If you’re adventurous and want to trek through the alpine meadows, forests, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes, Glacier and Banff national parks offer an unparalleled experience. The two destinations are a hiker’s paradise, and you need a visit to discover what awaits you.
The main difference between Glacier National Park and Banff is: Glacier is the better park to visit if you’re looking to escape the city’s fast pace, access kid-friendly roadside attractions by car, and partake in advanced hiking. Banff is more cost-effective, with breathtaking views, fewer crowds, and year-round travel with plenty of seasonal activities.
|Category||Glacier National Park||Banff National Park|
|Cost Range for 1 Week||$389 – $1,699 (source)||$262 – $1,334 (source)|
|Location||Montana US||Alberta, Canada|
|Size||41,440km2 (16,000 miles2)||6,641 Km2 (2,564 miles2)|
|Population of towns in the park||4,500||8,700|
|Highest peak||Triple Divide peak 2,444 meters (8,020 feet)||Mount Forbes at 3,612 meters (11,850 feet)|
|The year it was established||1910||1885|
|Length of hiking trails||2,000 kms (745.6 m)||16,000 kms (1,000 miles)|
|Average annual Visitors||3.3 million||4 million|
|Entrance fee US$||$30 per vehicle, $15 per person||$9.80 per adult; 17 and under free|
|Where to stay||Lake McDonald Lodge, St. Mary Lodge, Garden Wall Inn, Prince of Wales Hotel||Château Lake Louise, Baker Creek Mountain Resort, Banff Springs Hotel|
Banff National Park is better if you prefer fewer crowds but with numerous activities. The park is adjacent to Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks. If you’re into backpacking and have no problem with a busy place teeming with visitors, go for Glacier National Park.
Overview: Banff National Park Vs. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park sits on Montana’s northern edge and offers more than 700 miles of trails, numerous glaciers, and a wide range of North America’s wildlife species. This remarkable pristine park is also home to lakes, mountains, and waterfalls and has been nicknamed the continent’s crown.
Banff, now home to seven national historic sites, is the world’s third oldest national park dating back to 1883 when railway workers discovered hot springs at the base of present-day Sulphur mountains.
This article explores all you need to know about the two national parks and helps you decide which destination will be on your next itinerary.
The starkest difference between the two parks is which side of the Canada and US border each lays on. While they’re only four hours away from each other, you might be crossing into another country, so make sure you have your passport ready to go!
Banff National Park is over 2,500 km (1553 mi) larger than Glacier, but both host the same amount of annual visitors. This means that Glacier feels a bit more congested with people than Banff, though Glacier’s amenities are more modest than Banff’s. However, with backcountry camping and remote hikes being just steps away, it’s easy to escape crowds no matter which park you choose.
How to Get to Glacier and Banff National Park
Glacier National Park is in Montana, and part of it crosses the border into British Columbia in Canada. Besides, US Highway 2 leads to the park from either western or eastern entrance. It can also be accessed from Highway 17 or 89.
Banff National Park lies about 80 miles to the west of Calgary. Different national and international carriers serve Calgary international airport. Rental cars are available at the airport as well as Trans-Canada1. Similarly, bus service and shuttle service by tour operators ply the airport and Banff.
Both Banff and Glacier offer several different modes of transportation to and around their parks. Shuttles are available to bring you from the nearest airports (Calgary International and Glacier Park International, respectfully) to your destination.
Once you’ve arrived, take your choice of taxi, guided tour, bike, or rental car to navigate around. Public transit is also available in Banff, or choose to float on rafts through Glacier’s waterways.
Rather than flying, Glacier is accessible via Amtrak as well. While Uber and Lyft may be able to transport you around the park, its vastness and potential for poor cellular reception make it an unreliable means. Also note that many roads in Glacier National Park are seasonal, so check for road closures or visit before the snow hits.
What You Can Do and See Once You Get There
Glacier National Park covers 41,440 square kilometers (16,000 square miles) with numerous jagged and rocky mountains suitable for camping, hiking, and backpacking. It has 13 campgrounds, more than 1,000 campsites, and more than 700 miles of trails. Two Medicine Lake is an ideal place to pitch a tent when hiking.
It is surrounded by meadows, scenic forests, and terrains with bright wildflowers during spring. Summer and spring are the best times to visit Glacier National Park, and getting around the park is easier. Most roads at the park at his time are open and easily accessible.
