Always wanted to visit the Canadian mountains? Don’t know where to start planning your trip? Our Canadian Rockies itinerary will help you schedule and plan your road trip. We spend every summer road tripping in the Rockies.
The Canadian Rockies road trip includes all the highlights of 5 National Parks and places less visited. As locals, we suggest to spend time not only in Banff and Jasper but also Waterton, Fernie, Yoho and Golden to get a truly in-depth experience of the Rockies.
The sequence of this itinerary starts from Calgary and follows Highway 2 (22) south towards the US border. Then it crosses the border to British Columbia and follows Highway 93 North. In Jasper, you will turn around and follow the Icefields Parkway to Banff and on day 14 you will get back to Calgary. You can also do it vice versa from the last day back to the first. This itinerary will get you through 5 National Parks in Alberta and British Columbia.
The total distance of this itinerary ranges between 1900 and 2600 km. It might look like a lot compared to distances in Europe, but keep in mind that Canada is the second biggest country in the world.
How to budget for you Canadian Rockies road trip
Things you should take into account are accommodation, food, attraction, car rental and fuel.
If you want to stay in hotels you can expect nightly rate from 200 CAD. That is only when the hotel rooms are available. During summer many hotels in the Rockies are fully booked half a year in advance, and those that are not booked can be 400 CAD/night.
While you stay in a hotel you will also need to rent a car as there is only a tiny fraction of available public transport. The price of renting a car varies from 50 – 100 CAD/day.
Traveling on a budget? See our step by step Banff budget guide for local tips and secrets.
Get the best campervan deal
Instead of staying in hotels (250 – 500 CAD/night) you can have accommodation and wheels in one of our super-simple Smile Campervans. (175 CAD/night). Imagine the flexibility when you can pull out your bed almost anywhere.
Detailed budget for 2-week road trip in the Rockies
13 nights x 200 CAD (Campervan and campground) – 2,600 CAD
2600 km of fuel is approximately – 260 CAD
14 days of food for 2 people while you cook for yourself – 700 CAD
Attractions – 1,500 CAD
Total = 5060 CAD
If you want to stay in hotels, your budget will be higher by 700 – 4000 CAD for 2 weeks.
Detailed map of your Canadian Rockies road trip
When is the best time for the Rockies road trip?
The skiing season in the Rockies ends at the beginning of May. That is also a time when most campgrounds and winter closed roads start to open. All of the beautiful turquoise lakes thaw out in June. If you want to avoid crowds, come at the beginning of June or the second half of September.
If you want to make sure all the attractions are open come in July and August. The best weather for road trips in the Canadian Rockies starts in mid-May and ends in September.
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Canadian Rockies road trip itinerary for 14 days
Day 1: Calgary to Waterton
Driving time: 3 hours/300 km
Take Highway 2 south towards the US border. Highway 2 is the fastest route to get to Waterton Lakes National Park, if you want more scenic route, take Highway 22 from Black Diamond through foothills of the Rockies. This is the same road as old cowboys used to get to Calgary in the last two hundred years, hence the name Cowboy Trail.
Things to do on the way to Waterton from Calgary
- Read our post about southern Alberta road trip for details which places to visit.
- Visit National Historic Site Bar U Ranch
- See how natives hunted for buffalo in Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site
Day 2: Waterton Lakes National Park
Driving time: 2 hours/70 km
On the second day, you will drive much less compared to the first day. Waterton Park has two valleys where you can drive. Red Rock Highway will get to Red Rock Canyon. Akamina Road leads to Cameron Lake with The First Oil Well in Western Canada National Historic Site along the road.
Only in Waterton, you can notice the red mountain tops which are unique to the Rockies. If you don’t feel like driving you can visit both valleys on a bike.
Update: After wildfires in 2017, attractions in Waterton Lakes National Park are accessible only on foot or by bike. See the link for updates.
Things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park
- Take a boat through Waterton Lake and hike to Crypt Lake
- Bike both parkways of Waterton
- Visit Red Rock Canyon
- Have afternoon tea in the Prince of Wales Hotel
- Climb to Bears Hump and enjoy a panoramic view of Waterton Lake
- Drive your car around bison paddock on the edge of the national park
Day 3 – 4: Waterton Lakes to Fernie
Driving time: 2 hours/170 km
Along the way to Fernie, you will see the difference between drier prairie climate and a more humid mountain climate of British Columbia. You will start driving North back towards Highway 3. Then you take Highway 3 West. After 80 km you will reach Lundbreck Falls.
