Banff National Park & Lake Louise in a wheelchair: An Accessibility Guide

UPDATED: May 2019 

 

In 2017 Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary and granted free admission to the National Parks. Canada has always been one of my dream destinations. So, I took this opportunity and went on a fantastic, greatly wheelchair-accessible journey together with my husband. Our 4-week trip started in New York City/US and ended in Vancouver/CA.

 

Experiencing the Canadian Rocky Mountains as a wheelchair user

The road trip through the iconic National Parks of Banff, Yoho, and Jasper clearly was the highlight of this journey. Breathtaking Canadian nature as far as the eye can see! If you’re lucky, you’ll see Grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, wapitis and elks on your way through the stunning, snow-covered Rocky Mountains. Surprisingly, the wheelchair accessibility was much better than what I expected it to be.

 

Rental car parks on handicap parking in Banff National Park

Wheelchair road trip through Banff, Yoho, and Jasper © 

 

Wheelchair-accessible Banff National Park – The Basics

Calgary International Airport (YYC) is the closest airport to Banff National Park (145 km/90 miles). Driving to Banff takes about 2 hours. Note that you need to have either a day pass (9.80 CAD per adult) or a Parks Canada Discovery Pass (67.70 CAD per adult) to access the parks.

We flew from Montreal to Calgary with Air Canada. Once we arrived, we rented a car, and our road trip began. My recommendation is to stay at least two days in the Banff area as there is so much to see! Getting around by car clearly is the most accessible and comfortable way to explore Banff National Park and Jasper National Park as a wheelchair user.

 

Banff and Tunnel Mountain seen from Sulphur Mountain (Sanson's Peak) © lmt

Banff and Tunnel Mountain seen from Sulphur Mountain (Sanson’s Peak) ©

 

A self-drive route through Banff National Park & Jasper National Park

We had a total of five days in Banff and Jasper, driving clockwise from Calgary to Edmonton. Our home for the first two nights was the only partly accessible Canmore Rocky Mountain Inn. While the access to hotel facilities and the room was barrier-free, I couldn’t enter the bathroom in my wheelchair.

After two days exploring the sights in Banff, we went to Lake Louise, where we stayed for a night at the Lake Louise Inn, which I don’t recommend. The “wheelchair accessible” room had not only a step at the entrance (with no ramp), but also the bathroom wasn’t accessible at all. The next day we took a short detour to Yoho National Park to see Lake Emerald and the Natural Bridge, before moving on to Jasper National Park.

 

Road-trip through Banff, Yolo and Jasper NP

Calgary – Canmore – Banff – Lake Louise – Lake Emerald/Yoho NP – Jasper – Edmonton

 

Planned as a roughly 3.5-hour drive, we eventually needed 6 (!!!) to drive from Lake Louise to Jasper, as there is so much to see on the way. Make sure to stop at Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, the Saskatchewan River Crossing as well as the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. For accessibility details, scroll down and read the post about Jasper National Park in a wheelchair.

 

Travel Tip

Hotels in Banff are pretty expensive. So, if you travel on a budget, it is much cheaper to stay in Canmore, a charming town nearby (26 km/16 miles). You’ll find a large choice of hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and a wheelchair-friendly infrastructure. From Canmore, you could also visit the Bow Valley Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country.

 

General Wheelchair Accessibility of Banff National Park

You can reach almost all the major sights by car. In general, the viewpoints are wheelchair-friendly, and most have handicapped parking lots as well as accessible restrooms. Since May 2019, wheelchair-accessible public buses connect Banff to Lake Louise via the Lake Louise Express Route (Route 8X).

 

Attractions with great wheelchair accessibility in Banff

Accessible Banff Gondola

The first day in Banff National Park started with a ride of the fully accessible Banff Gondola. To my great surprise, we got a discount for my caregiver after showing proof of disability. Staff members stop the accessible gondola for you, set up a portable ramp, and push you on board. The upper platform is entirely accessible. You find accessible family restrooms, a restaurant as well as an exposition informing about Canadian wildlife. Without a doubt, the best thing is the wheelchair accessible outdoor summit platform. The views of the Rocky Mountains are absolutely stunning!