Banff National Park is a vast park in the Rockies mountains covering 2,500 square miles (6,600 square kilometers) and contiguous with Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho national. It gives different adventure types, having deep lakes, whitewater rivers, expansive meadows, and giant glaciers. Unlike Glacier, where most of its roads are closed in winter, most of Banff’s roads are open throughout the year.
Glacier Park boasts about 2,000 kilometers (745.6 miles) long of hiking trails ideal for a day hike, backpacking adventures, and camping treks. Hikers can have a spectacular view of waterfalls, pristine forests, mountains, alpine lakes, and tundra.
Banff Park has more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of trails, and most of them are accessible from Banff town and the village of Lake Louise. The prime season for hiking runs from July to mid-September. By late June, most passes are covered with snow and could experience avalanche hazards.
During this time, trails are muddier, and the best hiking locations are on lower elevations. Similarly, drier parts, mainly in the southern region facing the slopes near Banff town, are relatively drier. However, by mid-July, most passes are free of snow.
Glacier National Park is home to more than 200 species of birds, and 71 species of mammals, ranging from the tiniest pygmy shrew to the massive elk weighing more than 500 pounds. The ecosystem in Glacier is relatively intact and undisturbed.
On the other hand, Banff National Park is home to about 53 species of mammals that include eight ungulates species, such as mountain goats, deer, and bighorn sheep. In the past, the bison roamed the region, and the last one was killed in 1858. It is also home to predatory animals such as coyotes, wolves, cougars, and bears. The park is also home to more than 300 bird species.
Other Popular Activities at Banff National Park
Other activities you can indulge in at Banff, includes:
- Boat touring
- Downhill skiing
- Ice climbing
Sporting activities are also popular such as:
- Mountain biking
- Dog sledding
- Ice skating
- Scuba diving
If you love bird watching or photography, you’ll never be bored at Banff National Park because almost every activity is possible.
Other Popular Activities at Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park also offers almost limitless activities to visitors. Other outdoor activities include rafting, biking, boating, backpacking, fishing, climbing, and rock climbing.
Where to Stay
If you’re visiting Banff National Park, you’ll find every accommodation type, ranging from campsites to five-star resorts. The iconic Deer Lodge is a rustic former teahouse that has been receiving visitors since 1925. Visitors on Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise can take advantage of the lake’s fantastic view while taking a meal.
It offers bars, restaurants, a kid’s camp, and a spa. Bakers Creek mountain resort has log cabins on the bow river located south of Lake Louise. Besides, it also has fish fishing rods and bikes for renting. Banff Spring Hotel is the property of the park and was founded in 1888.
At Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald Lodge is a famous lodge that was opened in 1913. Others in the area include Cedar Creek Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Village Inn at Apar, and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins. You always need to book your accommodation in advance, especially if it’s during peak season.
Can You Drive From Glacier to Banff?
Banff National Park is about 245 miles (394 km) from Glacier National Park. The routes you can take are the US Highway 89, Trans-Canada highway, and Alberta Highway 2. Carway town lies near the US and Canada border and has limited hours of crossing between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm.
The border is one of the lesser trafficked crossing points. However, there can be delays, particularly during summer. You can also download the border patrol wait time app from google play to check the waiting time before driving north from the US.
The high elevation of the Rockies means the weather changes fast and unpredictably. Even on the sunniest days, always prepare for precipitation. Since Glacier sits on the continental divide, the east side is cooler, windier, and sunnier, whereas the west experiences more precipitation and hotter temperatures. Expect warm summers and mild winters with low temperatures overnight at both parks.
When to Go
The summer months are the best time to visit either park to experience their natural beauty to the fullest. Peak season is July and August, so aim for June or September if possible. Banff remains highly accessible and filled with winter activities, whereas Glacier is off-limits when the snow begins to fall.
Food and Drink
The vast number of ranches and wildlife in both regions mean bison, steak, elk, trout, and game meats are staples in the two parks’ cultures. Farm to table dining is big in Glacier and Banff, so you can expect chefs to be using locally-grown ingredients and serving up locally distilled spirits wherever possible.
Recap: Glacier National Park Vs. Banff
If you’re planning for a vacation and like restaurants, shops, large hotels, hot springs, and museums with scenery, Banff National Park is a place to go. However, if you want to avoid those things, then Glacier is your ideal place. Occasionally Lake Lousie and Moraine can be crowded during the summer with sightseeing tourists.
Both parks are spectacular and deciding which destination is better depends on what you want. The Rockies in the Glacier National Park, particularly in the Waterton area, is more wild and rugged than the Rockies in the Banff National Park.