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The Best Vancouver to Calgary Road Trip Routes: Highway 1 & Alternatives

A Vancouver to Calgary road trip offers something of a highlights reel of British Columbia and Alberta.

For visitors with one week or less to spare, a Vancouver to Calgary road trip is a smart choice to see as much as possible in such a short time.

This post features five Vancouver to Calgary road trips, including the classic Highway 1 route as well as three beyond-the-beaten-path alternatives and our ultimate round-trip itinerary.

Back view of JR walking on wooden bridge, looking up at huge cascading waterfall
Takkakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park

I have tried and tested all of these routes, visiting every destination mentioned.

Indeed, I would estimate that JR and I have road-tripped at least 45,000km around beautiful British Columbia over the last few years!

Here’s what to expect in this post:

Last updated January 2024. There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Looking across scenic view of lake surrounded by semi-arid hills and houses
The Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Essential road trip tips and advice

Before diving into the road trip routes, have a read of the following tips. They will likely improve your road-tripping experience! Alternatively, you can skip ahead.

The best time to drive from Vancouver to Calgary

The following Vancouver to Calgary road trip routes are best driven from June to September. This is primarily due to weather – these months are both the driest and warmest.

There will also be less snow in the mountains, offering the best conditions for hiking, paddling and other summer activities.

Outside of these months, some of the listed activities and attractions may have limited hours or accessibility. A few may even be closed or completely inaccessible. I would suggest checking first.

Planning a Vancouver to Calgary road trip in winter? Read our dedicated winter road trip post first!

Looking across fields of daisies to forest, with snow capped Mount Robson Provincial Park looming above. There is a single lone clown at the peak
Sunset at Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies

Driving high mountain passes

All of the following road trip routes feature high mountain passes, which are just roads that travel through mountainous areas.

  • Features of mountain passes include steep (or prolonged) ascents and descents, drop-offs and sharp corners
  • On narrower sections or quieter highways, expect two-lane traffic (one in each direction)
  • Poor weather conditions, including snow, can happen at any time of year on mountain passes
  • Winter tires are mandatory to drive most of British Columbia’s roads from October to April
  • Check DriveBC often to check the status of highways
  • Cell phone signal in mountainous areas is very limited. Expect to have no signal between communities
  • If there is an accident on a mountain pass, you may be stuck on the road for hours while a recovery and investigation process takes place

This happened to us on Highway 99 (Sea to Sky) in Squamish in August one year.

We were advised that we may be stuck for six hours or more, with no option to turn around. Thankfully, we were able to continue our journey after waiting three hours.

Vehicle dashboard view of Icefield Parkway drive, with twisty road ahead and mountains in the background
Driving the Icefields Parkway
Looking over rocks to elevated view looking down on Highway 1, which is lined by mountains
Highway 1 from Mount Piran
  • Downloaded maps – Outside of towns and cities, British Columbia has very limited cell phone coverage. For this reason, it is imperative to download maps ahead of them so you can use them offline (we use Google Maps)
  • A paper map – Due to the above situation, I really would recommend bringing at least one paper map (even a free one from a Visitor Centre would do) so you can navigate without the use of technology
  • Backroad Mapbook – If you’re looking to explore beyond the beaten path, the Backroad Mapbook series should be your bible. They feature free/low cost camping spots, hiking trails, attractions and more
  • Extra supplies – Always have some food and water in the vehicle, as well as a blanket and any additional medical supplies you may need. As mentioned above, roads can sometimes close for hours at a time
  • A good medical kit – Some rural communities do not have a pharmacy and gas station supplies will be limited. A medical kit is one of the 10 Essentials which help small inconveniences from becoming emergencies
  • Spare tire – Some of BC’s highways are very isolated. It’s a good idea to have a decent spare tire (i.e. not a ‘donut’) and know how to fit it
  • Extra gas – Some gas stations in rural areas have limited operating hours. I’d suggest keeping your gas tank fairly full
  • Hiking guide. Driving from Vancouver to Calgary to hike in the Rockies? Be sure to buy a copy of ‘Don’t Waste Your Time in the Rockies’

Need a vehicle for your Vancouver to Calgary road trip? Search for a car rental now

JR sat on the left side of wide Wapta Falls, which is backdropped by mountains
Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park

Vancouver to Calgary road trip routes: our top picks

Read on to discover our top four Vancouver to Calgary road trip routes. Each has an outdoor adventure focus, intending to share the best places to experience nature between Vancouver and Calgary.

