Thousands of kilometres of breathtaking mountain valleys, icefields 3 times the size of Paris and more unique photography locations than you will be able to visit in your lifetime. That’s what awaits you on my road trip itinerary around the Canadian Rockies.
Canadian Rockies Two-Week Road Trip Overview
What type of traveller is this Canadian Rockies road trip perfect for?
Do you like to venture onto backcountry trails? Are you up for some hiking adventures? This Canadian Rockies road trip is designed for those who love to be outside and don’t plan on seeing the Rockies through the window of their car.
This road trip is mainly designed for Motorhome travellers, but don’t worry. You can easily follow along with a regular car and book accommodation along the way. I included hotel recommendations for each destination.
When is the best time to do this road trip?
The ideal travel time for this Canadian Rockies road trip is between June and August when the nights are warm(ish) and the campsites are operating.
Though campsites already re-open in May and stay in operation until September, during shoulder seasons I would recommend that you opt into hotel stays. The nights can still be very cold in May or September!
Any time before May or after September you may run into difficulties with finding a campsite that is open.
If your main objective is to hike, then aim to go between mid-June and mid-October.
Where does this road trip start and finish and what areas does it visit?
The itinerary starts and finishes in Calgary – the nearest international airport hub, and takes you through Banff National Park, along the Icefields Parkway and all the way up to Jasper National Park.
From Jasper, you will make your way back down through Yoho National Park and finish in the Kananaskis Country Provincial Park near Canmore.
How much time do I need to complete this Canadian Rockies road trip?
The optimal time for this road trip is 14 days, but it can also be easily shortened or prolonged depending on the amount of time you have planned for your holidays. However, I would say you need at least 7 days to get a good taste of what the Canadian Rockies have to offer.
More Canadian Rockies itineraries
Are you travelling from Vancouver? You may find my other custom itineraries useful:
- Vancouver to Calgary through Canada’s Epic Landscape or
- The Ultimate 3-week road trip across Western Canada starting and ending in Vancouver
The Canadian Rockies road trip map
Above you can find the map of the whole itinerary. If you click on the top left of the map you will find separate layers marking the route, photography spots, hikes, points of interest and campsites.
How to use the map?
To hide and show different layers just click on the check box next to the layer’s name. You can also click on the icons on the map to see the names of the places I have marked.
I will be talking about them as I break the itinerary down day by day.
Canadian Rockies Road Trip: The Logistics
What’s the best way to travel around the Rockies?
Understandably enough, if you choose Canada as your holiday destination, you won’t have time to do what I’ve done. In this case, if you want to follow this itinerary, you will either have to rent a car or a motorhome.
Rent a Campervan with Motorhome Republic
There is a vast array of campervan rental companies in Calgary and going through them all to find the best option will almost certainly give you a headache. To ease up your planning try the Motorhome Republic.
It’s an awesome RV search engine that will help you choose a camper van tailored to your needs by scanning the top Motorhome rental companies in the area.
TIP! The rough estimate of this itinerary is 1500km. You will need to know this when booking your campervan as you will have to prepay for your kilometres.
Rent a Compact Car with Discover Cars
This itinerary is optimised for camper vans but could easily be done in a regular car providing that you bring camping equipment with you or stay in hotels.
If you are looking to rent a compact car try Discover Cars – World’s best car rental search engine.
Park Entries and Fees: National Parks Discovery Pass
This itinerary crosses through a few national parks, including the famous Banff and Jasper. Visiting a Canadian national park requires paying entrance fees.
If you are travelling for more than 7 days then consider investing in a Discovery Pass, which works out to be cheaper than buying daily passes. For example, the family/group pass covering up to 7 people in one vehicle costs CAD$145.25 per year.
Avoid waiting in lines and purchase the pass online, directly on the Parks Canada website, before your trip. You can also buy one at the entry toll gate located just a few kilometres past Canmore at the entrance to Banff National Park, a place you will be crossing on this road trip.
TIP! Make sure to have your pass on display in the car at all times.
Information about staying at Parks Canada campgrounds
There is an ample variety of campsites all along the spots enlisted in this itinerary. The majority of them have been equipped with toilet and shower facilities as well as plug-in options for those travelling in bigger motorhomes which require re-charging.
