Are you planning a road trip through the Canadian Rockies and don’t know where to start? Our detailed suggested itinerary includes all the incredible places you can visit, budget & road trip tips and our comprehensive guides and articles that will help you to make the most of your time in Canada. As locals, we provide you only with the best insider tips in one place.
Taking a road trip through western Canada will bring you closer to the real wilderness. The Canadian Rockies are the southern extent of the only real wilderness in North America. That means you might meet more wildlife than people.
This itinerary starts in Calgary, where we lived, and finishes in Vancouver. Alternatively, if you’re starting a road trip the other direction, just read from the bottom of the post up.
Western Canada road trip itinerary
Following the below road trip itinerary, you will have a chance to visit 10 interesting places – Calgary, Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Yoho National Park, Jasper, Kamloops, Whistler, Squamish, and Vancouver. During the 14 days, you will get to enjoy mountain fresh air, blue lakes, frozen glaciers, historical buildings, desert, and wildlife and create lifetime memories.
Prepare to drive between 1500 and 2000 km. Canadian roads through the mountains are wide and almost straight compared to European roads in the Alps or other mountains. You will spend somewhere between 25 to 35 hours sitting in your car in two weeks. But trust us, all of this will be worth it.
Western Canada road trip budget for 2 weeks
Car rental: CAD 1000 – 1500
Fuel: CAD 300
Accommodation: CAD 600 camping – 2800 hotels
Food: CAD 1400 (50 per person per day, including eating in restaurants)
Attractions:up to CAD 2000
Park Pass: CAD 140
It depends on your preferences but you will need around CAD 3500 – 6200 for a couple for two weeks (not including attractions). If you are willing to try road trip in campervan you might save even more money. With Smile Campervans you can save CAD 2000 on your hotels. If you cook for yourself and minimize paid attractions you can get closer to CAD 3000.
Tips for your Canadian road trip
There is a big chance that you will encounter some animals on your trip. Give them space and learn how to react when you encounter a bear or elk.
- Never feed any wildlife
- Never try to pet them
- Always carry a bear spray when you leave your vehicle
- Pull over and let faster cars safely pass you
It’s also worth knowing which time of the year you should visit Canadian mountains.
Detailed itinerary for the most common way to see Canadian Rockies
Day 1: Calgary
Calgary is the closest airport to the Canadian Rockies. It’s a young city, only little more than 140 years old since Europeans settled here. It has the most sunny days in Canada – 333 days a year! Chances of good weather are very high. Calgary’s city road system is well designed to get you fast to your destination and you can rarely see congestions (unlike in Vancouver).
Things to do in Calgary
Calgary is on the edge of prairies and landscape is not exceptional. The missing scenery is balanced with city parks. You will find here the most park areas in all of the North American cities. To give you some ideas what you can do in Calgary, read our post about 20 things to do in Calgary in summer. I have a few suggestions if you like:
- City vibe – go to Kensington, 17th Avenue South or downtown area by the Bow River or learn about Canada’s history at Heritage Park
- Outdoors – Nose Hill Park for a walk with Calgary’s skyline, Fish Creek Park for a bike ride or a walk, Canada Olympic Park for a zipline, luge ride or mountain biking
Where to stay in Calgary
If you are staying in a tent or camper, the campgrounds are at the city borders. Similar to other cities you won’t find many campgrounds close to downtown. Calgary West Campground is located near Trans-Canada Highway. If you prefer something cozy close to downtown, try River Wynde Executive Bed & Breakfast.
Day 2: Calgary to Canmore
Driving time: 1.5 hour / 115 km
In the morning you will take Highway 1 to Canmore. From downtown, it is about 20 minutes to the city limits. Once you will get out on a clear day you will already see peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Drive to Canmore will take about an hour.
Things to do in Canmore
In Canmore, you can explore western-like looking town center. Canmore has plenty of hiking options on every side of town. See the hikes in Canmore that we recommend or go on a short easy hike to Grassi Lakes. Other options are:
- Bike ride (or cross-country ski in winter) in Nordic Centre or ride to Banff on Legacy Trail
- Paddleboarding or kayaking on any lake
- Heli trip to see Canadian Rockies from above (see pictures in our photo essay here)
Canmore has options for every budget. Hotels are usually cheaper than in Banff, so you might consider staying in Canmore and drive to Banff every day. It’s only 20 minutes by car. Camp at Wapiti campground or stay at best rated Canmore Rocky Mountain Inn.
