“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… 🙂
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.ca, Vacay.ca and his own off-and-on blog. He’s the perfect man to help with the deciding vote.
[su_quote]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.[/su_quote]
Alberta National Park Showdown Champion…
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.
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.
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 £599, 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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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.