RV Rental Near Banff National Park – How To + My Experience
My wife and I just did an RV rental near Banff National Park region, in Alberta, Canada. Since record numbers of people are taking road trips right now, others are probably wondering how to do this, as well. In this article, I’ll look at types of RVs, rental company options, and things you should know for an RV rental in Banff, as well as generally in other parts of Canada. Lastly, we’ll also cover rules/laws you’ll need to follow.
Surprisingly, renting the RV and camping in it cost us less than the price of just a regular rental car. And that wouldn’t even include a hotel room each night! We saved about $200 per day this way ($200 vs $300 car + $100 hotel). Thus, doing an RV rental in Banff or other areas where it’s peak season could be a good option. Here’s what you should know.
Entry To Canada
Because the air border is open, my wife and I recently entered Canada. This is part of a longer trip while we are in-between phases of life. Since the US-Canada land border remains closed, flying into Canada becomes your best option at present.
Thus, even if you have an RV, if you want to visit the national parks in Western Canada, you may still have to leave yours at home and rent one on arrival. That brings you to the same question: how to set up your RV rental in Banff National Park or the surrounding region.
Types Of RVs
Before you rent, you should know that there are different types of RVs. While there are tons of variations on this, I’ll paint in broad strokes. The 2 main categories are:
The first obviously means you need another vehicle to tow it. It also includes trucker toppers, which go into the bed of your pickup truck. The second is probably what you’re thinking of: something where you can sleep in it AND drive it without the need for a separate truck, trailer hitch, etc.
Within self-drive RVs, there are 3 main categories:
- Class A – it’s like a bus
- Class B – it’s like a van
- Class C – it’s like a truck in the front with apartment in the back
Unfortunately, all the learning I did about these in the US didn’t help much in Canada. I found most of the campsites and even some of the RV rental companies didn’t know these terms.
Instead, you can use the following in Canda:
- Motorhome – covers everything in different sizes of Class C
- Van camper – covers Class B and Class B+
- Towable and Class A remain the same (thought Class A is sometimes called “RV bus” at some parks we went to)
Understanding The Different Types of RVs
What are the differences in these types of RVs? The differences are essentially size and features.
The bigger it is, the more features you get. Slide-out areas that create more room when parked are a clear example here. Can you pass from the driver’s area to the sleeping area without going outside? In towables, you can’t.
You’ll also get a bigger kitchen, a shower, and more bells & whistles with bigger RVs. This also means turning / driving is more difficult, and they also use more gas. RVing 101 has a good explanation of the types and how they are different.
Rental Options Near Banff National Park
This applies in other areas, as well, but Banff National Park (plus other parks like Jasper, White Goat, Glacier, and nearby state/regional parks) has a huge number of options for RV rentals. This seems like the most popular destination and is where we went, so I will focus on this region. Most of these rental options exist nationally across Canada, and other regions may have local suppliers, as well.
One key factor in knowing how to rent an RV in Banff National Park is that you’ll probably need to get your RV in Calgary. This is true if using any of the rental companies. Renting from a private owner will have other options (see later in the list).
We rented with CanaDream. We basically wound up with them as a fall-back option after making some short-notice plans and other companies not replying to us.
We paid about $200 per day for a 4-day rental.
CanaDream has offices in multiple cities across Canada. We were overall happy with the services they offered, their customer service, and the excellent quality of the RV we got. Our 2019 model year RV was still in like-new condition, which surprised us. We expected “good condition but signs of wear over time”.
With CanaDream, their Calgary office is northwest of the city, near the airport.
As with other companies we checked, the rental process includes choosing the type of RV you want, how many days, and how many passengers/drivers. This part is just like renting a car. After this, you’ll choose options like whether you need extra towels and bedding–do you need dishes/pots/pans or are you bringing your own? You can add tons of features, including lawn chairs and grills and all sorts of “campsite” stuff. A nice perk we liked about CanaDream was adding our parks pass (called Discovery Pass) to our reservation. That way, we didn’t have to stop/wait in line to buy this when entering the parks. We already had it hanging on the rearview mirror.
When returning the RV, they checked the vehicle condition, how far we dove, if the gas is full—all the things you expect with a rental car return. It was basically the same process. It wasn’t the quickest, but it wasn’t bad.
One feature we thought was cool with CanaDream is that they had a deal to basically get “whatever is available” at a cheap price. You could wind up with any of these 3 options: Deluxe Van Camper, Super Van Camper, or Midi Motorhome. We got Super Van Camper, which was actually our preferred option.
1-800-RV-4-RENT / Cruise Canada
As the name implies, they rent RVs. That phone number goes to Cruise America and Cruise Canada. We saw RVs from this company at every park we went to, and their options are very similar to CanaDream. While CanaDream only rents in Canada, 1-800-RV-4-RENT also rents in the US.
While the above are companies that rent RVs to consumers, Outdoorsy is like Airbnb for RV rentals. People who own trailers, RVs, modified vans and the like can list their items on the website to rent out. This was actually our first stop. Neither of the vehicles we tried to rent worked out. The owners never replied/confirmed. A similar site is RVshare, but they only have vehicles in the US.
