Banff National Park is visited by 4.5 million people from around the world every year, making it the most popular national park in Canada. People travel to Banff by air, car, bus, and train.
Getting to Banff is easy and is mainly done via air or car. There is no commercial airport in Banff so travelling by air still requires taking a vehicle from the nearest airport which is in Calgary. The Trans Canada highway, also referred to as Highway 1, is the only road to Banff. While there is a train station in Banff, there is no daily passenger service to the townsite.
I’ve been travelling to Banff since I was a toddler and in that time I’ve gotten there by routes from the north, west, south, and east. I have no preferred route or way to get to Banff because no matter which direction you come from, how you get there, or when you arrive the scenery is magnificent and there’s always something to do along the way. Below I outline the most popular and common methods of travel and routes to get to Banff.
Getting to Banff via Air Travel
The closest airport to Banff is the Calgary International Airport (YYC) which is about a 90-minute drive to the townsite. Calgary is an airport hub for Alberta so most airlines will have flights to the city. For those that don’t, you will be directed through Vancouver or Toronto.
When you arrive at the airport you will have to arrange for transportation to Banff and there are several options available: car rentals, a shuttle bus, a cab, or Uber.
Renting a car is the best option if you plan to explore areas outside of the Banff-Lake Louise-Canmore area at your convenience, as there are either limited or no shuttle or transit options to some of these areas. This would include areas like Bragg Creek, Kananaskis Park, Yoho National Park, Fairmont, Golden, or Jasper.
There are several on-site car rental companies at YYC; Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Alamo. (Book here) Rental cars in the summer are at a premium so you will want to make a reservation. If you are travelling to Banff between October and May, it is highly recommended you rent a car with winter tires.
Most of the companies listed above also provide rental car pick-up services in Banff if you only want to rent a car for a day or two.
Shuttles are a great option if you want to go directly to Banff. A car is not required to visit Banff as there are shuttle and bus options to all the major attractions in the immediate vicinity.
There are three local shuttle operators; The Banff Airport, Brewster Express, and Discover Banff Tours. The shuttles all have operation desks in the airport with pick-up and drop-off spots in front of the terminal.
The trip on either shuttle will take 1.45 to 2 hours and cost you about ~$80 one way for an adult, but discount codes can be found online. Currently, the Discover Banff shuttle has the cheapest adult rate (~$70-78).
The Banff Airporter has later departures from YYC so it’s the best choice for late-arrival flights, it also has more flexible drop-off and pick-up locations. The Brewster Express goes to more locations such as Downtown Calgary, Kananaskis, and Lake Louise and in the summer there’s a shuttle from Banff to Jasper. The Discover Banff shuttle offers flexible private transfers and also specializes in local tours so you may be able to get a discount on merged packages.
I’ve travelled on both the Banff Airporter and with Brewsters and find them comparable in comfort and quality of services. The luggage policy is similar to that of the airlines. I’ve never had an issue travelling with sporting gear, although it’s advisable to give them some notice if you have large luggage (like multiple bike boxes). Neither shuttle allows pets on board, other than service animals. I haven’t travelled with Discover Banff but their policies are very similar to the other shuttle operators in their travel and pet policies.
Cabs or Uber
You can take a cab or an Uber from the airport to Banff. The average for both will cost you ~$210-300 Cdn so it’s not the most economical option. There are local cab operators in Banff and Canmore, however, currently, there is no Uber service in Banff.
- Visiting Banff and need a game plan? Check out our itinerary.
- Don’t miss How to Visit Banff National Park: A Beginner’s Guide.
Getting to Banff by Car
Everyone travelling to Banff has to take the Trans Canada highway. If you’re coming from the west, which most people do, you will travel the section of the highway between Calgary and Banff.
Banff from Calgary via the Trans Canada Highway
From Calgary following the Trans-Canada, a double-lane highway with a speed limit of 110 km/hr, is a direct shot to Banff.
This is a major transportation corridor for goods as well as tourism. Expect a lot of semi-trucks and variable speeds. This highway can get congested going into the weekend, especially summer long weekends. In the winter this road can get very icy with poor visibility.
There are roadside pull-outs along the TransCanada, especially as you get closer to the mountains. The most popular one is just past Lac De Arcs when you first come into the mountains. It’s beside a lake which unfortunately sports a cement plant on the other side which makes it a bit of a mystery to locals why everyone stops here as there are more beautiful places to take photos and soak in the scenery.
If you have time to spare there are more scenic routes from Calgary to Banff. I often use these routes when I want to avoid traffic or there are delays on Trans Canada.
