Visiting Banff Without A Car – Everything You Need To Know

Banff is one of the most visited National Parks in the world and you might think that in order to visit you need to drive or rent a car. However it’s totally possible to visit Banff without a car and still see all the same amazing places. 

One of the great things about Banff National Park is that much of it is accessible by public transport. I’m seriously impressed by the abundance of available routes and busses on the Roam transit network. Not only this but they are all powered by electricity, which is even better for the surrounding environment. 

Visiting Banff without a car does require some planning, depending on the route you want to take. This guide details all you need to know about exploring Banff National Park without access to a car, including how to get to the famous Lake Louise. 

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How to get from Calgary International Airport to Banff National Park

The journey from Calgary International Airport to Banff takes around 2 hours and there are two main shuttle services that can you get you there. Both the Brewster Express and Banff Airporter pick up from the airport. They do have varying schedules so I would recommend checking both shuttles to see which has the most convenient time for your flight. 

If you are staying in Calgary prior to your trip to Banff the On-It Service picks up from Calgary and costs a very affordable $10 one way! This service only runs from Friday to Sunday in the summer months only. 

Do you need a car in Banff?

I have visited Banff with and without a car and I can say with confidence, no you don’t not need a car. Having a car does come in handy for certain areas or the beaten track places but if you are wanting to visit the top attractions you’ll be able to see them all. 

There are some perks to visiting Banff without a car. It can even work out cheaper than renting a car and you can avoid forking out for high gas prices, not to mention most hotels charge a nightly parking fee. You’ll also be doing your part for the local wildlife and environment by taking public transport. 

The one thing I do like about having a car is for watching the sunrise or sunset, or getting up early to hike, but even so I have been able to access hiking trails relatively early without a car. 

Getting around Banff without a car

The town of Banff is pedestrian friendly and super easy to navigate. If you are wanting to explore the town of Banff and surrounding areas I would do your research on hotels prior. The map definitely looks smaller than it actually is and you can use google maps to determine how far different places are to walk to. 

My hotel of choice if visiting Banff without a car is the Banff Park Lodge. It’s central location is perfect for accessing Banff Avenue with restaurants and coffee shops within a few minutes walk. You’ll also have great access to shuttles such as the Banff Gondola shuttle which picks up and drops off at the Banff Park Lodge. 

Sunrise at Lake Louise, Banff National Park.
Sunrise at Lake Louise in June.

Roam Public Transit Routes

The best way to get to the top sights in Banff National Park without a car is by using the Roam Transit system. As far as National Parks go, Banff has an amazing public transit system which makes it easy for visitors to get around. 

The Roam Transit System operates ten bus routes listed below:

  • Route 1 – Sulphur Mountain
  • Route 2 – Tunnel Mountain
  • Route 3 – Canmore/Banff Regional
  • Route 4 – Cave & Basin
  • Route 5C & 5T – Canmore Local
  • Route 6 – Lake Minnewanka
  • Route 7 – Banff Centre
  • Route 8X – Lake Louise Express
  • Route 8S – Lake Louise Scenic 
  • Route 9 – Johnston Canyon
  • Route 10 – Moraine Lake Express

Keep reading below to find more in depth information about these routes. 

How much does the Roam Bus cost?

  • The Banff Regional routes 1 & 2 cost $2 one way or $5 for a 1 Day Pass.
  • The Lake Louise 8X and 8S route are $10 one way.
  • The Johnston Canyon route 9 is $5 one way.
  • Canmore Regional route 5 is now free. 
  • A one day Super Pass costs $25 and gives access to all Roam bus routes for the whole day including Canmore and Lake Louise. 

Check the Roam website for up to date fare information. 

Where to purchase Roam Bus tickets?

Tickets can be purchased online via the Roam website. You can purchase in advance or on the day. 

Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Banff Visitor Centre where you will be given a physical ticket. You can pay by card or cash. This is a good option if you do not have the exact change as there is no change given If you are paying while boarding the bus. 

There are many more locations where tickets can be purchased, check the Roam Website for full details.

Do you need to make a reservation?

Certain routes can be reserved online ahead of time such as the 8X, 8S and 9. Although reservations aren’t mandatory they are highly recommended. Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon can get incredibly busy in the summer and you could be waiting a while for a bus. 

If you have made a reservation you will board the bus prior to any stand-by lines which can save lots of time. There is no extra fee to reserve, you just pay the fare in advance. 

How to get to Lake Louise from Banff without a car

There are two public bus routes that you can take from Banff to Lake Louise, the 8X and the 8S. The 8X is the express route and most direct while the 8S is the scenic route and will drive the Bow Valley Parkway.

Although the website says the 8S route operates all week long, it is only available on weekends – I only discovered this when I overheard a conversation while purchasing bus tickets at the Banff Visitor Centre. 

If you are staying in the town of Lake Louise itself and need to get to the Lakeshore you can take either the 8X or 8S as they both stop at Samson Mall. 

Booking Tip: Reserve Your Seat Ahead Of Time!

