Compiled by the Road Trip Alberta team
Last updated on August 15, 2019
No matter the method of your arrival in Calgary, once Alberta’s biggest city is in view, what lies to the west holds an immediate appeal for most. Off in the distance, the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains line the horizon. In winter, they are begging to be explored by ski or dogsled; by summer, hiking trails line their valleys and ridges.
And nestled at their base is the alluring resort town of Banff. While the stunning scenery and outdoor activities are the main draws, this town inside of a National Park of the same name holds appeal for everyone. Think soaking in hot springs, a deluge of fine dining options, museums displaying Banff’s unique history, and so much more.
While Calgary is a worthy destination in its own right, getting to Banff is easy and attracts the masses. Below you will find options on how to make the trip from Calgary to Banff and some fun options for what to do along the way.
About the Route
The distance between Calgary and Banff varies if you’re taking the fast route or the scenic route.
- Fastest route – Take the Trans-Canada (Highway 1). The distance on this route is 127km and driving time is approximately 1 1/2 hours.
- Slightly more scenic route – Take Highway 1A through Cochrane, and then get on Highway 1 near Morley. The distance on this route is 134km and driving time is approximately 1 3/4 hours.
Note that these driving times are in optimal conditions and not necessarily representative of winter driving nor peak traffic. Weekends are always busy – if you are planning to get to Banff on a Friday night and back on Sunday, you should expect additional time on the road.
IMPORTANT: Note that Banff National Park requires a pass in order to enter. The current daily fees are:
- Adult: $9.80
- Senior: $8.30
- 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. Alternatively, a Parks Canada “Discovery Pass” can be purchased and used for multiple days and re-entry for one full year. The fees are:
- Adult: $67.70
- Senior: $57.90
- Family/group: $136.40
The park gates are 100 kilometers on Highway 1 west of Calgary, and passes can be purchased there. Alternatively, they can also be purchased online in advance. For more information, visit the Parks Canada website.
Assuming that you are arriving in Calgary via airplane, following are all of the options to get you to Banff.
Calgary to Banff by Car
Fortunately, the drive to Banff National Park is scenic and full of surprising sights as the prairies give way to foothills and ultimately lead to the Rocky Mountains. Going by car allows you to make as many photo and other stops along the way as you like.
But please be mindful of driving conditions, especially in winter. While Alberta’s highways are in great shape and well-maintained, snowstorms can wreak havoc for days at a time, and construction can slow things down in summer. Learn more about Alberta’s road laws and driving guidelines. In addition, check current road reports before you leave.
The closest airport to Banff is Calgary International Airport which is located on the north end of Calgary. From the airport, the best way to get to Banff is via highway 2 north to Stoney Trail (201) which meets up with Highway 1 (also known as the Trans-Canada Highway) and takes you all the way to Banff.
Fortunately, there are also plenty of car rental options at the Calgary airport. Book in advance to ensure less hassle:
- We recommend renting via Budget, as we’ve done it several times with no problems, and they always have competitive rates.
- Some other options: Enterprise, Thrifty, National.
If you are not interested in a traditional car rental through an agency, you can also rent cars through a website called Turo (think AirBnB for car rentals). The Calgary International Airport is a frequent pick up/drop off point.
If you are not in a rush, or want to spend an extra night in Calgary because you arrive late, there are plenty of hotels in the area. Those right onsite at the airport tend to be more expensive, so we prefer these options:
- Hotel Clique is a super chic and affordable hotel that has free parking, free WiFi, and a great restaurant onsite. It is a quick shuttle ride from the airport, and we have stayed here several times when we have an early flight out of Calgary. Bonus: it has two rooftop pools!
- Want to start the journey and cut down on the drive the next day? The Four Points by Sheraton is on the western edge of the city, just off of Highway 1. You’ll get an easy jumpstart to Banff the next day. Parking and WiFi are both free.
Calgary to Banff by Bus
Taking the bus to Banff can actually be a great idea for those who want to sit back and enjoy the scenery. The following companies offer service between Calgary and Banff:
- Brewster Express – Brewster Express has been connecting Calgary to Banff, Canmore, Kananaskis, Lake Louise, and Jasper for 125 years. Book a roundtrip ticket from Calgary to Banff for only $123 per person. They offer departures from both the airport and downtown Calgary right to your hotel door in Banff.
- Sundog Tours – This shuttle service runs through the winter months only. The schedule changes to Brewster bus service for the summer months.
- Banff Airporter – The Airporter provides the most extensive bus service between Calgary and Banff starting as early as 3 am from Banff and departing as late as midnight from Calgary International Airport. A one-way ticket is $67.99 and children under 5 are free.
