20 Tips For Biking The Bow Valley Parkway in 2024

The Bow Valley Parkway, or the 1A, is a road every visitor should find themselves on at least once. What is the Bow Valley Parkway? Before the Trans Canada Highway, the Bow Valley Parkway was the original road linking Banff and Lake Louise in the early 1900s.

Now, this 50km road is primarily used for sightseeing and outdoor recreation. It’s one of the most scenic drives in Western Canada, but you don’t just have to drive it. It’s also one of the most popular places to cycle in Banff.

If you want to indulge in a fabulous bike ride while in the Rockies, the Bow Valley Parkway is a great place to start. Especially if you are visiting during one of the seasonal closures.

2024 Bow Valley Parkway Closures to Be Aware Of

Nighttime Closure

From March 1 to June 25, 2024, travel is not permitted between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on the 17-kilometer eastern section of the parkway from the Trans-Canada Highway (1) / Bow Valley Parkway interchange (Fireside Picnic Area) to Johnston Canyon Campground (please study the map). This restriction applies to all forms of travel (vehicle, walking, and biking) and ensures a high-quality home remains in place for wildlife.

All businesses remain open during this time and can be accessed via Castle Junction.


Vehicle Closure

bow valley parkway closure map
Source: Parks Canada

In addition to the nighttime closure above, there is another closure to be aware of.

Parks Canada has approved a three-year pilot that restricts vehicles only every day from 8am to 8pm from May 1 to June 25, 2024 and from August 30 to September 30, 2024 only along the eastern 17-kilometer section of the parkway. This is to allow for a vehicle-free cycling experience. This closure is between the Fireside Day-use Area and Johnston Canyon (study map).

So, if you would like to go to Johnston Canyon during this time, it’s recommended to cycle in (make sure to bring a bike lock!). Your other alternative is to access Johnston Canyon via the Castle Junction exit by car.

Where to Park


Parks Canada suggests that cyclists should park their vehicles at the Banff Train Station Parking Lot, accessible via the Mount Norquay Road entrance to the townsite; this is where there is free and ample parking.

In the past (and this is much easier on a weekday), it’s always been possible to park at The Fireside day-use area parking lot and access road. We’ve also been able to park along Vermilion Lakes Road where there are a few spaces. There’s not a lot of parking here, so if it’s a weekend in the summer, you may find parking here tough.

You can also park at the Lake Louise Summer Gondola to start your ride from Lake Louise, as well at Castle Junction, where there is a small parking area.

When is the Best Time to Cycle the Parkway?

natasha Biking the Bow Valley Parkway in Early September
Biking the Bow Valley Parkway in Early September

I love car-free cycling experiences, and although I enjoy cycling the Legacy Trail weekly, cycling the Bow Valley Parkway car-free is really the best experience a cyclist can have in the Rockies. The best time to cycle is during the vehicle closures between May 1st and June 25th, as well as all of September.

Though you can cycle the Parkway any time of year if you wish, it’s best enjoyed between April and October. Even with vehicle traffic, this is still an extremely bike-friendly roadway with large shoulders and great pavement.

Where to Get on the Bow Valley Parkway

There are many places to jump onto the Parkway. From Banff, the most popular place is from the Fireside Day Use Area. You can also ride from Downtown Banff, along Vermilion Lakes Road and connect right to the Bow Valley Parkway.

You can hop on the Parkway at Castle Junction, which is just about the halfway point of the Bow Valley Parkway. Of course, you can always start your bike ride in Lake Louise.

How Hard is the Bike Ride?

natasha on the bow valley parkway
Made it to Lake Louise and now time to turn around!

Defining how hard this bike ride is depends on many factors, such as distance traveled, cycling experience, and fitness. Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway is generally labeled as a moderate bike ride, but some sections fall into the difficult category, and some are easy peasy. Regardless, we think cycling the Bow Valley Parkway is something everyone can enjoy!

There are a few steep sections you’ll have to climb in both directions. And if you are only biking one way, Banff to Lake Louise is definitely harder as you are gaining elevation nearly the entire time (whether you realize it or not). We also always seem to have a headwind while riding from Banff to Lake Louise and a tailwind heading back, which makes Lake Louise to Banff much faster – though it’s the weather, and there are no guarantees.

  • Elevation Gain: When we ride from Banff to Lake Louise and back we clock 550 meters of gain. If just riding from Banff to Lake Louise one way you’ll gain about 410 meters.
  • Distance Traveled: From Banff one way – Castle Junction (30 km), Baker Creek (45 km) and Lake Louise (58 km)

How Long Does it Take to Bike?

biking the bow valley parkway

How long your cycling trip will take depends completely on your pace, distance covered, experience, fitness, and stops. If you plan to bike and hike to Johnston Canyon, plan for a 5-6 hour trip. If you are cycling the 100km to Lake Louise and back, plan for a 5-6 hour trip.

The “Uphills”

Most of the brutal uphill sections occur when biking from Banff to Lake Louise. There is a significant hill right before getting to Johnston Canyon and a huge 100-meter climb from Morant’s Curve to Lake Louise. Other than those, of course, there are ups and downs, but nothing crazy.

