Travel through the temperate rainforest near Vancouver to the snow-capped peaks in Jasper and Banff National Parks eventually leading you out into the flatlands toward Calgary. You will get the best of both Worlds, a true “Sea to Summit” experience.
Vancouver to Calgary road trip logistics
It is safe to say that the journey from Vancouver to Calgary is one of the most popular road trips in this gigantic country, but the number of things to see along the way, as well as the pre-planning of the trip, can be overwhelming.
This article, based on my own, over a year-long travel experience across the Canadian Rockies, will cover everything to ensure you have a trip of a lifetime!
How much time to plan for the Vancouver to Calgary road trip?
This road trip is designed for a two-week experience but can easily be shortened or lengthened depending on how much time you’ve got.
My advice would be to spend at least 7 days driving along this route to get a proper taste of the majestic landscapes. One week however is short and expect to spend a lot of time in the car. Once again if you can go for 14 days or longer.
Top spots you will visit along this Vancouver to Calgary road trip itinerary
The itinerary starts in Vancouver, one of the biggest transport hubs in Canada. You will then visit the following areas:
- Sea to Sky Highway & Whistler
- Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
- Wells Grey National Park
- Jasper National Park
- Icefields Parkway
- Banff National Park
- Canmore and Kananaskis Country.
After visiting your last destination you will drive out east toward Calgary – the cowboy city in the Canadian prairies. It will be a busy two-week period and you better be prepared for a lot of jaw-dropping scenery.
I did this road trip myself over the course of a few months and picked my absolute favorite spots, activities, and places to stay to make your planning super easy.
What are the best months to do a road trip from Vancouver to Calgary?
If you are planning on traveling to Canada the ideal time is between mid-May and mid-October. Canada’s Spring, Summer, and Fall are very short and many businesses only run within this time frame.
If you decide to follow this plan earlier or later you will run into difficulties with finding operating campsites. In that case, I suggest renting a compact car and staying in hotels, most of which stay open throughout the year.
If you want to hike then don’t start earlier than mid-June and later than the end of September or the beginning of October. The ideal months are July and August, but unfortunately, they are also the busiest.
TIP: Lookout for wildfire reports. Wildfires are a common, almost yearly occurrence in the Canadian Rockies. They can have a very negative impact on your road trip including bad air quality, lowered visibility due to ash and smoke (pictured above), and closed trails. The main wildfire season is between mid-June and mid-August.
Vancouver to Calgary road trip map
Below 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/show layers just click on the check box next to the layer’s name in the top left corner.
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.
The best way to travel from Vancouver to Calgary
Rent a campervan with Motorhome Republic
Indisputably the best way to travel around Canada is in a Motorhome. Thankfully rental companies allow you to rent their vehicles from a different drop-off location, in this case, Calgary.
When planning your road trip you can search through all the biggest campervan rental companies using the Motorhome Republic booking search engine. It’s a great time saver!
The traveling distance for this Vancouver to Calgary itinerary is approximately 2000km. You are required to know this information when booking your campervan as you have to prepay for kilometers.
The downside is that you will be charged a “one-way fee”, but the amount of gas, and subsequently money you will save will make paying the fee worth it.
If you want to cut those expenses consider following my other itinerary starting and ending in Calgary and focusing solely on the Rockies, or a road trip that starts and finishes in Vancouver.
Rent a compact car with Discover Cars
If you decide to rent a smaller compact car and stay in hotels along the way use Discover Cars.
For those looking for a bit more comfort, I have also included hotel recommendations for each spot that you will be visiting.
Make sure to pre-book your accommodation. Gone are the days when you could just rock up to a place without a reservation and get a room for the night. With a post-pandemic travel boom, everything books out months in advance.
National Park Entries and Fees
This itinerary crosses through a few national parks, including the famous Banff and Jasper. Visiting a Canadian national park requires paying entrance fees.
Discovery Pass price in 2023
Make sure you buy a compulsory Parks Pass also known as the Discovery Pass.
TIP: The most cost-effective is to get the family/group pass which covers up to 7 people in one vehicle and costs CAD$145.25 per year. It pays for itself in as little as seven days compared to daily passes, even if there are just two of you.
You can buy the pass online prior to your trip on the Parks Canada website or at the entry gate to Jasper National Park which you will be crossing along the way. You must keep it on display on your car windshield at all times.
Kananaskis Conservation Pass price in 2023
Since the big tourism boom in the Kananaskis Country Provincial Park, a new type of Conservation Pass was introduced in 2021.
