What better way is there to experience the majestic terrain, glacier mountains, pine tree filled forest and jewel toned lakes in the Canadian Rockies than by taking to the open road for yourself.
This pretty much outlines the exact route we took on our grand Canadian Rockies road trip from Calgary, through Banff and Jasper National Park’s and ending off in the city of Vancouver. This 12-day Canadian Rockies road trip itinerary will have you encountering Canada’s west coast’s most jaw dropping scenery. With so little time and so much to see, this perfectly plotted path (which includes our personal accommodation recommendations) will assist you in planning your journey that much easier.
Kickass 12 Day Canadian Rockies Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Calgary to Banff Town
Kick off the road trip in Calgary by collecting your rental here and head straight towards the Town of Banff. An easy one and a half hours drive away lands you in the quaint town where all the streets are named after Canadian animals, elk roam as freely as the tourists and the locals talk about the surrounding mountains as if they were referring to neighbours.
Spend a blissful afternoon meandering through the Town of Banff, pop into the delightful shops, indulge in ice cream and ensure to stock up on road trip snacks at the grocery store. Take the scenic and very easy walk out of town towards Bow Falls and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Recommended Accommodation: Bow View Lodge, Banff
Day 2: Town of Banff to Lake Louise
To get a birds-eye view of the town, at the half the price for the same view as the Banff Gondola, head to Mount Norquay. Hop on the complimentary shuttle from downtown Banff and travel up the ski lift for breathtaking views. There are several moderate to challenging hikes you can take from the base of the mountain, arrive prepared with water, snacks and bear spray.
The area on the outskirts of Lake Louise is rather uninspiring especially after passing through the picturesque Town of Banff. So linger in Banff and grab lunch before hitting the road to the next destination, Lake Louise, a quick 40-minute drive away. Close out the day by treating yourself to dinner at the charming Post Hotel (be sure to make a reservation in advance).
Recommended Accommodation: Mountaineer Lodge, Lake Louise
Day 3: Lake Louise
Today you are experiencing the crown jewel of west coast Canada; Lake Louise! Rising at sunrise as there is no time to waste (and trust me you want to hit the lakes before all the tour buses do). Start by taking the winding route leading to Moraine Lake (as by midday the road is often closed due to overcrowding) and this deep turquoise lake is a sight not to be missed. Watch the sun rays warm the mountain tops and take a stroll around the shoreline for even more incredible vantage points.
From Moraine Lake make your way back toward Lake Louise, the most iconic destination in Canada. From here you can indulge in breakfast at the Chateaux Fairmont before taking on one of the many hiking trails around Lake Louise or hiring a canoe.
After a full day of hiking and the fresh mountain air, tuck in early as day four holds is another busy and breathtaking one.
Day 4: Lake Louise to Jasper National Park
Hit the road early as you embark on one of the most scenic drives in the world, Icefields Parkway. Meander your way along the dramatic highway lined with pine trees and loomed over by glacier mountains. Make time to see the thundering Athabasca waterfalls, enchanting Emerald Lake, the impressive Bow Lake and take the short hike up to see Peyto Lake viewpoint. Midway between Banff and Jasper, you will pass by the popular tourist attraction, the Glacier Skywalk – one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. Here you can hop on an Ice Explorer which will take you on a thrilling ride to an area you can walk on and drink from the Athabasca Glacier.
The route from Lake Louise to Jasper takes a minimum of 3 hours of non-stop driving but rather take the time to stop off as desired, there is an abundance of short hikes, sparkling lakes, panoramic lookout points and spectacular scenery to fill the day before arriving at your lodge for the night.
Recommended Accommodation: Tekarra Lodge, Jasper
Day 5 – 6: Jasper National Park
Slowing down the pace to appreciate the magnificence and the splendid silence of the National Park. Jasper is the destination for outdoor enthusiasts, spend a few days hiking in the region’s rugged landscapes, go white water rafting along the raging rivers or canoeing and paddle boarding on one of the many glass like lakes. Sprinkled about the town of Jasper, Tekarra Lodge and in the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge are some truly splendid eateries and restaurants to try.
Day 7: Jasper to Kamloops
Today begins the journey out of the mountains towards Vancouver for the city hopping leg of the road trip. Break up the long drive with an overnight pit stop in the halfway town of Kamploops. The four and a half hour drive is still a scenic one as you continue on the Icefields Parkway highway. Once again there are a few photogenic points along the way as well as tiny towns to grab a coffee and lunch before pushing on to Kamloops.
Day 8: Kamloops to Vancouver
Another long day of driving ahead to reach the final destination – Vancouver. Arriving late afternoon, it’s time to return the hire car, stretch the legs and take to exploring the city by foot and public transit (as really who wants to spend their precious vacation time fighting traffic and searching for parking in the city).
Vancouver’s glass high-rises nestled along the bay sit in distinct contrast to the lush mountain backdrop, making it a rather compact city and an ideal place to explore on foot.
Recommended Accommodation: Blue Horizon, Vancouver
Day 9: Vancouver
Slip on some comfy shoes and have a hearty breakfast as today is a long day of walking and city exploration. Meander along the 3km loop around False Creek Olympic Village for great views of the city skyline. End by heading over the Cambie Bridge into downtown and towards the historic Gastown. Wander the cobbled streets, stop by the iconic Steam Clock and pop into anyone of the amazing eateries for lunch.
Top off the activity fueled day and head to the lush Stanley Park for a roam around, alternatively hire a bike and cruise along the seawall.
Day 10: Vancouver to Victoria
Catch the early ferry to Victoria to ensure you have the better part of the afternoon to flit around discovering beautiful downtown Victoria.
BC Connector makes getting from downtown Vancouver (Pacific Central Station) to downtown Victoria (Capital City Station) simple with their all-in-one round trip packages. After the short bus and scenic ferry rides it’s time for lunch and there are numerous great restaurants along the inner harbour to choose from. Otherwise, follow the trail towards Fisherman’s Wharf, a unique area filled with food stalls where you can grab lunch and wander down the docks to discover the intriguing floating homes, colourful boutiques or buy seafood fresh off the boat. Perhaps book an afternoon tour to go whale watching, after all, Victoria is also known as the whale watching destination!
Venture back downtown for a walk along Government and Douglas street to get a sense of the old world charm that makes Victoria such a lovable city. Watch the sun go down over the harbour and the Parliament building light up and twinkle.
Recommended Accommodation: Helms Inn, Victoria
Day 11: Victoria to Vancouver
Take a peaceful stroll through the city urban park, Beacon Hill Park before board the midday bus, for the voyage back to Vancouver.
Arriving back in the city late afternoon allows you enough time to freshen up before hitting the hoppin’ little historic neighbourhood of Yaletown for dinner. Try out The Parlour, a scrumptious restaurant serving up some of the best wood-fired pizzas and if the weather is in your favour try to snag a table on their cute patio.
Day 12: Vancouver
Rise and shine to catch the first complimentary shuttle bus to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. For a morning of childlike splendour, hopping between the tree tops and swinging your way across a giant gorge. Return to the city to round off the day at Grandville Island, an area that beautifully showcases the hipster side of Vancouver by bringing together the diverse art and foodie scene of the city together in one neighbourhood.
And all too soon after gazing at snow capped mountains, jewel toned lakes and city hopping the grand Canadian Rockies road trip itinerary comes to an end. But I can guarantee you will already be plotting your return journey…