For some family fun spend a few hours at Calaway Park, an amusement park located outside Calgary. You only need about 2-3 hours to enjoy all the rides and attractions so it’s perfect for small children. If you do plan to stop here, get your tickets online it’s much cheaper. There is a campground located beside the park (one of the few between Calgary and Banff). To get to Calaway Park, go west on the Trans Canada then take the right turn exit onto Range Road 33.
Bragg Creek is a small hamlet located in the Foothills of the Rockies with a very Western feel. It’s comprised of log buildings and boutique artisan shops. Bragg Creek is the gateway to great single-track mountain biking, hiking trails, and, in the winter, ski trails. The hiking is milder than what you’ll find in the Banff area making it great for families and beginner outdoor enthusiasts.
As Bragg Creek is so close to Calgary, it gets really busy on weekends. It’s a popular area for road cyclists, especially at the Cinnamon Spoon cafe where groups of cyclists like to congregate. To really explore this area, you need about a day to visit.
To get to Bragg Creek from the Trans Canada go under the Highway 22 (also known as the Cowboy Trail) overpass and take the immediate right exit which will take you south over the overpass. Follow the road for about 20 minutes to Bragg Creek.
On the way to Banff, you will pass the exit to Kananaskis Country. This is an area best explored on its own as it encompasses a wide area where you can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, golfing, horseback riding, and skiing. Vehicles parking in Kananaskis (which includes areas in Canmore) require a Kananaskis Conservation Pass which is purchased online.
Banff from Calgary via Highway 1A
The more scenic and slower route from Calgary to Banff is via Highway 1A, which used to be the main highway to Banff before the Trans Canada. It’s a single-lane highway with a slower speed limit, more curves, little to no shoulders, and limited passing lanes; but it’s more scenic, typically has less traffic and very few transport trucks.
Highway 1A can be accessed from Calgary taking Stoney Trail to Crowfoot Trail west to Cochrane. It’s a double-lane highway until you reach Cochrane. Going through Cochrane you’ll pass the Historic Cochrane Ranche, an interpretive park where one of the first ranches in the area was located. Highway 1A can also be accessed from the Trans Canada taking Highway 22 north via the right-hand exit of the overpass to Cochrane.
Another access point from the Trans Canada is taking the right exit to Mînî Thnî (formerly Morley) a First Nations settlement (watch for free-roaming horses and cattle). Follow the road through the town, across the river then turn left when you reach the 1A.
Accessing the 1A from Cochrane will take you past Ghost Lake, a popular recreation site that on a hot day is full of every type of recreational watercraft from paddle boards to speed boats. The water is very clear but also cold, which is why it’s not popular for swimming, however, if you have a wetsuit and can handle the cold, go for it. In the winter, Ghost Lake is used as an ice track for cars and motorbikes and is a popular spot for ice fishing.
Following the 1A past Ghost Lake will take you through the Stoney Nakoda reserve. Here the road gets narrow, and twisty, with the speed limit dropping to 60 km/hr. If you have the time (and aren’t prone to motion sickness) this is a very scenic route.
The 1A will take you past Mount Yamnuska, a popular mountain for hiking and rock climbing. This is a challenging hike that is not recommended for novices and families in its entirety, however, the first few kilometres are forested and can be explored. We hiked it easily as a family when our children were 8 and 10 but we turned around before the scree section. If you stop here, you will require a Kananaskis Conversation Pass.
From Yamnuska, it’s an easy connection to the TransCanada or you can continue on the 1A which follows the Bow River and takes you past Gap Lake, Exshaw, and into Canmore. From there you take the TransCanada and straight into Banff.
The best way to experience the trip to Banff is to do a loop following the Trans Canada one way and Highway 1A the other.
Banff from Jasper National Park
Getting to Banff from Jasper is a stand-alone adventure. The drive is a little over three hours but if you plan to stop, which you will, add a couple hours. From Jasper, take Highway 93 (often referred to as the Icefields Parkway or the Jasper-Banff highway) south to the Trans Canada junction just outside of Lake Louise. Turn left then follow the Trans Canada into Banff.
It’s a good idea to leave Jasper with a full gas tank, water, and snacks as there is only one fuel stop at Saskatchewan Crossing. You will need a park pass (Discovery Pass) to travel this route. There’s a park gate you will have to go through as you leave Jasper. The pass is good for all national parks in Canada.
In the summer, this route is very busy so be prepared to be patient. Expect cars to be parked or stopped along the shoulders and to share the road with cyclists. In the winter, winter tires are a must as the road can get icy.
There is no shortage of beautiful places to visit on this route; each requires its own feature so only the major attractions are briefly listed.
