Skip to Content

Banff vs Lake Louise – Comparison and My Personal Recommendation!

Banff vs Lake Louise – Comparison and My Personal Recommendation!

This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

When people ask us which is better, Banff or Lake Louise, we always start the conversation with, “Well, that depends.” Each has its own distinct personality and will appeal to different kinds of travelers. We understand the struggle of never having been to a place before and trying to figure out if it’s right for you. So that’s why we wanted to create this post, to help you with that decision!

This is a quick, but comprehensive comparison between the two, and by the end, you will have a great overview of each. We will cover the pros and cons, places to stay, as well as our recommendations for your visit.

How far apart are Banff and Lake Louise?  

Bailey at Surprise Corner to Hoodoos Viewpoint over Banff National Park
The Banff hoodoos!
Bailey on the shores of Lake Louise at sunrise
Lake Louise is beautiful at sunrise!

While Banff and Lake Louise are often referred to each other as one and the same this is not the case.

Depending on traffic, Banff and Lake Louise are about 40 minutes to an hour away from each other. While this may not sound like much, when you only have a couple of days and a full itinerary every minute counts, and the less time in a car or bus the better. Trust me when I say you don’t want to get stuck in traffic here.

This is why I think it’s best to stay in one or the other, or both, over your trip to maximize fun and minimize the hassle of traveling around. Not to mention this will cut down your fuel or shuttle expenses! Win-win.

Lake Louise Drive Construction Notice: This summer (2024), construction will be on Lake Louise Drive, causing significant traffic delays. This means you could spend well over an hour sitting in traffic just to be turned away for lack of parking (over a thousand people are turned away each day during the peak summer months!). To avoid this, consider booking this hop-on hop-off shuttle from Banff instead! Check availability for the shuttle here – it fully books out in the summer months!

Related Read: If you need tips for the drive, our road trip guide on Banff to Lake Louise will be helpful!

Staying in Banff 

Pros of staying in Banff

view of Banff town from up above on the Banff Gondola
The view from the Banff Gondola
Banff Ave on a summers day
Downtown Banff, isn’t it pretty?

More to do in Banff: 

When it comes to activities, Banff has you covered. From food and drinks to just walking around there is no shortage of fun things to do in Banff!

Banff is closer to Calgary: 

Most people will be flying in and out of Calgary during their visit and this makes Banff an ideal location since it’s so close (about 1.5 hours). Need help getting to Banff from the airport? We’ve got you covered.

Banff is more lively:

There is an undeniable energy to Banff that has people coming back time and time again. It’s upbeat, laidback, and easy to find people to share a pint and a few laughs with. 

Bailey bowls at High Rollers in Banff
High Rollers is a great place to have some fun
Food and soup at Whitebark Cafe in Banff
Whitebark Cafe in Banff!

More hotel options in Banff: 

It’s nice to have options. From budget-friendly to downright fancy, Banff has something for everyone. If you’re looking for hotel recommendations – we have some for you!

Banff has a fun nightlife: 

We love a night out on the town and when it comes to nightlife, Banff knows how to boogie. There is no shortage of places to have a drink, meet other travelers, and make memories.

Good shopping: 

From stickers to clothing, outdoor gear, handicrafts, and everything in between, you can find it in Banff. I love to shop and there is some great shopping here!

Cons of staying in Banff

Bailey poses for a photo while canoeing in Moraine Lake, Banff
Activities like canoeing on Moraine Lake take much longer to get to

Banff is busy: 

Being one of the most iconic places in all of Canada comes at a cost, and the cost is loads of people. Even during low season, the streets are still pretty crowded and wait times for restaurants can be long.

Further from top attractions:

While it is close to a lot of great things, it’s still pretty far from the bucket list destinations people have. Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and the Icefields Parkway, to name a few, take a while to get to. 

Expensive parking: 

You’ll definitely need to factor in the high parking costs when visiting Banff (if you can find parking). It adds up quickly!  

Less remote: 

In general, more people means less wildlife. Don’t get me wrong, the chances of seeing moose, elk, or a bear are still there, but they don’t like getting too close to the city because of all the people.

Where to Stay in Banff

View of the Fairmont Banff Springs from the Gondola
The Fairmont Banff Springs is the most luxurious place to stay in Banff!

There’s plenty to do in Banff, so if you decide you want to stay here, there are lots of good hotel options. Just beware that they book up quickly in the summer! Our guide on which areas to stay in Banff has helpful tips or check out our top hotels here:

Luxury – The Fairmont Banff Springs is an old Scottish Castle built in 1888 and the most prestigious of all of the hotels in Banff. It’s a luxury resort-like stay and the only one of its kind in Banff

Mid-rangeBanff Rocky Mountain Resort is located only a 5-minute drive from Banff town. It’s perfect for families with a pool, kitchenettes/full kitchens in the rooms, and 2- and 3-bedroom units available.

BudgetBanff Inn is the perfect mix of comfort and affordability. It has a budget-friendly price tag and is located on Banff Ave in the heart of downtown.

