Golden vs Banff • The Mountain Town That Might Save You a Buck

As the prices in Banff, Jasper, and Canmore continue to rise, many visitors find themselves looking for more affordable options. When it comes to accommodation in the summer, there is hardly anything reasonably priced, and that’s when we start recommending alternatives to budget-conscious travelers.

When searching, many will see the small town of Golden within the radar of Banff and Lake Louise. If this is you, you’re probably wondering what this small town is all about and if Golden is really worth visiting.

Golden or Banff


The locations of Banff and Golden are quite different and provide amazing access to different attractions.


Things to do in Golden BC
Sitting next to the Pedestrian Bridge in Golden

Golden is a small town with a population of under 4000 people in southeastern British Columbia, it’s near the Alberta/Border and built around the confluence of the Columbia and Kicking Horse Rivers, surrounded by the Purcell and the Rocky Mountains in all directions.

Just because it’s in BC doesn’t mean it’s any closer to an airport than Banff. Its closest airport is still Calgary International Airport, about 3.5 hours away. It’s a 2 hour drive from Downtown Banff and Canmore, making it still a good place if you don’t mind driving into the park.

Though it’s further away from Calgary, Banff, Canmore, and Kananaskis, it has a great location for accessing Yoho, Glacier, and Kootenay National Park. It’s even just 4 hours away from Jasper, which is about the same distance Downtown Banff is to Jasper. If you will be out exploring these areas every day, Golden is not a bad option for you! That being said, you will want a rental car if you stay in Golden, as your own means of transport is vital for exploring.


Vermilion Lakes Sunset Landscape

Banff on the other hand is located just 1.5 hours away from Calgary International Airport, and a quick drive from the airport, or even a shuttle like the Banff Airporter will get you to Banff Avenue in no time. Banff is easier to visit without a car and you have quick and easy access to beautiful sights like Vermilion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and so much more.

Downtown Banff is in the middle the Canadian Rocky mountains, and you’re always only one blink away from a great view. Banff is just 15 minutes away from Canmore, 45 minutes to Kananaskis, one hour from Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, 1.5 hours from Yoho, and 4 hours from Jasper.

The Verdict: Both Golden and Banff have excellent access to national parks and a great location. However, if you don’t have a car, staying in Golden would not be ideal.


The main reason you are probably looking at staying Golden is because it is much cheaper than staying in Banff.


cedar house golden

There’s no denying it, hotels and accommodation in Golden are much cheaper than hotels in Banff or Canmore. So if you’re seeing hotel rates in Banff in the summer of over $500/night, do a quick search in Golden. Some of the nicest places in Banff charge over $1000 in the summer, while in Golden, the Cedar House, easily our favorite place to stay is $250. You can also score on mountain lodging near Kicking Horse Mountain Resort for under $300 a night, and there are plenty of cute Airbnbs and log cabins in Golden at an affordable price.


moose hotel in banff

While you can often find decent rates on the weekdays outside the summer in Banff, we find prices to be at least more than double, sometimes triple, the cost of staying in Golden. The Banff Springs charges over $1000 a night in the summer, while even more mid-range accommodations get away with charging $500 a night in July and August. Banff has become a very expensive destination leading many visitors to look elsewhere for accommodation.

The next best option outside of Banff is the Alberta mountain town of Canmore, but rates in Canmore have also skyrocketed, and you can expect to spend at least $400 a night in the summer months for basic accommodation. As far as mountain towns go, there’s not much else beyond Banff and Canmore besides the small hamlets of Dead Man’s Flats and Exshaw. This leads people to good ol Golden, British Columbia.

While you can save money by staying in Cochrane or even Calgary, this will be a completely different vacation, and you will be further from pretty much any mountain activity. This is why we push those after a mountain and nature holiday to look into Golden for value.

The Verdict: No matter what way you look at it, a stay in Golden is going to be much more affordable than a stay in Banff. If you’re looking to visit on a budget, consider looking at accommodation in Golden.

The Town/Ambience

Comparing Downtown Banff and the overall vibe to Downtown Golden is like comparing apples and oranges, but we will try anyway.

Downtown Golden

downtown golden

The core of Downtown Golden, when compared to Banff, leaves a lot to be desired. There is one main downtown area on 9th Avenue, and you can walk the street slowly in about 10 minutes. If you’ve come to do some shopping, you’ll want to hold off until you get to Banff, or even Whistler, if making a cross-country Canada road trip.