After the falls, drive through the mining area of Crowsnest Pass with famous Frank Slide. In 1903 half of the mountain collapsed and subsequent rock slide killed almost 100 people. Till these days, you can observe piles of rocks lying along the highway.
Once you reach the highest point on the road you will enter British Columbia province with its mining towns. Fernie is only 50 km away from the Alberta/BC border. In Fernie, you can rent a bike or visit a moose living on Island Lake. Day 4 you will spend in Fernie.
Things to do in the Crowsnest Pass area and Fernie
- Stop for a snack at Lundbreck Waterfalls
- Visit the Frank Slide Interpretative Centre
- Take a picture of World’s Largest Truck which was cruising open-pit mines of Sparwood
- Observe moose on Island Lake
- Rent a bike in Fernie and enjoy downhill or cross country trails around town
- Hike up Mount Fernie
- Walk to fossils of giant Ammonite
For more ideas, read our post 25 amazing things to do in Fernie.
Day 5: Fernie to Golden
Driving time: 4 hours/390 km
On Day 5 you will spend the most time behind the wheel out of the whole trip. Good thing though, the next couple of days you will drive only a little. Continue on Highway 3 towards Elko for 30 km. Then take Highway 93 north to Golden. The stretch of the road between Elko and Golden is called Kootenay and Columbia Valleys.
On the way to Golden, make a small detour just before Canal Flats towards Lussier Hot Springs, natural hot springs on the bank of the quiet and cold river. After you take your hot bath drive back to the Highway 93.
Continue north, where you can stop along in the small towns of Fairmont or Invermere, but I suggest to stop in Radium where you can see a little bit of European Alps architecture. After your lunch head north for Golden on Highway 95.
Things to do along Kootenay and Columbia Valleys
- Dip in natural Lussier Hot Springs
- If you prefer man-made hot springs, you can try Radium or Fairmont Hot Springs
- Drive through Sinclair Canyon in Kootenay National Park
- Visit Wolf Sanctuary in Blaeberry just north of Golden
- See Grizzly Bear in Kicking Horse Mountain Resort Interpretative Centre (book your tickets here)
More ideas are in our post 20 things to do in Golden.
Day 6 – 7: Golden to Yoho National Park
Driving time: less than 2 hours/up to 120 km
These two days you won’t drive much. You only need to get from Golden to Field which is about 70 km. With a few extra stops, it won’t be more than 120 km.
I strongly suggest to do one of these activities in Golden: either rafting down Kicking Horse River; mountain biking on Mount 7 or downhill bike in the Kicking Horse resort. If none of these is for you, you can drive to your first stop in Yoho National Park – Wapta Falls a short 1-hour hike. After that, drive towards Field. Just before the town, follow the road towards Emerald Lake.
On Emerald Lake, you can rent the cheapest canoe in the Canadian Rockies (1 hour for 70 CAD per canoe that fits 3 people). Before the end of the day, you should also see the second tallest waterfall in Canada – Takakkaw Falls.
Things to do in Yoho National Park and Golden
- Rent a bike for cross country or trail and bike at Mount 7
- Choose one of the rafting rides down the Kicking horse River
- Rent a kayak and relax on Emerald Lake
- Visit Burgess Shale (oceans floor fossils at the top of the mountain)
- Hike the Iceline Trail in Yoho for great views of Takakkaw Falls
- Enjoy solitude in Lake O’Hara valley
READ FOR INSPIRATION
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Day 8: Yoho to Jasper through Icefields Parkway
Driving time: min. 3 hours/250 km
Today is the day that you will remember the most. You will drive from Lake Louise to Jasper on the road called Icefields Parkway. It is the most scenic drive in the Canadian Rockies. Numerous famous and picturesque lakes, canyons and waterfalls will be walking distance from the highway.
Icefields Parkway is probably the most visited road in Canada in summer. Almost every 20 minutes on your ride you will want to stop and take pictures that define Canadian Rockies. Emerald coloured lakes, majestic waterfalls, and white glaciers, this 250 km stretch of the road has everything. Luckily in summer, you will have more than 12 hours of daylight to get to Jasper before the sunset.
