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.
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 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.
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 eastern section of the Bow Valley Parkway without public vehicle traffic. With this section of Highway 1A between the gate at the Fireside day use area and Castle Junction closed to public vehicles, it offers a Banff cycling experience like no other.
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, 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.
Bow Valley Parkway Cycling in Banff
- Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway Details
- Best Time to Cycle the Bow Valley Parkway
- Parking for Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway
- Bow Valley Parkway Map
- Place to Stop Along the Bow Valley Parkway
- Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway with Kids
- 9 Tips for the BEST Experience Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway
- Bike Rentals for Biking Highway 1A in Banff
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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.
Is Bow Valley Parkway open in 2021?
The section of the Bow Valley Parkway west of Castle Junction is open to vehicle traffic.
The section of the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Castle Junction is closed to public vehicle traffic. 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.
Cyclists looking to ride the section of the Bow Valley Parkway closed to public vehicles can start either in Banff, at the first Hwy 1A exit (gate at Fireside Day Use area) or at Castle Junction.
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.
Cycling the Legacy Trail from Canmore through the Banff townsite up to the Bow Valley Parkway is an additional 26.8 km.
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:
- Gate at Fireside area
Take the first exit to the Bow Valley Parkway Hwy 1A.
- Castle Junction
Drive another 24 km past the first exit to the Bow Valley Parkway, exit on Highway 93 South and keep right.
- 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.
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.
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. This is an ideal kid-friendly bike ride in Banff.
Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway 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.
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.
Biking from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon will take 20-30 minutes each way.
If biking the Bow Valley Park with kids, plan for it to take longer. As a point of reference, our 5 year old cycled the 6 km from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon in about 30 minutes. It took longer on the way back which is a more gradual uphill.
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.
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.
In 2020, public vehicles were able to access Johnston Canyon along the Bow Valley Parkway from Castle Junction if they were staying at the Johnston Canyon Bungalows or had reservations at the Black Swift Bistro. It’s unknown if that will be the case again this year, but we expect so.
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.
In 2021, the closed sections of the Bow Valley Parkway will remain closed through the summer, as per the latest announcement by Parks Canada, so while vehicle traffic will increase it will still be far lower than in a typical year.
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.
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.
Parking for Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway
There are several options for parking to access Bow Valley Parkway cycling:
- 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. If biking with kids, we recommend parking here to avoid being on the road with traffic.
- 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.
- 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.
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 picnic areas to make a day of it.
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.
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).
Picnic areas along the Bow Valley Parkway include Muleshoe and Sawback.
Other roadside turnouts with interesting reads about the area: Pilot Pond, Hillsdale Meadow, 1993 Prescribed Burn, and Moose Meadows.
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. The best way to do bike the Bow Valley Parkway with kids is to park at Castle Junction and bike to Johnston Canyon.
We love to pair this with a hike to the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon. If you’ve been to Johnston Canyon already, hike to the Ink Pots from Moose Meadows.
Tips for Biking the Bow Valley Parkway with Kids:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Carry Bear Spray
Always be prepared for animal encounters and make plenty of noise. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible holster.
- Bring Plenty of Water and Snacks
Like any activities with kids, snacks are key!
- 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.
- Park at Castle Junction
The easier section of the Bow Valley Parkway to bike with kids is from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon. If you can get a spot at the Rockbound Lake trailhead parking, you can avoid the traffic between the two parking lots and cars heading west on the Bow Valley Parkway.
- 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.
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.
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.
9 Tips for the BEST Experience Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bring a Bike Lock
If you stop to hike Johnston Canyon or the Ink Pots, keep your bike safe by locking it up.
- Leave No Trace
Always pack out what you packed in.
Bike Rentals for Biking Highway 1A in Banff
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.
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