I can speak from experience that Canada is not the cheapest place to visit. It’s considered expensive. I’m using the word “considered” intentionally because I think Canada is only as expensive as you make it. It is absolutely possible to visit on a budget. This guide has a lot of tips on the cheapest way to travel across Canada.
If you have too much money, you can book yourself a fancy trip across Canada with Rocky Mountaineer. And you can see Canadian Rockies from the train window.
But I’m a big believer in active trips. You should hike up the mountain, not only for the best view but to earn that view. You probably stumbled upon our blog because you like the same.
Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world and there is a lot to see. We will focus on the most popular and most expensive part, the Canadian Rockies. After more than 4 years of living near the Canadian Rockies, we’ll provide you the best budget tips we know.
I haven’t seen a budget guide for Canada because I think people either spend a little time in the country and leave complaining about how expensive it is or save for the trip and don’t really look at budget options.
So, what is the cheapest way to travel across Canada?
Just an example how you can visit Canada on a budget: Gondola in Banff National Park is one of the busiest and most expensive attractions I know of. Did you know there is a trail up the mountain which takes about an hour and of course it’s totally free?
Word of caution: after reading this, you will want to visit Canada sooner rather than later. If not, pictures in our photo essay of Canadian Rockies from above should convince you.
This guide is going to help you visit Canada on a budget – keeping you and your wallet happy.
GETTING TO CANADA + BEST TIME TO GO TO CANADA
Unless you’re collecting miles and flying into Canada from the US, the flight is going to be the biggest expense. If you avoid major holidays throughout the year, you can find a flight for half the price.
Summer is the busiest time, but if you fly in in June or fly out in September, the price for the flight ticket goes down. I would recommend visiting during the lower season – May, June or September. There are fewer tourists in the parks which mean less hassle with booking accommodation/campsites.
May is the best month to see newborns of Canadian wildlife. Bear cubs with their family are often seen from the road. September is still a warm month, making the nature more colourful as the leaves change their colour.
TRAVELLING AROUND CANADA
Buses are expensive and would limit you greatly. We’ve met a lot of people who are hitchhiking but that is only possible when you are not short on time. Trains in western part of Canada are expensive and options are very limited (train travel is more developed on the east coast).
Very budget friendly option between major cities is using rideshare services such as Pop Rideshare. Locals act like drivers who have empty seats in their cars, they offer them for a fee and can drive you to your location.
The best way to get around is by having a car. Road trip in the Canadian Rockies is the best and gives you much-needed freedom. Apart from big companies such as Hertz or Budget, consider a car rental Rent a Wreck. Don’t worry, it’s not like it sounds. They are cheaper because they rent used cars rather than brand new cars.
A car from Budget may cost 60 CAD a day (with a pickup and drop off in Calgary) while Rent a Wreck is from 20 CAD a day. Plus, in most provinces, one liter of gas costs less than 1 CAD.
Tip: Plan your route carefully, distances in Canada are huge and you don’t want to spend most of the time driving. Every rental has different conditions; don’t forget to ask about the km limit.
I bet most of the people reading this would like to visit Canada during the warmer months June – September. That’s a camping season! Don’t forget to pack up your tent, campgrounds are everywhere.
Every town has an info center and can provide you a map with camping options. Campsites in national and provincial parks get very busy in summer so make sure to book in advance.
If you would like to camp like locals, ask info center for free recreation sites.
We like to have our campsite with us. We bought a van, air mattress, and sleeping bags. Many parking lots in front of Walmart and some pull over parking lots in national parks allow overnight stay.
Options for free and budget friendly accommodation are endless. Another free option is to try couchsurfing. It is not meant as a free accommodation option rather than cultural exchange with the free couch. People all around the world host travellers, you can see how locals live, they will get to meet you and learn something from you and you get a free place to stay.
For budget-friendly options, I recommend booking an accommodation through:
- Airbnb – locals share their unoccupied room in their house/apartment
- Booking.com – bed & breakfast, motels & hotels
If you’re planning to visit in 2017, you might consider yourself lucky. Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary and entrance to all national parks is free.
After 2017, the fee for the daily pass will be 9,80 CAD per person. Planning to stay in the national park for more than 7 days? Buy an Annual Discovery Pass for 67,70 CAD per person (or 136,40 CAD for a group) is a cheaper option.
You’ll see your entrance fee well spent – national parks have rest stops with toilets, organized parking lots with garbage bins everywhere, stairs, boardwalk or handrails on the trails where necessary and many wheelchair friendly places.
WHAT TO SEE & POPULAR ATTRACTIONS
If you ask me, best things to do in the Canadian Rockies are free. Apart from buying an entrance fee to national park, the most beautiful hikes and views are for free. Do your research before the trip though. Once you arrive, you’ll see fliers with attractions everywhere. Nobody is promoting free attractions. To get you started, read articles at the end of this post.
Given the distances in Canada, allow yourself as much time as possible.
If you like kayaking, paddle boarding or mountain biking, you can rent the gear outside of national parks for budget friendly options. If you are coming from Calgary, the cheapest rental is from Outdoor Centre in the University of Calgary. They rent anything from camping gear and clothes to summer and winter equipment for all outdoor activities.
No matter how much time you spend in the Rockies, you will want to come back and explore more. I guarantee it!
Eating out can get really expensive. Do you really need to eat in a restaurant every day?
When arriving from a big city to the Rockies, stock up on food in Canadian Superstore, a supermarket that has plenty of options of prepared food (they will even heat it up for you in the deli section). Big supermarkets have better selection and better prices. In smaller towns, supermarket Safeway and Coop has tasty sandwiches for 5 CAD and cooked meals.
Many city parks and campsites have outdoor bbq grills available for everyone. In smaller towns, you can find them by the river. All you need to do is buy charcoal, aluminum trays and whatever sausages or vegetables you like.
For eating out, the most delicious and budget friendly restaurant we found is Old Spaghetti Factory. Restaurants are in many cities across Canada including Banff (the most visited place in Canada). Since it’s a chain of restaurants, prices are same everywhere. Entrée, soup/salad, main course, ice cream and tea/coffee may be as low as 15 CAD.
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Sounds good? I thought so. When are you visiting the Canadian Rockies? Got a question? Leave a comment below or message us and we’ll help as much as we can.
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