There are several different driving routes from Vancouver to Banff, but for this road trip itinerary, we’ll focus on the Northern Route that passes through a section of the Rocky Mountains and several provincial and national parks in British Columbia and Alberta. This epic Vancouver to Banff road trip is considered to be one of the best road trips on earth, especially if you love nature, wildlife and culture.
This is a guest post by Jarryd and Alesha from NOMADasaurus and Van Life Theory
How Long Do You Need
It’s recommended you put aside at least 10 days to get the most out of this trip. The best time to visit is between June and September when you can get the best of the weather and driving conditions.
Along this route, you’ll see spectacular scenery consisting of snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes and picture-perfect towns and villages, each with its own set of attractions. You’ll also spot wildlife including elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and maybe even a grizzly bear if you’re lucky!
Exploring the Rocky Mountains is certainly one of the top things to do in Canada, so are you ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime on this Canadian road trip?
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What to Pack for Your Road Trip
Check out this article for my top road trip essentials complete with a printable road trip checklist.
Your start point.
If you’re getting ready to drive to Banff from Vancouver I assume you’ve already spent several days in Vancouver, British Columbia. If not, you should set aside some time to explore this fabulous city.
It isn’t the cheapest destination – one of the most expensive cities in Canada in fact, but there are plenty of free things to do in Vancouver if you are on a tight budget! Popular attractions include the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gastown, China Town and the excellent hiking trails in parks and forests around the city.
Squamish and Whistler
Visit for amazing views and a world-class mountain resort.
After you’ve spent some time in Vancouver, head north on Highway 99 towards Squamish. This is where you’ll find your first must-visit attraction, The Sea to Sky Gondola. Enjoy stunning views of Howe Sound on the way up and once at the top, make the most of the hiking trails and the amazing Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge.
Whistler is one of the top mountain resorts in Canada. Although known for some of the best downhill skiing around, Whistler also has much to offer roadtrippers passing through during the warmer months including ziplining, kayaking, mountain biking and hiking.
While exploring the town, some of the attractions worth checking out include the Audain Art Museum and the 70-metre waterfall at Brandywine Falls Provincial Park. Lost Lake is a great place to take a refreshing dip and the water is surprisingly warm during the summer months.
After an exciting day exploring the natural beauty of Whistler, you’ll likely be staying here for the night. If you’re camping, Cheakamus Lake Campground is a great spot. Alternatively, Crystal Lodge Hotel provides budget-friendly accommodation.
If you want to really splurge, The Fairmont Chateau Whistler provides a luxurious experience that includes a golf course, spa, several restaurants, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and fully-equipped rooms.
Pemberton and Kamloops
Visit for mountain scenery mixed with urban attractions.
From Whistler, you’ll pass through the pretty mountain village of Pemberton and enjoy scenic mountain views. Kamloops is the next major stop along this route. This small city is a lovely mix of natural wonders and urban delights.
Spend the morning hiking in the many municipal and provincial parks that are in the area. In the afternoon, visit some of the attractions in Kamloops such as the BC Wildlife Park, Secwepemc Museum & Heritage Park (currently only offering online tours) and Privato Vineyard & Winery. After a day of exploring, enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants that offer a wide variety of local and ethnic foods.
Wells Gray Provincial Park
Visit for hiking adventures with waterfalls and unique landscapes
Since you’ll want to be well-rested to explore the next must-see attraction on this road trip, Wells Gray Provincial Park, you can either stay at one of the many hotels in Kamloops or drive to the national park and camp for the night.
Wells Gray Provincial Park is mostly known for being home to more than 40 waterfalls and many hiking trails. Explore diverse landscapes and fascinating geological features or embark on a white-water rafting adventure down the Clearwater River.
Visit a mountain village and the Rocky Mountain’s highest peak
Valemount is another scenic mountain village on this amazing Vancouver to Banff road trip, and the best way to enjoy the area’s views is to take a drive up 5 Mile Road which overlooks the valley set between the stunning mountain peaks.
Other attractions in the area include the Valemount Museum, Willmore Wilderness Park, Three Ranges Brewing Company and Overlander Falls.
By far, the can’t-miss attraction is Mount Robson Provincial Park. This is where you’ll find the highest peak in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and be able to participate in many adventures including kayaking, canoeing, white-water rafting, hiking and scenic helicopter tours.
Explore the Wonders of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Parks
Not far from Mount Robson, you’ll cross the border into Alberta where you’ll find the pristine nature of Jasper National Park. Jasper is known for its natural beauty that’s virtually untouched compared to the other great national parks in the Rocky Mountains. It’s less crowded and you have a better chance at seeing wildlife without venturing too far off the beaten track.
Jasper National Park
Enjoy wildlife, pristine wilderness and glacier lakes
The town of Jasper is where you’ll find many restaurants, top-rated hotels, including the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, and attractions such as The Jasper Planetarium, Our Native Land Art Gallery, The Den Wildlife Museum and the Yellowhead Museum. The Jasper SkyTram climbs 2,263 metres above sea level where you’ll enjoy amazing views of the mountain peaks and town below.
Deeper into the national park, you’ll find more world-class attractions. This section of highway that connects Jasper and Banff National Parks is known as the Icefields Parkway. While there are many lakes in this region, if you only get to see one, make it Maligne Lake. Known for its stunning blue colour and surrounding mountain scenery, visitors enjoy canoeing and kayaking on the calm waters of this huge lake.
You can also take a guided cruise to Spirit Island on a tour that’s said to be one of the best in the whole country. Other notable attractions along this stretch include Athabasca Glacier, Athabasca Falls and Glacier Skywalk.
Feel like you need some pampering and relaxation between stops? Kick back in the hottest hot springs in the Rockies at Miette Hot Springs and enjoy a soothing soak in mountain-sourced mineral-rich waters.
Lake Louise and Banff National Park
The last leg of your journey
Of all the parks along this route, Banff National Park is the most popular with the most epic activities and attractions. As you drive through this park, you’ll see more stunning Rocky Mountain vistas and be able to participate in every outdoor activity you can think of.
Lake Louise is one of the most visited attractions in the park. The sparkling blue waters of this beautiful lake are perfect for canoeing and kayaking and there are hiking trails around the lake. Don’t forget to visit the grounds and lobby of the lovely Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Other must-see attractions include Moraine Lake, Banff Upper Hot Springs and Lake Minnewanka.
Explore a Quintessential Mountain Village
In the village of Banff, one of the top attractions is the Banff Gondola, which climbs to the summit of Sulphur Mountain where you’ll enjoy more spectacular Rocky Mountain views and you’ll find dining options, an interpretive centre and a theatre.
The village of Banff is an exciting place to be with many museums, galleries, pubs, nightclubs, live music venues and restaurants to suit every taste and budget. There’s always something going on but don’t let the adventure stop here!
After a long day exploring this vibrant town, backtrack just a little to the Sunshine Village Resort where there are just as many things to do in the summer as there are in winter. Stay the night in one of their lovely rooms and spend the next day in the great outdoors exploring more of this fabulous Rocky Mountain park.
About the Authors
Alesha and Jarryd are travel writers, photographers and creators from Australia who have been travelling the world together non-stop since 2008. Their passion for adventure travel, sustainable tourism and van life has seen them visit some of the most remote destinations on the planet, seeking out incredible landscapes and unique cultures. You can follow their adventures on NOMADasaurus and Van Life Theory.
Cover image Bow River Sunrise credit | NOMADasaurus
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