Wondering how to get from Calgary to Banff? The international airport of Calgary (YYC) serves as a great gateway to the Canadian Rockies. Many visitors to Banff find this is where their trip to the region starts. A Calgary to Banff journey starts the city, then to the Alberta prairies, before setting your eyes on the Canadian Rockies and finally making your way to the Bow Valley.
If you’re arriving to Calgary before your trip to Banff the good news is there is a multitude of ways to get from Calgary to Banff. These options vary from rental cars, private transfers, shuttle buses, and public transport. Most of this all starts at the Calgary International Airport (YYC), which in our opinion is one of the most pleasant airports in all of North America.
So let’s dig into the best ways to get from Calgary to Banff. Read on, you may be surprised you can make this journey without having to rent a car. (Although, we do suggest most visitors would best be served by one.)
How Far is it From Calgary to Banff?
If you’re wondering the distance from Calgary to Banff the answer is – it’s not that far. You can make the drive from Calgary to Banff in about 1.5 hours, but you’ll start seeing the mountains as you drive in around the 45 minute mark.
If traveling to Canmore, you are looking at one hour and 15 minutes, depending on where in Calgary you are coming from. That being said there are a few different routes you can take to get to Banff.
- The Fastest Route from Calgary to Banff is on the Trans-Canada Highway. From YYC to Downtown Banff is approximately 144.0 km via AB-1 W. This route isn’t very scenic but does start to get pretty once you pass the Stoney Nakoda Casino on your left-hand side. You’ll then see famous mountain peaks like Yamnuska before reaching Canmore. Right after Canmore you’ll see the Parks Canada entrance gates to Banff.
- The Scenic Route doesn’t take much more time than the fast route, so if you have an extra 30 minutes in your schedule I would recommend taking it. When driving from Calgary to Banff you’ll take the exit towards Cochrane and take Highway 1A from Cochrane to Canmore. It’s a slight detour with different views. If you want to make it a little quicker you can get on the 1A in Cochrane and get off near Morley before continuing to Banff on the TransCanada.
Important Routing Notes
- If time allows consider driving each route on your way to and from Calgary.
- Expect the drive to take longer during winter months, especially after a big snowstorm.
- During the weekends in July and August the TransCanada can become very congested with a large portion of the city entering the mountains. This means on a Friday night it may take longer to get to Banff and on Sunday evening it will take longer to get back to Calgary. Keep this in mind if you have flights during these times.
- Take extra care as you approach the mountains as Chinooks, gusts of warm air that descend from the mountain, have blown unsuspecting drivers off the road. This is a real threat in the winter months when gusts of snow can make the road disappear if it’s a really bad storm consider spending the night in Calgary. Other than that the drive from Calgary to Banff is easy.
Calgary to Banff by Shuttle Bus
There are a number of companies that offer private shuttle bus transfers from the Calgary International Airport. They operate on a schedule and run multiple transfers a day. The two most popular are Banff Airporter and Brewster Express. Both of them are great options and they have different offerings so your travel plans may be better suited for one over the other.
Option 1: Banff Airporter
The Banff Airporter is a year-round service that operates between Calgary, Canmore, and Banff. They have a ton of scheduled times so you very rarely have to wait more than an hour after your flight has landed. Only one location is available for pickup/dropoff in Calgary at the airport and one in Canmore at the Coast Hotel. While they offer a pickup/dropoff hotel service in Banff.
The staff is always friendly and they have modern buses with power points, comfortable seats, blankets, and water available. The journey takes about 1:15 hrs to reach Canmore and 1:45 to reach Banff. Of course, the exact travel time depends on your location in Banff and road conditions. They do not offer a service to Lake Louise. We’ve used them a bunch as we like to leave our car in our garage at home when we travel abroad, always good service.
Calgary to Canmore
|Kid Under 5||Free||Free|
Calgary to Banff
|Kid Under 5||Free||Free|
Option 2: Brewster Express
Brewster Express is the largest operator for group tours and bus service in and around the Canadian Rockies. Their parent company Pursuit also operates a lot of the major attractions like Banff Gondola and the Lake Minnewanka Cruise. Brewster the transportation company operates group tour buses that deliver guests to all of the major sights in the park. Even if you opt for another transport option one of their tours may be a great option to explore the park.
Brewster Express is their shuttle service that operates only in the summer months that connects Calgary with Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. You have a greater selection of pick up and drop off points with the Brewster Express. Most notable is the regular service to Lake Louise and the once a day shuttle to Jasper from the Calgary Airport. They also offer a shuttle service with hotel pickups in the Calgary city center.
This is a great option if you have time to explore Calgary, which you should in the summer months. There are some great things to do in Calgary, time your visit with the Calgary Stampede, enjoy some fine dining or check out Studio Bell. They also offer a winter service that connects the ski resorts to the town of Banff, but no service for Calgary to Banff.