About 30 minutes into the drive you’ll come to the Athabasca Falls. This waterfall isn’t the tallest, but it’s awe-inspiring for its power. The Falls is easily accessible by a short paved trail. Use caution from the viewpoints as spray from the Falls can make the surrounding area slippery.
Further along the highway, you’ll come to the Parkway’s most recognizable attraction, the Columbia Icefields. Visiting this attraction requires more than a quick stop and should be planned in advance. Tours are available to take you out to the glacier and the Skywalk allows you to explore from unique views.
- Discover what reservations you need when visiting Banff National Park.
Further down the highway is Peyto Lake, known for its stunning turquoise colour. Peyto Lake is best enjoyed from a viewpoint rather than from the shore, although you can hike down to it. The path to the viewpoint is paved so it’s an easy, accessible hike. There are two parking lots to accommodate cars, RVs, and buses.
Banff from Vancouver
The trip from Vancouver to Banff can be done in a straight shot in 10 to 12 hours (854 km). If you want to explore along the way (because there are lots of great sites to see) it’s an easy two-day trip. When my family does it in two days we will often stop in Revelstoke, BC.
The most direct route from Vancouver to Banff is via the TransCanada to Highway 5 up the Coquihalla highway – a multi-lane highway with a speed limit of 120 km/hr – through to Kamloops. The other option is Highway 3 which will take you through the Okanogan Valley the land of wine, orchids, and lakes.
Both routes will land you at the Shuswap, a series of communities along Shuswap Lake. When you go through Sicamous, stop at the Dutchman Dairy for homemade ice cream and fresh fruit.
The Last Spike – Craigellachie
After Sicamous, you’ll head to Revelstoke (often referred to as Revy) where the landscape becomes more mountainous. East of Revy is the Last Spike at Craigellachie a historical site honoring the completion of the Canadian railroad. If you love trains you’ll enjoy this spot as it has a great little gift shop full of everything trains.
Leaving Revy, ensure you have a full gas tank, especially in the winter, as the next available fuel stop is Golden after Roger’s Pass. In the winter, Revy and Golden are where you will be stranded when Roger’s Pass is closed.
The Enchanted Forest – SkyTrek Park
The most iconic attraction west of Revelstoke is The Enchanted Forest which has been operating for 63 years. It’s an interactive walk through an amazing forest full of handmade fairy-tale figures and cabins. There’s also a SkyTrek park which features ziplines and rope courses. You can do the two activities separately or together.
Some people will love this attraction and others will find it cheesy and overpriced. If you have small children, they will love the Enchanted Forest. Teenagers and adults will love the SkyTrek park. I have two older teenagers and we still stop here time permitting.
This attraction is located right on the highway; it’s a two-way entrance from both directions and comes quickly. In the summer it’s very busy and the highway can become congested. Give yourself 30 mins to 2 hours here depending on what you choose to do.
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Historical Roger’s Pass
Patience is required on the stretch of the Trans Canada between Revy and Golden. The highway is single-lane with stretches of double passing lanes, curvy and hilly. It’s labelled as a ‘variable speed corridor’ due to the slinky effect on traffic from the different types of vehicles on the road. Traffic will meander at 80 km/hr, until the double passing lane then speed up to 120 km/hr, as everyone tries to pass as many vehicles as they can before the lane ends then slow again to 80 until the next passing lane. To avoid the stress and frustration this may cause consider timing the drive of this section to be earlier in the day or on a weekday when traffic is reduced.
This section of the Trans Canada takes you through historic Roger’s Pass in Glacier National Park. Roger’s Pass is the second-highest point in Canada and has 135 avalanche paths within a 40 km stretch, which is why you will drive through a series of very cool mountain tunnels.
In the winter, Roger’s Pass is often closed due to avalanches. Always check the weather before entering the Pass and ensure you have properly rated winter tires, extra food, water, and blankets (and a full tank of gas which you filled in Revy or Golden).
At the summit of Roger’s Pass there is a Discovery Centre with natural exhibits that you can explore along with some short hiking trails to stretch your legs, or if it’s winter relax your nerves. There are no restaurants, hotels, or gas stations at the summit.
After Roger’s Pass, you’ll reach Golden, but before you do turn your clock ahead 1 hour to Mountain Standard Time (there’s a sign), then enter Kicking Horse Canyon. This stretch of the Trans Canada is the most scenic and rugged. It used to be a narrow, winding two-lane highway but is under construction to be expanded to four. Be patient, check for road closures, and be prepared for some steep drops and to see some engineering marvels.