The cost of staying at the campsites in 2023
The cost in the Province of Alberta is usually 34.50 CAD per site per night and each site is permitted to hold up to 6 people and a max of two cars.
There’s an option of buying a fire permit for an additional fee. The permit also includes the firewood, so it’s an easy decision in my eyes. What’s a campsite without a fire, right?
Tip! If there are only two of you and you don’t hold a reservation, consider asking other travellers in the check-in line if they want to share a site and subsequently the cost. This is what I did a few times when the campsites were full.
When to book the campsites in the Canadian Rockies in 2023?
If you travel In the peak summer months (June to August) you will find it very handy to book the sites well in advance, especially in the more popular areas like Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper. After all, tourism has boomed here in recent years.
All bookings can be made on the Parks Canada Reservation Website and the system usually opens in March.
Upon arrival at each campsite, you will be briefed about the wildlife awareness and measures you will have to undertake in order to keep the wildlife safe.
Stocking up on groceries before starting the road trip
Once you’ve arrived at Calgary International Airport, pick up your car or campervan and head to the closest supermarket.
Although there are supermarkets in all of the road trip destinations, Calgary has the cheapest prices so it’s better if you stock up before you hit the road. Besides, once you get it over with you will have more time to enjoy your holidays!
14-day Canadian Rockies road trip: day-by-day breakdown
When you become acquainted with your new home on wheels for the next couple of weeks, then it’s time to hit the road. The main road from Calgary to the mountains is Trans Canada Highway 1 and it will take you to your first destination – Banff.
Day 1-4: Banff and its surroundings
- Distance from Calgary International Airport: 143 km / 89 mi
- Travel time: 90-120 minutes
Banff is considered by many to be the main hub in the Canadian Rockies. Its dream location coupled with its incredible geological features make it a top hit on our road trip.
Its quaint high street gets pretty busy in the summertime and so do many of the famous photography spots in Banff.
Best things to do in and around Banff
A series of relatively steep switchbacks for 5.5km (3.4 mi) will take you to the Upper Gondola Terminal on Sulphur Mountain. You’ll ascend 700m (2,300ft) and it’ll take around 1-2 hours one way.
The views of Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain are well worth the effort. If you are not up for hiking you can take the gondola up and down instead. Whether you choose to hike or ride the gondola, you are up for the best views of Banff from above.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Hot Springs, which are conveniently located near the lower gondola terminal are a treat after a long day of exploring.
They are run by Parks Canada and at around $16.50 / person it’s a bargain. If you decide to hike up Sulphur Mountain you can treat yourself to the hot springs afterwards. It will be a perfect end to a long day.
Join a lake cruise
A cruise along Lake Minnewanka is an awesome way to see the Fairholme Range and the iconic Mount Inglismaldie. They depart every 30 minutes from the boat dock near the car park and prices start at 65 CAD per person.
Practice your photography skills
Banff is any photographer’s wet dream. Amateurs, hobbyists and professionals flock from all over the world to get the chance to take their own version of photos from locations that have already been photographed to death.
The biggest piece of advice I can give when visiting photography spots in Banff National Park is to make the most of blue hour, golden hour, sunrise and sunset.
Bow Valley Parkway
Make sure to reserve one of the days that you spent in Banff for the Bow Valley Parkway. It’s a beautiful stretch of road which hides many natural gems.
What to see along the Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway is a mini version of the Icefields Parkway but it still packs one hell of a punch. It’s only a 51km (32 miles) stretch of road but you can easily spend a day there.
Since your time is limited I would highly recommend visiting Johnston Canyon. Make sure to get there early.
The morning light coming through the trees and shining upon some waterfalls in the early morning hours is a sight to behold. Providing the weather is good of course!
One of the best ways to explore the Bow Valley Parkway and Johnston Canyon is on an E-bike and walking tour with an experienced guide.
My favourite time of the year for visiting Johnston Canyon is in the winter when all the waterfalls are frozen giving an impression of being in a fairytale ice castle. During winter time you can join a guided ice walk across the Johnston Canyon.
At first thought, it’s just some train tracks running through a forest, but the famous Morant’s curve has become one of the photography hot spots. If you are patient enough to wait for a train to pass for some long exposures then you are guaranteed a great shot!
Please note that From March 1st to June 25th, travel is not permitted between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on the 17-kilometre section of the parkway from Johnston Canyon Campground to the Fireside Picnic Area.
