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How to get to Banff National Park: The Ultimate Guide

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How to get to Banff National Park, Canada - The Ultimate Guide
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Banff National Park is Canada’s most awe-inspiring national park home to some of the world’s most serene glacial lakes and magnificent scenery. Here’s everything you need to know about how to get to Banff National Park

The trickiest part is knowing how to get to Banff National Park and deciding which is the best option is for you. This detailed travel guide includes details of all the different modes of transport available to Banff, travel duration times, detailed road directions, recommendations on the best way to get to Banff, how to get to Banff from Calgary, plus other top travel tips for your journey to Banff National Park that you probably didn’t think of.

Where is Banff National Park located

How to get to Banff National Park - Driving along Icefields ParkwayBanff National Park is located in the Rocky Mountains in the western part of Canada in the province of Alberta.  Banff National Park hugs its most westerly border with British Columbia and as you explore the surrounding parks, you may find yourself crossing the border.

The distance from Calgary to Banff is 128 kilometres (82 miles) east of Calgary city and Calgary International Airport – the closest airport to Banff National Park.

How to get to Banff National Park - Town of Banff ShopsThe main township and commercial centre of the national park is the Town of Banff. A pretty alpine village set along the Bow River with loads of shops, restaurants, and accommodation. The Town of Banff is where you’ll inevitably spend your evenings relaxing and stocking up on food supplies for the following day.

Reaching Banff National Park and the town of Banff is fairly easy thanks to the Trans-Canada Highway. As the name suggests, the Trans-Canada Highway spans the width of the country connecting all ten provinces of Canada, making it one of the longest routes of its type in the world. 

Map of Banff National Park

Below is a map of transportation links, car hire agencies, supermarkets, and gas stations.

  • Yellow pins – Car Rental Agencies in Banff
  • Blue pins – Car Rental Agencies at Calgary Airport
  • Orange pins – Transportation
  • Purple pins – Gas stations
  • Green pins – Supermarkets

How to get to Banff National Park

How to get to Banff National Park - Sunset at Lake LouiseThe Trans-Canada Highway will be your lifeline as you travel to, from, and around Banff National Park and its surrounding parks. There are several modes of transport to choose from to reach Banff National Park such as by plane, rail, bus, or car. Choosing the best option will depend on whether you’re travelling domestically or internationally. 

Let’s take a closer look at how to get to Banff National Park.

By plane

The closest city and international airport to Banff National Park is Calgary, where the average journey time by car between Calgary and Banff is between 1 hour 30 minutes and 1 hour 50 minutes. This relatively short travel time makes it a popular choice to arrive through, especially for international travellers. This is, incidentally, where I flew to from London.

Two other popular gateways both with international airports are via Edmonton and Vancouver both of which are located much further away, 360 kilometres (224 miles) and 836 kilometres (518 miles) respectively. The latter is a great option if your goal is to have an extended road trip, however, do keep in mind that there is plenty of driving to be done once you reach Banff National Park itself.

From within Canada

Airlines which have daily domestic services to Calgary, Vancouver, and Edmonton include Air Canada and WestJet. 

From the United States

If you’re travelling from the United States, Air Canada has flights into Calgary and Vancouver. Other U.S carriers which have flights into Calgary and Edmonton include Alaska Air, American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines. United Airlines also runs services into Vancouver.

From Europe

Air Canada runs daily services from London and Frankfurt to Calgary and Vancouver. British Airways runs several services to Calgary and Vancouver from the UK and continental European with connections in London. I flew with WestJet who run non-stop services from London to Calgary and Vancouver. Lufthansa also has a daily flight from Frankfurt to Vancouver. 

From Australia and New Zealand

Qantas offers a couple of different options for travellers from Australia. Flights into Vancouver are available from Brisbane and Sydney while flights from Melbourne are connected via Los Angeles to Calgary.

Air New Zealand and Air Canada are both Star Alliance partners and together run flights to Calgary or Vancouver via South Pacific destinations such as Nandi in Fuji.