The bus service also allows you to purchase point to point tickets.This means you can hop on a shuttle bus from Canmore to Lake Louise or Banff to Jasper.
Calgary to Banff
Calgary to Lake Louise
Option 3: Discover Banff Tours
Discover Banff Tours runs shuttles between Banff, Canmore, Downtown Calgary, and the Calgary Airport. These coach cars run throughout the day and start at $72 a person.
This shuttle service offers pickups from select Lake Louise locations, including the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, as well as most hotels in Banff. They offer pick ups and drop offs in Canmore at the Coast Hotel only and will drop off in Calgary at either YYC or a selection of Downtown hotels.
Option 4: On-It Public Bus
This is only available in the summer months, but there is a public bus route that can get you from Calgary to Banff. On-It is a regional transit company that connects the towns of Banff and Canmore to Downtown Calgary. The bus is not as luxurious as shuttle buses and there is no large luggage storage in the back, but it only costs $10. The bus also operates only on weekends.
It’s designed more for Calgarians to take public transport to the park and vice versa. However, if you’re traveling to Banff on a budget it’s a great way to save some money. Included in the ticket is free local transport on the Roam transit system around Banff. The weekend buses sell out pretty quick so if possible make sure to book your tickets well advance. The Buses depart from Downtown Calgary, Bridlewood / Somerset LRT, and the Crowfoot LRT Station. Buses stop in Banff at the Train Station and Roam Transit Hub.
Calgary to Banff by Private Transfer
If you’re not looking to drive, but prefer more flexibility consider a private transfer from Calgary. You have the option to leave at any time or from any address in Calgary. There is a wide range of options for vehicles that range from taxis to charter buses and luxury sedans. You can also choose your destination anywhere in the region, rates vary naturally.
A taxi charges a flat rate of $250 as mandated by the government of Alberta. The local Calgary taxi companies include:
Many companies offer a private shuttle service and you’ll likely get the best rate booking direct rather than your hotel/resort. Banff Sedan offers several luxury vehicles that you can book. If you’re a large group these services can actually work out cheaper in the long run or similarly priced to the shuttle bus service with the added bonus of your own schedule. For example, a 10 person sprinter van costs $587.77 for a private transfer and $689.90 on the Banff Airporter.
Banff Sedan Rates
|Luxury Sedan (3 pax)||Cadillac Escalade (5 pax)||Sprinter (7-10 pax)||Coach (24 pax)|
Other Private Transfer Companies
- Banff Transportation Group: Popular transportation group that will take you from Calgary to Banff or vice versa.
- Banff Private Charters: If you have a large group, like a wedding party large this is a good option as they cater to up to 24 people.
- Limo To Go: If you want to arrive to Banff in style, be it a luxury dean, luxury SUV, or even a limo Limo to Go has you covered.
Get a Rental Car and Drive to Banff
Renting a car or driving your own vehicle is one of the best ways to explore Banff and provides a lot of advantages over public transport. A car allows you to avoid crowds, make up your own schedule, and explore all of the various parts of Banff. If you have plans to do a lot of hiking you’re going to need your own rental car.
Of course, if you don’t want to drive it’s possible to book tours or use public transport around the park. If you have plans to visit the most popular sites it might actually make more sense to use tours and public transport. Parking at sights like Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and Moraine Lake can be far more difficult than a public option and there are public transport to get to these companies. However for anything even vaguely off the beaten path will require your own set of wheels.
All of the major car rental companies operate at Calgary International Airport with a large fleet full of options. You do not need a truck or SUV in the summer months and it’s questionable in the shoulder seasons when snowy roads are infrequent.
If you plan to visit Banff in the winter it’s imperative you rent a car with winter tires on it.
Canadian Rockies Car Rental Resources
- Our Guide for everything you need to know about renting a car for Banff.
- Travel Alberta: For road laws and driving guidelines
- 5.11 Alberta: For up to date road conditions
- Bow Valley Road Conditions Facebook Group: For pictures and first-hand info about the roads. Especially handy in the winter.
- Rentalcars.com: Is what we use to rent cars around the world.
Unconventional Options to Get between Calgary and Banff
- There is no train connected Calgary to the Rockies, but there are talks of it happening in the future.
- There’s always Uber, however I wouldn’t rely on this service as many drivers will require a return fare to justify the drive and cost of taking you to Banff.
- Like BlaBlahCar in Europe, Popshare is a rideshare company where you can find drivers already making the drive between Calgary and Banff. Prices vary, but typically it’s not much more than the cost of fuel.
- There are plenty of Bow Valley Facebook groups with drivers and passengers often seeking others to ride with. Of course, this is a riskier option that I wouldn’t recommend to most visitors. However, if you are on an extreme budget it is an option.
- Hitchhiking is not common between this route, and you will likely be waiting awhile to find a ride by hitchhiking between Calgary and Banff.
