10 Ways to Visit the Canadian Rockies on a Budget
Nothing quite equals the stunning scenery of the Canadian Rockies rising from the Calgary plains. As our flight from Los Angeles prepared to land, I was intrigued by the distant rim of the mountains to the west. The next morning my family drove off in our rental car and recreated the trip I took almost 50 years ago. We set the GPS for Lake Louise, just over 2 hours away – or it would have been if we hadn’t stopped several times to admire the incredible changes in scenery.
On this trip, I noticed a fence between the forest and the highway. There would be no bear sightings from our car at high speed, which is probably best for everyone involved. I imagine the grizzly bear I saw decades ago is long gone. I was the only one to notice him as he rushed towards the road, muscles rippling, before stopping and leaping into the shadow of the forest. But this trip, I am here with my new granddaughter, her parents and my partner and we had a relaxing morning sailing as the lights changed, the clouds passed and the magnificent granite peaks of the Rockies brought us back. kissed.
Our goal was a wedding in Lake Louise. It wasn’t the budget part of the trip, but after the initial weekend we balanced the luxury by cutting costs over a 10 day period in the area. Here are some suggestions for doing the same.
1. Budget for transport
For those traveling to the area, Calgary is the closest airport. Due to the size of our group and the amount of luggage we brought, it was best to hire a car at the airport. Not only did this give us the ultimate freedom to stop if a grizzly or moose appeared, but it also meant packing luggage in the back once and not dragging it in and out of shuttles or buses.
That said, you don’t need to rent a car to fully experience Banff, Lake Louise, and some of the surrounding lakes. Shuttles leave regularly from the airport. Many travel agencies are happy to accompany you.
2. Rocky Mountaineer Rail Adventure
I always wanted to take the train between Vancouver and Banff but found it too expensive. The rock climber, with its striking dome views, takes you through the mountains and you spend at least one night in Banff. Within 35 miles is Lake Louise.
If you go north one way and then shuttle to Calgary airport for your return home, the cost becomes more reasonable. Currently, 3 nights one way costs approximately $ 2,000. The trip includes breakfast and lunch with free alcoholic drinks as well as non-alcoholic drinks during the day. Signing up for the Silverleaf service as opposed to Gold Leaf also saves money.
Pro tip: Pair up. Single travelers pay more per person than two people traveling together. Three sharing a room pay a little less.
3. Transportation strategies
Stay close to amenities and destinations to save on car rental fees and parking hassles. In the region during the mild months? Rent a bike and ride around town. Roam Transit passes through Banff daily and travel for children 12 and under is free. Download the app to track bus departures and arrivals. For more information on pricing, see their Faq. Roam offers several Pass options. For example, the 1 Day Super Pass can take you from Canmore in Banff to Lake Louise.
4. Don’t forget your park pass
The pass is good for entry to Canada’s national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites (nearly 100 in all) for one year. It is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase and helps maintain Canada’s national historic sites, national marine conservation areas and national parks.
A park pass is required for a driver and passengers entering a park by vehicle – which includes your own car, a rental car, and even another mode of transportation such as a bus or shuttle.
When you’re driving, you can skip the lines and save money with a Canadian Discovery Pass. This is a good deal for a group of up to seven people. Daily allocations are around $ 10 per adult per day and having a family / group pass allows for a substantial reduction depending on how many days you need it.
We did not print our pass and were fined! It was deleted after visiting the Banff Parks office (twice!) Not worth the time wasted or the headache.
Tour operators usually take care to have a pass for each guest. If you are confused (as we were) then check with this site: Banff and beyond.
5. Pay attention to the season
Banff is notoriously a spendthrift, but it doesn’t have to be. The typical cost of a hotel room in Banff during the low season is less than half of what it costs during the peak tourist season. Spring and fall are wonderful times to visit Banff with a wide variety of outdoor activities to enjoy. Start looking as much in advance as possible and keep checking for a better rate.
Pro tip: Visit mid-week to save money. In the off-season, you can save up to 20-40% on a hotel room in Banff mid-week.
6. Expand your accommodation options with Airbnb or
By the time our group arrived in Banff we were up to eight adults (the maximum allowed locally in shared rentals in town.) We stopped at the Crosby house which was more than large enough with the option to cook. our own meals, even laundry. Although there are many great restaurants nearby, making dinner together each evening was a real treat.
Pro tip: Having a laundromat means packing less and avoiding exorbitant airline baggage fees.
Our historic home was across from the Bow River. We could walk to kayak rentals, cafes and local markets. The main street was close as well as several museums. With great fall weather we even walked to the waterfall, an easy walk except for the last section with stairs.
7. Stay out of town
I found a pair of cute and interesting little hotels / motels outside of the main center of Banff.
One is the unique Dorothy Motel inspired by notable women of the Bow Valley. From trailblazers like Mary Schaffer and Mary Vaux to 21st century mavens Dorothy Carleton and Sharon Wood. With homes in the hinterland, each has balanced motherhood with adventure in the wilderness. The small hotel also pays homage to First Nations and recognizes that when we are here we are on the traditional lands of the Stoney Nakoda, Blackfoot, Dene, Ktunaxa and Métis.
There are two types of rooms at the Dorothy with King or two Queen beds. It is a pet-friendly location and check-in is off-street.
The Hotel Genévrier was built over 60 years ago and has been lovingly redone. Today, the Modernist bones have been polished and the native plants bloom again here. The beautiful patio faces the mountains with an adjacent spacious dining area. Just minutes from downtown, the hotel has a special Work In the Wild deal with a midweek rate for a standard or deluxe room. You must contact the hotel directly to take advantage of the special pricing.
As we drove through the Banff area, stopping at several lake vantage points, two are at the top of my list.
Moraine Lake is renowned for its stunning glacial color and setting surrounded by the rugged Valley of the Ten Peaks. It is 8 miles from Lake Louise. Although there are several trails around the lake, I recommend climbing the rocky hill adjacent to the parking lot. The views from the top are amazingly beautiful. It is not a long trail. There is a lodge at Moraine Lake which is being rebuilt for luxury, but nearby campsites would be more economical.
Pro tip: Book a seat on one of the shuttles that come from Banff or Lake Louise to avoid disappointment. The parking lot is far too small to accommodate the number of visitors. Shuttles come and go frequently.
9. Emerald Lake
There is a nice 3 mile loop trail around this turquoise lake. It will take you past an avalanche site, over bogs on an elevated walkway, and through a rooted forest berm with views of the lake and mountains. All these hikes make you hungry. We considered having lunch in the lodge’s wooded dining room, but opted for a casual meal at the Cilantro Café while watching the canoes by the lake.
Pro tip: If the weather permits, be sure to paddle a canoe in the area. Lake Louise has a spectacular paddle but is in the upper end of the luxury budget. More affordable options include the Bow Lake Canoe Club in Banff and canoeing at Emerald Lake. I’m sure there are dozens more. It is a tranquil and wonderful way to experience the glacial beauty of the region.
10. Take the time to soak
After canoeing or hiking, consider diving into the Banff Hot Springs and treat your muscles to the waters once prized by First Peoples. The baths are affordable and suitable for families. There are other hot springs further out of town, but this one is the easiest to get to from town. It’s near the Fairmont Banff and the gondola. We ended our trip with a bath and a meditation on the beautiful valley. It was the perfect way to contemplate this rare and graceful place.
To learn more about Banff, check out these articles: