Starting in 2021, two of Banff National Park’s top attractions are introducing paid parking. The premium parking spaces within the Town of Banff and Lake Louise Lakeshore will no longer be free.
Not to worry, you can still find plenty of free parking in Banff and Lake Louise if you know where to look. In addition, there is plenty of amazing things to do in Banff with free parking.
Find Free Parking in Banff
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Town of Banff Paid Parking Details
Paid Parking in Town of Banff
Effective May 2021, visitors to the Town of Banff will pay for parking within the town centre. The rate for paid parking in Banff will be $3/hour in the summer and $2/hour in winter.
Where to Find Free Parking in Town of Banff
Even though the premium downtown Banff parking spaces will be paid parking, there are still many spaces to park for free in Banff. You can enjoy 9 hours of free parking in Banff at:
- The Train Station Public Parking Lot: this is the biggest free parking lot in Banff with 500 stalls. It’s a short, enjoyable 7-minute walk to downtown Banff or a 10-minute free shuttle (on weekends) to downtown’s main street.
- Bear Street Parkade: The ground floor parking spots in the Bear Street Parkade will be paid parking, but the remaining 187 stalls will be free downtown Banff parking. These 187 stalls are the Holy Grail of free Banff parking – they are in the heart of downtown Banff. Get there early or good luck!!
- Bow Avenue: There are 94 free parking spaces on Bow Avenue between Wolf Street and Buffalo Street. These coveted free Banff parking spots are only 2 minutes from downtown Banff’s main street.
This useful free parking map of Banff shows the location of the free parking spots in Banff.
Your best bet to find a free parking spot in the Town of Banff is to utilize their mobile-friendly parking website BanffParking.ca.
Lake Louise Paid Parking Details
Paid Parking in Lake Louise
Due to extreme competition for parking at the Lake Louise Lakeshore parking lot and the Moraine Lake parking lot, Parks Canada will implement mandatory paid parking from mid-May to mid-October. The rate for paid parking in Lake Louise is $11.70 per vehicle per day.
Where to Find Free Parking in Lake Louise
It’s important to note that the paid parking in Lake Louise is only for the Lake Louise Lakeshore parking lot and the Moraine Lake parking lot. There are still free Lake Louise parking lots – they just require some hiking to get to the Lake Louise lakeshore.
3 Free Lake Louise Parking Lots:
1. Great Divide Trailhead: If you’re lucky enough to get a spot in this small parking lot for the Great Divide Trail, it’s only a 1km walk along the Louise Creek Trail to the Lake Louise lakefront. The trail is on the opposite side of Lake Louise Drive. Download the Louise Creek trail map if you want to make sure you find it.
2. Tramline trailhead at the Lake Louise train station: From the Tramline trailhead, it’s a 3.5km hike through the forest to the Lake Louise lakeshore. This should take the average adult about 40 minutes to hike.
Note, the official Tramline hike is 5km, but you can cut the distance to 3.5km by turning onto the Louise Creek Trail. The junction for the Louise Creek Trail is approximately 1.5km into the Tramline hike.
I recommend you download the Tramline trail map onto your phone and then watch your progress to ensure you don’t miss the turn at the Louise Creek Trail junction.
3. Paradise Valley Trailhead: If you’re really up for an adventure, you can park at the small Paradise Valley trailhead parking lot on Moraine Lake Road. From the Paradise Valley trailhead you have two choices:
- The most scenic route to Lake Louise lakeshore is to hike along the Paradise Valley Trail for 3km, then hang a right onto the Sheol Valley trail. This is an incredibly scenic hike up Sheol Valley to the Saddleback Mountain hike which takes you down to Lake Louise. This 11km (one-way) route includes a significant amount of elevation gain, but if you are able, we highly recommend this beautiful Lake Louise hike.
- The fastest way to hike to Lake Louise from the Paradise Valley Trailhead is to hike for 1km along the Paradise Valley trail, then turn right onto an unnamed horse trail which makes a 4km beeline to the Lake Louise lakefront.
