Vancouver and Banff are two of the most popular destinations in Canada and often are worked into the same west coast travel itinerary.
Sitting on the country's Pacific Coast, immersed in natural beauty, Vancouver is densely populated by a relaxed, nature loving, diverse population. Banff, in the neighbouring province of Alberta, is a small town located within Banff National Park. This celebrated resort town is a swath of mountainous terrain dotted by turquoise waters and boasts some of the country's best skiing and other outdoor adventures.
Travel between these two celebrated Canadian cities covers about 900 km (560 miles) and three mountain ranges: the Coast, Columbia and Rocky Mountains. The 10 to 12 hour drive, either by car or bus, is a beautiful one as is the train ride, but flying is another option if you want to save time or if you do not like the idea of driving mountainous terrain, especially in snowy conditions.
The least expensive way to get between Vancouver and Banff is by bus or by car. Even more economic is car share—a popular option amongst the large 20-something crowd that roams this part of Canada where casual jobs and fun are plentiful.
But weather is a major factor to consider when deciding how you will travel between Vancouver and Banff. Driving through the Rockies Between October and April can be treacherous and unpredictable.
No matter which way you choose, your journey between Vancouver and Banff is bound to be a beautiful one. Here are five ways to get between Vancouver and Banff on your next visit.
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Getting Between Vancouver and Banff by Train
Prices for this trip range from about $150 on VIA to $1,500 on Rocky Mountaineer. Prices are as of December 2017.
Topping many Canada travel bucket lists, the Rocky Mountaineer has been taking passengers through some of the country's most beautiful landscape for decades, while continually raising the standards of rail travel. Packages include fine dining, deluxe accommodation and access to a two-level glass domed coach with full-length windows through which you can take in the glacier-fed lakes, looming mountains and raging rivers of Alberta and British Columbia.
The Rocky Mountaineer's First Passage to the West is a two- or four-day journey between Banff and Vancouver, stopping at Kamloops along the way. Note, that accommodation is not on the train but at a hotel.
The VIA Rail train, which is more affordable, does not actually leave from Banff, but from Jasper, which is three to four hours north. This Jasper to Vancouver rail route is 20 hours.
Taking the train is an excellent way to enjoy wintry conditions and mountain scenery between November and March without the hardship or risks of driving yourself.
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Getting Between Vancouver and Banff by Bus
Bus is probably the cheapest option for travel between Vancouver and Banff and is usually pretty bare bones, with few scenic stops. Of course, these days most buses are equipped with washrooms and WiFi.
Greyhound Canada is the country's national bus service and travels regularly between these two popular destinations.
The trip takes between 13 and 16 hours and makes 15 to 20 stops to pick up or drop off passengers along the way. Various departure times include early morning or evening.
The cost one way should be between Cdn $80 and $130.
Prices are as of December 2017.
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Getting Between Vancouver and Banff by Air
The closest airport to Banff, Alberta, is in Calgary (YYC), about an hour and a half away (take a shuttle for about $80 with Brewster Express). Dozens of daily non-stop flights between Vancouver (YVR) and Calgary are generally available for between $200 and $400 (plus taxes) one way. Air Canada and WestJet are Canada's two major airlines and with whom you will most likely make this one and a half hour flight.
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Though major, well-maintained highways link Vancouver and Banff, the drive between these two places is best done in summer months. The Canadian Rockies in winter are dangerous because of the snowy, icy conditions, which can be unpredictable to boot. Snow storms, white outs, black ice and avalanches are realities in the British Columbia interior and are not to be taken lightly. In fact, on certain roads, tire chains for traction are mandatory. Drivers must obey winter tire and chain signs throughout the province from October 1 to March 31 or risk fines.
If you do decide to make the drive in agreeable weather, you have several route options. The fastest, most direct passage is by the Trans-Canada Hwy #1, which should take just under 10 hours and passes through Vancouver, Hope, Kamloops, Revelstoke, Golden and Banff.
Your choice of places to overnight are many. Looking at the map, Kamloops seems an obvious stop mid-point, but there are more charming, scenic options, such as Sicamous or Salmon Arm, a sleepy but striking retirement town.
Another beautiful route is via the Okanagan Valley; stop in Kelowna and check out some of the local wineries and lakeside attractions.
Good To Know: When you drive west to east you lose an hour when the time changes near Golden, B.C. from Pacific Time (GMT+8) to Mountain Time (GMT+7). When traveling east to west you gain an hour.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Renting an RV
Renting a recreational vehicle, in which you can sleep and eat, is a popular way to tour Canada, as there are many wide open spaces and much scenery to enjoy. Both Vancouver and Calgary, and lots of places in between, have RV rental services.
The benefits of RVing are pretty straightforward: no need to book or pay for hotels (though you are advised to book your spots at campgrounds); the flexibility to stop where you want, when you want; having many of the conveniences of "home;" quality time with your co-travelers; and affordability (though RV'ing can be more expensive than you think, especially in Canada where gasoline is heavily taxed and more expensive than in the U.S.).
Before you rush off and book an RV though, there are plenty of questions to ask yourself before deciding that this is the right mode of transportation for your travels. Though driving an RV does not require a special license, getting used to driving such a big vehicle is an adjustment. You will also have to be comfortable hooking up electricity, water and sewage (and unhooking and dumping your tanks before you leave your campsite).
There is also a lot of things to look out for when renting your RV, such as how many kilometers per day are included in the rental fee or whether linens are provided. These are the kind of expenses that can really run up your overall rental price.