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Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is a popular resort town surrounded by stunning mountains, lakes, and incredible wildlife. We absolutely love exploring Banff by car, but when it comes to getting fully immersed in your environment without any hassle, taking a bus tour is a fantastic option.
While driving here can be great fun, there are times when you just don’t feel like dealing with parking, filling up with gas, and planning your route. A guided bus tour takes away these worries, and you’ll be joined by a knowledgeable guide who will be happy to answer any questions you may have along the way.
Bus tours are also a great option if you are visiting Banff during the winter when road conditions can be difficult and unpredictable!
We’ve gathered 8 of our all-time favorite tours in Banff that go by bus with each offering a truly magical experience that you’re sure to treasure – we certainly do! From mystical wildlife excursions to walking on a glacier, these bus tours in Banff are the best of the best.
The BEST Banff Bus Tours
1. Lake Louise and Icefields Parkway tour
Experience some of the best views and scenic locations the Canadian Rockies has to offer with this full-day tour through Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway.
Lake Louise is one of my all-time favorite places to visit in Canada, the turquoise blue water and the dramatic landscape surrounding the lake are sure to whisk your breath away just as they did ours! The lake is also situated right at the end of the Icefields Parkway, a stunning stretch of road that goes from Lake Louise to Jasper.
On this tour, you’ll embark on a mesmerizing tour to both of these locations, but that’s not all! Along the way, you’ll also visit Peyto Lake, Bow Lakes, Moraine Lake, and head to a viewpoint above the Crowfoot Glacier. Keep an eye out for wildlife too as it’s common to spot elk, deer, and mountain goats. You may even be lucky enough to see a bear!
One of the best parts about this tour is just how well-planned the journey is. We didn’t feel rushed at any point along the way, spending just enough time to truly take in our surroundings before moving on. This tour is also operated by a family-run business, and it’s clear that the guides know the ins and outs of every location.
It’s really quite impressive how relaxing the tour is, despite how many places you get to visit throughout the day! You can sit back and soak up all the sights without a single worry.
The friendly folks organizing this tour will pick you up from wherever you’re staying in Banff – a hotel, Airbnb, or even a campground. With a maximum group size of 15, you won’t feel disregarded or left out, either. It’s perfect for families and solo travelers alike, but do be aware that the minimum age for this tour is 9 years old.
The tour costs $180 CAD per person and lasts for the whole day. In our opinion, this is one of the best bus tours that you can find in Banff, with unmatched scenic views throughout the entire trip. As a result, this is one of the more popular tours, so make sure to check your dates and secure your spot in advance!
Related Read: Keep exploring this area with the top Icefields Parkway tours to show you the incredible highlights. You can also stay along the Icefields Parkway to spend more time here.
2. Athabasca Glacier tour
Taking a trip out on the Athabasca Glacier is honestly one of the most surreal and fantastic experiences we’ve had. If hopping aboard the giant, six-wheeled Ice Explorer and gliding across a shimmering sheet of ice doesn’t sound like an adventure, I don’t know what does!
Along the way, you’ll also have the chance to drink from the fresh glacial streams, as well as explore the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, a walkway with fantastic views of the Icefield. It’s suspended about 918 feet (218 meters) above the ground, giving you an awesome panoramic view.
A tasty mountain picnic lunch is also included in the tour, and you’ll stop at Bow Lake and Crowfoot Glacier too – this tour really is full of so many things to see and do!
You’ll be picked up and dropped off by the Mount Royal Hotel in Banff, a really convenient location in the center of town. There’s a maximum of 24 participants as well, so it doesn’t feel crowded at all on the journey.
The experience isn’t the cheapest at $322 CAD per adult or $164 CAD for kids aged 6-12, however, we really do think it’s worth paying a bit extra for this truly unique experience.
Make sure to book your spot online here for this unforgettable Banff tour!
Related Read: For more details on visiting the glacier, we have a complete guide to the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier to help you out!
3. Private sunset safari in Banff
You really don’t have to go far to find some of the most incredible wildlife that calls Banff their home! This 2.5-hour sunset safari is the perfect budget-friendly opportunity to spot plenty of amazing animals, such as elk, bighorn sheep, and maybe even a grizzly bear or two.
