Guided Tour Or Exploring Solo? How To Figure Out Which One Is Right For You
See Banff's top sightseeing spots on the morning Discover Banff and Its Wildlife Tour

If you’re reading this article, I bet you’re wondering: when exploring Banff, is it better to see the sights with an experienced local guide, or go your own way?

There's lots to do for families with children in Banff
Photo Credit: Damian Blunt / Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

Some travellers look down on guided tours, insisting that they are not an “authentic” way of experiencing a destination. I completely disagree.

Guided tours can offer a lot of advantages – even for the most independent traveller.

Of course, your enjoyment depends on the quality of the tour itself. If it has too many people on it, is disorganized or run by unprofessional guides then no one is likely to enjoy it. However, a tour with a knowledgeable and passionate guide can add a lot to the experience of any destination.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each option, so that you can think about which style of travel is best for you.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages to doing it on your own versus going on a tour.

Perks of going your own way

  • Possible Savings:You will probably save money – it is almost always cheaper to visit on your own compared to going on a guided tour. (However, this is not always the case. Sometimes you can get some great deals on Banff tours and activities if you look around).
  • Start Anytime: With a guided tour, you do have to follow at least a rough schedule. So exploring on your own does offer a little more flexibility in terms of when you can start.
  • You Set The Pace: Some tours — especially large group tours — stick to a strict itinerary. And that’s not a great fit for some people who like to go at their own pace. However, the guides on small, personalized tours often cater to the pace of the travellers to offer a more customized experience.
Incredible views from the Banff Gondola summit
Photo Credit: Chris Amat / Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

Perks of going on a guided tour

  • You’ll learn more about the area: If you explore on your own you won’t have any insider information about what you are looking at. You’ll see the sights, but you won’t hear about their history or learn any interesting facts about the area. When you visit with an experienced guide, they will be able to share a lot of intriguing insights about the local history and they can often share great stories that you wouldn’t read in your guidebook.
  • It’s easier to see wildlife: An experienced tour guide will be adept at seeing deer, elk, bighorn sheep and other creatures, even if they are somewhat camouflaged. That means they’ll help you spot animals that a lot of travellers might miss.
  • Save time: Planning out your independent travel will take a lot of time and research. When you take a guided tour, the tour company has figured out all of those details already so there is a lot less hassle. You can simply relax and concentrate on seeing and learning.
  • Find hidden gems: A tour guide knows which attractions are really worth visiting. They can show you amazing sights and attractions that you may not even think of visiting otherwise.
  • Transportation is taken care of:Most tour companies provide transportation, so you don’t have to worry about driving or finding parking at the most popular attractions.
  • It’s more social: You’ll be in a group with other visitors to Banff, so you will get a chance to strike up a conversation and possibly make some new friends.

Frozen falls on the guided Grotto Canyon Icewalk with Discover Banff Tours

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Safety is also key

A guided tour is often a much safer way of visiting a destination.

This is something to think about in Banff, where you may find yourself hiking in areas where wild animals are present, when exploring vast backcountry that is easy to get lost in or walking on glaciers where there are open fissures and crevasses in the ice.

Your tour guide will be able to clearly explain how to keep yourself safe in these situations. Also, they will be able to watch over the group and note any signs of danger, such as fresh droppings indicating bears were recently in the area. Some types of tours, such as white water rafting, are only available with a tour guide as you will need someone to instruct you on how to raft safely down the river.

Family friendly rapids fun on the Kananaskis River in the Canadian Rockies

Which style works for your personality?

Don’t forget to keep your own personality and travel preferences in mind. Are you the type of person who enjoys planning things, or do you find scheduling and coordinating transportation to be stressful? If you really hate doing the work of planning how to get from point A to point B, it can be a huge relief to let the tour guide handle that responsibility.

Do you prefer to wander alone, or are you much happier when you are with a group of people? How much time do you prefer to spend at one attraction? Everyone has their own personality and travel style, so keep this in mind when choosing a tour.

Photo Credit: Mike Seehagel / Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection

Will you be travelling with children?

If you are visiting with kids, this will also affect your decision. Having the structure of a tour might make it easier for you. You don’t have to think about getting from one attraction to the next: you can just focus on enjoying the experience with your little ones.

Tours can be really interesting for older kids, as they will enjoy learning about the Banff animals and history from the charismatic and entertaining tour guide. Some of the activity tours such as snowshoeing may have age limits, but many of the sightseeing tours are open for all ages.

Play with the dogs on a Canmore dogsledding tour
Photo Credit: Devaan Ingraham / Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

However, if you have really young kids you might be hesitant to commit to a full-day itinerary.
It can be advantageous to have more flexibility, so that you can bail on your plans in the event of crankiness or a disastrous diaper change.

Whether or not you take a guided tour really depends on a lot of factors – your preferred style of travel, your budget, the type of activity you want to do and much more. Fortunately, there are a lot of different types of tours so if you choose to go with a guide you have a good chance of finding something that will work for you.

What’s your travel style – guided tour or wandering solo? Tell us in the comments!

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