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How to Get from Calgary to Banff +15 BEST Road Trip Stops

How to Get from Calgary to Banff +15 BEST Road Trip Stops

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Calgary is one of the most popular cities in Canada to begin a road trip from. Not only is it home to a large international airport receiving visitors from all around the world, but it’s also Alberta’s largest city (by population).

When it comes to places to visit from Calgary, none are as popular as Banff! The stunning Rocky Mountains are arguably the most popular attraction in Alberta – if not all of Canada. You just have to see them for yourself! Luckily, they are just 90 minutes from the city, so a road trip from Calgary to Banff is one of the best ways to explore the area.

There are a few logistics you’ll need to figure out to get from Calgary to Banff. Is it best to rent a car, book a shuttle, or take a bus? How do you get to Banff from Calgary? What is there to see along the way?

Don’t worry though, we have traveled through this area many times and put together the ultimate guide on how to get from Calgary to Banff, and all the best road trip stops to break up the drive. We will answer all of your questions, so you can simply pack your bags and get excited for your adventure!

Don’t have time to read the full article? You can either book a private shuttle or a shared shuttle, take a bus, or rent a car and drive yourself from Calgary to Banff. I recommend driving yourself and making it a road trip! Our favorite things to do along this route are visiting the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, sightseeing in the Kananaskis, hiking in Grotto Canyon, and caving in Canmore!

How to Get from Calgary to Banff

Scenic views of the walking street in Banff Town
Banff!

Calgary is the largest city near Banff and the closest international airport. Many people travel from all over the world to see Banff National Park’s glorious sites, and using the Calgary International Airport as a hub is often the easiest way to get to Banff.

You really have four options to get to Banff from the Calgary airport – private shuttle, shared shuttle, bus, or rental car. I’ll take you through all the options below so you can pick the one that’s the best fit for your trip. This blog tells you EVERYTHING you need to know about all 4 different ways to get from the Calgary airport to Banff – let’s dig in!

Get a private shuttle from Calgary to Banff

A private shuttle is the most straightforward way to get from Calgary to Banff, without driving yourself. While it is a more expensive option, the convenience of having someone waiting for you once you get off your plane is unmatched! It’s also the simplest way if you’re traveling with a large group and don’t want to rent a car or SUV. 

This private shuttle can accommodate 14 people, and they meet you right at the airport. If you’ve always wanted someone waiting for you with a sign that has your name on it – simply book this shuttle! They have designated pick-up locations, right outside of baggage claim for either international or domestic flights. 

The price of the shuttle depends on how many people are in your party. The more people you have, the cheaper it is. For example, two travelers are $233 CAD per person, but if you have a party of six it is only $150 CAD per person.

If you’re hoping to get to Banff quickly, this is also a great choice. The drive should take 1.5-2 hours, which is about the same amount of time you’d spend driving if you were in a car. With someone waiting for you in the airport and doing all the navigation for you to get to Banff, this is likely the quickest and easiest option. And since it’s just your private group, they will drop you off at any Banff Hotel!

The only real downside to a private shuttle from Calgary to Banff is it is rather expensive. However, this one offers “reserve now pay later” which helps with the upfront costs! Check out all the details and book this private shuttle in advance, here.

Take a shared shuttle from Calgary to Banff 

Brewster Bus in Banff National Park, Canada
Brewster Bus in Banff National Park, Canada! Photo credit: CeriBreeze Depositphotos

A shared shuttle from Calgary airport to Banff is a more budget-friendly option, and still rather convenient! It is cheaper than renting a car or taking a private shuttle, and a bit more convenient than taking the seasonal bus service that we’ll talk about next. I highly recommend allowing an hour from the time your plane is scheduled to land to when the shuttle is scheduled to leave – just to give yourself enough time. Here are my four favorite shuttle options:

Vivo Green

Vivo Green is the newest public shuttle service in the game! With them, you are not only are you getting the most affordable rates and service but you are also supporting a small business.

Their pickups from the Calgary Airport begin as early as 8:30 am with the latest shuttle leaving at 6:30 pm. You can expect the ride from the airport to Banff to take 2 hours and you will be dropped off straight to your accommodation. You will simply enter this information upon booking.

A one-way ticket with Vivo Green costs only $69 CAD and round-trip tickets are priced at $106 CAD. This shuttle also goes from the Calgary Airport to Canmore.

Brewster Express

Brewster Express offers a shuttle from the Calgary Airport to Banff multiple times a day – nine different shuttles daily! The small shuttle bus leaves every 1.5 hours starting at 9:30 am and the last shuttle departs at 8 pm.  

