The drive from Vancouver to Calgary is something of a highlights reel of BC and Alberta. With often only a week or two in the county, the Vancouver to Calgary road trip is a smart choice for visitors wanting to see as much as possible.

The problem is that Highway 1 is often seen as the default route. Being an easy but still very scenic drive, there’s nothing really wrong with that.

These Vancouver to Calgary road trip routes are unapologetically longer and slower but each one also offers something a something different to the well-worn tarmac of Highway 1.

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Vancouver to Calgary Route 1: Bears, lakes and hot springs, oh my

If you like water (in all forms), this is the route for you. It’s also a good choice if you want to see the most popular parts of the Rockies but still get off the beaten track a little. You’ll need a minimum of five days to see it all.

Highlights of this Vancouver to Calgary road trip

Pacific ocean views, natural and man-made hot springs, potential to see grizzly bears, driving through mountain ranges

Gemma looking out to views of mountains - Vancouver to Calgary road trip
Checking out the mountains on the Sea to Sky Highway – one of the most beautiful sections of this Vancouver to Calgary road trip

Vancouver to Vernon

The gorgeous Sea to Sky Highway (99) hugs the ocean as it leads north to Squamish. Feeling fit? Take a hike up the Stawamus Chief (that huge rock towering above the town) for epic views. Alternatively, there is a gondola (B).

A little further up the road, thundering Brandywine Falls (C) and picture-perfect Joffre Lakes (D) are also worthwhile stops.

The transition to BC’s hot, dry interior region can be quite a shock after the coastal rainforest and mountain vistas around Whistler and Pemberton. Lillooet (E) offers rugged landscapes and a couple of great wineries such as Fort Berens.

A swim in the beautifully green Kalamalka Lake (F), just south of Vernon, will be well earned after another few hours on the road.

Vineyards surrounded by mountains in Lillooet, BC
Fort Berens winery in Lillooet, British Columbia

Vernon to Calgary

From here, take Highway 6 east and cross Upper Arrow Lake via the free ferry. The small town of Nakusp (G) is the epicentre for half a dozen wild and developed hot springs. Visit one, visit them all!

Another free ferry (don’t boat trips just make road trips that bit more adventurous?) north is your connection to Highway 1 and the mountain town of Revelstoke (H).

Highway 1 may be the main route but this section is anything but ordinary, travelling through dangerous avalanche country. Learn how this impressive road was built in Glacier National Park (I) before heading south to yet more hot springs in Radium (J).

Underrated Kootenay National Park is one of the easiest places to spot grizzly bears in the spring. At the end of Highway 93, cross over to the Bow Valley Parkway (1A) for a slower, more scenic route to Banff or turn left to visit Lake Louise, Moraine Lake et al. Calgary is only a short drive from here.

Looking to book a stay in Revelstoke?

Alpine Inn & Suites – Great value

Regent Hotel Revelstoke – Good location

Explorers Society Hotel – Highly rated on

Grizzly Bears eating grass by the side of the road in Kootenay National Park on vancouver to calgary road trip alternative route
Grizzly bears by the side of the road in Kootenay National park

Vancouver to Calgary Route 2: A slight northern detour

Fast at first, this route slows down in the second half to visit the highlights of the Rockies from top to bottom.

Magnificent peaks, tumbling waterfalls and vast glaciers….this road trip has it all. You’ll need a minimum of five days to experience this Vancouver to Calgary road trip.

Highlights of this Vancouver to Calgary road trip

Highest point in the Canadian Rockies (Mount Robson), driving the Icefields Parkway, waterfall viewing in Wells Gray

Vancouver to Calgary Road Trip Alternatives to Highway 1
Heading towards Hope on this Vancouver to Calgary road trip

Vancouver to Jasper

The quickest road out of Vancouver offers surprisingly wonderful views of the coastal mountain range as it heads towards Hope.

Just outside of this small town, pause to check out the Othello Tunnels (B), a series of impressive old train tunnels and bridges cut directly through granite rock.

The water wonderland of Wells Gray (C) is the next stop – be sure to see spectacular Helmcken Falls. A canoe or kayak trip in the park is well worth the time if you have it.

From lakes to peaks, Mount Robson Provincial Park (D) is your next major destination. The park is home to the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. If hiking is your jam, the Berg Lake Trail could be the highlight of your Canadian trip (reservations required so book early!)

Rest and recharge in Jasper (E), a rightfully busy mountain town at the top of the Icefields Parkway. Take a side trip to stunning Maligne Lake.

Wide cascading waterfall - Dawson Falls, Wells Gray
The waterfalls of Wells Gray are a highlight on this Vancouver to Calgary road trip
Snow covered peaks surrounding a glacial lake in Banff National Park, one of the most popular stops on any Vancouver to Calgary road trip
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Jasper to Banff on the the Icefields Parkway

One of the top reasons to drive this route has to be the legendary 230km Columbia Icefields Parkway (F). Frequently called the best one-way drive in the world, the Icefields Parkway travels through a landscape carved by glaciers.

Don’t miss the Athabasca Glacier and Peyto Lake. If you struggle with crowds (like me) be sure to get up early and hike further from the highway. Most people do not go much beyond the roadside viewpoints.

The glacier-fed lakes of Louise and Moraine (G) are conveniently located at the end of the Icefields Parkway. Turn away from the main highway onto the Bow Valley Parkway for a slightly slower drive east via Castle Mountain and Johnston Canyon. Calgary (H) beckons just beyond the resort town of Banff.

