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Banff Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Review – Is it Worth it?

Banff Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Review – Is it Worth it?

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Considering using the hop-on hop-off bus to get around Banff? 

Banff attracts 4.5 million tourists every year, so there are tons of different options for seeing the sights. However, the hop-on hop-off bus is one of our favorites – and trust me, we’ve done them all. 

I grew up in the Rockies and Daniel and I live in Canmore, which is just 20 minutes down the road from Banff. As you can probably tell from the HUGE amount of Banff content on our blog, we’re local travel experts. We’ve tested out pretty much every tour going! 

So if you’re thinking about booking a spot on the Banff bus, keep on reading and we’ll share the highlights and drawbacks. 

What are the stops on the Banff Hop-On Hop-Off Bus? 

Waterfall at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
The bus has a stop at Johnston Canyon, sweet!
Bailey in a canoe at Moraine Lake, Banff NP
And another at Moraine Lake!

Banff Ave: Banff’s buzzing main street, home to tons of cute shops, fun bars and restaurants, and a head-on view of Cascade Mountain. 

Banff Train Station: Not what we’d call a must-see, but this is super convenient if you’re coming into Banff for the day from Canmore or Calgary! 

Johnston Canyon: The most popular hike in Banff! We love walking alongside the dramatic, rocky canyon and bright blue river to reach the waterfalls at the end. 

Lake Louise: This vivid blue lake is one of the most iconic places in the Rockies, but the parking situation is a nightmare, which is why it’s ideal to visit on the bus. 

Lake Louise Gondola: Although it’s used for skiing during the winter, during the summer tourists can ride up to the top of the mountain to enjoy some epic views! We love exploring the short hiking trails up here and eating at the Whitehorn Bistro.

Moraine Lake: The most stunning lake in the Rockies and the most difficult to get to, since you’re not actually allowed to drive there yourself. It’s also where we got engaged! 

Pros of the Banff Hop-On Hop-Off Bus

Bailey stands on a rock at Lake Louise, Canada
Lake Louise is so pretty!
Hop On Bus Banff Canada
I love that they’re old school buses and pick up in Banff! Photo credit: Hop On Banff

Free cancellation 24 hours prior

Not only does the Banff hop-on hop-off bus provide flexibility to explore, but you also get free cancellation up to 24 hours before you’re scheduled to depart. We find this to be a huge bonus because the bus books up fast, so you can grab your spot without worrying about losing money if your plans change. Plus, there’s the option to reserve tickets now and pay later! 

Onboard guide

Although this isn’t a guided tour per se, there will be a guide on the bus who can share insider tips on how to make the most of each stop. They were great at sharing different things to do in each place and were super helpful with logistics and timings. We also really enjoyed the commentary on the way around. Our guide, Tyler, was a Banff local and shared lots of wildlife facts and funny stories with us! 

Visits Lake Louise and Moraine Lake 

For us, this is the biggest advantage of taking the hop-on hop-off bus! Parking at Moraine Lake is closed to the public and it’s almost impossible to get parking at Lake Louise, so we wouldn’t advise driving there anyway. However, the hop-on hop-off bus makes it easy to visit both lakes, with no stress involved. 

Busses are on time

When relying on public transport, you never really know if the bus is going to turn up on time or not! But we’ve found that the hop-on hop-off bus is always on time, and we’ve never been left waiting. We were really impressed by this because it makes it possible to tick off all of the must-see sights in one day.

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo at Lake Louise
Lake Louise!

Affordable when compared to a regular tour

Honestly, we think that the hop-on hop-off bus is really well-priced! It costs $95 CAD per person, so it’s definitely one of the cheapest ways to see the highlights of Banff National Park. Not only is it much more affordable than a regular group tour, but it’s also likely to work out cheaper than renting a car for the day.

Enough time at each stop

We hate tours that make us feel rushed, but this wasn’t the case at all with the hop-on hop-off bus. Two buses actually do the loop each day, so it is possible to spend more or less time at a certain stop if you want to, and our on-board guide was giving people advice on this, too. But we followed the standard schedule and did all of the stops in one day, and had plenty of time at each one! 

