Banff National Park is the most visited national park in the Canadian Rockies. It is a natural haven for outdoor enthusiasts who are searching for fabulous lakes, forests, glaciers, and endless mountain vistas. Many visitors begin their exploration of this park from Calgary. The effort is always worth it, but it can be quite overwhelming, especially for anyone who is handicapped.
Good news, Banff National Park’s handicap accessibility allows visitors with mobility challenges to enjoy many parts of the park just the same. There is no reason anyone in a wheelchair should miss out on these miracles of nature. Many places are wheelchair accessible, and the user can traverse with ease while keeping his or her belongings in a handy backpack.
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Banff National Park’s Handicap Accessibility
Canada is known for being one of the most disability-friendly countries to visit. Regardless of what visitors want to see and experience, a visit to the park takes a minimum of two days, which should be just enough to explore such sites as Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, Lake Minnewanka, and other notable sights.
With all there is to do and see in Banff National Park, the good news is that there are many facilities for people with mobility challenges. Most major attractions have accessible restrooms. Most roads for viewing are paved and easy to maneuver.
The towns of Banff and Lake Louise Village have excellent parking for the disabled, but some shops and restaurants do lack adequate wheelchair access. If taking a bus between Calgary, Canmore, and Banff, On-It Regional Transit is the only company that is wheelchair-friendly. The Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver to Banff is also wheelchair accessible for foldable wheelchairs.
A vehicle is needed to see much of the park. All the major lakes can be reached by car. At some locations, such as Bow Lake, there is some climbing down required to get to the lake from the parking lot. A good view from the parking lot is still possible.
When visiting Peyto Lake, a companion to help get the wheelchair onto the viewing platform would be very helpful. There are several viewing areas along Icefields Parkway, but some sights can only be seen from the parking lot.
The Athabasca Glacier on the Columbia Icefield can be toured in an Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle along a spectacular 10,000 sheet of ice. The experience is a sheer thrill, and fortunately, two of the all-terrains have wheelchair access. The skywalk down the glacier is also fully accessible, as is the main building with its third-floor restaurant. Here, anyone who is handicapped can do it all. Just give 72 hours advanced notice.
Best Wheelchair Accessible Trails
You do not need an off-road mobility scooter to travel through Banff (though it couldn’t hurt). With so many trails and roads paved, it’s easy to take in the many vistas.
The 4.9-mile Bow River Trail is wide enough for a wheelchair from the river to the city of Banff.
Fenland Trail spans through the forest in a 2-kilometer loop with spruce and noisy birds. It is paved, enjoyable, and can be traversed in a wheelchair.
The 6.2-mile Hoodoos Viewpoint & Hoodoos Trail loop is moderately challenging and a great place for birding. The best times to visit this trail are June through September. The hike offers a stunning view of Bow Valley, and fortunately, several parking areas are handicapped-friendly, and a portion of the trail is graveled, so it can be maneuvered with a wheelchair.
Lake Louise is one of the Canadian Rockies’ most treasured destinations. Its famed turquoise water is the result of pure melting glaciers, and millions of visitors come here each year to revel in this spectacular scenery. The best way to enjoy all this magnificence is via the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail, which is wheelchair accessible, as is the trail at nearby Moraine Lake, although the crushed gravel can make it a bit difficult.
The Banff Hot Springs are pure enchantment of bubbly geothermal watery indulgence, especially in the cold wintertime, when relaxing in the hot spring feels like sheer bliss. Before the bubbles reach the surface from 1.8 miles beneath the surface, they haven’t seen daylight for centuries. There is a café, and swimwear, lockers, and towels can be rented. The water’s temperature is 116 degrees in the winter (utter ecstasy) and cools to 81 degrees as the weather warms. This watery paradise is totally wheelchair accessible, as are the parking and shower areas.
The Fenland Trail has gorgeous views of the Canadian Rockies. It is a short trail, only 1.10 miles long, with a paved surface to make it handicapped-friendly.
Sundance Canyon Trail is a 5.4-mile trail that is popular for hiking, biking, as well as birding. It is wheelchair accessible. From Banff, just take Cave Avenue and park at the designated area for Cave and Basin and follow the signs to Sundance Canyon. The initial four miles along the Bow River are paved, but the path does go uphill. After that, the view becomes even grander, but the trail becomes more challenging and may no longer be accessible by wheelchair.
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a wonderful hot spring cave that should be explored. There is a section where visitors can soak in the hot, relaxing water. The Cave and Basin site is very helpful to anyone with hearing or sight problems, and it is wheelchair friendly.
How Accessible is Banff for People with Disabilities?
While not every trail in Banff is handicapped accessible, the majority, and probably the most breathtaking vistas are indeed accessible by wheelchair.
The Banff Gondola, with its stunning view up Sulphur Mountain, is wheelchair accessible, as are the shop and restaurant on top. There is a ramp to load into the gondola cabin which can accommodate the average-sized wheelchair. The wonderful 8-minute ride to the top takes visitors to the Upper Terminal building, which has an elevator for wheelchair users. The boardwalk at the ridge is not wheelchair accessible, but the top viewing deck can be accessed for one of the most stunning views of Banff.
