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Air

Airports & Airlines

Banff & Jasper National Parks

  • Calgary (www.calgaryairport.com) and Edmonton (www.flyeia.com) are the closest international airports to Banff and Jasper respectively.
  • It’s feasible to fly into Vancouver (www.yvr.ca), but you’ll have a long drive – it’s 845km (523 miles) to Banff and 795km (492 miles) to Jasper.
  • Air Canada and Westjet cover the majority of Canadian routes, and connect through Montreal and Toronto to many European destinations.
  • US-based airlines, including United and Delta, connect through major American cities.
  • British Airways mainly serves London Heathrow.

Glacier National Park

Glacier’s nearest airport is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA; www.iflyglacier.com), halfway between Whitefish and Kalispell. It’s currently served by Delta, Alaska Airlines and United. Year-round destinations include Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Denver and Seattle, plus seasonal flights to Chicago and Atlanta.

The only other options are both a long drive from Glacier:

Waterton Lakes National Park

The closest airport to Waterton Lakes, 129km (80 miles) to the northeast, is Lethbridge County. It’s served by Air Canada and Integra Air, but the limited flight schedule usually means it’s more convenient (and cheaper) to fly into Calgary, 266km (165 miles) north of Waterton.

Bus

Banff & Jasper National Parks

Airport Shuttles

There are a number of shuttle services from Calgary to Jasper and Banff.

Public Buses

Greyhound (www.greyhound.ca) runs five daily buses that run north-south along Hwy 1, stopping at Calgary, Canmore (one-way C$23.60, 1¼ hours) and Banff (C$27.30, 1¾ hours). Note that this bus does not currently stop at Calgary airport, so you’ll either have to catch a taxi into the city (C$30 to C$45) or take the half-hourly shuttle bus provided by Airporter Shuttle Express, then take the Greyhound from there.

There are also four daily Greyhounds between Jasper and Edmonton International Airport (one-way/return C$64.70/129.40), and four daily from Vancouver to Golden, Field, Lake Louise and Banff.

Brewster and Sundog Tours run daily buses between Banff and Jasper, and Roam (www.roamtransit.com) buses run hourly between Canmore and Banff (C$6, 25 minutes).

Sample fares and fastest journey times from Vancouver:

Banff

One way (C$)

110

Time (hours)

13½

Golden

One way (C$)

132

Time (hours)

11

Lake Louise

One way (C$)

138

Time (hours)

12¾

  • Cheaper advance fares are available by booking online, but these are nonrefundable and you won’t be able to change your dates without incurring a fee.
  • Greyhound depots for both Banff and Jasper are inside the townsite train stations.

Glacier & Waterton Lakes National Parks

Airport Shuttles

Public transport from Glacier airport is limited. The only shuttle bus is provided by Flathead-Glacier Transportation Co; they also provide regular taxi service from the airport.

If you’re flying into Calgary, you can charter a passenger minivan (seating eight) to Glacier and Waterton with Airport Shuttle Express for C$630.

Public Buses

Greyhound (www.greyhound.ca) stops in Pincher Creek, 53km (33 miles) from the Waterton townsite; contact Pincher Creek Taxi for transport between Pincher Creek and Waterton (C$65 for up to four people).

Car & Motorcycle

Major Routes

Banff & Jasper National Parks

There are various road routes into the parks.

  • Trans-Canada Hwy (Hwy 1) runs from Calgary to Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise, before continuing into Yoho National Park.
  • Hwy 93 (aka the Icefields Pkwy) travels from Jasper to Lake Louise and Castle Junction, then south into Kootenay National Park and Radium Hot Springs.
  • Hwy 11 heads west from Red Deer and enters Banff on the Icefields Pkwy, just south of the border with Jasper.
  • To reach Jasper from Edmonton, take Hwy 16 west.

Glacier & Waterton Lakes National Parks

The west side of Glacier is most easily reached from Whitefish, Kalispell and Flathead Lake; the east side is closer to Great Falls and Helena. West Glacier and East Glacier are connected by US 2, below the southern boundary of the park.

If you’re traveling north into Waterton Lakes, you’ll have to cross the border on the eastern side of Glacier (the crossing north of Polebridge in the northwest has been closed for decades), passing through customs en route. You’ll need two forms of ID (driver’s license and passport are standard).

