Anyone who loves a road trip will tell you, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. Exploring Canada by road proves that, in fact, both the journey AND the destination can be unforgettable.
There might be faster ways to travel, but only a road trip gives you that heightened sense of freedom, the promise of picturesque townships, and stunning vistas unfolding before you.
So, wind down the windows, turn up the music, and enjoy the ride as we cruise the 970-kilometre route from Vancouver to Calgary via Kamloops.
First stop: Chilliwack
Take Highway 1 east from Vancouver and make the stunning town of Chilliwack (pop. 80,000) your first stop. Located in the Fraser Valley, this is a town that takes the outdoors seriously. Stop off at Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park to capture the perfect Insta-shot of the waterfall, cascading like a ‘veil’ down the smooth cliff.
There’s another, lesser-known reason for stopping at Chilliwack. Can you keep a secret? The Airport Coffee Shop at Chilliwack Airport serves up what are possibly the best home-made pies in Canada. Sisters Judi, Jacqueline, and Tracey serve up some 60 different pies and cheesecakes, all freshly made the old-fashioned way. It’s little wonder the café is affectionately known as ‘I fly for pie’.
Grab a slice before the secret gets out, and then jump behind the wheel to continue the journey.
From Chilliwack to Kamloops
Cruise along to the tiny town of Hope (pop. 7,000) nestled beneath the Coast and Cascade Mountains, a gateway to some of British Columbia’s most incredible parks, rivers, and hiking trails. From here, zip up the Coquilhalla Highway (Highway 5) and climb through the Great Bear Snow Shed, across the summit of Coquilhalla Pass, then across the top of the Thompson Plateau. Take a side road to explore the rolling countryside or stop for a lakeside picnic along the way.
This shortcut to Kamloops should not be taken during winter as the steep road can become treacherous, but during the warmer months, it’s a scenic highway that cuts 75 minutes off your driving time between Hope and Kamloops.
Before you reach Kamloops, you’ll pass through the rural town of Merritt (pop. 7,000). Witness the unique formations in the walls of Windy Canyon created by thousands of years of wind erosion, as well as the ancient shorelines of 10,000-year-old glacial lakes in the grasslands where cattle graze peacefully.
An hour and ten minutes later, Kamloops looms in the distance. You’ve travelled 350 kilometres – more than a third of the way to Calgary.
Kamloops to Chase
Kamloops is a buzzing town with endless opportunities for outdoor adventure in every season. We’re talking more than 100 lakes and two major rivers for kayaking, rafting, and fishing, as well as sandstone canyons, and nearby Sun Peaks resort, with its world-class mountain trails for skiing, hiking, and biking. This eclectic, progressive town has an arty vibe with great options for cuisine of all kinds.
About 40 minutes later, you arrive at the tiny town of Chase, on the Shuswap Lake system in the mountainous South Thompson River Valley. Here, you’ll check into the Quaaout Lodge & Spa, the perfect place to base yourself as you spend a day (or three) making the most of the great outdoors, swimming, boating, hiking, cycling, and learning about the First Nations culture. Each room at the Quaaout Lodge has its own patio overlooking Little Shuswap Lake, framed by magnificent mountain ranges.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the Adams River sockeye salmon run, a true natural wonder. During autumn, visit Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park to see bright red sockeye salmon spawning. There are hundreds of fish to be seen every year, but did you know the sockeye run works in a four-year cycle? That means every fourth year the river runs red with the struggling bodies of over two million fish. 2018 is flagged as a dominant year, with the next being 2022.
Chase to Golden via Revelstoke
The open road beckons once more as you edge closer to the border of British Columbia and Alberta. Just 155 kilometres from Chase lies the stunning mountain township of Revelstoke. Famous for its epic ski fields, Revelstoke is every bit as exciting during the warmer months.
Bordered by both Mount Revelstoke National Park and Revelstoke Mountain Resort, this Kootenay Rockies City (pop. 7,230) is framed by the imposing Selkirk and Monashee mountains. Think hiking and mountain biking in summer, and skiing, heli-skiing, and snowmobiling in winter.
About an hour and ten minutes later, you’ll reach Golden, home to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Meet the world-famous grizzly bear, Boo, at the Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge, the largest protected grizzly bear habitat in the world. You’ll fall in love with Boo, a big bear with an even bigger personality.
Feeling peckish? Jump on the Kicking Horse Eagle Eye Express Gondola and eat at the highest elevated restaurant in Canada. The Eagle Eye Restaurant is raised more than 2,300 metres above sea level, serving up delicious local fare, such as wild boar poutine and duck confit, against a backdrop off five national parks, snow-covered peaks, and sweeping valleys.