Local Transport While in Banff
Once you arrive in Banff it’s possible to do just about anything you’d like in Downtown Banff car-free. It is not a requirement to rent a car to get around Banff, however it does give you significant freedom. There are even hikes right from the center of town and even more hikes around Lake Louise.
Public Transport in the Bow Valley
Although the towns of Banff and Canmore are not the typical size you’d expect to find an extensive public transport network, Roam Transit serves the area reliably. Most of the major sites are covered from Lake Minnewanka to Moraine Lake and the Banff Gondola. You have the option to buy your fare individually, multiple fares at once, or a daily/monthly card. Fares are pretty affordable too with local routes starting at just $2.
For transfers with luggage, it may be best to check out the Brewster Express that connects Kananaskis, Canmore, Calgary, Lake Louise, and Jasper. You can book individual legs for an easy hotel transfer between Banff and Jasper or Lake Louise.
There are a number of tour providers that will pick you up and take you to all the hotspots in Banff. You can book private tours, large group tours, or unique experiences like dog-sledding or white water rafting. Going with a tour offers more than just transport as you gain a knowledgeable guide who can share facts, history, and share the natural wonders of the park.
This all means you don’t need a car to visit Banff. Discover Banff Tours and the Pursuit are two of the biggest operators in the region, but there are a plethora of different operators so shop around for the tour that best suits you. You can see our recommended tours in Banff here.
Other Options for Getting Around Banff
- Taxi: There are only a handful of taxis in Banff, and they are not the cheapest option, but they are there if you need them!
- By Bike: In the summer, I get almost everywhere by bike. I love riding my bike from Banff to Canmore and vice versa. It’s a fantastic and active way to explore the park on a sunny day. If you are driving from your home I would highly recommend bringing bikes to explore the park. Banff Adventures also rents mountain bikes and cruisers during the summer. Bike rentals include a helmet, lock, and trail map.
- Banff Parking: Parking in the town of Banff can be challenging during peak summer months. There are a few free lots around town. Check out the Banff parking website to see where is available.
Entering Banff National Park
Anyone visiting Banff National Park will need a Parks Canada pass for the days they are visiting. The Parks entrance gate to Banff is right after you pass Canmore.When driving from Calgary to Banff you can epect to find the gates around the 120.0 km mark.
You’ll see cars driving past the gates on the right, but either they already have a pass or are just driving through and not planning on stopping in Banff. Visitors who have not pre purchased online must stop at the gates to purchase their pass.
Parks Canada employees do check if you have your pass and you can get a ticket. The line up to purchase a Parks Canada pass at these gates can get long on a nice summer day, so I recommend purchasing in advance. Parks Canada pass prices are as follows:
- Adult: $10.00
- Senior: $8.40
- Youth (up to 17): Free
- Family/group of 7 people: $20.00
- Day passes expire at 4 pm the following day.
Or you can buy them from Parks Canada in advance online. If you’re staying in Banff for more than a few days I highly recommend a Discovery Pass.
A Parks Canada Discovery Pass which gets you entrance to all Parks Canada destinations for the year is only $139.40 for a family. Again, day passes are $10 per person, so depending on how many days you are staying and if you have plans to go to Banff, you may want to consider the Discover Pass. Discovery Pass fees are as follows:
- Adult: $69.19
- Senior: $59.17
- Family: $139.40
Read more about Parks Canada passes on the Parks Canada website.
You Have Made it Banff!
Do a little dance because you are in one of the prettiest places in the world! There are many things to do, restaurants to at at, and places to stay.
Things to do in Banff
- Hike Tunnel Mountain: One of my favorite easy hikes in Banff is Tunnel Mountain. IT’s easily accessible from Banff Ave and makes for a great intro hike to the Rockies.
- Take the Banff Gondola Up Sulphur Mountain: A classic thing to do in Banff. You won’t get such beautiful views for the low effort anywhere else.
- Check Out Bow Falls: An easy walk away from Downtown will lead you to Bow Falls. A beautiful waterfall near the Banff Springs Hotel.
The Best Restaurants in Banff
- Bear Street Tavern: Great pizza, awesome beer, and good vibes. A fantastic and affordable place for lunch.
- The Waldhaus Restaurant: In the summer there are few places with as amazing as views as here. It overlooks the Banff Springs golfcourse and dishes up German fare and German beer.
- The Bison: Save this modern restaurant for date night. It has great food, cocktails, and views.
Where to Stay in Banff
- Elk+Ave Hotel: Mid range to higher end hotel located right in the center of the action on Banff Ave.
- Castle Mountain Chalets: Unique Banff cabins away from Downtown near Castle Mountain. You’ll need your own car to stay here, but it’s worth it!
- Banff Springs Hotel: One of the most iconic hotels in all of Canada. This castle has the most mesmerizing views in all the valley. It’s a splurge, but you’re gauranteed to love it.