Vehicles parked at the provincial park and public land sites in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley need this Conservation Pass.
Contrary to Discovery Pass, you will be better off buying day passes for Kananaskis Country. They cost CAD$15 and register 1 vehicle. For more info and pricing visit the Alberta Parks website.
Information about staying at campgrounds in Canada
When it comes down to campsites in Canada, you’re spoilt for choice, especially near all the spots enlisted in this plan.
The majority of them are equipped with toilets and shower facilities as well as electric sites for those traveling in bigger motorhomes that require electrical hookups.
The cost of campsites in 2023
I personally recommend campsites operated by Parks Canada Authorities as the money is re-invested into nature conservation efforts.
Most of the campgrounds in the province of British Columbia are around 40$ per site per night but do bear in mind that prices vary from campsite to campsite.
In Alberta, they are slightly cheaper and you can expect to pay around $35CAD/per site per night. One site can fit up to 6 people and two vehicles so traveling in a group can be advantageous.
Tip: If you don’t hold a reservation, consider asking other travelers 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.
How to make a campsite reservation
In the peak summer months (June-September) you will find it very handy to book your campsites as far in advance as possible!
- All bookings in British Columbia can be made on the BC Parks Reservation Website
- All bookings in the National Parks can be made on the Parks Canada Reservation Website
- For campsite reservations in Alberta (outside of national parks boundaries for example in Kananaskis Country Provincial Park) refer to the Alberta Parks Reservation Website
My suggested two-week road trip plan from Vancouver to Calgary
Vancouver has been described as “Manhattan with mountains” and a “tomorrow city”. It’s a very convenient spot to land in, but chances are you already live in, or near a “tomorrow city” (whatever that is).
You didn’t come on holiday to spend all your time in the ‘same same but different’ concrete jungle. Do yourself a favor and don’t waste your time there.
Once you’ve picked up your rental and stocked up on food try to hit the road as soon as possible.
Day 1-3: Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway
Distance: 122 km / 76 mi
For the first leg of the journey head north from Vancouver on Route 99 and start your journey on one of the most scenic roads in the entire country, the famous Sea to Sky Highway.
This road will be your gateway to Squamish and Garibaldi Provincial Park, eventually ending in the resort town of Whistler. I have gone into much more detail on things to do on the Sea to Sky Highway in a separate post.
Accommodation in Whistler (Nights 1&2)
If you are traveling in a Motorhome stay at either the Alice Lakes Campground near Squamish, Whistler RV Park close to Brandywine Falls, or Riverside Camping and RV Resort. The latter is the closest to Whistler.
Days 3-4: Whistler to Jasper via Joffre Lakes, Wells Grey, and Mount Robson Provincial Parks
Distance: 740 km / 460 mi
From Whistler to Jasper it’s a 740 km trip so to spare you from a continuous and tiring drive I decided to split the distance between 2 days.
There are plenty of dramatic mountain vistas along the way and it would be simply impossible to cover them all in such a short amount of time. Below I have enlisted some of my favorite spots for nature enthusiasts.
Things to see along the way between Whistler, Clearwater & Jasper
Pemberton and Nairn Falls
Distance from Whistler: 33 km / 20.5 mi
Pemberton is only 30 minutes away from Whistler and it’s a cheaper alternative for those on a tighter budget or those who prefer a quieter atmosphere.
Nairn Falls – a stop between the two towns is a ferocious set of several cascades, especially spectacular when seen from the lower viewing platform at the end of the trail.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Distance from Pemberton: 31 km / 19 mi
Drive one hour northeast of Whistler along Highway 99 and you will find yourself in heaven – Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.
The first Joffre Lake, framed spectacularly below the hanging Matier Glacier, is only a 5-minute walk from the trailhead car park. The next two lakes are a bit harder to get to, but worth every effort.
The 10km return (6.5 miles) hike to the Upper Joffre Lakes should take you around 3.5 hours to complete.
It’s not only one of the best hikes around Whistler but one of the top hikes in British Columbia so make sure you don’t miss out.
Wells Gray Provincial Park
Distance from Joffre Lakes Provincial Park: 362 km / 225 mi
Clearwater, your stop for the 3rd night, is the gateway town into Wells Gray Provincial Park – host to some spectacular waterfalls:
- Spahat Falls: it can be reached after around 10 minutes of heading north on Clearwater Valley Road. It’s a short 5-minute walk to the observation deck.
