Canmore vs. Banff: Which Town is a Better Base

Canmore Vs Banff

As you plan your next adventure to Alberta, Canada, you should take some time to decide which town is your best possible “base camp” for your expedition.

While Banff is home to the famous Banff National Park, the actual town of Banff can be expensive to stay in and incredibly crowded during the busy seasons of the year. However, just shy of thirty minutes away is the quaint town of Canmore, a slightly larger township with many affordable accommodations and sightseeing destinations. 

When choosing whether to stay in Banff or Canmore, key factors to keep in mind include what the town centres have to offer, what activities there are to do in each town, and what the available accommodations are. Additionally, if you are interested in a more diverse experience that includes both outdoor and urban activities, it is crucial to consider what shopping, nightlife, and dining options these towns have as well.  

In this article, we will compare Canmore to Banff to help you choose which town to make your base camp for your next trip to Alberta.

Canmore vs. Banff Town Centre

One of the most important considerations when choosing between Canmore and Banff for your base is what the town themselves are like.

Canmore has nearly double the population of Banff, making it the bigger town of the two. As such, there are some key differences between these town centres that are important to note. 

Here is a breakdown of what both Canmore and Banff’s town centres have to offer: 

Town of Canmore

Cabins in Canmore

Downtown Canmore is the town centre of the small mountain community, featuring many locally-owned shopsrestaurantsgalleries, and more. 

Along with the standard shops and attractions you may expect from an area with a booming tourism scene, several historic places of interest make this town centre stand out, allowing visitors to learn all about the history and culture of Canmore. 

These places of interest include:

NWMP Historic Barracks: The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) Barracks are part of a historic site, memorializing one of the oldest barracks still in its original building site in all of Western Canada. The building is an important monument to Canmore’s past and is a must-see for anyone passing through. 

Ralph Connor Memorial United Church: The Ralph Connor Memorial United Church is a historic religious site built by Reverend Charles Gordon, better known by his literary pseudonym Ralph Connor. Along with offering a rich history, this church also offers Wednesday evening services open to all visitors. 

Canmore Miner’s Union Hall: The Canmore Miner’s Union Hall is yet another historic site in the town of Canmore, having been built more than 100 years ago. The Miner’s Union Hall dates back to some of the earliest times of coal mining in Alberta and now serves as a gathering space, community event center, and concert and performance hall in Canmore. 

Town of Banff

Town of Banff Entrance Sign

With a lower population than Canmore, the small town of Banff offers a more quaint downtown area. The town of Banff is primarily used as a home base for visitors and residents alike who visit, work, and live around the Banff National Park. 

The main attraction in Banff is, of course, Banff National Park itself. To accommodate visitors to the park, the town of Banff is primarily centred around offering food, drinks, and comfort. 

Most of Banff’s most notable places of interest reside within the national park, including: 

Banff Gondola: The Banff Gondola is a cable car ride that lets visitors see the sweeping views of the Canadian Rockies seen in Banff and the surrounding areas. Along with the ride itself, Banff Gondola also has the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk which takes visitors on a walk to Sanson’s Peak. 

Banff Upper Hot Springs: Many visitors to Banff come to enjoy the relaxing, warm waters of the hot springs. Banff Upper Hot Springs is one of the most accessible and you can’t book in advance so it is first come first serve — aka, these hot springs make for a great spontaneous wellness adventure. 

Skiing Resorts: Some of the most popular attractions in all of Banff — aside from the glorious hiking trails of the national park — are the ski resorts. Along with offering quality accommodations, these resorts become community and cultural hubs during ski season. 

Town of Banff, Alberta

Canmore vs. Banff Locations

If you are planning to visit Banff National Park but are considering staying in Canmore, it is crucial to know the key differences in location between Canmore and Banff.

Let’s now look at how far Canmore is from Banff, how to get to Banff from Canmore, and more important location details: 

Where is Canmore Located

Canmore is located in the Alberta province, roughly half an hour from the entrance of Banff National Park. Situated near the Three Sisters Mountains, Canmore is known for its idyllic natural environment. 

The town of Canmore is surrounded by the wildlands of Kananaskis Country, an outdoor hub for campers, bikers, and all other nature lovers. Nearby are many scenic destinations, including the Policeman Creek Boardwalk and Quarry Lake Park.

