Cycling from Banff to Jasper - a 10 day self-guided travel itinerary
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
No matter how many mountain ranges I see on my active travel adventures, no two peaks are ever the same. And the Canadian Rockies provide eye-popping evidence. I had cycled this area before with an organized tour company. But I loved it so much that I wanted to take my friends back to experience the natural beauty firsthand. I am one of those detailed oriented, organized types. So the idea of re-creating this trip on my own was an exciting challenge. My planning started almost a year ahead of the departure date. But it was worth the work it took to plan, as the trip turned out far better than I had expected. See more of the story behind this Multi-sport Canadian Adventure here, as well as how You Can Design your own Group Cycling Trip with friends here.
The Canadian Rockies are a large playground with many incredible options for recreation. This itinerary primarily focuses around five days of road cycling with short hikes to beautiful waterfalls, a glacier tour and options for boat touring or kayaking on Maligne Lake.
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If you want to add an upscale component to this trip, accommodations like The Fairmont Banff Springs, The Post Hotel, the Fairmont Lake Louise and the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge will do the job nicely. Each has their own beautiful spa where you can get a body treatment or soak your tired legs after a long day's ride.
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“The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only nationwide environmental charity dedicated solely to the protection of their public land and water, and ensuring the parks are managed to protect the nature within them. This organization works to protect well-known areas such as Kananaskis, the Whaleback and the Castle Wilderness. They also offer environmental education in the classroom and interpretive hikes in nature to foster a new generation of environmental stewardship” Here is a link where we can help them make a difference.
Trip Rating: - L1 . See full description of Paradox Travel trip ratings here.
Month of travel: August – most predictable weather. But rain still possible.
Length of trip: 9-10 days
Group size: 10
Vehicle setup: 1 rented 15-passenger van ,1 double cab pickup truck with rack and bed cover, 1 pull-behind enclosed cargo trailer (you can rent at Uhaul) modified with 10 bike fork
mounts on 2x4’s with padding for stability.
Bikes: We all lived in the same city, so we brought our own bikes. If some of your group is flying in, you can rent road bikes here in Banff.
Getting to/from Banff
1.You can drive your group there in the rented pass van with bikes in trailer tow as we did. This was the easiest and most cost effective solution, as we lived only a 2-day drive away.
2. If part of your group is flying into Calgary, the airport is a 90 min drive away. They can meet you in Banff, or those driving can pick them up en route.
3. Your group can all fly in and rent a pass van and trailer in Calgary or Banff and rent bikes there as well (see link above). But this needs to be coordinated far in advance to guarantee your vehicle, and then you need to figure out how to stabilize your bikes in the trailer once there. I'd recommend option 1 or 2.
Road conditions - The Bow Valley Parkway (Route 1A) and Route 93 to Jasper are primarily asphalt-paved, in great condition with wide shoulders or with very little traffic. Plus, the landscape over those 180-200 miles ia a beautiful combination of glaciated mountains and teal blue lakes at the base of them. The route was hilly in parts, flat in others, but with some memorable steep climbs. See here for map and profile of ride.
Total Distance - 208 miles (336k)
Choosing a casual pace (35-40m/day) allows for breakfast, starting at a reasonable hour, hiking and exploration en route, and arriving at that day’s destination in time to soak in the hot tub or have a beer before dinner.
Accommodations and food - We opted to for moderate priced hotels on this trip due to mixed budgets, everyone at same hotel, two people to a room. There are accommodation options at all price points. But its logistically best to pick one hotel for the group. ** TIP: Make sure to book hotels 10-12 months in advance for the month of August, as it is high season and most reliable weather. We picked hotels that had breakfast included (at the time). Rooms were paid for individually, as were dinners. We chipped in for snacks & picnic lunches on ride days.
TIP – compare prices for individual, family and group for one week and annual. At the time we went, it was cheaper to buy a family annual pass than it was for individual for only one week.
Day 1 - Arriving in Banff
Pick up bikes if you are renting here.
Accommodation suggestion - High Country Inn – 2 nights.
Day 2 – Explore Banff
Activity recommendations - Hike up the Sulphur Springs trail to magnificent views of the Bow Valley / take the Gondola back down. Soak at the Sulfur Springs, tour the Banff Gardens, rent canoes on the Bow River, check out the Banff Springs hotel and spa, get your bikes ready for the next day.
Day 3 – Ride #1 to Lake Louise
Bike mileage: ~40-45 miles
Destination: Lake Louise
Start time: 9:30 AM
Suggested Arrival time: 4:30 PM
Lunch Destination: Noon - Johnston Canyon – there is a great hike to do after lunch up to some beautiful waterfalls
TIP - this is a great place to picnic. So pack a lunch, or stop at a deli the day before when in Banff.
Activity suggestion/stops along the route: Rockbound lake / Silverton Falls (30min RT hike), Castle Cliffs Lookout, Storm Mountain Lookout
Accommodation suggestion: Mountaineer Lodge – 2 nights. This hotel is comfortable and is central to town, walking distance to restaurants, shops etc.