I have purposely included plenty of recommendations for hiking trails and attractions. Research and see which appeals to you and would be a good fit for your schedule.

You may also find our 2 Week Western Canada, Canadian Rockies Loop and 2 week BC Coast and Rockies road trip guides helpful for inspiration!

Elevated view looking down on lake in a mountain bowl, backdropped by endless mountains
Mount Revelstoke National Park

Highway 1 Route via Kamloops, Revelstoke and Golden

Distance: 970km
Recommended time: 5 to 7 days
Highlights: Mountain towns (Revelstoke, Golden), four national parks, Shuswap Lake

Itinerary detail

Highway 1 is the most popular driving route between Vancouver and Calgary.

For much of the journey, the road is four lanes wide (two in either direction) which allows for higher speed limits.

As a general rule, Highway 1 receives the most maintenance and attention of all the Vancouver to Calgary routes.

Back view of JR looking out to endless mountain views at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Looking across very calm Emerald Lake, which is backdropped by tall snow capped mountains
Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Vancouver to Hope

Highway 1 quickly leads travellers out of Vancouver and alongside the Fraser River to agricultural lands.

The coastal mountains grow on the horizon, with Mt Baker, a glacier-covered volcano, looming large.

The first stop today is Bridal Veil Falls. This impressive 60m high waterfall cascades down steep rock. The loop trail to the base of the waterfall is short but uphill all the way. Allow 30 minutes for the hike.

Below view of huge multi stream waterfall (Bridal Veil Falls) cascading down rockface, surrounded by tall tall trees
Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls has a great riverside picnic area so consider an extended break here.

Otherwise, plan to head to Hope for a coffee, snack or lunch. The cosy Blue Moose Coffee House is my go-to.

Check your gas tank before leaving Hope and check the status of Highway 1 on DriveBC. There’s been a lot of construction and subsequent closures on this route in the last few years.

Looking out at the Fraser River from Hope viewpoint, with a boat approaching on the right and forested mountains in background
Fraser River in Hope

Hope to Kamloops

25 minutes after Hope, Highway 1 passes through the community of Yale. It may look small now, but it was once a boomtown, the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago.

The reason is simple – Yale was located at the start of the 1958 Cariboo Gold Rush route.

Yale later served at the headquarters of the first transcontinental railway in North America. If you’d like to know more, check out the Yale Historic Site.

JR is bending over a gold panning trough, holding a pan and looking for gold
Gold panning at the Yale Historic Site

Leaving Yale, the highway heads into the rocky Fraser Canyon. The road stays close to the granite walls, offering views of the mountains above and the raging Fraser River below.

Another historical spot (with picnic opportunities) is Alexandra Bridge Park. Looking for a thrill? Consider a ride over the river on the Hell’s Gate Airtram or book a whitewater rafting tour with REO.

Back view of JR walking on metal historic Alexandra Bridge with forest behind
Alexandra Bridge

By the time you have arrived in Kamloops, you will have noticed that the scenery has transitioned from a coastal temperate rainforest to a semi-arid landscape. It’s quite a contrast!

Take the chance to learn more about the people who have called this area home for thousands of years at the riverside Secwépemc Museum and Heritage Park.

Window view from Highway 1 drive with dry burned lanscape with tall mountains in background
Highway 1 near Lytton
Where to stay

Budget

Pauls Lake Provincial Park has a charming forested campground within walking distance of sandy beaches. The park is 25km from Kamloops

Mid-range

Kamloops’ best value accommodation is found at…Canadas Best Value Inn (seriously!) Another good option is the downtown Plaza Hotel

Luxury

For upscale lodgings in the downtown area, book a stay at the Delta Hotel. The location is convenient for restaurants and the highway

Downtown Revelstoke view with historical shops on left and right and mountain rising behind
Downtown Revelstoke

Kamloops to Revelstoke

The dry landscape continues as you head east from Kamloops and arrive at Shuswap Lake.

This area is incredibly popular for boating. Margaret Falls, just north of Salmon Arm, is a worthy side trip.

Head to D Dutchmen Dairy in Sicamous for an artisan ice cream cone. All 40 flavours are made on-site!

Stretch your legs at the Last Spike Rest Area. This roadside location is where the last spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven into the ground.

In Revelstoke, walk the vibrant downtown area and pick up some snacks before exploring the beautiful Meadows in the Sky Parkway, which winds into the alpine. There are several scenic hiking trails at the top.

