If you're in the parks in high season, you almost have to think of it as a competition or musical chairs. Both Banff and Jasper could easily add a few thousand hotel rooms and fill them without much trouble, but they can't; due to conservation regulations, development is severely restricted in the parks.
Although there are more than 5,000 tourist beds in Banff, rates can be expensive and are often under the control of big tour-bus companies that reserve huge amounts of rooms well ahead of the season. It's important to plan ahead. If you're flexible, last-minute-deal travel websites are a great alternative -- try Priceline, Travelocity, or Expedia, all of which may turn last-minute cancellations into savings of as much as 50% for you. Demand in neighboring Canmore, while high, isn't quite at Banff levels, so the 20-minute drive can often pay off.
If you are have trouble finding a room or simply don't want to deal with the hassle, contact Banff Accommodation Reservations (tel. 877/226-3348; www.banffinfo.com). They'll help you find available rooms and also happily give advice to help you make the most of your trip.
In the off-season, prices drop dramatically -- often as much as 50%. Most hotels offer ski packages in winter, as well as other attractive getaway incentives. Ask about any special rates, especially at the larger hotels.
Hotel Alternatives -- If you're looking for a B&B, there are many options; check out www.banffbedandbreakfast.org for a complete listing.
Hostels are probably the most affordable option in Alberta's Rocky Mountain parks -- at least, if you want a roof over your head and running water. Hostelling International runs a large network of hostels throughout the parks; to find out more about Alberta hostels, check out www.hihostels.ca.
There is a wide variety of campgrounds in Banff National Park, and you can now reserve a spot via telephone at tel. 877/737-3783 or online at www.pccamping.ca. Many, though, remain first-come, first-served -- don't expect to be able to arrive any day of the summer and find availability at your choice campground. You must plan ahead, especially if you want to be near the town of Banff. Check with Parks Canada at the Banff Information Centre (224 Banff Ave.; tel. 403/762-1550) for updated campsite availabilities.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.