“I paused to look at my watch, I wanted the hands to freeze, so I could stay in this moment for longer. I took a deep breath, the freshest mountain air I’ve tasted, it felt like I was on the top of the world”

Do you think I was in Jasper or Banff? You’ll find out at the end of the article… ๐Ÿ™‚

If there’s one thing Alberta Canada is known for, its the stunning National Parks in the Rocky Mountains, an area surprisingly accessible to the UK and Europe. In one corner of the ring we have Jasper, the smaller town but larger National Park, with over 11,000 square kilometres of intrepid wilderness. And in the other it’s Banff, with 6,600 square kilometres to explore, but rich in history and a larger more vibrant town. Both Jasper and Banff are UNESCO World Heritage sites, but which one is best? To make this a little easier, I’ve broken it down into 6 Rounds. It’s important to note that I came here in summer not winter, we’ll have to have another showdown for ski season!

Round 1: Landscape & Scenery

Wow I’ve started with a strong category! How long do you have? I took endless photos of the scenery in Jasper and Banff, so this is a close call. The drive into Jasper from Edmonton down the Yellowhead Highway is immense, it really is one of the best road trips I’ve taken. Jasper then has a variety of hikes, ranging in ability, and for the more adventurous you can scramble a number of peaks. For the views Jasper has the Skytram, which takes you 2,277 metres up Whistler’s Mountain, and I suggest a further hike to the top for more spectacular views.

So how can Banff top this? Well Banff too has a Gondola on Sulphur Mountain, with an elevation of 2,281 metres. The 360 panoramic views are equally as stunning as Jasper. We were lucky enough to see big horned sheep grazing right beneath our feet. Beyond Banff there are more great views and some awesome lakes, but we’re saving the lakes for another round.

Winner… Jasper! (1-0)

Jasper just nails is on the views from the Skytram, and if that’s not enough it’s a Dark Sky Preserve, you can see the stars here like nowhere else, and even sometimes spot the Northern Lights.

Round 2: Food & Beer

First blood to Jasper. The food in both Jasper and Banff is incredible. Most of the food is sourced locally from Alberta and British Columbia, mix this with organic spices and vegetables and you get a whole new flavour to the cuisine. Then there’s the beer, the craft beer scene is growing rapidly in Canada and there’s a local brewery in Jasper and Banff, owned by the same company. The Jasper Brewing Company was formed first, in 2005. I was lucky enough to have a great tour by brew-master John and learn about the brewing process, how they discover new beers and the work they do with charity and the Jasper community.

The Banff Ave Brewing Company has an equally cool scene, and the beer is awesome. But I just didn’t get the vibe of Jasper. So it’s down to the food to bring Banff back into the race, we went to dinner at the Balkan Greek Restaurant, and coincidentally Greek food is my all-time favourite! The food and cocktails here were brilliant, and everyone at the table thoroughly enjoyed their meal.

Winner… Jasper! (2-0)

By a whisker my experience at Jasper Brewing Company pipped Banff to the post. It was helped along by the Tsukune Burger which I am happy to say was the best burger I have ever eaten in my life! Now that’s a statement.

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Round 3: Nightlife

With Jasper 2-0 up, is there any coming back for Banff? When it comes to nightlife both towns have plenty of bars and they all open late. Banff has the bigger population so naturally has more bars and restaurants, and even a couple of clubs. There’s a great balcony at the Banff Ave Brewing Company, and also at Park Distillery, which has recently opened. If you get a minute check out their excellent Instagram – with friendly staff and brilliant cocktails you can’t go wrong. My top tips for Jasper are the Jasper Brewing Company and D’ed Dog Bar & Grill, both of which have a very local and friendly vibe, common in all of Jasper.

Winner… Banff! (2-1)

Whilst I loved the friendly locals vibe in Jasper, I preferred the buzz of a good night out that I felt in Banff, and due to the fact it gets more visitors, the town has more of a party vibe to it. Banff might just be back in this fight!

