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What You Need To Know About Riding The Iconic Bow Valley Parkway

Posted on June 21, 2024 by Britanny Burr

Imagine a place where the open road is your path to adventure, the mountains are your playground, and nature’s wonders are waiting at every turn. Welcome to the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) in Banff National Park, a fabulous connector between Banff and Lake Louise's Village. It’s a 50 km stretch of beautiful road parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway, offering visitors plenty of scenic viewpoints and an unforgettable summer experience.

The Bow Valley Parkway, also known as Highway 1A, was originally designed to provide travellers with an intimate view of the stunning surrounding landscapes of Banff National Park. Today, it continues to offer visitors the opportunity to take in its beautiful surroundings, which was once the original highway.

Whether you cycle the parkway, E-bike, hike, rollerblade, or try out any other mode of non-motorized transportation, the choice is yours. You just can’t drive it. During the summer months, Parks Canada closes a portion of the Bow Valley Parkway to all public vehicles and this summer, it’s closed from May 1 through June 25th and August 30 to September 30, 2024. The closure aims to protect wildlife in the area. If you weren’t aware, this place is home to large animals such as wolves, cougars, bears, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and many other species. The closures provide a safe environment for these animals, aim to reduce human impact, and allow for a more enjoyable experience for non-motorized users. Limiting traffic makes the parkway the perfect spot to take in the beauty of nature. It’s yours to explore and promises a blend of breathtaking views at every turn, along with plenty of outdoor fun.

Ways to Explore

Biking: Biking along the Bow Valley Parkway is the perfect way to surround yourself with the beauty of the mountains. The smooth paved road is ideal for cyclists of all levels and is considered an easy to moderate ride. The section of the road that’s closed to motor vehicles is between the Fireside Day-Use Area and Johnston Canyon. This means that 17km of the parkway is open for you to bike without concern. Of course, you don’t have to bike the whole thing. You can simply turn around when you’re ready.

E-Bikes: For those who want a more leisurely or accessible experience, an e-bike is a fantastic option. e-bikes allow you to cover more ground with less effort while enjoying the fresh air and plenty of exercise. Pedal-assist e-bikes are especially great because you can choose to get as much assistance as you like while you’re riding. Just be sure your battery is fully charged before you head out!

Hiking: The Bow Valley Parkway is your passport to some of the best hiking trails in the park. From short, easy walks to more challenging treks, there is literally something for everyone. Popular trails include Johnston Canyon, where you can hike to mystic waterfalls, and even further on to The Ink Pots, where you will find five stunning aquamarine mineral-rich pools. Other popular hikes include the more challenging Rockbound Lake, Moose Meadows, or Silverton Falls, which is well suited for those with children and families. Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to explore.

Rollerblading and Roller Skiing: If you’re a fan of rollerblading or want to try out roller skiing, the parkway offers a smooth surface for a summer skate. Fill your lungs with fresh mountain air, and glide along the road for a thrilling way to experience the park’s beauty. Be sure to wear your helmet and protective gear.

Camping: Camping along the Bow Valley Parkway is a must for those who want to fully immerse themselves in nature. There are several campgrounds to choose from, including Johnston Canyon Campground and Protection Mountain Campground. Spend the night under a canopy of stars, with the sounds of the forest luring you to sleep. Wake up to the crisp mountain air and the promise of a new day of adventure.

The Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park with two bikers enjoying the ride. / Banff Lake Louise Tourism

Must-See Stops Along the Way

Johnston Canyon: One of the most popular stops on the parkway, Johnston Canyon, tops our list. The hike to the Upper and Lower falls is an easy trail that takes you through a stunning canyon with waterfalls, bridges, and catwalks. Plan on arriving early, it’s a crowd-pleasing hot spot.

Morant’s Curve: A favourite spot for photography, Morant’s Curve is a picturesque bend in the Bow River where you can capture the classic image of the Canadian Pacific Railway winding its way through the mountains. It’s named after Nicholas Morant, a prominent photographer who coined this scenic spot.

Castle Lookout: Rising majestically above the Parkway, Castle Mountain is an iconic landmark that can’t be missed. There are several viewpoints where you can stop to take in the magnitude of this impressive mountain peak. Castle Mountain Lookout trail offers a challenging hike with rewarding views at every turn.

Storm Mountain Lookout: Storm Mountain Lookout is the perfect spot to stop for a picnic, with picnic tables nestled above the scenic Bow River. It’s a peaceful retreat with plenty of magnificent views.

The Bow Valley Parkway is more than just an old highway; it’s a gateway to adventure, offering a diverse range of activities for any visitor and set against the backdrop of some of the most stunning landscapes in Canada. Whether looking for an excellent cycling path, world-class hiking, or just a quiet spot for a picnic lunch, visitors can enjoy free reign of the road all summer long. Check it out; you’re in for a special treat.

Pro Tips: The parking lots fill up. And early. Arrive at the crack of dawn, or consider taking Roam Transit from the Banff townsite. Parks Canada and emergency services still use the Parkway, so be aware of the odd vehicle passing through. Rental bikes are available at various locations in Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise.

Remember: Stay informed, always come prepared for what Mother Nature throws our way, leave no trace, and don’t forget the bear spray.

Britanny Burr is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the Great West Media & Southern Alberta Newspapers Hot Summer Guide advertising feature. The Hot Summer Guide is a special feature about summer activities, bucket list adventures, staycation options, road trips, attractions, events, and road trip-worthy food & beverage destinations across Alberta. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.

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