Have extra time in Revelstoke? It’s worth the short drive south to see Sutherland Falls and Begbie Falls. Alternatively, check out the exciting Pipe Mountain Coaster.

Where to stay

Budget

Snowforest Campground in Mount Revelstoke Park is convenient for the Meadows in the Sky Parkway. Alternatively, try Martha Creek Provincial Park

Mid-range

The Swiss Chalet Motel is a great value unfussy option, within walking distance of downtown. It’s a particularly good choice for groups of adults or larger families

Luxury

The stylish rooms at the historical Regent Hotel are surprisingly spacious. The complimentary breakfast buffet is the best I’ve had anywhere in Canada

Waterfall cascading from flat rock into bowl, with forest and rocks in foreground
Sutherland Falls in Revelstoke

Revelstoke to Golden

Shortly after leaving Revelstoke, enjoy the grandeur of the cathedral of trees on the Giant Cedar Boardwalk Trail.

Highway 1 may be the most travelled route from Vancouver to Calgary but this section of the road is anything but ordinary, travelling through dangerous avalanche country in Glacier National Park.

Learn how this impressive route was built at the Discovery Centre and take a walk on one of the roadside hiking trails.

The Bear Creek Falls Trail is great if you only have an hour or so to spare. For a longer hike, check out the very steep but rewarding Glacier Crest Trail (challenging difficulty).

Surrounded by mountains and offering a choice of affordable accommodation options, Golden is an ideal place to stop for a night or two.

One of the top attractions in town is the Golden Skybridge, featuring Canada’s highest suspension bridges. The dramatic canyon location offers stunning views of the Columbia Valley.

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is just a short drive from Golden’s riverside downtown area and features a 20 acre grizzly bear refuge and exhilarating Via Ferrata climbing course, as well as North America’s highest restaurant.

Relax after all that adrenaline with a paddle through the beautiful Columbia Wetlands, with a canoe or kayak rental from Columbia Wetlands Outpost.

There’s something new to see around every corner of this lush wildlife-filled landscape, perhaps even a moose.

Where to stay

Budget

For camping, consider the municipal campground, which backs onto the Kicking Horse River. An alternative is the Kicking Horse Campground in Yoho National Park

Mid-range

Golden has a plethora of motels and chain hotels to choose from, with popular options being the Holiday Inn and Ramada (we’ve stayed at the latter twice)

Luxury

Moberly Lodge‘s quiet, spotlessly clean rooms are a welcome sight after a day exploring Glacier National Park. Outside, there are stunning views and a hot tub, ideal for a post-hike soak

Back view of Gemma walking on suspended bridge over canyon
Golden Skybridge

Golden to Banff

The magnificent Yoho National Park lies just east of Golden.

Start your day early with a quick hike to Wapta Falls, a powerful waterfall that stretches across the wide Kicking Horse River (allow 1.5 hours).

Next head to serene Emerald Lake, which reflects the image of surrounding mountain peaks onto its turquoise-coloured surface. Stop to check out the Natural Bridge afterwards.

The scenic Yoho Valley Road leads to Takkakkaw Falls, Canada’s second-highest waterfall. Hiking trails lead to half a dozen more waterfalls. If you have time, the Iceline Trail is one of the best anywhere in the Rockies.

Yoho National Park directly borders Banff National Park, so you can seamlessly continue with your Canadian Rockies explorations. 

View from Banff gondola window showing other gondola car ascending mountain, with views of forest and Banff town below, with Cascade Mountain in background
The Banff Gondola offers incredible views of the town and surrounding mountains

Base yourself in Banff or nearby Canmore and day trip to Johnston Canyon, Lake Minnewanka, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake and Sunshine Meadows. I’d also recommend driving at least half of the Icefields Parkway.

For the best free viewpoint in Banff, head to Mount Norquay Road. If you dare, continue to the ski resort to try the thrilling Via Ferrata course!

If you’d like to summit a mountain but don’t have the energy/fitness/equipment or time, take a trip up the Banff Gondola. The 8-minute trip will whisk you to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where spectacular views of Banff await.

