Banff vs Lake Louise • Which One is Right for You

One of the main questions you may ask yourself when planning your trip to Banff is whether you should stay in Banff or Lake Louise. It’s a tricky question, especially for those who haven’t visited the Canadian Rockies before and don’t know what to expect.

Banff National Park is a vast park that requires a lot of time to explore properly. Both the Town of Banff and Lake Louise are located within Banff National Park. Both Lake Louise and Banff are right off the Trans Canada Highway and easily accessible from Calgary, though Banff is much closer to Calgary than Lake Louise.

Both Banff and Lake Louise are fantastic places to stay, but if you are only looking for one over the other, we hope to make that choice easier for you. So which is better, Banff vs. Lake Louise?


Banff vs Lake Louise – Where Should You Base Yourself?

Quick Facts

  • Banff is 1.5 hours from Calgary
  • Possible to get around Banff without a car
  • Top attractions Near Downtown Banff: Banff Gondola, Vermilion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake
  • If visiting in the winter, Downtown Banff is close to Mt. Norquay Ski Resort.
  • There are plenty of hotels around Downtown Banff.
  • Lake Louise is just over 2 hours from Calgary
  • You do not need a car in Lake Louise, though having one makes it easier to hop on the Icefields Parkway
  • Top attractions around Lake Louise: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Morant’s Curve, Lake Louise Gondola
  • If visiting in the winter, Lake Louise Village is just 10 minutes from the Ski Resort.
  • The only hotel on Lake Louise is the Chateau, the rest are scattered around the area.

Staying in Banff Over Lake Louise

Banff Downtown in October
Downtown Banff in the Fall

We’ll start with the more popular option, which is staying in Banff over Lake Louise. One would choose to stay in Banff over Lake Louise for many reasons, but the main is likely the location and more accommodation options. More competition also means slightly lower prices.

Advantages of Staying in Banff Over Lake Louise

While the town of Banff is physically further away from sights like Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and Lake Louise Ski Resort, it is a town of almost 9000, with most living in Downtown Banff. That means you’ll have facilities that you won’t have in Lake Louise. Things like excellent restaurants, bars and nightlife, a movie theater, a bowling alley, and museums all exist in Banff.

If you don’t want to go out on a hike or venture far from Banff for a day, there are plenty of things to do in the actual town. For instance you can easily spend a whole day strolling Banff Avenue, venturing up the Banff Gondola, walking to Bow Falls, and getting a view at Surprise Corner.

Then, we’ll move onto the Banff restaurants there are a lot of them and of every cuisine, too. We head to Banff to enjoy Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian, Balkan, etc. There are nice upscale restaurants for a fancy date or casual places to hang out with friends.

Whitebark Cafe in Banff

There are also coffee shops like Whitebark, Evelyns, Wildflour, and even a Starbucks to enjoy. And if your group wants to split up with some going shopping and some hiking, this is a possibility in Banff. There are plenty of stores, from high-end outdoor wear and Canada Goose Down to Lululemon, all the way to cheap souvenir shops. See our favorite Banff restaurants and our favorite Banff coffee shops.

Vermilion Lakes Sunset Couple
Vermilion Lakes Sunset

During the holidays or other popular times, you can always count on the Town of Banff to put on a fun event. Our favorite is around Christmas when the whole town comes alive with Christmas cheer.

Banff is closer to Calgary, close to Canmore, and conveniently located near sights like Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and Vermilion Lakes. If you plan to go hiking in Kananaskis Country, you’ll want to stay in Banff over Lake Louise. Or better yet, head to Canmore and stay there, which is almost as close to Kananaskis as you can get.

If it’s wintertime and you want to go skiing, you’ll be able to enjoy Mt. Norquay, which is just minutes away or drive to Banff Sunshine, which is less than a 20-minute drive.

Banff also has a much better nightlife scene. Quite a young Australian crowd resides in Banff, a town that runs with the help of seasonal workers. Bars like the Dancing Sasquatch see people partying on well into the night.

Banff vs Lake Louise
Strolling Around Downtown Banff

Drawbacks of Staying in Banff over Lake Louise

The main downside to staying in Banff over Lake Louise in the summer are the crowds, which don’t disappear in the summer, especially on weekends in town. If you are after a quieter experience in the park away from the hustle and bustle of a lively mountain town, you may want to consider staying away from Banff Ave and instead in one of these charming Banff cabins.

