Six locations in Banff National Park attract millions of summer visitors on an annual basis, which has created a traffic, parking and family transportation challenge for everyone. Last summer, 2018, I had a chance to tour with Hop On Banff, and here are my nine reasons why you would want to park your car and hop on one of their yellow buses.
1. Guaranteed to get you and your family transported to the “Hot Spots” in Banff National Park
Have you recently tried to get to Johnston Canyon, Moraine Lake, or any of the locations with the name Lake Louise: the village, the lake, and the ski hill? I know for a fact that during peak season it is next to impossible to find a parking spot between 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. at any of these locations.
Great news, the big yellow school bus can drop you off within sight of your destination: No need to walk an additional 2 km from your car to the trailhead.
Bonus – you can save yourself some time and purchase a ticket on the bus for the Lake Louise summer gondola as well.
2. Set Schedule, Guaranteed Seating and On Time!
A set schedule allows you to plan your day. Hop on Banff even provides suggested itineraries.
Guaranteed seating – they limit the number of tour tickets they sell per day, so seats are always available for you to head to the next hot spot
On Time – During my tour, I stopped off at the Chateau Lake Louise to say hello to a friend that works there. Tyler said that they would be back at 11:15 a.m. to pick me up, like clockwork, the big yellow bus was there at 11:15.
These options are a big thumbs up for families: last summer at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake I observed some very young, exhausted-looking children and parents, waiting in line for upwards of 1.5 hours to get on a Parks Canada Shuttle. These shuttles are great, but I know that after a long day outside my kids wouldn’t haven’t waited that long, not without a lot of bribery and I would have gladly paid for a guaranteed seat before the meltdowns happened.
FYI – a bear jam or accident could potentially throw this schedule off, but that would be out of Hop On Banff’s control. The great news is that all of these destinations have services: restaurants, washrooms, and cell coverage so you can stay in touch with the bus, which is a significant relief.
3. Let Someone Else Deal With The Traffic
Hop On Banff visits the six busiest hot spots in Banff National Park, and over the course of the summer, so do 4 million other people.
Let their professional drivers take you safely to your location, you are here to enjoy the scenery, and not drive around a busy parking lot looking for a vacant parking spot, with kiddos potentially asking again and again, “are we there yet?”
4. Love The Bumps
On my particular ride, a family visiting from overseas were just as thrilled with the bumpy ride at the back of the bus as they were with the views. I observed the father and son giggling and laughing every time we went over the bumps in the road, as well as waving to the cars behind us. I rode a school bus for ten years, and even now, when I get on one, I still try to sit near the back – for the bumps!
Note: the driver always slowed down for the bumps and cracks in the road.
Tip for a smooth ride: Sit near the front of the bus or at least forward of the rear tires to avoid the bumps: these buses are not built for comfort!
5. Very Helpful, Friendly and Knowledgeable Hosts
As we headed out on Highway 1 to the Bow Valley Parkway, I sat back and observed Tyler meet and greet all of the guests on the bus.
He even played “hike matchmaker” and introduced a young gal and guy who were single travellers heading to hike Sentinel Pass for the day. I had finished my ride before these two got back on the bus, hopefully, they were well matched for the hike.
6. The Windows On The Bus Open
And the wheels go “round ‘n ’round”- sorry, I couldn’t’ resist.
Ok, back to the windows. The ability to open the windows might seem trivial, but it isn’t when it comes to taking pictures. I have worked for several large tour companies, all of which use the large coach buses. Unfortunately, the windows don’t open, and the dirt, dust, and sometimes strategically aimed bird poop on the outside of the windows have ruined many “postcard pictures.” Open windows on the yellow school buses also allow for some amazing, and safe wildlife viewing along the parkway.
7. Park Your Car and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
A standard school bus has 13 rows of seats, with two bench style seats per row. On average, two people to a bench seat means seating capacity for 52 people. However, as I observed on my ride, families with young children could sit three to a seat, possibly four. For argument sake, if there are three people to a car trying to get into one of the six Banff National Park Hotspots, one Hop On Banff Bus could eliminate 17.3 vehicles on the road!
Park your car in Banff, enjoy your tour and feel good about reducing your carbon footprint.
8. Ideal for Families With Older Children
In my opinion, as a mom, this service is ideal for families with children that are past the afternoon nap and diaper stage and able to walk on their own. FYI – The lower waterfall in Johnston Canyon is 5 Km (3 miles) return, so the ability to walk this distance is a good benchmark.
It is also ideal for parents that feel comfortable not having the car readily available to them should the day go sideways. Full disclosure: It took me a while to get to that point. However, my boys are now teens, and they could go by themselves and enjoy the day without me tagging along. Heck, in a few years, they might even be able to drive one of these yellow buses for a summer job!
If you still need to a child pack carrier, you can bring it with you but you will need to keep it on your lap. Leave the strollers at home, as there isn’t sufficient space for these larger items on the bus. They can accommodate collapsible wheelchairs, but you need to arrange that in advance. Unfortunately, your four-legged fur babies can’t hop on, but certified service animals can.
If you have my book, Take A Hike With Your Children, it indicates that Johnston Canyon is stroller friendly, and It was when my book was first published, but with the increased popularity of this trail, there is no way you can now safely and respectfully push a stroller here anymore. Yes, I will be updating that in my second edition.
9. Love and Support Local Entrepreneurs
Hop On Banff is 100% Locally Owned and Operated, which means when you choose to ride with them, you are helping an individual achieve their goals and dreams, as well as providing local jobs. In addition, these guys have over two decades of experience working in the Banff tourism industry, and this has paid off in the success of their business and the service they offer, as Hop On Banff is Banff’s # 1 Tour!
I thoroughly enjoyed being a guest and not the guide on this particular day. It was a pleasure to sit back, enjoy the views and not worry about “racing to the place” for a parking spot. I only wish they had more yellow school buses for everyone to Hop On!
In summary, it was an awesome and relaxing way to get around. I highly recommend Hop On Banff, and if you are interested in joining them this summer, you should book your tickets now, as tickets are limited per day.
What Will It Cost?
Adults 16+- 60.00; Child 5-15 – 45 ;Infants – free.
Sure, there are free shuttles, but remember, these fees guarantee you a seat, not a long wait in a long line up.
Thank you to Tyler and Hop On Banff for hosting me. All words and opinions are my own.