Where to stay

Budget

Our preferred Banff campground for tent camping is Tunnel Mountain Village 1. The sites are relatively private and the campground is just a short bus ride away from downtown

Mid-range

Without a doubt, our favourite downtown hotel is the modern Moose Hotel & Suites – it is easy walking distance to downtown and has a rooftop hot tub

Luxury

For a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Banff, consider the Fairmont Banff Springs or the Rimrock Resort. The latter has truly incredible views across Banff and the surrounding mountains

Iconic Moraine Lake view with ten snow capped peaks backdropping reflective lake
Moraine Lake is one of the most iconic locations in the Canadian Rockies

Sea to Sky and Hot Springs Route via Whistler, Vernon and Radium

Distance: 1350km
Recommended time: 5 to 7 days
Highlights: Pacific ocean views, natural and man-made hot springs, potential to see grizzly bears, high mountain passes

Itinerary details

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.

Back view of Gemma at scenic viewpoint looking across to snow capped mountain on other side of valley
Stopping at a scenic viewpoint on the Sea to Sky Highway
Natural rock bridge over fast river, backdropped by a mountain
Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

Vancouver to Whistler

The gorgeous Sea to Sky Highway (99) hugs the ocean as it leads north from Vancouver to Squamish.

Feeling fit? Take a hike (or gondola ride) up the Stawamus Chief, the huge rock towering above the town, for epic views.

Don’t miss nearby Shannon Falls as well. A little further up the road, thundering Brandywine Falls is another worthwhile stop.

In Whistler, explore the alpine-themed village centre and ride up the gondola to access panoramic hiking trails.

The incredible Peak 2 Peak gondola, which travels between Whistler and Blackcomb peaks, is open in summer too. If you dare, try out the longest zipline in North America!

Where to stay

Budget

The Pangea Pod Hotel is a low-cost (for Whistler) option right in the heart of the action. For camping, head to Riverside RV Resort & Campground or Nairn Falls Provincial Park

Mid-range

Whistler Village Inn & Suites offers comfortable surroundings in a central but surprisingly quiet location. A good alternative is the Pinnacle Hotel

Luxury

Highly rated for the gorgeous property and spacious rooms, the Four Seasons is a particularly special place to stay in Whistler. There is a walking path to the village centre

Elevated view looking down on alpine lake, surrounded by snow capped mountains on Whistler Mountain. The views are slightly obscured by smoke
Hiking on Whistler Mountain on a smoky August day

Whistler to Vernon

If you’re organised, consider the very famous but beautiful 10km Joffre Lakes hike. It requires a day pass, only reservable online the day before.

The transition to British Columbia’s hot, dry interior region can be quite a shock after the coastal rainforest and mountain vistas around Whistler and Pemberton.

Lillooet offers rugged landscapes and a couple of great wineries such as Fort Berens.

A swim in the beautifully green Kalamalka Lake will be well-earned after another few hours on the road.

Nearby Vernon is an excellent place for an overnight spot, particularly if you like hiking. Check out our trail recommendations and be sure to start early to beat the heat in summer!

Where to stay

Budget

There aren’t any campgrounds right in Vernon but my favourite locally is Ellison Provincial Park. It has three beaches within walking distance

Mid-range

The Prestige Vernon Lodge is particularly great for families, with the rooms set into a tropical paradise with a real running creek

Luxury

Treat yourself to a stay at Canada’s best spa! A two-night stay at Sparkling Hill Resort is preferable to enjoy all of the facilities

Looking down onto turquoise lake with paddleboarders floating
Kalamalka Lake, Vernon

Vernon to Glacier National Park

From here, take Highway 6 east and cross Upper Arrow Lake via the free ferry. The small town of Nakusp 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 characterful and cool mountain town of Revelstoke.

Don’t miss a chance to drive the Meadows in the Sky Parkway alpine to see stunning wildflowers or walk the wonderful Giants Cedar Boardwalk Trail.

If you have more time, it’s also worth the short drive south of town to see Sutherland Falls and Begbie Falls.

Where to stay

Budget

Snowforest Campground in Mount Revelstoke Park is convenient for the Meadows in the Sky Parkway. Alternatively, try Martha Creek Provincial Park

Mid-range

The Swiss Chalet Motel is a great value unfussy option, within walking distance of downtown. It’s a particularly good choice for groups of adults or larger families

Luxury

The stylish rooms at the historical Regent Hotel are surprisingly spacious. The complimentary breakfast buffet is the best I’ve had anywhere in Canada

Reflections of surrounding mountains on calm, turquoise coloured alpine lake on a sunny day in Mount Revelstoke National Park
Eva Lake, Mount Revelstoke National Park

Glacier National Park to Golden

Highway 1 may be the most travelled route but this section of the road is anything but ordinary, travelling through dangerous avalanche country.