Retro school buses

One fun thing about this tour is that you get to ride around on a classic yellow school bus! It’s a modern bus but has a retro feel and is quite exciting if you grew up outside North America, always seeing yellow school buses on TV. 

Two people travel down the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
We love that it can take you to the Lake Louise Gondola

Get to ride along the Bow Valley Parkway

Although it’s not an official stop, the Bow Valley Parkway is part of the hop-on hop-off route. This means that in addition to all of the other sightseeing, visitors also get to experience one of Canada’s most beautiful roads. It’s absolutely stunning – we’ve driven along it hundreds of times and it still leaves us in awe each time. 

Less busy than regional buses

The regional buses to Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake get super busy with long lines. Honestly, we couldn’t believe how long the queue to get back from Moraine Lake was the last time we visited, and we were very glad we weren’t in it! Since the hop-on hop-off tour has to be booked in advance, you don’t have to worry about wasting precious time in a long queue to get to the next place.

Lots of 5-star reviews 

One of the reasons that we were keen to try out this tour is because it has over 500 verified 5-star reviews, which you can read here! Although we believe it’s important to make up your own mind about a tour, seeing lots of glowing reviews is certainly heartening. It’s nice to know that you’ll be in good hands! 

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.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • 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! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

Cons of the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus in Banff

Views from the upper viewpoint at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
These buses are a great way to see highlights like Johnston Canyon!

Limited tickets, so you need to book in advance

For the reasons we explained above, the hop-on hop-off bus is popular, and they have limited spaces. It books up weeks in advance, so it’s best to get your tickets ASAP to ensure that you don’t miss out. Fortunately, they offer free cancellation and the option to buy now and pay later, but this isn’t a tour you can book the night before.

Not an organized tour

This is a semi-independent tour rather than a fully guided tour. Our guide didn’t lead us around at any of the tour stops but did still offer plenty of tips and advice. Some travelers might prefer this independence, but if you’d prefer to have a guide with you the entire time, then this is probably not the tour for you. 

Extras aren’t included

When you book the hop-on hop-off bus, you’re just paying for transport. We had to pay extra for our Lake Louise gondola tickets and no food or drink was included. We expected this as it’s very standard for a hop-on hop-off tour, and we still thought it was great value for money. However, it’s not the best option if you prefer an all-inclusive tour. 

The bus isn’t the comfiest 

Although the school buses are undoubtedly cool, they’re not the most comfortable. For Dan and I, that didn’t matter too much, and we didn’t spend a ton of time on board anyway. However, this might be something to consider if you value comfort or have additional accessibility needs.

Related Read: If you have limited time in Banff, check out our ideal weekend itinerary (which includes stops on the hop-on hop-off bus route!).

My Experience on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo the the rockpile at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is hands down the prettiest lake in Banff

As locals, we already knew how busy Banff gets, so we booked the earliest departure time and hit the road at around 7:45 am. We would highly recommend doing the same because it really is worth avoiding the crowds as much as you can. 

To be fair, most of the attractions were still pretty busy, but we managed to avoid the worst of it. Plus, unlike public buses, our bus wasn’t overcrowded and we didn’t have to keep lining up to get from one stop to the next, which saved a ton of time. 

We headed straight to Johnston Canyon where we had plenty of time to enjoy the 5 km (3 mile) return walk to the Upper and Lower Falls. It was nice to get there early before the midday crowds descended, and the walk was absolutely beautiful. 

Next up, we went to the Lake Louise Ski Resort where we rode the sightseeing gondola. Although to be honest it’s not quite as spectacular as the Banff gondola, it’s still definitely worth doing. We loved seeing bears from the chairlift on the way up, and there are some nice, short hiking trails to check out at the top. We booked our gondola tickets separately in advance for $65 CAD, as they’re not included with the hop-on hop-off tour and the lines can be quite long here too.

Bailey poses for a photo on Banff Ave walking street
They can pick up and drop off right on Banff Ave!

After we rode the gondola back down to the bus, we continued onto the Lake Louise Foreshore. This is the ideal place to enjoy stunning views of the lake and the magnificent Fairmont Chateau, and maybe even take a canoe out on the water! We loved the ease of visiting this way because usually we have to get up at the crack of dawn to drive to Lake Louise, and even then it can be tricky to get a parking space.