Along with being just a short drive from Banff National Park, Canmore is also close to many other notable destinations in Alberta, including:

Calgary: Calgary is roughly 100 km east of Canmore and takes a little over an hour to travel to from the Calgary International Airport via car. As a larger cosmopolitan area, Calgary offers visitors to Canmore the chance to briefly escape the wilds and experience the more urban adventures Alberta has to offer. 

Golden: Approximately a two-hour drive away from Canmore is Golden, a favored outdoor location for nature lovers. Golden is particularly notable because it is surrounded by six of Canada’s national parks — Banff, Yoho, Jasper, Glacier, Kootenay, and Mount Revelstoke. 

Lake Louise: Though not technically a formal town, Lake Louise is a small hamlet located within the Banff National Park. Lake Louise can be reached from Canmore in just under an hour, and can be accessed via car or public transportation and shuttles. 

Distance from Canmore to Banff

When considering how far Canmore is from Banff, it is important to distinguish between the downtown area of Banff and the official entrance to Banff National Park.

From the town centre of Banff, Canmore is approximately 26 km away, or roughly a 21-minute drive. As for the Banff National Park entrance, you will need to travel to one of the official entry points at the park gates, where you will obtain an entry pass, pay for parking, grab maps, and more.

The closest Banff park entrance to Canmore is the East Banff Gate, located off Banff Avenue. From Canmore, this is around the same distance as the town centre of Banff but can sometimes take longer to drive to depending on traffic and tourism. The busiest seasons for the park are summer and winter, so planning ahead is a good idea if you intend to visit during these times. While these might be considered to be the best times to visit, both regions are just as gorgeous in the spring and fall time.

Google Maps, Canmore to Banff

How to Get From Canmore to Banff

If you do choose to stay in Canmore rather than the town of Banff, you must plan accordingly for your travels between the two destinations. Luckily, Canmore is an incredibly accessible town with many transportation options available to visitors. 

There are several different ways to get from Canmore to Banff, including: 

By Car: If you would like to make your way to Banff independently, the easiest way to do so is to drive from Canmore to Banff via the Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W. This route takes approximately 24 minutes in total to complete and involves minimal extra stops or turns. Stay informed on highway conditions by checking out 511 Alberta.

By Public Transit: Multiple public transit and bus routes travel through Canmore, including one that takes you just minutes away from the town center of Banff. The most convenient of these is offered by Roam Transit and starts at the Benchlands Trail Overpass stop in Canmore. You can view more transit and bus routes and plan your trip on Rome2rio.  

By Bike: If you are interested in making your trip to Banff a little more interesting and active, consider biking there via the Banff Legacy Trail. The trail totals 25 km in length and takes an estimated 1 hour and 24 minutes to complete at a standard pace. 

Is There a Fee to Enter Banff National Park?

Banff National Park

To enter Banff National Park, you will need to arrive at one of the official entry gates and pay an entrance fee. These fees are used by the park system to support visitor services, maintain facilities, and provide educational resources about the park. 

According to Parks Canada, the entry fees for Banff National Parks are as follows: 

  • Adult (Ages 18 to 64): Daily admission to the park is $10.50.
  • Senior (Ages 65 and up): Daily admission to the park is $9.00.
  • Youth (Ages 6 to 17): Daily admission to the park is free.
  • Family/Group (up to 7 people per vehicle): Daily admission to the park is $21.00.

If you are a regular visitor to Banff National Park and the other national parks in and around Alberta, you may want to consider purchasing a Discovery Pass. A national park pass lets you skip admission lines and provides you access to more than 80 destinations for a 12-month duration, including parks in every single Canadian province. For more information visit the Parks Canada website.

Canmore vs. Banff Accommodations

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing between Banff and Canmore as your base camp is where you will stay.

In general, pricing for tourist accommodations in Banff tends to be on the higher side, while Canmore offers a wider range of both more affordable and more luxury options. Staying in Canmore will also include the added expense of traveling to Banff, but with the proximity of the towns to each other, this is not a major setback or budgetary restriction in any way. 

Keeping this in mind, here are some options to consider for places to stay in both Canmore and Banff: 

Where to Stay in Canmore

In Canmore, there is a wide variety of different accommodation options including resorts, vacation rentals, and hotels. Each type of accommodation comes with its own advantages, which we have broken down for you:

Resorts: Resorts tend to be the most expensive accommodation option but also the choice with the most luxury and comfort. Canmore has many impressive resorts, including multiple 4-star options such as Solara Resort & Spa and The Summit at Grande Rockies

Vacation Rentals: According to data from Home To Go, there are more than 1,400 total vacation rentals available in the Canmore area. These rentals range in their amenities and locations, with some being in the heart of downtown and others being in more private, remote areas. 

