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How feasible is it to see Banff Canada without a car?

Hi Everyone—

I’m gathering some info. for my parents who are in their 70s, pretty active, and from the Chicago area. They are thinking of vising Banff next year probably in August or September. They would fly in and out of Calgary airport from Chicago. My dad would prefer not to rent a car and my mom would prefer not to do a big tour group. So, I’m trying to get a sense for how easy it would be for them to see the sights via public transportation and possibly a couple of day tours.

I have done some brief preliminary research on-line and have a guidebook on the way, but I’d love to get some thoughts on how doable a trip to this area would be without a car. I don’t want to spend too much time researching if it’s going to be too difficult for them without a car. Also, any suggestions on guidebooks and websites to check out would be appreciated.

Thanks,

Carrie

Posted by
1962 posts

My brother and his wife are in their 70's, and are in Banff right now. They rented a car in Calgary - but when they get back next week I will ask them for their thoughts on the feasibility of seeing Banff without renting a car.

Please feel free to pm me if forget!

Posted by
7630 posts

I know you said your Mom didn't want to do big tour groups. If you find it is difficult to cover the area without a car and they want to consider a small group tour (10-24 participants) they might be interested in Road Scholar tours. Here's a link to the search page for "Banff".

https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/?query=banff

I've NOT done a Banff tour but I have done 10 of their tours to other places and enjoy them. I learn so much from the guides but I understand if they don't think tours would be for them.

Posted by
4124 posts

Either rent a car or find a tour.

Many of the sites are not so easy to find. We did a great tour of Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise from Vancouver with Key West Tours, it was great.

Posted by
225 posts

Do they just want to stay in Banff, or are they interested in exploring nearby places like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, the Ice Fields and/or Jasper? In my opinion, although Banff is beautiful, it would be a shame to travel there and miss seeing those other, beautiful surrounding places.

Also, the wild life viewing up there often happens during a drive from A to B, not to mention tons of scenic lookout points along various routes. Is there a reason your dad doesn't want to rent a car?

Posted by
1010 posts

I live in Calgary about an hour and 15 minutes from Banff. By far, your best option is by car, there are so many drives through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park that are outstanding. One of my favourite drives in the world is from Lake Louise to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway. There is also a half hour loop around Lake Minnewanka that I've never NOT seen big horn sheep. I don't know your parent's situation, but driving here is not difficult. Having said that, Brewester tours offers a shuttle from the airport and many day tours.

https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/brewster-express/?utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=google&utm_term=brewster%20express&utm_campaign=s-banff-shuttle-us-ca&utm_content=&gclid=CjwKCAjw-7LrBRB6EiwAhh1yXyEU9-XGtbP1TX0xhnK5rC0QnQ9Tb-kpFgw1IONi2IQsEZGKD2ThrBoCJTkQAvD_BwE

Being from Calgary I don't often pay close attention to local tourism websites and info but I'll do a quick check and report back. Feel free to PM me. I love it when people on this site show an interest in my home.

Posted by
61 posts

Thanks for the replies!! Very helpful info. that i can take back to my parents.

My dad just does not like driving anymore when he's not familiar with the area. And my parents drive back and forth from Chicago to Arizona every year. So, i think he'd like a vacation where he can just sit back and let someone else do all the driving.

I did some more research and it looks like Banff has good transportation via the Roam buses to all the major sights. And my dad can take a day tour to the Columbia Icefield if he wants.

Thanks again!!

Carrie

Posted by
141 posts

In the past it was difficult without a car or tour but when we were in Banff this July, we saw the roam buses everywhere. I think your parents will be fine. The scenery is so fantastic that the idea of leaving the driving to someone else is very appealing.

Posted by
269 posts

There has been an inexpensive shuttle running from Calgary to Banff for the last couple of summers. Each year they seem to add a few more shuttles and buses as it has gotten so busy. I notice the shuttle this year from Calgary ends September 3. But I think the bus from the airport ( more money, but convenient) continues to run year round.

I've copied a website that discusses it.

www.visitcalgary.com/things-to-do/stories-from-calgary/exploring-calgary-and-banff-without-a-car

I think it will depend on how far off the beaten path they want to go. The shuttles that they run in Banff are to the main tourist hot spots ( Lake Louise, Johnson's Canyon). These have all gotten to be very crowded and I think that has been the motivation to run shuttles. If they want to get to some less busy spots, they will probably need a car

Posted by
13930 posts

Before they totally write off the car rental, here's my take. There's very little city driving out of Calgary, then it's almost all multi-lane divided highway and mostly super scenic all the way to Jasper, with plenty of places to pull over and stretch your legs and soak in the natural beauty of the Rockies.

It's about a 2 hour drive to Banff, there's no reason for any longer drives to any of the scenic points. After Labor Day, it is less crowded, great time to go. When I was there, albeit 6 years ago, in late September there was hardly another car on the road.

