Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park Road Trip - The Bow Valley Parkway between, Banff and Lake Louise, is a beautiful scenic 4 season route off of the main Trans Canada HWY 1. It will twist and turn through a relatively flat area with minimal mountainous driving. Although it can be a bit of a harder drive in the snow. You will have cell service in a lot of areas, but not always while driving the Bow Valley Parkway, also known as the 1A HWY. It is 48 km paved road, but only 31 km are open to motor vehicle traffic nowadays due to the bicycle pilot project. 17 km are now restricted to bicycles only between certain dates. Nonetheless, you'll find roadside pull-offs, picnic areas and scenic views to enjoy along the open 30+ km stretch of road.
If you're into cycling, this is the place for you! Typically, our biking season ranges from May to October in this area of Alberta. While biking, the total elevation gain of the Bow Valley Parkway is about 400 m, so not too bad at all. Conveniently, there is a 17 km eastern section of the Bow Valley Parkway between, Fireside Day-use Area and Johnston Canyon that is now restricted from motor vehicle use but open to cyclists! A wonderful opportunity to bike the Bow Valley Parkway without worrying about cars driving past.
That is an unanswered question due to the cycling pilot project going on right now. It was posted online that the final motor vehicle restriction date was October 3 for 2023. I drove up on October 4 after looking online. I did not have any luck on the eastern stretch. But after driving by in mid October, it is fully open again, for now. There is a time of day restriction from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. to keep in mind too.
Take your time, as the speed limit is no more than 60 km/h on the Bow Valley Parkway. Additionally, many sections are posted at 50km or less as well. This is not your quick shortcut, but the scenic route between 2 fantastic mountain towns. The highest point in the road is at Morant's Curve. A super popular train spotting destination. Cell service is intermittent, and other travelers can be few and far between depending on when you travel this beautiful road. So just be aware, and go prepared. You could make a stop at Castle Mountain Chalets store to stock up on drinks and snacks if necessary. Otherwise there are not a lot of options along the parkway, so bring your supplies.
An absolute favourite stop along the parkway is the Castle Cliffs Viewpoint. It is a must see stop and everyone can enjoy this area. It is an easy roadside pull out with a small parking lot. From there you are only steps from an accessible platform built to give you stunning views of Castle Mountain and Castle Cliffs. Additionally, this is the parking lot and trailhead for the Castle Mountain hike.
Storm mountain day use area is a great stop for scenery, a picnic, and trains! If you want to watch a mountain that has a lot of character, I would recommend Storm Mountain. Any time I drive over that mountain, it always has some interesting weather going on. Certainly lives up to its name. Alternatively though, you can enjoy views of Storm Mountain from a distance on the gorgeous Bow Valley Parkway. There is an entire area set up with a large parking lot, interpretive signs, picnic tables, garbage cans and trains! Normally I don't get overly excited for trains, but this location was such a cool spot to watch the trains go by. Interestingly enough, the trains go by right below you on the look out! And if you're having a picnic at one of the tables there, you honestly cannot get any closer to a train safely, and you have an amazing bird's-eye view of them going by below. Here's a video to show you what I mean.
War time monuments are another worthwhile stop along this backroad between Lake Louise and Banff in Alberta, Canada. This was a very active area during war times, so don't be surprised to find a fair amount of war history information around here. There used to be an internment camp at the base of Castle Mountain! Additionally, you can learn more about this part of our Canadian history by visiting the Cave and Basin site in Banff at the First World War Internment Museum.
Over the years I have done this drive many times, in every season. Lucky enough, I have spotted moose, elk, deer as well as a wolf once too! Bears are definitely in the area, and can sometimes be spotted while driving the Bow Valley Parkway. Sometimes it seems like there are no animals around, other times it's like driving through Disney's Bambi movie. Quite unpredictable for when and where you may see any animals. They have a lot of room to roam around here.
Places to stay along the Parkway include the beautiful Castle Mountain Chalets, Baker Creek Lodges, HI Castle Mountain, as well as Johnson Canyon bungalows. Furthermore, you'll find a few campgrounds along the way as well. If I can recommend anywhere, it would be the Castle Mountain Chalets. We visited during the winter months and it was beautiful and unbelievably peaceful nestled in a quiet pocket between Banff and Lake Louise townsites.
So finally, whether you just want to go for a quick but slower paced road trip, or you want to spend some time secluded in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and maybe even bring your bike, the Bow Valley Parkway offers fantastic opportunities for it all. Be sure to charge your camera, pack a picnic and set out on a beautiful tour through the backroads of Alberta's rocky mountains.
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One of my favorite drives and those cabins are absolutely amazing. Will never forget how incredible they smelt inside with the Lemongrass soaps and the real wood fireplace. Heaven.
Cary Horning Certainly a memorable trip! I love cruising that road when I have some time. Perfect relaxed pace heart)
So glad you wrote about this lesser known road. The view of Castle Cliffs is spectacular. The more places I visit, the longer my list grows of places I still wish to visit in the future.
Thank you. It would be a perfect little Banff road trip for you. So many places to see and very rewarding!
You did a great job capturing the Bow Valley Parkway. I love that they are doing the cycling pilot. This is an area worthy of 'slow travel' for sure that give people more ways to safely experience the park. I have stayed at the Johnston Canyon cabins before, they are so quaint but I haven't stayed at the Castle Mountain Chalets...next time.
You did a great job capturing the Bow Valley Parkway. I love that they are doing the cycling pilot. It gives people another way to enjoy the park safely. I have stayed at the Johnston Canyon cabins before. They are fantastic. They have a nostalgic feel to them and remind me of the place they stayed at in 'Dirty Dancing'. I have never stayed at the Castle Mountain Chalet before. It looks amazing, I will have to check it out.
Thank you very much. I thought of you when I read about the biking pilot program. Seemed like something you guys might enjoy!