The trip will take approximately 2 hours to get from the airport to Banff. The shuttle will take you right to your hotel, bed & breakfast, or even a home address in Banff, so you won’t have to take a taxi once you arrive. If you book a round-trip ticket, they’ll pick you up from the same location on your way back to Calgary.  

Tickets are $79 CAD for a one-way ticket and $135 CAD for a round-trip ticket. This shuttle also goes from Calgary to Lake Louise or Jasper if your travels take you there!

Banff Airporter

The Banff Airporter is one of the most popular ways to get from the Calgary Airport to Banff. The shuttle bus leaves at 7 different times during the day from 10 am until 10:30 pm. The journey to Banff takes around 2 hours and they’ll take you right to wherever you’re staying.  

What’s great about this shuttle is they ask for your flight information when you book and actually track your flight. So if your flight is delayed and you miss your shuttle, they automatically adjust your booking to the next available shuttle for free.  

One-way tickets are $80 CAD for adults and $40 CAD for kids. Round-trip tickets are $160 CAD for adults and $80 CAD for kids. All children under 5 are free. The Banff Airporter is located on the arrivals level between exit doors 5 and 6 at the Calgary Airport. 

Take the bus from Calgary to Banff

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to get from Calgary to Banff, the On-It Transit Service will get you to Banff for only $10 CAD! We love saving a dollar here and there, and this bus (as well as the many free things to do in Banff) is a great way to do so!

This is also a great option if you are traveling from downtown Calgary, not the airport. The bus runs from the Downtown Calgary Station or the Crowfoot LRT Station to Banff on Elk Street.

There are a couple of important notes for this though. This particular bus service only runs from May to September and only on holidays and weekends. If you’re planning a summer Banff getaway, this could work into your plans. But if you’re headed to Banff in the winter, you’re out of luck.  

Tickets for this bus go on sale about three weeks in advance and because of the great price tag, they tend to sell out quickly. Make sure you book ahead of time to save your seat!

Rent a car and drive yourself

Daniel driving a rental car in Canada
Off we go in our rental car!

This option gives you the most freedom to explore Banff! Use Discover Cars to find a car rental at the Calgary Airport and pick the option that best suits you. There is everything from a standard 4-door car to an SUV or jeep. The most affordable option will be a car like a Toyota Corolla which starts at around $125 CAD per day – plus the cost of fuel. 

Below, we’ll cover some essential information about the drive, as well as our best road trip tips, and our favorite stops!

About the Drive from Calgary to Banff 

The drive from Calgary to Banff is relatively short – about 90 minutes – and there are two different routes you can take: 

  • 127 km (79 miles) on the Trans-Canada Highway 1 – this is the slightly faster option and should take an hour and a half 
  • 134 km (83 miles) on Highway 1A – this is the more scenic route and only adds about 10 minutes more to the driving time 

I prefer the scenic Highway 1A that will take you through Cochrane and the Kananaskis region. There are some fun stops along the way to really make the most of this short drive.  

Tips for Driving from Calgary to Banff (or Banff to Calgary)

First off, get gas before you leave Calgary! If you need to fill up along the way, I recommend doing so in Exshaw because it’s always cheaper than in Canmore or Banff.  

If you’re driving in winter, keep an eye on the weather and check road conditions before you go. The main highway (Trans-Canada Highway 1) will be cleared first after a snowfall, but both highways are typically fine to drive on in the winter.  

Make sure your car (or rental car) has winter tires or at least all-season tires to tackle any ice and snow you may encounter. If you need to, there are places to stop between Calgary and Banff and spend a night if the weather changes and the roads aren’t great. And if driving in winter isn’t for you, there are some great Banff tours from Calgary so you can leave the driving to someone else!

Watch for animals on this route – especially if you’re driving around sunrise or sunset. Large animals like deer can be hiding in the ditches. Highway 1A has a few more twists and turns, so best to do this drive during daylight if possible.  

Banff requires a Park Pass to enter. Daily passes start at $11 CAD per adult, but if you’re planning to stay longer (or visit multiple national parks), pick up a Discovery Pass for $75.25 CAD for unlimited entry to all national parks for a year. There are also discounted rates for families/groups. Park Passes can be bought online in advance or at the park entrance. 

You’ll also need a Conservation Pass if you plan to explore the Kananaskis area. I recommend a day pass (although yearly passes are available) for $15 CAD per car. Passes can be purchased online ahead of time or in person at any Kananaskis Visitor Information Center.  If you don’t plan on stopping in the Kananaskis area, a pass is not required to simply drive through.

