Jasper); and the townsite campground in Waterton.Two Jack (Banff) and Whistlers (Jasper) now offer oTENTiks, small A-frame tents with hot water and electricity (C$120). Contact the Parks Canada Reservation Service. Reservations can be made up to three months in advance for a C$11.70 fee.
- In Glacier National Park, reservations are available up to six months in advance at Fish Creek and St Mary campgrounds through the National Park Reservation Service.
- All other sites operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Arrive before checkout time at 11am for the best chance of securing a site. Campground availability bulletins are published regularly and are available at visitor centers and on park radio.
- Most campgrounds are suitable for tents, campervans and RVs, although not all have pull-throughs or paved sites.
- At more remote camp grounds, facilities are generally limited to pit toilets and drinking water, although some also have recycling bins and bear-proof storage lockers.
- Some campgrounds operate on a self-registration basis. Find an available site first, then fill in your details (name, site number, length of stay, registration number) on the payment envelope and drop it in the box near the entrance. Credit cards are accepted.
- The maximum stay at any campground is usually 14 days.
- Fires are usually allowed in designated fire pits (provided no fire restrictions are currently in force), although in Canada you’ll need to buy a fire permit (C$10). The permit includes a bundle of wood.
Backcountry campgrounds are mainly geared for hikers exploring the trails, so facilities are extremely rudimentary. Most only offer cleared tent pads and a pit privy; some also have food-storage cables where you should suspend toiletries, garbage and food items to avoid attracting bears to the campground.
- Overnight backcountry stays require a special permit, known in Canadian parks as a wilderness pass (C$9.80 per night) and in US Parks as a backcountry permit (US$5 per night). Popular spots fill up quickly in peak months so reservations (for a fee) are recommended. At present, the application process, for Glacier at least, is low-tech and slow. Read the National Park Service Glacier Backcountry Guide (search for 'backcountry camping' at www.nps.gov) carefully before planning your trip.
- Visitor numbers on backcountry trails are limited, so you’ll usually need to specify your campgrounds when you purchase your wilderness pass. The maximum stay at any one campground is generally three nights.
- In some very remote areas of the parks, wild camping is allowed – choose a site at least 50m from the trail, 70m from water sources and 5km (3 miles) or more from the trailhead.
- See the useful Leave No Trace website (www.leavenotrace.ca) for tips on how to travel responsibly in the backcountry.
Another cheap way of visiting the parks is to stay in a hostel. They’re not just for backpackers and hikers these days: most are happy to rent out whole dorms and private rooms, making them ideal for families or couples on a budget. The best hostels in Banff and Jasper are run by Hostelling International (HI; www.hihostels.ca), which has flagship hostels in Banff Town, Lake Louise and Jasper Town. Dorm rooms cost between C$25 and C$40 depending on the season. The hostel closest to Glacier is in East Glacier.
- Accommodations are usually in dorms with four to 10 beds, with a communal kitchen and lounge. Some also have cafes, games rooms and TV rooms.
- Dorms are often (but not always) organized along gender lines. Bathrooms and showers are shared. Some hostels have en suite bathrooms for each dorm, while others have communal bathrooms in the corridor.
- HI members qualify for discounts on nightly rates. Annual membership costs C$35 and is free for people under the age of 17.
- The HI also runs several basic wilderness hostels (such as Mosquito Creek and Rampart Creek), which are essentially wood cabins with a kitchen, dining area and communal lounge (often with a cozy wood-burning stove).
- The Alpine Club of Canada operates simple hut hostels in the backcountry, mostly used by climbers and hikers. Reservations are essential.
There’s no shortage of hotels in Banff, Jasper and Glacier, but they’re generally not cheap. Room rates, especially in Banff, are notoriously expensive, and always shoot upward in the peak season between May and September. Things are a bit more affordable in Jasper, as well as in the neighboring provincial parks.
Except at the top end of the price ladder, the standard of accommodations is often pretty mediocre for the price you’ll pay.
- Nearly all hotel rooms come with en suite bathroom, telephone and cable TV, and most places offer free wi-fi for guests. Breakfast is often charged as an extra.
- Some hotels (such as all of Glacier's historic 'parkitecture' lodges and motor inns, Num-Ti-Jah Lodge on Peyto Lake, and Jasper’s heritage hotels) make a deliberate point of not providing TVs and telephones.
- Room rates are nearly always quoted per room, but without sales tax.
- There’s usually a string of cheap motels on the edge of the larger towns.
Condos & Vacation Apartments
Local by-laws prohibit the rental of vacation homes or apartments in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, but many hotels offer suites or chalets that are specifically intended for families, often including a full kitchen, bathroom and two or three bedrooms.
Vacation apartments and condos are available outside the park borders (eg in Canmore, Kootenay or Whitefish), but only certain properties are licensed to be used for the purpose. Make sure you use a legitimate operator, avoid arranging anything directly with the owner or paying anything up front, and always check the terms and conditions carefully before booking. Whitefish properties available on popular booking sites are especially sought after by skiers in winter months (a resort tax might be applied to rentals).
Some useful websites:
Canmore Holiday Accommodation (www.canmoreholidayaccommodation.com) Canmore condos and apartments.
Field (www.field.ca/accommodations) Options for Field.
Rentals in the Rockies (www.rentalsintherockies.com) Agency based in Canmore.
Tourism Golden (www.tourismgolden.com/accommodations/vacation-homes) Listings of self-catering apartments around Golden.