We just recently did a circle route tour from Vancouver, BC to Banff National Park and around. We had budgeted for four days for the entire trip taking the Scenic BC Route 7 and Highway One, upwards to Banff and the gorgeous and winding Crowsnest 3 Highway. We only had the route planned, and the rest was completely on the table. If you’re local- I suggest doing this at least once! There’s something magical about having no expectations and being overwhelmed the entire time.
Again, we only budgeted four nights for the ENTIRE trip, that includes travel! So with that in mind, we knew we wanted to spend two evenings in Banff. The entire downtown of Banff is small, but its just so cozy and with a great selection of shops and eateries, you’ll want to spend as much time as you can in it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. But why Ema?! The shoulder season? There’s nothing to do then and aren’t a lot of things are closed? And while yes, some things may be closed or preparing for the busier snow season, this transitional time does NOT lack in activities. I have traveled to Banff many a times in the peak seasons and there is nothing more luxurious as watching the fluffy magical snow fall or exploring the lakes and taking a dip in the cold waters on a burning hot day. BUT let me tell you, everyone likes these times. They’re popular for a reason but these should not be your only reasons. Read more below on why I think travelling to Banff in the fall is a great time to go, if not the best time to go.
I always prefer to take circle routes, this way we are never having to drive through the same place twice and really lets us experience everything we’d like to do.
1. Budget friendly!
Oh, so budget friendly! Remember at peak season you pay peak prices! We did not have the same effect. We paid a quarter of the price we typically pay for trips in the summer. I am not joking! Rooms that were priced at $500 – $550 a night in the summer we scored for less than $200.
Additionally, the stores in downtown Banff are transitioning their products and you can often be the first to pick new goods (apparel, souvenirs, etc) but also all of the summer stock is on sale! Win/win my friends.
This season is typically very mild in Banff National Park, while you may get the first sightings of snow in mid-late October, you are mostly still seeing high teens and low 20’s °C (~70 °F) through September and early October. This weather makes for perfectly comfortable environment for shopping downtown, walking around the park, hiking, going on the gondola, and late night bar hopping. There is truly nothing off the table (except maybe skiing, but that is even more reason to come back!).
3. The Scenery
Now, I know what you’re thinking (again! … is it me? am I the psychic?) you’re thinking WTF girl obviously the scenery. Banff National Park is absolutely adorned for the Rocky Mountain backdrop. There’s no place quite like it. Well, yes you’re right but have you ever really thought about the reasons us humans are so attracted to the fall? It’s the fall colours (and often times the pumpkin spiced drinks). And both of those things can happen on this road trip!
The 9.5 hour drive to Banff was absolutely NEXT LEVEL gorgeous in the fall. If you are a fan of golden larches that illuminate the mountainsides, this is the time to go for you. I felt like I was stepping straight out of a storybook. When I am stressed, I like to think of it.
Hot tip! Make use of the local visitor centres on your drive! They are experts for their areas and are always so friendly. A quick stop in one of them will almost always having you inspired for locals best picks in the area and often the best viewpoints and scenic routes. They also usually have the cleanest bathroom stops!
4. Animal Activity
I don’t know if you’re like me but when I am driving through any national park I am ON THE LOOKOUT. I always spend the majority of the time looking for animals and especially timing my drives to explore the outdoors during the most likely times animal activity will be there. The fun thing about fall is that this is a time when animals are very active. Some types of animals you may be able to see during the fall are big horned sheep, moose, black bears, grizzly bears, elk, deer, and many more!
So if you’re into wildlife viewing, this might just be the best time to go!
PLEASE NOTE: you are in that animals territory and I do not condone feeding or approaching any WILD animals. Please keep them wild and keep them safe! You are their guest, and we have to be good guests! Mama taught us right.
5. Road Conditions / Traffic
Now, depending how popular this little secret gets (I am trusting you with this one), the shoulder season is not busy and the roads are typically quiet and calm. There’s something about congested summer traffic I just don’t enjoy even though it may be absolutely sunny and beautiful outside. The roads seemed so clear for us almost the entire trip. The weather is often very mild and not having to worry about major climate changes made this trip an absolute day dream.
Hot tip! I would still very much prepare your vehicle with any emergency items as a lot of times there is no service in many areas!
All in all, there really is no time that is wrong to go to Banff National Park. Travelling to this park is unlike any other and everyone must experience it at least once. Do not make a decision based on time alone- if you can go, go! BUT if you have a choice or if you’re on a budget, I would definitely say Banff National Park in the fall and autumn may just be the best option!
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