Posted by
48 posts

It is a very east drive from Calgary to Banff. However, I have taken the bus there as well and it was equally as easy and very quick. From there you can join tours.

Posted by
1010 posts

For anyone reading this and planning a trip to Banff, it is beautiful and worth its reputation but let me make a plug for a few other sites.

You're flying into Calgary anyway, we have some excellent local history museums;

  • http://www.glenbow.org

  • http://www.heritagepark.ca while there, eat at the Selkirk Grille, the Wild
    Boar Chop is incredible.

  • http://www.fortcalgary.com

  • About an hour and a half south of Calgary is Head Smashed in Buffalo
    Jump-a UNESCO World Heritage site. http://www.headsmashedin.ca

  • If you want history that's about 110 million years older then about
    an hour and half NE of Calgary is the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
    http://www.tyrrellmuseum.com now on display is the best preserved fossil of
    a Nodosaur ever found, it was featured on the cover of the Jun 2017
    National Geographic.

  • If you do go to Banff, for an overnight trip drive the Icefield
    Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper. In my opinion it's one of the
    most spectacular drives in the world.

Posted by
11153 posts

I was there in 2013, so I don't know about bus service that has started since then. But at that time, while you could get from Calgary to Banff, you couldn't get easily beyond that without VERY expensive day tours.

I also want to agree with Chani about how easy the driving is. I have a driver's license, but my driving skills have atrophied drastically after decades of living in Manhattan and not driving. So, I went to Banff with my sister, with the plan that she would do the driving. What we found is that, being there in late May (just before the start of the season on June 1), the roads were not crowded, and even I could handle the driving! Plus, there are very few roads past Banff - it's very hard to get lost, even without a GPS. The road north of Lake Louise to the Glacier View Inn was spectacular (although my sister said she had seen similar roads in Bosnia), but also a very easy drive with lots of areas to pull over and admire the view.

So, I fully understand not wanting to have a "stressful driving" vacation. But Banff (at least outside high season), is such low stress driving, even I could do it! Of course, you do have to be prepared to deal with some animals in the roads - I once had to carefully drive around some bighorn sheep!

Posted by
1010 posts

I wish I could post a photo on this forum. Good friends of mine spent the weekend in Banff and posted a photo on Facebook of a bear running past their car. Hopefully it had the good sense to get off the road.

Posted by
61 posts

Thanks everyone!!! I'll be visiting my parents this weekend so I can pass along all this great info.

Posted by
326 posts

Due to the increased crowds during peak season - August and September are included in peak season - and lack of sufficient parking at many sites, there has been an effort in the past few years to introduce more public transportation in the Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway, and Jasper areas. Visitors are being encouraged to go "car-free" when sightseeing.

You mentioned the Roam bus - the local routes in Canmore are free until Dec. 31, 2019, so I'm guessing that a fare will be in effect next year. https://roamtransit.com/

Here are a few resources that might be helpful for your parents:

https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/brewster-sightseeing/

https://www.banfflakelouise.com/explorethepark

https://www.hoponbanff.com/?pd00=2092842977.1567615432&_ga=2.77630804.1583164166.1567615432-2092842977.1567615432

I was just in Canmore for 3 nights this past long weekend and some parking lots were starting to fill up in Banff at 5 a.m.! Since we've been many times, we left those places for first-time visitors, and enjoyed lesser-known natural areas. I definitely prefer to visit in September over May or early June.

Posted by
13930 posts

And September is when the elks are mating - the bulls are competing and gathering their harems. My second visit was in late September and in Banff, the best place to see them was at the golf course. It was a short drive from the center of town. It's one of the most scenic courses in the world. The elk come out as the sun gets low to graze on the grass. It was late in the season for bull encounters, but there was a lot of bugling their male dominance to each other as they kept tabs on their ladies. There were still a few duffers on the course when I got there, I left when is was getting to dark to see them (the elk, that is - the golfers were long gone).

Posted by
90 posts

Hi
I was in Banff the end of August. We rented a car in Calgary and drove to Banff believing we would drive to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake and around the park. We were told at our hotel that parking was so limited, we would need to be at locations between 5 and 7am to get a spot. Tour busses are able to get in and out when cars are backed up waiting to be allowed in. Our car stayed in the hotel ramp our entire stay. We would not have rented a car if we had known of this difficulty which has arisen just in last few years. We used the hop on hop off bus which we reserved through our hotel and it worked for the three of us in our sixties. Their hotel will be able to give them other tour options. We used the hotel shuttle to get to downtown Banff, walked or used the local bus. There is a free shuttle for the Banff Gondola. So, no problem not having a car and I know there is transport from Calgary Airport to Banff.
Banff is beautiful and I hope to return!

Posted by
61 posts

Thanks Susan!! My parents did decide on no rental car. Your post confirms that this is the way to go.