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Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park

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 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.

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.

What’s new in 2021 for the Bow Valley Parkway?

In 2021, cyclists on the Highway 1A have 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 offers a Banff cycling experience like no other.

Empty Bow Valley Parkway for biking in Banff

In the summer, the Bow Valley Parkway is often extremely busy, especially with the popular Johnston Canyon hike along this road. This year, with vehicle traffic limited on a section of the road, even the casual cyclist can enjoy this unique cycling opportunity.

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. This applies to ALL TRAVEL (walking, hiking, cycling, vehicles, etc) and is in place to give the animals space.

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Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway Details

The Bow Valley Parkway can be accessed from 3 locations: Hwy 1A West exit 6 km west of Banff, Castle Junction (Hwy 93 South exit) or from Hwy 1A East exit at Lake Louise.

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

Is Bow Valley Parkway open in 2021?

The section of the Bow Valley Parkway west of Castle Junction is open to vehicle traffic.

Castle Mountain Looms over Bow Valley Parkway in Banff

The section of the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Castle Junction was closed to public vehicle traffic, but effective July 1st 2021 the section from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon will be reopened to private vehicles. Where the section east of Johnston Canyon to Banff will remain closed to public vehicles and have limited vehicle traffic on it.

There are also seasonal restrictions on the Bow Valley Parkway from March 1 through June 25. All travelers, including cyclists and hikers, are not to access the Bow Valley Parkway prior to 8am and after 8pm.

Highway1A parking for biking Bow Valley Parkway
Parking at Fireside Area

Cyclists looking to ride the section of the Bow Valley Parkway closed to public vehicles can start either in Banff or at the first Hwy 1A exit (gate at Fireside Day Use area).

Where does biking Bow Valley Parkway start and end?

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 Hwy 1A West exit 6 km west of Banff. From Banff, the access points for the Bow Valley Parkway cycling are:

  1. Gate at Fireside area

    Take the first exit to the Bow Valley Parkway Hwy 1A.

  2. Castle Junction

    Drive another 24 km past the first exit to the Bow Valley Parkway, exit on Highway 93 South and keep right.

  3. Town of Banff

    Take 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 Hwy 1A East side at Lake Louise side or the Hwy1A 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. It’s a 65 km return ride to Castle Junction.

Biking Highway 1A from Fireside to Johnston Canyon

Other cycling distances for the Bow Valley Parkway are:

  • Gate at Fireside area to Johnston Canyon is 34 km return.
  • Gate at Fireside area to Castle Junction is 46 km return.
  • Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon is 12 km return.

Is biking the Bow Valley Parkway hard?

Biking the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon from Castle Junction is an easy bike ride in Banff.

There’s really only one hill to contend with and it’s at the end right before arriving at the Johnston Canyon parking lot. The total elevation gain is 117 m over the one-way distance of 6 km. When this section was closed earlier in 2021, it was an ideal kid-friendly bike ride in Banff, but with this section of the Bow Valley Parkway now open to public vehicles we would not recommend biking it with kids.

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

Cycling the Highway 1A from the other side (starting in Banff or at the gate near the Fireside Day Use) is much harder.

It 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.

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

Biking from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon will take 20-30 minutes each way.

Will there be any vehicle traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway in 2021?

Yes, it’s important to still follow the rules of the road. You can expect to find Parks Canada trucks along the road. Starting May 21 until September 19, the Roam Transit Route 9 will also run on the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon.

With the reopening of Highway 1A to private vehicles, you can expect A LOT of vehicle traffic on the road from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon. The section east of Johnston Canyon to Fireside Day Use will have limited vehicle traffic.

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.

Highway 1A closed to vehicles in 2021

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

In 2021, a portion of the closed sections of the Bow Valley Parkway will remain closed through the summer, as per the latest announcement by Parks Canada, so expect vehicle traffic to increase significantly from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon.

We rode the Bow Valley Parkway from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon 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.

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

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 several options for parking to access Bow Valley Parkway cycling:

Parking for cycling Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park
  1. Parking for biking Bow Valley Parkway from Castle Junction

    There’s a parking lot at Castle Junction directly across from the gas station. Alternatively, there’s a parking lot for the Rockbound Lake hike trailhead that has toilets.

  2. Parking for Bow Valley Parkway cycling from Banff

    Riding from Banff, there’s parking at the Fenlands Recreation Centre, 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 to avoid issues at the gate at the Fireside area.

  3. Parking at Fireside Day-Use

    There is a small Bow Valley Parkway parking lot right at the exit to the Highway 1A. There’s room for approximately 30-35 cars. If this is full, please go find alternate parking in Banff rather than parking illegally.
Biking on Vermilion Lakes Drive Banff National Park

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.

Place 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

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

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!

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.

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

Amenities

Castle Junction has a gas station and general store. Johnston Canyon has a restaurant.

Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway with Kids

Biking the Bow Valley Parkway is a fun thing to do in Banff with kids.

When the entire eastern section of the Bow Valley Parkway was closed (up until July 1st), the best way to bike the Bow Valley Parkway with kids was to park at Castle Junction and bike to Johnston Canyon. It was fun to pair this with a hike to the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon or hike to the Ink Pots from Moose Meadows.

As of July 1st 2021, the section of Highway 1A from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon is now open to public vehicles and we don’t recommend biking this with kids.

However, you could still enjoy cycling from Banff and along the Bow Valley Parkway from the Fireside Day Use. This would be a longer ride, 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.

  3. Start Early or 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 Plenty of Water and Snacks

    Like any activities with kids, snacks are key!

  6. Dress Everyone in Layers and Bring Gloves

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

  7. Ride the Closed Section
    While the easier section of the Bow Valley Parkway is from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon, we no longer recommend this with kids with the road open to public vehicle traffic. Instead ride a portion of the closed section from Banff or Fireside Day Use.

  8. 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 Banff or from the Fireside area, it is more difficult. 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 you can swing a weekday, the Bow Valley Parkway 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 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 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.

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