For all-ages fun, take an e-bike tour of the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Johnston Canyon! Lunch at Black Swift Bistro is included, so all you need to bring is your sense of adventure – and camera (maybe some sunscreen and water too).
If you’ve always wanted to bike the Bow Valley Parkway, but wondered whether or not you (or your kids) could do the distance, sign up for an e-bike tour with Banff Cycle. While you still have to pedal, the pedal assist makes hills a breeze. I don’t think my kids could’ve managed 50 kilometres otherwise! With the east side of the highway closed to vehicles again this summer, you can enjoy biking the road without cars.
The bike ride from Banff Train Station to Johnston Canyon is super scenic, with lots of opportunities to see wildlife. On our trip, we saw deer, elk, and a grouse, and just missed seeing a bear. Highlights of the Johnston Canyon e-bike and Explore Tour include Vermilion Lakes Drive, a delicious lunch at Black Swift Bistro, Johnston Canyon, and stunning scenery along the Bow Valley Parkway.
Johnston Canyon e-bike and Explore Tour Trip Report
Our adventure begins at Banff Cycle kiosk at Banff Train Station, a short walk from our hotel (if you’re coming in for the day, you can park at the train station for free!). Tristan checks us in, gives us helmets, and adjusts our bike seats before giving us a crash lesson on riding an e-bike. I say this tongue-in-cheek as no crashes were had. In fact, we got used to the e-bikes fast! The pedal-assist feels natural, and shifting and braking are just like on a regular bike. With three levels of assist (also easy to adjust), “It’s you, but better.” Most of the time, we cruise in 1 or 2. Level 3 is reserved for hills and going fast; the e-bikes can go up to 32 km/hr!
We are accompanied by Tom Couture, Banff Cycle’s owner and first person to bike The Great Trail (an impressive feat – it’s 24,000 kilometres long!); and Rachel Peer, experienced guide and cyclist. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious. “I’m 99% sure we’re gonna see a bear!” Rachel grins. Tom tells me not to worry about taking photos, and “just enjoy the ride with your family!” I stick the GoPro on my helmet anyways. I’ve been dreaming about this bike ride for so long, and want to capture its beauty.
As we leave the town of Banff and cruise down Vermilion Lakes Road, we keep a moderate pace and enjoy the view of the lakes and Mount Rundle. After getting on the Bow Valley Parkway, however, Tom tells us to crank it up and we zoom down the highway laughing. “This is so fun, right Mom?!” my youngest shrieks. We stop for scenic viewpoints, a pokey grouse, and deer; and race Rachel on her road bike up hills (so unfair, I know, but she’s a good sport and amazingly fit having biked over 5,000 kilometres this season).
Along the way, Tom and Rachel share stories about Banff, biking, and life in the Bow Valley. At this time of year, it’s not uncommon to see multiple bears in a day! Between the hollering and whooping for joy, however, we scare most of the wildlife away. (It’s ok, I prefer to see bears from the safety of my vehicle.) Tom is stoked to see us enjoying the e-bikes and says this is why e-bikes are so great for this ride; they get all ages out here, even families with young children in Chariots (which he also rents), and “You don’t feel like you’re going to die.” It’s true! We fly past cyclists on the uphill sections without breaking a sweat.
Before we know it, we’ve arrived at Johnston Canyon (where we part ways with Tom – being the boss is busy)! We hike to Lower Falls, reveling in how quiet it is with the highway closed. We could carry on to Upper Falls, but our tummies are grumbling. Although the bike ride wasn’t hard, thanks to the e-bikes, we still worked up an appetite! At Black Swift Bistro, we rehydrate and enjoy a delicious meal, then get back in the saddle. Rachel regales us with cool stories about Banff’s history; she is a wealth of knowledge after leading historical tours at the Banff Springs Hotel for several years.
Since we’re traveling at a quick pace, there is plenty of time for breaks. Rachel knows all the best photo spots, and helps us get some family photos. Mere minutes from the train station, she pulls over, and asks, “Is this ok?” pointing at three elk. It is definitely more than ok! We watch them nibble on grass and shrubs – from a safe distance – until they cross the street.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience! Tom and Rachel were amazing hosts, and so fun to chat with, the kilometres flew by. We loved the tour so much, my kids have already asked when we can go again!
Know Before You Go
Kids can ride the e-bikes provided they are tall enough (minimum height is 137 cm /4’6″ tall), and if you have younger kids, you can rent a Thule Chariot and tow them. This way, the whole family can enjoy the Bow Valley Parkway and still have energy to hike Johnston Canyon.
If you’re hiking Johnston Canyon, it’s 1.2 km to Lower Falls and 2.5 km to Upper Falls. Lower Falls is a lovely objective if you’re short on time; you can experience the catwalk, waterfall, tunnel, and little viewing platform on the other side of the tunnel. Note that the catwalk is not wide enough for a Chariot, so plan to carry your little one in a carrier.
We highly recommend the guided e-bike tour, but if you would like to ride the Bow Valley Parkway on your own, Banff Cycle rents top of the line Trek Verve+ 3 e-bikes, Specialized e-bikes, Cannondale Quick One Hybrid Bikes, and Thule Chariot bike trailers. Helmets and locks are included with rentals.
For More Information
To book your Johnston Canyon e-bike & explore tour, Banff and Bow Valley e-bike tour (includes Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive), custom bike tour, or rentals, visit Banff Cycle.