How Much Does it Cost to Travel: Canadian National Parks Road Trip

Welcome to our ongoing series that asks: How Much Does it Cost to Travel?

The goal of this series is to provide you with real budgets people have used for trips they have actually taken. This could be anything from a long weekend in Miami to 6 months backpacking around South East Asia. It’s our hope that by shining a spotlight on what people are actually spending- and the value they get for it, you will have a better idea of what it really costs to travel.

All of the travel budgets will live on this dedicated page.

Today’s budget comes from Maura of Camera & A Canvas.


Where did you go?


Me and my husband took a 14-day national parks road trip to visit Glacier National Park in Montana, USA, and also the 7 National Parks in the Canadian Rockies (Waterton Lakes, Kootenay, Yoho, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, Jasper, and Banff).

Briefly, what was your itinerary?

We flew into Calgary, the closest big airport then rented a car to begin our national parks road trip. Our first stop was Waterton Lakes for 1 night, then the east side of Glacier NP in Montana for 1 night, drove to the west side of Glacier for 2 nights, then back up to Canada and stopped at Radium Hot Spring for 1 night. The next day we stopped at both Kootenay & Yoho NP’s and stayed in the town of Golden for 2 nights while we also visited Glacier NP in Canada and Mount Revelstoke. The next day we spent at Lake Louise and were there 1 night, then up to Jasper for 2 nights, and our final stay was in Canmore for 3 nights before heading back home.

How much money did you spend overall? 

The total cost of our national parks road trip for the both of us was about $3500.

How much did you spend on transportation?

Plane tickets for 2 (including 1 bag check fee) = $940. The rental car, which I booked through Priceline(the cheapest I could find at the time) was $540. Gas for it during the trip was $170. And, since we had to drive to the airport from home, for our first flight, we paid $90 to park our car near the airport. Total transportation cost= $1740

What kind of accommodation did you stay in? 

I had 2 motels booked, 2 hostels, and the rest all Airbnb’s for our national parks road trip. All except the motels were under $100/night. All places were great! The hostels were nice but were our biggest budget item – mainly because I could not find a place to stay at under $100 in those areas (Lake Louise & Jasper).

What sort of activities did you do?

Hiking! Lots and lots of hiking lol! But nothing major..just short casual day hikes as we’re not in the best shape, and also this was our first time in these places, so we wanted to get the best overview of the parks we can, and that means not spending a whole day on 1 hike.

What did you splurge on during your national parks road trip? Was it worth it?

Definitely food. It’s always food when we go on these trips it seems! At some places it was worth it, but, you know the problem with food and restaurants is everyone has different tastes, and you’re never sure what you’re going to get, how good it’s going to be. We ate out once/day, and it was mostly my husband who wanted to (hey I have to keep him happy!). If it was just me, I probably would have been more stingy about it – not that I don’t love food – but it can get expensive!

What did you scrimp on? Are you happy with that decision?

My biggest reason for doing this national parks road trip this year was that it was Canada’s 150th birthday, and to celebrate they opened all national parks up for free! So we didn’t have to pay for any park passes! We also didn’t pay for any “extra” site seeing. Everything we did during the day was free. As a first time visit, I think the decision was great! There is still so much left to see – if we did do some paid activities, then we wouldn’t have gotten to do and see all the things we did.

Did you purchase any special souvenirs?

I always buy some souvenir postcards from the parks, and we each bought a t-shirt from one of the parks as well. Surprisingly when we went the exchange rate was good USD->Canadian so t-shirts were actually more expensive at the National Park’s in the US than in Canada.

I also made some purchases for my family members back home (have to think of them-they’re watching our cat!)

Did you do anything special to save up for this trip?

Nothing more than usual. Just putting money aside each week or as I get some extra. I don’t buy a lot of stuff for myself at home or splurge on much. Over the course of a year, it adds up!

Do you have any regrets regarding how you budgeted this trip? Would you do things differently next time?

I always try to find the best and cheapest deals on things I can – mainly where to stay at overnight. I could have booked the flight earlier, and even booked our motel & Airbnb’s a lot earlier and found better deals. All this for our national parks road trip in August I booked in June, which was pretty late. So, some advice—book early!!

Anything else to add?

Just that it’s SO much cheaper to plan a trip for 2 on your own than going with a tour company – however, it is a lot of work. It takes me days, or weeks depending on how much time I devote to it each day, of research and planning. It’s worth it to me though, I love doing it and I love traveling!

Also, if you’re going to do a national parks road trip like this, you have to like driving – or take someone with you who does! On these big road trips, there’s a LOT of driving. We drove anywhere from 1-4hrs almost every day. It’s really the only way to see these out of the way places though.


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