Visiting the Canadian Rockies is on the top of many people’s bucket lists, and for a good reason. With fascinating wildlife and gorgeous landscapes, the Canadian Rockies are a memorable adventure. But, at nearly 200,000 square kilometres in size and with several parks and reserves to visit in the Canadian Rockies, it can be hard to narrow down where to go. For many, the decision comes down to one of the two most popular parks: Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
If you’re deciding which park to visit for your Canadian Rockies trip, SunDog Tours is here to help! Keep reading for our breakdown and tips to help you decide between Jasper and Banff.
Comparing Quick Facts About Banff National Park & Jasper National Park
Banff National Park Quick Facts
- Banff National Park is 6,641 square kilometres in size, with 96% of the park being wilderness. It is the second largest national park in the Canadian Rockies.
- Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada and was established in 1885, 45 years before Jasper.
- Banff National Park is one of the busiest parks in Canada and receives roughly 4 million visitors annually.
- The town of Banff is located within Banff National Park and is another popular tourist destination. It is also home to the historic Banff Springs Hotel, which has been in operation for more than 130 years.
- To enter the park, you will need to buy a Parks Canada pass. An adult daily pass currently costs $10.50, while a youth daily pass is free. The Parks Canada Discovery Pass (a yearly pass with unlimited admission to over 80 destinations) costs $72.25 for an adult and $145.25 for a family pass.
- Banff National Park, as part of the Canadian Rockies, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Jasper National Park Quick Facts
- Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies at over 11,000 square kilometres. 97% of the park is protected wilderness reserves.
- Jasper National Park is over 90 years old and was declared a national park in 1930. It was first a protected forest reserve in 1907.
- Jasper was the second most popular national park to visit in 2019 (just after Banff) and received over 2 million visitors annually.
- The town of Jasper is also located within the park and was originally a railway town. Smaller than the town of Banff, it’s still full of fascinating history and things to do. Many also prefer its less commercialized feel.
- Just like Banff National Park, you will need a Parks Canada pass, whether that is a daily pass or a Discovery Pass, to visit Jasper National Park. These passes can be purchased online, at the park gates if you are driving, or at the Visitor Centre in downtown Jasper.
- Jasper National Park is also part of the Canadian Rockies’ UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Top 3 Sights To See In Banff National Park And Jasper National Park
Sometimes, to make up your mind, you need a breakdown list of what sort of sightseeing you can do at either destination. We’ve compiled a list of our top 3 sights to see in both to help you compare the two parks, but of course, both parks are full of plenty more destinations and sights well worth a visit. Check out our top 3 sights for both parks below.
Top Sights To See In Banff National Park
- Lake Louise, Banff National Park: For gorgeous blue waters surrounded by snowcapped mountains, Lake Louise is a classic stop for many. As a popular destination, it can become busy and crowded during the peak season between May and October, so plan accordingly.
- Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park: Johnston Canyon is another beautiful spot with vibrant plant life and breathtaking waterfalls throughout the dramatic canyon. It also makes for a great hike, but can also become crowded during busier times of the day and on weekends. We recommend visiting during the middle of the week and in the early morning to avoid crowds, and to ensure you get the best photos.
- Bow Falls, Banff National Park: With surging waters coming from the Bow River, the Bow Falls is a dramatic sight worth visiting for many in Banff National Park. If you’re looking for the perfect spot for waterfall photography, this is a highly recommended stop. Of course, we recommend avoiding the crowds that visit this popular spot by going in the early morning or during the week.
Top Sights To See In Jasper National Park
- Maligne Lake & Spirit Island, Jasper National Park: As the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, many put it at the top of their must-see list. It’s also home to Spirit Island, one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies (and we can see why: it’s stunning!)
- Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park: The deepest accessible canyon in the Canadian Rockies, many love to explore its hiking trails in the summer and icy caves and pillars in the winter. Offering plenty of opportunities for unique photography, and the waters running through the canyon in summer (or snowy winter scapes in winter), Maligne Canyon is at the top of our sightseeing list for year-round adventures.
- Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park: Craving more impressive waterfalls? We can’t get enough of Athabasca Falls, and as one of the most powerful waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies as a Class 5 waterfall, it’s ideal for getting a dramatic shot of white rapids. It’s also part of the Icefields Parkway, which stretches between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park, and is a highlight for many.
Banff National Park VS Jasper National Park: Which One Is Right For You?
Both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park have their perks and drawbacks that make either park worth a visit. It truly depends on if there is a spot in one of the parks that you prefer, or what kind of travel-style suits you more.
Many find that Banff’s busy sights and tourism spots are too stressful and overcrowded, and prefer Jasper’s less commercialized and touristy vibes. That being said, both parks can be busy at peak times, and many like the energy of a vibrant, busy tour. Both parks offer plenty of possibilities for things to do and sights to see, both offering a unique experience and diverse scenery of plantlife, wildlife and landscapes. If you’re trying to narrow down between the two, here are some tips to help you decide:
- Write a list of the top sights you want to see from either park. Is there one that stands out more than the other, or is there a spot you know you’ll regret missing if you don’t visit that park?
- Think about the accommodations nearby and where you’ll be staying. For many, Banff National Park can become more expensive due to the cost of hotels and accommodations. While Jasper has plenty of high-end and expensive options, usually they’re a bit more reasonably priced than Banff accommodations. Depending on if you’re looking to splurge or save on accommodations, this might help tip you to one park.
- Do you prefer avoiding crowds, or do you like the excitement of a bustling tourist attraction? If you prefer fewer crowds, Jasper National Park is usually the better option.
- Are you planning a winter trip? For us, we prefer Jasper National Park for winter trips. Because it’s such a large park, there is a much bigger variety of things you can do during the winter months, without feeling like you’re missing out. For a summer adventure, both parks are excellent choices.
- Adding one of the park’s towns to your itinerary? While the town of Jasper is smaller, it feels more unique and less touristy than Banff and has plenty of tasty restaurants and fun attractions to see. The town of Banff is bigger with plenty to do, but many find it overly commercialized and prefer the more “local” feel of Jasper.
Visit Both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park With SunDog Tours
Still can’t make up your mind? We can’t say we blame you, which is why we recommend squeezing in a bit more time to add both national parks to your Canadian Rocky Mountain adventure. Both offer unique sightseeing, and visiting both would make for a memorable experience for everyone in your group.
If you’re planning to visit both parks, we have the perfect tour to help you get from “A” to “B”. Whether you’re leaving from Jasper National Park to Banff National Park, or you’re looking for ways to get from Banff to Jasper National Park, our tour can take you between the two with plenty of highlights along the way (including Athabasca Falls, the Weeping Wall, Bow Lake, and the Crowfoot Glacier).
Curious about our other Jasper tours and Canadian Rocky Mountain tours? Browse our summer and winter tour options for more mountain adventures. Or, if you need transportation during your trip, we also have comfortable and convenient transportation services to help you travel throughout the Canadian Rockies.