Hotels: For convenience and affordability, you may prefer to stay in one of Canmore’s many top hotels, such as the Canmore Hotel Hostel or The Malcolm Hotel.

Where to Stay in Banff

Like in Canmore, there are many different hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals available to guests in Banff. The key difference to note is that these accommodations are, on average, more expensive per night in Banff compared to Canmore. 

This is likely because of Banff’s close proximity to many major destination ski resorts. If a fancy ski resort is what you want, however, Banff is the place to go. 

Here are 2 of the best ski resorts found in Banff: 

Sunshine Village: Sunshine Village is located in Banff National Park and offers a unique resort experience — a ski-in, ski-out hotel. Amenities include fireplaces, outdoor hot tubs, a family room for movies and games, and spa services. 

Lake Louise Ski Resort: Lake Louise Ski Resort is open year-round, offering exhilarating skiing routes in the winter and breathtaking gondola experiences in the summer. This resort offers many different lodging options including the Lake Louise Inn, the Deer Lodge, and the Fairmont Chateau. 

Lake Louise Ski Resort, Banff, Alberta

Canmore vs. Banff Activities

For activities beyond skiing and hiking, both of these Alberta towns have some quality experiences to offer visitors. Given its short distance to several more urban hubs, Canmore is an excellent choice for your stay to get the best of both worlds.

Here are some of the best activities to do in Canmore and Banff: 

What to Do in Canmore

Paddle Boarding in Canmore, Alberta

Canmore has several attractions that draw visitors in and keep them entertained, all from within the town’s boundaries!

Some of the main attractions in Canmore include: 

artsPlace: To find the heart of arts and culture in Canmore, visit artsPlace — a community arts centre that offers live music events, art exhibitions, stand-up comedy shows, and more. To view all of the upcoming events, visit the artsPlace website

Canmore Museum & Geoscience Centre: The Canmore Museum & Geoscience Centre is a family-friendly activity where you can see amazing museum collections, galleries, and exhibits to learn all about Canmore’s unique history. 

Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park: As one of the biggest parks in Canmore, the Nordic Centre Provincial Park is home to many awesome outdoor activities and sporting events like disc golf and mountain biking. You can even rent a fat bike — a bicycle designed specifically for navigating tough terrain and snow!

What to Do in Banff

Lake Louise Ski Resort Gondola

When it comes to activities to do in Banff, the shining gem is the Banff National Park — the park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to more than 300 hiking trails, many idyllic turquoise lakes, and steep and sweeping mountains. 

Some of the top attractions in Banff include:

Open Top Touring: Open Top Touring takes you on an unforgettable driving tour around Banff in vintage-inspired, open-top vehicles that can fit up to 20 people. 

Lake Tours: The picturesque lakes of Banff are certainly a sight to see — and many tour companies are willing to help you see them. For tours of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, visit Banff Adventures or Discover Banff Tours

Gondola Rides: At Lake Louise Ski Resort you will find a sightseeing gondola perfect for getting the best possible view of your surroundings. If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of some of Banff’s wildlife critters!

Canmore vs. Banff Nightlife

If you are looking to have a great time after business hours, you don’t want to miss out on the nightlife experiences Canmore and Banff have to offer. 

Both towns have a number of different bars frequented by tourists and locals alike ready to have a good time. Additionally, different resorts and restaurants will have live music events to attend to make the most out of your evenings. 

Here are some awesome options for enjoying the nightlife in Canmore and Banff:

  • Where the Buffalo Roam Saloon: For a more laidback experience, the Buffalo Roam Saloon is a cocktail-focused bar with good food and even better drinks. 
  • The Drake Pub: Open every night until 2 a.m., the Drake Pub is the best place to go to get to know the Canmore nightlife scene. Plus, this pub offers happy hour from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Rose & Crown Pub: The Rose & Crown Pub is open every night until 1:30 a.m. and features a large patio for outdoor hangs and a wide variety of craft beers. 

Final Thoughts: Is it Better to Stay in Banff or Canmore?

When it comes down to it, staying in Canmore offers you a ton of options for restaurants, shopping, accommodations, activities, and even nightlife. 

With how close Canmore is to Banff, there’s no reason not to stay in this picture-perfect mountain town and get a true sense of the life and culture of Alberta. 

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