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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. With often only a week or two in the county, a Vancouver to Calgary road trip is a smart choice for visitors wanting to see as much as possible.

This post features my our 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:

This post was originally published in 2017, updated and expanded in 2022. 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 basically just roads that travel though 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 area 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 2021. 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
  • 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 all legal free 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 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 emergency situations
  • 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 knowing 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, with the aim of sharing 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 appeal to you and would be a good fit for your schedule.

Please note that I have suggested Othello Tunnels in Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park as a stop in more than one of these road trip routes. At the time of writing (Jan 2022), the park is currently closed due to storm damage and flooding.

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

Screenshot of Google Map featuring Highway 1 road trip route between Vancouver and Calgary
Click here or above to view Google Map with Highway 1 route between Vancouver and Calgary

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.

Please note that between Hope and Spences Bridge there is still significant roadside construction due to flooding and mudslides in November 2021.

With this in mind, I have utilised Highway 5 between Hope and Kamloops instead for this section.

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 Kamloops

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.

Pause to check out pretty Bridal Veil Falls, pick up a snack or coffee in Hope and then take a walk through the Othello Tunnels (currently closed, read this note), a series of impressive old train tunnels cut through granite rock.

With Highway 1 closed beyond this point, you’ll need to join Highway 5 for the climb up to Coquihalla Pass (1240m), which is surrounded by impressive mountain peaks.

Take a pit stop in Merritt and consider stretching your legs on one of the many great hiking trails close to town.

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 (temporarily closed at time of writing).

Accommodation recommendations:

Best Western Plus Merritt – Smart new hotel with easy highway access
Delta Hotels by Marriott Kamloops – Central downtown location

Looking ahead to wooden build leading into blasted rock tunnel
Othello Tunnels
Kamloops to Revelstoke

The semi-arid 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.

Get the best view in town at the Sicamous Lookout, an old hang gliding ramp (not recommended for rental cars), before heading to D Dutchmen Dairy 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 beautiful Mount Revelstoke National Park. It’s also worth the short drive south to see Sutherland Falls.

Be sure to drive the Meadows in the Sky Parkway into the alpine, where you’ll find a number of scenic hiking trails. Visit the cathedral of trees on the Giant Cedar Boardwalk Trail before continuing towards Golden.

Accommodation recommendations

The Regent Hotel Revelstoke – Modern heritage hotel in central downtown location, excellent complimentary breakfast
Swiss Chalet Motel – Great value unfussy option, within walking distance of downtown

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

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 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 Great Glacier Trail or Balu Pass.

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.

Accommodation recommendations

Moberly Lodge – Highly rated lodge accommodation 10 minutes drive from Golden
Pinewood Inn – Budget friendly, yet well appointed motel close to highway

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

Just west of Golden is magnificent Yoho National Park. Start your day early with a quick hike to Wapta Falls, a powerful waterfall that stretches all the way across the wide Kicking Horse River.

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 on 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.

A drive up the Mount Norquay road will reveal the best free viewpoint of Banff. 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.

Accommodation recommendations:

Moose Hotel and Suites – Expansive modern property within walking distance to downtown Banff, with rooftop pool (we loved our stay here!)
Baker Creek Mountain Resort – Spacious cabins and lodge rooms in Banff National Park, just a quick drive from Lake Louise (check out our review)

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

Screenshot of Google Map showing Vancouver to Calgary road trip route
Click here or above to view Google Map of this Vancouver to Calgary road trip

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 travel between Whistler and Blackcomb peaks, is open in summer too. If you dare, try out the longest zipline in North America!

Accommodation recommendations

Whistler Village Inn & Suites – Comfortable surroundings in central but surprisingly quiet location
Pangea Pod Hotel – Budget option right in the heart of the action

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 10km Joffre Lakes hike. It required a day pass in 2021, 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!

Accommodation recommendations

Prestige Vernon Lodge – Great for families, with the rooms set into a tropical paradise with a real running creek
Sparkling Hill Resort – Treat yourself to a stay at Canada’s best spa! Two nights is preferable

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 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. It’s also worth the short drive south of town to see Sutherland Falls.

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.

Accommodation recommendations

The Regent Hotel Revelstoke – Modern heritage hotel in central downtown location, excellent complimentary breakfast
Swiss Chalet Motel – Great value unfussy option, within walking distance of downtown

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

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 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.

