From Banff to Jasper: 4 Best Ways to Get There
Authors Michael and Lana Law have made the journey from Banff to Jasper many times, in summer and winter.
The trip from Banff to Jasper is just 288 kilometers along the Icefields Parkway and is one of the most scenic drives in Canada. Sharp peaks, hanging glaciers, turquoise lakes, waterfalls, and the massive Athabasca Glacier line the road, and have a tendency to turn what is normally about a 3.5-hour non-stop drive into an all-day road trip.
A variety of transport options are available and include self-drive, tours, shuttles, and private guided transfers. The drive itself is relatively easy along well-marked and maintained highways; however, this is mountain driving, so be prepared for all types of weather, even in the height of summer. Also, be on the alert for "bear jams." These occur when animals make an appearance beside the highway, and drivers stop to take a look.
If you want to spend time stopping off to do hikes or random sightseeing, it's best to drive this route yourself. If you'd rather sit back and let someone else do the driving, and stop at a few of the key highlights, tours are a great option. Below are the best ways to get from Banff to Jasper.
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1. From Banff to Jasper by Car
Although the mileage from Banff to Jasper is relatively low, count on a full day of travel. The sheer number of incredible sights along this stretch of highway make driving straight through a near impossibility. The lure of stunning alpine lakes washing up against the shores of massive mountains will have you pulling over to gaze out in wonder in no time flat.
Leaving Banff and heading west, you'll pass the turnoff for world-famous Lake Louise, where you'll find, not only the lake itself, but great hiking trails. At this point, you made decide to explore the area, camp, or stay the night at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Assuming you keep going, continue heading straight west on the Trans Canada Highway until you reach the turn north on Highway 93, also known as the Icefields Parkway. Grab a map at the park entrance and take note of the mile markers, all the key sights are referenced to these numbers.
You'll start a slow and steady ascent from the gates. Your first stop will likely be at the stunning Bow Lake. A large turnout and parking area provide incredible views over the lake to the Crowfoot Glacier. Continue on a steeper ascent, and be sure to pull off and check out Peyto Lake, shining like an aquamarine jewel.
Continue onwards and upwards past signs for hikes and campgrounds until you eventually reach the Athabasca Glacier Visitor Center. Grab a bite or a coffee and then walk to the toe of the glacier. Or, if you prefer, a three-hour tour out onto the top of the glacier on a Guided Glacier Hike.
After the glacier, the road twists and turns for a while and straightens out as it descends towards the town of Jasper, passing several stunning waterfalls along the way, including the lovely Tangle Falls. Finding Jasper is easy, the highway continues right into downtown Jasper, where you'll find hotels and restaurants.
One note about winter travel on this route: The road passes through high alpine areas, where snow is frequent and conditions change rapidly. Be prepared for all eventualities if you venture out between November and March. The road is lightly traveled; there's no cellular coverage; and if you get into trouble, things can get serious quickly.
2. From Banff to Jasper by Tour
One of the best reasons to take a Banff to Jasper One-Way Tour is the knowledge and insight that your guide will provide. All you need to do is show up at the appointed time and be prepared to be transported to all the best sights that this route has to offer.
Another major reason to take a tour is that parking is a problem. The lots are small and fill up fast, and once they are full, no further admissions are allowed. In the summer, it's more than likely that you will not be able to get into Lake Louise if you arrive after 9am. The Moraine Lake road is permanently closed to private vehicles. Taking a tour gets you past the congestion and guarantees entry.
Tour transport is in a modern coach with large windows that allow you to see high up into the mountains. The fully guided tour stops at six of the most spectacular spots in the Banff and Jasper National Parks. These include: Lake Louise, Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, Columbia Icefields, the Weeping Wall, and Athabasca Falls.
Along the way, you'll have an excellent chance of spotting wildlife. Since you don't need to pay attention to the driving, you'll have a good chance of spotting a grizzly bear eating by the roadside, mountain goats high along the ridges, or herds of elk in open fields.
One of the highlights of the tour is the four-hour stop at the Colombia Ice Fields. Here, your Glacier Adventure tour allows you to walk out on the surface of the Athabasca glacier and explore this icy wonderland. Also part of your tour is a walk on the Glacier Skywalk, where you'll be treated to incredible views of the Sunwapta Valley.
You'll likely work up an appetite from your adventure; fortunately, a picnic lunch is provided with this tour, and one of the highlights is dining out in the open with mountain vistas as your backdrop.
This option is only available in the summer. Generally, the tours run from the first week of May until mid-October.
3. From Banff to Jasper by Shuttle
If you are only interested in getting from Banff to Jasper and not looking to sightsee along the way, a shuttle is the quickest and cheapest option. Shuttles run between Banff and Lake Louise on a regular basis and provide an easy and economical way to transit the two locations.
Shuttles pick you up at your hotel in Banff and drop you at your chosen hotel in Jasper. A range of operators offers this service, including SunDog Transportation Connector. The
Note that these are shuttles only, not tours — they do not stop at all the scenic stops like the tours mentioned above. One large suitcase, a carry-on, and a personal item are included in the fare, additional checked bags are charged a supplemental fee of $15. Sports equipment, including skis, snowboards, and bikes are charged an additional $30.
The shuttles run year-round.
4. From Banff to Jasper by Private Luxury Shuttle with a Guide
If your budget allows it, the most luxurious way to get from Banff to Jasper is to hire a private shuttle from Discover Banff Tours. You'll be transported in a top-end vehicle, usually a large SUV, and your routing and stops are yours to decide. A driver and guide are provided, along with hotel pickup and drop-off, water, and snacks.
Not only will you see all the best sights at your own pace, you will also gain the insight and knowledge of your personable local guide. Your luxury shuttle will ensure you gain access to all the sights and even take you to a few locals'-only secret scenic spots.
You'll arrive rested and relaxed at your final destination. Private shuttles run year-round.