15 BEST Stops on the Drive from Calgary to Banff

1. Calgary  

Bailey walks through Downtown Calgary
There is so much to see!

Calgary is great because it has the bustling feel of a big city with more than 1.4 million people here and lots going on. It’s the largest city in Alberta, so there are plenty of fun activities in Calgary to keep you busy!  

What’s nice is even though the winters can get cold, it’s still likely to be sunny here. Calgary has the most days of sunshine of any other Canadian city – about 333 days a year! That makes all seasons a great time to visit. But even if you have a rainy or chilly day, Calgary has plenty of fun indoor activities as well!

Of course, a stop in Calgary wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Calgary Zoo. It’s open all year and has almost 1,000 different animals and exhibits including giraffes, tigers, lemurs, and more. Make sure to visit in the mornings to catch my favorite attraction – the penguin walk! Every morning at 10 a.m., the penguins take a 15-minute walk through the zoo for their exercise – it’s adorable and a perfect time for pictures.  

While here, get the best view of the city from the highest 360-degree observation deck on the globe at the Calgary Tower. Take in the views of downtown and the Rocky Mountains in the distance and step onto the glass floor if you’re brave. You can even eat here at the revolving restaurant Sky 360.   

If you want to see the top sights of the city efficiently I recommend this 2-hour city scooter tour. You’ll follow your guide on electric scooters as you see iconic Calgary sites, like The Bow, Calgary Pathway System, and Central Memorial Park. The best part is that it only costs $105 CAD per person which is significantly cheaper than other Calgary city tours. At each stop, you’ll learn some history from your guide.

Bailey stands on the glass viewing deck on the Calgary Tower
This is much scarier than it looks!
girl enjoys a craft beer at Paddys Barbecue Brewery's outdoor patio in autumn
Cheers to good beer and food!

For those into street art and beer, you could instead opt for this 3-hour craft beer and street art tour. You will hit the streets and learn the stories behind the artists and art you are seeing while making stops for some local beer samples! Calgary has an epic craft beer scene, so this is such a fun way to experience the city with a local. You can book this tour for $136 CAD and it includes all of your beer tasting, transportation, and your guide.

If you’re here in July, grab a cowboy hat and take in the Calgary Stampede! The 10-day event features one of the largest rodeos in the world, a parade, a midway, shows, concerts, chuckwagon racing, and more. This is an iconically Alberta thing to experience, so pony up and join the fun – I always have a blast here!

But, if you are visiting Calgary in winter, I love skating at the Olympic Plaza skating rink right downtown. It was built for the 1988 Winter Olympics hosted in Calgary and this is where the medal presentations took place. Now, there’s an excellent rink here that is the only refrigerated outdoor rink in the city, so the ice is always ready to skate on – even on a warmer day. Bring your own skates or rent a pair for $15 CAD.  

Where to Stay in Calgary

Before you take off on your road trip, spend a few days exploring Calgary! There are a ton of great hotels in the city, but to narrow down your options, I have my top two! The Coast Calgary Downtown Hotel and Suites is a suite-style hotel in a prime location. It is central to the best things to do in Calgary and is a moderate-budget stay.

For more luxurious travelers, you’ll love the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire!  This hotel overlooks the river valley and comes with an indoor pool (with waterslide), hot tub, fitness center, hair salon, and gift shop. Obviously, the rooms are extremely beautiful and the views are spectacular.

2. The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary  

A wolf at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Wolves are so beautiful!

A hidden gem that makes a great stop on your drive from Calgary to Banff is the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary! This is a nonprofit that takes care of rescued wolfdogs and is located one-hour northwest of Calgary near the town of Cochrane. It’s the perfect place to go if you want to learn all about wolves and see them for yourself in their environment.

The sanctuary does have some rules that are important to know before you go. No children under six are allowed in the sanctuary. The paths can not accommodate strollers and no fur or faux fur clothing is allowed. No dogs are allowed on site, not even kept in your car in the parking lot. Be sure to check the visitor rules on their website or call ahead before you go.

The facility is open Thursday through Monday. Several different types of tours are available. Admission for youth is $18 CAD and adults are $29 CAD. 

3. Cochrane  

view from Glenbow Provincial Park
Glenbow Provincial Park just outside of Cochrane is beautiful.

This town has an old-western feel to it and is a lovely stop on the drive. Visit the Historic Cochrane Ranche here – where Alberta’s first large cattle ranch was located back in the 1880s. Now, it’s a massive public park with walking trails, fire pits, a quaint museum, and a reconstructed corral. 

