Camper Travel in Banff and Jasper: The Truth About Crowds and How to Handle Them

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Banff and Jasper National Parks feature some of the most epic scenery in the world- glaciers, crystal clear alpine lakes, and huge mountain peaks are just some of the extraordinary sights you will encounter when visiting. Unfortunately, along with the epic scenery comes enormous crowds of tourists. The crowds in Banff and Jasper National Parks were far larger than we ever anticipated, even in the fall shoulder season! Here is the truth about crowds in Banff and Jasper and how to handle them.

How Crowded IS it?

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Before we visited Banff and Jasper National Parks in our camper we researched the parks to help plan our visit. While our research did mention crowds a bit, most resources only warned against summer crowds. Since we were planning to travel from Banff to Jasper in the fall we didn’t think we needed to worry about the crowds.

Boy were we WRONG!

I cannot imagine what Banff and Jasper must be like in the summer because even in late September the crowds were overwhelming. The giant visitor center parking lots were often completely full, by early evening the more popular campgrounds with hundreds of sites were often full, and, most notably, the most popular scenic sites were often congested with hundreds of selfie-snapping tourists.

Our first night camping in Banff National Park we were bewildered by the crowds we had been forced to fight through all day long. We both have experience with Yosemite National Park in the United States, and the crowds in Banff were exponentially worse than we’d ever experienced in the parks in the states. We sat in the camper trying to figure out how we would make the most of our visit with crowds this pervasive.

We came up with a strategy that evening that served us very well for the rest of our trip. While we weren’t able to completely avoid the crowds, we were able to dodge them enough to enjoy our week camping in Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Become an early bird

Getting up at sunrise to see the most popular sights is a great way to avoid the crowds at Yosemite National Park in the USA, so we decided to give that a try in Banff National Park as well. Sure enough, if we got up before the sun came up and made it to a popular spot around sunrise we had the location nearly all to ourselves!

This was our strategy for hiking to the Lake Agnes Teahouse in Banff National Park. The Lake Agnes Teahouse is one of the most famous hikes in Banff National Park as it leads to a beautiful teahouse sitting on the shore of Lake Agnes which is only accessible by hiking. We began to make our way up to the teahouse around sunrise, and when we arrived (around 9am) we were able to get one of the few lake view seats on the teahouse porch.  We were certainly not the only hikers at that time, but the crowd was thin, and we were able to enjoy the experience. On our hike back down from the teahouse we passed LOTS of people, and we were thrilled that our strategy worked to beat the crowds!

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Avoid the quick stop scenery off the Icefields Parkway Banff to Jasper drive

When you drive up the Icefields Parkway there are many spots where you can stop in a small parking lot and walk a short distance to see some epic scenery. This sounds convenient…until you actually attempt it. These quick stop nature spots were consistently overflowing with crowds of tourists. You practically had to fight your way through people just to get a glimpse of the scenery.

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After attempting this a couple times Tom and I decided that these spots just weren’t worth it, and instead we went in search of 1-2 mile hikes that would take us to less accessible scenic views. This strategy worked very well for us, and we enjoyed the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper SO much more once we ditched the quick stop scenery.

Camp for the night near the spot you would like to see in the morning

When we were done sightseeing for the day we would look at a map and decide which beautiful sight we wanted to check out first thing the next morning. Then we would find the campground closest to that sight and camp there for the night. The scenic spots in Banff and Jasper become far more crowded in the late afternoon so we used that time to get a good spot in a campground rather than battle the crowds. This worked well for us, as we got some quiet time in the campground before the other campers showed up, and in the morning we were already perfectly positioned to catch the sunrise in a beautiful location.

Spend more time in Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park is actually larger than Banff National Park, and the crowds definitely begin to thin out the deeper you go into Jasper. We began our visit in Banff National Park, so by the time we got to Jasper and realized it was far more peaceful our visit was nearly over. In the future we would probably move through Banff quickly, and spend more time exploring in Jasper National Park.

Traveling from Banff to Jasper in a camper was an awesome experience, and the drive alone was so scenic we would certainly recommend it! If you would like to read more about camper travel in Banff and Jasper check out our guide to getting around and our guide to camping and overnight parking in the parks.

If you are planning your own Banff/Jasper camper adventure be sure to grab Lonely Planet's beautiful, comprehensive guide to the area!

Considering a camper purchase in the near future? Read about the camper we chose and why we chose it!

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