This is to ensure the area remains a high-quality home for wildlife. Remember to always keep your eyes on the road at any time.
Accommodation in Banff
Once you arrive in Banff there are a few campsites that you’ll be able to call home for the next few days.
My favourite, due to its location and the beautiful views that go with it, is the Two Jack Lakeside campground. However, if you want to be closer to the town centre you should go to the Tunnel Mountain Campground.
If you would like to be in a more remote location another great campsite to consider is the Johnston Canyon campground along the previously-mentioned Bow Valley Parkway which is a 30-minute drive from the township.
Day 4-6: Lake Louise
- Distance from Banff: 57 km / 35 mi
- Driving time: 40 minutes
Although Lake Louise is a popular winter skiing destination it is also famous in the summer for two big reasons: Lake Louise and the one and only Lake Moraine.
Truth be told, there’s not much directly at Lake Louise Village, but it’s an excellent central hub to explore the beautiful surroundings.
Things to do in Lake Louise
Lake Louise is a few minutes’ drive away from Lake Louise Village. I hope I am not confusing you here. The village and the lake have the same names. The lake’s shoreline is a perfect location for the countless hikes in the area.
If you don’t feel comfortable hiking on your own you can book a guided hike around Lake Louise.
Lake Louise lakeshore
The 4km (2.5 miles) 1-hour return flat lakeshore stroll gets you away from the hustle and bustle of the world-famous Chateau Lake Louise, built right on its shoreline, and gives you the perfect view of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.
The Plain of the Six Glaciers
Further on along this path is the way to the much more impressive Plain of the Six Glaciers, it’s a longer 11km (6.8 miles) uphill 4-hour return but it’ll transport you in some of the most pristine wilderness Canada has to offer.
Surrounded by towering peaks and frozen glaciers, you’ll be blown away. Make sure your camera has enough battery and take some cash because there’s a teahouse on the way there too.
Discover Banff Tours run guided hikes on some of the classic trails around Lake Louise including the Plain of the Six Glaciers.
Visit Lake Agnes Teahouse
If you’re feeling a bit more energetic than the Lakeshore but don’t think you can tackle the Plain of the Six Glaciers then the hike up to Lake Agnes is a good middle ground. It’s a 7km (4.4 miles) uphill return that should take around 3 hours.
You’ll not only be treated to the view of Lake Agnes at the top but also the sensational Mirror Lake and several vistas overlooking the Bow Valley on the way.
Again take some cash because there’s another tea house up there – the world-famous Lake Agnes Tea House.
Get a glimpse of the Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is the most famous Canadian lake and one of the many famous postcard pictures of the Canadian Rockies. Its turquoise waters glisten in the sun and are incredibly framed beneath the famous Valley of the Ten Peaks.
The Lakeshore stroll is one of my favourites as it offers fantastic views with minimal effort. It’s a 2.4km (1.4 miles) flat return which only takes 40 minutes.
IMPORTANT (NEW IN 2023): Due to the high volume of traffic the road to Lake Moraine will stay closed for the entire summer season. Only shuttle and commercial buses will be able to bring visitors to its shoreline. Prebook your shuttle directly with Parks Canada or with a private company which I linked below.
Hike the Larch Tree Valley
Another one of my favourite hikes in the Canadian Rockies (especially during September) is the Larch Valley Trail. It takes you 400m above the shimmering Moraine Lake through the forest amongst all the Larch trees before opening out amidst the valley of the Ten Peaks.
If you’re there at the right time of the year (early fall) you’ll be amazed at all the different colours, but the surrounding peaks are enough to leave you speechless.
It’s a 10km (6 miles) 4-hour return to the Minnestimma Lakes and a 14km (9 miles) 6-hour return to the Sentinel Pass across the Larch Tree Valley.
Accommodation in Lake Louise
There are two campsites at Lake Louise, Lake Louise Tent and Lake Louise Trailer. Both have encircling electric fences to deter the abundant wildlife living in the area.
Day 6-8: Icefields Parkway
Lake Louise Village marks the start of the Icefields Parkway (93N). This is the main drag connecting Lake Louise and Jasper and it is where you will be spending your next two days.
