A couple of months ago, I made a bold move. My partner and I grabbed our neighbor’s cooler, bought three packs of beef jerky, two liters of water, and leashed up our puppy. We packed up our Volkswagen Jetta (we’re still working on the retro camper van aesthetic) and ventured on a cross-country Canadian road trip.
As an adventurous type, I’m predictably impulsive (is that an oxymoron?). But the most spontaneous part of our grand pilgrimage was our stop in Banff, Alberta.
We booked accommodations on the day of, which can be risky, but not so much since Covid. This allowed us to experience Banff in many ways—something I always recommend when traveling to a new place. We explored budget-friendly options for the first few nights, then more high-end options for the tail end of our stay. When you’re exploring a new part of any country, especially somewhere as picturesque as Banff, it’s essential to soak up as many views as possible.
If you’re looking to save or splurge on your Rocky Mountain voyage, I’m confident I can tell you all you need to know about where to stay in Banff.
The Thrifty Choice: Budget Accommodation in Banff
Banff’s budget accommodations do exist, and they’re more affordable than I thought they’d be. Even though the jaw-dropping landscapes and attractions may imply high prices, you can still save dollars if you know where to look!
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel, you don’t know what you’re missing. While hostel traveling may cater more to twenty-something backpackers drinking their way through Europe on their gap year, we should all try it at least once. And Banff is an excellent place to test it out.
For a unique Banff National Park hostel, choose Samesun Banff or Banff International Hostel. We chose Samesun for its proximity to downtown. It’s a brief walk to various nice bars, dive bars, chain restaurants, and mom-and-pop shops. Samesun also offers more private rooms with few or no roomies, which is excellent for traveling with your significant other. Suppose you don’t mind a lengthier walk to all the action (and in a city like Banff, you probably won’t). In that case, HI Banff Alpine Centre offers cabin-like accommodation in a more secluded part of the city.
Looking for a less communal living situation but still don’t want to break the bank? Rent out a tiny B&B! (You can find a list of cozy stays on the Banff and Lake Louise Tourism website.) These Instagrammable spaces are ideally suited for couples. Check out the Banff Log Cabin in town. Or, more out of town, try Abegweit on the Bow.
There are also plenty of unique and unusual rentals, like yurts! Banff glamping options like these call my name, and I am ready to try them next time.
Have the Urge to Splurge? Hotels in Banff
We spent the next part of our trip in the heart of the town center at the Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa. We embraced our spontaneous side when we arrived and splurged on one of their six stunning loft suites. The room was spacious, equipped with a jacuzzi, two floors, a fireplace, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Most importantly, it had an outrageous mountainous view.
Pro tip: If you’re able to do so, upgrading your room last minute always makes your stay more exciting. Especially when it’s a cozy cabin-style loft in the mountains.
Also located downtown is the Fox Hotel and Suites. Along with the Moose Hotel and Suites, both have earned exceptional reviews and provide a more modern, cabin-like vibe.
If you want to veer away from the town center, the Rimrock Resort Hotel is absolutely worth it. Located in Rimrock’s main lobby, the Larkspur Lounge provided the best old-fashioned I’ve had in my life. It’s one of the Banff nightlife spots that’s worth a stop if you’re in the mood for a nightcap.
And, of course, there’s always the Fairmont Banff Springs. You might break the bank during peak season, but I mean, it’s the Fairmont. Need I say more?
While it’s great to be treated like royalty, I’m always partial to something a little more laid back—somewhere I can let my hair down and have some fun. In Banff, that place is Canalta Lodge. Self-described as ‘laid-back’ and ‘cozy,’ the lodge feels like a home away from home. It offers all the creature comforts you could dream of (you’re even welcome to bring your four-legged friends along).
Unplug and Get Outdoors for the Extra Outdoorsy Types
Located in Banff National Park upon a breathtaking high alpine region, Skoki Lodge caters to the true nature lover. I’ll warn you—there is no electricity or running water, and you’ll need to hike or ski to get there. But, plenty of gas lamps, candles, and fires keep the main lodge and the three cabins cozy. I hear the food is pretty spectacular too.
Ideal for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer, Skoki offers a truly unique experience to disconnect, rewind, and enjoy the company of loved ones. And speaking of skiing…
There’s a hotel atop a mountain. Sunshine Mountain Lodge, part of the world-class Banff Sunshine Village Resort, is Banff’s only mountaintop hotel. Averaging 30 feet (9 meters) of snowfall, Sunshine Mountain Lodge has an exceptionally long season, weather permitting, running from mid-November to late May.
Sundance Lodge in Banff’s backcountry is a must-see for something even further afield. It’s total bliss to spend time here with the Sundance mountain range as the backdrop and thick Alpine forest all around. Be prepared, though, because the lodge is only accessible via horseback rides, cross-country skiing, fat biking, or snowshoeing. While it takes more effort to get there, you’ll feel like you’ve discovered Banff’s best-kept secret.
If you want to engulf yourself in nature but need more accessible lodgings, try Emerald Lake Lodge, Storm Mountain Lodge, or Baker Creek Mountain Resort. They’re all closer to town and are still wonderfully unique accommodations.
As I’m sure you’ve put together, I long, no, I yearn to pack up the Jetta and reunite with that oh-so-magical, picturesque Banff landscape. My partner and puppy feel the same, just in less dramatic terms.
In all seriousness, Banff has something for everyone all year round. You’ve got skiing, visits to world-famous hot springs, hiking, and seeing historical sights. You can even go snowboarding in your t-shirt at the right time of year! There’s never a dull moment, and I hope this guide helps you in your quest to plan the perfect Banff getaway.
See you there!
Whether you’re looking to save or splurge, there’s something in Banff for you. Check out our Banff Travel Guide for the best planning and travel tips for this amazing destination.