On a two-week drive, you can road trip from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies and back, taking in many of western Canada’s top attractions. See Vancouver’s sights, then day-trip by ferry to Victoria, British Columbia’s capital. Take another day to get outdoors in the mountains at Whistler.
Get ready for the real mountains, though, as you head east, stopping in Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks as you enter the Canadian Rockies. In Alberta, you’ll visit Lake Louise, follow the scenic Icefields Parkway to Jasper, then return south for a couple of days outdoors in Banff National Park. From there, travel through B.C.’s Kootenays region, with stops in the fun towns of Fernie and Nelson, and go wine-tasting in the Okanagan Valley, on your way back to Vancouver and the coast.
You could also start and end the trip in Calgary, doing the loop in reverse.
Start your tour in Vancouver, circling the scenic seawall in Stanley Park, snacking on Granville Island, and getting an introduction to aboriginal culture at the Museum of Anthropology. Explore Chinatown in the peaceful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and in the neighborhood’s growing number of hip restaurants, or head to the North Shore to hike and enjoy the views from Grouse Mountain. With several beaches right downtown, wrap up your day with a sunset stroll along the sand.
Vancouver to Victoria
(round-trip 95 mi/ 150 km, 6 hrs including ferries)
Make a day trip to Vancouver Island today for a quick visit to Victoria. From Vancouver, drive south on Highway 99 to catch an early-morning B.C. Ferry from Tsawwassen; it’s a 90-minute trip to Swartz Bay. When you leave the ferry terminal, follow Highway 17A to the Butchart Gardens to wander among the floral displays.
From the gardens, take Keating Cross Road east to Highway 17 toward downtown Victoria. Park your car, then tour the Inner Harbour, have afternoon tea at the stately Fairmont Empress, and visit the Royal British Columbia Museum. Have a drink in one of the city’s craft breweries and dinner in a contemporary bistro in or around Chinatown, before returning to Swartz Bay for the ferry back to Vancouver.
Vancouver to Whistler
(75 mi/120 km, 2 hrs)
Head north from Vancouver to pick up the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Hwy. 99), a scenic route between the mountains and the ocean that leads to the resort town of Whistler. Consider stopping in Squamish for a ride up the Sea-to-Sky Gondola; either have lunch with a view from the gondola summit or continue on to Whistler. Visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre to learn more about the local First Nations community, then get outdoors, whether you choose to ride the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, climb the Via Ferrata, go zip-lining, or simply take a hike.
Whistler to Revelstoke
(315 mi/510 km, 6.5 hrs)
Today is a long driving day as you set out for the mountains of eastern British Columbia. Leave Whistler on Highway 99 north to Highway 1 east; if you start early, you can reach Kamloops for lunch. Try to arrive at Mount Revelstoke National Park in time to zigzag up the Meadows in the Sky Parkway and take at least a short hike, before settling into the town of Revelstoke for dinner and a well-deserved rest.
Revelstoke to Field
(125 mi/200 km, 2.5 hrs)
After breakfast, make a brief stop at the Revelstoke Railway Museum to learn about the railroad’s importance to this region before continuing east on Highway 1 toward Glacier National Park. Stretch your legs on the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk Trail or the Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail (in Mount Revelstoke National Park) or on Glacier’s Hemlock Grove Trail before stopping at the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre. After checking out the exhibits, drive on to Golden for lunch; you could ride the gondola at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort to eat at the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, Canada’s highest restaurant. Don’t forget to move your clocks ahead; Golden is in the mountain time zone.
Keep going east on Highway 1 into Yoho National Park. Stop at the Natural Bridge and beautiful Emerald Lake, and if you have time, drive up to Takakkaw Falls. Have dinner and spend the night at one of the upscale lodges within the park.
Field to Jasper
(160 mi/260 km, 4 hrs)
Today will be another long one, but keep your camera handy. You’ll pass through some of the most scenic terrain of the entire trip. It’s just 20 minutes east on Highway 1 from Field in Yoho National Park to Lake Louise, where you can hike or paddle along its famous namesake lake.
