When we started planning our Canadian Rockies road trip we quickly realised budget was going to be a big factor. We were planning our trip for summer which meant peak season prices were in play and, the more we researched, the more we realised just how expensive it was going to be. So, we made the decision/were forced to make ours a budget-friendly trip. I spent days researching all the different options and comparing prices, trying to figure out just how much it would cost us and how we could save money wherever possible. Today, I wanted to share with you all of the costs so you can get a clear idea of just how much it actually costs to do a Canadian Rockies road trip (on a budget!).
We did a 14-day road trip from Vancouver to Calgary and back again. All costs below are for 2 adults and our trip took place in mid to late June a.k.a peak season. I’ve detailed all the research I did in preparation for our trip + how much we actually paid for things. If you aren’t interested in the detail, scroll to the bottom for a total cost tally.
If you want to read our exact itinerary, you can check it out here: This is THE BEST cheap ass Canadian Rockies Road Trip Itinerary! I share all the things we did well and the things we totally stuffed up and wish we’d done differently.
But first, watch this…
The cost of flights is going to be one of your biggest expenses, depending on where you are flying from. We flew directly from Brisbane to Vancouver with AirCanada. The airline was really good and if you’re thinking about flying with them, you should go for it. We liked them and would fly with them again. The seats were comfy, the service was good and our luggage allowance was huge (2 x 23kg checked bags per person) which allowed us to get a lot of the camping gear we bought in Canada, home again. The cost of flights was around AUD$1,200 return per person.
When arriving into Canada, you may need to arrange a transportation service in the first instance. Especially if you’re planning on flying into Calgary and heading out to Banff before starting your RV adventure. You may like to check out Airport Shuttle Express as they have a number of options that may suit including services to and from Calgary International Airport.
Camping vs Campervan vs Hotels
I need to talk you through the different cost options for accommodation because, aside from flights, it’s the biggest expense. Our initial thought was to stay in hotels but when we saw the price, we moved to an RV/Campervan but quickly realised camping was the most affordable option for us. Here’s a breakdown of the kind of costs you expect from each and all the extra, hidden details you need to consider.
In peak season, the average price for a decent hotel ranged from AUD$130 to AUD$300 depending on where you are visiting. We did look at Airbnb but even the costs there were pretty pricey for what you get. We did end up using Airbnb to stay at a place in North Vancouver for two nights as the Vancouver campgrounds were all booked out when we looked. We also splashed out for one night in a hotel the night before our 14-hour flight home so we could get a good rest. We paid AUD$110 for 1 x night in a hotel and AUD$238 for 2 x nights in Airbnb.
You also need to consider, if you stay in a hotel it may impact your food budget as you can’t prepare food to save money. Of course, if you’re able to stay in accommodation with a kitchenette, you can get around this. You also need to add on the cost of a hire car (detailed below, keep scrolling!)
Here’s how much you can expect to pay to stay in a hotel for your entire Canadian Rockies road trip vs how much we actually paid:
Cost: 14 nights in mid-range hotels = CAD$4,000
Cost: 2 nights Airbnb + 1 night hotel = AUD$348
RV / Campervan
Initially, hiring an RV or campervan seemed like a really affordable option for us but there are a lot of hidden costs and associated costs to consider. You will be able to save money on food as you can prepare your meals in your Motorhome. It’s also going to be warmer, more comfortable than camping (in my opinion) and you’ll probably feel more bear and weather safe. The downside is, of course, you can’t drive around a city as easily as you can in a hire car. I did look into different types of RV from traditional motorhomes through to converted campervans and the cost difference wasn’t that big.
Here’s a rough breakdown I put together of how much it would actually cost in the end to use an RV for our Canadian Rockies road trip:
- Initial hire costs for a 2 person, 22′-23′ Motorhome = CAD$2,000
- Fuel (remember, it’s a BIG vehicle) – 23L x (2,000km / 100km) x $1.30 = CAD$598
- GPS, so you can find your way around = CAD$50
- Campsite each night (which is often twice the price of a tent site) – Average CAD$44 per night x 14 = CAD$616
- Kilometres (hire does not include mileage) it’s roughly 1,000km to Calgary with no side trips. You can pre-purchase kilometre packages of 1,000km or 500km. Otherwise, you’re charged at a rate of $0.37 per km at the end of your trip. – Pre-purchase 2 x 1,000 miles + 1 x 500km = CAD$850
- Optional insurance costs – 14 days x CAD$16.95 per day = CAD$237
- Goods and service tax + provincial sales tax = CAD$276
- A mandatory CAD$4,000 bond will be held on your credit card and refunded when the vehicle is returned in satisfactory condition.