Last but not least, we visited Moraine Lake. This is one of our all-time favorite spots, so talk about ending the day on a high note! We had been here before, but we liked the fact that our onboard guide, Tyler, was giving first-timers lots of helpful tips, like how to find and climb the rockpile for the best views and photos. 

All in all, we had a wonderful day out on the hop-on hop-off Banff bus, and would highly recommend it. It’s an ideal way to get around and is so much more convenient than driving. In fact, you can’t even drive to Moraine Lake anymore, and it’s pretty much impossible to get parking in Lake Louise. In fact, recently we’ve noticed that Johnston Canyon is going the same way, so this tour saved us a ton of hassle.

Related Read: Considering riding some gondolas while in Banff? Check out our comparison guide for the Lake Louise Gondola and the Banff Gondola to see which one is the best!

Would I ride the Banff Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Again?

Lake Louise gondola in summer travels up the mountain
Yes!

Yes, 100%. It offers the perfect combination of convenience, affordability, and flexibility. We loved our experience and we think that this is a fantastic way to see these popular sights. Just be sure to book well in advance as we’re not the only ones who have realized this, and tickets get snapped up fast!

Where to Stay in Banff

the hot tub at Banff Inn
Relaxing in this hot tub is perfect after a day out exploring Banff. Photo Credit: Banff Inn

Banff National Park is full to the brim with great hotels and hostels – it’s pretty exciting, but it can also be a little overwhelming when deciding where to stay! Of course, cost is a big factor when deciding on your accommodation, as well as comfort and all the amenities on offer.

From hotels in Banff town to ones that are a little more out in nature, we’ve put together a list of our favorites for each budget category:

Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$

The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. As you can expect, it’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! This is perfect for a romantic weekend away in Banff!

Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, a bowling alley, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. With so much to do in this one-of-a-kind luxury hotel, you’ll honestly feel like you’ll never want to leave!

Rooms here at the Fairmont can be as high as $1,000+ CAD in peak season, so it’s best to book as far ahead as possible! You can check prices and room availability online here.

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$

For those with a mid-range budget, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a beautiful swimming pool, hot tub, and gym, and all the rooms come equipped with kitchenettes or full kitchens. We’d say this is the perfect option for families since two and three-bedroom units are also available.

The hotel is also in a good location that’s just a 5-minute drive away from town, so it’s a great place to enjoy the wonderful peace and quiet of the Banff countryside! Rooms here average around $500-600 CAD per night in the high season but dip as low as around $149 CAD in the low season. You can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.

Banff Inn – $$

Rooms at the Banff Inn have a more affordable price tag (at least when it comes to Banff!), but are also chock-full with all the amenities you could want to have a great stay! This way, you can splurge on those once-in-a-lifetime tours and experiences that make a trip to Banff so memorable.

The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. Inside, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar – perfect for a little bit of relaxation after a long day out exploring Banff. Rooms here start at $239 CAD, but don’t forget to book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff!

Samesun Banff Hostel – $

For folks looking to save some cash while having a blast in Banff, it’s definitely worth checking out the Samesun Banff Hostel. It’s a great place for backpackers or anyone who’s fine with making some new friends and doesn’t mind sharing a dorm. But if you’re keen on privacy, keep in mind that there aren’t any private rooms available here.

A bed in a dorm here starts from around $54 CAD, including breakfast, and can be booked on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. You need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. I suggest using Booking.com because lots of hotels offer free cancellation so just lock in a place (or two) for now and make the final decision later!

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie ith drinks on a rooftop bar in Banff, Canada
Thanks for reading!

As you can tell, we are big fans of Banff’s hop-on hop-off bus! Banff seems to get busier each year, so the hop-on hop-off has become a really convenient option for us. If you’re looking for a seamless way to explore Banff’s best sights, this is your best bet!

We hope you found this article helpful! If you’re looking for more resources as you plan your trip, check out the rest of our Banff blogs. We are experts in the area and love sharing our favorite spots and travel tips, here are a few articles that will be helpful before you go!

8 BEST Johnston Canyon Tours from Banff (Reviews and Guide!)

5 BEST Hikes in Lake Louise (that start from the Lakefront!)

15 BEST Day Trips from Banff (With & Without a Car!)