Sitting right on the coastline, immersed in the natural beauty of British Columbia, Vancouver is densely populated by a relaxed and nature-loving population. Meanwhile, Banff in the neighboring province of Alberta is a celebrated resort town within Banff National Park, famous for its mountainous terrain, turquoise waters, and some of the country's best skiing and other outdoor adventures. It also happens to be Canada's highest town with an altitude of 4,537 feet. The distance between these two Canadian destinations covers about 900 kilometers (560 miles) and crosses three mountain ranges: the Coast, Columbia, and Rocky Mountains. Travelers heading to Banff from Vancouver have the choice of flying, braving the Canadian highways or even taking a luxurious train ride that crosses some of Canada's most beautiful landscapes.
|Train||2 days, 3 nights||from $1,278||A luxury vacation|
|Bus||12 hours, 30 minutes||from $85||Budget travel|
|Flight + Car||3 hours||from $41||Quickest route|
|Car||9 hours, 30 minutes||526 miles (847 kilometers)||An adventurous road trip|
What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Vancouver to Banff?
Most of the time, the cheapest way to get from Banff to Vancouver is to take a bus with Rider Express. Bus tickets start at $85 and the service is pretty basic with few scenic stops—although the buses do have onboard bathrooms and Wi-Fi. The trip takes between 12 and 16 hours and makes 15 to 20 stops to pick up or drop off passengers along the way. The bus will sometimes stop in attractive cities like Golden and Kamloops, but the stops are short (less than half an hour), so there will not be time to sightsee. In addition to the price, another benefit of taking the bus is that it goes directly to Banff so there's no need to transfer.
What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Vancouver to Banff?
To save time, the fastest way to get from Vancouver to Banff is to fly. Banff doesn't have an airport, so the closest airport to Banff is the Calgary International Airport (YYC). There are dozens of daily nonstop flights between Vancouver and Calgary available via Air Canada and WestJet, two of Canada's major airlines. By car, Calgary is about an hour and a half away from Banff, but it's easy to get between the two with a rental shuttle service that will pick you up at the airport and bring you straight to Banff. When you add the time spent on the road to the one hour, 30 minutes spent in the air, it's possible to get from Vancouver to Banff in as little as 3 hours. However, you should also factor in the potential for traffic or flight delays in your schedule.
Occasionally, flights to Calgary—Banff's closest airport—can be found for under $50 but this is usually the exception and one-way tickets are more likely to cost somewhere in the $100 to $200 range. Plus, this doesn't include the cost of transferring to Banff from the airport via shuttle or rental car.
The fastest, most direct passage to Banff is via the Trans-Canada Highway 1, which should take just under 10 hours and passes through Vancouver, Hope, Kamloops, Revelstoke, Golden, and Banff. These towns make excellent places to sleep overnight, but there are also more charming options if you look around. For example, Sicamous and Salmon Arm are quiet lake towns with striking views worth going a little out of your way for.
Though major, well-maintained highways link Vancouver and Banff, the drive between these two places is best done during the summer months. Winter conditions, like snow and ice, make the roads in the Canadian Rockies dangerous and unpredictable. Snowstorms, white outs, black ice, and avalanches are realities in the interior of British Columbia and are not to be taken lightly. On certain roads, tire chains are mandatory between October and March, and drivers who don't obey winter tire and chain signs risk being fined.
How Long Is the Train Ride?
On this particular Canadian route, traveling by train is more about glamor and leisure than convenience and saving money. If you've got a large budget, a ticket on a luxury train is one of the best ways to experience the scenery of the mountains from the comfort and safety of your plush cabin. The Rocky Mountaineer is the only train line that runs directly to Banff—and it only does so in the summer. You can buy a package that can last anywhere between two and 12 days—the longer ones include your return to Vancouver—but if Banff is your end-goal, the fastest and cheapest option is the two-day rail package, which starts at $1,540 per person.
Your ticket includes fine dining, deluxe cabins, and a seat in the two-level glass-domed coach with full-length windows, through which you can take in views the glacier-fed lakes, looming mountains, and raging rivers of Alberta and British Columbia.
You may also consider VIA Rail train, which is more affordable but does not actually go to Banff. You can take this train from Vancouver to as far as Jasper, which is three to four hours north of Banff by car. The trip by train from Vancouver to Jasper takes about 19 hours and is not quite as luxurious as the Rocky Mountaineer, but you'll still be able to enjoy the same beautiful scenery along the way.
In the wintertime, Banff is at its most beautiful, which makes the months of December to February. Banff is primarily a snow sports destination, but it is also extremely popular in the summer when the snow melts and the hiking trails open up. Summer is usually the most crowded month, however, and hotel rates spike with warmer weather. In winter, you can enjoy the ski season, views of snowcapped mountains, and you'll likely find better hotel rates.
However, because Banff is high up in the mountains, the weather should also be a major factor when deciding how you will travel between Vancouver and Banff. Between October and April, the roads in the Canadian Rockies can be treacherous and unpredictable. It's a scenic ride by car, bus, or train, but you can fly if you are short on time or prefer not to drive through the mountainous terrain during snowy conditions.
What Time Is it in Banff?
When you travel west to east, you lose an hour as you cross over from Pacific Daylight Time (GMT -7) to Mountain Standard Time (GMT -6). If you're driving, the time will officially change when you cross the border of British Columbia and Alberta. Although some parts of Canada don't acknowledge Daylight Savings Time, both Vancouver and Banff do.
Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?
Since Banff doesn't have its own airport, you'll have to fly to Calgary and then take a shuttle bus the rest of the way if you do not rent a car. The ride takes between one hour, 30 minutes, and two hours. You'll be able to choose between either the Banff Airporter or Brewster Express and tickets can be purchased online ahead of your trip. The service on each bus is about the same, although the Banff Airporter is slightly more expensive with a round-trip adult ticket costing $138 CAD. The Brewster Express only charges $88. Additionally, children under 6 years old ride free on Brewster Express, while the Banff Airporter only offers free rides to children under 5 years old.
What Is There to Do in Banff?
In photos, Banff's natural beauty shines with its turquoise lakes and snowcapped Rocky Mountain vistas. For a winter ski trip, you'll want to hit the slopes at one of the "big three" ski resorts: Norquay, Banff Sunshine, and Lake Louise. It's easy to purchase one tri-area pass that covers all three resorts and there is a shuttle service to help you get around.
Besides skiing, there are many ways to enjoy the scenery in Banff and plenty to see and do in town. You can start by taking the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain, where you'll find restaurants, shops, and an observation deck. Up at the top, there are also a few hiking trails which might be worth taking advantage of if the weather is amiable. Closer to town, the Tunnel Mountain Trail is a short hike which leads to some pleasant views of the town and the Bow River. And if all that hiking or skiing wears you out, you can soak your muscle aches away at the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Should bad weather keep you from enjoying the outdoors, you can check out indoor attractions like the Canada House Gallery or stop in at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for a drink or meal.