Day 3-4: Banff
Driving time: 25 minutes / 24 km
From Canmore, get back on the Trans-Canada Highway. As you exit the town you will have to stop at park entry booth to purchase Parks Canada Discovery Pass (136 CAD). You have an option to purchase daily or yearly pass, but since you’ll be visiting national parks for more than a day, a yearly pass pays off. Our itinerary includes 8 days spent in National Parks.
Things to do in Banff
We compiled a huge list of 100 things that you can do in Banff National Park. There’s plenty to choose from. You may like an easy relaxed day on a boat or hike up the Tunnel Mountain for panoramic views of Banff and surrounding mountains.
Banff is the only town in Banff National Park and gets quite busy during summer. Try to visit townsite during weekdays in the summer season to avoid big crowds. Our road trip itinerary gives you two days to spend in Banff. Most popular are:
- Take gondola (62 CAD/person) or hike up (2 hours return – free) the Sulphur Mountain
- Go for a dip in Banff Hot Springs (7.3 CAD/person)
- Visit Cave and Basin, place where National Park was created (free with Discovery Pass)
- Rent a kayak in Banff and go to Vermillion Lakes or take a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka
- Hike up Tunnel Mountain
- Try one of the many hikes around Banff
Staying in Banff will be one of your biggest items on your budget. The most expensive stays start at 300 CAD per room. There are some budget-friendly options. Bring your own tent and stay in the campsites with warm showers which start from 27 CAD. Reasonable prices for hotels start at 120 CAD, you can try best-rated accommodation in Banff Mountain View Bed & Breakfast.
Restaurants in Banff
Surprisingly chain restaurants aren’t overpriced compared to the rest of Canada. Our tip – go local! You can find great food in Balkan Restaurant or The Maple Leaf. Our favourite restaurant in Banff, which is also in Vancouver and other cities, is Old Spaghetti Factory.
Day 5: Bow Valley Parkway (Alberta 1A)
Driving time: 2-4 hours / 60 km
Stock up on food supplies in Banff, the next bigger grocery store is 5 days away in Jasper. Leave Banff early in the morning and you’ll have a bigger chance of seeing wildlife. Heading west from Banff, after about 10 minutes of driving, you will take the exit to 1A/Bow Valley Parkway. You will stay on this road all the way to Lake Louise. Driving itself takes only 1.5 hours but you will definitely want to stop for some great pictures. You should arrive in Lake Louise in the evening.
Things to do on Bow Valley Parkway
Bow Valley Parkway is a wildlife corridor and many species of animals can be seen along the road. Most common are elk, sheep, mountain goat, bear, and wolves. Have your camera ready and drive slow. You can make a stop at Johnston Canyon, it’s a nice and easy walk to several waterfalls, read our post about frozen Johnston Canyon in winter.
Other places you can visit on Bow Valley Parkway:
- Ink Pots (hike through Johnston Canyon – 4 hours)
- Castle Mountain (hike to Rockbound Lake – 6 hours)
- Morant’s curve (famous spot for photographing train with the Rocky Mountains in the backdrop)
Accommodation along Bow Valley Parkway
If your day extends, you have a few options to stay overnight along the road. Halfway on the road at the Castle Junction, you can stay at Castle Mountain Campground, hostel or Castle Mountain Chalets.
Day 6: Lake Louise area
Driving time: 1-2 hours / maximum of 30 km
If you arrived in Lake Louise the evening of day 5, you probably had a chance to see Lake Louise. If not, wake up early to beat the crowds from tour buses and go for a morning stroll. There’s an easy hike to the Lake Agness teahouse, you can see the lake, hotel and even ski resort on the other side. And of course, after Lake Louise, don’t forget to visit Moraine Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies.
Things to do in Lake Louise area
Lake Louise has many hiking trails which you can find in our post. You can go biking on Great Divide Trail or take a gondola on the other side of the valley where the ski resort and hiking trails are located.
