Looking for a Banff travel guide just for RVers? You’ve come to the right place. After taking our first fifth wheel to Banff on an epic Canada road trip, we created this Banff Travel guide to help others plan their own RV trips here.
Banff National Park in Alberta is one of Canada’s prized gems. Home to giant glaciers, stunning lakes, epic hikes, amazing wildlife, and breathtaking waterfalls it’s easy to see why this is a must-visit destination for any Canada road trip.
This Banff travel guide will help you make the most of your trip including what to do, where to camp, and helpful tips to know before you go. Let’s dive in!
When is the best time to RV to Banff?
Banff National Park is a fantastic destination in every season. However, the best time to visit in an RV is summer (July – September). With that being said, summer is also the most popular season to visit Banff. So be prepared to battle intense crowds. Nonetheless, it’s worth it. Favorable weather makes it perfect to view the lake’s gorgeous blue waters, go for a hike, hang out by a campfire, or admire the wildflowers and natural beauty.
Some campgrounds within the park will open up around mid-May, with nearly all being open on the first of June. However, snow can impact when campgrounds open. Reservations for the coming year open in March and require you to create an online account before booking. Most Banff campgrounds close for the season at the beginning of October.
Banff’s high elevation (1,383 meters or 4,537 feet) means the weather gets quite cold in early September. Prepare for cold mornings and evenings lingering well into early July. If you want to leaf peep in the fall, plan your trip around early to mid-September.
Banff National Park entry fees
Canada has a paid entrance fee for visiting its national parks. If you plan to visit Banff National Park in a car, motorcycle, or RV; you’ll need to purchase a pass. Passes can be pre-purchased online and then shipped to your home address before your trip. Or you can purchase your park pass at the entrance of the National Park which is what we chose to do.
There are two pass options. The first is an annual pass called the Discovery Pass. The other is a day pass.
You’ll need to look at prices to determine which is more cost-effective for you based on the number of people in your party and the length of your stay. However, as a rule of thumb; if you plan to stay 6 days or less it’s likely more cost-effective to purchase a day pass rather than the Discovery pass.
Nonetheless, the park entrance fee is in addition to your camping site fees.
RV camping in Banff
There are 11 campgrounds within Banff National Park. You can reserve five of the campgrounds online prior to your arrival while the remaining six operate as first come first serve only.
We stayed in Tunnel Mountain, which is about a 10-minute drive or a 30-minute walk from the city of Banff. There was a shuttle that would take you into town for $4 to $8 per ride depending on your age. Additionally, you can drive your own vehicle. Just know parking in town can be tricky in peak season.
Banff National Park is huge (6,641 square kilometers (2,564 square miles). Each day we drove at least 45 minutes one way, if not an hour and a half to explore, go on a hike, or enjoy a scenic drive. For this reason, we suggest breaking up your stay into a few nights in different campgrounds within the park so you have easier access to each area.
Tunnel Mountain itself was a rather large campground with nearly 200 campsites offering spots for both dry camping and full hookups. The biggest benefit to staying in Tunnel Mountain is how close to civilization you are. That means great mobile connection and proximity to grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping.
While they had a lot of amenities including a full bathroom, campfire wood pre-chopped, as well as electricity and water it was pretty far from most activities in the National Park.
Prices for camping in Banff range from $17 Canadian dollars for primitive tents or van camping with no services to $41 Canadian dollars for a campsite with full hookups. Reservations are highly recommended and in some campgrounds, the only way to secure a site.
However, there’s always a chance you’ll get lucky with a first-come-first-serve site. We showed up just after Canada Day (July 1st) and stayed over the United States Fourth of July holiday and were able to score a spot for 5 nights back in 2018.
Top things to do in Banff
Now that you’ve figured out where you will camp in Banff, it’s time to figure out what you’ll do. No matter what you enjoy doing there is something for everyone to enjoy here. 96% of the park is wilderness. Meaning, spending time outdoors is the top activity here. Below are a few of the top things to do in Banff.
1. Hike Johnston’s Canyon
Hiking is one of the top things to do in Banff National Park. We started our first day in Banff National Park with a quick hike in Johnston’s Canyon. This is a seriously beautiful hike that is good for most skill levels. It is just under 4 miles roundtrip with a small elevation gain.
We absolutely loved walking on the wooden boardwalk suspended above the glacier-fed lake carving through the canyon walls. It didn’t hurt that there were seven different waterfalls along the way. Get here early if you want to beat the crowds. Since this is such a beautiful hike and a relatively easy one, it attracts a lot of people. We suggest starting the hike before 8 am or after 7 pm to really be able to enjoy it.