Learn how this impressive route was built in Glacier National Park before heading onwards to Golden.

Another ideal small town base, Golden has affordable accommodation options and many local attractions.

One of the newest is the Golden Skybridge, home of Canada’s highest suspension bridges set above a dramatic canyon surrounded by spectacular mountain panoramas.

Keep the adrenaline going with a trip to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, where you can dine at the highest restaurant in North America or try some Via Ferrata climbing.

Whatever you do, be sure to try and spot Boo, the resort’s resident grizzly bear, from the gondola.

If you have the time, make a day trip from Golden to Yoho National Park. Head first to the popular Emerald Lake (which is as beautiful as it sounds!) and then the Natural Bridge.

At Takkakkaw Falls, you can view Canada’s second-highest waterfall and then hike to half a dozen more.

Where to stay

Budget

For camping, consider the municipal campground, which backs onto the Kicking Horse River. An alternative is the Kicking Horse Campground in Yoho National Park

Mid-range

Golden has a plethora of motels and chain hotels to choose from, with popular options being the Holiday Inn and Ramada (we’ve stayed at the latter twice)

Luxury

Moberly Lodge‘s quiet, spotlessly clean rooms are a welcome sight after a day exploring Glacier National Park. Outside, there are stunning views and a hot tub, ideal for a post-hike soak

Looking across mountainous landscape at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort to alpine trail system with red roof building visible across the valley
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (the red-roofed building is the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant)

Golden to Calgary

Though your departure from Golden may be reluctant, look forward to yet more hot springs in Radium.

These are my favourite of the Parks Canada hot springs, featuring a large pool set into a canyon. Wild Bighorn sheep are a common sight here.

Underrated Kootenay National Park is one of the easiest places to spot grizzly bears in the late spring. 

Kootenay NP is host to some incredible hiking trails, such as Marble Canyon, Paint Pots (both short), Stanley Glacier (half day, moderate) and Floe Lake (full day, challenging).

At the end of Highway 93, cross over to the Bow Valley Parkway (1A) for a slower, more scenic route to Banff. Base yourself here for a few nights to visit Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake and Johnston Canyon.

Calgary is only a short drive from Banff.

Where to stay

Budget

Our preferred Banff campground for tent camping is Tunnel Mountain Village 1. The sites are relatively private and the campground is just a short bus ride away from downtown

Mid-range

Without a doubt, our favourite downtown hotel is the modern Moose Hotel & Suites – it is easy walking distance to downtown and has a rooftop hot tub

Luxury

For a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Banff, consider the Fairmont Banff Springs or the Rimrock Resort. The latter has truly incredible views across Banff and the surrounding mountains

Back view of JR standing on a rock with hands on hips, looking at huge mountains surrounding long, cloudy coloured lake
Above Lake Louise, Banff National Park

Northern Detour Route via Wells Gray and Jasper National Park

Distance: 1200km
Recommended time: 5 to 7 days
Highlights: The highest point in the Canadian Rockies (Mount Robson), Icefields Parkway, waterfall viewing in Wells Gray, all of the most popular Canadian Rockies sights

Itinerary details

Magnificent peaks, tumbling waterfalls and vast glaciers….this Vancouver to Calgary road trip has it all.

Fast at first, the route slows down in the second half to visit the highlights of the Rockies from top to bottom. This road trip itinerary is a great option if you don’t have extra time to spare to explore the Rockies after driving from Vancouver.

Elevated view looking down on turquoise coloured Peyto Lake, surrounded by mountains in Banff National Park
Peyto Lake
Red canoes on dock with reflection of mountains on the lake

Vancouver to Wells Gray

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

Bridal Veil Falls is a good place to take it all in before heading further inland. This impressive 60m high waterfall cascades down steep rock.

The loop trail to the base of the waterfall is short but uphill all the way. Allow 30 minutes for the hike. Bridal Veil Falls has a great riverside picnic area so consider an extended break here.

From here, Highway 5 climbs to the Coquihalla Pass (1240m) and is surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks. The small city of Merritt is an ideal pit stop and also has some great hiking trails close to town.

While in Kamloops, take the chance to learn more about the people who have called this area home for thousands of years at the riverside Secwépemc Museum and Heritage Park.

The water wonderland of Wells Gray Provincial Park awaits tomorrow. This underrated park features as many as 39 waterfalls, with almost a dozen being easily accessible from the Wells Gray Corridor drive.