The glacier and brightly coloured water of Lake Louise Banff National Park Alberta
Lake Louise, Alberta

Vancouver to Calgary Route 3: Small towns, high mountain passes

The longest route of the three, this is a Vancouver to Calgary road trip for people who appreciate off the beaten track travel and the rewards that come from it.

The route skirts the US border and travels over some of BC’s highest passes. You’ll need a minimum of seven days to see it all.

Highlights of this Vancouver to Calgary road trip

Small towns, quiet roads, unusual attractions (Spotted Lake, Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump), beyond the beaten path experience

Vineyards, town and Osoyoos lake from anarchist mountain bc
Osoyoos, British Columbia

Vancouver to Osoyoos

The view of the coastal mountains as you pass through Chilliwack is only a taster of what is to come. Before heading east, stretch your legs at the pretty Bridal Veil Falls (B), just before Hope.

The Crowsnest Highway (3) winds alongside the fast Similkameen, offering brief glimpses of the Cascade mountains range.

Take the opportunity to experience the coastal rainforest in Manning Park (C); there are many excellent multi-day trails alongside short, roadside routes such as the Sumallo Grove Interpretive Trail. Don’t miss the spectacular views at the Cascade Lookout! 

The mountainous route eventually gives way to dry grasslands. Before reaching Osoyoos, look for a small right-hand turn-off to Spotted Lakes (D), a historically sacred site that has to be seen to be believed.

Stop in Osoyoos to sip wine, taste local fruit and marvel at Canada’s only true desert region. Don’t forget to pause at the top of Anarchist Hill for epic views on your way out.

Read next: 73 Things to Do in Penticton and the Southern Okanagan, British Columbia

Spotted Lakes Osoyoos
The incredible Spotted Lakes near Osoyoos
Old fashioned buildings with advertising on the side, with cars parked outside - Greenwood, BC
Step back in time in Greenwood, BC

Osoyoos to Calgary

The Kootenay region of BC is full of characterful towns, from tiny historic outposts like Greenwood (home of the world’s best tasting water, who knew?) to hippy cities like Nelson (F) and mountain resorts like Rossland and Fernie (G).

Detour as much as you and your schedule allows, but keep in mind the high mountain passes, windy roads and lake ferries that can slow down travel between them.

While deciding your route, take a dip in Christina Lake (E). It is said to have the warmest water of any tree-lined lake in Canada.

Once in Alberta, the route to Calgary is quick and straightforward. If you’re looking for more adventure, however, head the opposite direction to Waterton National Park (H).

Here, the prairies of Alberta meet the rugged peaks of the Rockies. Once you’re all hiked out, head north to the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump (I) archaeological site and learn about traditional hunting methods. Calgary (J) is just another few hours north.

Looking to book a stay in Calgary? 

Alt Hotel Calgary East Village – Great location

Regency Suites Hotel – Good value

Hotel Elan – Highly rated on

Crystal clear water and sandy beach at Christina Lake, BC
Christina Lake is a great place for a swim while on your Vancouver to Calgary road trip!

Are you planning to drive between Vancouver and Calgary? What route will you take?

Vancouver to Calgary Road Trip: Three alternatives to Highway 1 to take you beyond the beaten track and experience true Canadian wilderness and experiences! offtracktravel.caAny Vancouver to Calgary road trip is something of a highlights reel of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. Click here to discover three alternatives routes, away from well worn Highway 1!

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One half of a Canadian/British couple currently based in British Columbia, Canada. Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure.


  1. Hi there,
    My name is Libby, and I’m from Perth Western Australia. My family and I are planing a trip to Canada and Alaska in April 2019. We’d love to do one or maybe even two of these road trips. We like to be ” off the beaten track ” so these are great. We would probably be renting motor homes (RV’s) so I was wondering if you knew a site we could look up to find camping sites along these routes. Any info would be greatly appreciated

    Libby Edwards

    • Gemma Reply

      Your trip sounds exciting! If you were already in Canada I would recommend purchasing one (or a few) of the very awesome Backroad Mapbooks – but for planning before your trip, I would check out the BC Provincial Parks and also the Recreation sites and Trails BC. The latter are often free. I’ve written a bit about finding camping in BC (and the differences between campsites) elsewhere on this site too. For Alaska and Yukon, definitely get the Milepost. It’s a mile by mile account of all of the major roads in Alaska, Yukon and also most of BC (includes every rest stop, every campground etc). If you can get it in advance of your trip, I think you’d find it exceptionally helpful.

      I would keep in mind that April is pretty early season for travel in Canada – some private and Provincial Park campgrounds will not be open yet.

  2. Hi!

    Awesome post!

    We are looking at taking one of these routes on our trip in March 2018. We have the last 2 weeks in March booked in arriving /leaving from Vancouver.

    Do you think that the roads will be ok to drive in March? Or will it be too much to do this off season?

    Thanks for your advice! 🙂

    • Gemma Reply

      Thanks Amy! It’s really hard to say. March can go both ways, but in the Rockies you are very likely to find at least some snow (but usually not a LOT) on the road. The main highways are pretty well kept though so I wouldn’t worry too much as long as the vehicle as appropriate tires. Certain attractions and parks will still be closed for the season so do keep that in mind!

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