From Banff to Lake Louise: 5 Best Ways to Get There

Written by Michael Law and Lana Law
Updated May 11, 2023
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There are two routes to get from Banff to Lake Louise. The first is the Trans-Canada Highway, a distance of 58 kilometers along a divided road, with a drive time of about 40 minutes. The second route is via the Bow Valley Parkway, a distance of 51 kilometers along a single-lane, twisty roadway. This trip takes substantially longer, as the route has a low speed limit and limited passing opportunities. Sections of the Bow Valley Parkway may be closed throughout the year for events, wildlife migration, or other situations.

A variety of transport options are available and include self-drive, shuttles, tours, Roam Transit, and private shuttles. The shuttles and Roam Transit, with one exception, take the main Trans-Canada Highway; the tours will travel the Bow Valley Parkway.

Both routes are very scenic and pass some of Banff's most iconic sights, including the imposing Castle Mountain. The views from the Trans-Canada Highway tend to be grander, as the area around the road is cleared of trees and allows for wide-open views. However, the Bow Valley Parkway is the better route to spot wildlife.

1. From Banff to Lake Louise by Car

Lake Louise
Lake Louise | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Driving yourself from Banff to Lake Louise is the best option if you want to travel at your own pace. You'll have maximum flexibility to stop where and when you want and for as long as you want. Although the distance from Banff to Lake Louise is relatively short, the route chosen and number of sights and stops along the way can easily turn this drive into a half- or even full-day trip.

The self-drive offers you the maximum flexibility to explore the park's varied and wonderful attractions. You can set your own agenda and choose to move as quickly or as slowly from one sight to another. Driving is really the only option if you are planning on doing any of the best hikes near Lake Louise such as Sentinel Pass or Lake Annette.

The route to Lake Louise is easy to follow, just head out of Banff towards the main highway; on your left will be the turnoff to Vermillion Lakes. This pleasant park area is worth a stroll, as the views of the surrounding mountains with the shallow lakes in the foreground are very nice. Back on the road, take the left, and merge onto the Trans-Canada Highway.

A few kilometers down the road is decision time. Exit left, and you'll be on the Bow Valley Parkway, the slower and more scenic route, or stay straight on the highway, and you'll be in Lake Louise in 35 minutes. Most people take the Trans-Canada Highway.

If, like most people, you are staying in Banff and will be returning, it's important to take into consideration the parking issues at Lake Louise. After 9 or 10am in the summer, the lots are full, and no further cars are admitted. Based on that, it's recommended that you go to Lake Louise first along the Trans Canada Highway, secure a parking spot, see all the sights, then return back to Banff at your leisure along the Bow Valley Parkway.

Along the way, be sure to stop in at Johnston Canyon and take the hike to the waterfalls and Ink Pots, one of the most family-friendly hikes in the park. A small campground is also located here.

Note that if you are planning on visiting Moraine Lake, the access road has been permanently closed to private vehicles. You will need to park and take one of the park shuttles. These shuttles require advance reservations, and a fee is charged.

2. From Banff to Lake Louise by Roam Transit

Rundle Mountain from a lookout between Banff and Lake Louise
Rundle Mountain from a lookout between Banff and Lake Louise | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The most economical way to get from Banff to Lake Louise is by route 8X on Roam Transit. The trip takes 48 minutes on an eco-friendly hybrid bus. Catch the bus at the Banff High School Transit Hub. Drop-off is at Lake Louise Village or within walking distance of spectacular Lake Louise (the final stop). The bus runs seven days a week and has six daily departures starting at 7:30am. Catch the bus from the same stop in Lake Louise back to Banff (six daily departures).

If you'd rather take the slower route that travels along the Bow Valley Parkway, take the Lake Louise Scenic Route 8S. Despite the name, this route actually has fewer views than 8X, as it is more forested, but you'll have a much better chance of spotting wildlife along the way. Also, if you want to visit Johnston Canyon and do the spectacular hike to the waterfalls and Ink Pots, or are camping at Protection Mountain, this route is your only option.

Using Roam Transit ensures you actually get to see Lake Louise with lots of time to spare to experience all the great things to do. Some popular options include hiking the trails in the Lake Louise area, including the trail along the lakeshore or up to the famous Lake Agnes Tea House. Others prefer to go horseback riding, biking, canoeing, or rock climbing.

The parking lots for cars frequently fill up by 9 or 10am, and those people are then turned away. If you buy a Super Pass, you'll be able to transfer to the Parks Canada shuttle system for free and see Moraine Lake. With the Moraine Lake road permanently closed to private vehicles, this is the only way to access the lake.

To travel on Roam Transit, download their app on your smartphone or pay on board the bus using the ticketing machine. Buses have free Wi-Fi.

3. From Banff to Lake Louise by Tour

Post Hotel and Spa on the Bow River in Lake Louise
Post Hotel and Spa on the Bow River in Lake Louise | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

One of the easiest and most convenient ways to get from Banff to Lake Louise is to take the Banff National Park Tour with Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. This 4.5-hour trip includes hotel pickup and drop-off, return transport, light snacks, water, and a guide.

You'll ride along in comfort while your guide explains the history of the park and points out relevant sights along the way. At Lake Louise, you'll bypass all the parking and congestion chaos and stroll right to the water's edge. You'll have 30 minutes to stroll the lakeshore with your guide and snap a few photos while soaking up the incredible scenery. If you are lucky, you may see an avalanche.

Following Lake Louise, the tour then heads to Moraine Lake, a turquoise lake set against soaring peaks that many people find more impressive than Lake Louise. Getting here with a private car is difficult in the summer, but your tour bus will go right past the road closures to the lakeshore. During this 30-minute stop, walk up the Rockpile trail to get the best view and photo.

On the way back, the tour travels part of the way on the Bow Valley Parkway, where you'll have a good chance of seeing bighorn sheep, deer, or maybe even a black bear.

4. From Banff to Lake Louise by Shuttle

Bow River running through Lake Louise
Bow River running through Lake Louise | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Shared shuttles from Brewster Transit travel the route from Banff to Lake Louise and take about an hour. This option is good if you are planning on moving hotels and have lots of luggage. If you are just day-tripping to Lake Louise, Roam Transit is a better option, less costly, and runs more frequently.

Unlike Roam Transit, which uses more traditional city buses, shuttle transport is by large coach, with comfortable seating and large windows. The shuttles pick up at all hotels and will drop you at your hotel or at Samson Mall in the main village area.

5. From Banff to Lake Louise by Private Transfer

Chateau Lake Louise on the shore of Lake Louise
Chateau Lake Louise on the shore of Lake Louise | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The ultimate in convenience and luxury is to make the trip by private transfer. Your driver from Banff Sedan will pick you up at your hotel on your timelines and take you to Lake Louise along whichever route you choose. You can also set the itinerary, and stop at points of interest whenever you like.

The transfer is via luxury sedan, premium SUV (up to five people), or in a Mercedes Sprinter Van (up to 10 people). If you have a large group, this is an excellent option.