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The counter at the start of the Legacy Bike Trail
The counter at the start of the Legacy Bike Trail

Cycling the Banff Legacy Trail from Canmore to Banff

One of the top bike rides in Banff National Park

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You can’t help but notice cyclists and rollerbladers on the Banff Legacy Trail when you drive the Trans-Canada Highway between Canmore and Banff.  I don’t know why but it took me a couple of years to get around to cycling it.

The Banff Legacy Trail was built in 2010 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Banff National Park. Its 26 kilometres long one way and a comfortable three metres wide. It takes you from the outskirts of Canmore into Banff, along Vermilion Lakes Drive all the way to the junction with Highway 1A.

Although a good part of it is dedicated bike trail, there are sections through the town of Banff that are along the road. In total there is a 185 metre elevation gain, and a 106 metre elevation loss. The Canmore to Banff section has more uphill than the return. 

Updated June 2022. This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Pretty scenery along the Banff Legacy bike trail
Pretty scenery along the Banff Legacy bike trail

Biking from Canmore to Banff

We chose to ride from Canmore to Banff. The trailhead is a snap to find. It’s located at the Travel Alberta Visitor’s Center just off the Trans-Canada Highway. In addition to washrooms there is lots of free parking.

Although I have a yearly National Park’s pass it appeared that you didn’t need to stop and buy one as you entered Banff National Park. To do so would involve crossing many lanes of traffic. If you started in Banff you would absolutely need to have a park’s pass.

Parts of the trail have been repaved after being destroyed by floods in June 2013. The trail is in excellent shape.

Near the start of the Legacy Trail in Canmore
Near the start of the Legacy Trail in Canmore

My preconception of the Banff Legacy Trail was very different from the reality

I figured because the Legacy Trail paralleled the highway from Canmore all the way to the Banff exit, that we’d hear highway noise and see nothing but cars. Although you do see and hear cars, the trail weaves away from the highway on plenty of occasions.

In fact it takes you by an extensive picnic area after cycling only eight kilometres. I never knew it existed. It affords fantastic views of the Three Sisters – a trio of peaks overlooking the town of Canmore. Interestingly I have probably driven that section of highway close to 100 times and never noticed the exit to the picnic area before. That’s one of the benefits of exploring by bicycle.

A picnic area I never knew existed behind fencing to keep the animals off the highway
A picnic area I never knew existed behind fencing to keep the animals off the highway

As you continue towards the Banff exit, Cascade Mountain looms in front of you. On a bike you better appreciate the majesty of this mountain the closer and closer you get.

Cascade Mountain is in your face on the way to Banff
Cascade Mountain is in your face on the way to Banff

When the trail leaves the highway, it takes a hard turn south towards the town of Banff. And after a few kilometres the trail dies out entirely. My recommendation is to weave your way along side roads to reach the town center. We stopped at Wild Flour Bakery for a latte and then made our way over to Vermilion Lakes Drive.

Again I’ve seen the Vermilion Lakes every time I’ve driven the highway but I didn’t appreciate that there was a road alongside them, complete with several docks where you could launch a canoe or kayak. The views of Mount Rundle from along this VERY QUIET road are superb!

Views near Vermilion Lakes
Views near Vermilion Lakes
Cycling beside the Vermilion Lakes
Cycling beside the Vermilion Lakes
Looking towards Mount Rundle
Looking towards Mount Rundle

West of the Vermilion Lakes

When you pass the last of the Vermilion Lakes you’re onto dedicated bike trail again all the way through to the junction with Highway 1A. There was hardly a soul on this part of the trail when we did it – and perhaps that’s why we were lucky enough to see a moose chomping away in the field.

New for 2022: Starting in spring 2022, you can cycle Highway 1A car free from the exit closest to Banff to the halfway point on Highway 1A – Castle Junction. However, you can do that ONLY between May 1 to June 25 and from September 1 to September 30. This is part of a three year pilot project. Vehicle access will be restricted for the eastern 17 km of the parkway to allow for an enhanced cycling experience. You can rent bikes and e-bikes in Banff at the train station. 

Beautiful section of trail near the intersection of Highway 1A
Beautiful section of trail near the intersection of Highway 1A
Female moose munching away
Female moose munching away
The beautiful Vermilion Lakes
The beautiful Vermilion Lakes
The classic Mt. Rundle view if you cycle to the Vermilion Lakes
The classic Mt. Rundle view if you cycle to the Vermilion Lakes
Enjoying the e-bike experience on part of the Banff Legacy Trail
Enjoying the e-bike experience on part of the Banff Legacy Trail

On our return to Banff I stopped to get these two shots of the train tracks.

The Banff train station
The Banff train station
Looking the other way down the tracks
Looking the other way down the tracks
You know you're in Banff when you see street signs with names like this
You know you’re in Banff when you see street signs with names like this

Banff to Canmore

Cycling back to Canmore from Banff took no time at all. The wind was at our back – by some miracle – and there was more elevation loss than gain. It took us less than an hour with time for photo stops.

The trail has a moderate elevation loss on the way from Banff to Canmore
The trail has a moderate elevation loss on the way from Banff to Canmore (this is a flat stretch heading out of Banff)
The Three Sisters mountain range as one approaches Canmore
The Three Sisters mountain range as one approaches Canmore

A family-friendly bike trail

The Banff Legacy Trail is a well-used trail. It’s easy enough for families to cycle and it’s a great way for out of town visitors to experience the Rockies. Bikes can be rented in Canmore from Gear Up Sports, located across from the hospital. In Banff you can rent from Soul Ski and Bike or Snowtips-Bactrax.

The season for cycling goes from late April until sometime in October. We were very lucky to have a warm day on an October weekend. At some point an extension of the trail to the Canmore Nordic Centre should be complete.

If you like cycling don’t miss a chance to explore the Banff Legacy Trail. It’s a good one to combine with the Goat Creek Trail – a mountain biking trail that if you do it right is 85% downhill.

A few useful items for any bike ride

  • Don’t forget a bike pump in case you get a flat. This one will fit in your jersey pocket.
  • A bike lock would be a good idea if you plan to grab a bite to eat in Canmore or Banff.
  • I like to carry a rack-mounted bag with my raincoat and bike tools rather than having something on my back. 

Location map of the bike trail

                                         

Where to stay in Canmore and Banff

If you’re an out of town visitor, chances are you’ll want to stay in either Canmore or Banff. Fortunately there’s a great cross-section of accommodation choices with a sampling outlined below. If you’re into camping you can stay in nearby Bow Valley Provincial Park or in Tunnel Mountain Village in Banff.

In Canmore try the Basecamp Resorts if you like the thought of doing your own cooking. If you like an upscale B&B experience check out A Bear and Bison Country Inn. If it’s a hostel experience you’re after then the Canmore Hotel Hostel might just fit the bill.

In Banff I have enjoyed stays on multiple occasions at the Moose Hotel. The Mont Royal Hotel in the heart of downtown Banff is always a solid choice. (It has a nice hot tub with a view.) There are cheerful rooms for families with bunkbeds at the Canalta Lodge. For a treat stay at the Rimrock Resort Hotel.

Other posts about biking in Alberta you might enjoy

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Biking the Banff Legacy Trail from Canmore to Banff and back

 

 

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