We recommend taking the scenic route to Lake Louise, then the fast route back to your car for a round-trip distance of 15km. We have a ton of information on these beautiful Lake Louise hiking trails in our Sheol Valley Hike and Saddleback Mountain Hike posts.
You can bet that these free Lake Louise parking spots will fill up early. If the lots are full, please be responsible and don’t park illegally anywhere. If too many people abuse the system, Parks Canada may issue tickets, tow cars, or even consider charging at these free Lake Louise parking spots in the future.
Let’s keep these Lake Louise parking lots free, so those who can’t find or afford paid parking can still enjoy one of the most beautiful places in Banff National Park.
Be aware that paid parking in Banff and Lake Louise does not include admission to Banff National Park.
The 9 Best Things to do in Banff National Park with Free Parking
The reason we are starting to see paid parking in Banff is that the most popular attractions are over-crowded during the peak summer season. We think the best thing to do in Banff in peak season is to go somewhere else to get away from the crowds.
Here are the 9 best things to do in Banff National Park with free parking:
1. Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is a popular day use area a 20-minute drive from the Town of Banff. A majestic mountain lake surrounded by Rocky Mountain peaks, Lake Minnewanka is one of the best spots to have a picnic in Banff.
You can also enjoy a beautiful lake cruise on Lake Minnewanka or go for a very scenic hike along the lakeshore to Stewart Canyon.
Being one of the most popular day use areas in Banff, Lake Minnewanka has a very large, free parking lot.
2. Johnson Lake
While Lake Minnewanka is known for strong winds, Johnson Lake is a better alternative for visitors to Banff looking to kayak or stand-up paddleboard.
The 3km hiking loop which circumnavigates Johnson Lake is one of our favorite easy hikes in Banff.
Banff and Lake Louise are not the only two spots implementing paid parking – the ever-popular Quarry Lake in Canmore is also introducing paid parking. As Johnson Lake is an excellent alternative to Quarry Lake, you can expect this free Banff parking lot to fill up quickly!
3. Cascade Ponds
Sitting nearly 1.5km below the looming summit of Cascade Mountain, the Cascade Ponds are an incredibly scenic spot for a picnic in Banff.
Blessed with a very large, free parking lot, you’ll enjoy a nice walking trail through Cascade Ponds with half-moon bridges through the tranquil ponds. There’s an abundance of picnic tables, many of which have fire pits.
The Cascade Ponds are also an access point for the extremely enjoyable Legacy Trail. From the Cascade Ponds you can ride your bike on a paved trail to the Town of Banff or all the way to Canmore.
4. Two Jack Lake
Can you tell we love the beautiful lakes of Banff National Park? Two Jack Lake is a small offshoot from Lake Minnewanka, giving it a more intimate feel.
At Two Jack Lake you can enjoy a picnic, swimming, a hike along the lakeshore, kayaking and/or stand-up paddleboarding.
The parking lot at Two Jack Lake offers free parking, but it’s pretty small so have a back-up plan just in case.
5. Banff Hiking Trails
One of the many reasons Lake Louise is so popular is that many of Banff’s best hiking trails originate there. Thankfully, Banff National Park is a huge place with plenty of excellent hikes with free parking.
- Tunnel Mountain Trail: a short hike to the summit of a small mountain near the Town of Banff.
- Sulphur Mountain Trail: skip the Banff Gondola and hike to the summit of Sulphur Mountain instead. Hikers can enjoy all the Banff Gondola facilities at the top (except for a ride down).
- C Level Cirque Trail: a challenging hike up the western slopes of Cascade Mountain to an incredibly beautiful cirque. Along the way you’ll pass remnants of Banff’s old coal mining days.
- Boom Lake Trail: a long, but reasonably easy hike to a majestic Banff lake surrounded by majestic Rocky Mountain peaks.
