Spending most of my weekends in Canmore means I’ve done my fair share of exploring the region in and around Banff National Park. One of the best experiences for all ages is cruising down the Banff Legacy Trail on bikes. You don’t have to be super hardcore to cycle this trail, I’m certainly not. Here’s a look at what the ride is like, how to prep for it and the best stops along the way.
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Banff Legacy Trail
Opened in July 2010, to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Banff National Park, the Legacy Trail is a paved walking and biking route runs along the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway from the Canmore Visitor’s Centre along the Bow Valley Parkway and into the town of Banff.
The Legacy Trail is a ride that’s more about the journey than the destination. (Though whichever town you end up in is pretty rad.) It’s a fantastic way to get out and experience the beauty of the Bow Valley with your feet.
And when you’ve got one of the most picturesque places on earth (that would be Banff National Park) laid out right in front of you, might as well tell advantage of it.
Canmore to Banff Bike trail
But the Legacy Trail goes both ways. It’s just as much a Canmore to Banff bike trail as it is a way for Banff visitors to explore another Rocky Mountain town.
What’s great about this bike trail is that it’s accessible all ages. Let me tell you, it’s certainly a humbling experience being overtaken by grannies on their $4,000 road bikes. Here’s my best advice for make cycling this Canmore to Banff (or vice versa) bike ride as pleasant as possible.
Tip 1: Start early from Canmore
Hundreds of people cycle the Legacy Trail on good weather weekends. If you can’t manage it on a weekday, try to start out as early as possible. Prime biking hours seem to be late morning to mid-afternoon.
Tip 2: Take your time
Despite riding parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway, for much of the journey, you’ve got several magnificent mountain views to focus on. Take the time to stop and smell the flowers – wild roses to Indian paint brushes to be exact.
Not only will your trip to Banff on this bike trail be made more pleasant by inhaling their heady scent, but kids need lots of little breaks if they’re to power through the whole way.
Even after the trail veers away from the TransCanada Highway, there’s still a ways to go before getting directly into the townsite – either one. (For us it took a little over an hour and a half to ride the trail from Canmore to Banff including our breaks.)
Tip 3: Plan rest stops
The Valleyview Picnic Area is located about half way along the trail. It’s a sweet little rest stop with outhouses and tables to soak up sweeping views of the valley. (Pack your hand sanitizer as there’s no sink.)
With kids, I find we’re stopping several times before making it to Valleyview. While there isn’t a ton of space on the shoulder of the trail, there is enough to pull over, grab water and rest your legs.
Tip 4: Bring lots of water
Any outdoor activity can be unpredictable. There’s no water stations along the trail, so you’ll want to ensure you have enough. My daughter loved the novelty of wearing her Dad’s camelback and slurping without stopping.
Refill your water bottles at the fountain along Bear Avenue in Banff. You’ll find it on the sidewalk by the parking lot.
Tip 5: Stop for a patio lunch in Banff
We ride in from Canmore, so lunch in Banff is our reward for pushing pedals. Some of our favourite spots to eat include: Saltlik for burgers and fish tacos, The Keg has a children’s menu with affordable steak and Wild Flour is a fantastic bakery with healthy salads, gluten-free and vegan options.
If you’re cycling the other direction, Canmore has several good restaurants worth stopping at. My favourites are Crazyweed for a posh nosh (and wine!) or Communitea for healthy veg-packed bowls, quesadillas, homemade power balls and muffins.
Tip 6: Take the bus back
There’s no shame if some members of your crew are too pooped to cycle back. You can have one person (let’s call them “The Huz”) do the return ride, pick up the car and come get you. Another option is taking the Roam transit bus. It’s a few dollars to get between towns and they load your bike onto the front of the bus.
Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, public buses may limit the number of bikes they take down to two maximum.
Legacy Trail parking
Unless you live in Banff or Canmore, you’ll need to take advantage of the Legacy Trail parking spots. If you’re starting from Canmore, you can park at the Canmore Visitor’s Centre just off the highway. Note: the parking lot is often full by noon, so try to get here early if cycling on a weekend.
In Banff, the Legacy Trail lane begins at Banff Community High School, along Banff Avenue. You’ll be able to find parking pretty much anywhere along Banff Avenue or the side streets.
Legacy Trail bike rentals
You’ve got a few different options for Legacy Trail bike rentals, depending on which town you’re starting out from. In Banff you can rent bikes from Soul Ski and Bike. They have both road, mountain and town bikes for hourly and daily rentals.
Backtrax also rents similar bikes, plus offers children’s bikes, Trail-a-Bikes and Chariots to tow the kids.
In Canmore head to either Rebound Cycle or Gear Up for bike rentals. Don’t forget to ask about helmet rentals and bike locks in case you want to stop for a bite.
Hotels near Banff National Park
Whether you want to stay in Canmore or Banff, there’s plenty of hotels both in and near Banff National Park. In addition to hotels, you’ll find other accommodation options like hostels, camping and glamping. I’ve done a deep into the best spots for:
Camping in Canmore
Camping in Banff
Camping in the Kananaskis
Where to stay in Banff
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Have you ever taken your family on a major bike ride? I’m curious to know where you went and how you found the experience.
Great information – thank you! I have always wanted to ride that trail with my family but was not sure how the 6 year old would do. Now I know there is a bus option so I don’t have to panic if she is done after one way on the trail.
The bus may have limited bike capacity during Covid. Only 2 bikes per trip.
Thanks for the update, Chris. Much appreciated. Will amend the post.
Do you need to purchase a park pass to enter Banff via cycling this trail??
So if you park in Canmore and cycle in through there, you don’t need to buy a pass. But if you drive into the town of Banff (for any reason), but need to purchase a Park Pass if you’re stopping/parking. Cyclists don’t need a pass though.