A positive about sites like Outdoorsy and RVshare is that you have options more spread out. You can find options in smaller towns, rather than all the options sitting in 1 big parking lot downtown.
The website for RVezy functions like Outdoorsy–people list their own RVs for you to rent. I only discovered this site after we already had a reservation with CanaDream and didn’t attempt to use it.
How To Set Up Your RV Rental In Banff Area
To go to Banff National Park, you’ll probably start in Calgary. It’s about an 90 minutes’ drive from the Banff area (which is both the name of the town and the name of the park). You’ll need to complete the following steps to rent an RV:
- Make a reservation – similar to renting a car at this point, where you provide dates, times, number of drivers, type of vehicle. You’ll also add extras, like things for the kitchen.
- Determine distance you’ll drive – unlike “unlimited distance” you get on most rental car reservations, you pay for distance on RV rentals. Distance comes in various amounts depending on promotions available. You’ll be charged a rate per mile/per kilometer you go over your set distance. We did the math and knew in advance that we would go over our allowed distance. However, the “overage” charge would be half the price of buying the next distance package. With Canadream, overage is 41 cents (CAD) per kilometer. 150 miles or 160 kilometers per day is average with most rentals.
- Verify your identity – you’ll need to submit proof of identity online before you can confirm the reservation or go pick up the vehicle.
- Watch informational videos online for safety / learning about the vehicle – I didn’t get this far with Outdoorsy, but I know that CanaDream and Cruise Canada both require this. You’ll watch videos on things like laws to follow in an RV, how the features of the vehicle work, and how to solve problems with your RV while on the road. You cannot pick up the vehicle if this is not complete. CanaDream has a computer at the pick-up office for anyone who hasn’t completed this.
- Make a reservation for pick-up time – only after you complete the online videos can you schedule your pick-up time with CanaDream. I don’t know first-hand how the other companies handle this. Because you need to do a vehicle walk-through and several steps in the pick-up process, you need an appointment time. Thus, doing your online training early (up to 5 days in advance) means you can get the early pick-up times and get on the road earlier.
Getting the vehicle
Now that you’ve done all of that, you can actually go pick up the vehicle. When you get there, you’ll sign paperwork, discuss insurance options—the stuff you’d do with a rental car.
They’ll also offer the extras again, like more distance allowed and more gadgets for the kitchen, plus confirm what you did sign up for. Bedding should be included, but plates/pots for the kitchen are not included with companies. Owners on Outdoorsy treated this differently, with some including kitchen items and others not. Make sure you know exactly what’s included and what is extra.
Before departing, also check what you need to do prior to return. Most companies will require you to sweep out the vehicle, clean the toilet, dump out the waste tanks (your shower water and toilet tank), etc. You can pay for a cleaning service to avoid doing this on your own, but make sure you know in advance what is included and what is expected of you.
Things You Should Know
If we did it again, we’d get a smaller vehicle. A sprinter van would be fine for us. We got what we saw most / were most familiar with. However, it was more than big enough for my wife and I. And when we went into town, parking was an issue. Having a sprinter van would be sufficient and also make driving/parking similar. There’s also the fact that the RV is your home, so if you’re hooked up to power/water at a campsite and need to go somewhere, you need to unhook everything to drive away.
The bigger the vehicle, the more gas it uses, as well. Make sure to factor that in. From our 4-day rental, we spent about $150 US on gas. We did less than 3 hours of driving each day (mostly highway, from one town to the next).
In the US, you often can camp overnight “off grid”. Just find a place where it’s not illegal to stop, and you can sleep there with your RV. Inside national parks or at roadside rest stops, this is not typically permitted, but you can find places. In Canada, everywhere we went within the vicinity of the national parks in Alberta had signs and patrols to ensure people didn’t sleep in parking lots, on trails, or at the side of the road. You must sleep at a campsite. Average for an RV site with hookup (power, water, waste dump) is $30 CAD per night. Some of these have bathrooms and showers, which you can use to avoid using the water tanks in your RV.
In Canada, you can sleep in Walmart parking lots, but you obviously don’t have power/water connections. If you want to cook, you’ll need to run your generator. That brings me to another point: you’ll pay $10 CAD per day in the summer season if you use the generator. How will they know which days you used it? They won’t. So you’ll pay for every day, even if you use it just once. Generator daily fees are waived in winter at the companies I checked. Avoid this by cooking when hooked up at a campsite and not using the generator to run your kitchen appliances in summer.
RV Rental In Banff / Other Parts Of Canada – Final Thoughts
If you’re like us and always drooled over those amazing pictures of blue lakes near Banff National Park in Canada, knowing how to set up an RV rental and exploring the area on your own can be awesome. We would totally do this again. It was a lot of fun. We’d likely get a sprinter van type of RV for just the 2 of us, but we still loved the experience.
In this article, we looked at how to rent, things you need to know before you get on the road, and rules to follow with your rental. I’m very comfortable driving big vehicles—I’ve driven tanks, tow trucks, and buses, so the RV was fine for me—but others may not be. Think about how you’ll use the RV, where you’ll go, and what space you really need. Then, have fun. It was a great experience for us that we’ll never forget.