Air Pacific also runs flights to Vancouver from all over the Pacific via Honolulu.

From Asia

Air Canada has direct flights to Vancouver from several Asian destinations including Delhi, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai, Osaka, Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing. Air Canada also offers direct flights from Tokyo to Calgary.

Several Asian airlines fly to Vancouver including Air China from Beijing, ANA from Osaka and Tokyo, Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong, Japan Airlines from Tokyo, Korean Air from Seoul, and Philippine Airlines from Singapore via Seoul. Once you reach Vancouver, domestic flights to Calgary 

Flight time duration: 

  • From Vancouver to Calgary: 2h 45m 
  • From Edmonton to Calgary:  2h 54m 
  • From New York to Calgary: 5h 15m 
  • From Dallas to Calgary: 4h 5m 
  • From Los Angeles to Calgary: 3h 5m 
  • From London to Calgary: 9h  
  • From Frankfurt to Calgary: 9h 25m hours 
  • From Sydney to Vancouver: 14h 15m
  • From Melbourne to Los Angeles: 14h 25m /  Los Angeles to Calgary: 3h 5m 
  • From Tokyo to Vancouver: 11h 24m
  • From Tokyo to Calgary: 12h 6m
  • From Hong Kong to Vancouver: 11h 30m

By Car

How to get to Banff National Park - Crowfeet Glacier on Icefields ParkwayThe best way to get to the Rockies and Banff National Park is by car. You will save on transportation costs as well as having the added flexibility to explore at your own leisure. There are several large car rental agencies located at Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton Airports including Avis, Budget, Discount, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Rent-A-Wreck. To get the best value for money, I use this car rental comparison site. 

Car Insurance

My best money-saving tip is to take out full excess insurance with insurance4carhire and NOT with your car rental agency. Car hire excess insurance is optional insurance coverage which can protect you from the excess costs that you are required to pay in the event that your car rental is damaged or stolen. Normally, car hire agencies will spring this on you when you pick up the car – but don’t give in to the temptation. Insurance4carhire offers much more cost-effective insurance policies starting from just £40 a year. 

Not convinced? Consider this example, if you did purchase car hire excess insurance with the car rental company and your excess was £500, you would have to pay the rental company £500 and they would pay the remaining cost of the claim. On the other hand, if you purchase excess insurance from Insurance4carhire, you would be able to claim back the £500 you’d paid! 

Driving Directions from Calgary Airport to Banff

  • Exit the airport parking and car rental lot and follow signs for Barlow Trail and City Centre.
  • Follow Barlow Trail NW to Country Hill Blvd NE
  • Turn left (West) onto Country Hill Blvd NE
  • Use the right lane to merge onto AB-2 N via the slip road to Red Deer
  • Use the right 2 lanes to take exit 271 for Alberta 201 W/Stoney Trail
  • Merge onto Stoney Trail NW/AB-201 W
  • Take exit 36 for AB-1 W/Trans Canada Highway W towards 16 Avenue N/Banff which becomes Trans-Canada HWY-1, and will take you directly to Banff.
  • After approximately 120 km (72 miles), stop at the National Park Gates to purchase a Park Pass or purchase your Parks Pass in advance here.
  • The town of Banff is about 15 minutes from the park gate. Exit Highway 1 at the Banff/Lake Minnewanka exit. Turn left at the exit ramp stop sign onto Banff Ave.
  • Travel time: Approximately 90 minutes