Hostel – The Samesun Backpacker Hostel is perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff and don’t mind dorm rooms. Book on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Related Read: If you’d rather stay based out of Banff, check out the 4 best ways to get to Lake Louise from Banff! Hint – we liked this flexible shuttle!

Staying in Lake Louise  

Pros of staying in Lake Louise

Bailey and Daniel with their dog rex at Lake Louise foreshore
Lake Louise is easy to get to!
Bailey at Lake Louise Ski Resort
The Lake Louise Ski Resort is so close to town!

Quiet town: 

Lake Louise is incredibly peaceful. There are fewer people, less noise, and everything moves at a much slower pace. But don’t be fooled that there isn’t much going on, our list of things to do in Lake Louise has 35 ideas!

Close to top attractions:

Getting to places like Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and the Icefields Parkway is a breeze since they are all so close to town. This also means you can get there before the crowds come from Banff which is a huge plus!

Close to Lake Louise Ski Resort:

From downtown Lake Louise, the ski resort is only a 5-minute drive. Talk about convenience!

Easy to get parking in town: 

Unlike Banff, Lake Louise is much easier to drive around and park in due to fewer people. Say goodbye to driving around in circles for 30 minutes waiting for a spot to open up. However, parking at Lake Louise lakeshore is still a challenge, so read our parking tips for Lake Louise so you can beat the crowd!

Feels like you are very remote: 

Because of its size, Lake Louise feels incredibly remote. This is apparent in the increased wildlife spottings, lack of people, and more immediate access to nature.

Cons of staying in Lake Louise

Bailey enjoys a meal at Bill Peyto's Cafe in Lake Louise
Bill Peyto’s Cafe is one of only a couple of restaurants in town
Lake Minnewanka with a beautiful mountain backdrop
Great experiences like Lake Minnewanka are far from Lake Louise

Very few restaurant options: 

While the restaurants aren’t bad in Lake Louise, you certainly have fewer options. So if you’re a foodie, this can put a damper on things. However, I do highly recommend Bill Peyto’s Cafe during your stay!

Far from attractions near Banff: 

While you are close to some major highlights when you stay in Lake Louise you’re also farther from others. The Banff Gondola, Banff Hot Springs, and Lake Minnewanka are a bit of a trek to reach.

Only a few hotels: 

There are significantly fewer hotel options in Lake Louise. This means that places fill up faster and prices are higher on the whole. During peak season, plan on it being even worse!

No nightlife: 

Besides a couple of local bars and lounges, you aren’t going to find any nightlife in Lake Louise. Even then things shut down pretty early year-round. 

Where to Stay in Lake Louise

Views out the window of the restaurant at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise
Views out the window of the restaurant at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise

Being such a small village, hotel options are very limited in Lake Louise, so you should book as far in advance as possible. Here are my top three choices for all budgets:

Luxury – The Fairmont Château Lake Louise sits on the shore of Lake Louise – it’s one of the most stunning hotel locations I’ve seen! The rooms are as luxurious as the exterior makes them seem and you can stroll out of the hotel to the lake easily.

Mid-rangeLake Louise Inn has a really good location with newly renovated rooms. There’s also a pool, hot tub, and restaurants along with a gazebo with free hot cocoa and marshmallows!

Budget HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre is the best budget option. It’s right in town with dorms or private rooms and there are family rooms and a kids’ play area too. Book on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com

Related Read: If you book a hotel in Lake Louise, check out our favorite hikes from the Lake Louise lakeshore!

Should you split your time between Banff and Lake Louise? 

Canoe on Lake Louise in Banff National Park
Yes!

Yes, you totally should! This allows you to get the best of both worlds and have a well-rounded trip in the Rockies. 

When you split your time between the two you eliminate unnecessary travel and are closer to the highlights of each. You can get to places like Lake Louise before the crowds and don’t have to drive far to get back to your hotel at the end of the day. This means more time in Banff National Park, yay!

Plus, this way you get to experience the upbeat, higher energy of Banff and then the tranquility of Lake Louise. Like I said at the beginning, each is fantastic for different reasons, so why not experience them both? So let’s go over the pros and cons of splitting your time because there are a few.

Pros to split your time between Banff and Lake Louise

Lower falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
There’s more time for extra stops like at Johnston’s Canyon!
Daniel poses for a photo at Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park
Enjoying Peyto Lake on the Icefields Parkway

Explore more of Banff National Park: 

When you split your time between the two you can see more of the park. Each town gives you access to farther reaches of the area which means unique views and activities. Trust me, there is a lot to see!

Less driving: 

Less time in a car is ideal when you’re in the Canadian Rockies. This is the trip of a lifetime after all, you want to be in nature not driving to it! Staying in both means less of a commute to see the highlights close to each town.

Have access to other areas:

There is so much to see near both Banff and Lake Louise so staying at each means you can experience it all. We love (and used to live in) Canmore which is just down the road from Banff. Alternatively, one of the most incredible drives in the world is the Icefields Parkway and it begins just north of Lake Louise!

Cons to splitting your time

Banff Upper Hot Springs
Splitting your time means you might miss out on things like the Banff Hot Springs

Having to move hotels: 

This may seem minor, and I guess in the grand scheme of things it is, but nonetheless, it’s a nuisance. Transporting all of your luggage and yourself between two different hotels can be a hassle even for the most veteran of travelers.   

