Where to kick up your heels after a full day of adventuring in the Canadian Rockies
From quiet campgrounds to cozy cabins to grand century-old chateaus, there’s something for all styles and budgets in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Most of the parks’ accommodations are centered around the communities of Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, but there are also a smattering of gorgeous lodges and cabins tucked into more isolated corners–some are even hike-in only! Keep in mind that reservations are essential in July and August.
SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS
From frontcountry campgrounds to backcountry escapes, Banff and Jasper National Parks offer thousands of places to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars. Frontcountry highlights include the waterfront (pictured above) in Banff, stunning glacier views at the near the Banff-Jasper boundary, and the riverside in Jasper. Visit and ’s camping web pages for more information. If heading into the backcountry, designated campsites generally have fire pits, picnic tables, food storage cables, and outhouses. Some of the easiest ones to reach are the three paddle-in campsites on Jasper’s splendid . More backcountry information can be found on and ’s backpacking web pages.
If you want to stay at a campground but don’t feel like lugging around your own gear, Parks Canada has several solutions. The best is its , which are essentially wood-framed canvas prospector tents outfitted with a table, chairs, and bunks that can sleep six. Brand new to the parks, they can be found in the Tunnel Mountain Village II and Two Jack Lakeside campgrounds in Banff and Whistlers campground in Jasper. Jasper’s also rents fully-equipped wood cabins. In Banff’s , you can reserve a site that’s already outfitted with a tent, bedding, and stove. Or, to broaden your horizons, rental gear can be found at shops like in Calgary or Edmonton, in Banff, or in Jasper.
HUTS HIGH IN THE SKY
Imagine spending a day on a mountain trail to emerge in a meadow where smoke gently wafts from the chimney of a secluded cabin. The operates a network of nearly 30 communal hike-in “huts” in the Canadian Rockies, including six in Banff and four in Jasper. While many require mountaineering experience to access, some, like the and the in Jasper, are rustic log cabins in the woods that can be reached after a good day’s hike. With fully-equipped kitchens, propane lighting, and woodstoves, all you really need to bring is food and bedding for your bunk. Incredibly affordable, non-members pay about US$30 per night.
Unspoiled wilderness paired with first-class comforts? It doesn’t get better than this. At the ends of miles-long trails that can only be traversed on foot, snowshoes, skis, or horseback, Banff and Jasper boast a handful of fully-catered backcountry lodges. Think warm wood cabins, plush communal living rooms, and gourmet meals far from stresses of civilization–and electricity. Chief among them is exclusive (pictured above) near Lake Louise, a National Historic Site that hosted Will and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on their Canadian honeymoon. Also in Banff National Park, other top-tier options are and the pair of lodges reached by horseback on tours with . In Jasper National Park, hike or arrange a horseback ride to the cabins of , which also features canoes, kayaks, and trout fishing on pristine Amethyst Lake.
KEEPING IT COZY
If you’re looking to stay closer to civilization, there are plenty of lodges, inns, and resorts that will keep you cozy in the parks. In Banff, has rooftop hot pools and rooms with fireplaces right downtown. On the townsite’s edges, is a secluded retreat with fireplace-equipped rooms and a hot tub, while at the , you can stay at a forested property that hosts regular cultural events as well as artist residencies. Surrounded by wilderness between Banff and Lake Louise, (pictured above) has an array of luxurious log cabins around a communal, taxidermy-bedecked lodge and restaurant, while is a family-friendly property that has wood cabins with kitchens and fireplaces. In downtown Jasper, is the town’s swankiest option, while the quirky has vintage-trimmed suites above an Old World-style restaurant. Just above town, you’ll have a good chance of spotting elk from your cabin at , while a little outside of Jasper, is an award-winning eco-lodge located right on the shores of teh might Athabasca River. If you want to stay further afield, has neat log bungalows near the lovely Miette Hot Springs, while Pyramid is a large, family-friendly property on a lake with islands to paddle to and plenty of hiking trails. Really, the options in Banff and Jasper are plentiful. Visit and for more listings, including dozens of lovely little bed and breakfasts. You can also find a lot of great properties on .
Do you want to experience the opulence of bygone era? Fairmont Hotels and Resorts operates a trio of classy hotels in the parks that date from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. These three majestic hotels– (pictured above), and –all hail from the country’s grand railway hotel era, when Canadian railway companies built luxurious castle-like properties across the country to serve well-to-do passengers traveling along the new train tracks that connected Canada’s populous east with the province of British Columbia. Expect 5-star class and comfort (as well as prices), plus amenities like gourmet restaurants and spas–and all just a skip from the woods.
WHERE TO DRINK AND DINE
From cute cafés to bustling brewpubs to sumptuous steakhouses, when it comes to drinking and dining, there’s a little bit of everything in the towns of Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.
Without a doubt, the town of Banff is the culinary capital of the Canadian Rockies. Right downtown, (pictured above) serves cocktails mixed with homemade spirits and meats from its “campfire kitchen” in an arty space decorated with Canadiana class. Nearby, trendy specializes in Asian-inspired tapas, old-world serves up Swiss-Italian fine dining like fondue, while classy is the place to go for premium Alberta beef. For coffee, a light lunch, or baked treats, try or . For a night out, lively has craft beer, pizza, and bowling lanes, while is a bustling pub that hosts live bands every night of the week.
In Lake Louise
Forget everything else for a drink, meal, or afternoon tea paired with unparalleled views of emerald water, soaring peaks, and gleaming glaciers at the elegant , a grand century-old hotel that boasts a trio of gourmet restaurants, a lounge, two bars, and a deli. The hotel’s Alps-inspired restaurant is a particular draw for its fondue. For something completely different, take a three-hour round-trip hike right from Lake Louise to or a four-hour round-trip hike to the (pictured at top of page) for lunch at a charming backcountry teahouse, where fresh ingredients are hiked in daily.
and are the main fine dining draws. The former offers a menu featuring a slew of hearty bison and wild boar options, while the latter is known for inventive cuisine with an international flair. Right downtown, is the place to go for coffee, light meals, and baked treats. For homemade craft beer and inspired pub fare, visit . If you’re looking for a night out, nothing beats getting to know veterans and locals at Jasper’s branch, also known as The Stand Easy, which has draft beer, a grill, and live music several nights a week.