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Round 4: Lakes

This really is becoming the Clash of the Titans! I already know how hard this category will be. We’ll start with Banff, Peyto Lake is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen, and the infamous Lake Louise with Fairmont Chateau towering over it puts Banff into a strong lead. Then on top of that there’s Moraine and Bow Lake. But Jasper comes back strong, Maligne Lake is iconic to Alberta, you’ve got Patricia Lake and famous Indian legends at Medicine Lake. Finally there’s Jasper Lake, although not technically a lake here the Athabasca river widens so much it’s been affectionately named one. So many incredible lakes to chose from, I’ve only ever seen lakes this good in New Zealand.

Winner… Banff! (2-2)

The turquoise colours of Peyto Lake, and the buzz of enjoyment all round at Lake Louise tipped it Banff’s favour in this very tight fourth round.

Round 5: Adrenaline

You are spoilt for choice in both Jasper and Banff. You can White Water Raft the Kicking Horse Canyon from Banff, but it takes you out of Banff and into Yoho National Park, and Jasper has Rafting on the Athabasca and Sunwapta Rivers. A highlight of the whole trip was Rafting with Jasper Rafting Adventures on the cold yet refreshing glacier created Sunwapta River! Then there’s Mountain Biking, you have to earn it as there’s no lifts to the top, but both parks are surrounded by incredible biking trails. If I had longer, I’d definitely try scrambling peaks, in the Rockies you’re surrounded by climbing options; Pyramid, Tekarra, Whistlers, Castle and Rundle are just some recommended by Jeremy Derksen an Albertan local (more from him in Round 6!). I haven’t even started on skiing/snowboarding on Marmot Basin or Lake Louise, Ice-climbing, sky-diving or horse riding.

Winner… Draw! (3-3)

It’s controversial but with an assortment of adrenaline activities to chose from in each town it’s simply too close to call. To make it fair I’d need a lot more time, and to experience every single adrenaline activity in Alberta to make this call! So it’s now 3-3 going into the final round.

Round 6: Atmosphere

So at 3-3 this is the deciding round! Can you feel the tension? To help decide this I’ve enlisted the help of a local. Born and raised Albertan, Jeremy Derksen (pictured below) has been a ski patroller, bike courier, outdoor adventure editor and travelling freelancer. He has shared his adventures in the Globe and Mail, Vue Weekly, Snowseekers.caVacay.ca and his own off-and-on blog. He’s the perfect man to help with the deciding vote.

One of the great things about Banff and Jasper is that they are very different towns. Jasper has a very local community vibe. If you’re lost on a street corner or a trailhead, ‘Jasperites’ will stop and help you find your way. And they’ll greet you with a handshake and a beer when you arrive at the bar that night. Pretty much everyone is there for the same reason – because we love the mountain environment and all the great opportunities for adventure that affords. And we love to share it, and see others come to appreciate it the way we do. I lived there for just two years but I’ll always feel like Jasper is home. Banff is more international in flavour, with more shopping and attractions, but it still has breathtaking natural scenery as well. My favourite time is during the Banff Mountain Festival; the world’s largest alpine culture festival. The film festival tours around the world but people still flock here for it in the fall because it is the most amazing celebration of alpine culture anywhere.

Alberta National Park Showdown Champion…

Jasper! (4-3)

I think Jeremy’s quote speaks for itself. You can’t beat a good community vibe and friendly locals, that’s what we all travel for right? And I felt right at home from the moment I stepped foot into Jasper. A worthy winner, in the closest National Park Showdown in travel writing history!