Golden to Lake Louise via Yoho National Park
In theory, it’s less than an hour’s drive from Golden, BC, to Lake Louise in Alberta. However, you’ll want to stop along the way. Yoho National Park is about 25 minutes from Golden in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It’s a nature-lover’s paradise, with 400 kilometres of hiking trails, 61 lakes, enormous waterfalls, including Wapta Falls Takakkaw Waterfall, as well as stunning Emerald Lake, just itching to be explored by kayak.
Learn about the famous Spiral Tunnels where railroads weave and wind their way through the mountains. Step back in time on the 1.2-kilometre Walk in The Past Trail that leads to an old spur line and an abandoned locomotive used during the Spiral Tunnels’ construction.
Back on the road, you’re less than half an hour from one of the Canada’s most iconic destinations, Lake Louise. You’ve seen the postcard, but the real thing is enough to take your breath away. Famous for its Instagram appeal, the real challenge is to put your camera down and behold the majestic beauty with all six senses.
This stunning hamlet in the heart of Banff National Park is rich with outdoor adventure and wellness experiences. In summer, hike or horse-ride to the Lake Agnes Tea House for sweeping views of epic proportions. Kayak the sparkling turquoise lake and dine at the magnificent Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, perched on the shore like something out of Disney movie.
During winter, ice skate the famous lake, take a sleigh ride along its snow-drenched shores, or go snow-shoeing at twilight through the forest, Narnia-style.
Lake Louise to Banff
The journey from Lake Louise to Banff in Alberta is an easy 45-minute drive on Highways 98 and 1. Check in to your quintessential mountain lodge or downtown hotel, or splash out for a night at the grand, historic Fairmont Banff Springs, reminiscent of a fairytale castle.
The resort town of Banff has so much more to offer than skiing, though it certainly has that in spades! Nestled beneath the Rundle, Sulphur, Norquay and Cascade mountains, this tiny township of almost 8,000 people packs some serious punch. During winter, you’ll want to make the most of the ‘Big 3’ ski resorts – Sunshine Village, Ski Norquay and Lake Louise Mountain Resort. Johnston Canyon Icewalk is the stuff of bucket-lists, where you’ll bear witness to thunderous waterfalls frozen solid to create natural ice sculptures. Ice climbers can often be seen scaling the gigantic pillars of ice some 30 metres above your head.
As the weather warms up, the list of outdoor adventures is endless. Hire a canoe from the Banff Canoe Club and spend a few hours on sparkling Vermillion Lake near the town centre. Go fishing on Lake Minnewanka, check out the highly photogenic Peyto Lake, and soak in the outdoor Banff Upper Hot Springs as you take in the mountainous landscape.
Ride the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for a heart-stopping view of six mountain ranges. Better still? Come back in the evening for a stargazing journey into our galaxy and beyond.
Banff to Calgary via Canmore
The quintessential mountain village of Canmore is a must-stop on your 100-kilometre final leg to Calgary. Just 26 kilometres from Banff, Canmore is full of salt-of-the-earth Albertans brimming Rocky Mountain hospitality. Enjoy an organic brunch at Communitea Café and then walk it off on Main Street, where you can peruse the galleries of phenomenal local art, artisan boutiques, craft breweries, and charming book stores.
Canmore is a hub of outdoor escapades, from mountaineering, rock climbing, and heli-tours, to Nordic skiing and dog sledding.
Grab some authentic mountain-style poutine for the road and begin the final leg of your journey – Calgary is just 104 kilometres away on Highway 1.
You’ve made it!
The vibrant city of Calgary is awash with eclectic neighbourhoods, world-class cuisine, and outstanding shopping. Its farming heritage is still evident in its laid-back residents and locally-sourced gastronomy, but there’s an edgy vibe to the city that’s testament to a thriving arts and music scene.
Visit the Calgary Tower to gain a bird’s-eye perspective, and stroll the shores of the Bow and Elbow rivers that run through the city. Step back in time at the largest living history museum, Heritage Park Historical Village, with yester-year exhibits including a fur trading post and an 1880s pre-railway settlement.
Head to the funky neighbourhood of Inglewood, known for its starring role in the TV series, Fargo, where heritage homes have been converted into eclectic shops, galleries, and cafes. Check out a live concert at The Festival Hall or stroll the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.
This festival city buzzes during the summer months. The Calgary Stampede, known world-wide as ‘the greatest outdoor show on earth’ takes place during July, as does the Calgary Folk Music Festival and Calgary International Blues Festival. Globalfest, Alberta’s biggest annual fireworks festival, takes place in August, and the Calgary International Film Festival comes alive during October.
The road trip from Vancouver to Calgary is one where every kilometre brings unexpected rewards and the destination is every bit as wonderful as the journey. And with so many routes to choose from, it’s a journey you can take again and again.