We visit Golden often, and we remark on how laid-back it is every time. It is a real working town with real locals who have been living there for decades. It has an everyone-knows-everyone vibe. That being said, there is no way you’ll want to spend your day strolling around Downtown Golden like you would Banff, and you’ll likely want to take day trips every day to Yoho, Glacier, and beyond.

Most of the hotels and accommodation offerings aren’t actually near this downtown core but are a short drive away, if not along Trans Canada. At night, the whole area turns into a ghost town.

Downtown Banff

Banff Downtown in October

Downtown Banff, while not quite like an Aspen or Vail, is a beautiful town where one could easily spend a whole day shopping, eating, and perusing Banff Avenue. There are plenty of hotels on Banff Avenue, where you could easily walk out of the lobby and be in the center of the action.

Depending on how many shops you feel like strolling in, you could easily spend a few hours on Banff Avenue, and then some if you pop over onto Bear Street. Walk all the way to Cascade Gardens to smell the flowers, and then continue your walk to Bow Falls.

The overall vibe is more upscale, and there’s an astonishing view of Cascade Mountain every time you look down Banff Avenue. Compared to Golden, it’s a much nicer downtown experience, albeit busier. There’s plenty of tourists here during all hours, and finding a local feeling like you would in Golden is few and far between.

The Verdict: Banff has a nicer downtown core and ambience. Likely one of the nicest in all of Canada. Golden should be considered for those after a quiet, laid back mountain holiday.


As far as attractions and sights go there’s a lot to both Banff and Golden. And if you’re into hiking and biking you can’t go wrong with either option.


The main attraction and highlight in Golden is easily the Golden Skybridge. This is a 426-foot-high suspension bridge over a fantastic canyon with views across the Columbia Valley. The two featured suspension bridges are the highest in Canada. While the main feature here is the bridges, families could easily spend the whole day here and enjoy the mountain coaster, axe throwing, zipline, and obstacle course.

If seeing a grizzly bear is high on your Canadian bucket list, Golden is the only place I can guarantee you will see one. At Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, there is actually a Grizzly Bear Refuge, the largest one in the world and it’s here that Boo the Bear lives all year round. You can pay him a visit all summer long, and it’s one of the best things to do in Golden!

Beyond the main paid attractions, Golden is less than an hour from some fantastic sights in Yoho, like Wapta Falls, Emerald Lake, and Takakkaw Falls. If you want to hike on the Iceline Trail, Golden is a great place to base yourself. However, you don’t have to drive into Yoho for hiking, as local hikes to Gorman Lake and Grassy Knoll are just a short drive away. And then you have Glacier National Park bordering Golden.

If you’re a hardcore mountain biker, Kicking Horse also has a pretty impressive downhill bike park.


There are so many attractions around Banff that it would be impossible to list them all in this article (so we recommend checking out this one!). From the Banff Gondola to the Lake Minnewanka Cruise, there are plenty of ways to stay entertained here.

Hiking in Banff is generally more accessible than in Golden, as Parks Canada does a great job maintaining many trails. Accessing some of these trails is also much more doable without a car than in Golden.

Banff is closer to any Canmore attractions on your list and is just one hour away from the two most prized lakes in Canada—Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Banff is 1.5 hours from Yoho National Park, but it’s a bit closer to Kootenay National Park attractions like Marble Canyon and the Stanley Glacier.

The Verdict: There are more paid family-friendly attractions in Banff. And while Golden is trying harder to get to this point, Golden is still a more do-it-yourself destination, meaning you’ll hike without many others on the trail, and the biking is top-notch (as with most destinations in BC).



Eagle Eye Restaurant - kicking horse

While there are some good restaurants in Golden, they may be more what you expect out of a mountain town. There’s at least one restaurant for every major cuisine, like Japanese, pizza, and Mexican, but nothing will make you feel like you’re in NYC here. There are a few upscale restaurants like Eleven 22, and we always love having a burrito at Reposados. There’s also Eagle Eye Restaurant on top of KHMR, which is the highest restaurant in Canada and has absolutely epic views.


sky bistro

I’m always impressed by the variety of restaurants in Banff. There’s a cuisine and price point for everyone, and some of the restaurants are extremely high-end. Many of these restaurants might make you feel like you have stepped into a Toronto or Vancouver dining establishment, but the prices often reflect that.