Recommended Restaurants in Banff

  • Eden
  • Park Distillery
  • Magpie and Stump
  • Brazen

To Recap – Staying in Banff Over Lake Louise

Advantages

  • More Accommodation Options
  • Better Restaurants
  • Nightlife Scene
  • Lively Town
  • Good Shopping
  • Proximity to Calgary
  • Closer to Kananaskis, Canmore, and Downtown Banff Sights

Disadvantages

  • Busier
  • Less Remote
  • Further from the Icefields Parkway, Lake Louise Ski Resort, Yoho, and other fantastic Banff sights.

Staying in Lake Louise Over Banff

Banff vs Lake Louise
Big Beehive Hike

Lake Louise is about 60 km from the Town of Banff. Most people think of Lake Louise as just the lake itself, but there is actually a little village there, called Lake Louise Village. When I refer to Lake Louise in this post, I’m talking about the entire Lake Louise area, not just the lake. This includes the ski resort, village, and lake.

Lake Louise Village
Samson Mall / Lake Louise Village
Lake-Louise-Canoe

There aren’t many people living in Lake Louise as full-time residents. Most of the occupants here are seasonal employees at the ski resort or some of the Lake Louise hotels in the area. There are about 1000 of these people here at any given time. While Lake Louise is more remote than Banff, it is still a great place to stay on your vacation in Banff.

Advantages of Staying in Lake Louise Over Banff

Banff vs Lake Louise
Lake Louise in December

First, the upsides of staying in Lake Louise over Banff. Lake Louise is much quieter than the town of Banff, though, during the day in the summer, Lake Louise (the lake itself) is actually very busy. But at night, it’s going to be extremely mellow.

Lake Louise is much further into Banff National Park. Using Lake Louise as your base means you’re much closer to Lake Louise Ski Resort and Summer Gondola, Lake Moraine, the start of the Icefields Parkway, Yoho National Park, The Kootenays, and about an hour closer to the town of Jasper.

Although Lake Louise still sees crowds at the lake itself, the rest of the area isn’t explored so much. There are some fantastic hikes and scrambles around the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake areas (see our suggestions here and here). And even more hikes as you travel the Icefields Parkway towards Bow Lake and Peyto Lake.

If it’s wintertime at Lake Louise, you have easy access to ice skating on Lake Louise, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and a sleigh ride without the drive from Banff. You’re only 5 minutes away from Lake Louise Ski Resort, which is exceptionally convenient on an epic powder day, if you are a powderhound skier or boarder.

You are less than 20 km away from Yoho National Park and very close to sights like Emerald Lake. If you plan to drive some of the Icefields Parkway and drive onto Jasper, staying in Lake Louise means you are only a few km away from the entrance.

Downsides of Staying in Lake Louise Over Banff

Lake Louise in the winter
Lake Louise With Family on Christmas Eve

Its remoteness means that accommodation is much more limited. Only a handful of hotels service the Lake Louise area, meaning they are slightly more expensive and, quite honestly, not as lovely as the Downtown Banff hotels. They get by mainly on their location and proximity to Lake Louise.

The only hotel at Lake Louise itself is the Fairmont, which is very expensive and overpriced. The few others are along Lake Louise Dr, but they book up fast in the summer, so you’ll have to book well in advance. There is no accommodation at Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Lake Louise Restaurants? Well, there aren’t many. There are a few places to eat in the Samson Mall (the Lake Louise village), including Lagaans and the Trailhead Cafe, but they close around 5pm after most tourists have gone.

The cheapest place to grab a burger is Bill Peyto’s Cafe in the HI Hostel. If you miss those options, your best bet is to head up the Chateau Lake Louise for an expensive meal in their fancy restaurants. There’s one grocery store in Lake Louise, The Village Market. It’s pretty well stocked for a small-town grocery store, but don’t come expecting a lot or for it to be inexpensive.

You won’t find much nightlife here at Lake Louise either, besides the Explorers Lounge in the Lake Louise Inn, which is full of young workers. So plan on drinking your wine at your accommodation. Don’t try venturing too far in search of food or drinks either. You won’t find it. The next town over is Field, which is 27 km away – and trust me, there’s not much there either.

Lake Louise in the Winter
Lake Louise in the Winter

Remember, just because you’re staying at a Lake Louise hotel, you don’t get special access to either Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, and you’re still going to be fighting for space while seeing these two beauties.