Where to stay

Budget

There are three vehicle accessible campgrounds in this part of Wells Gray with sites priced at $20-23/night. Pyramid Campground is FCFS, while Falls Creek and Clearwater Lake Campground are reservable

Mid-range

The Ace Western Motel offers simple accommodation at the entrance to the Wells Gray Corridor. An alternative is Across the Creek Cabins, located close to Moul Falls.

Luxury

While not opulent, the Best Western Plus Gateway to the Falls is a splendid place to stay the night in Clearwater. There are restaurants within walking distance

Elevated view looking down on town in green valley
The city of Merritt from one of the local hiking trails

Exploring Wells Gray

Time to explore Wells Gray! Plan to spend at least 3 hours in the park. Whatever you get up to, be sure to see the spectacular 141m high Helmcken Falls.

Another highlight is Moul Falls, which you can actually stand behind when the water flow is low. Dramatic Spahats Creek Falls is only a quick walk from the parking lot.

For hiking, my favourite trail is Sheila Lake via the Trophy Meadows. The path is lined by wildflowers during the height of summer. You’ll need your own vehicle, however (not a rental) since the access road is not paved.

141m Helmckcen Falls plunging into a canyon in Wells Gray Provincial Park
Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray Provincial Park

Wells Gray to Jasper National Park

Switching from waterfalls to mountain peaks, Mount Robson Provincial Park is your next major destination.

The park is home to the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. After taking in the view, enjoy a walk on the short Overlander Falls Trail.

Rest and recharge in Jasper, a charming mountain town at the top of the Icefields Parkway.

My top recommendation in Jasper is to visit the stunning Maligne Lake, where you can board a boat to see the spectacular Spirit Island. On the way back to town, stop at Maligne Canyon.

Staying in Jasper for a couple of nights? Get up early the next day to hike in the gorgeous Edith Cavell Meadows. Closer to town, Pyramid Lake is worth checking out.

Where to stay

Budget

Campers have a choice of campgrounds in Jasper – we usually stay at Whistlers Campground, which was completely renovated a few years ago

Mid-range

The Mount Robson Inn is a solid downtown accommodation pick, with free breakfast and a range of room configurations (great for families/larger groups)

Luxury

Comfortable lodge rooms and cabins just beyond Jasper’s east gate at Overlander Mountain Lodge. The on-site restaurant is excellent and offers fabulous views

Distant hikers are visible on dirt trail surrounded by meadows, below huge snow capped mountain peak in Jasper National Park
Edith Cavell Meadows, Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park to Calgary

One of the top reasons to drive this route has to be the legendary 230km Columbia Icefields Parkway.

Frequently called one of the best road trips in the world, the Icefields Parkway travels through a landscape carved by glaciers. Don’t miss the Athabasca Falls, Athabasca Glacier and Peyto Lake.

If you feel like a hike, I’d recommend the Wilcox Pass Trail. It is a 3.4km return uphill hike to the lower viewpoint (red chairs) over Athabasca Glacier. The upper viewpoint is 9.5km return.

After reaching the end of the Icefields Parkway, turn away from the main highway onto the Bow Valley Parkway for a slightly slower drive to Banff via Castle Mountain.

Base yourself in Banff for at least a few nights to visit Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Johnston Canyon. You’ll need to pre-book a shuttle bus or tour bus to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (no parking is available at Moraine Lake).

Calgary beckons just beyond Banff.

Where to stay

Budget

Our preferred Banff campground for tent camping is Tunnel Mountain Village 1. The sites are relatively private and the campground is just a short bus ride away from downtown

Mid-range

Without a doubt, our favourite downtown hotel is the modern Moose Hotel & Suites – it is easy walking distance to downtown and has a rooftop hot tub

Luxury

For a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Banff, consider the Fairmont Banff Springs or the Rimrock Resort. The latter has truly incredible views across Banff and the surrounding mountains

Huge waterfall cascading down layered rock, with mountain in background
Athabasca Falls

Highway 3 via Osoyoos, Nelson and Cranbrook

Distance: 1500km
Recommended time: 5 to 7 days
Highlights: Small towns, quiet roads, unique attractions (Spotted Lake, Fort Steele, Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump), beyond-the-beaten-path experiences, multiple mountain passes

Itinerary details

This Vancouver to Calgary road trip route skirts the US border and travels over some of British Columbia’s highest passes, passing through many characterful small towns along the way.