My Final Verdict

Go and see them both!! That’s obvious really, only an idiot would visit Alberta and only go to one of these astonishing National Parks! Maybe this guide will help you divide your time between the two. but discover all Alberta has to offer and see which one you prefer. If you’ve been, what was your favourite activity? Where did you feel most at home? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Getting there

KLM UK flies to Alberta, to Edmonton or Calgary using Amsterdam as a hub. You can fly into one and out of the other, travelling over land via Jasper and Banff at your leisure. Going via Amsterdam allows you to fly from 17 UK based airports, rather than only travelling from Manchester or London. The changeover is smooth, KLM will inform you which gate (sometimes from the plane), and you won’t need to collect and check in your luggage again.

Find out more about this route & other options with KLM

And then it comes to the seat… Business, Economy or Economy Comfort? Yeah yeah, I might have flown Business on the way out! And it was amazing. Brilliant food, drinks and service. But not everyone can afford that, so I’d suggest looking into Economy Comfort for the extra leg room, which makes a big difference on any flight over 3 hours. The food and service was still great and I found the flight very enjoyable, even if I was slightly envious of a friend in Business Class!

I flew to Alberta as a guest of KLM UK via their hub at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. My flights to Edmonton were complementary, but return flights from the UK start at ยฃ599, including taxes. All of the content, opinions and photography are my own, and I have not been paid for any part of this trip or article. Please take time to visit KLM UK and Travel Alberta‘s websites to support me on more adventures like this one!

So where was I?

In the quote at the start of this article, I was of course in Jasper National Park, the winner of The Alberta National Park Showdown. This is the view after the hike at the top of the Skytram, and if I could sum it up in one word, breathtaking.

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Support Intrepid Escape by adding this article on Pinterest to read it later and share it with your friends! ๐Ÿ˜€

Did you agree with the winner? It was a close call, if you’ve been to Alberta I’d love to know which National Park was your favourite and why in the comments below… More reading? Check out my friend Sabina from Girl vs Globe’s 10 Things to do in Banff in the Summer, she was also on the trip with me.

Written by | Scottie T

Founder & Editor of Intrepid Escape, a huge lover of adventure, adrenaline, sport & fitness. After travelling to over 20 countries in the last year, Scott started to document his travels before fulfilling an important lifelong goal by starting Intrepid Escape. His dream is to be a backpacking poker-playing, videographer, photographer, presenter & writer!

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39 Comments

  1. Jamie

    June 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    This article is Awesome – one of the best and most informative yet. Fantastic pictures and a nice spin to the story. JT

    • Scottie T

      June 11, 2015 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks Jamie, I’m glad you like the photos and twist on the story line ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Carly

    June 11, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    While they’re both fantastic places, I fell more in love with Banff after spending Canada Day there last year. It was magic! If you haven’t already, you should check out the Glacier Skywalk.

    • Scottie T

      June 11, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      Hey Carly! Ah cool, Canada Day must have been awesome. The Glacier Skywalk was great, I did do it. I’ve not included it in this post as it’s not technically Banff or Jasper, but I will put it in my ‘Things to do in Alberta’ article ๐Ÿ™‚

      • JT

        June 14, 2015 at 2:46 am

        It is technically Jasper actually,the icefields and the Skywalk are both on the Jasper side of the border.

        • Scottie T

          June 14, 2015 at 8:14 pm

          Hey JT, yes sorry you’re right, I was under the impression it didn’t claim to be under either as the Brewster Travel site mentions neither, but it is officially in Jasper NP ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. jimmy b

    June 14, 2015 at 1:00 am

    Lakes ! Maligne Lake not mentioned ! If your going to drive close to an hour to get to Peyto Lake, you may as well drive to Maligne Lake too. Worlds longest glacier lake, surrounded by 10,000 ft peaks. What more needs to be said.

    • Scottie T

      June 14, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Hey Jimmy, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure how you missed it, but Lake Maligne is mentioned, there’s a photo and I even call it iconic to Alberta. You’re right it’s beautiful

    • Katie

      June 15, 2015 at 4:21 pm

      Jimmy B, Read again. Maligne Lake is mentioned and even incorrectly labeled as being in Banff in the photo.

