Three weeks in the Rockies, equal to around 1600 km (nearly 1000 miles)! But don’t worry; here the drive is far from monotonous, and the landscapes will leave you breathless! You’ll be impatient to get behind the wheel each morning and explore the scenery, with each landscape seeming more beautiful than the last! In this post I’ll tell you about my road trip across Western Canada. Let’s hop in the car!
Days 1-5: Vancouver
We’ll start the trip off in Vancouver. It’s a lovely city to explore—rather spread out, but also within reach of the countryside. Check out my last post on the 8 must-do experiences in Vancouver to learn more!
It’s time to hit the road! You’ll come across Whistler on one of the Canada’s most beautiful roads, the aptly named Sea to Sky Highway. You’ll make your first stop after about an hour of driving, on the outskirts of Squamish. Make sure you take the cable car (Sea to Sky Gondola) up to an absolutely breathtaking viewing point. For my more athletic readers, several hiking trails start off here.
Get back on the highway and head to Whistler, a renowned ski station which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Spend the afternoon taking advantage of the numerous outdoor activities offered by the location: biking, hiking, and even shopping if you want to take it easy.
After a full night’s rest, get the most out of the city in the calm early hours of the day. You can also check out the Farmer’s Market every Wednesday and Sunday (Wednesday hours only apply in July and August). Now it’s time to take the road toward Kamloops, about four hours east (unfortunately just a stepping stone on your way, without much to see).
Days 8 and 9
In the early morning, you’ll need about two hours to reach the Okanagan valley. I decided to add this stop to the itinerary (which means you’ll have to go back through Kamloops) because the valley is full of things to see; for one thing, it’s one of the best-known wine-making regions on the North American continent. Its vineyards are magnificent, such as those at Quail’s Gate (don’t miss out on their restaurant with its delicious cuisine and gorgeous panoramic view) or Mission Hill (with its fabulous artwork).
With the region’s numerous lakes, you can have your fill of water sports: Jet Ski, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking… You could spend a week here and never get bored! Choose to stay at one of many charming bed and breakfasts in the region. You can enjoy a relaxing visit here, alternating rest and outdoor activities with trips to the vineyards (complete with wine tastings)!
Days 10 and 11
Back on the road, head toward Clearwater, about four hours away. You’ll enjoy an ever-changing view as you drive along, traversing a region full of ranches with livestock and horses at every turn.
Clearwater is the perfect place to stay to visit Wells Gray Provincial Park. It’s much less well-known than Jasper or Banff but also has fewer tourists, which makes for a pleasant trip. Spend the late afternoon relaxing at your hotel and catch a breather before setting out for the park the next day. You can, for example, plan to go for a horseback ride in the morning (I recommend the Battle Mountain Equine center, located inside the park) and take advantage of the afternoon to explore the park’s points of interest, including Helmcken Falls, a 141 m (463 ft) tall waterfall.
Days 12 and 13
Off we go for the next stop: the legendary national park in Jasper, 3.5 hours northeast from Clearwater. On the way (about an hour from Clearwater), don’t miss the River Safari: on board a boat, you’ll spend an hour exploring the area along the river, keeping a lookout for bears in their natural habitat! We saw five of them on the trip, a thrilling experience!
Once you’re in Jasper, take a moment to choose a few activities and outings that match your expectations and abilities (there are so many things to do that it’s not easy to decide!). Don’t miss the cable car (if the weather is clear, of course) or the lakes, including Anette, Edith, Patricia, and Pyramid, as well as Maligne (the most famous, but also very touristic).
Personally I absolutely loved the Valley of the Five Lakes, an intermediate-level 5 km (3 mi.) hike which offers an exceptional view of the differently colored lakes. If you’re lucky, you may even meet a bear! (In our case, we came across one only 20 meters off the main park trail!)
Days 14 and 15
Get ready: today you’re going to drive on one of the world’s most beautiful roads, the Icefields Parkway! 230 km (143 mi.) of pure bliss through exceptional countryside! Here we’re in the heart of the Rockies, with mountains looming on either side. There are plenty of things to see (including waterfalls and viewing points). The area around Athabasca Glacier is a must-see. It’s easily accessible thanks to its proximity to the road. You can plan an organized tour to walk across the glacier if you’d like. Farther along, don’t forget to make a stop at the famous Bow and Peyto lakes.
I have to say that the stop at Lake Louise was a huge disappointment for us! We went there at the beginning of July and it was completely overrun with tourists. It was truly the sort of tourist trap that I detest, so we decided not to stay there long. If you go there at a different time in the season however, I imagine that the site would be quite beautiful!
Days 16 and 17
You can dedicate the next two days to the famous Banff National Park. You should know that there are far more tourists here than in Jasper! There are plenty of activities and things to see; don’t miss the magnificent Lake Minnewanka! There’s also Banff village, a charming place with its small boutiques and restaurants. I’d advise against taking the cable car here as it’s rather mundane in my opinion, especially considering all that you’ll see in the preceding days; this particular cableway is no match.
Head east for two hours to hit Calgary. We optimized our road trip so that our arrival here would coincide with the Stampede, advertised as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” It’s also the perfect place for horse enthusiasts, with rodeos taking place every afternoon. The site is enormous, with a mix of funfair, agricultural show, and various display elements. Make sure you book your rodeo tickets in advance!
- This road trip is only possible in summer. During the winter, most of these locations are cut off from traffic. For spring and fall, inquire about your route ahead of time!
- In terms of accommodation, I can’t offer you much advice… I honestly reserved my hotels only three weeks before setting off and had to do with what was available! There are without a doubt better and more practical arrangements out there than the ones I found!
- This road trip was designed to be relatively active, but not stressful! Fortunately there are always lots of activities to do, but you can also opt for a more low-key vacation if you’re looking to relax. It’s up to you!