Explore downtown Cochrane and stop at MacKay’s Ice Cream. They’ve been serving ice cream in this location for over 70 years! The ice cream is locally made and has 50 flavors including unique ones like Haskap berry made from berries grown nearby.  

For something a bit stronger, visit Half Hitch Brewing Company to try out locally brewed craft beers paired with delicious appetizers and smoked meats. The specialty beers include their signature Papa Bear Prairie Ale made with local barley, wheat, rye, and oats, which won a gold medal at the 2018 Alberta Brewing Awards.  

If you really love beer, then you’re in luck because there are a few other breweries in Cochrane that you can check out too!

Cochrane is also a good place to stay outside Calgary as the hotels here are typically cheaper than in Canmore or Banff. The Days Inn and Suites Cochrane is a nice option that’s just off the highway, perfect for a road trip stay. The hotel has an indoor pool, free breakfast, and is close to some nice walking trails if you need to stretch your legs. Rooms start around $130 CAD, but do go up in price for the busy summer season. You can check availability and book a room online here.

4. Ghost Lake  

It’s obvious why this beautiful spot made the list of stops!

Just west of Cochrane on Highway 1A, you’ll come to Ghost Lake. It gets its name from Indigenous stories of a ghost who supposedly prowled the Ghost River nearby.   

The beach has a fantastic view of the Rocky Mountains, but be aware that the water gets deep quickly! Ghost Lake’s average depth is 18-27 meters (60-90 feet). This makes it perfect for fishing – lots of freshwater fish can be found here including Bull Trout and Rainbow Trout.  

The lake’s location at the base of the Rockies ensures steady winds, making it an excellent spot for sailing. There are boat rentals available here at the marina. Of course, you can swim here too, but the water tends to be very cold!  

5. Brewster’s Kananaskis Ranch Golf Course  

Brewsters Golf Course with a pond, the green, and mountains in the background
Who wouldn’t love to golf with these views? Photo credit: Brewsters Golf

Even if you’re not the best golfer, this course is worth a stop! Brewster’s Golf is an 18-hole course at the base of Yamnuska Mountain and along the north bank of the Bow River. While playing, enjoy the views of the mountains, wildflowers, and trees… just try not to get too distracted by the scenery and lose your golf ball in the water!  

Tee times can be booked up to 30 days ahead of time and the better rates are available the sooner you book. To play all 18 holes, it’s $65 CAD on weekdays and $79 CAD on weekends and holidays, and renting a golf cart is extra. There’s also a sunset special for a discounted rate to play later in the day.   

6. The Kananaskis  

A couple pose for a photo at Upper Kananaskis Lake
Enjoying the sunset at Upper Kananaskis Lake!

Take a small detour onto Highway 40 to explore Kananaskis Country. It’s called “Alberta’s Mountain Playground”, which is no surprise since there’s so much to do. It’s easy to spend a few days exploring the region. It has fewer crowds than Banff, but all the same great outdoor activities! 

The Kananaskis is known for winter fun as it contains the Nakiska Ski Resort – built for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. This means the ski resort has Olympic-sized groomed runs and a state-of-the-art snowmaking system. With its excellent snow coverage, Nakiska is typically one of the first ski resorts to open in the country and the last to close.   

One of my favorite hikes in the Kananaskis area is to Troll Falls. It’s around 3 km (1.9 miles) round-trip with a beautiful waterfall at the end. You can get quite close to the waterfall and even find a large rock shaped like a troll’s head nearby. It’s equally stunning when the waterfall freezes in the winter – just bring ice cleats or spikes as it can get slippery.  

You can also check out the Blackshale Suspension Bridge on this guided sightseeing tour. This bridge is one of Alberta’s best-kept secrets and a lovely way to get into nature! A guided tour will teach you all about the flora, fauna, and history of the area, which always gives me a deeper appreciation for wherever I’m exploring. This tour is $200 CAD per person and operates during the summer – book it in advance here!

Note: A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is now required to explore the Kananaskis region. These passes can be bought at the Kananaskis Visitor Center or online in advance and cost $16 CAD per vehicle per day or $95 CAD per year (for two vehicles).

Where to stay in Kananaskis

If your itinerary allows, stay a couple of nights at The Crosswater Resort – a very family-friendly resort that won’t break the bank with a large indoor pool in the heart of the Kananaskis. Staying here also gives you access to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, which is famous for its innovative hydrotherapy treatments. Here there are several hot and cold pools with epic mountain views.

If you want something super affordable the HI Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel has bunks starting at $40 CAD and private rooms for around $130 CAD. This stay has cozy cabin vibes and is just 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the closest ski resort – a perfect winter stay! You can reserve this room on Booking.com or Hostelworld.