The 232 km stretch of road which travels from Lake Louise in Banff National Park all the way up to Jasper encompasses, what I consider to be, the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
Travel past monumental glaciers, icy blue lakes, enormous mountains and stretches of road that simply have to be seen to be believed. There are plenty of stops along the Icefields Parkway hence I believe you should spend at least a couple of days exploring it.
I have driven up and down this road, countless times and still didn’t get to experience everything!
You can learn everything about the incredible Icefields Parkway with this brilliant smartphone audio tour between Lake Louise and Jasper.
Watch as your audio guide point out must-see sights, attractions, breathtaking mountains, and glaciers that you pass along the journey. Learn about the area’s early pioneers, animals, geography, and the historical events that led to the highway’s creation.
Accommodation on the Icefields Parkway
Day 8-10: Jasper National Park
- Distance from Lake Louise: 232 km / 144 mi
- Driving time: 3 hours (without stopping)
At the end of the Icefields Parkway, you’ll end up in the townsite of Jasper, a well-located little town with plenty of things to see and do.
I would recommend staying a couple of nights here. Jasper is the central hub of many beautiful spots in the Jasper National Park region.
Best things to do in Jasper National Park
Cruise down Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake is around a 1-hour drive from Jasper. A boat cruise on the lake has to be one of the best activities in Jasper National Park.
It’ll take you halfway down the lake to Spirit Island (one of many top photography spots in Jasper NP) where you’ll disembark and have a chance to take in the view.
Self-guided paddling trip
If you are feeling more adventurous you can rent a kayak or canoe and paddle there yourself, just be prepared for a long day (26 km round trip).
If you have an extra day you can consider staying a night at the Fisherman’s campground accessible only by boat or canoe. This will require a bit more organizing ahead though as backcountry camping spots sell out faster than tickets to the Glastonbury Festival.
Hike the Sulphur Skyline
The Sulphur Skyline is one of my favourite hikes in Jasper National Park. It departs from the car park at the Miette Hot Springs which is a 61 km drive from Jasper.
Head north on Highway 16 for 44 km then turn right onto Miette Road next to the Pocahontas bungalows.
Follow the Miette Road until the end where you’ll find the trailhead. The hike offers unbelievable 360 panoramic views but is a steep 8km return which should take around 5 hours.
When you get down, a geothermal hot pool soak will be waiting for you.
Soak in the Hot Springs
Like the Banff Hot Springs, The Miette Hot Springs are also owned and operated by Parks Canada.
They have 2 hot pools and 2 cold pools which contain many minerals good for your skin and body. If you’re brave try the coldest pool.
If you’ve done the Sulphur skyline hike, this will be the perfect way to relax afterwards. The hot springs are only 100 meters away from the trailhead.
Take the SkyTram up the Whistler Mountain
As well as Banff, Jasper has its own gondola too. It costs CAD62.95$ and offers spectacular panoramic views from the top.
You can hike up there too but it’s a 1000m elevation gain so I haven’t yet attempted it. There’s also a hike you can do at the upper gondola station to Whistlers Mountain or Indian Ridge.
Hike along the Maligne Canyon
Maligne Canyon is just 11km outside Jasper along Maligne Lake Road. It’s an undulating 7.4km return which should take around 3 hours.
It’s beautiful at all times of the year but my favourite is when the snow melts at the start of summer and the river is at its most ferocious. It’s a busy spot, but the further you get away from the parking lot the quieter it becomes.
Get a cinnamon bun at the Grizzly Paw bakery
There are two bakeries in Jasper called the Grizzly Paw and they do the most amazing cinnamon rolls. I spent a little fortune on those and made sure to have one after every hike I did in Jasper. I am still trying to crack their recipe but to no avail.
Accommodation in Jasper
The two major campsites here are called Wapiti and Whistler. Both are huge with plenty of sites.
I personally prefer Whistler but both are pretty similar. Both campgrounds are really close to each other and both are only around 5 minutes south of Jasper’s town centre.
Day 10-12: Yoho National Park
- Distance from Jasper: 260 km / 162 mi
- Driving time: 3.5 hours (but it will probably take a whole day)
On your return back from Jasper toward Calgary turn right at Lake Louise junction on the Trans Canada Highway 1. This road will take you to the little town of Field. You will now be entering Yoho National Park.
A good half-day hike and one of the most popular in Yoho National Park. It’s a 12km (7 mi) loop that should take around 4 hours.
