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.
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 or a Parks Canada Discovery Pass to access the parks.
We flew from Montreal to Calgary with Air Canada. Upon arrival, we rented a car, and our road trip began. My recommendation is to spend at least two, better three full 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.
A self-drive route through Banff National Park & Jasper National Park
We had a total of five days (way too short) 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 the hotel facilities and the room was barrier-free, I couldn’t enter the bathroom in my wheelchair.
After two days of 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 so-called “wheelchair accessible” room had a step at the entrance (no ramp), and the bathroom wasn’t accessible at all. On the fourth 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.
Planned as a roughly 3.5-hour drive, we eventually needed 6 hours (!!!) 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.
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. Canmore is a good base to also visit the Bow Valley Provincial Park in nearby 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.
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.
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, though!
Sadly, the road to Moraine Lake, which is 13 km away from Lake Louise only opened the 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
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 about 80 km in the northern direction of 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.
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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