Last updated on October 30, 2023 by Wandering our World
Canada is renowned for its vast expanses of natural beauty, with dozens of stunning national parks for camping, hiking, exploration, and adventure. Banff and Jasper rank as two of the most scenic national parks in the nation, drawing in travelers from across the world, but which one is the best?
Well, given the breathtaking nature of both of these national parks, it’s certainly not easy to pick a winner. They’re both amazing places, showcasing the distinctive beauty of the Canadian Rockies, with towering snowy peaks, deep valleys, dense forests, and shimmering blue alpine lakes.
But, despite their evident similarities, these two parks do have some notable differences in key areas like size, range of activities, general vibe, and even average costs. By digging into those differences, you may find that one of these parks is much better-suited to meet your needs than the other.
And that’s what this guide is here to help with. Below, we’ll take a deep dive into the mountain wonderlands of Banff and Jasper, comparing the two in a range of key areas. We’ll look at their main attractions and activities, how good they both are for hiking, how family-friendly they are, and more.
- A Quick Overview Of Banff vs Jasper
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Hiking?
- Which Is Best For Winter Activities?
- Which Is Best For Wildlife?
- Which Is The Best Town?
- Which Has The Best Accommodation?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Banff vs Jasper: Which Is Better?
A Quick Overview Of Banff vs Jasper
Banff: A Quick Overview
Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada. It’s located in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, extending across 2,564 square miles of space, which is made up of diverse landscapes, including massive mountains, dense forests, glaciers, and ice fields. Banff is also the name of a town within the park, which serves as the area’s main commercial center.
The park was established back in 1885, and the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway played a huge part in its development. Thanks to the railway, the area became much more accessible, and grand hotels like Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise were built. The area was also marketed heavily, drawing in wealthy tourists from across North America and Europe.
As the years went on, roads made Banff even more accessible, and more tourists flooded into the area, making it one of the most-visited parks in the whole of North America. That record still stands to this day, as millions of people head to Banff annually, giving it a busy, lively vibe, especially in the town itself and around the big ski resorts.
There’s a lot to see in Banff National Park. It extends across three ecoregions, with stunning landscapes and rich wildlife – over 50 mammal species call Banff home, along with close to 300 types of birds. Some of the park’s most famous natural landmarks include the vast Columbia Icefield, the otherworldly Castle Mountain, and the picturesque Lake Louise.
Jasper: A Quick Overview
Jasper National Park is the biggest national park in all of the Canadian Rockies, extending across 4,200 square miles. That makes it significantly larger than Banff, and it’s located just north of Banff National Park. Like Banff, Jasper is made up of very diverse geography, with glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, rivers, and valleys.
Jasper isn’t quite as old as Banff – it was established in 1907. At that time, it was known as Jasper Forest Park, being renamed in 1930. It was named after a fur trader called Jasper Haws who worked with the North West Company back in the early 19th century and led a trading post in the area that later became the park.
Originally, plans were in place to transform Jasper into a major touristic destination, not dissimilar to Banff. However, things didn’t go quite to plan. The hotels built in the area were quite basic, and it took a long time for road and rail routes to be established. In addition, the much-hyped Jasper Park Lodge also took a long time to be made.
All of this means that, today, Jasper isn’t quite the same touristic powerhouse that Banff has become. It’s much quieter and calmer, but is still a popular national park to visit, drawing in well over a million people each year. It’s huge, with lots of opportunities for exploration and outdoor recreation activities, like hiking, fishing, mountain biking, and kayaking.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Like most national parks, Banff and Jasper are both prime destinations for people who love spending time outdoors and diving headfirst into nature. In terms of activities, the parks are quite similar, providing lots of great places for hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking in summer, as well as skiing and snowshoeing in winter. Here’s a quick rundown of the main activities to enjoy.
Banff: The Activities
Banff can boast of some of the most iconic landmarks of any national park in Canada. Its alpine lakes are legendary, and many visitors will want to spend some time taking in the spectacular scenery of places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – two of the most-photographed parts of the park.
Mistaya Canyon, Vermillion Lakes, Johnston Canyon, and Peyto Lake are just some more of the park’s majestic, must-see sights. Many of these areas offer pleasant, accessible hiking trails the whole family can enjoy, as well as great kayaking opportunities. There’s even a dramatic suspension bridge stretching across Johnston Canyon – perfect for selfies.