It will leave you in awe of its natural beauty. After all, Yoho is the *Cree word for awe. That’s a Yohosome fact, isn’t it?
Another beautiful place to photograph in this area is Emerald Lake. Just a short 15-minute drive from the campground this photogenic lake should be on your list of things to do and see as it’s one of the most photogenic places in the Canadian Rockies.
Visit Lake O’Hara
If you are one of the lucky ones who pre-booked their bus trip to Lake O’Hara, good on you. This remote lake has a very limited visitor allowance per year making it sought after amongst outdoor lovers.
I’ve been here in both Winter and Summer seasons and have put together a separate guide to Lake O’Hara. You should check it out!
*Cree is a 3000-year-old language spoken by the Cree people.
Accommodation in Yoho National Park
The best-located campsite in Yoho National Park is called Kicking Horse Campground.
Day 12-14: Canmore and Kananaskis Country
- Distance from Field: 105 km / 65 mi
- Driving time: 70 minutes
Canmore is where I spent the picturesque winter when living in Canada so maybe my opinion is a bit biased, but I truly find Canmore and its surroundings more beautiful than any other place on this Canadian Rockies itinerary.
Best things to do around Canmore
Hike the Ha Ling Peak
Ha Ling Peak is the most popular summit in the Bow Valley. From the car park down Spray Lakes Road, it takes the majority of people 2-3 hours to get to the summit and just over one hour down.
The short 6km hike is quite steep as it includes an elevation gain of 737m (2417ft) but the views from the top are spectacular. I have done this hike multiple times including one sunrise quest to the top.
You can either do this trip on your own or join a certified hiking guide on a half-day trip to the summit.
Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge
The Sarrail Ridge is a moderate 11km (7-mile) 5-hour return hike which starts down in Kananaskis Country near the eastern tip of the Upper Kananaskis Lake. The first half, although slightly uphill, is relatively easy.
The second half is a much harder 45-degree almost scramble to the lookout. This route, which is popular on weekends with Calgary locals, is very quiet during the week. It’s one of many superb hikes in Canmore and Kananaskis Country.
Look for moose near Mount Engadine
Engadine Lodge and the Moose Meadows is a 38km drive (1 hour) down the Spray Lakes/Smith Dorien trail from Canmore. It’s a beautiful place to go for a nice cup of tea or a slice of cake in the afternoon.
The meadows that surround it are very picturesque with little streams flowing through them. It’s also, as the name suggests, a very popular spot to see moose. The meadows are one of the best spots in the Canadian Rockies to spot wildlife.
Practice your photography
Canmore and Kananaskis, just like any other area in the Canadian Rockies, have some incredible photography spots.
They range from mountain peaks to alpine lakes and will fill your soul with inspiration. See how many of my favourite photography locations in Canmore and Kananaskis you can fit into your trip!!!
From Canmore, it’s just 120km or 1 hour and 15 minutes to Calgary International Airport. Follow the Trans Canada Highway back east and proceed along with the signs for the airport.
Accommodation in Canmore
The two campgrounds that I would recommend are the Bow River Campground and the Spray Lakes West Campground near the Spray Lake Reservoir with the latter being my preferable choice.
Spray Lakes site is around a 20-minute drive from the town centre on the Smith Dorien highway (or more like a well-maintained gravel road). The views next to the campground are some of the best you will get.
If however, you want to be closer to the town, Bow River Campground should be your choice. Do bear in mind that it’s a bit close to the highway and it may be a bit noisy.
How to shorten this two-week Canadian Rockies itinerary?
This is a question I get asked quite often. I get it, unfortunately, it can be difficult for some to carve out a full two weeks of holidays to travel up and down the Rockies. Here are a few ideas on how to make this road trip plan shorter.
- Connect the days spent in Canmore with the days spent in Banff. They are only a 20-minute drive apart. That way you can save yourself a couple of days.
- Don’t stay overnight on the Icefields Parkway. Whilst I highly recommend it, if you don’t have a spare day then don’t feel bad about it. You can spend the whole day driving from Lake Louise to Jasper and then another day when driving back. This will already give you almost two full days on the Icefields Parkway.
- Cut out, Yoho National Park. Whilst amazing you just have to face the fact that you just can’t see everything! I spent 15 months in the Rockies and I still feel like I only scratched the surface. It’s better to take it slow than to try and see it all!
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