      • Scottie T

        June 15, 2015 at 4:30 pm

        Thanks Katie not sure how that happened, now corrected

  4. Darren

    June 14, 2015 at 1:31 am

    Jasper’s lakes are much better…

    • Scottie T

      June 14, 2015 at 10:56 am

      Hi Darren, they are beautiful, that was my closest round and it could have gone either way ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Regan

    June 14, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    You are correct, both Banff and Jasper National Parks are spectacular in their own right!
    The drive along the Trans Canada highway and then up the Yellowhead towards Jasper, through both outdoor playgrounds is one of the most beautiful drives you can take and should be on everyone’s “Bucket List”!
    Had the pleasure of working while at university in Alberta; Banff is very “commercialized / touristy”, where for a truly natural experience, Jasper is the place to be. Better trails, a community sense that is built around the natural beauty that is Jasper National Park!
    Also agree, with earlier comment that the drive up to Maligne Lake is truly worthwhile!
    Great read, thanks!

    • Scottie T

      June 14, 2015 at 8:23 pm

      Hey Regan, thank you for your comment! I guess it was always going to be my conclusion to go to both, and yeah that drive is great isn’t it? I’m pleased you enjoyed the read, thanks for taking the time to write the comment ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Katie

      June 15, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      Hi Regan, Glad you had time to explore my back yard. I came from Calgary and have lived in Jasper for close to 20 years. I have driven the Icefields Parkway-Hwy 93, hundreds of times in my life and never get bored of the spectacular scenery. Yellowhead Hwy-Hwy 16, on the other hand, runs parallel to the Trans Canada-Hwy 1, but way further north, going from Edmonton, thru Jasper and west into British Columbia. I have encountered many, many tourists over the years who are lost do to misinformation about routes and so I hope no one takes the Yellowhead and misses the Icefields by accident. It’s like chalk and cheese in scenic drives…….

  6. Katie

    June 15, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Scotty T, Excellent article. I might be a little biased since I live in Jasper. You really do have to come back to the mountains during the winter. Still so, so much to do outdoors, even if it is -25. Unfortunately, Banff will probably win since it is closer to the gateway city (very important due to winter driving conditions), has a large selection of mountains (5 compared to Jasper’s 1) and a huge international party scene. But we like the quite time winter offers us after our busy summer season. I look forward to your Part 2…..

    • Scottie T

      June 15, 2015 at 9:22 pm

      Hey Katie, thank you so much for the comment! Yeah I can’t wait to see it all again in winter, I’d love to take some of the exact same photos, in winter ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve heard Banff leads the way a little, more choice for skiing / snowboarding
      Look out for part 2…

  7. Kate

    June 17, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Well I’ve got two new travel destinations on my list of must-see parks in Canada! Thanks for the awesome information and reasons to visit both places ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Scottie T

      June 23, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Awesome thanks for the comment Kate, have a great time when you visit ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Derek Bowen

    June 18, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    living just 4 hours north of Jasper but visited both Banff and Jasper often,I’m have always felt Jasper to that small community feel as you noticed. As for Jasper brewing, say no more.

    • Scottie T

      June 23, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      Indeed say no more about Jasper Brewing, I love that place!! ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. Taku

    June 19, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Hey Scott! Great showdown of these two amazing parks! I just came back from a 10-day hiking trip from these two parks just last week so I can relate to practically every single lake you mentioned! Great job on the editions and photos. I’m in the middle of writing my so called “Jasper vs. Banff showdown” as well, from a photographer’s perspective! Enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing!

    • Scottie T

      June 23, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      Hi Taku! Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚
      Iโ€™d love to see the link to you photographerโ€™s post so feel free to send me the link! Iโ€™m glad you liked the showdown ๐Ÿ˜€

  10. Brian Lang

    June 23, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    I feel that you should subtract the point for white water rafting in Banff. The Kicking Horse River isn’t in Banff National Park, it’s in Yoho National Park. The closest mountain town is Field, BC not Banff, AB.