- The second, 25 minutes from Clearwater, is Maul Falls, which is the smallest of the falls and the furthest to get to (5 km/3 miles, 2 hours walking). It is the most unique waterfall as you can walk behind it. Remember to wear waterproofs if you want to get close.
- Helmcken Falls is 55 minute’s drive from Clearwater and it is the most impressive one.
Clearwater Road is one of the best spots to get a glimpse of some Canadian wildlife, especially early in the morning when black and grizzly bears are grazing at the roadside.
Mount Robson Provincial Park
Distance from Clearwater: 231 km / 144 mi
From Clearwater continue north along Highway 5. After around 220km you will turn onto Highway 16 toward Jasper. Soon after the turnoff, you will be greeted by the view of the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies – Mount Robson.
The Mount Robson visitor center will be a perfect lunch stop before you continue to Jasper. I took the photo above right next to it!
If the weather is good you can also attempt to hike along the Robson River to Kinney Lake. It’s a 14km return, mostly a flat hike that shouldn’t take longer than 4 hours.
If you’re lucky enough to have an extra few days to spend in Canada, consider doing the complete Berg Lake Trail, which starts right near the Mount Robson visitor center. It’s one of my favorite multi-day hikes in the Rockies.
Accommodation in Clearwater (Night 3)
TIP: If you are following this Vancouver to Calgary road trip in a campervan, you will be going slower. In that case, consider breaking the journey between Whistler and Jasper into two nights. Stay the first night at the BC Hydro Seton Lake Campsite in Lillooet and the second night at the Canoe River Campground or the Robson River Campground.
Day 4-6: Jasper National Park
Distance from Mount Robson: 87 km / 54 mi
Welcome to Alberta – Canada’s most beautiful province, at least in my eyes. The town of Jasper and the national park which surrounds it are home to some colossal scenery.
With sharply jagged mountains and crystal turquoise lakes, it is best to call this great place home for a couple of nights.
Things to do in Jasper National Park
Explore the Maligne Lake area
A boat cruise on Maligne Lake is one of the most popular activities in Jasper National Park. The classic cruise lasts 90 minutes with a short break at Spirit Island with the opportunity to snap a photograph.
If you have an extra day to spare and are feeling adventurous, consider booking a night at Fisherman’s Bay Campground, it’ll be an exhilarating paddle and will give you the chance to be at Spirit Island at either sunrise or sunset.
An experience that no commercial company can offer. You can also just rent a canoe and paddle around the lake for an hour or two.
Go for a hike
Jasper National Park is huge compared to all other national or provincial parks in Western Canada. Naturally, with all those mountains, there are a lot of hiking trails. Some can take several hours and some several days.
You could even head into the backcountry for a few months without running into another soul. But let’s not get carried away!
For more realistically achievable hikes take a look at my hiking recommendations in Jasper National Park.
Soak in the Hot Springs
The Miette Hot Springs cost $16.50 per adult which is a steal. They consist of 2 hot pools and 2 cold pools. I dare you to jump into the cold one after you’ve been soaking in the hot tub for too long. It’s an awesome feeling!
The hot springs are right next to the Sulphur Skyline trailhead so if you’ve done the hike this will be the perfect way to relax afterward.
If you haven’t done the hike you don’t deserve to go in. Just kidding, go ahead and relax, you’re on holiday after all.
Take the Skytram up to Whistler’s Summit
As well as Squamish or Whistler, Jasper has its own gondola too. Jasper Skytram costs CAD 62.95 and offers spectacular panoramic views from the Whistler summit.
You can also hike to the top but it’s 1000 meters elevation difference from the town. I haven’t yet attempted it.
Once at the top you can continue by foot another 200m in elevation gain to the summit of Whistlers Mountain or try the Indian Ridge hike. It’s a 14km return hike to a spectacular ridgeline offering even more extensive views. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Robson.
Look for a perfect photo opportunity
If hiking isn’t your thing, maybe photography is. I’ve compiled a list of the most beautiful spots to photograph in Jasper to help you see the most jaw-dropping vistas.
Join one of the many great outdoor adventures in Jasper
Jasper is the adventure capital of the Canadian Rockies. Whether you would like to go on a morning wildlife safari or an afternoon whitewater rafting on the Athabasca River or get a bird’s eye view of the Rockies from a helicopter flight, it’s all possible here.