Car Rentals

The vast majority of people visiting the parks rent a car. It’s the most convenient way to travel, allowing you to explore at your own pace and visit even the most remote sights, though you have to factor in fuel costs, traffic and breakdown.

All the major car-rental agencies have branches at the main airports and townsites. Airport branches generally stay open from around 6am to midnight; town branches keep regular business hours.

  • Booking online will get the best rates, but check carefully for hidden extras such as high excess, mileage caps, limits on interstate travel and GST. Most deals these days include unlimited mileage.
  • One-way rentals will incur a ‘drop fee,' the price of which varies depending on the vehicle and how far you’re taking it.
  • Airport rentals charge a different tax rate, so it’s worth checking equivalent rates with town branches (such as in Banff and Canmore); it can work out cheaper for long rentals, even with the one-way drop fee.
  • Think about whether you need Collision Damage Waiver (CDW); you may be covered by your own auto or travel insurance, or by your credit card company if you use the card to pay for the rental.
  • If considering doing any off-roading or merely getting off the major arteries, a 4WD or at least a vehicle with high clearance is recommended.

Recreational Vehicles & Campervan Rentals

Cruising the parks in a recreational vehicle (RV) has many advantages – you won’t incur hotel bills, you can cook your own meals, and you can experience a taste of the outdoors without having to rough it too much.

There are drawbacks, though: they’re big, unwieldy, heavy on fuel, and slow, and can be difficult to maneuver if you’re not used to driving a large vehicle.

  • Make sure you get a full rundown on the vehicle before you leave the rental agency.
  • Check that the campground you’re staying at has spaces suitable for RVs.
  • Rates spike in peak season. Deals are often available at other times.
  • Popular van sizes are often booked out in summer, so reserve well ahead.
  • Mileage is nearly always extra to the quoted rental rates.

Hitchhiking

Hitching is never entirely safe in any country, and we don’t recommend it. Travelers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. That said, thumbing a lift is an option in the mountain parks, although you might find you’re waiting on the highway for quite a while before anyone stops.

As always, take the usual precautions: hitch in groups, avoid hitching in remote areas and after dark, and make sure you keep an eye on your pack.

On the trail you can often hook up with hikers who have their own transport by hanging around at the trailhead. Many people will give you a lift if you smile sweetly and they’ve got space in the car.

Train

Banff National Park

The only passenger trains that stop in Banff run solely as tour operations.

Jasper National Park

Jasper is served by mainline intercity trains provided by Via Rail, which stop in Jasper on their route between Vancouver and Edmonton at least three times per week. You can connect onto this route from most other US and Canadian cities. Sample fares from Jasper:

Edmonton

One way (C$)

113

Time (hours)

Saskatoon

One way (C$)

151

Time (hours)

14½

Vancouver

One way (C$)

239

Time (hours)

20

Winnipeg

One way (C$)

231

Time (hours)

26¼

Glacier & Waterton Lakes National Parks

Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) operates the cross-country Empire Builder line from Seattle all the way to Chicago, serving stations in East Glacier, West Glacier and Whitefish.

Eastbound trains run in the early morning; westbound trains travel through in the early evening. There are ticket offices at East Glacier and Whitefish, but you’ll have to pre-book or buy on board from West Glacier. Sample one-way fares include Whitefish to West Glacier (US$7 to US$16, 30 minutes), Whitefish to East Glacier (US$15 to US$33, two hours, eight minutes) and West Glacier to East Glacier (US$15, one hour 38 minutes).

Border Crossings

Entering the US & Canada via the Land Border

Most US-based visitors heading for Canada cross via the land border, either by train, bus or, more likely, by car. With thousands of people crossing the border on a daily basis it’s one of the busiest land borders in the world and, unsurprisingly, the wait times can be horrendously long. You can get the heads-up on the likely delays at specific checkpoints via the Canada Border Services Agency website (www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca)

At the checkpoint, you’ll need to present your passport, plus driver’s license, insurance and registration if you’re arriving by car. Note that if you’re bringing a rental car across the border, you might have to have this cleared with the rental company beforehand, and you might have to present your rental agreement to border officials for inspection. If you’re on public transportation, you may have to disembark and carry your own luggage across the border.

Be prepared to answer standard questions from border guards about the purpose of your visit, length of stay and any items you’re intending to bring across the border. Unless you fancy prolonging the experience, answer sensibly and politely; this is definitely not a time for wisecracking. Evasiveness only tends to lead to more detailed queries and prolonged questioning.