“But how on earth will you get around the Canadian Rockies without a car?” This was the first question we got when we told our friends that we weren’t planning to hire a car for our two week trip to Banff and Jasper.
My sister and I had spent weeks debating whether we should hire a car. We knew it would be easier to see the parks with one but the truth was we were scared. Living in cities, we don’t drive much anymore and the thought of driving in Canada, on the other side of the car and the road, was quite daunting. After researching public transportation, we decided that we could see everything we wanted to without one. It was a huge relief for two anxious drivers!
Although self-driving is the best way to truly explore the Rockies, with some careful planning you can see a lot of the main sights by public transport. Whilst having a car would have helped in some places, exploring the parks without one is a lot easier than you’d expect. Here’s all the information you need to know about how to get around Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper without a car.
When is the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We went in May and didn’t realise that a lot of the bus routes wouldn’t be open as it was too early in the season. We were still able to see everything we wanted to but it required a lot more planning and we did have to take a few taxis. The Rockies are beautiful all year round but if you’re planning to use public transport then wait until June. It is a lot easier to get around the Canadian Rockies without a car in the summer months! To help you plan your trip and avoid making our mistake, I’ve noted when each service starts below.
Getting from Calgary to Banff
There are a few ways you can get to Banff from Calgary using public transport.
Banff Airporter: The Banff Airporter runs regular shuttles between Calgary International Airport, Calgary downtown, Canmore and Banff. It takes approximately 2 hours to get to Banff and the bus will drop you off at your chosen hotel. You just need to let them know where you would like to be dropped when you book.
A one way ticket costs $67.99 for an adult, $61.99 for a senior and $33.99 for children aged 6 to 17.
Brewster Express: We used the Brewster Express a couple of times during our trip and were really impressed by how comfortable the buses were. The large windows are perfect for taking in the scenic views en route to Banff and there was complimentary WiFi onboard. We found them very reliable and the drivers were so helpful and friendly, treating it more like a tour than a bus journey and pointing out all the sites on the way. They run regular services from Calgary downtown or Calgary airport to Banff before continuing up to Lake Louise. You can ask to be picked up from the airport and also at a number of downtown hotels.
It costs $69 per adult and $35 for children aged 6 to 15 but if you book a round trip you ‘ll save 15%.
The Banff Express: If you decide to stay overnight in Calgary then the Banff Express is an affordable alternative to the Brewster Express and the Banff Airporter. The shuttle bus runs from downtown Calgary to Banff twice a day, seven days a week.
A one way fare costs $30 for an adult and $17 for children aged 12 and under.
In and around Banff
Getting around Banff without a car was easy as it’s quite compact and most of the restaurants, attractions and accommodation are within walking distance from Banff Avenue. A lot of hiking trails start from the town so we didn’t need a car to reach the places we wanted to visit. I’ve written a blog post about what to see and do in Banff which lists a lot of these trails.
Banff Roam Public Bus System and Parks Canada Shuttles
Banff has a great network of energy-efficient Roam Public Transit buses which cover most of the town’s main sights, including Sulphur Mountain, Fairmont Banff Springs, and Lake Minnewanka. You can buy tickets on the bus, from the Roam Transit customer service centre and also from a number of local partner shops. In 2018, they also introduced a Token Transit app where you could buy tickets and day passes through your phone.
You can find the current schedule and routes on their website but here is a quick summary of the ones you may want to use.
Route 1 – Sulphur Mountain: This route is open all year and takes you to Banff Hot Springs and the Banff gondola.
Route 2 – Tunnel Mountain: This service runs between Tunnel Mountain campgrounds, downtown Banff and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. It is available daily throughout the year.
Route 4 – Cave and Basin: This route runs daily from 15th June to 16th September. There is a limited weekend service from mid-May to mid-June.
Route 6 – Lake Minnewanka: This service starts on 18th May and runs 7 days a week until 16th September. It leaves Banff every 30 minutes and takes about 25 minutes to get to Lake Minnewanka.
Banff to Johnston Canyon Shuttle: Starting at Banff train station, this service runs daily between 18th May to 8th October. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the canyon and cost $5 for a round trip (free for youth 17 and under). We were too early in the season for this shuttle so we ended up taking a taxi instead.
Banff to Lake Louise Shuttle: This service starts from Banff train station and takes you directly to Lake Louise (lakeshore) with one stop at Samson Mall in Lake Louise village. It runs from 18th May until 8th October and takes 75 minutes. It costs $10 for a round trip but is free for youth 17 and under.
This brochure is really helpful but it is from summer 2018. I’ve linked it to give you an idea of times and routes but make sure you go to the Visitor Centre when you arrive to get an up to date version.
Hop On Banff
This hop on/ hop off service is a great way to see some of the main sights without doing a full tour. It stops at places like Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. It runs from 25th May to 2nd October and costs $60 for an adult and $45 for children aged 5 to 15.
