Bicycle

Cycling is a popular and ecofriendly way of getting around the parks, but the distances between sights are long, so bikes are mainly useful for commuting around the townsites.

  • Bikes are readily available for rent in Banff, Jasper, Glacier and Waterton. Expect to pay C$12 to C$15 (US$9 to US$11) per hour or C$35 to C$45 (US$26 to US$34) per day.
  • Bikes are banned on all trails (but not roads) in Glacier.
  • Relatively few trailheads have bike racks.

Bus

Getting around by bus in the parks is just about possible, but takes some planning.

Banff to Jasper

Officially, there’s no public bus service between Banff and Jasper, but you can easily hop on board one of the scheduled services offered by Greyhound, Brewster or Sundog Tours, as long as there’s space.

Banff National Park

Banff’s public buses are known as Roam. All routes travel via Banff Ave, and serve destinations including the Banff Gondola, Tunnel Mountain Campgrounds, the Banff Centre and Sulphur Mountain, as well as running between Canmore and Banff.

A summer shuttle bus run by White Mountain Adventures runs from Banff townsite to Sunshine Meadows.

To get to other trailheads, you’ll have to drive or organize your own transport with one of the private hike-and-bike shuttles.

Jasper National Park

Jasper’s bus system is fairly limited, but there are a couple of useful services to some of the most popular sights:

Jasper Tramway Shuttle Runs from the train station and includes a tramway ticket.

Maligne Lake Shuttle Service Travels from Jasper townsite to Maligne Lake (adult/child C$30/15) and Maligne Canyon (C$20/10, four daily).

Glacier National Park

Glacier is the easiest park to get around by bus thanks to the free biodiesel shuttle buses along the Going-to-the-Sun Rd, which run frequently throughout the summer. All are wheelchair-accessible, and most can carry bikes. And, of course, Glacier's signature red 'Jammer' buses (www.glaciernationalparklodges.com) ferry passengers to points throughout the heart of the park on Going-to-the-Sun Rd.

The East Side Shuttle Bus (www.glacierparkinc.com/shuttle_information.php) travels between the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier and the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton (Canada), calling at Two Medicine, St Mary, Many Glacier and Chief Mountain. Journeys cost US$15 per trip segment and run from the beginning of June to late September.

Car & Motorcycle

Automobile Associations

The Alberta Motor Association is the province’s main motoring organization and is affiliated with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). It can help with queries on driving in Alberta, as well as arrange breakdown cover and insurance for members; members also sometimes qualify for special rates on hotels and other services.

The American Automobile Association is the US equivalent, and offers a similar range of services. There are other branches in Missoula, Great Falls and Bozeman.

Driver’s License

  • Foreign driver’s licenses can be used in Alberta for up to three months. International driver’s licenses can be used for up to 12 months.
  • It’s required that you carry your license and vehicle registration at all times.

Fuel & Spare Parts

  • Gas is readily available in the main townsites, but make sure you fill your tank before setting out on a driving tour.
  • There are gas stations at Castle Mountain and Saskatchewan Crossing in Banff, but prices are much more expensive here.
  • There are no gas stations within Glacier National Park itself.
  • Most car-rental companies provide breakdown cover as part of the rental package.
  • If you’re driving your own vehicle, it is probably worth joining one of the major breakdown agencies to avoid getting stranded.

Road Conditions

Most of the main roads are well-maintained, although minor roads to trailheads and mountains are often steep, narrow and winding, making them nasty driving for RVs.

  • Some roads (such as the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail Rd from Canmore into Kananaskis) are unsealed, so take extra care when driving on them.
  • Ice and snow are frequent hazards in winter, so be prepared if you’re driving during the colder months.
  • Accidents involving trains and automobiles are one of the major causes of animal fatalities in the mountain parks. Wildlife can appear suddenly, and bolt across the road when scared, so slow down and be alert.
  • Some road passes (such as the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis and Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Rd in Glacier) are closed in winter due to snow.
  • For up-to-date Glacier road conditions and closure information check out http://home.nps.gov/applications/glac/roadstatus/roadstatus.cfm.

Driving in Winter

Driving around in winter in any of the parks can be dangerous, but especially so in the Canadian parks, which are blanketed by snow and ice for well over six months of the year. Whiteouts are not uncommon and several roads (including the Icefields Pkwy) are closed during midwinter or periods of heavy snow – check ahead with the parks offices and keep abreast of local news and traffic bulletins. The iconic Going-to-the-Sun Rd in Glacier is plowed in winter only between the West Glacier entrance at Apgar and Lake McDonald Lodge.

In Banff and Jasper, it’s legally required that you carry snow tires or chains on all roads in winter except the main Trans-Canada Hwy 1 (obviously it’s also worth knowing how to fit them). Car-rental agencies should provide these if you’re renting from them in winter, although you might be charged extra.

It’s also worth carrying a small emergency supply kit, including antifreeze, blankets, water, flashlight, snow shovel, matches and emergency food supplies. A cell phone will also come in handy in case you need to phone for an emergency tow. Top up antifreeze, transmission, brake and windshield-washer fluids.

Be especially careful of invisible patches of ice on the road, especially once the temperature drops at night. Slow down, take extra care and use your gears rather than your brakes to slow down (look for the ‘L’ or ‘Low’ gear if you’re driving an automatic). Slamming on your brakes will only increase your chances of skidding.

Road Rules

In Canada and the US, driving is on the right. You are legally required to wear a seatbelt at all times, and headlights must be turned on when visibility is restricted to 150m (500ft) or less. Motorcyclists are required to wear helmets and drive with headlights on.

One rule that often confuses overseas drivers is that it’s legal to turn right on a stoplight (as long as there is no traffic coming from the left). At four-way stop junctions, drivers should pause and allow the first vehicle that stopped to pull away first.

Snapshot

Most major roads are sealed, some minor roads are gravel/dirt. Some roads closed during heavy snowfall. Snow chains required in some areas in winter.