Driving Directions from Vancouver to Banff

  • Exit the airport along Grant McConachie Way and take the slip lane at Sea Island Way
  • Use the right lane to merge onto BC-99 S via the slip road to Victoria/Seattle
  • Take exit 37 for BC-91 E towards Delta/Surrey
  • Merge onto BC-91East West Connector
  • After 13km use the right lane to take exit 8 for Nordel Way towards British Columbia 17/British Columbia 1/Trans-Canada Hwy
  • Keep right at the fork, follow signs for BC-17/British Columbia 1/Trans-Canada Highway and merge onto Nordel Way
  • Use the right 2 lanes to turn right onto BC-17 SFPR
  • Continue onto BC-15 S and take the British Columbia 1 Exit towards Hope
  • Merge onto Trans-Canada Hwy/BC-1 E
  • After 116km, turn right onto BC-3 E Crowsnest Hwy
  • After 6.6km, follow signs onto BC-5 N Coquihalla Hwy, this will eventually meet up with the Trans-Canada Highway
  • Take the exit towards Banff and turn right onto Mt Norquay Rd.
  • Travel time: Approximately 10 hours

How to get to Banff National Park - Bighorn sheep on the roadTips for driving to Banff National Park

  • Stock up on food: If you plan on driving directly to Banff once you arrive at Calgary airport, I recommend stopping off at Walmart (located nearby) to stock up on food and snacks for the drive and for your trip in Banff. You’ll need to keep up your energy for the drive and you’ll save money on purchases compared to the local supermarket in Banff.
  • Get a Park Pass: If you choose to drive, you will need to purchase a Parks Pass to enter Banff National Park. 
  • Have your documents: Ensure you have a value drivers licence, carry proof of insurance and your car rental contract.
  • Road rules: All highway signs use kilometres and speed limits are in kilometers.
  • Parking: Your hotel in Banff will most likely include parking. I recommend calling ahead to confirm this. Otherwise, the town of Banff has on-street parking and four off-street parking locations. Parking is free but subject to signposted time restrictions. For more information on parking in Banff, visit the Town of Banff’s website. They also have a mobile site with live information about parking availability. 
  • Gas stations: Gas stations are located in all towns in the Canadian Rockies including Banff, Lake Louise, Canmore, Jasper, Golden, Radium Hot Springs, and Bragg Creek. There are additional smaller gas stations located along Icefields Parkway and in Kananaskis Country but cost significantly more and are usually closed outside of the busy summer season. Aim to fuel up early morning as long queues form during the day. Note that all service stations require you to pay before you use the pump.

By Shuttle Bus

How to get to Banff National Park - View over Icefields Parkway roadThere are two shuttle bus services that operate from Calgary Airport, there are Banff Airporter and Brewster. 

Banff Airporter makes it really easy to get to Banff. Once you arrive at Calgary Airport, head to the Banff Airporter check-in at the desk. They’ll take your luggage and escort you to the bus. Two hours later you’ll be dropped right to your front door. 

Banff Airporter connects Calgary to Banff, Lake Louise, and Canmore with a total travel time of 2 hours. Multiple services run daily from 05:00 to 22:30. Check Banff Airporter fares and schedules here.

 In addition to connecting to Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore, Brewster also offers a summer service to Jasper with stops at Saskatchewan Crossing, Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, and Sunwapta Falls. Check Brewster fares and schedules here

Tips for taking a shuttle bus

  • Information desks: You can find the information desks for Banff Airporter and Brewster opposite the baggage claim.
  • Book in advance: Reservations are required for all pick-up locations, so make sure to book in advance. Some Brewster services require at least 24 hours advance reservation. Check timetables on the Brewster website for affected routes.
  • Arrive early: Arrive At your pick-up location at least 10 minutes prior to departure. 
  • Allow extra time: From June to September are the Rockies busiest months and there may be delay to services due to bad weather, road conditions, traffic and/or road construction. With that in mind, allow extra time to reach your final destination, especially during weekends.
  • Jasper Services: Brewster runs its Jasper service from Lake Louise from early May to October. From November to April, Sundog Transportation runs to Jasper.

By Bus

How to get to Banff National Park - Wild Bighorn Sheep on the roadGreyhound bus line services both Canada and the United States. There is no need to prebook, you simply turn up and purchase a ticket. Regular fare tickets are valid for 12 months and include unlimited stopovers between paid destinations. 

