When it comes to pure, natural beauty, it’s hard to beat the Rocky Mountains — and there’s nowhere you can experience the Rockies quite like Banff and Jasper National Parks. These two parks account for over 6,500 square miles of wild country, and you could easily spend a lifetime exploring the both of them without ever becoming immune to their grandeur. We’ve found the 5 best places to camp in Banff and Jasper National Parks.
That’s not to say that all there is to do here is stare out the window, however. The parks offer world-class skiing, views of exotic (and sometimes dangerous) wildlife, and dozens of hiking trails. When you’re done exploring nature, you can head into Banff or Jasper for shopping, fine dining, and other entertainment.
If you’re heading to the area to camp, though, you won’t need any of those creature comforts. There are quite a few campsites to choose from in each park — including our personal favorite, Tunnel Mountain Village — and they can accommodate everything from glampers to the most hardened primitives. Regardless of the level of luxury they provide, though, they all have one thing in common: they’ll reward you with some of the most spectacular views you’ve ever encountered.
Oh, and bears. They all have giant, scary bears, so be careful out there.
While the campsite itself isn’t much to look at, everything around it certainly is
If Tunnel Mountain Village is twice as good as the other campsites in the area, that may be due to the fact that it’s actually two separate campsites in one. The individual sites have been given the rather charming names of Tunnel Mountain Village 1 and ThunderHammer Fire Lake Lodge X (just kidding, it’s Tunnel Mountain Village 2). There’s also a trailer court (called “Trailer Court,” as it was presumably named by the same person who named the two campsites).
Both campgrounds are set on wide-open plateaus, giving you plenty of room to spread out. You won’t be alone here, either, as they have over 800 sites between the two of them (Village 1 is three times larger than Village 2, however). Village 1 offers more of a rustic experience, with each site having slightly different features from the other, although all have fire pits. Village 2, on the other hand, has full RV hookups, so that’s where you want to head in your rig. The trailer court offers an additional 321 full-service campsites, although fires aren’t permitted here.
Of course, accommodating that many campers means that some sacrifices have to be made, and the campsite itself doesn’t offer much in the way of beauty. In fact, it feels like you’re setting up shop in a giant parking lot that someone placed on top of a mountain, so don’t expect to take too many pictures of the camping area. Your money is going towards the convenience factor of staying here, as well as the amenities, not the ambiance.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go very far to find breathtaking views. If you go to the edge of either site, you’ll be able to look out on the valley below, and trust us when we tell you it is spectacular. It’s also easy to get to other attractive places from here, and all you have to do is catch a bus in order to head into town.
The amenities are quite nice as well. There’s an outdoor theater, allowing you to catch a show surrounded by newfound friends (assuming the weather cooperates, of course). The restroom facilities are huge and well-maintained, and you’ll also find picnic tables, fire wood, camp kitchens, and more.
The sites are so huge that it’s rare for them to be completely full, but you should still make recommendations, just in case. It’s also important to realize that Village 1 and the trailer court are only open from May through October, while Village 2 stays open year-round.
What I Liked:
- Plenty of room for campers of all kinds
- Top-notch amenities
- Easy to get to Banff and surrounding areas
- Beautiful views at edge of campsites
- Full hookups available
What I Didn’t Like:
- The site itself is a little drab
- Village 1 and the trailer park only open for 3 seasons
Close to Lake Minnewanka, this site has all the aquatic fun you could hope for
This is another campground that’s technically two campgrounds, as there’s the Two Jack Main Campground and the Two Jack Lakeside Campground (seriously, if you’re in charge of naming these, give us a call — we can help). Both are fairly large, with the main campground offering 380 sites and the lakeside campground chipping in with an additional 74.
The main campground has sites for tents and smaller RVs (up to 24 feet), while the lakeside option allows RVs up to 27 feet and also sports 10 sites equipped with oTENTik A-frames. This gives glampers plenty of options, while still making the sites perfectly acceptable to those looking to live closer to the land.
The oTENTik sites are wonderful, but if you’re not planning on reserving one, you may be annoyed by the fact that they’ve been given some of the most prime real estate in the camp. It’s not as if the rest of the site lacks for beauty, but it does feel like anyone who gets the best spots should have to work a little harder to earn them.
Both no-service sites are minutes away from Lake Minnewanka, although the lakeside campground is obviously closer to the water (the names might not be creative, but at least they’re not misleading). The main campground is set deeper in the forest, but it’s still only a short walk to the lake.
This means that the lakeside campground tends to be a bit more popular, and since it’s also smaller, you should make reservations well in advance if it’s your preferred spot. As a matter of fact, you should probably be at your computer the same day the sites are released each spring, as they have been known to sell out in minutes.
All this beauty means that many people who set up camp do so with the intention of staying a while, and it’s very hard to get in. The sites aren’t open very long, either, as the lakeside campground is available from May through October, whereas the main campground is only open from late June through early September.