The longest route of the four suggested here, this is a Vancouver to Calgary road trip for people who appreciate exploring beyond the beaten path and the rewards that come from it.

If you’ve already driven from Vancouver to Calgary and would like to discover new places, this may be the is the itinerary for you.

For more details concerning the Vancouver to Osoyoos section, check out this dedicated Vancouver to Okanagan Valley road trip guide.

Elevated view looking down on large lake, which is surrounded by mountains. There is a boat moving away from the camera at the center of the lake
Waterton National Park
Looking down from elevated viewpoint of Manning Park area, with resort in foreground and backdrop of mountain peaks, which are highlighted by sunrise colours
Sunrise at the Cascade Lookout in Manning Park

Vancouver to Manning Park

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, just before Hope. This impressive 60m high waterfall cascades down steep rock.

The loop trail to the base of the waterfall is short but uphill all the way. Allow 30 minutes for the trip. Bridal Veil Falls has a great riverside picnic area so consider an extended break here.

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

Take the opportunity to experience the coastal rainforest in E.C. Manning Park by stopping at one of the many short, roadside hiking trails.

Incredible panoramic views are the reward for driving to the Cascade Lookout, which continues up into the sub-alpine meadows (open July to October). If you time it right, the hiking trails are lined with wildflowers.

Where to stay

Budget

Manning Park has a range of campgrounds, both frontcountry and backcountry. The Lightning Lake Campground is the most popular, probably because it has showers. Reserve early!

Mid-range

The only accommodation provider in the park, Manning Park Resort boasts lodge rooms, chalets and cabins, all with easy access to the highway and hiking trails. There is an on-site restaurant

Looking across to Spotted Lake from elevated position, which features many different ponds of water
Lake Khiluk (Spotted Lake), Osoyoos

Manning Park to Osoyoos

The mountainous route eventually gives way to dry grasslands. Fill up on fresh fruit at one of the many local stands in Keremeos.

Before reaching Osoyoos, look for a small right-hand turn-off to Spotted Lakes, a culturally 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.

Discover the rich, living culture of the Osoyoos Indian Band at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre at Spirit Ridge.

Don’t forget to pause at the top of Anarchist Mountain for epic views on your way out.

Where to stay

Budget

sẁiẁs Provincial Park (Haynes Point) is the ultimate place to camp in Osoyoos. The campground is located on a sand spit jutting into Osoyoos. Reservations are hard to secure

Mid-range

Safari Beach Resort is ideal for families, with a lakeside location and private beach. The Watermark Beach Resort is a good upmarket alternative

Luxury

Enjoy spectacular views of vineyards and Osoyoos Lake at Spirit Ridge Resort as well as two restaurants, a winery tasting room, two swimming pools and a spa

Elevated viewpoint looking down on the town of Osoyoos, which is set next to a large lake, vineyards and mountains
Anarchist Mountain viewpoint above Osoyoos

Osoyoos to Nelson

The Boundary and Kootenay regions of BC are full of interesting small towns, from tiny historic outposts like Greenwood (home of the world’s best-tasting water, who knew?) to vibrant communities like Nelson and scenic mountain towns like Rossland and Fernie.

At Fernie Alpine Resort, you can try swing, balance and jump along the elevated obstacles in the aerial park. The resort also has wonderful opportunities for alpine hiking, accessed by a chairlift.

If you are driving your own vehicle (not a rental), consider a side trip to the magnificent Valhalla Provincial Park or Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

The hot springs at Ainsworth (which feature a natural cave!) are the perfect post-treat.

On the historical side, the region has several interesting ghost towns (such as Sandon), abandoned mines and heritage sites.

Where to stay

Budget

BC Parks’ Kokanee Creek Park is located at the bottom of the Kokanee Glacier Park Road. There is a choice of campgrounds, all with access to showers

Mid-range

The Adventure Hotel‘s location is perfect for exploring downtown Nelson (though parking is tricky). A great option for groups is Alpine Inn & Suites

Luxury

The Prestige Lakeside Resort enjoys, as you may guess, spectacular views of Kootenay Lake. The property is just a short walk from downtown

Historical buildings sit by the road in Greenwood, BC, featuring ornate frontage
The historic city (Canada’s smallest!) of Greenwood, British Columbia

Nelson to Alberta border

Fort Steele near Cranbrook is a living time capsule of a 19th-century gold rush boom town, complete with a working blacksmith shop, theatre, steam railway and more.