My top 5 recommendations for Icefields Parkway
- Walk on the Athabasca Glacier
- See the bluest lake – Peyto Lake
- Cliff jump in Horseshoe Lake
- Take a photo of Athabasca or Sunwapta Falls
- Walk along Mistaya Canyon
For all places along Icefields Parkway read our detailed guide to stops along the Icefields Parkway.
Day 9 – 10: Jasper and Jasper National Park
Driving time: about 3 hours/more than 120 km
Once you wake up in your campground in Jasper you can start your day with a short walk to Edith Lake. Then you don’t want to miss any of the highlights of Jasper such as Maligne Canyon, Valley of the Five Lakes, Maligne Lake.
Jasper is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts and active people; you just need to choose what you want to do. Definitely reserve time for watching wildlife, Jasper is the best place to spot some in the Rockies.
Highlights in Jasper
- Take Maligne Lake boat to Spirit Island
- See the power of flowing water in Maligne Canyon
- Swim in the warm Edith or Annette Lake
- Stop at Jasper House viewpoint or go for a hike
- Choose what you want to do in Jasper from the list of 65 things
Day 11: Jasper to Lake Louise
Driving time: min 3 hours/250 km
I hope you managed to stop and see all the famous places along Icefields Parkway on the day you were driving to Jasper. If not, then wake up early, you want to reach Lake Louise village as soon as possible.
Lake Louise is the busiest place with most traffic jams in the Rockies. From here you will have access to the two most famous lakes in the Rockies, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. There is a big chance that you will need to use public transport provided by Parks Canada to reach the shores of both lakes.
Things to do in Lake Louise
- Hike to the Agnes Tea House
- Take a picture of Moraine Lake (plan your visit with our Moraine Lake guide for the best tips)
- Ride the Gondola at Lake Louise ski resort (and you might see a grizzly bear)
- Enjoy afternoon tea in Chateau Lake Louise
Day 12 – 13: Lake Louise to Banff
Driving time: min 2 hours/100 km
Wake up early in the morning and spot some wildlife along Bow Valley Parkway. Parkway is a 60 km stretch of narrow road from Lake Louise along the Bow River, avoiding boredom of Trans-Canada Highway. Once you reach Johnston Canyon, make a stop to see the waterfalls. If you want to avoid crowds continue to Ink Pots, 5 emerald blue lakes.
Read our recommendation: A comprehensive Banff packing guide for Canadian Rockies.
When you get back you will still have half a day to admire mountains around Banff. From Johnston Canyon, you can go to Sunshine ski resort for flower meadow views on Healy Pass or take a boat ride on the Minnewanka Lake. On your second day in Banff, you can choose from our list of 100 things to do in Banff National Park.
Check out these amazing tours in Banff
More resources for Banff:
- Adventure travel guide to Banff National Park
- Complete guide to camping in Banff National Park
- Banff Gondola vs hiking to Sulphur Mountain
- 20 best hikes in Banff
- Banff itinerary for 3 days
Day 14: Banff to Calgary
Driving time: 2 hours/130 km
Before you say Good Bye to the Canadian Rockies, spend some time in the old mining town of Canmore. Canmore is a mountain vibe town without the heaps of mainstream tourists visiting Banff. It’s only 20 km from Banff and offers cheaper accommodation and a great bike park in Canmore Nordic Centre.
Once you pass Canmore you will only have another 20 km in the mountains and you will reach prairies that will bring you back to Calgary.
Things to do in Canmore
- Hike up to Ha Ling Peak
- Walk around Grassi Lakes
- Paddleboard at Rundle Forebay or bike Legacy Trail
- Have an ice cream in The Scoopin’ Moose
To fully enjoy this Canadian Rockies road trip itinerary you will need at least 2 weeks, otherwise, you will only remember time sitting behind the wheel, not the beauty of Canadian nature. You can adjust this itinerary to your needs. If you have less time, rather skip some places and come back later.
If you have a question let us know in the comments below.
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We are starting in Waterton and want to go up to Jasper, is there a central place we can camp or do we have to drive with camper every day, How do you suggest we do this with a camper?
Because Waterton and Jasper are about 7 hours of driving apart, you’d need to drive. You can stay at Waterton for a few days, then drive to Banff/Canmore area where you stay, and then stay in Jasper.
We are a family of 6, 2 adults and 4 children. Will you recommend the RV and campsites or car and hotel? Thank you. We will be there for 10 days.
I’d highly recommend RV in your case, it’s definitely the more budget-friendly option.