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When you enter one of the Rocky Mountain national parks, you'll have to pay an entry fee. For the purposes of fees, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks can be considered one large park--your entrance purchased at one is valid at all the others.
You can purchase your pass for the number of days you need (or get an annual pass) when you first arrive at a park gate. You will be given a receipt that you attach to your windshield for subsequent pass checks.
Whether it would be more cost effective to buy daily passes for the number of days you intend to spend in the national parks or buy an annual pass depends on the duration of your visit and your plans for the next year.
An annual Discovery Pass is valid in 27 of Canada's national parks and 77 of Canada's national historic sites until the end of the 13th month after it was purchased (eg. if you purchase it on August 4th, it is valid until August 31st of the next year). It becomes more cost effective to buy an annual pass if you are going to spend seven (7) or more days in the national parks. The annual pass can also make a nice souvenir, once your trip is over; they are made of heavy plastic, similar to a phone card, and the attractive image on the front of the pass (usually of a Canadian national park or historic site) is changed each year. The Discovery Pass ($136.40 for family/group, $67.70 for one adult) not only allows access to the national parks, but also to many national historic sites, such as the Banff Museum, Cave and Basin, and Bar U Ranch. Check Parks Canada's website for a list of participating national parks and participating national historic sites.
A group of between two and seven people travelling in a single vehicle pays C$19.60 for a day's pass and C$136.40 for an annual park pass. A day is defined as the day of entry, regardless of time of entry, until 4.00 p.m. the following day.
Purchasing a pass:
You can consult Parks Canada - List of Fees to find out more details, e.g., rates for seniors and youth, campground fees, fishing licence fees, etc. Also, this page on park passes for Kootenay National Park has general information relating to all the mountain parks.
The Parks Canada - List of Fees page includes some fees that travellers find confusing.
Campsite Day Use Permit: This is a permit to use a campsite during the daytime only, for example as a picnic spot. If you're camping overnight, you don't have to pay this fee as well.
Fire Permit, per day: If you wish to have a campfire at your site (and the site you're camped at allows this), you will have to purchase this permit. Probably best done close to the time you want to start your fire, so that you don't end up buying a fire permit for a day which isn't suitable for a campfire (rainy, windy, etc.)
Backcountry camping permits: A backcountry campground is not accessible by vehicle; you can only get there by foot or (in some cases) on horseback, on a trail that's several kilometers long. If you are planning on using a backcountry campground, you are required to make a reservation.
Sometimes visitors are surprised by the entry fees to Canada's national parks. Remember, these fees go directly to Parks Canada, not into general government revenues, and help to pay for everything from picnic areas and trail maintenance to wildlife protection and search & rescue services. For just $19.60, you get admission for your car and up to seven occupants from the time of admission up until 4 pm the following day. Compare that to the prices for some of Alberta's other top attractions. National park admission for just one adult travelling alone is $9.80. (All prices are as of November 2014):
Calgary Zoo: $23/adult
Telus Spark (science centre), Calgary: $19.95/adult
Heritage Park, Calgary: $24.99/adult (summer), $10.25/adult (winter, Gasoline Alley Museum only)
Fort Edmonton Park, Edmonton: $18.15/adult
Glenbow Museum, Calgary: $15/adult
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, Calgary: $12/adult
Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller: $13/adult
Royal Alberta Museum, Edmonton: $11/adult
Valley Zoo, Edmonton: $13.25/adult (summer), $9.50/adult (winter)