Last updated: April 18th, 2020
As Calgarians, we drive to Banff a lot. After all, it’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth and it’s only 1.5 hours away! Banff is the main town within Banff National Park, Canada’s first, largest, and most visited National Park. For anyone travelling to this side of Canada, Banff and the Canadian Rockies, in general, are an absolute Must-Do!
There are so many things to do in Banff. Whether you’re interested in hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, fishing, scenic road trips, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, or general sightseeing tours, Banff has something for everyone. While we certainly recommend spending some time to experience some of the incredible things to do in Calgary as well, the goal of many visitors is to make it out to this natural gem.
However, you might be wondering how to go from Calgary to Banff. In this article, we’re going to share with you all the different ways you can make it out to Banff, Canmore, and beyond.
Where is Banff?
Banff is located approximately 130-km west of Calgary, Alberta. The drive will take around 1.5 hours via the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). The drive is generally fast but if you’re driving in the summer and/or the weekends, it can be busy. If you’re driving in the winter, the highway can be anywhere from smooth to icy to dangerous.
Banff Park Pass
As is the case with all national parks in Canada, you will need a pass in order to enter. Daily passes expire at 4 pm the following day. However, depending on the amount of time you have, a yearly pass is a much better value.
You’ll find the park gates just after the town of Canmore on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Calgary. If you’d rather purchase in advance, you can also purchase them online at the Parks Canada website.
The current daily fees are:
Youth (up to 17 yo): FREE
Family/group (up to 7 people): $19.60
Commercial group (per person): $8.30
The daily passes expire at 4 pm the following day.
If you’re spending one-week or more exploring national parks anywhere in the country, you are better off purchasing a one-year Discovery Pass. These are an incredible value. For one small fee, you can enjoy all national parks and historic sites across Canada for an entire year.
The prices for the Discovery Pass are:
How to Get from Calgary to Banff
There are a variety of ways to make your way to Banff, including renting a car, jumping in a rideshare, taking the bus, or finding private transportation. There is no train between Banff and Calgary.
Driving from Calgary to Banff by Car
The best way to travel to Banff and beyond is by renting a car. There’s so much area to explore and having the flexibility of a vehicle will make your experience much better. Canada is also a great place to drive with lots of space and a very orderly highway system.
However, if you’re visiting in the winter, the conditions can be dangerous for those with no experience. Generally speaking, the highways are well-maintained, but due to freezing temperatures and snow, the highways can be very slippery. Accidents do happen and the highway can even be shut down from time to time. Learn more about Alberta’s road laws and driving guidelines. In addition, check current road reports before you leave.
From Calgary’s International Airport, Banff is very easy to reach. You’d simply join up with the Trans-Canada Highway and head west. From there, you can’t miss it. I’d recommend downloading Google Maps or another mapping system and using that during your trip.
There’s plenty of options for renting a car at the airport, as well as in the city itself. We typically book rental cars via Expedia or Rentalcars.com and go for the cheapest rate. From what we’ve seen, all the rental car companies are more-or-less the same, so I’d just select the type of vehicle you want and go for the one that costs the least. Just make sure it has unlimited kilometres, which they usually do.
Driving from Calgary to Banff by RV
Basically, this is the same as doing it by car except with your own mobile bed! Loads of people rent RV’s in Canada and drive them to Banff or other parts of the country. There are many RV rental companies in Calgary but there also other options such as renting a campervan (much smaller and easier to handle), as well as renting someone else’s RV (similar to Airbnb). Here are some options below:
- CanaDream: This is a big RV rental company. They have everything from the little guys to the big guys.
- RVezy: This is the Airbnb of RV’s. You rent someone else’s RV.
- Wheel Estate: This is also the Airbnb of RV’s. Many options for renting someone else’s RV.
- Karma Campervans: This is an option for campervans. Typically, it’s a regular size van with two front seats and the back area has been converted into a mini living area with a bed and a kitchen.
Calgary to Banff with the Bus
If you’re not up for the drive or just don’t want the hassle, you can sit back and relax aboard a bus, enjoying the scenery without having to worry about driving conditions, insurance, and where to park. There are a variety of ways to get to Banff from Calgary via bus;
- On-It Transit Service: This bus service is an easy and affordable way to get from Calgary to Banff by bus on weekends and is only $10! It departs from several transit spots and in downtown Calgary (but does not stop at the airport).
- Brewster Express: The Brewster Express is run by Pursuit, the same folks who run the Banff Gondola, the Columbia Glacier Adventure, Maligne Lake boat tours, and much more. They can connect you from Calgary to Banff, Canmore, Kananaskis, Lake Louise, and even Jasper. For $123, you can book a round-trip ticket from Calgary to Banff and leave from either the airport or from downtown Calgary. Another option during the winter is with Sundog Tours.
- Banff Airporter: Starting as early as 3 am, you can take the Banff Airporter from Calgary (including the airport) to Banff for just $68 one-way.
Things to Do from Calgary to Banff
As one of Canada’s top cities, there are loads of things to do in Calgary. If you have time, we highly recommend spending a couple of days and exploring the cleanest city in the world (Is that cool?). However, there’s also a lot of things you can do on the way to Banff, depending on how much time you have and what your interests are.
Here are some of our favourites:
- WinSport Canada Olympic Park: This is Calgary’s inner-city ski hill as well as where many Olympic athletes train. It’s a great place for beginners or for those not brave enough to ski the big mountains but it’s also home to a number of other attractions, including an Olympic bobsleigh ride, tube park, North America’s fastest zipline, and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
- Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary: Located on the way to Banff off of Highway 1A, this is a great place to go for wildlife lovers. They offer a number of tours, including a walking tour, an intro tour, or also an interactive tour.
- Canmore, Alberta: Located just before the national park and only about 15-20 minutes from Banff is the popular city of Canmore. Canmore has more of a local feel compared to the touristy feel of Banff but has equally incredible scenery. There are also loads of things to do in Canmore and it can also be a great base for exploring both Banff National Park and the surrounding area. If you’re up for a hike to the top of a mountain, we recommend Hiking Ha Ling Peak.
- Kananaskis Nordic Spa: Although more expensive than Thermea and not nearly as big, there are very few places to get a Nordic Spa experience within the Rocky Mountains. This spa is located at the Kananaskis Lodge right next to Nakiska Ski Area, which is about 30-minutes “out of the way” on Kananaskis Trail. However, even if you just want to go for a drive, this can be a great little side trip with a higher chance of spotting wildlife.
Things To Do in Banff
Once you’ve made it to Banff, you’ll be blown away by the array of things you can do. From world-class restaurants to world-class ski resorts and everything in between, everyone loves this mountain town. For the ultimate list of what to do in Banff including where to eat and where to stay, check out our Things To Do in Banff travel guide.
There are also two Visitor Information Centres you could pop by, including the Banff Visitor Centre, which is located in the middle of downtown (224 Banff Ave) or the Banff Visitor Information Kiosk at the Banff Railway Station.
For more information on where to stay, what to do, and where to eat, visit our Banff Travel Guide.
Exploring More of Canada? Check out these other articles below:
- Things To Do in Canmore
- Things To Do in Calgary
- Things To Do in Alberta
- Things To Do in British Columbia
- Best Canada Road Trips
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