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FOR MOST...Banff National Park will be what you're exploring so renting a car is definitely an asset (car rentals in Banff).
DRIVING UP THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
Having a car is especially useful if you plan on heading up to Jasper - it'll give you the freedom to stop where you want for how long you want while driving up the Icefields Parkway - named by National Geographic as "one of the top 10 scenic drives in the world!" Some car rental companies allow you to drop the vehicle off in Jasper so you don't have to backtrack. If you need to take a bus, Brewster has a charter bus (which does not stop at any of the scenic lakes and waterfalls) as well as a scenic tour.
GETTING TO & AROUND LAKE LOUISE
With a car, Lake Louise is only a 50-minute drive along the Trans-Canada Highway, or 1 hour & 10 minutes on the Bow Valley Parkway. Without a car, you can take the Greyhound or Brewster Bus to Lake Louise, but you'll have no way (besides upwards of $40 for a cab) to visit Moraine Lake. To get to the Chateau Lake Louise or the lake itself, you'll have to take a taxi (flat rate of $7) from the hamlet in the valley. OR, to make this easier, but less flexible you can choose an organized tour with either Banff Discover Tours or Brewster Bus Tours.
GETTING TO & AROUND LAKE MINNEWANKA LOOP
There is no public transit to Lake Minnewanka; therefore, driving is the easiest option. Drive north on Banff Avenue out of town (away from the bridge). Stay on the road as it passes under the Trans Canada Highway and you'll be at the lake in 20 minutes. The rest of the driving loop, past Two Jack Lake, and the turn off for Johnson Lake, and back into to town.
Without a car, you can take a Brewster bus out to Lake Minnewanka, & around the rest of the loop. Buses leave at 9:30, 11:30, 1:30, 3:30, and 5:30 and are only $20. If you want time to picnic, walk along the shoreline, or go for a half day hike, you are able to take a later bus back. If you include the boat cruise, it'll be $59 for the "coach and cruise." Book this shuttle by calling 1-800-760-6934 or going to the Brewster bus depot on Norquay Road in the Town of Banff.
THERE IS NO BUS SERVICE OR PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION TO JOHNSTON CANYON.
GETTING AROUND BANFF- Tunnel Mountain, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola, and The Banff Upper Hot Springs Swimming Pool
There's a saying in Banff that everything is "only a fifteen-minute walk away" - this is pretty much true, but there are a couple of exceptions, especially when you're tired. Banff's Roam Public Transit is helpful - for only $2 you can catch the bus up to the famous Banff Springs Hotel (walk is 20-25 minutes), to the Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola & the Banff Upper Hot Springs (walk uphill is along the road for 40-50 minutes), or to Tunnel Mountain - site of the HI-hostel, Tunnel Mountain campground, hotels, and the Hoodoos (OR walk uphill for 25-35 minutes). Roam also services Cave and Basin National Historical Site. Banff's Roam, aka public transit buses, are unique - they are hybrid electric-biodiesel! Easy to spot - they are decorated with pictures of bears, elk, mountain goats or wolves. *TIP* - Pick up a day pass for $5 when you hop on! Exact change is preferred, but a change voucher will be provided.
Roam also provides public transit service between the towns of Banff and Canmore, located just outside of Banff National Park east gate.
Taking a taxi around Banff is not too expensive, you just have to call, for service within 5 - 10 minutes (Call 403-762-0000 OR 403-762-4444). Cab fares will generally be between $5-10.
If you are planning for day tour or trip to other location, a full day chauffeured service may be helpful, you can check out limo services in Banff like Mountain Limousine & Banff Limousine for more information on their services.
The Town of Banff experiences high traffic volume in summer, and particularly between 2 and 6 p.m. on Mountain Avenue from Sulphur Mountain (gondola, hot springs) across the bridge to Banff Avenue. To avoid traffic delays, plan your visit to these attractions for the morning and leave before 2 p.m., or after 6 p.m. Or take Roam transit.Brewsters
The Town of Banff has developed a convenient parking website, best for mobile devices: banffparking.ca Select which mode of transportation you are using (car, motorhome/recreational vehicle or bicycle) and it will give you the location of parking areas, number of spaces available, time periods and, for some lots, real time availability.
Parking on streets and the parkades downtown are free. Time limits downtown range from 20 minutes to two hours for street parking and three to five hours in surface lots and parkades. Time limits are strictly enforced and no same day return for all lots. Bow Avenue has 12-hour parking for cars only (no RVs), or park at the Banff Train Station (Railway Avenue, off Norquay Road) or The Fenlands Recreation Centre (100 Norquay Road) all day; downtown stores and Roam bus stops are only a five to 10-minute walk from these lots.
Wolf Avenue (at Lynx) lot and Railway Avenue are specially designated for RV parking. No RV parking is available in downtown Banff.