Accommodation in Jasper (Night 4 & 5)
The two best campsites in Jasper for Motorhome travelers are Whistlers and Wapiti. Both are operated by Parks Canada and both are very popular! Make sure to prebook it well in advance.
Day 6-7: The Icefields Parkway
Distance: 230 km / 143 mi
If you’ve heard anything about the roads in the Canadian Rockies, you’ve probably heard that the Icefields Parkway takes the top spot. You can easily spend an entire holiday just driving up and down. I know I could.
Jasper lies at the northern point of the Icefields Parkway (93N). Lake Louise marks the southern point. During your drive down, just past the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre, you’ll be in entering Banff National Park.
There is so much to see along this road that I have broken it down in a separate post of all the things to do and see on the Icefields Parkway in order from Lake Louise. Since you will be driving it in reverse you have to look at the list from bottom to top.
The majority of travelers spend only one day on the Icefields Parkway, but in my opinion, you should spend at least two days exploring it. Don’t miss out on the Columbia Icefield Explorer tour. It will give you a chance to hike on an actual glacier.
Accommodation on the Icefields Parkway (Night 6)
My favorite campsite on the Icefields Parkway is the Waterfowl Lakes Campground. For more options view my Icefields Parkway post where I enlisted all campsites along the route.
Day 7-10: Lake Louise
We just finished driving down the Icefields Parkway and are now in Lake Louise – a little town in the mountains and home to possibly the most famous lake in the World – Moraine Lake (pictured above).
Best things to do around Lake Louise
During the summer Lake Louise becomes a beehive of activity. A myriad of popular hiking trails around Lake Louise makes it a great place for anybody who loves the outdoors as much as I do.
There isn’t much directly at Lake Louise Village. It’s got a small overpriced supermarket, a few fast-paced coffee shops, and an information center. The nearby surroundings, on the other hand, are what makes this corner of Banff National Park so famous.
See the World famous Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is one of the many postcard-worthy photography spots in Banff National Park.
Its turquoise waters are incredibly framed beneath the famous Valley of the Ten Peaks. The first time I stood in its presence I had tears in my eyes! Damn, you ninjas cutting onions!
Moraine Lake is a short 20-minute drive from Lake Louise Village, but it gets intensely busy during the summer holidays. Nowadays only official shuttle services or guided tours can drive up to the Lake.
You can just take a stroll along the shoreline to get to the famous viewpoint or venture a bit further out onto some famous trails in the area such as Larch Tree Valley, Consolation Lakes, or Wenkchemna Pass.
NEW FOR 2023: Due to constant roadblocks caused by traffic Moraine Lake Road is closed to personal vehicles starting in the 2023 season. Make sure to pre-book a shuttle directly with Parks Canada or a day trip operated by a private company
Explore the hiking trails around Lake Louise
Another popular lake thanks to the famous Chateau built right on its shore. Personally, I am not a huge fan of it, because it attracts ridiculous amounts of tourists, however, a little bit of effort will transport you into another world.
Consider completing a few of the incredible day hikes around the Lake Louise area to understand what I am talking about. My personal favorite is the hike up Big Beehive & Mount Saint Piran.
Visit the nearby Yoho National Park
As soon as one national park ends, the other begins. That’s the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Yoho National Park is slightly underrated in comparison to its neighbor Banff National Park. However, in my eyes, it is even more beautiful!
Yoho is only 30 minutes west of Lake Louise. It’s home to Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls – Canada’s 3rd highest waterfall, as well as the famous Lake O’Hara region. If you want to escape the crowds at Lake Louise – this is your best bet!
Accommodation in Lake Louise (Night 7,8 &10)
There are two RV campgrounds directly in the village: The soft-sided and hard-sided Campgrounds. Both are operated by Parks Canada. They do book out far in advance.
Other alternatives are the Kicking Horse Campground close to Field or Protection Mountain Campground both are ca. 20-minute drive from Lake Louise.
Day 10 -12: Banff and the surrounding area
Distance from Lake Louise: 57 km / 35 mi
Canada’s beloved resort town – Banff. Much like Whistler, Banff is very affluent. If only I had enough money to buy a house here! For now, I will have to stick to my camper.
The Must-Do’s In Banff
If you are looking for the best panoramic views of Banff village, the summit of Sulphur Mountain indisputably takes the top spot.
To get to the top you can either book a gondola ride or hike. A series of strenuous switchbacks, along the 5.5km (3.4 mi) long trail, offer short glimpses through the trees of surrounding valleys.
