Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park (2024)

Author: Celine Brewer

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With incredible mountain scenery and excellent wildlife spotting opportunities, the Bow Valley Parkway is a must-visit in Banff National Park.

The Bow Valley Parkway scenic drive is a 48 kilometer secondary highway that parallels the Trans-Canada Highway and connects Banff to Lake Louise. In fact, prior to the Trans-Canada Highway, this stretch was the main highway between the two mountain towns.

Announced February 15, 2022, Parks Canada will begin a new 3 year pilot program for cycling the Bow Valley Parkway starting May 1, 2022. Continue reading for all the details on Highway 1A closures and cycling opportunities in 2022-24.

Entrance gate to Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park

The Bow Valley Parkway, also known as Highway 1A, is a prime habitat for wildlife in the Bow Valley. Thanks to its diverse vegetation, lower elevation and access to plenty of sunshine, the Bow Valley Parkway is an ideal place to spot wildlife in Banff.  

A black bear crosses the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park
A bear crosses Bow Valley Parkway. We kept a safe distance away!

A scenic drive on the Bow Valley Parkway has always been a highly recommended Banff activity. And cycling the Bow Valley Parkway isn’t new for road cycling enthusiasts. Anyone visiting Banff in the summer and taking the scenic drive along the Bow Valley Parkway could expect to see cyclists along the road.

Banff cycling Bow Valley Parkway

The Bow Valley Parkway is a more leisurely route than the Trans-Canada Highway with a reduced speed limit of 60 km/h, impressive views and plenty of roadside pullouts to enjoy. It’s no surprise cycling the Highway 1A has long been a popular activity for road cyclists in Banff National Park.

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Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway – Pilot Project

In case you are interested in the background of this pilot project, here’s how cycling the Bow Valley Parkway came to be. In 2021, cyclists on the Highway 1A had the opportunity to cycle the section of the Bow Valley Parkway east of Johnston Canyon without public vehicle traffic. With this section of Highway 1A between the gate at the Fireside day use area and Johnston Canyon closed to public vehicles, it offered a Banff cycling experience like no other.

Parks Canada requested feedback from the public on this cycling opportunity and based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback launched a 3 year pilot program which started in 2022 and ends after the 2024 cycling season.

Highway1A parking for biking Bow Valley Parkway
Parking at Fireside Area

Bow Valley Parkway Closures

It can be a bit confusing, but here are the main details of the various Bow Valley Parkway closures:

3 Year Cycling Pilot Project

Starting in 2022 and continuing through 2024, the pilot project limits vehicle traffic on a section of the road in the spring and fall, allowing even casual cyclists to enjoy this unique cycling opportunity.

The eastern section of the Bow Valley Parkway starting near the Town of Banff to Johnston Canyon) will have restricted public vehicle access in the Spring and Fall.

The western section of the Bow Valley Parkway, from Johnston Canyon to Whitehorn Road near Lake Louise WILL NOT be affected.

Spring Closure

Each spring from May 1 to June 25, no public vehicles will be allowed on the eastern section of the Bow Valley Parkway.

Castle Mountain Looms over Bow Valley Parkway in Banff
Castle Mountain

No Closures in Summer

In the summer, the Bow Valley Parkway is extremely busy, especially with the popular Johnston Canyon hike along this road. There will not be any restrictions in the busy summer months of July and August. Cycle with care during this busy season!

Fall Closure

Again in the fall of each year, starting August 30 to September 30, public vehicles will not have access to the eastern section of Highway 1A. This cycling pilot will be in place 7 days a week for the spring and fall dates mentioned.

Empty Bow Valley Parkway for biking in Banff

Seasonal Wildlife Closures – Spring

There is also a seasonal travel restriction on the eastern 17 km section (Johnston Canyon Campground to Fireside day use) of the Bow Valley Parkway from March 1 to June 25 from 8 pm to 8 am.

Note, this seasonal closure applies to all forms of travel (walking, hiking, cycling, vehicles, etc) and is in place to give the animals space.

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway Details

The Bow Valley Parkway can be accessed from 3 separate locations (click for Google Maps):

Bow River and Mountains on Bow Valley Parkway scenic drive in Banff

Cyclists looking to ride the section of the Bow Valley Parkway closed to public vehicles can start either in Banff or at the first Highway 1A exit (gate at Fireside Day Use area). Parks Canada is encouraging cyclists to park at the Train Stations Parking Lot in Banff.

Starting Point for Cycling Bow Valley Parkway

There are several options for where to start biking the Bow Valley Parkway:

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway is actually a continuation of the Legacy Trail. The Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail begins in Canmore, runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway to the Town of Banff and can be accessed again at the end of Vermilion Lakes Road.

Entrance to Legacy Trail Connector from Vermilion Lakes Drive in Banff
The Legacy Trail Connector

Cycling the Banff Legacy Trail from Canmore through the Banff townsite up to the Bow Valley Parkway is an additional 26.8 km.