7. Bow Valley Campground/Many Springs  

Bailey and her dad at Many Springs in Bow Valley Provincial Park
Bailey and her dad at Many Springs

The Bow Valley Campground is a beautiful place to stay in Bow Valley Provincial Park. The campsites here have lots of trees, and great views of the valley, mountains, and the river. There are nice trails here that are especially beautiful at sunset and it’s typically less crowded than campgrounds around Banff. Staying here is by reservation only (no drop-ins), and booking can be made up to 90 days ahead of time.  

If camping isn’t in the plans, I still recommend popping in to explore the day-use areas, like the short walk at Many Springs. This 1.3 kilometer (0.8-mile) loop is packed full of amazing scenery including springs that collect in a wetland basin at the end of the hike. The mountains reflected in the mirror-like basin are a breathtaking sight. There’s a dock at the end of the loop, so you can have an unobstructed view!  

8. Jura Creek Trail  

The Jura Creek Trail in winter
The canyon on the Jura Creek Trail in winter!

Just a few minutes outside of Exshaw along Highway 1A is the Jura Creek Trail. It’s across from the Graymont gravel plant and the start of the trail is in the northwest section of the parking lot.  

This is a hike that’s best to do in winter! Less than a kilometer into the hike is the Jura Creek slot canyon entrance. This narrow canyon is especially fun to explore when the creek is frozen and you can walk on the ice. There are some great photo opportunities here, so have a camera nearby. If you plan to attempt in the summer, bring shoes you don’t mind getting wet!   

You can turn around and make your way back through the canyon or carry on along the trail. There’s another slot canyon about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) in – so often, hikers will visit both canyons and then head back. However, the trail does continue on for hikers who want to keep going.  

9. Exshaw 

At just over the halfway point of the drive from Calgary to Banff, you’ll pass through Exshaw. You’ll notice the Lafarge cement plant here as you drive by. It was first built in 1906 and is now the largest in Canada.  

This is where I like to stop for gas on the way. I find it’s always cheaper here than in Canmore or Banff. Heart Mountain Store is an excellent one-stop shop as it’s a gas station, store, and restaurant. Fuel up your car, then treat yourself to one of their famous burgers!  

Related Read: Looking for a challenging hike nearby? Check out Heart Mountain Horseshoe Loop – it starts just across the highway from Exshaw and is a stunning, but difficult, day hike.

10. Grotto Canyon  

A lady walks through the Grotto Canyon in winter
Grotto Canyon is one of my favorite easy hikes in Canmore.

Grotto Canyon is a stunning hike that can be done in both summer and winter. The trail starts from the Grotto Mountain day-use parking lot. It’s about a kilometer to get to the creek bed, which slowly narrows as the rock walls get higher around you and more spectacular.  

At the fork in the creek, take a right to get to Grotto Canyon Falls. But don’t overlook what you might see before the stunning waterfall! Keep an eye out to the left just before reaching the falls … you should see pictographs that are 500-1,000 years old painted right at eye level.  

Personally, I love visiting Grotto Canyon in the winter when I can walk on the ice. Seriously, the entire place turns into a magical winter wonderland! With that said, walking Grotto Canyon in the winter can be very slippery. You should wear crampons or mini-ice spikes. You can rent these in Canmore from one of the sports shops.

Alternatively, you can always just book a guided tour that comes with all your gear included! This is recommended if you’re not used to hiking in the winter, and it’s helpful to have a local guide as there is a lot to learn here. There is even ancient Indigenous rock art that you can see here if you know where to look. This tour takes off from Banff, which is only about 30 minutes from Grotto Canyon – so you can book it in advance here and add it to your Banff itinerary!

11. Gap Lake  

A lady skates at Gap Lake, Canmore
Skating at Gap Lake on the drive from Calgary to Banff.

Gap Lake is a picturesque lake that is popular for skating in the winter. The ice gets so clear that it’s possible to see all the way to the bottom! The wind also keeps the lake mostly snow-free, so it’s clear for ice skating. Just be aware that ice thickness can change because of underground streams that keep certain areas of ice thinner than others, so only walk or skate on the ice where you know is safe and do so at your own risk.

In the summer, Gap Lake is a nice lakeside spot to relax at. It’s also really popular for fishing!  

12. Canmore  

Daniel at Le Fournil Bakery in Canmore, Alberta
Le Fournil Bakery
bailey sitting at a picnic table with a beer can on Main Street in Canmore
Downtown Canmore!

Canmore is one of Alberta’s best mountainside tourist towns. With a range of fun and exciting things to do in Canmore, it’s a popular destination for both local and international tourists.