    • Scottie T

      June 24, 2015 at 8:37 am

      Hi Brian, Kicking Horse River was on Banff Adventures website, but it seems they take you out of Banff into Yoho, thanks for pointing that out. I’m not taking it out of the article, but I will highlight that it’s in Yoho. Cheers

  11. Shona

    July 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Loved your article! Both my husband and I completely agree with your comments. For the past 25 years, we have called Jasper our favourite for much the same reasons. After just returning from camping for the past 8 days in Jasper, we were reminded once again how much we love Jasper for its community feel, and were once again regretting not making the big move years ago to Jasper. For now we will continue to visit and take in all that we can on our short visits. Only home for less than a day but missing it already!

    • Scottie T

      August 4, 2015 at 9:26 pm

      Ah great Shona, thanks for the comment. It seems that is the general opinion, I do love both though. I must do some camping next time in either of them, that was something I didn’t get a chance to do and it looks perfect ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Tamara (Globe Guide)

    July 22, 2015 at 6:01 am

    I live 45 minutes away from Banff, so I can’t even count how many times I’ve been there (and neighbouring Canmore which I have to admit I like better). But can you believe I’ve never been to Jasper? I mean why would I when Banff is so close haha. Definitely plan to check it out this fall, and then I’ll be able to compare as well!

    • Scottie T

      August 4, 2015 at 9:24 pm

      Hey Tamara that is pretty unbelievable but I’m glad it’s on your list to visit soon!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a great time in Fall and let us know how it goes!

  13. Zans

    September 2, 2015 at 3:34 am

    Both of these parks are awesome, however in my opinion as a native of Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park Tops them all!

  14. Liz Fisher

    November 16, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    I am so happy Jasper won:) I fell in love with this park many years ago when I first visited Rocky Mountains. Banff is too touristy and there is much more to do and be explored in Jasper than in Banff.

    • Scottie T

      November 21, 2015 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks Liz, I tend to agree and yes Jasper won me over too! Although I do still really love Banff, I have to go back in Winter now ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Tony

    January 8, 2016 at 4:36 am

    I’m surprised there was no mention of Vermillion lakes and Mt. Rundle. Not sure which park they’re in, but from the pics I’ve seen online elsewhere it’s definitely worth at least mentioning.

  16. Suzanne Stewart

    January 10, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Thank you! We are headed to AK this summer with friends – RVing it and spending time in Banff and Jasper on the way up. This was a helpful article. We live in the Rockies of Colorado but these Canadians are a different story. Looking forward to the experience..

  17. Emily

    January 27, 2016 at 1:52 am

    I live in Alberta, and I prefer Jasper to Banff. They are both very beautiful places, and are just generally amazing, but I like Jasper better because it isn’t as much of a tourist place as Banff is, and it reminds me of my very small hometown. I have been to both, and the scenery going to both places is, I have to agree, is absolutely beautiful. Awesome article!!

  18. Darrin French

    July 19, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    With a limited budget, and time, and traveling with five small children, I hope Banff will suffice. How much different is Jasper over Banff? Another lake with mountains, but different ? Correct ?

  19. nanton g.

    November 27, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Banff have better skiing and more iconic mountains-Mt Temple, Mt Victoria, Valley of the 10 peaks, Castle Mountain etc. Banff wins.

  20. Leslie Fay

    April 13, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Not sure I could choose. They are both magnificent. Always stay a week in Jasper then a week in Banff. If I was absolutely forced to choose I think it would be Jasper. We stay in these beautiful cabins(with fireplace) on the river. Can’t recall a better day than a long hike around Jasper(sooo many to choose from)followed by a little poutine and an A. Keith’s IPA at Whistler’s followed by a long soak in the big hot tub back at the cabin. Uh oh, should not have started thinking about it. Went last Sept but it already seems like forever!

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