Canmore vs Banff

Which town is right for your trip? We actually get this question a lot – the Canmore vs Banff question is an age old debate. Folks have all heard about the stunning mountain paradise that is Banff National Park, but they often wonder… Stay in the Town of Banff, or stay in Canmore instead? Well, we found out!

Canmore vs Banff…. which to choose? After combing through dozens of awe-evoking images online, and reading about all the amazing activities that are available, you’re 100% set on visiting Banff National Park this year. No question about it.
However, you’re not quite as certain about where your ‘home base’ should be. The Town of Banff seems like the obvious choice, but you’ve heard good things about Canmore as well, located just 25 kilometres away. So you wonder: what really is the difference between these two communities?
On the surface, both of these towns may seem somewhat similar. They are each set against amazing Rocky Mountain vistas and they both have bustling downtown cores. Plus, their populations are comparable: Canmore is home to about 13,000 people while Banff has about 8,000 permanent residents. But make no mistake: these two towns are very different.
Banff is a tourism hotspot known across the globe; Canmore is a quieter alpine community. So figuring out which town should be your ‘home base’ while on vacation comes down to what types of experiences you value the most.
Do you crave being in the heart of the action? Then you might love roaming the bustling streets of Banff, which are often filled with visitors from across the world.
Are you more interested in a peaceful retreat? Then browsing the eclectic boutiques and restaurants in Canmore may be more up your alley.
Here’s a quick overview of Canmore vs Banff, highlighting just a few of the perks for each town:

Reduce how much you drive …Banff
Pay less for food & lodging …Canmore
Be surrounded by attractions …Banff
Enjoy more self-catering options …Canmore
Be in the middle of the action …Banff
Meet locals (rather than visitors) …Canmore

But to help you really figure out which town is the best match for your vacation, we’ve also compiled a more detailed comparison of Banff and Canmore based on four categories: Attractions & Amenities, Cost, Convenience and Ambience.


From Lake Minnewanka to the Upper Hot Springs, all the big-name sights are practically on your doorstep when you make the Town of Banff your home base. Plus, there are loads of things to see and do right in town as well.
Explore the 100-year-old Whyte Museum or venture into the amazing Cave & Basin National Historic Site on the outskirts of town. Although simply strolling along these busy streets, and browsing in all the unique stores, is an attraction all in itself. After all, there’s a reason that these streets are packed with people during the peak tourist season – it’s simply one amazing town.
Our Verdict: Make Banff your home base if you want to pack in as many sights as possible. Attractions are everywhere.
It takes about 10 minutes to drive from Canmore to Banff National Park, so this community is a bit farther from all the pristine mountain attractions. But if you’re not up for driving, there are also plenty of places to explore within the town as well.
Delve into a maze of wild, underground tunnels at Rat’s Nest Cave at Canmore Caverns, located on the fringes of town. There’s also the Canmore Nordic Provincial Park, where you’ll find plenty of running and cross-country skiing routes. Plus, loads of hiking trails are within strolling distance.
Our Verdict: Canmore is great for those who are also interested in attractions outside park, which are often less busy.


Remember, this is one of the most popular destinations in Canada. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of only a handful of communities located right within the borders of a national park. And that means the prices for everything from accommodations to cuisine will be more than your average Alberta town.
But having said that, there are always ways to reduce your costs. For example, you can rent a suite with a kitchen or kitchenette, and buy groceries rather than eating out every night. But remember to reserve these accommodations well in advance – they can book up fast.
Our Verdict: If you’re planning a budget vacation, then you may not want to make Banff your home base. But it’s a great town if you’re willing to pay extra for convenience, luxury and a truly unique mountain experience.
Although it’s developed into a destination of its own, Canmore doesn’t attract nearly as many travellers as Banff. So pretty much everything is less expensive. On top of that, there are more options available for renting condos and suites that include full kitchens. This makes it much easier to prepare your own meals so you can save a few bucks on eating out.
Our Verdict: Canmore offers great overall value because it doesn’t receive the same heavy level of tourism traffic as Banff.


The real convenience of making the Banff townsite your home base is that you’ll be just a skip away from the park’s top sights and hiking trails – so you can spend less time driving and more time exploring.
Here’s a quick comparison of driving distances to some of Banff National Park’s best attractions:






Lake Minnewanka 16.5 20
Bow Falls 1.7 29
Vermilion Lakes 2.5 27
Lake Louise 57 81
Columbia Icefields 164 182

Our verdict: Banff is very convenient if you want to explore the park with a minimal amount of driving.
Although you do have to drive for about 10 minutes just to reach the gates of Banff National Park, this alpine town offers plenty of other convenient perks that many travellers may not realize.
For starters, you’ll find more condo-style vacation rentals in Canmore that are spacious and include homey amenities like full kitchens or washers and dryers. Although you can also book these type of units in Banff as well, there are fewer of them available.
And although Canmore is a little bit farther from the top sights in the park, it is closer to Calgary. So if you were thinking of adding a city day trip to your vacation, you’ll save about 20 minutes in driving time one way by staying here.
Our Verdict: If you want to explore more than just Banff National Park, and you’re not a fan of eating out every night, consider Canmore.


In the peak summer season, the streets here vibrate with an energy you won’t find anywhere else. You see, Banff is a town with a complex personality. The main avenue is lined with trendy restaurants, quaint shops and loads of souvenir stores. And while some people do criticize this community for letting development run rampant, there are still many places that maintain that authentic mountain ambience. Visit the Banff Centre or Natural History Museum and you’ll know what we mean.
But it’s really the people that make Banff so alluring. It’s a melting pot of travellers from all over the world – a place where you can easily meet folks from half a dozen countries during an afternoon stroll around town.
Our Verdict: Love being in the middle of the action? Love chatting with fellow travellers? Then Banff might be for you.
Would you prefer a more peaceful Rocky Mountain retreat? Sure, Canmore can get busy. But even in the hectic summer months, the pace here never reaches the frenzy found on the streets of Banff. This is a place where you’re more likely to have a chat with a local rather than an awe-struck traveller.
There’s also an authentic mountain vibe here that reveals itself in unique ways, from the edgy wilderness artwork on display in local galleries to the warm, low-key cafés.
Here’s another example: both towns are home to an array of great restaurants, but Canmore chefs are more willing to push the envelope with creative cuisine using local ingredients. This is because that style of food is often what the locals are looking for.
Our Verdict: Settle in Canmore if you’d like to experience local Rocky Mountain culture and cuisine.