Banff also offers a range of unique activities and touristic tours to enjoy. Visitors might like to ride the famed Banff Gondola to enjoy jaw-dropping views of the surrounding scenery, for example. Or, you could take a cruise out on the waters of Lake Minnewanka. Of course, there are also plenty of lookout points where you can simply stop and stare at the view.
Jasper: The Activities
Just like Banff National Park, Jasper National Park has a list of sights that most visitors will want to see before heading home. There’s Maligne Lake, which is the biggest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, as well as Maligne Canyon, the deepest canyon open to visitors in the Rockies – a breathtaking sight, both in winter and in summer.
For snowy scenes, the likes of the Columbia Icefields and Athabasca Glacier can’t be beat, and those seeking to see some of the park’s famous wildlife can head to Cavell Meadows and scan the horizon for deer, bears, elk, and moose. Sunwapta Falls and Valley is yet another must-see, with the kind of beautiful scenery that can only be found in a few special places on earth.
In terms of more typical touristic activities, Jasper doesn’t have quite as much to offer as Banff, but it does have the SkyTram. This amazing experience takes you over 7,000 feet up in a little less than 10 minutes. There are also lake cruises, soothing hot spring soaks, and even a planetarium, which offers an array of stargazing tours.
Overall, Jasper is the bigger park with more actual land to explore and admire, but Banff feels like the busier and more dynamic of the two, with lots of convenient, accessible activities, including hiking trails, museums in the town, and plenty of fantastic natural wonders.
Which Is Best For Hiking?
As we can see, there’s lots to do in both Banff and Jasper National Parks, but hiking is definitely one of the big draws – with mile after mile of picturesque trails, both of these parks attract huge numbers of hiking and trekking enthusiasts. But which of the two is best for those who love to walk in the wilderness?
Well, Banff has the advantage of offering more accessible hiking trails and easier hikes overall. So, if you’re not a very experienced or athletic hiker, you may find Banff more accommodating. It’s also arguably better for families, as the trails can cater to people of various ages and abilities, with a range of short, sweet, and simple paths, like the one around Lake Agnes.
Banff also has a greater number of hikes, despite being the smaller park, as it has more money and staff to maintain the various paths. In contrast, a lot of the trails in Jasper are more challenging to find. There are still some super spots in Jasper to hike, like Maligne Canyon, but the terrain is rougher and the treks are generally longer and more challenging.
Which Is Best For Winter Activities?
As well as summer hikes and camping trips, plenty of people choose to visit Banff and Jasper during the colder periods of the year. Plenty of snow falls across the Canadian Rockies, providing idyllic conditions for all your favorite winter sports and activities, like skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating. But which park is best to visit in the winter?
Well, winter is arguably when Banff really shines. It boasts no less than three separate ski resorts – Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Mr. Norquay – and there are a couple of other terrific ski spots, like Nakiska, not that far away. Snowshoeing and ice skating are also popular in winter, and there are few sights in Canada quite as magical as Lake Louise, covered in ice.
At the same time, Jasper is a fantastic place to see in winter. It can’t quite compete with Banff in terms of ski resorts, as Marmot Basin is really the only place to ski – this resort doesn’t get quite as much snow as Banff Sunshine. However, Jasper is so vast, it offers many other winter activities and landmarks, like frozen waterfalls and icy caves.
Overall, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re purely interested in skiing the slopes, Banff is definitely the best place to be, and it’s also more buzzing and energetic, with big crowds of local and international tourists. However, for a wider range of activities and a uniquely peaceful ambiance, Jasper is the place to go.
Which Is Best For Wildlife?
One of the best things about both Jasper and Banff is their rich, diverse array of wildlife. From the fearsome grizzly bear and timber wolf to the red fox, caribou, elk, moose, beaver, and bighorn sheep, all sorts of species can be spotted around both parks. They’re also world-class birdwatching destinations, home to the likes of bald and golden eagles and great horned owls.
Of the two, Jasper is generally considered the better destination for wildlife watching. This is mainly due to the fact that Jasper is simply quieter and calmer. With less noise and fewer crowds, you stand a much better chance of spotting something like a bear, coyote, or deer in this national park compared to Banff.