Other things to do in Lake Louise area:
- Dip in the Lake Louise or Moraine Lake
- Hike at Lake Louise/Moraine Lake area
- See grizzly bears in the wild on Grizzly Express Gondola (35 CAD, not guaranteed)
Where to stay in Lake Louise
You can stay at Mountaineer Lodge, as a good value option or Lake Louise Campground. There are not many accommodation options, it’s just a small village after all and most people choose to stay in Banff. Stay two nights in Lake Louise area, as you will see, the next day is a little detour to Yoho National Park. It will save you half an hour on your longest day in a car on day 8.
Day 7: Yoho National Park
Driving time: 2-3 hours /120-170 km
Leave early in the morning and take a small detour to Yoho National Park. You will take Highway 1 towards Golden. The longer ride is only in case you want to see Wapta Falls.
Things to do in Yoho National Park
You can go hiking, kayaking on Emerald Lake or just driving around and exploring rock formations. The biggest task for you will be to decide if you want to visit Lake O’Hara area or not. Lake O’Hara area is in high demand; therefore government operated camping you can only book three months in advance. For foreign visitors, the only option is to visit the area for a day trip. See what you can see and do in Yoho National Park:
- Hike in Lake O’Hara area (whole day)
- See Spiral Tunnel
- Observe Natural Bridge
- Ride kayak on Emerald Lake or hike around and see Burgess Shale rock formation
- Visit Takkakaw Falls (2nd tallest waterfall in Canada) or Wapta Falls
Accommodation in Yoho National Park
The center of Yoho National Park is a village Field. You can stay at a picturesque lodge at Emerald Lake (350 CAD/night) or Lodge at Lake O’Hara (700 CAD/night). Our suggestion is to try one of the guesthouses that are located on the hillside of the village or head back to Lake Louise (it will save you some time for the next day drive).
Day 8: Icefields Parkway
Driving time: 3-8 hours / 230-260 km
Either you start from Field or from Lake Louise prepare for a long and intense driving experience. But the ever-changing scenery will make up for it. Don’t forget to fill up in Lake Louise, there is only one gas station on Icefields Parkway with 50% markup. From Lake Louise follow signs for Jasper. After only a minute on the highway, you will exit it to Road 93.
Most beautiful places on the Icefields Parkway
Visiting all the places along the road can take more than a week. Most travelers usually do it in 1-2 days. Try to fit these places into your schedule: (organized by importance)
- Peyto Lake and Bow Summit
- Columbia Icefield Centre
- Mistaya Canyon
- Horseshoe Lake (cliff jumping in crystal clear water)
- Athabasca Falls
- Sunwapta Falls
- Bow Lake and hike to the Bow Falls
- Panther Falls
Read our detailed guide about Icefields Parkway to get a better picture what you can expect.
Day 9-10: Jasper National Park
Driving time: 3-8 hours / 230-260 km
After a good sleep and digesting all natural elements from the previous day, you are ready for some stretching in a form of a hike or bike in Jasper. You can find some inspiration in our post which hikes to do in Jasper. If you are coming to the Canadian Rockies for outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, stay longer in Jasper instead of Banff.
Outdoor things to do in Jasper National Park
Jasper is a better place for outdoor activities than Banff because it’s less visited and there are more options. You can ride a mountain bike on plenty of single or double track trails around town. You can also ride to Snake Indian Falls (50km). Jasper National Park has many multi-day treks for all levels. During summer you can even bath in warm Edith Lake. More things to do in Jasper include:
- Hike to Mount Edith Cavel
- Visit Maligne Canyon or take a boat ride on Maligne Lake
- Go for a multi-day trek on Skyline trail
- Dip in Miette Hot Springs after a long hike
- Climb up or take Sky Tram to Whistlers Peak
If you truly love wilderness and nature, Jasper is the place to be.
Accommodation in Jasper
Hotels in Jasper are smaller than in Banff but there are a lot of family run B&B style houses. Also, compared to Banff prices are cheaper. You will also find many nice campgrounds and chalets on lakeshores. Try Pyramid Lake Resort or Wapiti Campground.
