We’ve come a long way from the days when the only way to get from Calgary to Banff was on horseback.
You’ve now got a lot more options to choose from to get from Cowtown to your mountain retreat.
No matter which route you choose, the journey is truly spectacular. You’ll start in the flat and dry Alberta prairies and move towards the colossal Canadian Rockies looming on the horizon. Soon you’ll find yourself surrounded by rugged, sky-piercing peaks, with mountains so large that they nearly block out the sky and you have to lean your head out the window to see the tops.
On your journey, you’ll cruise along highway roads until you find yourself entering the picturesque Town of Banff. It’s a place that’s nestled in a pine-clad valley with the sparkling Bow River running through it.
The most popular option if you are arriving at the Calgary International Airport is to take a shuttle bus, which usually requires booking in advance. Book your service through Discover Banff Tours for a daily airport shuttle that departs throughout the day, and takes approximately two hours from Calgary Downtown or the airport to your hotel in Banff.
Alternatively, opt for a private transfer from any address in Calgary, including the Calgary International Airport, at a time that suits you with your choice of vehicles from a luxury sedan to a new mini-coach to drop you off at your doorstep in Banff.
In the summer, catch the new $10 bus with On-It Regional Service from Calgary Downtown to Banff. This service has limited stops and doesn’t pick up from the Calgary Airport but it’s a great low cost option. Be sure to book early, buses fill up fast!
Once you get to Banff you can get around town and to some of the local attractions easily on the energy-efficient Roam buses at any time of year. The buses are operated by Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission and run regularly throughout the day for a small fee.
Renting a car (or driving your own) offers you a lot of advantages when visiting Banff. This is because some of the hikes and attractions are off-the-beaten-track and difficult to get to if you don’t have your own transport. However, if you don’t have a car you can always book a guided tour and get picked up from your hotel directly. It’s worth bearing in mind that most hotels will offer parking, but that parking spaces in the town can be limited. The new Banff Parking mobile site is an easy way to find free off-street parking availability from your smartphone.
There are only a few months in the Canadian summer warm enough for road work, so it is inevitable that there will be some construction happening if you are making the drive between late May and early November. Pay attention to the construction zone speed limits and watch out for road workers.
If you have your own car or you are renting a vehicle, you can drive from Calgary to Banff in about one and a half hours. There are a couple of main routes you can choose from:
1) The Stoney Trail (Hwy 201)
The Stoney Trail is a faster route that skips the inner city section of the Highway 1 and then connects past the Calgary city limits, so you will get to Banff sooner. It will only take you around an hour and 30 minutes to get there, so this is the route that most locals take when they want to get to Banff efficiently. However, there aren’t many stops along the way for food, fuel or shopping so you will have to wait until you reach Banff.
2) Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1)
Highway 1 is a bit more slow-moving and it has a lot of stoplights within the Calgary city limits. You’ll pass some fast food stores, shopping malls and grocery stores, if you want to stop for food or supplies before your trip.
Remember – prices for food at the supermarket in Calgary will be cheaper than in Banff so you may want to stock up on snacks. You should also fuel up on gas before you leave Calgary, as the prices for fuel will be more expensive in the National Park.
There are many taxi cab companies in Calgary to choose from and the rates for the journey are fixed by the government. Some of the local Calgary taxi companies include Associated Cabs, Checker Cabs and Calgary Cabs. The approximate cost from the Calgary Airport to Banff for the 140km journey is $250 one way.
Bonus: Banff National Park Entry Fees
When you enter Banff National Park, you will need to pay the official entry fees for the park. You can purchase your Banff Park Pass online or you can pay for it when you reach the entrance gate to Banff National Park on Highway 1. If you are considering staying in Banff for more than 7 days, it makes financial sense to buy an Annual Discovery Pass.
How Will You Get to Banff?
These are the main options for transportation from Calgary to Banff so that you can begin your Rocky Mountain adventure. The right choice for you will depend on your budget, timing and travel style. What’s your favourite way to get to Banff?