- Castle Mountain Lookout Trail: a short hike up the southern slope of one of Banff’s most majestic mountains to an incredible viewpoint.
- Taylor Lake Trail: an enjoyable walk through the forest to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Taylor Lake is an especially nice larch tree hike.
6. Cave and Basin National Historic Site
The discovery of hot springs at the Cave and Basin site led to the creation of Banff, Canada’s first national park. Visitors to the Cave and Basin will walk through a narrow tunnel to see the mineral rich water in an atmospheric cave. Then spend some time watching the movies and learning from the interactive exhibits at the Visitor Centre.
There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy at the Cave and Basin as well. In addition to the many beautiful, easy hiking trails along the Bow River, we really enjoy the kid-friendly bike ride to Sundance Canyon.
Given the Cave & Basin is the birthplace of Canada’s national park system, it’s very popular and has a large free parking lot. If you are so inclined, it’s only a 2km (20 minute) walk from the Cave and Basin to downtown Banff.
7. Bow Falls
Short, wide and powerful, the Bow Falls are worth a quick visit while in Banff. Enjoy a short walk along the Bow River from the short-term free Banff parking lot to the Bow Falls.
While you are there, take a short walk up to explore around the majestic Fairmont Banff Springs, Canada’s Castle in the Rockies.
8. Mt. Norquay
One of Banff’s Big 3 ski resorts, Mt. Norquay is also a fun place to visit in summer. Best of all, being a ski resort, it has a huge, free parking lot!
There are several good hikes at Mt. Norquay including:
- Stoney Lookout: A 5km hiking trail to a viewpoint at the summit of Stoney Mountain. Stoney is one of the easiest mountains to summit in Banff with an elevation of just 1,868m above sea level. Compare this to its closest neighbors Cascade Mountain (3,000m) and Mt. Norquay (2,522m)
- Cascade Amphitheatre: A scenic and sometimes challenging hike to a beautiful amphitheatre at the base of Cascade Mountain’s alpine zone.
One of the most exciting things to do at Mt. Norquay is the Via Ferrata, an assisted climbing experience. With four routes to choose from, you’ll cross suspension bridges and climb ladders, while soaking in the incredible views of Banff. The Via Ferrata isn’t free of course, but the parking is!
9. Cycle to Johnston Canyon
For the second consecutive year, the road to one of Banff’s most popular attractions will be closed to vehicle traffic. With the Bow Valley Parkway closed to vehicle traffic, visitors may only visit Johnston Canyon by taking public transit, a group tour or hiking/biking from Castle Junction.
We cycled from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon many times in 2020 and absolutely loved this unique Banff experience.
There is a medium-sized free parking lot at Castle Junction. Cycling to Johnston Canyon became increasingly popular during summer 2020, so expect competition for Castle Junction parking to be fierce again in 2021.
Get Free Parking with a Banff Hotel Stay
No matter where you go in Banff in summer, the parking situation can be competitive. If you’d like to guarantee yourself a Banff parking spot, consider staying at a Banff hotel for your visit. Hotels, of course, are not free, but at least you’ll get a great Banff parking spot.
If you’d like to visit Lake Louise, you can’t get any closer to the lake than staying at the iconic Chateau Lake Louise (parking is not free though). Alternative hotels which are a short walk to Lake Louise Lakeshore are the Deer Lodge and Paradise Bungalows (both of which offer free parking).
And finally, secure yourself a coveted parking spot at Moraine Lake with a stay at the incredible Moraine Lake Lodge.
Visit Banff Without a Car
If you are able, one of the best things visitors to Banff can do to help with the vehicle congestion problem is to visit Banff without a car. It’s easier than you think to get to Banff without a car and it’s also easy to get around Banff without a car. Once you are there, choose from these transit-friendly Banff hotels.
We hope this guide on how to find a free parking spot in Banff and Lake Louise useful. Enjoy your visit to Banff!