Which Is The Best Town?
As well as being the names of national parks, Jasper and Banff are also the names of two towns situated within those parks. Many visitors to either park will spend at least a little time in the towns themselves, but the two have very different vibes, and one of them might be much more to your taste than the other.
Jasper is the quieter, calmer, and significantly more laid-back town of the two. It rarely feels busy or crowded, and it almost has a frontier town feel to it. You won’t find lots of high-end boutiques, chain restaurants, or wild nightlife spots here. It’s all very relaxed, rustic, and traditional.
There are a few good places to eat around Jasper, along with some nice stores. However, it’s not got much in terms of public transport, making it a little trickier to get around. There are a couple of attractions worth seeing, like the Jasper Planetarium and Jasper-Yellowhead Museum, but you can experience most of what the town has to offer in just a day or two.
Banff, meanwhile, feels a lot bigger, busier, and more developed. It’s quite a popular touristic hotspot, with quite a few ways to entertain yourself. There are galleries, fancy boutiques, chain stores, breweries, and lots more bars and restaurants to enjoy. It’s even got a decent nightlife scene, and there are several lively hangout spots to check out after dark.
Banff also has its own public transit system to help you get around or visit nearby lakes, and there are several more attractions. There’s the fascinating Buffalo Nations Museum, for instance, along with the romantic Cascade of Time Garden. The Banff Visitor Centre is also worth a visit, helping you learn all about the local area and plan out your visit.
Overall, Banff is definitely the more exciting and engaging town, with more things to do and see. However, the crowds and noise may bother some visitors, and if you prefer a more traditional and typical mountain town, you’ll certainly prefer Jasper.
Which Has The Best Accommodation?
You’ll also need to consider where you’re going to stay during your time in either Banff National Park or Jasper National Park. And, once again, there’s quite a big difference between the two in this area.
In general, Banff has quite a lot more accommodation options compared to Jasper. This makes sense, as Banff attracts a much greater number of visitors, and they all need somewhere to stay. Those looking for luxury might choose the exquisite Banff Springs, but there are several other places to stay, including budget-friendly hotels and private rentals of all sizes.
Over in Jasper, you’ll find fewer options. There’s the grand Jasper Park Lodge, which is a very popular property for travelers to spend a few nights at, as well as a couple of cozy, traditional inns with basic but clean rooms and simple amenities. Like Banff, Jasper also has a selection of private rentals to choose from.
Overall, Banff’s accommodation is a little grander and more diverse compared to the inns and hotels of Jasper. So, if you’re looking for the utmost in luxury and comfort, Banff’s the place to be.
Which Is Best For Families?
For families, Jasper and Banff National Parks are fabulous places to spend some time. But, depending on the ages and preferences of your kids, you may find that one of these parks is a bit better for your family unit than the other.
In general, most families will probably prefer Banff. This is mainly due to the fact that, because it’s more touristic, it’s more accessible and family-friendly in general. There are more attractions to keep the kids entertained, as well as a livelier feel around the town itself. Plus, if your family enjoys winter activities, the multiple ski resorts of Banff are guaranteed to make you smile.
Banff also has the easier and more accessible hiking trails, though it does get quite crowded and busy. If your family is seeking something a little calmer and quieter, Jasper may appeal to you. It’s still got lots of amazing sights to see and places to explore, perfect for adventurous families that love to get off the beaten path.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Couples, too, can have magical experiences in either Banff or Jasper, and there are arguments to be made for both of these national parks if you’re seeking romance and excitement with someone special.
As the less crowded of the two parks, Jasper has more of a romantic feel. It’s got lots of secret, secluded areas for couples to sneak off to, along with some really magical spots to visit with your partner, from the Columbia Icefields to the Athabasca Falls. You also have a decent chance of seeing lots of wildlife, and the famed SkyTram is perfect for couples of any age.
At the same time, Banff may be smaller, but it feels much livelier and more energetic, which may appeal to many couples. The town of Banff is a super place to spend some time, with great restaurants and decent nightlife spots. It’s also got more luxurious accommodation, combined with many romantic landmarks of its own, from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake.