On the way, you’ll drive past Tunnel Mountain on the way to Lake Minnewanka, a well-known hotspot for animal sightings. You’ll find animals here to be most active during dawn and dusk, so this sunset safari really is the perfect time to see them in action.
Although it is a budget tour, we were pleased to see that you are provided with binoculars to spot all kinds of animals from afar. We even saw a bald eagle circling overhead on our trip!
We were also happy to discover that this is a private tour, making it so easy to ask questions about what you’re seeing and the locations you’re visiting. It also means that there’s a lot more customizability and flexibility to your trip, so you won’t be feeling rushed.
With pickup from most central hotels in Banff, we found the whole process to be so easy and straightforward. This tour costs $95 CAD per person, or $65 CAD for kids aged 3-12. Get ready to spot some fascinating animals – you can book your tour online here.
Related Read: Got some time to spend before your sunset safari? These coffee shops in Banff have some truly epic views!
4. Grizzly bears, Yoho, and Golden tour
This full-day tour is an amazing opportunity to get up close to some of Canada’s most fearsome (but equally fascinating!) creatures. Across 10 hours, you and up to 23 other travelers will explore two of the top destinations in nearby BC – the incredible Golden and Yoho areas that the grizzly bears call home.
We really enjoyed the gondola ride up to the summit of Kicking Horse Mountain – if you’re lucky, you may spot a grizzly bear going about its business below! At the top of the mountain, you’ll enjoy an included gourmet lunch at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, the highest restaurant in Canada.
After this, you’ll pay a visit to Boo, an orphaned grizzly bear who was adopted by the friendly folks over at the Grizzly Bear Refuge. The bus also travels to Yoho National Park, where you’ll explore two other amazing locations, Emerald Lake and Takkakaw Falls (the latter being the second-tallest waterfall in Canada!).
It’s quite a long day, but you’re sure to have many cherished memories and photos by the end of it. It’s the perfect way to explore the Golden and Yoho areas, especially if you don’t have the time to stay there longer.
Included in your ticket is your gondola ride, lunch at Eagle’s Eye, admission, and a chairlift ride to the bear refuge, as well as return transport to the Mount Royal Hotel in Banff. At $275 CAD per person, it is one of the more expensive tours on this list, although there is a lot that is included in the ticket. You can book this tour online here.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
5. Hop-on hop-off bus tour
Going on a hop-on hop-off bus tour is always such a blast! The best part about this kind of tour is that you get to explore at your own pace, whether you want to take your time or move quickly through the sights.
There’s so much to see along the way, with stops at:
It’s difficult to say exactly which of these stops is our favorite, as each offers something truly unique. For those looking for a great place for a scenic hike around Banff, we highly recommend visiting Johnston Canyon.
After hopping aboard, you’ll listen to cool facts and stories about the areas you pass by. Oh, and did we mention that the bus is the classic yellow school bus? Now that’s cool!
Fun for all types of travelers, one single-day ticket is $80 CAD for adults or $65 CAD for children, and under 5s go for free. The bus departs from the Moose Hotel and Suites on Banff Avenue at 7:45 am, 9:30 am, and 12:15 pm, as well as the Banff Train Station at 7:50 am, 9:35 am, and 12:15 pm. The last bus returns to Banff at 6 pm, so it’s best to go as early as possible to see as much as possible.
This is such a flexible way of enjoying the sights of Banff, we always recommend it to friends and family when they visit! You can book your tickets in advance here.
Related Read: Lake Louise has so much to offer – check out the Lake Louise Gondola or drop into one of these incredible restaurants with absolutely stunning views of the lake and amazing food!
6. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake tour
The beautiful Moraine Lake holds a very special place in our hearts – we actually got engaged here! We come back as often as we can and this scenic half-day tour guides you through Moraine Lake as well as Lake Louise, one of our favorite lakes in all of Canada.
Limited to just 24 travelers, this tour will take you through lush forests and meadows to the most picturesque spots in the area, and you may even spot some local wildlife on the way!