Biking Legacy Trail Banff to Bow Valley Parkway

The Bow Valley Parkway technically starts at the Highway 1A West exit (6 km west of Banff). From Banff, the access point for cycling the Bow Valley Parkway cycling is by taking Vermilion Lakes Road to the end to connect to the Legacy Trail which will join the Bow Valley Parkway at the first exit.

biking in Banff on Vermilion Lakes Drive

For anyone looking to cycle the entire Bow Valley Parkway it can be accessed from either the Highway 1A East side at Lake Louise side or the Highway 1A West side near Banff.

How long is the Bow Valley Parkway?

The Bow Valley Parkway is 48 km long (one-way). Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway from the Town of Banff to Johnston Canyon is 50 km return. Cycling the entire Bow Valley Parkway from the Town of Banff would be 112 km return.

Biking Highway 1A from Fireside to Johnston Canyon

Is Biking the Bow Valley Parkway Difficult?

Kids Biking Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon on Bow Valley Parkway in Banff
Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway with Kids

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway has extended hills to climb and fast downhills, which should be expected on this mountainous road. Total elevation gain is 771 m over the 24 km from Banff to Johnston Canyon.

If this sounds too difficult, there is always the opportunity to rent e-bikes for the Bow Valley Parkway cycling experience.

How Long Does it Take to Bike the Bow Valley Parkway?

The time to cycle the Bow Valley Parkway will vary greatly depending on fitness, starting point and any stops along the way.

Views while cycling Highway 1A in Banff

Doing a leisurely ride from Fireside to Johnston Canyon will take 1-2 hours. Plan for 3-4 hours round trip for just your Bow Valley Parkway cycling adventure, with more time allotted for stops along the way. Obviously, serious road cyclists will take far less time than this.

Cycling Bow Valley Parkway in Banff

Will There be any Vehicle Traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway in 2024?

Yes, the sections of the Bow Valley Parkway west of Johnston Canyon will not have any public vehicle access restrictions, so you can expect traffic on this section.

Even the eastern section from Johnston Canyon will still have limited vehicle traffic during the closures (typically you’ll see some Parks Canada trucks and other service trucks on this section). It’s important to still follow the rules of the road.

Starting May 19 until mid-September, the Roam Transit Route 9 will also run on the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon.

Highway 1A closed to vehicles in 2021

Local Tip

If taking transit is part of your plan, please check the Roam Route #9 Bus to Johnston Canyon – Schedule and Route before heading out to make sure there haven’t been any changes.

Best Time to Cycle the Bow Valley Parkway

Early April the Bow Valley Parkway becomes clear of snow, making April and May an ideal time to cycle the 1A highway. It will continue to get busier throughout the summer and more traffic will appear on the road starting in May when the Johnston Canyon Bungalows open.

Bow Valley Parkway Road cycling in Banff National Park

We rode the Bow Valley Parkway in early April and it was clear of all snow and ice. In fact, it had also been swept and was clear of any gravel. This will change every year and be dependent on the spring weather conditions.

Biking Bow Valley Parkway in Banff early April
Biking the Bow Valley Parkway with Kids in 2021

The following year, we cycled the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Johnston Canyon in mid-April. While the Bow Valley Parkway was clear of all snow and ice, the Legacy Trail portion from Vermilion Lakes Road was still covered in ice.

Ice covered Banff Legacy Trail
Mid-April on the Legacy Trail Connector to Bow Valley Parkway

Parking for Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway

There are couple of different options for parking to access Bow Valley Parkway cycling:

Parking for cycling Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park

1. Town of Banff Parking

If you are riding from Banff, there’s parking at the Fenlands Day Use and the Banff Train Station. Parks Canada is requesting that cyclists park at one of these lots and ride the Vermilion Lakes Road to access the Legacy Trail connector then onto the Bow Valley Parkway.

Unfortunately they are no longer allowing any parking at the gate at the Fireside area.

2. Vermilions Lakes Road

There are a few small parking lots along Vermilion Lakes Road and at the end of the road where you connect to the Legacy Trail.

Biking on Vermilion Lakes Drive Banff National Park
Cycling Vermilion Lakes Road

Bow Valley Parkway Map

Banff National Park publishes a printable Bow Valley Parkway Map that is useful to for understanding the different areas of the Bow Valley Parkway.

Places to Stop Along the Bow Valley Parkway

A bike ride along the Bow Valley Parkway is much more enjoyable if done at a slower pace. There are plenty of roadside turnouts and Banff picnic areas to make a day of it.

Hillsdale Meadow roadside turnout along Highway 1A Banff National Park

1. Johnston Canyon

Hiking Johnston Canyon is a popular Banff activity year-round. If you have the time for a 5 km hike to see the impressive Upper Falls, it’s well worth it.

Cave Johnston Canyon Lower Falls in April
Frozen Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon in Spring

2. Ink Pots

Hiking to the Ink Pots is a great addition to or alternative to Johnston Canyon. There are two ways to get to the Ink Pots: via Johnston Canyon or via Moose Meadows (2 km down the road from Johnston Canyon).

Hiking to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park
The Ink Pots are always worth the extra effort!