Less time in each place: 

Less time means a tighter schedule and things can start to get a little hectic when that happens. Both towns have plenty to experience so unfortunately some things will be missed. 

Stressful to plan: 

Planning an itinerary for one of these can already be a headache, but two towns? Yeah, it can be difficult! Be sure to get a head start and plan well in advance. We have lots of blogs on Banff and Lake Louise to get you started!

Can you stay between Banff and Lake Louise?

A car drives along the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park
The Bow Valley Parkway has some great places to stay between Banff and Lake Louise

Of course! There aren’t too many hotels to stay at, but there are still several around the halfway point between Banff and Lake Louise. Below we will tell you about our top choices and what you can expect from each.

Castle Mountain Chalets

Castle Mountain Chalets in Banff National Park, Canada
Photo credit: Castle Mountain Chalets

Castle Mountain Chalets combines rustic beauty and modern convenience for an unforgettable stay in the Canadian Rockies. What I love about these chalets is the aesthetic and how easy it is to walk out of your front door and into the wilderness around you. Don’t be surprised to have moose or deer strolling through the front lawn! 

With amenities like a general store, fire pits, a gym, and bike rentals you will have everything you need during your stay. There are plenty of different kinds of chalets to choose from to fit your budget and preference, but all of them are fantastic. 

Storm Mountain Lodge & Cabins

The Storm Mountain Lodge was originally constructed in 1922 by the Canadian Pacific Railway to promote tourism. Over 100 years later, these historic lodges still delight visitors from around the world.

While each cabin has electricity and a fireplace, they do not have WiFi, fridges, or other modern amenities. If you’re looking for a more rustic experience, this is it! With an amazing on-site restaurant and staff that bring that famous Canadian hospitality to life, you’re sure to have a one-of-a-kind experience.

Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows 

Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows
Photo credit: Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows
Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows food
Photo credit: Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows

Located at the trailhead of Johnston Canyon the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows have access to amazing hiking, nature, and fully equipped bungalows.

The highlight of any stay here is sure to be the 5.5-kilometer (3.4 miles) Johnston Canyon hike that starts when you walk out your front door. With glacial waterfalls and tons of wildlife, I wouldn’t blame you if you hiked it every day! Check out our guide to Johnston Canyon here for all the tips before your stay.

HI Castle Mountain Wilderness Hostel

Hi Castle Mountain in Banff National Park, Canada
Photo credit: HI Wilderness Hostels

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast who is looking to hang out with like-minded individuals the HI Castle Mountain Wilderness Hostel offers just that. With women or men-only dorms, you can relive your summer camp days, but as an adult! Conveniently located near a plethora of outdoor activities you’ll enjoy meeting other travelers in a cozy shared living space and kitchen. 

The only thing better than a day of activities with new friends is coming back to a hot shower and campfire. Lucky for you this hostel has just that! 

My Overall Top Choice Between Banff and Lake Louise  

Bailey enjoys a bear at Banff Ave Brewing Company in Banff town
Cheers from Banff Ave!
Bailey stands on a rock at Lake Louise, Canada
Lake Louise is so pretty!

If you ask me, the best option is to split your time between Banff and Lake Louise. While moving between the two can be a little bit of a hassle, it’s worth it to be able to see and do more. So I recommend starting in Banff and spending 3 nights there before going to Lake Louise for 2 nights. 

Three nights in Banff gives you plenty of time to enjoy the town and do nearby activities like Banff Hot Springs, riding the gondola up Sulpher Mountain, or visiting Canmore (psst – our guide on easy hikes in Canmore might be helpful!). Plus, the city just has more going on than Lake Louise so even after you’re done exploring for the day you can take part in the local nightlife!

Two nights in Lake Louise is perfect for seeing the nearby lakes, driving the Icefields Parkway, or one of the other many outdoor options you have nearby. It can be a much-needed change from the hustle and bustle of Banff and a relaxing way to end a trip. If you’re pressed for time one night in Lake Louise would be just fine as well. We actually have a 1-day itinerary for Lake Louise that covers the highlights if you don’t have a lot of time here.

However, if I were to choose one over the other I would go with Banff. I love having lots of places to eat and drink plus the variety in hotels is great. While some of my favorite activities in Banff are farther away, they are all still totally doable over a couple of days by shuttle or car making Banff the winner in my book.

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada
Thanks for reading!

Lake Louise or Banff – it’s an epic battle of two mountain towns in the Rockies. While I think Banff has a slight edge, it would be a shame to not see Lake Louise! That’s why we try to split our time between both when we’re here and we recommend you do the same.

If you need help planning a trip to Banff or Lake Louise, we have you covered! Check out our full selection of Banff blogs or a few favorites below:

6 BEST Lake Louise Tours from Banff

12 Absolute Best Lakes in Banff You NEED to Visit in 2024!

Lake Louise Gondola vs Banff Gondola: Which one is Better?!

Whitewater Rafting in Banff: 8 Things to KNOW +Best Tours