From Vietnamese to ramen, to dining in the sky at Sky Bistro, Banff has it all. So, if you’re a bit of a foodie, Banff is 100% the better option for you.

Verdict: Banff has a better restaurant scene.


Moraine Lake in the summer

There’s no comparison here. The crowds in Banff, particularly in the summer, are 50 times worse than in Golden. It’s unlikely you’ll experience any crowding at all in Golden, so if you are after a quieter experience without hordes of people, Golden is the better option.



snowboarding at kicking horse mountain resort

We love venturing to Golden for a winter getaway, mainly because Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is one of the best ski resorts in all of Canada – especially if you love freeriding. The terrain here is gnarly and steep, and if you catch it on a powder day, you’re guaranteed a good time. You can still grab great on-mountain accommodation in the winter, and bonus – the town of Golden is only a 15-minute easy drive away from KHMR. If you’re a bit of a freeride enthusiast, the Freeride World Tour is held at Kicking Horse Mountain every year. It’s the only event of its kind in Canada and is where you can watch pro athletes absolutely send off the biggest faces.

If you’re into snowmobiling or “sledding” as it’s referred to in Canada, Golden is one of the epicenters. Not being in a national park means having fun with all these engines.

Beyond skiing and sledding, there are some nice cross-country trails around Golden in the winter, and you can always venture into Yoho to marvel at Wapta Falls and Emerald Lake.


Banff Christmas
Enjoying the Banff Christmas Market at Warner Stables

If you’re after a full-on winter holiday, or a Christmas holiday, you’ll want to base yourself in Banff. Have you seen a Hallmark Christmas movie lately? That’s what you’ll get when you plan a winter trip here. Fresh snow, snow-capped peaks, restaurants with roaring fireplaces, a stay at a castle, and maybe even a horse-drawn sleigh? Check, check, check!

Not only will the vibes make you feel like you’ve stepped inside a snow globe, but there’s plenty to do here as well. Skiing at Lake Louise or Banff Sunshine is a much more full-fledged resort family ski vacation experience. There are plenty of cross-country ski trails and even some fantastic winter hiking opportunities.

While rates are still higher than in Golden, they are much more manageable than in the summer, and you can stay at a great hotel in the winter for under $200 a night (holidays excluded).

Final Verdict: For a full ski/winter vacation in the mountains, choose Banff. If you are more of a hardcore winter person who loves skiing or snowboarding big mountain terrain and sledding, consider Golden.

So should you base yourself in Golden or Banff?

There’s nothing like staying in the heart of Banff. From the nightlife to the accessibility, Banff is a fantastic place to stay, as long as you don’t mind the price tag. If it’s within your budget we recommend staying in Banff.

However, if you’re looking at cheaper and quieter alternatives to Banff or Canmore, we highly recommend looking at accommodation in Golden over Cochrane and Calgary. Unlike Cochrane or Calgary, Golden is actually a mountain town and surrounded by peaks. Yes, it’s a sleepy little town, but it’s developing its tourism and has plenty to offer, like the Golden Skybridge, Boo the Bear, mountain biking, and has a great location near Yoho National Park.

Where to Stay in Golden?

Enjoying the views from The Aspens near KHMR
Enjoying the views from The Aspens near KHMR

We’ve visited Golden multiple times, and we always stay at different places each time. There are so many hidden gem accommodation options in the area. Unlike staying in Canmore or Banff, many more private BC cabins and chalets are available due to looser rental units’ restrictions. We’ve stayed at all the following options and loved all of them!

cedar house golden

Cedar House Chalets

Cedar House Chalets provided a comfortable place to stay and great views over Kicking Horse Mountain. Each chalet has a full kitchen, good WiFi, a fireplace, and, most importantly, a hot tub!

Golden Cabins in BC

All Season Chalet

If you don’t mind being a bit far from Downtown Golden, I recommend staying at one of these cabins tucked away in the wilderness. Next to the Kicking Horse River with views of Mt Vaux, this was our favorite place to stay in Golden.

the aspens golden

The Aspens

This private and sheltered little cabin is just far enough outside of the hustle and bustle for peace and quiet yet close enough that you’re never too far from the action. Kicking Horse ski resort is just steps away from the cabin. It’s great for a winter ski vacation!

Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
  • 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 Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
  • 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!
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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