A road trip from Calgary to Vancouver takes you through some of the most beautiful regions in all of Canada. These major cities are easy to fly in and out of and there are even some rental companies that offer PICK-UP in one and DROP-OFF in the other. Keep reading for the best stops from the MESMERIZING Rocky Mountains to the rugged West Coast with a short detour through wine country!
Kananaskis is an impressive multi-use recreation area in the foothills and front ranges of the Canadian Rockies. There are several provincial parks and campgrounds located within Kananaskis including Peter Lougheed, Spray Valley, and Bragg Creek Provincial Park.
This entire area is chock-full of remarkable mountains, lakes, and campgrounds with beauty and excitement around every corner. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, your best bet is to drive south on Highway 40. The further you get from the town of Canmore or the Number 1 Highway, the less busy it will be!
Canmore is a charming mountain town about an hour into your drive from Calgary to Vancouver and just outside the Banff National Park gates. There are a number of things to do here in any season including hiking, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, shopping on the main street, and dog sledding. The options are endless! This is an excellent spot to start your road trip for an afternoon or a few days depending on your timeframe.
Banff National Park
You can’t visit western Canada without stopping in Banff National Park. Contrary to popular belief, however, I would urge you to spend little to no time in the town itself. The reason? The town of Banff is extremely crowded and touristy. It really doesn’t do justice to the natural wonders of the park. This place is an adventurer’s paradise so get out and explore the towering mountains, incredible wildlife and turquoise lakes.
Lake Louise & Moraine Lake
Lake Louise is an iconic hamlet in Banff National Park known for its turquoise, glacier-fed lake. The surrounding mountains and Fairmont Chateau sitting on one edge make it a popular tourist destination. There’s a canoe dock in summer (I’ll warn you now, they are expensive to rent!) and a skating rink on the frozen lake in winter. For a view from the top and to get away from the crowds, hike up to the Lake Agnes Tea House!
Moraine Lake is another well-known photo spot 14 kilometres outside of Lake Louise. There are several hiking trails in this area and the lake is absolutely breathtaking. My best advice for both of these spots is to go early on a weekday if possible. The parking lots fill up fast leaving you with the option of either turning around or parking in the town and taking a shuttle.
If you’re up for a short detour, Peyto Lake is one of our favourite lakes in the entire area and a highly recommended stop on the drive from Calgary to Vancouver. It’s about 25 minutes each way from Highway 1, but it doesn’t require much of a hike to see the stunning lake from a viewpoint. After a mild 15-minute walk, you will be rounding the corner in complete awe of this insanely beautiful, wolf-shaped lake.
30 minutes down Highway 93 past Peyto, you will find Glacier Lake. If you are into back country camping this is a phenomenal place to visit for the night! The hike is actually fairly easy and the campground is located directly on the lakeshore with views of the glacier on the other side. Make sure to reserve a spot as early as possible, this campground tends to book up months in advance.
Those of you who know me know that Lake O’Hara is one of my favourite places on this planet. The mountain peaks, valleys, and lakes in the area are among the most beautiful alpine regions in the world. If you haven’t visited yet, just trust me and add it to your bucket list! Activities in the area include hiking, climbing, scrambling, camping, fishing, glacier swimming, canoeing, snowshoeing, skiing, and skating.
The best part about Lake O’Hara is that you CAN NOT drive right up to it. You either have to book the bus (and be sure to book eeearly) or hike in and out on the 11-kilometre service road.
So why is that such a good thing? When you get to the top; you won’t find this place buzzing with tourists looking to get a quick “insta-perfect picture” and then drive away. The amount of people is always limited allowing you to truly enjoy the serene beauty. The Lodge and campground book up really quick every year; so make sure to plan ahead!
Surrounded by six of Canada’s most stunning national parks, Golden is an outdoor enthusiasts playground! Spend a few days hiking or mountain biking. White water rafting, climbing, golfing, horseback riding; or pretty much any other outdoor activity you can think of. There is even a wolf sanctuary you can visit year round and Kicking Horse Mountain Ski Resort in the winter and early spring.
As of 2021, Golden is also home to Canada’s two highest suspension bridges. They are connected by an easily accessible trail that winds through the beautiful forest on either side of the canyon. Along the way, you can stop at one of the scenic viewpoints, check out the treetop adventure park, and watch the excitement of the canyon swing and ziplines. The trail is a one-way loop that helps keep things running smoothly on the bridges.
As you walk across the first bridge, 426 feet above the canyon floor below, you will see a jaw-dropping 200-foot waterfall to your right. The views of the mountains from here look absolutely incredible! Unfortunately, the heavy smoke blocked them out when we visited. From there, you continue on the path past the challenge course and to the second bridge. Here they have got a stunning viewing platform with a giant swing and more mountain views. The second bridge offers a different perspective of the canyon as you make your way back to the entrance.
Another mountain town full of adventure and character, Revelstoke gives you access to Glacier National Park and Mount Revelstoke National Park. This is a great place to spend your days hiking or mountain biking in the summer and skiing in the winter. The downtown area is full of fun little shops and places to eat and don’t forget to check out the pipe coaster – a mountainside roller coaster on the ski hill!
Hot Spring Detour
Up for a detour and don’t mind a bit of a hike to get to some amazing natural hot springs? Awesome! Head south on Highway 23 for about 1.5 hours (this involves a short ferry ride) towards Nakusp. On this road, you can stop in at either Halfway Hot Springs or St Leon Hot Springs. They both involve a few kilometres of easy hiking but in my opinion, they are 100% worth it!
If you are more of a “man-made hot spring spa” kind of soaker, there are also several resorts and spas in the area offering this sort of option! We haven’t visited any so I can’t give you any specific recommendations but I’m positive you can find one to meet your style with a quick google search.
Three Valley Lake
Okay so here’s the deal. Three Valley Gap is a tourist trap. There is a chateau, a “ghost town”, and an antique auto museum at this unincorporated settlement on the Trans-Canada Highway. Although these ultra touristy activities aren’t really for me—and if you’re one of our regular readers, they’re probably not for you, either—the lake itself is really beautiful and worth a stop.
On the righthand side of the road, there is a little beach where you can get out to stretch your legs. My personal favourite stop, especially in the fall, is the train tracks on the west side of the lake.
Kelowna is a gorgeous lakeside city located in Canada’s Okanagan Valley. Surrounded by mountains, pine forests, provincial parks and tons of vineyards there are endless options for activities, food and wine. It is actually half an hour quicker to bypass Kelowna and drive through Kamloops instead, but I would highly recommend taking the extra time to enjoy this little slice of heaven in the middle of wine country.
The Othello Tunnels
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from The Othello Tunnels but I was pleasantly surprised. This series of old train tunnels and bridges take you through the solid granite walls of a gorge and over the stunning and powerful Coquihalla River. The entire 3.5-kilometre out and back trail is full of marvellous views and an unusual mix of history and natural beauty. Take the time to stop here, you won’t regret it!
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park is a scenic day-use area home to a picturesque 60 meter waterfall. The falls can be viewed from a short loop trail that begins from the parking area. This is a great place to stretch your legs before making it to your final destination!
You made it! With a fantastic mix of nature and urban development, it’s no wonder why Vancouver is considered one of the most liveable cities in the world. It offers the convenience of a big city while also presenting a fantastic gateway to the great outdoors. This is great news as a visitor, as well, because it gives you an incredibly diverse selection of activities during your stay.