You’ll ascend 700m (2,300ft) and it’ll take around 2 hours one way but the views of Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain are well worth the effort.
I’ve done this hike in the winter and stood up on the top photographing the sunset in what felt like -100 degrees!
The Banff Hot Springs
Conveniently located near the lower gondola terminal, just like the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper, are a treat after the journey down.
They are owned and operated by Parks Canada and at around 16 CAD are a much-deserved bargain. Whilst not as nice as the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper they are still a must-do in Banff, just try to avoid rush hour in the late afternoon.
See the best photography spots
Banff is a dream location, fantasized about by many because of its incredible geological features. I defy any itinerary not to include it. Its quaint high street gets pretty crowded in the summertime and so do many of the photography spots in Banff.
Vermillion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, Surprise Corner, or the viewpoint up on Mount Norquay should be on every photographer’s list.
Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway is a shorter version of the Icefields Parkway, but don’t worry. You won’t be left high and dry in the awesome views department.
The 50km stretch of road between Lake Louise and Banff is home to Morant’s Curve, Castle Junction, Johnston Canyon, and more wildlife than you’ll be able to shake a stick at.
The highlight for me is visiting Johnston Canyon but make sure to get there early. Not only because the morning light coming through the trees and shining upon the falls is a sight to behold, but because it gets pretty busy during peak hours. Providing the weather is good of course!
Important! From March 1st to June 25th, travel is not permitted between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on the 17-kilometer 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.
Other great activities around Banff
Accommodation in Banff (Night 10 & 11)
There are a few campsites once you arrive in Banff, which you’ll be able to call home for the next few days. My favorite, due to its location and beautiful views, is the Two Jack Lakeside campground.
However, if you want to be closer to the town center you should go to the Tunnel Mountain Campground.
Day 12-14: Canmore & Kananaskis Country
Distance from Banff: 25 km / 15.5 mi
Canmore is a town that I hold very close to my heart. Why you may wonder? It’s where I was based in Canada during my research for this guide. It’s also the gateway to Kananaskis country – my favorite area for hiking in the Rockies!
Canmore is only a twenty-minute drive east on the Trans Canada Highway, away from Banff. It is much more subdued and far less touristy.
What not to miss around Canmore
The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Unfortunately, wolves no longer inhabit the Bow Valley (Banff and Canmore). Mainly due to irresponsible human activity.
Check out the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary It’s a non-profit organization that rehabilitates, and houses, wolfdogs from all over North America.
Although the animals in the sanctuary aren’t strictly 100% wolf, some of these wolfdogs are extremely high content and impossible to tell apart. It’s a fun activity for people of all ages and really shines a light on the problem of rearing wolfdogs.
Look for Moose and other wildlife near Mount Engadine Lodge
Engadine Lodge is one hour (38km) down Spray Lakes Road south of Canmore. Its picturesque interior with original features and Hudson Bay blankets make it a very pleasant stop for a cup of tea and a slice of cake.
On the way there you’ll drive past many of the locations where movie star Leonardo DiCaprio acted for “The Revenant” and where Anthony Hopkins helped make “The Edge”.
The Moose Meadows is right next to the lodge and as the name suggests, is a great place for spotting Moose and other wildlife.
Visit these famous photography and hiking spots
Canmore and Kananaskis Country are my favorite places to hike in the Canadian Rockies. I know I am repeating myself, but seriously guys, they are just too good not to share!
Check out my post about the best hikes in Canmore and Kananaskis Country that was a whole year in the making! I just didn’t want to miss anything.
If photography is more your thing then I’ve also got an article on the best photography spots in and around Canmore.
Other great activities in Canmore
Accommodation in Canmore (Night 12 & 13)
The two campgrounds that I would recommend are the Bow River Campground and the Spray Lakes West Campground near the Spray Lakes, with the latter being my preferable choice.
The Spray Lakes site is around a 20-minute drive from the town center on the Smith Dorien highway (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. Downside? it’s a bit close to the highway and it may be a bit noisy.
Day 14: Drive to Calgary
On the final leg of the epic journey take the Trans Canada Highway (1) east from Canmore for just over an hour to Calgary, where you can drop off your rental and catch your flight home.
I hope that this itinerary will help you with planning your Vancouver to Calgary Road Trip. Let me know how your trip goes! I want to hear all about it.
As always please feel free to like, share or comment below with any questions you may have. I always respond!
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