Which Airport Should I Fly Into To Access The Rocky Mountains?
Most visitors coming from outside of Canada fly into either Calgary or Edmonton International airport in the province of Alberta. Calgary is the closest to the mountains, the town site of Banff is less than a 2 hour drive away. From the Edmonton airport it’s a 4 hour drive to Jasper or 4.5 hours to Banff.
Other visitors fly into Vancouver International airport on the west coast of British Columbia. With this option you can take in the sights and attractions of the Vancouver area and Vancouver Island. Your options to get to the mountains are self driving, taking a bus or train or booking a short flight to either Calgary or Edmonton. There’s not a lot of airline choices within Canada. Air Canada and Westjet are the main operators.
Driving from Vancouver to the Rockies in the early spring and winter is not a recommend option. It is best to fly into the Calgary or Edmonton airport. From November through April and occasionally in October and May there can be snowstorms or avalanches in the mountain passes that can cause temporary road closures or delays. It’s not a drive that should be done by anyone lacking winter driving skills and experience.
Calgary International Airport is the gateway to Banff and Lake Louise. The town of Banff is located 120 km’s west of Calgary. It’s accessed by the Trans Canada Hwy #1. The driving time from the airport to Banff is less than 2 hours. Lake Louise is 58 km’s further west, approximately 40 minutes drive from Banff. Vehicle rentals can be booked for pick up at the airport to self drive to either destination or you can book one of the frequent shuttle services.
The Edmonton International Airport is the closest airport to Jasper. It’s located 360 km’s east of Jasper, approximately 3.5 hours driving time. Vehicles can be booked for pick up and drop off at the airport if you plan to self drive. There are shuttles available from the airport to Jasper.
If you’re not planning to self drive during your visit see our post: How To Get Around The Rocky Mountains Without A Vehicle.
Train Travel To The Rocky Mountains
Train travel in Canada is not as cheap of a method of transport as it is in some other countries. There are two train companies that access the Rocky Mountains. Via Rail operates from May through October twice a week between Vancouver and Jasper. You can continue on Via Rail to other major cities in Canada all the way to Halifax on the east coast. Tickets should be booked early to get the best pricing. The drawback is you miss out on some scenery while the train is traveling at night. You can remain in a regular seat or pay extra for a sleeping compartment. There is no regular passenger rail service to Banff.
The Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury train that runs seasonally from late April to early October. Unlike Via Rail it travels only in the day so passengers can enjoy the scenery. There are routes from Vancouver to Banff or Jasper with options that connect Whistler to Jasper. There’s no sleeping quarters on the train, nights are spent as part of a package deal in hotels.
The trains do not take passengers to areas such as the Icefields Parkway. You’ll want to combine your train travel with other options to get to some of these scenic attractions in the mountains. There are coach/bus tour options that can be combined with the Rocky Mountaineer.
Guided Bus/Coach Tours
Several companies offer guided tours from Vancouver to the Rocky Mountains that include stops at scenic spots and activity options. Booking a tour can be a good option for those that can not drive themselves around, but the drawback of the bus tours are the fixed schedule and sometimes short amount of time they offer at each location. They may not include all the best sights, especially the ones that take a little longer to get to. Some options for a variety of budgets are Brewster Tours, Timberwolf Tours, West Trek Tours and Moose Travel.
Greyhound Bus Transportation
Greyhound buses run between Vancouver and the mountains. It would be the least favourable way to travel. The trip is extremely long and tiring as the bus makes many stops along the route. They go from one main city to the next as a means of transportation and do not stop at any scenic areas. Greyhound provides service between Vancouver and Calgary with stops at Lake Louise village, Banff and Canmore. It also runs between Vancouver and Edmonton.
Self Driving To Or From Vancouver And The Rocky Mountains
Westcoast To Rocky Mountain Driving Routes – If you are driving one way between Vancouver and Calgary make sure you include the Icefields Parkway in your itinerary. It’s full of incredible scenery and dubbed as one of the top drives in North America. The least amount of driving would be to include it on your route. This is one of the most common and quickest routes, Vancouver – Kamloops – Jasper – Icefields Parkway – Lake Louise – Banff – Calgary 0r in reverse. There are many other variations on the route between the west coast and the mountains. They include going through the Okanagan winelands or along the most southern route which passes through Canada’s only true desert of Osoyoos, B.C.
For a look at the many different route options see our post: Driving Routes between Vancouver, Banff and Jasper.
One way vehicle rental – if you are thinking of flying into Calgary and out of Vancouver or vice versa and renting a one way vehicle it can be very expensive. Most rental companies charge a one way drop off fee that can be as much as $1000 on top of the other rental costs. If you want to visit both areas it may be more economical to find a cheap flight between Calgary and Vancouver and rent a vehicle to tour around each place. If you don’t mind a lot of driving and have the time you can consider flying in and out of the same airport and driving a circle route between the west coast and the mountains.
Renting A Recreational Vehicle (RV)
Traveling by motor home or camper van is a desirable way to travel to and/or around the mountains for some people. You can rent an RV to drive from Vancouver to the mountains or get one in Calgary for touring around the mountains. This is not a cheap way to travel in Canada. When visitors come from places like the UK where caravan travel is an economical option they are quite shocked at what the cost is in Canada. A basic RV rental is approximately $1500 a week and then a lot of extra charges get added to that. There may be extra fees for the use of bed linens and dishes and there’s also the insurances, fuel costs and campground fees. (Take note there is no free camping in the National Parks and you will be fined if you try to park your RV overnight outside of a designated camping spot.) By the time you add up all these costs you might be further ahead to rent a regular vehicle and book cheaper hotel accommodations.