Like most national parks across North America, Banff, the scenic stunner in Alberta’s mighty Rocky Mountains, is currently dealing with soaring popularity—and all the accompanying traffic headaches.
In response, Canada’s first and most visited national park has implemented a slew of new methods to keep the increased flow of visitors moving through the park with relative ease, efficiency, and, it’s hoped, better environmental sustainability.
Many of those strategies involve persuading parkgoers to ditch their cars.
It’s not a bad idea. Parking is, frankly, a major hassle here. It’s either restricted or limited, and lots are often full by 8am.
Without getting behind the wheel, you can access all the top attractions and trailheads via the new services outlined below. They’re all part of a joint effort by the local municipality, the tourism bureau, and Parks Canada to reduce vehicle traffic in the park.
In addition to that benefit, going carless helps protect the natural splendor you came to see in the first place, and opens up opportunities to connect with other travelers and residents en route.
Just be sure to plan ahead—reservation slots don't stay unfilled for long.
(Lake Louise | Credit: Yunsun_Kim / Shutterstock)
How to Get to Banff Without a Car
Even finding a rental car is difficult these days. Then there’s the climbing price of gas.
Skip the whole to-do by taking a shuttle service such as the Brewster Express from Calgary International Airport straight to Banff.
You can even get dropped off in front of your hotel.
How to See Banff on Foot
Base yourself in the town of Banff and you’ll be in the heart of the park, amid cafes, shops, bars, museums, galleries, lodging, and outstanding restaurants. The town is compact and very pedestrian-friendly. During the summer months, in fact, the main drag of Banff Avenue and its secondary thoroughfare, Bear Street, become pedestrian-only.
And the surrounding landscape is of course a hiker’s dream come true. Trailheads can be reached using the bus, shuttle, and guided sightseeing options recommended below.
(Banff Avenue | Credit: SurangaLK / Shutterstock)
How to See Banff by Bike
As the pedestrian infrastructure has improved, so have the biking trails.
There are scenic full-day bike rides to top attractions like Johnston Canyon as well as simple in-town bike trails to get you to your dinner reservation.
How to See Banff by Public Bus
The affordable and reliable Roam public transit sysem can get you from the townsite up to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, to Lake Minnewanka, to the nearby town of Canmore, and even all the way to Lake Louise. (Reserve your spot on the Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon routes ahead of time).
An added bonus: Most buses are low-emission electric vehicles.
(Johnston Canyon | Credit: i viewfinder / Shutterstock)
How to See Banff by Shuttle
If you’ve got the bucket-list stops of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (pictured at the top of this post) on your itinerary—and you should—take the Roam bus from the Banff townsite or reserve a spot on the Parks Canada shuttle that departs from the Lake Louise Park & Ride stop.
The shuttle will take you to both lakes and has regular departures so you can check off both sites in a single day. Seats on the shuttle fill up fast, though, so, again, reserve well in advance.
How to See Banff by Sightseeing Tour
The handy HopOnBanff service takes you from the townsite to Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake in a converted school bus, with friendly commentary along the way.
(Credit: Rene Baker / Unsplash)
How to See Banff Without a Car in Ski Season
Winter driving in the mountains is no walk in the park, either. Hit the slopes stress-free by booking a spot on one of the shuttles that go directly from the main hotels area to the region’s three ski resorts.
Banff is an incredibly inspiring place to visit. Don’t let getting stuck in traffic or getting turned away from a full parking lot mar the experience. Leave the car keys behind and get out there to soak it all in.
Christie Pashby is the author of Frommer's Banff and the Canadian Rockies Day by Day, available in paperback and e-book versions.