If you’ve ever driven the Trans-Canada Highway between Canmore and Banff in the summer, it’s likely you noticed the paved pathway that parallels the highway teeming with cyclists. Cycling the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail between Banff and Canmore has become a must-do summer activity in Banff National Park.
The Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail is a 26.8 km long, 3-metre-wide paved trail that was built to commemorate Parks Canada’s 125th anniversary. The first two legs were built in 2010. It’s now a completely paved trail that connects the two mountain communities of Banff and Canmore. Despite being close to the highway, be prepared for some incredible mountain scenery along the way.
The first time we ever rode this Canmore to Banff bike trail was in 2012. At the time, the section connecting Canmore to the Banff Park East Gate wasn’t completed. We had to ride up the overpass at Harvie Heights then continue along the side of the highway to connect with the Banff Legacy trail to Banff. This part was less than fun being so close to highway traffic. But all that has changed now.
Biking the Legacy Trail in Banff
- Banff Legacy Trail Details
- Best Time to Cycle the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail
- Biking the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail One Way
- Parking for the Legacy Trail
- Legacy Trail Map
- Places to Stop Along the Banff Legacy Trail
- Cycling the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail with Kids
- 8 Tips for the BEST Experience Cycling the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail
- Bike Rentals for the Banff Legacy Trail
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Banff Legacy Trail Details
Banff Legacy Trail or Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail?
The Banff Legacy Trail is the 22.3 km section from the Bow Valley Parkway to the Banff East Gate. Outside the Banff park gates is another 4.5 km to the Travel Alberta Visitor Information Centre in Canmore. Both of these sections together form the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail.
Where does the Legacy Trail start and end?
As it currently stands, the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail starts in Canmore at the Travel Alberta Visitor Information Centre on Bow Valley Trail. It extends all the way through the Banff townsite up to the Bow Valley Parkway, for a full distance of 26.8km.
Eventually, the fourth leg of the Legacy Trail will extend all the way up to the Canmore Nordic Centre.
How long is the Banff Legacy Trail?
The Banff Legacy Trail is officially 22.3km long (one-way), but the Banff Legacy Trail distance can be extended to 26.8km if you ride the full Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail that includes the 4.5 km portion in Canmore.
If riding the entire distance both ways, that’s a 53.6 km bike ride.
Cycling the distance from Canmore to the east end of Banff Avenue is 20.3 km for a round trip distance of 40.6 km.
Is the Legacy Trail hard?
Considering this bike trail from Canmore to Banff is in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it is surprisingly flat. You’ll only gain approximately 250m of net elevation biking from Canmore to Banff, most of which is over long, almost imperceptible uphill stretches. You’ll still encounter a few short, steeper hills, but they are manageable.
With the elevation gain, biking from Canmore to Banff is the more difficult direction, especially if there is a wind coming from the west (as there often is). By comparison, riding the bike trail Banff to Canmore is mostly a gentle downhill, making it quite easy, with only a few uphill sections to deal with.
How long does it take to bike the Legacy Trail?
Plan for 2-3 hours round trip for just cycling of the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail. Add on time for stops in Banff, Canmore or along the way.
If biking the Legacy Trail with kids, plan for it to take longer with bathroom and snack breaks.
Best Time to Cycle the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail
April is the time of year when people start to get anxious about getting out on bikes and wonder if the Banff Legacy Trail is open.
The best time to cycle the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail is from mid-April to mid-October, but the exact opening date is unknown. The Banff Legacy trail conditions at this time of year will depend on the amount of snow that’s still remaining on the trail and if it can be swept clean.
This year (2021) in mid-April, the trail is still snow and ice covered in the shaded sections in the trees. The sweeping of the Banff Legacy Trail has begun and most of it is rideable.
Biking the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail One Way
If you only want to ride the Legacy Trail one-way, there’s an option to take the bus back.
You can park in Banff, ride the Banff Legacy Trail to Canmore then hop on the Roam Bus Route 3 from Canmore to Banff.
Alternatively, park in Canmore and start by taking your bikes on the bus from Canmore to Banff then enjoy the mostly downhill bike ride to Canmore. Please be aware that bike storage space on the Roam bus is very limited and shouldn’t be counted on. Read the Roam Bike Policy before heading out.
The only other option is to park in Banff and have one member of the group ride back for the car. The rest of the group can enjoy one of Canmore’s best restaurants.
Parking for the Legacy Trail
Legacy Trail – Canmore Parking
Parking for starting the Legacy Trail in Canmore to Banff is at the Travel Alberta Visitor Information Centre on Bow Valley Trail, where there is a free parking lot.
Legacy Trail – Banff Parking
There are several spots to start the Banff Legacy Trail, some include free parking in Banff.
- The Valleyview Picnic Area – A small amount of parking is available at the Valleyview Picnic area located off the TransCanada Highway (it can only be reached heading eastbound).
- Cascade Ponds – There is a parking lot at Cascade Ponds and this is a great spot to start the Legacy Trail with kids to avoid biking in the town of Banff.