Cost: CAD$4,627 (+ $4,000 bond)
After adding up the costs of hotels and RV hire, I began to realise camping may be our best option. Now, look, I’ve made no secret of my dislike for camping over the years. I really don’t enjoy it and after a few bad experiences, I avoid it at all costs. Buuuut sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do! If my options are go camping and see Canada or not see Canada at all… I choose camping. As you’ll see, the price difference between hotels and RV vs camping is huge! So, would I recommend camping in Canada? Heck yes! We had an awesome time!
We brought our own sleeping bags and pillows with us but, other than that, bought everything from Walmart and a thrift store. We were able to take some of it home with us but ended up giving our tent to someone who needed it more. To save money, we made pretty much all of our meals. We would have breakfast at the campsite, prepare and pack our lunches before we set off each day and have dinner at the campsite each night too. We did most of our grocery shopping at Walmart as it tended to be cheaper than everywhere else. Bear in mind, as mentioned above, we spent 2 nights at an Airbnb in Vancouver and 1 night at a hotel outside Vancouver before our long flight home.
Here’s a breakdown of how much money we spent on camping gear and campsites for our Canadian Rockies road trip:
- Campsites and fire permits (where needed) = CAD$260
- All essential camping gear – including air mattress, pump, tent, propane bottles, single-burner cooktop, basic cookware, cooler/esky, cleaning essentials, lighter, collapsible water bottle, tarps, straps = CAD$290
- Food and ice – breakfast, lunch, dinner and all our snacks = CAD$248
As we were camping, we decided to hire a car and splashed out a little extra for an SUV. We booked a Jeep Compass or similar and ended up with a Toyota RAV4. I highly recommend paying the little extra for an SUV! We really needed the space in the end and it was much easier for us to unpack, pack up and live out of the car for the two weeks. The size of the car made it easy to get around a city but the SUV aspect made it good for long driving days and unsealed roads. We hired our car from Vancouver and, to save money, arranged pick-up and drop off from a location near but not at the airport. In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to arrange to drop off at the airport just to make our lives easier but, if you’re on a budget, it’s not really a big deal.
Our car hire included unlimited mileage which is a must! Here’s a breakdown of the costs we paid, there were still a few hidden costs that we were hit with on the day as we pre-booked and paid on collection:
- Hire cost = CAD$522
- Fuel charge (they refill it for you when you bring it back, something Matt accidentally said yes to) = CAD$85
- Service charges/taxes = CAD$120
- Fuel = CAD$374
- A mandatory CAD$200 bond will be held on your credit card and refunded when the vehicle is returned in satisfactory condition.
As I said, we stayed with a friend for a few nights and hired our car for 17 days, not 14, so the actual car hire costs for you may be a little cheaper than this. For 14 days, the hire cost should be around CAD$215 per week x 2 weeks + service charges/taxes (not including the accidental fuel charge) = CAD$550.
If you’re doing a Canadian Rockies Road Trip you will absolutely need to buy a parks pass. We bought ours at a kiosk along the highway near Jasper. You’ll need to know how many days you will be in the National Parks so you can tell the attendant, they’ll tell you how much it is (the price is calculated per person and youth under 17 are free). You pay the attendant and stick the pass on your windshield as a ‘pay and display’ system. If you’re craving more detail on how it all works, there’s a great blog post here: Understanding The Parks Canada Entry Fees. We needed a pass to cover us for four days.
As with any trip, there are always going to be incidentals! For us, these took the form of things like treating ourselves to lunch or dinner instead of cooking at the campsite, getting an ice cream late at night, trying some delicious local food, buying medicine, coffee, parking fees, numerous Tim Horton’s stops and buying things like extra thermal underwear and gloves.
So, how much does a Canadian Rockies road trip actually cost all up?
With all the detail out of the way, I wanted to put everything in one easy spot so you can cast an eye over it and get a feel for the different costs based on the different options.
Here’s an idea of what you could expect to pay for a budget-friendly, camping Canadian Rockies road trip:
Total = $4,652
RV / Campervan
Here’s an idea of what you could expect to pay for an RV / Campervan Canadian Rockies road trip:
RV hire: CAD$4,627 (+$4,000 bond)
Parks Pass: CAD$78.40
Total = $7,630
Here’s an idea of what you could expect to pay if you stay in mid-range hotels:
Total = $8,853
Note: all of these prices are estimates and are based entirely on our trip. There are so many variables, including things like the type of car you hire, time of year you visit, where you’re flying from, how many people are with you, how much food you eat and so on. Be sure to use these prices as a rough guide only and factor in your own unique circumstances.
Useful travel resources for your next adventure!
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