Roam Bus Routes can be reserved ahead of your trip. This is recommended for Lake Louise during the summer months especially. I reserved the Roam Bus for 7am to Lake Louise and the bus was already half full.

On the return journey at 5:45pm, the line for the 8X was very long, I reserved seats in advance so didn’t have to wait for the next bus which was an hour later.

View of Fairview Mountain from the shore of Lake Louise
Mornings at Lake Louise are just beautiful!
An early morning at Lake Louise with the Victoria Glacier in the background.
The Lake Louise shoreline is a great photo spot.

How to get to Moraine Lake without a car

Getting to Moraine Lake without a car can be a bit trickier. From May to August there is no direct bus route from Banff to Moraine Lake, which means you’ll need to use the Lake Connector Shuttle. Tickets for the Lake Connector are included in the Park & Ride ticket price. If you buy a Roam Super Pass, it is also included in the ticket price. 

The Roam Bus route 10 goes from Banff directly to Moraine Lake but it only runs in the Fall from mid-September to Mid-October. The good thing about this route however is that it starts relatively early in the morning. So if you are planning on visiting around September, you can get ahead of the crowds to access any hiking trails or even watch the sunset. Check the website for up to date information on this route. 

Parks Canada Shuttle: Lake Connector

The Lake Connector shuttle runs every 15 minutes between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. You must have a ticket to access this shuttle, it isn’t available to everyone. 

In order to get a ticket for the Lake Connector, you will need to purchase a ticket through the Parks Canada website for the Park & Ride (see below for more info). As of 2022, the Parks Canada Lake Connector shuttle is included with a Roam Super Pass which gets you all day access to the entire Roam network of bus routes. 

Tip: Don’t forget to show either your park & ride reservation or your Roam Superpass ticket to the Parks Canada tent/booth to obtain your ticket for the Lake Connector. It’s best to to do this as soon as you arrive at either Moraine Lake or Lake Louise to make boarding the bus as easy and quick as possible. 

Lake Louise Park & Ride

The park and ride isn’t necessarily public transport as you do need to park your car at the Ski Louise parking lot. However with parking becoming a problem in Lake Louise, the shuttle services are becoming more popular. 

You can book the Park & Ride through the Parks Canada website. You can choose to book a shuttle to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake and then access the Lake Connector for free. Booking in advance is recommended. 

Moraine Lake early in the morning with snow
A beautiful morning spent at Moraine Lake in June.

How to get to the Banff Gondola without a car

The Banff Gondola is one of the top attractions in Banff National Park and is situated just outside the main town. The great thing about visiting the Banff Gondola is that there is a free shuttle service operated by Pursuit that runs from 9am to 7pm daily. Check out the website for current schedule and times. 

If you are heading to the Gondola before 9:30am or after 7pm you can hop on the Roam number 1 route which costs $2 one way. If you have a valid Banff Gondola ticket, you can show this to the Roam bus driver for a free return journey! So it’s entirely possible to get to and from the Gondola completely free! 

The Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk at Banff Gondola
The Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk
Photo of Sanson's Peak at the Banff Gondola
Sanson’s Peak at the Banff Gondola

Hop On Hop Off Bus

Another option for getting around Banff without a car is the Hop on Hop off bus. Hopon Banff offers a more personalized way to see Banff with a guided Hop on Hop off experience. The bus schedule stops at all the top attractions in Banff including Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Johnston Canyon. The Hopon bus picks up from the Moose Hotel and Banff Train Station. 

Best Day Trips & Tours

There are some places in Banff National Park where it’s just not possible to get to on public transit. This is where booking tours in advance comes in handy. 

If you are wanting to visit places such as Peyto Lake or the Columbia Icefields and don’t have access to a car, you’re in luck because there are some great tours available. Booking these tours in advance is a must. 

Where to stay in Banff without a car

  • Banff Park Lodge – I stayed at the Banff Park Lodge on my most recent trip to Banff and it was perfect for walking around town. It is located within minutes of Banff Avenue and the Banff Gondola free shuttle stops at this hotel.
  • Mount Royal Hotel – The Mount Royal Hotel is located within the very heart of downtown Banff and is great for accessing local bars and restaurants. The Roam routes 1 & 2 also stop fairly close to this hotel.
  • Brewsters Mountain Lodge -Brewsters Mountain Lodge is another hotel located in Downtown Banff. It is situated right next to some of Banff’s best restaurants including Tooloulou’s and Eddie Burger Bar. 
  • Banff Ptarmigan Inn – This hotel is great for accessing the the Roam bus routes. The Banff Ptarmigan Inn is located right across from the Banff High School Transit Hub where you can access busses to Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Lake Minnewanka. 
  • Moose Hotel & Suites – If you are taking the Hop on Hop off option of exploring Banff National Park, the Moose Hotel & Suites is a great option as this is the only hotel it picks up from. 

Explore More of Banff National Park

Want to explore more of Banff National Park? Check out my other detailed outdoor guides!

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