A trip to Banff has one dreaming of the Canadian Rockies and the pristine lakes, maybe hiking through the wilderness or skiing down the slopes.
There is no doubt that Banff is a stunning place to visit. There is so much to do that it has TWO high seasons: summer and winter.
Summertime means nice weather and beautiful hikes up the mountains, while winter brings skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts to the region.
A major deterrent of a trip to Banff is the cost – even an AirBnB can go for $400 a night! Since it’s also a National Park, limited parking is often a HUGE issue, so much that people park miles away and wait for the shuttle bus to take them to see the sights.
Somehow I managed to skip all of that and not only did I get a steal on an AirBnb, we had ample parking and no lineups.
Are you interested in saving money and enjoying it without the crowds? Here’s why you need to visit Banff in the shoulder season.
Why Visit in the Shoulder Season?
Like any destination, Banff has some downfalls. The two major issues can largely be resolved by visiting this National Park in the offseason.
It’s no secret that Banff is pricey. In peak time (summer AND winter), even an AirBnB can be $400 a night. That is ridiculous!
The reasoning behind this is simple – this destination is located in a National Park. Construction is minimal to limit the effects on wildlife, and any lodging is only what has already been built. Limited places to stay in the park drive costs up exponentially, causing tourists to dig deep into their pockets for even a short trip.
Parking is a huge issue in Banff. A mountain road leading into a pristine lake sounds like a heavenly drive until 5000 other people decide to do it as well.
The parking lot at Lake Louise, in particular, fills before sunrise. I have heard horror stories of some who have had to park miles away and wait for a shuttle to take them in to see it. Adding hours just waiting around is not my idea of a fun vacation.
What’s Open in the Shoulder Season
The most popular Banff experience runs through the shoulder season so you have a chance to head up the mountain yourself.
Finding the Banff Sightseeing Gondola on your own is easy when driving through the town of Banff. Follow the small green circular signs to Sulphur Mountain.
The Banff Gondola is open throughout the shoulder season, which makes it an ideal activity at low time.
There are other Gondolas in the area that have limited opening hours if you happen to visit the area just before the offseason.
- Lake Louise Gondola (open until October 14th)
- Banff Mt. Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift (open until October 14th)
- Banff Sunshine Gondola (open until September 8th)
Lake Louise is as stunning in real life as you see in pictures.
Seeing Lake Louise is one of the highlights of visiting Banff, but there are many other lakes that have gained popularity in recent years.
These lakes may or may not be open depending on the weather and road conditions leading into the Winter Season.
- Moraine Lake (open until October 15th)
- Peyto Lake (road closed for improvements until Spring 2021)
- Two Jack Lake (access from Lake Minnewanka Road closed mid-November)
Another key attraction that people are eager to see in Banff is the hot springs. These natural pools are flush with minerals heated by the Earth’s crust.
There are a couple of options for your visit depending on your location and time of visit.
- Banff Upper Hot Springs
The most popular of the three (and therefore the busiest), these mineral waters are pushed upwards of 2000 metres to create a hot pool. These springs are open all of shoulder season with the exception of October 13th to 24th for maintenance.
- Radium Hot Springs
Located just over the border in British Columbia, these hot springs are closed between October 21st and November 18th. Don’t be afraid to venture over as these hot springs are only an hour and a half driving distance from Banff.
- Miette Hot Springs
If you are on the Northern end of the park these hot springs will be your best bet. Located 61km from Jasper, Miette has the hottest springs in the Canadian Rockies and is open until October 14th.
Where to stay
If you are familiar with my strategy for saving money in Banff, you know that I like to base myself out of Canmore.
As Banff is a National Park, there is limited lodging inside the Park limits, with no plans to build more. This significantly drives up the cost of a hotel room in Banff.
By staying in Canmore, located just outside of Banff, you are able to save some money and still be close enough to head into Park every day.
Where to stay in Canmore
There are many great options for an AirBnb in Canmore, but I cannot speak highly enough about the condos available on Railway Avenue.
These condos are a holiday dream – views of the mountains, a hot tub on the roof, and close to everything you need.
There is a grocery store right across the street as well as a Tim Horton’s and many other restaurants are nearby.
If you are looking for a classic dinner out, I would recommend the Grizzly Paw Pub just down the street, a short walking distance from the Railway Avenue condos.
Croc’s Sunset Sports Bar
Visit for: happy hour
Try: the chicken wings, fish tacos, and the lavender Moscow mule
Add in… Calgary
When heading to Banff, you are most likely flying into Calgary. Make the most of your time here by visiting key attractions in Stampede City.
- Stampede Park
Visiting Calgary in the shoulder season means the famous Rodeo won’t be in session, but a trip to the Saddledome is not to be missed.
Luckily, hockey season is in full swing and the Saddledome is also home to the Calgary Flames! Grab some tickets and have a night out enjoying Canada’s (un)official sport.
- Olympic Park (now called WinSport)
Walking around the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics is free, but if you are there at the right time you can buy tickets to some fun activities.
Available through Thanksgiving (until October 14th), you can take a scenic chairlift ride to the top, try your hand at mini-golf, zipline, or twist and turn your way down the mountain in the summer bobsled.
Tickets are discounted by $10 in some cases if you buy online, so be sure to check it out before you go.
Add in… Edmonton
Buckle in, because in Edmonton, you have got to see…THE MALL.
You could spend a whole weekend inside the mall and never get bored. There is mini-golf, a skating rink, an epic water park, and an even more thrilling amusement park!