From Calgary: Greyhound runs up to 5 services every day from Calgary to Banff and Canmore and often continues up to Lake Louise, and into Jasper National Park.

From Vancouver: Travelling along the Trans-Canada Highway, you’ll pass through Golden, Field, and finally, Banff. There is also a northern route which extends up through Jasper to Edmonton.

From the United States:  The closest Greyhound stop state-side is located in Great Falls, Montana where regular services take you straight to Calgary when you change connections for Banff.

Tips for getting a bus

  • Ask for special deals: When purchasing your ticket, ask if there are any special deals or discounts available. 
  • Purchase in advance: Discounts are available if you choose to book 7, 14, or 21 days in advance.

By Train

How to get to Banff National Park - Take the trainThere are two railways which operate directly to or near Banff National Park. 

VIA Rail 

VIA Rail is a Government-run railway network which spans the country from Vancouver and Prince Rupert to Halifax. The closest stop to Banff National Park is in Jasper National Park located 288 kilometers (178 miles) north which is roughly 3.5 hours drive.

The Great Western Railway route connects Vancouver, Kamloops, Jasper, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Sioux Lookout, Sudbury Junction station, and Toronto. Choose from Economy, Sleeper Plus and Prestige Sleeper tickets. 

If travelling from eastern provinces to the west, the most cost-effective option is to purchase a Canada Pass which gives you the flexibility of unlimited trips within a 60-day period.

Rocky Mountaineer 

Rocky Mountaineer Vacations offers luxury rail experiences including their Vancouver to Banff/Lake Louise route with accommodation in Kamloops. This 2-day journey is available in both directions so you can choose to start in the Rockies and go to Vancouver or start in Vancouver.  Rocky Mountaineer trains operate between April and October. 

You can choose from 3 levels of service starting with RedLeaf, SilverLeaf or GoldLeaf experiences. Red Leaf includes light meals, non-alcoholic drinks and accommodation in Kamloops. Silver Leaf provides an extra level of comfort and extra viewing opportunities with its glass-dom car. The ultimate luxury experience is their GoldLeaf service where guests travel in a two-storey glass-domed car and dine in a separate dining area and stay in the most luxurious accommodation in Kamloops.

Take a look at this video for a glimpse of what to expect on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

What is the best way to get to Banff National Park?

How to get to Banff National Park - Colourful kayaks at Lake LouiseThe best way to get to Banff National Park is arriving via Calgary International Airport and hiring a car to take you to Banff. This will drastically reduce your travel time, save money in transportation and give you the flexibility to explore Banff National Park without being at the mercy of timetables.

If your trip around Canada continues to somewhere like Vancouver, you might consider dropping off your car rental in Banff and taking the Rocky Mountaineer luxury rail. This is a fantastic way to see even more of Canada’s breathtaking countryside. Of course, if you’re arriving from Asia, Australia, or New Zealand, you may want to start your trip with Rocky Mountaineer then pick up your car rental in Banff. 

If you don’t want to drive, then take a Greyhound or the Banff Airporter from Calgary International Airport. Once in Banff, you can book day tours to places of interest or use ROAM – the local transit system.

Getting Around the Town of Banff

How to get to Banff National Park - Town of Banff Welcome SignWalk it

Banff is pedestrian-friendly with wide sidewalks and short walking distances between most accommodation to shops and restaurants.

Bus it

If you’d like to visit Canmore, use ROAM, a community-run transit system. ROAM also serves the Town of Banff, with routes going to the Banff Upper Hot Springs and Gondola, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, as well as up and down Banff Avenue. The exterior of the buses is beautifully designed with different animals wrapping around the entire bus.

That’s it! I hope you found this guide on how to get to Banff National Park useful. If you have any questions, please leave it in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.

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How to get to Banff National Park, Canada - The Ultimate Guide

Sources / Moon Canadian Rockies / Banff.ca / Banff Lake Louise

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