2. Visit Lake Louise
Lake Louise is one of the top things to do in Banff, and for good reason. One look at its milky but bright blue waters and it’s apparent why it’s such a popular spot. This large glacier-fed lake took our breath away! Having a 5-star hotel and resort right in its footsteps, it draws a lot of attention and visitors. Be prepared to fight the crowds for your epic photo!
If you’re looking for a relaxing day requiring minimal effort but big rewards, enjoy a meal at the Fairmont Chateau. It won’t be cheap but you’re paying for delicious food with a front-row view of Lake Louise.
You can take a nice stroll along the lakeshore on a mostly shaded path, or if you’re up for a challenge you can hike The Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. This isn’t an easy hike (15km or 9.3 miles with a 420m gain, or 1,377ft elevation gain) but it’s worth it! At the end of the hike, you will be rewarded with a charming tea house on the mountainside. Enjoy a warm cup of tea with a delicious meal (made in-house daily).
The actual tea house has been around for nearly 100 years and has no running water or electricity. They use water from the local stream and wood fire ovens. It’s so remote the workers hike up once a week and stay there for their shifts.
We couldn’t believe it was real as we enjoyed a yummy meal while watching avalanches fall from the nearby mountain. This hike is a must if you are able!
Big Bee Hive Trail is another option for a hike to a tea house in the Lake Louise area. Although we heard this was more crowded than Plain of Six Glaciers we can’t speak from experience. The hike itself is shorter than the Plain of Six Glaciers, at 10.3km or 6.4 miles long, but it is a higher elevation gain in a shorter period of time (647m or 2,122ft elevation gain).
I’m sure Lake Agness Tea House is just as adorable and charming as the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House was. However, you really can’t go wrong when your hike includes a tea house in the mountains.
3. Visit Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is the second most visited area of Banff National Park. The lake’s color is beyond spectacular. It has less of a milky color and more of a bright blue. It’s all the more striking sitting under snow-capped mountain peaks and is probably what you picture when you think of ‘Banff’.
There are lots of hiking trails in the area surrounding Moraine Lake. However, by far the most popular activity to do is to rent a canoe. You can rent a canoe from the lodge for $130 CAD per hour at the time of this writing. Although it’s not a cheap activity, there are not many places you can canoe in such a picturesque destination.
The parking lot for Lake Moraine fills up quickly, so it’s best to take the free shuttle or get there before 7 am (and you still may be too late).
They shut the parking lot down if it fills up. In our video, the parking lot re-opened at 7:30 pm and there was still a 100-car line waiting to get in! When the lot is full for the day they will block the road.
Banff’s beauty just never seems to end. We only touched the surface of all there is to do and see. We look forward to visiting again and continuing to get to know Banff a little better. There were plenty of other options like tours, hikes, and excursions we could go on next time. If you’ve been to Banff what was your favorite thing to do, see, hike, or explore? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!
4. Relax in hot springs
We love a good hot spring. It honestly may be our favorite pastime. And Banff has no shortage of hot springs to choose from!
Banff National Park actually started because of the natural hot springs. Miners discovered a mineral-rich hot spring in the area in the 1880s, which prompted them to advocate for the protection of the park. Although the hot springs are located in a different spot today, soaking in the upper hot springs is just as amazing.
Entry to the springs is done on a first-come-first-serve basis. Like everything else in the park, get there early if you want to guarantee your spot. Children are allowed at the pools. The price per person ranges from $7 CAD to $15 CAD depending on age. This wasn’t something we personally got to enjoy, but we thought it was worthy of mentioning in this Banff travel guide.
5. Visit the town of Banff
Unlike many of the National Parks in the United States, Canadian National Parks are often located near a township. Banff included. The town of Banff has fantastic restaurants, great shops, and grocery stores for you to stock up on any necessities or simply take a night off from cooking in the RV.
If you have enough time, we recommend checking out the city in the morning or afternoon. We were shocked to discover there was an entire town for us to explore. This was something we wish we had known before visiting. Thankfully, this Banff travel guide has got you covered!
Tips for visiting Banff in an RV
Big RVs can camp at Banff. However, you may have limitations because of the size of your RV. Also, due to the high popularity of the park, there is a good chance parking will be tricky. If you don’t have a tow vehicle to get around make sure to check the shuttle schedule so you can plan your days accordingly as the shuttles will fill up.
Weather can be unpredictable. For that reason, we recommend dressing in layers. During our stay, we experienced all four seasons with the mornings and evenings being extremely chilly. We trekked through some gnarly rain storms on our hikes and were glad we had ponchos with us.
You can do and see a lot in a short stay, but we recommend 3 full days or more if possible. This Banff travel guide was built around a five-day stay in the park and we still didn’t feel like we got to do everything we wanted. Let us know your thoughts and experiences on traveling to Banff, and if this Banff travel guide was helpful for you in planning an RV trip here.