Popular Turn-Around Points

Natasha At Castle Mountain Lookout
At Castle Cliffs Lookout

You don’t have to bike the entire Bow Valley Parkway to enjoy it! We’ve biked many times, and each outing is different for us, depending on how we feel. If we are not biking the entire Parkway, we’ll typically start in Banff and ride either to Johnston Canyon and turn around or bike a bit further to Castle Junction.

Storm Mountain Lookout
Caught the train at Storm Mountain Lookout

Past Castle Junction is Storm Mountain Lookout, but if we make it to Storm Mountain Lookout, we typically go all in and end up biking all the way to Lake Louise and turning around. If you make it all the way to Morant’s Curve, you may as well push to Lake Louise.

Are eBikes Allowed?

While e-bikes are prohibited on most trails in Banff, they are allowed on the Bow Valley Parkway, and they’re a great way to enjoy this experience. In addition to e-biking, you can also inline skate, skateboard, or walk!

Book a Tour: We always recommend this Ebike and hike tour to Johnston Canyon if you have never been on the Parkway!

Do You Need a Park Pass?

Yes. The Bow Valley Parkway is located in Banff National Park, and anyone recreating in the park needs a National Park Pass. You can read about getting a park pass here.

Is There Service Along the Route?

Biking the Bow Valley Parkway in May
Biking the Bow Valley Parkway in May

Service is intermittent throughout the route, but we would say we have it more than not having it. That being said, this is the mountains, and you need to be self-sufficient and not rely on having a signal at all times.

Go the Right Way

natasha biking from lake louise to banff on the bow valley parkway

Please go the right way (moving with the flow of traffic). This is self-explanatory if you’re biking the Bow Valley Parkway when the road is open to vehicles. However, if you’re biking the Bow Valley Parkway during the vehicle closures, you may be tempted to skip hills by biking in the wrong lanes. This is dangerous to oncoming bikers, and a Parks Canada vehicle may always be on the road.

Where to Stop?

A nice view at Backswamp
A nice view at Backswamp

There are many places to stop along the Bow Valley Parkway, and you can see our full list of that here. The most popular place to stop is Johnston Canyon, where you can lock your bike up and go for a hike.

Johnston Canyon - Banff Waterfalls
Enjoying a quiet Johnston Canyon after biking the Parkway in May

I also love to stop at Storm Mountain Lookout and watch for a train. I always take in the views at Castle Cliffs Lookout, and of course, if I’m riding all the way to Lake Louise, there is an obligatory stop at Morant’s Curve!

Where to Get Food?

getting snacks at Baker Creek
Getting snacks at Baker Creek

It’s best to get on the Bow Valley Parkway with snacks and plenty of water, there are no refilling stations. Food and snacks can be found at Johnston Canyon, at the Castle Junction Fuel Station, and at Baker Creek.

Bring Bear Spray

naasha biking the bow valley parkway

Animal encounters can happen on the Bow Valley Parkway. Personally, we’ve seen black bears a few times and almost always see elk. If you are biking the Bow Valley Parkway during a vehicle closure, your chance at a bear encounter increases, as bears enjoy vehicle-free time too! In May especially, animals are emerging from hibernation and seeking the easiest route to food, potentially intersecting with your path on the valley floor.

Remember that we are sharing the valley floor with them more often right now, as they can not venture further up into the mountains or further into the snowbound park. Familiarize yourself with bear safety protocols. Carrying bear spray with you while biking the Bow Valley Parkway is important. If you don’t already have bear spray, you can buy some at Valhallas in Canmore or Atmosphere in Banff.

Always be aware of your surroundings, and it’s recommended not to cycle with earbuds in. If you see a bear, cougar, or wolf, report it by calling Banff Emergency Dispatch at 1-403-762-1470.

Bring a Bike Lock & Repair Kit

Enjoying the wildflowers along the parkway
Enjoying the wildflowers along the parkway

If you plan to hike Johnston Canyon, it’s important to bring a bike lock with you. Banff is generally safe, but petty crimes like bicycle theft happen. There are bike racks at Johnston Canyon. A repair kit is also important to have in case you blow a tire.

Leave No Trace

Remember to pack out what you bring it. There are not garbage bins everywhere along the Bow Valley Parkway, and if you rip open a power bar along the route, be prepared to travel with that wrapper until you can dispose of it properly.

Where to Rent a Bike

natasha biking the bow valley parkway

Below are some places to rent a bike in Banff. During the summer season, we recommend making reservations in advance, as bike rentals can sell out.

  • Banff Adventures
  • Banff CycleSnowtips-Bactrax
  • Black Diamond Bike and SUP Rentals
  • SkiBig3 Adventure Hub
  • Snowtips-Bactrax
  • Wilson Mountain Sports (Lake Louise)
  • Rebound Cycle (Canmore)

Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
  • Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service connecting you from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Banff or Canmore.
  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
  • Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
About Natasha

Natasha calls Canmore, Alberta home. After traveling across seven continents and 90 countries with Cameron, she settled down in the stunning Canadian Rockies. She loves to help others travel and make their planning easier. She is a winter enthusiast and loves to snowboard, ice skate, and snowshoe and enjoy all the fantastic summer opportunities in Banff like hiking, scrambling, and biking. You can find her in the mountains or enjoying a coffee by the river. Learn more on the about us page!

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