From Lake Louise, turn north onto Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway. There are numerous places to ooh and aah along this route; highlights include Peyto Lake, Wilcox Pass, and the Columbia Icefield, where you can walk on the Athabasca Glacier. Continuing toward Jasper, another pretty place to pause is Athabasca Falls. Arrive in Jasper for dinner and a microbrew in the local pub.
Start your morning with a ride up the Jasper Sky Tram. Return to town to pick up a picnic lunch and take a look through the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum. Bring your picnic to Maligne Canyon to hike through this deep limestone gorge.
In the afternoon, drive to Maligne Lake for a leisurely 90-minute cruise. Have an early supper in town, then head for Miette Hot Springs to wrap up your day with a relaxing visit to these natural mineral pools.
Jasper to Banff
(180 mi/290 km, 4.5 hrs)
If you didn’t make all the stops you wanted along the Icefields Parkway, you have another chance today, since you’ll retrace your steps southbound on this picturesque parkway. When you get back to Lake Louise, detour to glacier-fed Moraine Lake for a short hike or canoe paddle. Then follow the Bow Valley Parkway south toward Banff, stopping to walk along Johnston Canyon. In Banff, have a leisurely dinner and take a late-evening soak at Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Spend part of the next day at Banff’s in-town attractions, including the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Banff Park Museum, and Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and part of the day outdoors. Climb the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata, take a cruise on Lake Minnewanka, or ride the Banff Gondola and take a short hike at the top. In the evening, see a play, concert, or other event at the Banff Centre.
Banff to Fernie
(220 mi/355 km, 4.5 hrs)
Pick up coffee and pastries at Banff’s best bakeshop, Wild Flour Artisan Bakery. Then, leaving Banff, take Highway 1 west and turn south on Highway 93 into Kootenay National Park. Stop at Marble Canyon and the Paint Pots, and keep your bathing suit handy for a dip in the Radium Hot Springs. Continue south on Highway 93/95, where the town of Invermere has several options for lunch.
If you’re interested in history, stop at Fort Steele Heritage Town, a living history village. Keep following Highway 93/95 south and turn east on Highway 3 to Fernie, where you’ll spend the night. In the morning, check out the Fernie Museum, browse the downtown shops, and have lunch in one of the cafés. After you eat, head over to Fernie Alpine Resort to test your balance in the Aerial Park or go for a mountaintop hike.
Fernie to Nelson
(200 mi/325 km, 4 hrs)
Leave Fernie on Highway 3 west, stopping off at St. Eugene Resort in Cranbrook to visit the First Nations-run Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre in this former mission and residential school for aboriginal students; call first to be sure the center is open. Continue west on Highway 3, where you’ll cross back into the Pacific time zone (set your watch back an hour), to the junction with Highway 6, where you go north to Nelson.
Visit Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History and browse the shops along Baker Street. Stop at Oso Negro Café when you’re ready for a coffee break. Another option is to tour the sobering Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in New Denver, which is 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Nelson on Highway 6. Nelson has lots of good restaurants, so take time to enjoy your evening meal.
Nelson to Osoyoos
(165 mi/265 km, 3.5 hrs)
From Nelson, follow Highway 6 west to Highway 3A south, and stop in Castlegar at the Doukhobor Discovery Centre to learn about the pacifist Russian community that settled in B.C. in the early 1900s. Then take Highway 3 west toward the Okanagan Valley.
You should arrive in the Osoyoos-Oliver area early enough to spend the afternoon sampling local wineries. Plan a special dinner at The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl or Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek to celebrate the end of your holiday.
Osoyoos to Vancouver
(250 mi/400 km, 5 hrs)
If you’re not in a rush to return to Vancouver, pick up freshly baked cinnamon buns at The Lake Village Bakery in Osoyoos, then stop at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre or take a morning stroll along Lake Osoyoos. When you’re ready to hit the road, follow Highway 3 west to Hope, where you pick up Highway 1 toward Vancouver.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Vancouver and Canadian Rockies Road Trip.