Day 11: Jasper to Kamloops
Driving time: 5 hours / 450 km
When you exit Jasper take Highway 16 west towards Kamloops. As you will hit the top of the climb you will be at the Continental Divide and you will enter a province of British Columbia. After 40 minutes of driving, you will reach Mount Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Once you reach the intersection with Highway 5, you won’t longer be in the Canadian Rockies. (But don’t worry, you’ll still see plenty of mountains.)
You may even notice the change in types of rock formations and thickness of the forest. The biggest change is in the desert like Kamloops Valley. Kamloops has the warmest summer in Canada.
Things to do on the way to Kamloops
The drive to Kamloops won’t be as scenic compared to previous days. On the other hand, there are much more options to use motorized vehicles in the forest, such as motorbikes/quads or snowmobiles in winter. You can:
- Hike to the foot of Mount Robson (4 hours)
- Stop at Spahats or Moul Falls
- Hike at Sun Peaks (a small village inspired by European Alps)
- Go paddle boarding at Heffley Lake
- Visit Native village in Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park in Kamloops
Where to stay in Kamloops
Kamloops is the biggest city in central British Columbia and it has many accommodation options. You can stay at Knutsford Campground or as a family in the Plaza Hotel in downtown.
Tips for Kamloops
You can restock your food supplies for the last part of your trip. If you find the time, go for a short hike to either Peterson Creek Park or Kenna Cartwright Park. Bring water with you, especially during sunny days as it gets very hot.
Day 12: Kamloops to Whistler/Squamish
Driving time: 4 hours / 300 km
If you don’t want to spend extra time exploring Kamloops, take the exit towards Vancouver and follow Highway 1. The first half of your day might be quite warm as you will drive through Nevada-like scenery on your 100 km towards Cache Creek. From Cache Creek follow signs to Lillooet than continue to Whistler.
What you can do on the way to Whistler
You will be passing Kamloops Lake with a great view of Thompson Valley. Once you reach Pacific Ranges you will have a chance to take photos of mountain peaks along the road. Here are some ideas how you can spend your day:
- Take Peak to Peak Gondola in Whistler (54 CAD)
- Stop at Nairn Falls
- Visit First Nations Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
- Go rafting, kayaking, mountain biking or do other outdoor activity
- Build an Inukshuk (human figure build of small stone blocks)
Where you can stay in Whistler/Squamish
Whistler has a world class skiing resort and you will find all types of accommodation. But staying in Whistler is even more expensive than staying in Banff. Book Aava Whistler Hotel for better value or use Parkbridge Camping campsites. If you don’t want to stay in Whistler overnight, we recommend driving another 40 minutes to Squamish where prices are more budget friendly. As an example, Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company costs about a third of the prices in Whistler.
Day 13-14: Vancouver
Driving time: 1-2 hours / up to 120 km
If you stayed in Squamish and you like biking don’t rush from there and go for a ride on 200 km of single-tracks they have around town. If biking is not for you, drive to Vancouver. It is only about an hour and a half from Whistler and 40 minutes from Squamish.
Once you arrive, you will see why Vancouver is one of the top 5 places in the world to live in. Nice scenery, mountains, parks right at the city limits, ocean, and beaches.
Things to do in Vancouver
Vancouver has a mixture of city and outdoor life. Well balanced for travelers and citizens. North and West Vancouver is the best place to stay if you want to visit Vancouver’s nature reserves. For inspiration what to do, read our post on how to spend 4 days in Vancouver outdoors, these are the biggest highlights:
- Visit one of 20 beaches in Vancouver
- Walk around Stanley Park
- Visit Lynn and Capilano Valley
- Bike in historic downtown
- Climb the hills in North Vancouver for panoramic views of the city
Where to stay in Vancouver
Good locations to stay in Vancouver are downtown or North and West Vancouver. North Vancouver Hotel with swimming pool just outside Capilano Valley and close to Lions Gate Bridge can be your budget option. Campgrounds are mostly located on the outskirts of the city but Capilano RV Park is almost in the city center.
Road trip on Vancouver Island
If you have more time and want to continue on Vancouver Island, we have a great article for you: 32 outdoor things you can do on Vancouver Island.
If you are flying out from Vancouver, have a safe trip home.
We sincerely hope that our road trip itinerary through Western Canada will help you plan your great road trip.
What would you like to visit the most? Share with us in the comments and let us know if you have any questions.
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