- 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).
Calgary to Banff by Private Transfer
Private transfers from Calgary International Airport to Banff National Park are a convenient and relaxing way to get to the Rocky Mountains without waiting in lines or making multiple shuttle stops. Some private transfer options are below:
- Banff Transportation Group – Departing from Calgary airport to Banff or vice versa.
- Banff Private Charters – For those looking to travel from Calgary to Banff with a group or a big family, this option has room for up to 24 people!
- Banff Sedan – Luxury never looked so good! Nor picked you up from the airport. This option does come with a hefty price tag but the stylish ride may be worth it.
- Limo To Go – This service has luxury sedans and SUVs, limos, and stretch limos to help you get from Calgary to Banff in style.
- Airport Shuttle Express Ltd. – This company provides the perks of a private transfer without the hefty price tag.
Calgary to Banff by Other Options
- Taxis are always an option, of course, and plenty will be waiting at the airport for your arrival! Note that it can cost approximately $250 for a one-way journey.
- Uber is in Calgary, however, consider that drivers may not be willing or capable to make the drive and the price is close to what a taxi would cost for just one way.
- Consider Poparide.com. There are options to select your driver based on your luggage and equipment requirements if you are traveling with skis, bikes, etc. Poparide charges per seat so you have an opportunity to meet other visitors if you are traveling solo to Banff National Park. Currently, no seat appears to cost more than $20 for the trip.
Fun Things to do Along the Way
If you arrive in Calgary early and decide to travel by car, there are so many things to do on the way to Banff. Here are a few of our favourites:
- If your travels bring you through during summer and you have the kiddos in tow, consider a stop at Calaway Park to blow-off some pent up energy from a long flight. The park has 32 rides, 24 games, and exciting live shows to enjoy. The different rides are good for children of different ages, so everyone can have fun.
- Located on the way to Banff off of Highway 1A, the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is a fantastic place to visit. It is one of the only sanctuaries in Canada to pair successful rehabilitation and re-homing of wolfdogs with public education. There are three possible tours offered: A sanctuary walk, an intro tour, and an interactive tour. The first two are drop-in friendly but the interactive tour requires booking at least 1-2 weeks in advance.
- You can’t just drive by the whole town of Canmore without a stop! This is a great place to grab something to eat, stretch your legs, and get your first taste of the Rockies by marveling at the famous Three Sisters mountains. Treat your sweet-tooth at the Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe, enjoy local photographers and artists work at the Canmore Art Guild Gallery, or explore the nearby Canmore Nordic Centre. There are plenty of local restaurants for avid foodies (or hungry people) – check out the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company for great burgers, BLAKE for great everything else, or PD3 for the unique experience of eating out of a double-decker bus!
- Located near Canmore on the way to Banff, the Kananaskis Nordic Spa is the first of its kind in Alberta, bringing traditional Scandanavian wellness practices to a stunning mountain setting.
Upon Arrival in Banff
You made it!
If you would like to get some useful information on Banff attractions, hiking trails, and much more, check out our Banff Destination Guide, but also pay a visit to the two Visitor Information Centres in Banff National Park:
- Banff Visitor Centre at 224 Banff Ave
- Banff Visitor Information Kiosk at the Banff Railway Station
Where to Stay
The accommodations in Banff are plentiful and most are centrally located and close to the main downtown area. While the locations of the accommodations are quite similar, the main difference is the price points.
- Luxury – We cannot mention hotels in Banff National Park without presenting the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime type stay that is totally worth the experience. (We’ve stayed once, so can say that!) This beautiful and historic hotel is full of shops, a world-class spa, and amazing restaurants that offer breathtaking views of notable peaks.
- Mid-Range – As the Fairmont can run many hundreds of dollars a night, a more budget-friendly option is the Canalta Lodge. Recently renovated, we really enjoyed our stay amid its eclectic design. With a hot tub, free breakfast, and underground parking, this property has been recognized as the best value in Banff.
- Budget – If your budget is better spent exploring all that Banff has to offer and don’t want to splurge on any form on accommodations, then look no further than the Banff International Hostel. It’s located on the beautiful property of the Banff Centre, has a fully equipped kitchen for all to use, free breakfast, and is highly rated.
- Home away from home. There are lots of Airbnb options available in Banff. If you haven’t signed up for Airbnb yet, use this link to get a discount on your first stay!
Need some help planning your itinerary? Check out our guide for all the things to do while visiting Banff National Park.
And if you plan to enjoy Calgary as well, check out our complete guide of fun things to do in Calgary.
ALSO, don’t forget that while you’re on the road, you can download our FREE Road Trip Alberta bingo cards, to make it just that much more fun!