The incredible Columbia Icefield Adventure has two ice explorers that have wheelchair lifts to carry handicapped passengers using a manual wheelchair unto the glacier. The lifts are unable to accommodate electric wheelchairs. The entire 800-meter icy skywalk can be enjoyed by visitors who are in a wheelchair or using a walker. All the floors inside the Icefield Center are accessible, as well – all the way to the restaurant on top. Seven-two hours’ notice is required, and the experience is well worth it.
FlyOver Canada is a 3,700 simulated amusement ride flight over Canada which is synchronized with a film to simulate the unforgettable experience as all senses are on full alert. FlyOver Canada uses chairlift seats that raise guests through the air, and it can be used by those who are handicapped and have the help of a companion to help transfer into the seats. Without a companion, those who are handicapped can watch the show from their wheelchair instead of the chairlift.
Kenai Fjord Tours are the most magical and unique of Canadian cruises. Watch for seals, sea lions, puffins, and other creatures, perhaps even a whale. The wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park is a gliding Instagram moment, and visitors should not forget to take a few memorable selfies of themselves! Such tours are what memories are made of! The newer boats can be boarded with a wheelchair, and the lower level is entirely wheelchair accessible.
On the Kenai Fjord Tours, seats have been specifically designated for handicapped passengers, allowing them a great, unobstructed view of the sights. Restrooms are also handicapped-friendly.
A one-hour Lake Minnewanka Cruise is the ideal way to see the wildlife along Banff’s largest lake. During the drive from Banff, there is a good chance of encountering deer, bears, or sheep. There is handicapped ramp access to the boats. The Minnewanka II has especially wide doors for easy use of large power wheelchairs. The staff will provide any assistance needed.
The WOW Banff Bus Tour offers one of the best ways to see the breathtaking views of Banff – and the busses are wheelchair accessible. Sit back and listen as the audio guide describes the panoramic sights of Banff and Banff National Park. There are stops along the way, including Lake Minnewanka. Pickup points for the tour are the Banff Train Station and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
The Banff National Park has gone to great lengths to make this stunning destination accessible to visitors with mobility challenges. Many trails are at least partially paved and/or accessible. Other trails have gentle grades and can also be visited. Most parking is handicapped-friendly. If there are any doubts as to the accessibility, the Banff Visitor Information Center is open seven days a week with answers. Wheelchair-accessible restrooms are easy to find.
When visiting Banff, visitors should have no problems finding wheelchair-accessible:
- The Sunshine Mountain Lodge has two rooms that are wheelchair accessible and have a seat in the shower.
- Banff Park Lodge has four accessible rooms. The parking garage has an elevator leading to all the hotel’s floors, so no stairs need to be used.
- Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa has four accessible rooms.
- Moose Hotel and Suites has 6 accessible rooms.
- The Coast Hotel in Canmore has 2 accessible rooms.
- The Super 8 Hotel in Canmore has wheelchair-accessible rooms and bathrooms with rails and shower bars.
- Canmore Downtown Hostel in Canmore has a ramp leading to the elevators. One of the rooms is accessible.
- The Hidden Ridge Resort and the Banff Rocky Mountain Resorts are NOT accessible and have many stairs.
Beautiful Banff Sites to See from Your Vehicle
Taking a scenic drive through Banff National Park offers stunning beauty and a large variety of wildlife. Don’t forget the camera!
- The Minnewanka Loop is a recommended post-dinner drive as it might include the fabulous Northern Lights over the lake after dark. The loop passes Cascade Pond (with views of the falls), Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake, and the shores of Lake Minnewanka. The entire loop is not available during the winter months. It spans 14.5 kilometers and takes approximately 25 minutes – depending on the number of stops.
- The Bow Valley Parkway includes a scenic drive to Lake Louise. Visitors wishing to spend more time in the area can stay at the Castle Mountain Chalets with its jet tubs, fireplaces, and a general store for necessities. Several of the chalets are wheelchair accessible. The Bow Valley Parkway route is a 2-hour roundtrip consisting of 50 kilometers each way. The best sights are the Johnston Canyon waterfall and the river views of Castle Mountain.
- Icefields Parkway is the standard by which other Banff drives are judged. The drive to Lake Louise and Jasper showcases the marvel of the icefields. The route is 78 kilometers to Lake Louise and Saskatchewan Crossing and 232 kilometers from Lake Louise to Jasper. The number of stop-and-stare spots is too numerous to count.
- The Vermilion Lakes Road is a flat drive running parallel to the Trans Canada Highway with incredible views of the Vermilion Lakes and the mountains. The trip is just over 8 kilometers and takes less than half an hour. The best part is the scent of the bubbling mineral springs.
Where to Rent a Wheelchair in Banff
If bringing a wheelchair on a trip to the Canadian Rockies is too cumbersome, renting a wheelchair in Banff is quite easy.
- Kenron Pharmacy on 29 St NW has wheelchairs and crutches for travelers who are disabled.
- Gourlay’s Pharmacy on Bear Street is another source for wheelchair rental.
- Rexall on Banff Avenue has wheelchairs available on a short-term basis.
- The Banff Scooter Company at the Banff Railway Station rents mobility scooters.
Visitors to Banff National Park will certainly enjoy natural wonders beyond imagination, but Banff is not just for the young and fit. Regardless of your physical abilities, there are areas of the park to enjoy. Banff’s handicap accessibility allows visitors to enjoy enough of the park to make the trip well worth the time and effort.