3. Picnic Spots

Picnic areas along the Bow Valley Parkway include Muleshoe and Sawback.

Red Chairs in Banff at Muleshoe Picnic Area
One of the many sets of red chairs in Banff.

4. Roadside Turnouts

Other roadside turnouts with interesting reads about the area: Pilot Pond, Hillsdale Meadow, 1993 Prescribed Burn, and Moose Meadows.

1993 Prescribed Burn on Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park
1993 Prescribed Burn along Bow Valley Parkway

5. Amenities

Castle Junction has a gas station and general store. Johnston Canyon has the Blackswift Bistro restaurant and a small cafe in the gift shop.

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway with Kids

Biking the Bow Valley Parkway is a fun thing to do in Banff with kids. Since there are some large hills to contend with, make sure your kids are comfortable using their brakes.

This would be a longer ride for some kids, but no one says you have to do the entire length. It would be a fun outing to include a bike ride and stop at one of the picnic areas along Highway 1A.

Biking Bow Valley Parkway in Banff with Kids from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon
Biking Bow Valley Parkway from Castle Junction with kids

Tips for Biking the Bow Valley Parkway with Kids:

1. Follow Road Rules

As there is still some vehicle traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway, even with the closure, it’s best to keep your kids on the right side of the road and be aware of any traffic.

Not only that, but you’ll encounter some speedy road cyclists on the Bow Valley Parkway and you’ll avoid accidents if you keep the kids predictably on the correct side of the road. This is the best way to keep it a good experience for everyone sharing the road.

2. Stay in a Group

The Bow Valley Parkway is known for having an abundance of wildlife. Don’t let kids go too far from the group. It’s not unusual to see bears along the Bow Valley Parkway, so there is safety in numbers.

3. Start Early on Weekdays

You’ll have the road mostly to yourself, have no issues with parking and will encounter less traffic if you start early.

4. Carry Bear Spray

Always be prepared for animal encounters and make plenty of noise. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible holster.

5. Bring Lots of Water and Snacks

Like any activities with kids, snacks are key to good energy!

6. Dress Everyone in Layers

Even in the summer, mornings in Banff can be very chilly. Be prepared by dressing in layers and don’t forget gloves.

7. Pack a Bike Lock and Repair Kit

You’ll be glad you have a bike lock if you decide to do one of the hikes along the Bow Valley Parkway. A repair kit is always a good idea so you don’t have to walk your bike back in case of a flat.

Train passes by Muleshoe Lake along Bow Valley Parkway in Banff
The train from Muleshoe Picnic Area

If you plan to bike with kids from the Town of Banff or from the Fireside area, plan to make fun stops along the way like at the Muleshoe picnic area or the Sawback picnic area.

Muleshoe Picnic Area along Bow Valley Parkway in Banff
Muleshoe Picnic Area found on the Bow Valley Parkway

Also, we recognize that it will be tempting to skip hills by going the wrong way on the one-way sections. Don’t do this, it’s dangerous for everyone involved.

Bow Valley Parkway road cycling in Banff

9 Tips for the BEST Experience Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway

Mountain views biking highway 1A in Banff NP

1. Start Early

The Bow Valley Parkway 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 road mostly to yourselves, at least for the first while.

2. Be Prepared for Animal Encounters

It’s not uncommon to see bears along the Bow Valley Parkway. Ride in a group, carry bear spray in an easily accessible holster and make a lot of noise.

3. Don’t Cause Parking Issues

There are several options for parking in Banff and closer to the Bow Valley Parkway. Please always park legally in designated parking lots. To ensure parking, arrive earlier or consider cycling from the town of Banff by parking at Fenlands Recreation Centre or the Train Station.

4. Ride the Bow Valley Parkway on a Weekday

If your schedule allows, cycling the Bow Valley Parkway on a weekday is a great idea. It will be much less busy and a much more enjoyable experience.

5. Don’t Rush

Take the time to stop and take pictures of the incredible views along this scenic Banff road. This is a unique experience to get to ride the road without traffic, make the most of it! Make a day of it by stopping at Johnston Canyon, hiking to the Ink Pots or stopping at one of the picnic spots.

6. Be Safe

This is still a road with some vehicle traffic. Wear a helmet and continue to follow all the rules of biking on a road.

7. Dress for the Cool Mornings

You can expect mornings to be cool, even in the summer. Pack layers and even gloves. Don’t forget hats and sunscreen for stops along the way.

8. Bring a Bike Lock

If you stop to hike Johnston Canyon or the Ink Pots, keep your bike safe by locking it up.

9. Leave No Trace

Always pack out what you packed in.

Bike Rentals for Biking Highway 1A in Banff

Cycling Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park

If you don’t have your own bikes while visiting Banff, bikes can be rented in Banff. We’ve included bike rental locations that also have kids bikes, chariot bike trails or trail-a-bikes.

Always make sure you get a lock and everyone in your party gets a well-fitting helmet.

Banff Bike Rentals: Ultimate Sports or Snowtips Bactrax

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Cycling Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park.
Celine Brewer - Travel Banff Canada

Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.

As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.