The advantage is you won’t have to fight for parking at Lake Louise in the summer mornings and be among the first to see Lake Louise at sunrise. Remember, that you will still have to make a plan to get to Moraine Lake!

Mount Saint Piran Hike


To Recap – Staying in Lake Louise Over Banff

Advantages

  • More exclusive accommodation options/more special
  • Quieter, especially at night and the further away you get from the lake
  • Easy parking near Lake Louise
  • Closer to Moraine Lake
  • Closer to the Icefields Parkway, Lake Louise Ski Resort, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake

Disadvantages

  • Slightly more expensive and books up faster.
  • No exclusive Lake Louise access
  • Few restaurant options
  • Few hotel options
  • Non-existent nightlife and shopping

How Far is Lake Louise From Banff?

How Far is Lake Louise From Banff?
Lake Louise itself is 61 km from Downtown Banff.

Lake Louise is 61 km from Banff. The drive takes about 45 minutes along the TransCanada or an hour if you take the scenic Bow Valley Parkway.

Other Notable Distances:

  • Canmore to Lake Louise: The town of Canmore is about 20 km further than the town of Banff. Canmore to Lake Louise is 83 km and will take just about an hour to travel between the two.
  • Calgary to Lake Louise: Depending on where you traveling from in Calgary you can expect the journey to take about 2 hours and 186.5 km via Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W.
  • Jasper to Lake Louise: It is 240 km and will take about three hours to drive from Jasper to Lake Louise along the Icefields Parkway.
  • Golden to Lake Louise: The town of Golden in BC is just an hour away from Lake Louise.
Lake Louise is so Blue
Evenings at Lake Louise

Banff or Lake Louise – What Would I Do?

Skating on Lake Louise

It’s a tough choice, and if I were a first time visitor to the Canadian Rockies, it would be a dilemma. After living here for years, I would suggest any visitor stay in both Banff and Lake Louise, with more time spent at a Banff hotel.

If I had five days, I would plan for three days in Banff, and two days around Lake Louise. If I had one week, I would plan for three days on Banff Avenue, two days at Lake Louise, and two days up in Jasper, and I would definitely make time to venture to Yoho National Park for a day while staying in Lake Louise! Hope that is helpful!


Where to Stay in Banff

Banff-Springs-Hotel
Mount Royal Hotel Banff

Where to Stay in Lake Louise

fairmont-lake-louise

Hopefully, this helped you determine if you want to stay in Banff or Lake Louise. Whatever choice you make you won’t be disappointed. If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.


Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service connecting you from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Banff or Canmore.
  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip, we like to compare camper prices on Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals and like to use travel credit cards to hack our way into free flights and hotels! Our favorite cards are the Capital One Venture X and Chase Sapphire, which both work well in Canada and have no foreign transaction fees.
  • Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!

↓ Join the community ↓

The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for Canadian Rockies travel advice and information, including hike and off-season travel information. You can also meet new adventure buddies.

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About Natasha

Natasha calls Canmore, Alberta home. After traveling across seven continents and 90 countries with Cameron, she settled down in the stunning Canadian Rockies. She loves to help others travel and make their planning easier. She is a winter enthusiast and loves to snowboard, ice skate, and snowshoe and enjoy all the fantastic summer opportunities in Banff like hiking, scrambling, and biking. You can find her in the mountains or enjoying a coffee by the river. Learn more on the about us page!

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4 thoughts on “Banff vs Lake Louise • Which One is Right for You”

  1. Hi Natasha
    Need advice pls.
    We are arriving from uk and don’t want to drive so planning to do transfers, tours and roam bus.
    Had thought to fly into Calgary and trf to lake Louise for 2nights before transfer to Jasper for maybe 3 nights then trf to Banff for maybe 4 nights before flying from Calgary to Vancouver.
    I’m concerned that limited accommodation by the lake and the fairmount too expensive for us.
    If we stay somewhere else will we be able to get to the lake without transport?
    Thinking lake Louise for 2 nights after long overnight flight and jet lag would be opportunity to recover and enjoy beauty of area? Appreciate help

    Reply
  2. Do you recommend staying in Canmore or Banff? We want a lively atmosphere with (shopping for my son) and good food and coffee (and ice cream) but we don’t like lots of crowds and long waits at restaurants (or difficulty parking). We also want easy access to getting out and about. Suggestions?

    Reply

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