Banff is one of the most beautiful destinations in Canada. It’s a huge wilderness park in the Rocky Mountains, so surely you have to have a car when visiting? Wrong! Getting around Banff National Park without a car is actually easier than it seems – and that’s coming from a girl who didn’t set foot on public transportation until she was in university! This guide will help you figure out exactly how to visit Banff without a car.
NOTE: Travel is not recommended at this time. These posts are here to serve as inspiration when we can explore again. Hey there – this post likely contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. This helps me earn a few dollars to run this website.
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Do you need a car to visit Banff?
Short answer: no. Long answer: it depends.
In the last few years, especially with the influx of visitors to the area, the Town of Banff has made it easier to visit the mountain town and surrounding area without having to rent or bring a vehicle.
This is helpful for a couple of reasons. One, it reduces the impact of traffic on the roads and wildlife. Two, it reduces the carbon impact of one of the most pristine destinations in Canada.
With the introduction of Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission (aka Roam Transit) in 2012, it’s been easier and easier to get around Banff without a car.
Pros to visiting Banff without a car
- It can be difficult to find parking in the Town of Banff and the popular areas even in low season. In the high season, parking lots can fill up as early as 8 am.
- the cost of parking can add up
- renting a car can be insanely expensive, even just for a weekend
- if you’re not driving, then you get more opportunities to look at all the amazing scenery around you
Cons to visiting Banff without a car
- some of the more remote areas of Banff will be inaccessible if you don’t have a vehicle
- you are at the mercy of the public transportation timetable
- for photographers, getting to a location for sunrise/ sunset might be difficult or impossible
How to get to Banff without a car
There are a number of ways you can get to Banff without a car, but it all depends on where you are coming from.
Many visitors fly into the Calgary International Airport, as it is the closest airport to Banff. From the Calgary airport, there are several companies that can take you to the Town of Banff. I chose Brewster, as it allowed me to first stop in Canmore for a few days before continuing onto Banff.
The cost is about $75 from the airport to Banff, but look into whether the hotel you are staying with has any discounts or complimentary shuttles.
Getting around Banff without a car
Getting around Baff without a car was so much easier than I expected. Since the town is pretty remote, I didn’t expect to see as many bus routes in and around Banff. Sure enough, it was easy and efficient.
The town of Banff has also implemented a pedestrian-only downtown, where they have blocked off Banff Ave from vehicle traffic. Only Roam transit buses are allowed. Again, another reason why a car might make travelling around Banff trickier.
Roam Public Transit
The easiest and cheapest way to get around Banff without a car is to buy a bus pass for Roam Public Transit. You can buy one from the Tourism Information office or you can download the app called Token Transit to purchase and store your pass.
I paid $12 for a 3-day unlimited pass, which allowed me to see pretty much everything in the town. For places outside of Banff, like Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, you can purchase your passes through the same Token Transit app or online.
I found that the times listed on the signs at each stop weren’t really that accurate, but I never worried, because Roam Public Transit uses an app called DoubleMap Bus Tracker so I could easily pull up the routes, look where the bus was and how long the wait was for the next one.
This was super helpful because I was staying at the edge of town, about a 25-minute walk, so I could gauge if the walk or the wait would be faster.
Local Roam routes
Roam Transit has 10 routes, three go to various areas within Banff and the rest take you to sites around Banff.
Route 1 – Inns of Banff to Sulphur Mountain Gondola. Use this route to take you from anywhere downtown to the Banff Hot Springs and the Banff Gondola
Route 2 – Tunnel Mountain. Use this route to take you out to the Tunnel Mountain campground, to downtown, to Bow Falls and finally to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Route 3 – Canmore. Use this route to take you to and from the town of Canmore.
Route 4 – Cave and Basin. Use this route to take you from the Inns of Banff to downtown and to the Cavin and Basin National Historic Site.
Are there Ubers in Banff?
Nope, there are no Ubers or Lyfts in Banff. But there are taxis. I just found that for the cost, the Roam Transit system was easier to use, to manage and was way cheaper than trying to get a taxi anywhere.