Since Canmore isn’t actually located within one of Canada’s National Parks, it’s a cheaper and more accessible option. Sitting on the edge of Banff National Park, Canmore boasts some of Canada’s most impressive mountain peaks and is an outdoor playground for visitors.

One of the coolest things you can do in Canmore is to explore the caves! This Canmore caving adventure tour takes you through the beautiful yet mysteriously named Rat’s Nest Cave. You’ll rappel down 18 meters (59 feet) and spend several hours navigating challenging passageways and learning about how these caves were formed. It is pricier at $200 CAD but it is an experience you can’t replicatebe sure to book this in advance so you don’t miss out!

Right from town you can hop in a raft and gently float down the Bow River for an hour. Your eyes will be glued to epic views of the Rocky Mountains, forests, and valleys while keeping watch for some native wildlife. Tours are a steal at only $45 CAD, and since they are only available from May to September, they fill up quickly. Reserve this float down Bow River in advance, here.

If you’re into hiking, Grassi Lakes is probably the most popular hike in Canmore, and as such, it is one of Canmore’s main attractions. Only a short 5-minute drive from Canmore town will have you parked at the trailhead ready to explore some of the brightest-colored lakes you’ve ever seen! 

Bailey stands on the edge of Grassi Lakes, Canmore
Grassi Lakes!

One of the best things about the hike to Grassi Lakes is how accessible it is. This 4-kilometer-long trail (2.5 miles) only gains 230 meters (755 feet) in elevation and takes most people about 2 hours to complete there and back. It is a very easy trail that is family-friendly and suitable for all fitness levels. Plus, it’s open all year round!

Canmore is one of the best places to try amazing craft beer and there are lots of local breweries in Canmore to visit! One of my favorites is The Grizzly Paw. They have a bar on 8 St and their brewery is located on Old Canmore Road on the outskirts of town (called Tank 310). You can also join this e-bike and brew tour for even more fun! You get to bike 15 kilometers (9 miles) through the mountains and then be rewarded with a beer flight for $133 CAD.

You could also sit back and relax with a warm coffee from one of the many delicious cafes in Canmore.

If you visit Canmore in the winter you must go (or attempt) cross-country skiing. Canmore is world-famous for its Nordic Centre where some of Canada’s best cross-country ski trails are located!

The Nordic Centre in Canmore was actually where cross-country ski events were held for the 1988 Olympic Games, and since then, they’ve maintained the facility for recreational and training uses. That’s right, you can go cross-country skiing here and maybe even see some professionals practicing for the next Olympic games too! 

Where to Stay in Canmore

In case you want to spend a couple of nights in Canmore (and you should!) there are plenty of hotels to choose from.

For budget travelers, I love the Canmore Rocky Mountain Inn. If you don’t mind spending a little more you can certainly get a nice hotel closer to town. The Grande Rockies Resort-Bellstar Hotels & Resorts is still a short walk from town (but it only takes 5 minutes) and the hotel itself is beautiful complete with a pool, hot tub, fitness center, and restaurant and bar.

13. Cascade Ponds  

Cascade Ponds with mount rundle and wooden bridge in autumn forest
Cascade Ponds look especially beautiful in the fall

Only a few minutes from Banff is this beautiful spot to help end your road trip on a high note. The Cascade Ponds are a collection of ponds near Cascade Mountain. It’s absolutely gorgeous in all seasons – the reflections in the water in the summer, the yellow Aspen trees in the fall, and the snowy scenery in the winter.  

The ponds are connected by a series of bridges that make walking between the ponds easy and create some gorgeous photo opportunities. Bring lunch along to enjoy at one of the many picnic areas and firepits here. You might also spot wildlife around the ponds including elk, mule deer, and a fox or two.  

Continue further along past the ponds to visit Lake Minnewanka. This is the largest of the lakes in Banff National Park and the scenery here is breathtaking with the mountains on display. Enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter or have a picnic or take a Lake Minnewanka boat cruise here in the summer.

This 1-hour cruise boasts Lake Minnewanka’s stunning scenery the entire way! Plus, there is something so serene about being on a boat, especially when the giant Rocky Mountains surround you. This boat cruise is $70 CAD and should be booked in advance – it’s a popular activity!

Related Read: A great way to see animals around Banff (including grizzly bears!) is to join a wildlife tour in Banff National Park!

14. Hoodoos Viewpoint  

A lady poses for a photo at the Banff Hoodoos
Can you spot the hoodoos?

Take a short detour on the way into Banff to see the Hoodoos Viewpoint. These are rock pillars that are strangely shaped due to erosion of soft rock that was protected by a harder coating of earth on top.