Day 4 – Ride #2 around Lake Louise
Bike Mileage: ~ 20-22 miles total
Destination: Explore Lake Louise area & Moraine Lake
Start time: 7am recommended, to avoid tour bus traffic
Activity suggestions - Ride up to Moraine Lake and Valley of Ten Peaks in the morning. This about a 10 mile ride and is steep in parts, but is well worth the effort & absolutely gorgeous. When done, ride back down ~10-12 miles and over to Chateau Lake Louise. Eat lunch at this beautiful resort and either rent a canoe to take out on the lake, or take about a 2 hour (total) hike up to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House – this place was built back in 1927 and is this old cottage with spectacular views and still serves dozens of teas and tasty treats for hungry hikers. It’s terrific! Then ride back to your hotel (only a 2 mile ride if not staying at the Chateau) and relax and have a nice dinner.
NOTE – Since this is a short mileage day and local, this is a day everyone can do ALL activities, including the ride, without need of the support van. You would just need to agree to bring bike repair stuff with you, and know that your group would be reliant on their own bikes and feet to get back to the hotel.
Day 5 – Ride #3 Peyto Lake / Athabasca Glacier
The distance from Lake Louise to Athabasca Glacier is 90 miles. I wanted to spend an extra day in Jasper this trip, so I structured it so guests would ride part way and get shuttled by van part way. If your group can handle greater mileage, there is no need for this, or you can pick a later pickup point.
Bike Mileage: ~ 40 miles
Destination: Peyto Lake Lookout (shuttled from here to hotel)
Start Time: 9AM
This is a hilly day with many worthwhile stops. Getting up and starting early will give you the most time to enjoy the day at an easy pace.
Lunch: 12 noon at Mosquito Creek Campground **get lunch items in Lake Louise.
Pickup Time: 4 PM at Peyto Lake lookout
Recommended stops en route - Hector Lake Viewpoint, Crowfoot Glacier lookout, Num Ti Jah Lodge, Peyto Lake ** Make sure you arrive at Bow Summit / Peyto Lake by ~ 3:00 if you want to leave enough time to hike to the lookout, get back, load your bike and be ready to leave by 4pm.
Accommodation suggestion - Glacier View Inn –It is a simple lodge, but sits right across from Athabasca Glacier – there is a glacier tour option in the morning.
Day 6 – Ride #4 Jasper
Bike Mileage: ~ 35 or 60 miles ?
Start time: 12 noon (if Glacier Tour in AM), or 9am if bypassed
Pickup Destination: Sunwapta Falls (if noon start)
Pickup time: 4pm
Activity recommendations - starting late allows time for a morning Snow-Coach Icefield tour. Other options are to sleep in or bypass it as a group and start the ride earlier and ride all the way to Jasper.
If you do the morning glacier tour, and start after lunch, the support crew again can pick riders up at Sumwapta Falls at 4pm. If your group decides to bypass the Glacier tour and ride earlier, you can continue riding after Sumwapta Falls. It’s about 60 miles total from the Glacier to Jasper or a 45 min drive from Sumwapta Falls to Jasper.
Accommodation suggestion: The Sawridge Inn – 2 nights
Day 7 – Ride #5 Maligne Lake
There are dozens of ways to explore Jasper, depending on if you want to ride more, paddle, hike or just play tourist around town. Here are my recommendations, depending on how leg tired your group is by now, or where your interest lies.
Suggested Bike route -
Mileage: Ride ~35 miles to Maligne Lake.
Lock up your bikes. Grab some food at the lodge and either rent sea kayaks or go on a boat tour to Spirit Island – this is one of the most beautiful and most photographed places in the Canadian Rockies. Get a ride back into town with the support crew for dinner.
Option A: Sleep in, drive out to Maligne Lake with the shuttle crew, meet the riders there and either do boat tour of the lake, or rent kayaks.
Option B: Sleep in, have breakfast in Jasper, ride your bikes a short distance (or take the bus) to the Jasper Tramway for some great views of the area, check out the world–known Fairmont hotel and Golf Course….or go shopping and drink beer at the local pub.
Option C: Catch a ride with the shuttle crew to the Maligne Lake area, have them drop you off near the Opal Hills area – great area to hike. They can pick you up at an agreed-on time, on the way back.
Accommodation suggestion - Sawridge Inn
Day 8 - Return to Banff
It’s a 200 mile drive but there are still great things to see en route. So depending on the weather, how your group feels, and what time you want to arrive back in Banff, here are some recommendations on how your group can spend the day:
Have Breakfast in Jasper
Ride the tramway (if you didn’t do it the day before) on the way out of town
Stop by Pyramid Lake (near Jasper)
Stop by Emerald Lake (near Lake Louise)
Short hike to Takakkaw Falls (2nd highest in Alberta)
Head straight back to Banff, return bikes as needed, soak in the Hot Springs, and spend the day there.
Accommodation suggestion - High Country Inn
Day 9 - 10 Head Home or..
Head home or spend an extra day hot-springing or hiking in Banff
Bikes returned, as needed and back and travel home.