Go sight-seeing in Banff National Park without a car
Alright, so many people who visit Banff want to see a few major sites, like Johnston Canyon, Lake Minnewanka, Lake Louise, and of course, Moraine Lake. So how the heck do you get to these scenic places without a car?! Well, there are a few options.
Take the bus
Roam Transit has five routes that will take you to these scenic places, with busses coming around every hour or so during the busy season.
Route 6 – Lake Minnewanka. Take this bus to get to Cascade Ponds, Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka.
Route 8X and 8S – Lake Louise. Take the Lake Louise express (8X) to get from Banff to Lake Louise. Take the scenic route (8S) to stop at Johnston Canyon, Castle Junction, Lake Louise village and finally Lake Louise. Once you get to Lake Louise, you can take the Lake Connector bus to get you to Moraine Lake.
Route 9 – Johnston Canyon. This route takes you to and from Johnston Canyon.
Route 10 – Moraine Lake. This route takes you from Banff to Moraine Lake without stopping.
NEW IN 2023: Parks Canada has announced that Moraine Lake is closed to personal vehicles, which means the ONLY way to get there is by bus or shuttle.
How to book the scenic routes in advance
But the trick is they have to be reserved IN ADVANCE. I learned this the hard way. Even through I had just been to Moraine Lake, I wanted to try to go again, so I looked at Roam Transit’s route and it was already booked up.
You can buy a one-way fare to Johnston Canyon ($5), Lake Louise ($10) or Moraine Lake ($10) or you can buy a Super Pass ($25) to reserve multiple one-way seats in advance. Through the Roam Transit website, you have to first buy your Super Pass. That information will be emailed to you, then you have to “redeem an item” to actually reserve the seat on the bus. It’s a bit tricky, but their website explains how to do it correctly.
I suggest purchasing and redeeming your seat on the scenic route AS SOON AS YOU CAN.
Hop on/ hop off
If you’re up for a busy day, you could grab the Hop On Banff Bus. Tickets are around $72 a day and it takes you from Banff to Johnston Canyon to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. The downside is that there are limited times for the Hop On Banff bus at each stop, so you realllllllllly don’t want to miss the bus.
Where to stay in Banff without a car
There are so many places in Banff that you can stay at without a car. Many of the hotels are just steps away from a bus stop, which makes it easy to access the transportation system whenever you need it. I’m super bummed, but my favourite place in Banff was torn down to make a luxury hotel. It wasn’t anything special to look at, but it was cheap and easy to access for a solo traveller.
Luxury – Nothing says luxury quite like Fairmont. Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel was built in 1888 and was one of the first hotels in Banff National Park. It is itself a National Historic Site. Rooms here can range from $350 a night and up.
Mid-range – I loved staying at the Dorothy Motel. It’s located in the Inns of Banff, on the outskirts of town. But it’s just steps from a transit stop. It’s fairly new, just opening within the last year. The price for a room here ranges based on the season. I went in high season, meaning I paid around $350 (oof) a night, but in low season you can get it for around $130.
Budget – There are two options for budget stays, one is the Tunnel Mountain Campground, but if you don’t have a car, you likely don’t have room for your tent and sleep set up. The other budget option is staying at one of the Hostels in Banff. Samesun Banff and HI Banff Alpine Centre are located in town and cost around $50 a night.
For more places to stay check out this map:Booking.com
Banff makes it easier to visit without a car
In conclusion, yes, you can absolutely site see in Banff without a car. You can get around not only in town, but out to the major scenic areas. It can also help you see places for longer since finding parking can be a nightmare.
However, you are beholden to someone else’s schedule. As a photographer, I would have loved to be out for golden hour, or see Moraine Lake at sunrise, but the buses just didn’t run that early. And if you miss a bus, it’s a long wait for the next one.
Lastly, if you want to visit any of the places that are off the beaten track, you’re out of luck. Which is why I suggest doing a hybrid situation. Have your car, but don’t use it to visit the popular spots, or to get around town. Instead, use it only to get out of town to places like trailheads or to visit along the Icefields Parkway.
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