In our experience, parking at Lake Louise has been really difficult, and parking is banned at Moraine Lake, so joining a tour is one of the easiest and stress-free ways to travel to both spots. It’s also so much fun to learn from the friendly guides, who help you get to know each location with their stories and facts.
As a locally owned and operated company, we were also pleasantly surprised to learn that this tour is completely carbon-neutral, showing just how much they care about protecting the local area and wildlife.
The pickup location for this tour is the parking lot behind the Mount Royal Hotel in central Banff, meaning no need to wait while the bus picks up all travelers from their hotels. Running from April to November, you can choose to leave at either 9 am or 1 pm. It’s also worth noting that Moraine Lake is only open from May to mid-October, so try to take the tour during this time if possible.
You’ll learn all about two of Banff’s most iconic lakes on this tour – tickets are $105 CAD for adults and $53 CAD for kids. You can check your dates and secure your spot here.
Related Read: If you don’t mind getting up early, visiting Moraine Lake on a sunrise tour lets you enjoy the most beautiful golden light and avoid the crowds!
7. Banff highlights and wildlife
A 3-hour, personalized wildlife tour that’s budget-friendly? It doesn’t get much better than this!
This small-group tour will take you off the beaten path as you look for the incredible wildlife that calls Banff home. Your friendly guide will take into account your interests, as well as other factors like the weather and recent sightings to customize the experience exactly to your needs.
While you’ll visit Lake Minnewanka, there are also plenty of other potential stopping points, such as Bow Falls, Surprise Corner, and even the Vermillion Lakes. Where you visit will depend on your preferences and what you’d like to see – with a maximum group size of 15 people, your voice won’t be lost in a crowd!
Along the way, you’ll have the chance to spot elk, bighorn sheep, foxes, bears, and much more. We had Sean as our tour guide on our last visit, who continued to impress us with his knowledge of the local area and stories about the wildlife. The tour guides also know the locations of the big tour groups, making it easy to avoid them and keeping the whole experience quiet and relaxing.
You’re also welcome to bring along your own lunch for the road (which can be stored in a handy cooler box); however, the tour also offers a light meal for $15 CAD which includes a sandwich or wrap, some fruit, and a trail mix. We also recommend bringing along a water bottle, as you can keep refilling it for free with filtered mountain water.
At $126 CAD per person, we think this is a great-value tour considering the number of places you’ll visit and the variety of animals you can see. Pickup for this tour is at the Peaks Hotel, the Samesun Banff Hostel, or in front of the main Banff Train Station building.
We’re certain you’ll love this tour just as much as we did! Click here to book your personalized wildlife tour.
8. Lake Louise and Yoho National Park tour
Combining two of our favorite locations near Banff to visit, this scenic tour will whisk you away to the stunning Lake Louise, as well as the equally incredible Yoho National Park. Along the way, you’ll take in some of the most spectacular natural sights in Canada, such as the lush alpine forests which are flanked by the beautiful President Mountain Range.
This tour runs year-round, although the itinerary can vary slightly depending on what time of year you visit. Between June and October, the tour visits Moraine Lake, while visiting Vermillion Lakes for the remainder of the year. If you’re lucky enough to visit during winter, you’ll also get 20 minutes of snowshoeing!
Yoho National Park is one of our favorite places to visit near Banff, as fewer tourists tend to come here compared to Banff National Park. The peace and quiet you’ll feel while exploring here makes the experience very special.
With a maximum of 50 participants per tour, this really is a great option for large families and groups. Pickup and drop-off for the tour is at Banff Aspen Lodge, with the bus departing in the morning at 9:25 am. It costs $165 CAD for adults or $144 for children aged 6-15, and you can book online here.
Other Things to do While You’re in Banff
Now that you’re in Banff, it’s time to explore all the best things to do and see! But with so much to choose from, it might feel overwhelming. So below, I’ve picked some of my favorite activities in the area.
- Hike Johnston Canyon – There are tons of amazing hikes in and around Banff, but I especially loved hiking Johnston Canyon and seeing its spectacular waterfalls. You can drive to the trailhead on your own or book a tour. This e-bike and hiking tour is excellent for those who want to combine both activities. Or if you just want transport, take the hop-on-hop-off bus that stops here. If you visit Johnston Canyon in winter, this Icewalk tour will show you ice formations and frozen falls!
- Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – If you want to see more stunning lakes in the area, check out these two! Parking at Lake Louise can be tricky (and impossible at Moraine Lake!), so we’d recommend this Banff National Park Tour. You’ll get to visit Lake Louise as well as Moraine Lake in one go – with enough time to walk around, learn the local history, and snap postcard-worthy photos.
- Ride the Banff Gondola – If you want the best vantage point in town, ride up the Banff Gondola! You’ll climb 698 meters (2.292 feet) to the top of Sulphur Mountain where you’ll have a view of six different mountain ranges. Tickets for the Banff Gondola do sell out in the busy season, so make sure to purchase yours ahead of time!
- Explore Banff town – While many nature-based activities are nearby, you shouldn’t neglect Banff town itself! Start your morning by visiting one of the cute local cafes, or grab patio drinks along Banff Avenue in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, check out the pedestrian-only Bear Street, with even more restaurants, cafes, and shops. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a Farmers Market every Wednesday in the summertime.
Where to Stay in Banff
As a popular resort town, there are so many fantastic options for places to stay in Banff! While there are plenty of awesome locations where you can stay in Banff National Park, there are also some amazing hotels in town too.
Here are some of our favorite spots for a range of budgets – whether you’re backpacking through the Rockies or looking for a luxury spot for a Banff honeymoon!
Samesun Banff Hostel – $
With comfortable dorm rooms located right in the heart of town, Samesun Banff Hostel is a fantastic choice for backpackers and those looking to travel on a budget. While there are no private rooms available, you’ll find a fully licensed bar and restaurant, as well as a fully equipped common guest kitchen here!
A bed here starts at $89 CAD per night. You can book your dorm on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.
Banff Inn – $$
The Banff Inn strikes the perfect balance between affordability and luxury, with all the comforts of home that you could want! Situated on Banff Ave, you’ll be just steps away from all the action in town and when you’re ready to unwind, you can take advantage of the hot tub, steam room, and sauna. Oh, and did we mention that there is an on-site restaurant and bar as well?
Rooms here start at $243 CAD per night. We highly recommend booking this hotel in advance, as it is very popular during high season.
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$
With a wide variety of rooms on offer, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort caters to all types of travelers. You can take a dip in the refreshing swimming pool, relax in the hot tub, or work up a sweat in the fully-equipped gym. There are also kitchenettes or full kitchens in every room, so you can save money preparing your meals before you head out.
Located about a 5-minute drive from Banff town, this resort is surrounded by nature! Rooms here start at $199 CAD per night. You can check availability and book your room here.
Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$
Built in 1888, the incredible Fairmont Banff Spring hotel is styled after a Scottish Baronial castle and is actually a Nation Historic Site! As the most luxurious hotel in Banff, it’s certainly not cheap, but as a result, you can expect this to be an experience unlike any other.
Inside the hotel, you’ll find 14 shops, 11 restaurants, a 40-yard (36.5 meters) swimming pool, as well as a fully equipped spa service. Outside, there’s the amazing 20-yard (18.2 meters) heated swimming pool with stunning views. When it comes to luxury, it doesn’t get much better than this. You can book a luxurious getaway online here!
Important note: Thanks to the high-demand for Banff year after year, we highly recommend booking your hotel in advance to avoid disappointment. Many hotels on Booking.com offer free cancellation, so it’s a good idea to lock in a spot and make a final decision later.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.
Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Thanks for reading!
With so many stunning places to visit and incredible wildlife to spot, it’s easy to see just why visiting Banff is one of the best things you can do in Alberta. If you don’t feel like driving, there are SO many fantastic bus tours that can show you the best that Banff has to offer. Hopefully, this blog has helped you narrow down which tour to choose!
If you need more help planning your getaway, make sure to check out our other Banff blogs and have a peek at the helpful articles below:
How to Get from the Calgary Airport to Banff: Transfer, Bus, or Rental Car
How to Get from Banff to Johnston Canyon
The Four Banff Gondolas – Our Comparison After Riding Them All!