Detour as much as you and your schedule allow, 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 at Gladstone Provincial Park. Christina Lake is said to have the warmest water of any tree-lined lake in Canada.

If you’d prefer to hike, there are some excellent trails around Grand Forks.

JR stands at entrance to mine shaft, looking at inscription on outer wall. The photographer is within the rocky mine shaft itself, looking out
Exploring an abandoned mine in Jewel Lake Provincial Park near Greenwood

Alberta border to Calgary

Once in Alberta, the route to Calgary is quick and straightforward. There are, however, some attractions in this area you definitely shouldn’t miss.

Stop at the Frank Slide to learn about Canada’s deadliest landslide in 1903. A short hike close to the interpretive centre leads through some of the 110 million tonnes of limestone that slid down Turtle Mountain.

If you’re looking for more adventure, head away from Calgary towards Waterton National Park.

Here, the prairies of Alberta meet the rugged peaks of the Rockies. Quieter than its northern counterparts of Banff and Jasper, Waterton is home to gorgeous lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails and more.

Once you’re all hiked out, head north to the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump archaeological site and learn about traditional hunting methods.

Calgary is just another few hours north, but it’s worth delaying your arrival to detour through the spectacular Kananaskis Valley if you have the time.

Where to stay

Budget

There is a Parks Canada operated campground in the centre of Waterton Townsite, featuring more than 200 individual sites

Mid-range

It’s not inexpensive but the Bayshore Inn & Spa is one of the cheaper hotel options in Waterton. The views from the property are fabulous

Luxury

Indulge in a relaxing stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel, one of the most iconic hotels in the Canadian Rockies (those views!)


Back view of Gemma standing in front of scenic mountain view in the Kananaskis Valley
Hiking in the Kananaskis Valley

Ultimate Round Trip Route: Vancouver to Calgary and back

Distance: 2000km
Recommended time: 14 days
Highlights: Too many to name – glaciers, mountains, turquoise lakes, alpine meadows, national parks, waterfalls, wildlife viewing opportunities and more

2 week Western Canada road trip Google Maps screenshot

Itinerary details

If you told me I had to choose a 2+ week Vancouver to Calgary (and back) road trip, this would be the route.

It features all of the ‘must see’ attractions (the ones everyone knows about) as well as some amazing lesser-known destinations.

I have suggested 14 days, but honestly, more time is always better.

A tall waterfall dramatically falls from a rockface below
Spahats Creek Falls
Looking down on the town of Banff, which sits in a valley between mountain ranges
The best free view of Banff!

Read these related posts next:

Complete Guide to BC Parks Camping Reservations

Okanagan Valley Road Trip, BC: What to Do and Where to Stop

17 of the Best Canoe Trips in British Columbia

How to Camp for Free in British Columbia

Beyond the Beaten Path Vancouver Island Road Trips

25 of the Best Overnight Backpacking Trips in British Columbia

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Michelle

Wednesday 14th of December 2022

This is by far the best recommendation advice yet - I love that you give advice on hotels and off the beaten path places to go (who likes tourists!)

Have not yet, been but will certainly model the trip based on 1 or 2 of these….

Looking forward to it.. (June 2023)

Gemma

Thursday 15th of December 2022

Thanks Michelle! And thank you for taking a comment to let me know that you found this post helpful :) I hope you have a fabulous road trip!

Julie

Saturday 18th of June 2022

Hi Gemma, I’ve heard that roads have been washed out and there is a lot of work being done on the Canadian highway from Vancouver to Calgary. Widening of lanes, delays and divisions, also a shortage of hire cars.(2022) Do you know anything about this? Also if we were wanting to stay in the less touristy places would we need to book accommodation in advance. Either June or Sept next year(2023) not in July or August.

Gemma

Monday 27th of June 2022

Hi Julie,

I always expect to see some construction on the main highways between Vancouver and Calgary from May to October. There is more than usual right now due to the extensive damage caused by the slides and floods in November 2021. There's also major construction works going on in the Kicking Horse Canyon east of Golden. On our recent trip to Calgary, we were stopped for 40 minutes between Golden and Glacier National Park.

Yes, I would recommend booking for the best choice of accommodation and prices. If budget isn't an issue, you could get by.

Amy

Sunday 7th of January 2018

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

Thursday 11th of January 2018

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!

Libby

Tuesday 5th of September 2017

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

Regards Libby Edwards

Gemma

Friday 8th of September 2017

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.