 

 

Vermillion Lakes Drive

We drove along the wonderful Vermillion Lakes Drive, a scenic, about 4 km long paved road with several accessible viewpoints. From there you could also stroll along the accessible Fenland Trail.

 

Vermillion Lakes in Banff NP @

Vermillion Lakes Drive in Banff NP ©

 

Bow Falls

Only the lower viewpoint at Bow Falls is accessible for wheelchair users, as stairs are leading to the upper lookout.

 

Wheelchair-friendly Hoodoos Viewpoint & Hoodoos Trail

After seeing Bow Falls, we took Tunnel Mountain Road to the wheelchair-friendly Hoodoos Viewpoint. There you also find handicap parking spaces. My husband pushed me along the partly accessible, graveled Hoodoos Trail to a lovely bench from where you have terrific views of Banff.

 

 

 

Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive

The Lake Minnewanka Scenic Loop Drive comes with several wheelchair-accessible viewpoints and takes you towards Lake Minnewanka. You first pass Two Jack Lake, which then turns into Lake Minnewanka. Both glacial lakes are jaw-droppingly beautiful. So, if you love spectacular scenery, then you definitely shouldn’t skip this about 25 km long drive while visiting Banff.

 

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka ©

Two Jack Lake in Banff NP ©

Two Jack Lake in Banff NP ©

 

Lake Louise

Although Lake Louise was still frozen in May, we enjoyed seeing the famous lake. There are several handicap parking spaces and wheelchair accessible restrooms pretty close to the lakefront. We strolled along the wheelchair-accessible Lakeshore Trail, though we didn’t come far as it was super icy and snowy. It must be beautiful in summer!

 

Lake Louise in a wheelchair - A dream came true ©

Lake Louise in a wheelchair – A dream came true ©

 

Sadly, the road to Moraine Lake, which is 13 km away from Lake Louise only opened a week after our stay, so we couldn’t visit this beautiful jewel. I guess I’ll have to find out about Moraine Lake’s accessibility another time.

 

Bow Lake & Peyto Lake

In May 2017 Bow Lake was still almost completely frozen and the road to Peyto Lake, unfortunately, hadn’t been open yet. However, it was quite impressive to see these enormous amounts of snow on the road. It appears that the Bow Summit Viewpoint from where you see Peyto Lake in all its glory might be accessible with help. As I haven’t been there myself I, however, can’t say more about it.

 

Snow and ice on the road to Bow Lake in May 2017 ©

Snow and ice on the road to Bow Lake in May 2017 ©

 

Ice-covered Bow Lake in May 2017 ©

Ice-covered Bow Lake in May 2017 ©

 

Wheelchair-accessible Saskatchewan River Crossing Viewpoint

After seeing the natural attractions around Banff and Lake Louise, we continued our way to Jasper. The Saskatchewan River Crossing is located about 80 km in the northern direction from Lake Louise. We parked on the handicap parking spot and followed the extremely short, slightly graveled, accessible trail to the Saskatchewan River Crossing Viewpoint. Next to the parking lot is a wheelchair accessible restroom.

 

Accessible Saskatchewan River Crossing Viewpoint ©

Accessible Saskatchewan River Crossing Viewpoint ©

 

Summary

Summing up Banff National Park is pretty wheelchair-accessible. Many of the fantastic natural sights are accessible for wheelchair users, too. It was easy to drive through Banff National Park as each sight had handicap parking lots. Most of the time, I found wheelchair-accessible restrooms as well. The new accessible bus service serving Banff and Lake Louise is a big plus for visitors in wheelchairs. Are you ready for your adventure?

 

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Banff National Park

8.3

General Accessibility

9.0/10

Accessibility of sights

9.0/10

Wheelchair-friendly restrooms

9.0/10

Wheelchair-accessible trails

6.0/10