Past Golden, you’ll enter Yoho National Park. Stop in the town of Field, which has a visitor centre where you purchase a park pass. Down the road is a turnoff to Yoho Valley Road which takes you to Takakkaw Falls, a magnificent waterfall and popular hiking area. The hike to the Falls is really easy and depending on the amount of people on the trail should only take about one hour. There are longer and more physically demanding hikes in this area such as my favourite, Iceline, which starts from the falls parking and takes you up to glaciers and rock fields.
This area is closed from October to June.
In the last stretch of highway before entering Lake Louise you’ll pass the Spiral Tunnels. Here you can watch trains navigate the tricky steep grade of the Kicking Horse valley through a series of switchbacks and tunnels.
From here, the Trans Canada is a double-lane highway to Banff, with a 90 km/hr speed limit.
Banff via Waterton National Park
Getting to Banff from Waterton National Park is another scenic journey that will take you 4-5 hours. The fastest route is through Pincher Creek then north on Highway 22 through Bragg Creek then west onto the Trans Canada.
Before leaving Pincher Creek, ensure you have a full gas tank especially if you use diesel. In smaller towns, gas stations close early (sometimes at 7:00 PM), and they don’t always carry diesel. Highway 22 is part of the Cowboy Trail – a stretch of highway that passes through the foothills and large swaths of ranch lands. This will take you through large ranch country with rolling, and treed areas. The route takes you through Bragg Creek.
The Highwood Pass is a route not to be missed. It is the highest paved highway in Canada and one of the most scenic, taking you into the heart of Kananaskis country. To get to Highwood Pass take Highway 541 from Longview West to Highway 40.
Highwood Pass is closed between December and June 15 due to high volumes of snow and animal migration. However, it is open to cyclists and pedestrian traffic which is why from April to June the road is overrun with cyclists and recreators who descend on the area to enjoy it before it opens to traffic.
This route will add a few extra hours to your drive especially if you want to hike or have a picnic. Even in the summer expect to see snow at the summit so be prepared with warm clothing as it’s often windy and adverse weather can move in quickly. You will need a Kananaskis Conversation Pass if you plan to stop for an extended period. A pass is not required if you are just passing through.
To continue through to Banff from Highwood Pass continue following Highway 40 to the Trans Canada where a left turn will take you directly to Banff.
What International Visitors Need to Know
The Speed Limit is in Kilometres
The speed limit is in kilometres. In Banff National Park the speed limit is 90 km/hour. In the Banff townsite, the speed limit is 30 km/hour unless otherwise posted. This also extends to Canmore and Lake Louise.
You Need to Purchase a Park Pass
Banff is located in Banff National Park. To enter the park, you will have to purchase a park pass. You can purchase a pass online on the Parks Canada website or in person. The pass will give you access to Banff, Jasper, and Waterton National Parks.
You do not need to purchase a park pass if you are only driving through an area.
If you have a park pass, use the far right-hand lane, which is a through lane, to get past the park gate (otherwise you’ll be sitting in line for no reason).
You can purchase a pass in person. Travelling west into Banff there’s a park gate located on the Trans Canada outside of Canmore. Traveling east into Banff you can purchase a park pass at the Yoho Visitor Centre in Field or the Tourism BC Visitor Centre in Golden, B.C. Alternatively, you can purchase a pass at the information centre in Banff located on Banff Avenue.
The further west you go, the more expensive gas gets. As a local resident of Canmore, I avoid purchasing fuel in Canmore or Banff and will opt to fuel up in Deadman’s Flats (located 4km west of Canmore).
Emergency services like police, fire, and medical are accessed through 9-1-1.
Banff and Canmore both have local hospitals with emergency departments.
In the Banff National Park area policing is provided through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP or Mounties) and Parks Canada officers. Highway patrol can be conducted by provincial sheriffs (who only do traffic patrol).
Weather Can be Unpredictable
The weather in Banff National Park and the surrounding areas can be very unpredictable and change quickly so always have warm clothing available and dress in layers. As a local to the area, I always have a puffy coat, toque, gloves, and warm socks in the closet. Check out our recommended gear page for our must-have travel gear.
While there are only two main ways to travel to Banff, air or car, there are multiple methods and routes to get there. Determining the best one for you will depend on the amount of time you have, your budget, the season of travel, and your preferred activities. No matter which one you choose, they will all provide a memorable experience.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
Banff is crowded!
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Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid the crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times.
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BANFF TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Banff National Park, check out our Banff Homepage
THINGS TO DO: Don’t miss all that Banff has to offer including Lake Louise, Banff Hot Springs, the Cave and Basin Historical Site, and shopping downtown
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out how to get to Banff and what reservations
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