There are comfort stations at both sites with showers, running water, and flush toilets, and you can find all sorts of things to do at the lake. That includes canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, and kayaking, but be careful about falling in — the water is very cold.
What I Liked:
- Very close to Lake Minnewanka
- Offers a variety of campsites
- oTENTik A-frames available
- Plenty of water activities to do
- Provides all the basic amenities
What I Didn’t Like:
- Tends to fill up extremely fast
- oTENTik spots take up the best campsites
Civilization hasn’t left much of a mark on this campground, making it perfect for those wanting to get back to nature
If the first two options haven’t been rustic enough for your tastes, then you’ll love Waterfowl Lakes. This site truly lets you commune with nature, as the scenery is incredible, there are several fun hiking trails nearby, and you’ll be extremely close to some of the native wildlife.
That’s not to say that this site is purely for primitives, however. Small RVs (up to 24 feet) are allowed on the premises, and there is a single washroom with flush toilets (as well as 3 additional dry toilets). Even smaller rigs will have trouble navigating the tight spaces here, though, so you might be better off leaving the RV at home. Also, if you’re a germaphobe, these restrooms might give you a slight panic attack.
There are other basic amenities like picnic tables, food lockers, and sani-dumps, but don’t expect the red carpet to be rolled out for you when you arrive. This is camping au naturel. They do have firewood available, though, so you’ll have that one up on your caveman ancestors.
There are 116 campsites here, split up into 3 different sections. The RVs are all kept separate from the tent and walk-in campers, so you won’t have different camping philosophies bumping up on one another.
There are two different Waterfowl Lakes, the upper and lower. The upper is the more attractive (and therefore the most popular — it’s like high school all over again), but both are a short walk from the campground. The water here is pristine and gorgeous, as it’s colored a beautiful turquoise by silt as it runs down from Peyto Glacier.
If that somehow isn’t enough to float your boat, the site is located near several other attractions, including Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, and Saskatchewan Crossing. There are hiking trails all around as well, including easy hikes to Cirque and Chephren Lakes and more challenging climbs to higher elevations. Just bring bear spray with you, because this is their house, not yours.
Unlike many other campgrounds in the area, Waterfowl Lakes is first-come, first-served, so you’ll need to show up early rather than make reservations online. However, it’s a great choice if you’ve rolled into Banff only to discover that some of the more popular sites have already filled up — we just hope you packed everything you’ll need, because you’re unlikely to find it here.
What I Liked:
- Great spot for roughing it
- Very close to a variety of beautiful lakes
- Several fun hiking trails nearby
- Ideal for spotting local wildlife
- Campsite is divided into sections for different styles
What I Didn’t Like:
- A bit cramped for even small RVs
- Toilets aren’t the cleanest
Nestled between woods and a river, you’ll see all sorts of animals here
Although not quite as rustic as Waterfowl Lakes, Rampart Creek comes pretty close. Situated just off the Columbia Icefield, this campsite is roughly 90 miles (150 km) from the town of Banff. It’s a bit closer (55 miles/90 km) to Lake Louise, but if you’re looking to get off the grid, you can hardly even see civilization from here.
You will be well and truly in nature, as there’s pretty much zero cell service to be found up here. Don’t expect all the trappings of home at the campsite, either, as it offers 51 unserviced sites of different sizes, none of which offer electricity or RV hookups.
Feel free to bring your rig anyway, but all vehicles have to fit on the driveway that comes with your site. That means that larger campers are likely out; the official rules forbid anything over 35 feet, but we doubt you’ll be able to get a rig that size up here. Anything bigger than 27 feet is likely out of the question (and 27 feet is pushing it).
There is running water — assuming you can make it run. A single hand-pump well is all you’ll have to fill your bottles and pans, so forget about filling up an RV. There aren’t showers either, of course, and they only have a few dry toilets.
So why would anyone stay in a campsite that time forgot like this? Well, as soon as you get here, you’ll understand. The forest is breathtaking and peaceful, and it’s one of the few places on the planet that lets you truly leave the rat race behind. There are hiking trails galore, allowing you to really take in everything the woods have to offer, but again, bring bear spray.
It’s not all trees and bushes here, though. The North Saskatchewan River runs alongside one edge of the camp, allowing you to fish, splash around, or just sit and enjoy the show. While bears will sometimes come down to drink or fish, you’re more likely to see an elk or bighorn sheep wander by (leave them alone, too).
The site itself is laid out in such a way that encourages making new friends and living communally. There are shared cook shelters with wood stoves and picnic tables, so it’s rare that you’ll eat alone. Most people will keep to themselves if you don’t want to socialize, though, and since people come here to get away from it all, it rarely gets noisy enough to spoil your tranquility.
Rampart Creek is the only campsite in the park north of Lake Louise that offers reservations, allowing you to plan your trip in advance. Despite its primitive offerings, the place is very popular and slots go fast.