There’s parking here (location on Google Maps) and then it’s about a 10-minute walk to a lookout where you can see a small group of rocky spires really well.  

15. Banff Town 

Evelyns Cafe in Banff, Canada
Walking Banff with a coffee!
Bow Falls in Banff
Bow Falls in Banff

Awesome, you made it to Banff town! Book yourself a hotel for a few nights as you’ll definitely need time to explore this vibrant mountain town!

There are plenty of fun things to do in downtown Banff. This area is very quaint and there are many awesome options for places to eat, drink, and shop. With the mountains as the backdrop to Banff Ave, it’s a beautiful place to base yourself in Banff National Park.

Many visitors base themselves here for a ski holiday due to the fact that you have great access to Sunshine and Norquay ski resorts – both are within a 15-minute drive of town.

The views from Mt Norquay are unlike any other. In the summer, ride the sightseeing gondola and visit the restaurant at the top for a beer with a view. If you visit Banff in the winter, you can’t miss hitting the slopes or testing out their famous tube park (fun for the whole family!). If you buy the SkiBig3 Lift Ticket Mt Norquay is the third ski resort you’ll have access to.

Truthfully, there are tons of other fun things to do in Banff, it can be hard to know even where to start – to make it easy you can check out our 1, 2, and 3 day Banff itinerary! Here are some of my personal favorite activities in Banff:

Banff Upper Hot Springs
Perfect on a cloudy day in Banff!
  • Indulge in food and drinks – Banff has tons of tasty restaurants and bars. For beer, head to Banff Brewing Co. For a delicious meal with crafted cocktails, head to Parks Distillery. Did you know that you can also join this food tour that explores the many different rooms inside the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel? Food and drink pairings are included from 4 of the property’s high-end restaurants for $206 CAD. What a unique activity for foodies!
  • Check out the Bow Falls Lookout – The Bow River is a stunning river that runs through the heart of Banff. Turquoise in color, it is nothing short of picture-perfect. A short 1.5 km (0.9 mi) scenic walk from Banff town (or drive) you’ll come to the Bow Falls viewpoint on the river’s edge. Here, not only will you see the river, but also the Bow River Waterfall!
  • Cave and Basin National Historic Site – Another great place to visit in Banff is the Cave and Basin Historic Site. Here you can see some historic hot springs that are home to a rare species of snail. The museum is the main attraction in my eyes and it is very interactive and fun, especially for kids. You’ll find lots of information about Banff and the surrounding area.

Related Read: Want to continue on a longer road trip? Check out the route from Calgary to Invermere that passes through Banff National Park.

Where to Stay in Banff

The pool area at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort
Photo Credit: Banff Rocky Mountain Resort

This is one of the most important parts of your trip and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. Below are some great hotels we recommend, but if you’d like more info check out our best hotels in downtown Banff blog as well as our guide to the best areas to stay in Banff National Park. Both articles include options for everyone’s budget and travel style!

Samesun Banff Hostel – Budget $

The Samesun Banff Hostel great budget hostel with dorm rooms. Perfect for those on a tight budget. Expect to pay around $55 CAD for a bed in a mixed dorm room. It’s located right in the middle of town and just a short walk to bars and hotels. A free breakfast is also included every morning and there is fast wifi!

You can reserve rooms on Booking.com or Hostelworld.

High Country Inn – Budget $

While the High Country Inn is still a budget range where you can get a private queen hotel room for as low as $139 CAD there is also the option for upgrades like a king room with a jet tub or a one-bedroom suite with a balcony. A fridge and tea and coffee maker are part of each room. The property offers an indoor pool, a cedar sauna, and a hot tub for your enjoyment.

You can book the High County Inn on Booking.com.

Banff Inn – Mid-range $$

The Banff Inn is in the perfect price and luxury range. It’s still affordable but also comes with lots of luxuries, the first being the location and the mountains right behind the hotel.

The rooms are spacious, clean, and modern. Expect to pay around $350 CAD or more during peak season. There is an on-site restaurant that serves things like pizza and burgers and a bar and lounge where you can wind down with a glass of wine in the evenings.

You can book the Banff Inn on Booking.com.

Banff Rocky Mountian Resort – Mid-range $$

Pushing up into the mid-range budget Banff Rocky Mountain Resort is sure to please. It is located just 2 miles from town so you are close by for convenience but not right in all the noise. All the rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, each has either a kitchenette or a full kitchen. The price for summer per night will be a minimum of at least $300 CAD.