We had to use a couple of taxis during our trip as some of the routes above weren’t running. The taxis are reasonably priced and can be a cost-efficient way to get to places if you are in a group. Here are a couple of taxi companies that we used:
Banff Taxi: 403-762-0000
Taxi Taxi: 403-762-3111
Travelling from Banff to Lake Louise
We took the Greyhound from Banff to Lake Louise, however they cancelled their routes in Alberta in October 2018 so this is unfortunately no longer an option. You can take the Brewster Express from Banff to Lake Louise as mentioned above. If you are travelling between 18th May and 8th October then you can also take the Banff to Lake Louise shuttle. I recommend booking this in advance to make sure you get seats on your preferred service.
Getting around Lake Louise
The village of Lake Louise is quite small and not far from a number of hotels and hostels so it is easy to get around on foot. The actual lake and the Chateau are located 5km (3 miles) from the village of Lake Louise. It is only a short drive in the car but it takes about an hour to walk to the top. It was hard work but we were rewarded by stunning views of the mountain peaks. Luckily, if you go after 18th May there is a free shuttle service from the village of Lake Louise to the lake which runs daily until 8th October. My sister still hasn’t forgiven me for not booking our trip later in May!
Once you arrive at the lake, there are several hiking trails that start near the shore. Lake Agnes Tea House Trail and Fairview Lookout Trail are two of the most popular hikes from Lake Louise.
Summer shuttle to Moraine Lake
The road to Moraine Lake is closed during the winter months as there is a high risk of avalanches as the snow melts. It re-opens at the end of May or the beginning of June depending on the conditions. A daily shuttle service is available from 24th May to 14th October and runs every 20 minutes from 8:20am until 4:20pm. Tickets can be purchased at the Lake Louise lakeshore. Parks Canada are now offering a new early bird shuttle to Moraine Lake from 24th June to 29th September. There are four departures from Lake Louise Park and Ride, starting at 6am and finishing at 7:30am. Space is limited so I would recommend booking in advance.
A private company, Moraine Lake Shuttle Bus, also runs a regular service from June to mid-September. It is more expensive than the other shuttle buses but it is a good alternative if you can’t get onto the other ones. Booking in advance is highly recommended.
There is a free shuttle service from Lake Louise overflow parking area to Moraine Lake from 10th September to 8th October. The shuttles run daily for 8am to 4pm.
Getting from Lake Louise to Jasper
There isn’t any public transportation to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway but shuttle services are available. Brewster Express runs a service from 1st May to mid-October and then Sundog Tours takes over from mid-October to May. The coaches are modern with comfortable seating, large viewing windows, complimentary Wi-Fi and charging points which makes the journey much more enjoyable. They also pick up and drop off at a number of hotels and hostels which is really convenient.
Sundog Tours also offers a one way, full-day tour in the summer between Banff and Jasper. This is a great way to get from Banff or Lake Louise to Jasper without a car and see some of the Rockies’ most beautiful sights along the way. Stops include Lake Louise, Bow Lake, the Columbia Ice Fields and Athabasca Falls. The tour runs from 29th April to 21st October.
In and around Jasper
Jasper doesn’t have a public transportation system but like Banff, a lot of walking trails start from the town so you can explore the local area on foot. If you enjoy walking then Lake Beauvert, Lake Annette and Lake Edith are accessible from town and you can follow the trail which runs along the Athabasca River. From the town it is a 8km walk to Lake Edith and took us about 2 hours to walk there. You can also hire bikes to explore Jasper and the surrounding area. Bike rentals are available in several shops located in the town, including Source for Sports and Vicious Cycle.
Getting to Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake is home to Spirit Island, one of the most photographed spots in Jasper. Boat tours start operating in May until early October and the shuttle service also starts around the same time, connecting Jasper to the lake. It is best to speak to the tourist office in Jasper to find out the exact schedule. It is a very popular destination so I would advise booking in advance.
The other option is to book onto a tour run by Sundog Tours. They offer a wide range of tours throughout the year and the winter Maligne Canyon ice walk is said to be stunning.
There are plenty of taxis in Jasper which are reasonably priced. We decided to take a taxi up to Pyramid Island to see Pyramid Lake and Patricia Lake as it was quite a steep walk and our feet were a bit tired by this point. It cost us about $35 so this can be a cost effective way if you are travelling in a group.
Due to work commitments, we had to go at the beginning of May before a lot of the shuttle buses started running. This did make travelling without a car a bit more challenging so if you can go end of May/ early June then you’ll benefit from the fantastic bus routes in and around Banff national park.
In total, we spent about £400 on travel during our trip which was half the cost of the car rental quotes we got. Whilst having a car would have given us more flexibility, you can definitely see the Canadian Rockies without a car. It just takes a little bit of planning, but for us that’s all part of the adventure!
I hope you found this blog post helpful. Thanks for reading!
Love from Steph
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