What I Liked:
- Perfect for getting off the grid
- Beautiful setting of woods alongside North Saskatchewan River
- Layout encourages meeting new people
- Great for fishing or wildlife watching
- Very quiet and peaceful
What I Didn’t Like:
- Almost no amenities
- Far from Banff itself
While you won’t find full hookups here, there’s plenty of room for all sorts of rigs
If you want to explore Banff and Jasper — but the idea of regressing to the Dark Ages doesn’t really appeal to you — then Silverhorn Creek is one of the most RV-friendly campsites in the area. It offers 45 spacious, mostly back-in slots for larger RVs and other vehicles, all of which sit on a gravel lot.
It’s sort of a companion campsite to Waterfowl Lakes, as it’s a mere 3 miles (5 km) from that campsite. If the description of Waterfowl Lakes sounded good to you but you don’t want to leave your RV at home, Silverhorn Creek should be your destination of choice. It’s not really hospitable to tent camping, though.
Despite the fact that this site can accommodate bigger rigs, it’s not very big — which means that your berth isn’t going to be very spacious. Expect to rub elbows with your neighbors, which is great for making new friends but not ideal if you came up here to be alone. You’ll have your own picnic table and fire pit, though, so you can at least eat a meal and stare into the flames in peace.
This isn’t a full hookup site, as there’s no power or sewer lines. You can run a generator during set hours in both the morning and evening, though. This allows you to charge up without creating a constant hum that spoils the beauty of the surrounding area, which is a nice compromise for everyone.
And when we say “beauty of the surrounding area,” we’re not exaggerating. The views of the Rockies you’ll have from here will absolutely make you weak in the knees, and it’s close to a variety of lakes and hiking trails, including Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, and the aforementioned Waterfowl Lakes. The scenery somehow gets even more magical once the sun goes down, as the complete darkness allows every single star in the sky to shine through.
There’s a hand pump for water, although many people just head over to the Waterfowl Lakes campground to fill up instead. There are only dry toilets at the site as well, but they’re generally clean.
There’s a small stream running along the edge of the campground that feeds into two small ponds. It’s not really big enough to do more than splash around in, but it definitely adds to the beauty of the campsite. You’ll find some chairs along the pond as well, making it a perfect spot to sit and enjoy nature.
What I Liked:
- Incredibly beautiful
- Lots of room for RVs
- Easy access to lakes and hiking trails
- Toilets kept clean
- Generators only allowed at certain times
What I Didn’t Like:
- Not good for tent camping
- Berths are very close together
How to Choose the Right Campsite
While we feel that Tunnel Mountain Village is the most versatile campground in the Banff/Jasper area, it’s impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer to a question like this.
In order to help you decide which campsite is best for you, we’ve put together a brief guide outlining all the things you should consider before you set up shop somewhere.
Type of Camping Available
Not every campsite accepts the same types of campers. Many of the options in the Banff/Jasper area are limited in the type of vehicles they’ll accept, so check to see if RVs are allowed before pulling up in one. Likewise, tent camping isn’t advisable at every site, either.
Piggybacking off the above point, just because a site says that RVs are allowed doesn’t mean that you can actually get your rig in there. Many only accept smaller vehicles, while others are in areas that are very difficult to get to via motorhome.
We’ll be honest: Banff and Jasper National Parks aren’t the place to go if you want all the comforts of home. Most of these sites are pretty bare bones, but some have more amenities than others. You should investigate what your campground of choice has on hand before leaving so that you know what to bring with you.
Before you leave to visit Banff, it’s probably smart to make sure you’ll have a place to stay once you get there. While many campgrounds are first-come, first-served, others take reservations — and reservations tend to go fast. Also, only a handful of campgrounds are open year-round, as the rest are usually only available from May through October or so.
Banff and Jasper National Parks are big places, and the word “nearby” is used loosely here. You’ll likely have to drive a ways to get anywhere besides your current campsite, and many of the locations are quite similar (meaning, you can travel from the lakes near your campsite to lakes near another campsite).
However, if you want to see as much of the park and surrounding area as you can, your best bet is to pick a site that’s as centrally located as possible. That’s one of the reasons why we suggested Tunnel Mountain Village, but there are other options that are equally suitable as well.
Most of the sites in the area allow you to bring your dog, but be sure to pick up after them and always keep them on a leash. This is bear country, and your dog could make a nice little snack for a grizzly if they get too close. Don’t just worry about bears, either: elk, wolves, coyotes, and even mountain lions and wolverines could try to make an hors d’oeuvres out of your beloved pet.
Banff and Jasper National Parks are so beautiful that you can’t really go wrong when picking a camping site. Still, we feel that Tunnel Mountain Village offers the most appeal to the widest range of campers, which is why it’s the first place we recommend trying.
You can find gorgeous views anywhere in both parks, though, so there’s no need to limit yourself to just one campsite — why not try them all?
We’d tell you to let us know which one is your favorite, but you’re not likely to have cell or Wi-Fi reception inside the parks. Maybe send a carrier pigeon?
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