Accommodation recommendations

Moberly Lodge – Highly rated lodge accommodation 10 minutes drive from Golden
Pinewood Inn – Budget friendly, yet well appointed motel close to highway

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. It’s also host to some incredible hiking trails, such as those at Marble Canyon, the Paint Pots, Floe Lake and Stanley Glacier.

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 and the other famous national park sites. Calgary is only a short drive from here.

Accommodation recommendations:

Moose Hotel and Suites – Expansive modern property within walking distance to downtown Banff, with rooftop pool (we loved our stay here!)
Baker Creek Mountain Resort – Spacious cabins and lodge rooms in Banff National Park, just a quick drive from Lake Louise (check out our review)

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: Highest point in the Canadian Rockies (Mount Robson), Icefields Parkway, waterfall viewing in Wells Gray, all of the most popular Canadian Rockies sights

Screenshot of Vancouver to Calgary road trip Google Map
Click here or above to view Google Map of this Vancouver to Calgary road trip

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. It’s 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
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.

Just outside of Hope, pause to explore the Othello Tunnels (currently closed, read this note), a series of impressive old train tunnels and bridges cut directly through granite rock.

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.

The water wonderland of Wells Gray Provincial Park is the next stop. This underrated park features as many as 39 waterfalls, with 9 being easily accessible from the Wells Gray Corridor drive.

Accommodation recommendations:

Helmcken Falls Lodge – Rustic rooms close to all the action (11km from Helmcken Falls) with on-site restaurant
Across the Creek Cabins – Fully equipped cabins set into a forest, just a short drive from Moul Falls

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

Whatever you get up to in Wells Gray, be sure to see spectacular 141m high Helmcken Falls.

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

For hiking, my favourite trail is to Sheila Lake via the Trophy Mountains. 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.

If you have extra time, I would suggest driving to Wells Gray via Highway 99 instead. Follow the previous itinerary from Vancouver to Whistler and Lillooet, before heading north to Wells Gray via Kamloops.

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. Get up early the next day to hike in the gorgeous Edith Cavell Meadows. Closer to town, Pyramid Lake is worth checking out.

A worthy side trip is to Maligne Canyon, continuing onto stunning Maligne Lake, where you can board a boat to see spectacular Spirit Island.

Accommodation recommendations:

The Crimson Jasper – Modern, welcoming lodge within easy walking distance to everywhere in downtown Jasper
Overlander Mountain Lodge: Comfortable lodge rooms and cabins just beyond Jasper’s east gate, accompanied by epic views and an excellent restaurant (read our review)

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 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 are conveniently located at the end of the Icefields Parkway. Unless you’re willing to get up very early (arriving before 5am), you’ll need to prebook a shuttle bus ride to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

Turn away from the main highway onto the Bow Valley Parkway for a slightly slower drive east via Castle Mountain and Johnston Canyon. Calgary beckons just beyond Banff.

Accommodation recommendations:

Moose Hotel and Suites – Expansive modern property within walking distance to downtown Banff, with rooftop pool (we loved our stay here!)
Baker Creek Mountain Resort – Spacious cabins and lodge rooms in Banff National Park, just a quick drive from Lake Louise (check out our review)

A river approaches a rockface and thunders through rock canyon below, backdropped by huge mountain
Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

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

Screenshot of Google Map showing road trip route between Vancouver and Calgary
Click here or above to view Google Map of this Vancouver to Calgary road trip

Itinerary details

The 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.

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 or take a walk through the historic Othello Tunnels (currently closed, read this note).

The Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) winds alongside the fast Similkameen, 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. If you time it right (late July to mid August), the hiking trails are lined with wildflowers.

Accommodation recommendations:

Manning Park Resort – Lodge rooms, chalets and cabins available year round, with easy access to the highway and hiking trails

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 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. 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.

Accommodation recommendations:

Spirit Ridge Resort – Enjoy spectacular views of vineyards and Osoyoos Lake, as well as two restaurants, winery tasting room, two swimming pools and spa
Safari Beach Resort – Lakeside condos with private beach, perfect for families

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 Kootenay region of BC is 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 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 a number of interesting ghost towns (such as Sandon), abandoned mines and heritage sites.

Accommodation recommendations:

Alpine Inn and Suites – Well equipped motel style units within walking distance to downtown Nelson
Cloudside Hotel – Centrally located inn, with multiple room layouts (great for families). Highly rated and reasonably priced

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 working blacksmith shop, theatre, steam railway and more.