This beautiful property has an indoor swimming pool, indoor and outdoor hot tub, gym, tennis courts, and more! You can dine right at the Alpha Bistro which is located in the main building.

You can book the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort on Booking.com.

Fairmont Banff Springs – Luxury $$$

The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. If you’re saving by doing free things in Banff so you can splurge a little more on your accommodation, this is the spot to do it!

It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible (pictured above)! The mountain views and stunning grounds are just the beginning. The rooms are very comfortable some of them offering mountain views. The price per night begins at an average of $1,200 CAD but it varies on the season and type of room.

If you like to eat and shop there are 11 different restaurants and 14 shops to explore. Then go bowling, pamper yourself in the spa, relax in the hot tub, or go for a swim in the pool. Expect the staff to go above and beyond to make you feel like royalty. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon, then this should be the hotel you choose!

You can book the Fairmont Banff Springs on Booking.com.

Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. For starters, you need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. In the peaks of winter and summer, Banff often books out months in advance.

For this reason, I highly suggest booking a place ASAP! Using Booking.com is great too 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.

 Essential Info About the Drive Before You Go

  • The drive from Calgary to Banff is short at only about 90 minutes or about 130 kilometers (81 miles). Take Highway 1A for the more scenic route through Cochrane and the Kananaskis! 
  • Fill up your car with gas in Calgary before you leave. If you need gas along the way, stop in Exshaw as it’s typically cheaper than in Canmore or Banff.  
  • Keep an eye out for animals at all times of year while driving along this highway – especially in the early morning and evening hours. If you can, drive this route during the day – it’s easier to enjoy the scenery that way too!  
  • If you’re doing this drive in the winter, check road conditions before you leave and make sure you have winter or all-season tires on the car. There are lots of places to stay along this route if you have to book a last-minute hotel due to changing weather conditions.  
  • Get a Parks Pass for Banff National Park! This is required for entry and starts at $10.50 CAD per day. Remember to buy a Discovery Pass online (it will be mailed to you) for $72.25 CAD if you’re planning to stay longer or visit more national parks; it gives you unlimited visits for a year!  
  • Another pass you’ll need is the Conservation Pass for the Kananaskis area. If you’re just driving through and not stopping, it isn’t required. However, this is such a beautiful area to explore, it’s worth paying the $15 CAD per vehicle.  
  • Bring a camera! This road trip takes you to some of the best views and places in the Rocky Mountains. It’s an epic trip, you’ll want to capture the memories you make on the way.  

Related Read: Want to continue your road trip to Lake Louise? Check out our blogs about driving from Calgary to Lake Louise.

Driving from Calgary to Banff FAQs

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is mesmerizing!

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!

at the top of sulpher mountain in banff
Thanks for reading our blog!

I hope that this post has gotten you excited for your Calgary to Banff road trip. It tops our list of the best road trips in Alberta! I’ve shown you there are some really awesome stops on the drive from Calgary to Banff to be explored, so I hope you’re looking forward to the drive!

The best thing about road trips is you really can create your own adventure and pick and choose where and how you want to spend your time! I’m sure whichever route and stops you choose, you’re sure to have a lovely time! If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out some of our other Alberta guides:

5 AWESOME Lake Louise Tours from Calgary to See All the Highlights!

15 BEST Things to do in Banff in September

19 Events & Things to do in Calgary in December

5 Absolute BEST Winter Tours in Jasper, Alberta that You Can’t Miss 

Kevin

Sunday 19th of March 2023

Thanks for the elaborate post. The details here saved me from lingering on other websites to decide how to spend our time in Banff!

Penny

Thursday 25th of August 2022

thanks for the great information, you can be my tour guide any day!

ann

Sunday 7th of August 2022

how is the drive from calgary to banff? I'm from Australia where we on left side of the road so unsure whether I should get a rental or what is the best way to get around? and what are some other options if not renting a car?

destinationlesstravel

Wednesday 10th of August 2022

Hey Ann,

I (Daniel) am Australian also and know the difficulties of driving on the other side of the road. The drive from Calgary to Banff is an easy drive when compared to other mountain roads in Canada, such as through Revelstoke and even between Jasper and BC.

Of course, if you have no experience driving on the right side of the road, please be very careful at the beginning, and it's a good idea to have a passenger who is also paying attention. In areas with lots of traffic, it's easy because you just follow the other cars. However, intersections get confusing.

If you are not renting a car, there are some buses you can take. For example, there is a bus from Calgary to Banff as well as a bus from Banff to Lake Louise and Canmore. So, you can get around on the bus. It just won't be too off-the-beaten-path places and more the highlights of the area.

I hope this helps

Daniel