Travelling as a family can be a lot of fun, and sometimes a little expensive if it’s you + 3 or more people. But being on a budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out on great destinations and fabulous experiences. All it takes is a little more planning and research.
Banff has a reputation of being expensive (almost every town in a National Park has this rep). Hell, if all you’re going to do is shop along Banff Avenue, then yeah, you’re going to get that impression. However, if you dig a little deeper and venture OFF the avenue, there are a lot of price-friendly options.
A drive along Banff Avenue will show you that Banff has a lot of hotels. The question is, which one do you choose? If you’re looking for a hotel that has lots of activities for the kiddos and offers great views of the mountains, then driving off Banff Avenue is required.
Douglas Fir Resorts and Chalets is located on Tunnel Mountain Rd and offers reasonable rates. Unlike your standard hotel, the Douglas Fir has amenities such as a waterpark, a 2-level play zone, arcade, swimming pool, sauna, fitness room, BBQ area, convenience store, coin laundry and more. All their rooms come with a wood-burning fireplace (You can gather more wood from a shed on the property) and full-size kitchens that are fully stocked with everything you would need. *The hotel also offers a “Cook Your Own Breakfast” or “BBQ Your Own Dinner” specials where they stock your fridge with all the necessary food for one night of your stay.
HI-Banff Alpine Centre is another great family option. Located off Tunnel Mountain Road, on Hidden RidgHI-BanffI Banff Alpine Centre is away from the hoopla of the main town centre and offers stunning views. As with most hostels, the HI-Banff Alpine has a self-catering kitchen, family rooms, laundry facilities, a games room and more. If you’re planning a drive along HWY 93 during your stay in Banff National Park there are some amazing HI hostels along the way. These hostels are secluded and offer a unique experience.
Self-catering is obviously the cheapest option when you travel, but sometimes a break is needed. Finding a cheap place to eat with good food can be a challenge. There are some amazing restaurants in Banff, but they’re not exactly on the cheap side.
Old Spaghetti Factory is located on the second floor of the Cascades Plaza and is a great family restaurant and pocketbook friendly. Did I mention the food is yummy? Who doesn’t love a spaghetti & garlic bread dinner?
Magpie & Stump is located on the corner of Caribou & Bear Streets. The menu is TexMex and the prices are along the lines of Tony Roma’s or Boston Pizza.
Aside from local restaurants, Banff is also home to the usual chains, McDonald’s, Subway, Boston Pizza, Tony Roma’s, Chili’s etc. There is also a food court on the bottom floor at the Cascade Plaza.
When you’re in a National Park there are ALWAYS a ton of things to do that are cheap or free.
Hiking is a big one. There are a ton of hikes in Banff for all levels of hikers. If you prefer to travel without a guidebook ask locals for recommendations or stop by the Information Center and speak with a Parks Canada staff member. They’re a wealth of information and they have handy maps!
Canoe/ Kayaking is another fabulous activity in Banff National Park. There are a lot of beautiful lakes and rivers in the park that are begging to be explored. If you didn’t bring your own canoe, you can rent on from Blue Canoe and paddle the Bow River or Vermillion Lakes for about $34/hr. Cheaper than rafting!
Banff Upper Hot Springs is on the way to the Gondola. Located on Sulfur Mountain, the springs contain Sulphate 572 ppm, Calcium 205 ppm, Bicarbonate 134 ppm, Magnesium 42 ppm and Sodium 6.6 ppm. Cost for the springs is $7.30 for Adults & $6.30 for children.
The Whyte Museum -started by artists, Catherine Robb & Peter Whyte, the museum houses stunning works of art based on the Canadian Rockies. Admission to the museum is $20 per family (2 adults and 2 children), or $8 for Adults, $5 for Children 5 and Up (Children under 5 are FREE).
Take a Drive– Banff National Park is ruggedly gorgeous. One of my favourite activities is to pack a lunch and go for a drive. The Bow Valley Parkway is beyond gorgeous, as is the Icefields Parkway. No matter which road you decide to explore, you won’t regret it.
Check the local paper– Depending on the time of year there are usually FREE events happening that you and your family will enjoy. Be sure to check the local paper and talk with people who live in the area. Festivals, live bands, art show and the like are always a lot of fun.
Going on a family vacation is about having fun and making memories. It’s not about how much money you spend. You and your family can have a lot of fun for very little money. That being said, it’s always nice to treat yourselves from time to time. Either way, sit down before you leave home and make a plan. Talk about what you’d like to do and be open to changing plans once you arrive at your destination.