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 at Gladstone Provincial Park. It is said to have the warmest water of any tree-lined lake in Canada. If you’d prefer to hike, there are a number of 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.

Accommodation recommendations:

Prince of Wales Hotel – Treat yourself with a stay at one of the most iconic hotels in the Canadian Rockies (those views!)
Waterton Glacier Suites – Spacious rooms in downtown Waterton, easy walking distance to restaurants and the lake

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: 2300km
Recommended time: 14 days minimum
Highlights: Too many to name – hot springs, mountains, glacier lakes, alpine meadows, national parks, wildlife viewing opportunities and more

Screenshot of Google Map featuring ultimate Vancouver to Calgary road trip route
Click here or above to view Google Map with this Vancouver to Calgary road trip route
Itinerary details

If you told me I had to choose a two week long 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!
Vancouver to Jasper

Start by following the ‘Sea to Sky and Hot Springs Route,’ stopping at Shannon Falls, the Stawamus Chief and Brandywine Falls. Explore Whistler Village and squeeze in a gondola-accessed hike at Whistler Blackcomb.

Transition from rainforest and mountains to rugged semi-arid landscapes as you head towards Lillooet.

In Kamloops, take the time to learn more about the people who have called this area home for thousands of years at the riverside Secwépemc Museum and Heritage Park (temporarily closed at time of writing).

Now, turn north towards the Wells Gray Provincial Park (‘Northern Detour‘ route).

In Wells Gray, visit as many waterfalls as possible (and the Trophy Meadows if you have your own vehicle) before heading north to see Canada’s highest peak in Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Jasper National Park awaits just over the border – explore Maligne Canyon, visit Spirit Island on Maligne Lake and walk through the spectacular Edith Cavell Meadows.

Accommodation recommendations:

Across the Creek Cabins (Wells Gray) – Fully equipped cabins set into a forest, just a short drive from Moul Falls
The Crimson Jasper – Modern, welcoming lodge within easy walking distance to everywhere in downtown Jasper

Narrow moss covered canyon with river rushing through below. There is a fenced bridge crossing the canyon
Maligne Canyon
Jasper to Banff, with optional side trip to Canmore

Still following the ‘Northern Detour’ route, drive the Icefields Parkway and become awestruck by views of glaciers, mountains and waterfalls. Utilise the ‘Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies’ book to narrow down the best hikes for your ability and available time.

In Banff National Park, visit Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Johnston Canyon, Lake Minnewanka as well as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. You’ll need to get up very early (before 5am) or pre-book a shuttle for the later.

Back view of Gemma in bright colours, smiling at camera with scenic mountain views in background
Checking out the views from the Banff Gondola

Take a ride on the Banff Gondola and enjoy breathtaking panoramas of the town as well as surrounding mountain peaks

If you’d like to experience the area more as a local, consider a side trip to Canmore. The surrounding area features some truly breathtaking hiking trails. Close to town, I like Grassi Lakes for a quick hike.

Accommodation recommendations:

Moose Hotel and Suites – Expansive modern property within walking distance to downtown Banff, with rooftop pool (we loved our stay here!)
Baker Creek Mountain Resort – Spacious cabins and lodge rooms in Banff National Park, just a quick drive from Lake Louise (check out our review)

A lone canoeist is approaching a small peninsula adorned with trees (Spirit Island), which is backdropped by a long lake and huge surrounding snow capped mountains
Spirit Island, Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park
Banff to Golden via Radium Hot Springs

The next destination is underrated Kootenay National Park. Take a short hike at Marble Canyon and the Paint Pots or enjoy a longer excursion to see Floe Lake or the Stanley Glacier (the latter is also home to rare Burgess Shale fossils).

Before leaving the park, reward yourself with a relaxing soak at Radium Hot Springs. An easy scenic drive along the Columbia Valley is next. Consider breaking up the journey with a canoe paddle through the lush Columbia Wetlands.

Accommodation recommendations:

Moberly Lodge – Highly rated lodge accommodation 10 minutes drive from Golden
Pinewood Inn – Budget friendly, yet well appointed motel close to highway

Back view of Gemma holding a paddle in a canoe, on calm river looking ahead to backdrop of mountains
Paddling through the Columbia Wetlands, canoe rental courtesy of Columbia Wetlands Outpost
Side trip to Yoho National Park

The small town of Golden is an ideal rest stop, particularly as you can take a day trip to Yoho National Park. Must see highlights include Wapta Falls, Emerald Lake, the Natural Bridge and Takakkaw Falls (more info here).