Overall, there’s really no wrong or right answer here. Both parks are fantastic for couples. If you’re more interested in quiet exploration, head to Jasper. For a more convenient, comfortable experience, opt for touristic Banff instead.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Backpackers might also like to pack some supplies and set off in search of adventure in either Banff National Park or Jasper National Park. But which one is best for solo travelers or small groups of friends on limited budgets?
Well, Jasper has the big benefit of being cheaper, in general. It’s also bigger, giving you more space to explore and more opportunities to leave the beaten path behind. Backpackers looking for a more authentic mountain town experience will also definitely adore the town of Jasper, as it feels far less touristic compared to Banff.
However, Banff is still worth considering for backpacking. It’s got multiple accommodation options to suit all budgets, even small ones, and it also has a decent public transport system to help you hop around and see the sights. Plus, since it’s more developed, everything feels a little more accessible in Banff, which can help you make the most of every day of your trip.
Overall, Jasper may be best if you enjoy peace and vast expanses of pristine wilderness. But, if you want more amenities, fun hangouts, and lots more people to mingle with, pick Banff.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is often a key factor on travelers’ minds when planning a trip to either Banff or Jasper. And you might be wondering which of the two parks costs the most to visit. Well, it may come as no surprise to see that Banff is more expensive than Jasper in most areas, and you’ll usually have to spend more on Banff accommodation and dining.
This is mainly due to the fact that Banff is much more touristic than Jasper and draws in bigger crowds, allowing local businesses, like hotels and restaurants, to push up their prices. Jasper is the sleepier and quieter location, so it’s easier to get around, find places to stay, and eat well without overspending.
Where to Stay According to your Budget
Budget: Fox Hotel and Suites in historic Banff is a contemporary retreat, offering a unique cave-inspired hot pool for relaxation. Guests can indulge in delicious meals at the on-site Chili’s Restaurant and Grill. The well-equipped gym and guest laundry facilities add to the convenience. With a free shuttle to downtown Banff and the Banff Ski Gondola, Fox Hotel ensures a comfortable and memorable stay.
Luxury: Moose Hotel & Suites in Banff is a luxurious retreat, offering the tranquil Meadow Spa & Pools with its outdoor hot pool, a bright indoor swimming pool, and a modern exercise room. Savor gourmet Italian cuisine at Pacini Italian Restaurant, and bask in the breathtaking views of the Canadian Rockies from the rooftop hot pools. This sanctuary of relaxation seamlessly blends modern amenities with the stunning natural beauty of Banff.
Budget: The Crimson Jasper is a stunning retreat nestled in the picturesque town of Jasper, just a short walk from the railway station and downtown’s vibrant heart. The hotel exudes a modern yet cozy ambiance, with its spacious rooms offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes. Guests can indulge in a delightful breakfast buffet at Terra Restaurant, setting the tone for a day of exploration. With the Jasper Park Information Center and a plethora of local restaurants within reach, The Crimson Jasper is the perfect base to immerse oneself in the natural beauty and culinary delights of Jasper.
Luxury: Forest Park Hotel in Jasper is a luxurious retreat with an array of amenities to ensure a comfortable stay. Dive into relaxation in the indoor pool or indulge in rejuvenating spa services. Savor Canadian-inspired cuisine at one of the three on-site restaurants, including breakfast at Walter’s Dining Room and cocktails at the Hearthstone Lounge. Forest Park Hotel is the perfect base for exploring the beauty of Jasper.
Banff vs Jasper: Which Is Better?
It’s not easy to pick between Banff and Jasper. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter too much which one you pick, as they’re both so beautiful and wonderful in their own special ways. They’re also more or less side-by-side, so it’s quite easy to see both on the same trip. However, we have to pick a winner, so which one will it be?
Well, for most travelers, Banff is probably the better destination. There’s a reason why this place draws in the biggest crowds. It’s gorgeous, it’s well-developed, and it’s got the extra funding it needs to provide awesome experiences for travelers. The town itself is a terrific place to visit, and the park is easier to traverse, with better hiking and superior skiing, too.
With that said, Jasper still has its advantages. It’s more pristine and untouched than Banff, preserving more of its traditional ambiance, especially in the town. Those who are a little put-off by the big crowds and touristic nature of Banff may therefore prefer the more subdued, laid-back vibe of Jasper.