- Fenland Picnic Area – Parking is available here, but you will need to ride through the town of Banff to reach the Banff Legacy Trail at the east end of Banff Avenue.
- Town of Banff – The Banff Legacy trail can be started anywhere in the town of Banff by joining up with the Banff Legacy trail at the east end of Banff Avenue or by riding the section on Vermilion Lakes Road to the Bow Valley Parkway.
Legacy Trail Map
Banff National Park publishes a printable Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail Map that includes a suggested route through the town of Banff plus the section along Vermilion Lakes Road to the Bow Valley Parkway.
Places to Stop Along the Banff Legacy Trail
A bike ride along the Banff Legacy Trail is much more enjoyable if done at a slower pace. We recommend starting along the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail in Canmore.
From Canmore, the Valleyview Picnic Area is the first place to stop. You’ll find toilets, picnic tables and even the Banff Red chairs here. The Banff Legacy Trail can also be started here to shorten the distance of the bike ride.
Stop along the Legacy Trail for pictures of the surrounding mountain scenery and any other wildlife you encounter along the way.
Next stop is Cascade Ponds, which is only a short detour from the Banff Legacy Trail. Cascade Ponds is also a great spot to start the Legacy Trail if riding it only one way. The distance from Canmore to the turn off to Cascade Ponds is 16.9 km.
From the intersection on the Legacy Trail at Cascade Ponds to the east end of Banff Avenue is only an additional 3.4 km. From there, ride into the Town of Banff and choose from one of the many amazing Banff restaurants for lunch.
To complete the entire Legacy Trail, ride through town to get to Vermilion Lakes Road. Don’t forget to stop for pictures of these stunning lakes with a mountain backdrop. The final 1.6 km of the Banff Legacy Trail continues from the end of Vermilion Lakes Road to the Bow Valley Parkway.
Cycling the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail with Kids
Biking the Legacy Trail with kids is a fun thing to do while visiting Banff with kids. We recommend going early or during the week when biking the Banff Legacy Trail with kids. This Banff to Canmore bike trail can get quite busy, especially mid-day on a weekend.
If your kids aren’t up for the full distance of the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail, we recommend using our advice above on riding it one-way.
- Riding this bike trail from Banff to Canmore will be more enjoyable for kids since it’s mostly downhill.
- To shave off some distance, start at Cascade Ponds. This will avoid riding through the town of Banff as well.
- One parent can cycle back to pick up the car or see if the Roam Transit Route 3 can accommodate your family’s bikes.
If you are looking for a shorter, kid-friendly bike ride in Banff choose one of the following sections of the Banff Legacy Trail:
- Starting from Canmore, the first 3km of the Banff Legacy Trail is very flat and runs through a beautiful, dense forest.
- The Valleyview Day Use area is a popular place for families to stop at a scenic picnic area in Banff and go for a short bike ride on the Banff Legacy Trail.
- The section from the Cascade Ponds heading towards Canmore is also reasonably flat and runs alongside a nice mountain stream.
8 Tips for the BEST Experience Cycling the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail
- Start the Banff Legacy Trail Early
The Banff Legacy Trail will be the busiest at mid-day on weekends. By starting early, you will have no issues getting parking but you’ll also have the trail mostly to yourselves, at least for the first while.
- Bike Banff to Canmore
Whether you plan to ride both distances or only one way on the Legacy Trail, biking from Banff to Canmore is easier. Plan to end on this direction if you are cycling both ways on the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail.
- Avoid Traffic & Congestion in Banff
If you don’t want to deal with biking through the town of Banff, make Cascade Ponds your turnaround point (or if only biking one direction, start at Cascade Ponds for cycling the Legacy Trail Banff to Canmore).
- Get Free Parking
By arriving early, you can get easy, free parking. Parking options for the Legacy Trail include the Fenlands Recreation Centre, Train Station in Banff, Cascade Ponds, Valleyview picnic area or Travel Alberta Visitor Information Centre (Canmore).
- Ride the Legacy Trail on a Weekday
If you can swing a weekday, the Legacy Trail will be much less busy and a much more enjoyable experience.
- Don’t Rush on the Banff Legacy Trail
Take the time to stop and take pictures of the incredible views along this Canmore to Banff bike trail. Make a day of it by stopping for lunch in Banff, visiting Cascade Ponds and Vermilion Lakes.
- Safety First
This is a busy bike trail. Wear a helmet and teach kids about biking etiquette, most importantly about staying on the right side of the trail.
- Carry Bear Spray
Even on this trail next to the highway, you can still encounter bears and other wildlife. Have bear spray with you and know how to use it.
Bike Rentals for the Banff Legacy Trail
If you don’t have your own bikes while visiting Banff, bikes can be rented in either Canmore or Banff. We’ve included bike rental locations that also have kids bikes, chariot bike trailers or trail-a-bikes. Always make sure you get a lock and everyone in your party gets a well-fitting helmet.
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