Golden itself has plenty of activities on offer as well – check out the Golden Skybridge (Canada’s highest suspension bridge!) and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

Elevated view of Takakkaw Falls plunging from a rockface in the distance, framed by trees
Takakkaw Falls from the Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park
Golden to Nakusp

From Golden, head west into Glacier National Park. If you only have a short time to spend in the park, first swing by the Discovery Centre to learn how this impressive mountain pass was built and then take a hike on the Bear Creek Falls Trail.

Another national park awaits in Revelstoke. The Meadows in the Sky Parkway offers easy access into the alpine of Mount Revelstoke National Park. Before heading up, admire the cathedral of trees on the Giant Cedar Boardwalk Trail.

After Revelstoke, this Vancouver to Calgary road trip route veers away from the beaten path. A free vehicle ferry across Upper Arrow Lake offers access to Nakusp, the epicentre for half a dozen wild and developed hot springs.

Accommodation recommendations:

The Regent Hotel Revelstoke – Modern heritage hotel in central downtown location, excellent complimentary breakfast
Swiss Chalet Motel – Great value unfussy option, within walking distance of downtown

Elevated view of a small city (Revelstoke) at the base of a snow capped mountain
Revelstoke from the Meadows in the Sky Parkway
Nakusp to Osoyoos

Continue on Highway 6 to another free vehicle ferry crossing. This leads to the city of Vernon and the beautiful Okanagan Valley. If you’re using your own vehicle (not a rental), consider a side trip to hike Twin Lakes or Pinnacle Lake on the way.

Explore Vernon’s extensive hiking trail network or enjoy a day at Kal Beach. Families will love Davison Orchards Country Village.

A spectacular drive along Okanagan Lake is the reward for driving through busy Kelowna. Your next destination is Penticton, a small city set between two gorgeous lakes (also our home town!)

Penticton provides an excellent base for many different activities, such as wine touring (more than 40 wineries are located within 20 minutes of downtown), hiking, paddling, cycling and climbing. The lively downtown features as many as five breweries.

South of Penticton, the landscape becomes even more desert like. The vineyards stretch further too, as the valley becomes wider. The small town of Osoyoos is home to Canada’s warmest lake and a myriad of fun activities.

Accommodation recommendations:

Penticton Lakeside Resort – Awesome lakefront location on north side of town, within walking distance to beach, shops, entertainment, restaurants, trails
Wesbert Winery and Guest Suites – Upscale B&B rooms with wonderful vineyard views, ideal location for wine touring

A bench is in the foreground, looking out to Okanagan Lake and the city of Penticton resting on the eastern shore. The city is backdropped by mountains
Looking ack at Penticton from the Munson Mountain viewpoint
Osoyoos to Vancouver

On the way out of Osoyoos, be sure to stop at one-of-a-kind Spotted Lake, a historically sacred site that has to be seen to be believed.

Fill up on fresh fruit at one of the many stands in Keremeos before starting your final scenic drive to Vancouver along Highway 3. It winds alongside the fast Similkameen River, offering brief glimpses of the Cascade mountains range above.

Set aside some time to spend in E.C. Manning Park. A drive up to the Cascade Lookout offers incredible panoramas. The road continues after the lookout (though is not paved) and leads to alpine meadows, which bloom with wildflowers in the height of summer.

The Heather Trail is a great way to explore the area, with Frosty Mountain Trail or Skyline I as alternatives. For a shorter, easier excursion, consider the hike around Lightning Lake or rent a canoe for a relaxing paddle.

Manning Park is an easy three hour drive to Vancouver, your final destination.

Accommodation recommendations:

Spirit Ridge Resort – Enjoy spectacular views of vineyards and Osoyoos Lake, as well as two restaurants, winery tasting room, two swimming pools and spa
Manning Park Resort – Lodge rooms, chalets and cabins available year round, with easy access to the highway and hiking trails

Back view of Gemma sat on rock looking ahead to spectacular mountain views in Manning Park. There is some smoke
Hiking the Skyline I Trail in Manning Park on a smoky September day

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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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.