A road trip through the Canadian Rockies is a bucket-list experience for many travel lovers! Matt and I have been itching to get back to Canada to see, do and explore more and a road trip felt like the best way to accomplish all that, rather than losing time on a plane or stuck in one spot for too long. When the time finally came to plan the trip, we were totally overwhelmed. There are so many options, places to visit, campgrounds to choose from and things to do it can feel almost impossible when you begin the planning process. I planned our whole trip and while we were there, took note of all the things I wish we’d done differently. Now, I’m putting it all together in this guide, to help you plan the BEST Canadian Rockies Road Trip!
- Day 1 – Vancouver
- Day 2 – Vancouver
- Day 3 – Porteau Cove
- Day 4 – Porteau Cove
- Day 5 – Whistler
- Day 6 – Clearwater / Wells Gray
- Day 7 – Jasper
- Day 8 – Icefields Parkway
- Day 9 – Banff
- Day 10 – Banff
- Day 11 – Canmore
- Day 12 – Calgary
- Day 13 – Meritt
- Day 14 – Vancouver
This is the itinerary we did (and loved) and it’s also what I recommend for an epic Canadian Rockies Road Trip! I’ve included a few notes on things I wish we’d done differently and I suggest you brace yourself for a glimpse inside my over-organised mind. I’ve also included all the things I recommend you can see, do and experience at each spot along with estimated driving times and our recommendations on where to stay, based on our experience camping or staying in budget-friendly accommodation.
Day 1 – Vancouver
Arrive in Vancouver and collect your hire car or vehicle then make a beeline for your accommodation. We flew a very long way from Australia to Canada and were far too tired to do any activities on our first day in Canada, so we scheduled day one as a recovery/rest day. I recommend pre-planning a few places you might like to eat near your accommodation, just to take the guesswork and potential stress out of it when it comes time to eat.
Where to stay in Vancouver: Accommodation in Vancouver is SO expensive when you’re on a budget! We found an affordable option through Airbnb and chose to stay in North Vancouver for two nights. We loved our Airbnb and loved staying in North Vancouver, it felt really friendly, safe and was beautiful too. My only tip would be to avoid driving in Vancouver during peak hour at all costs (we got caught in traffic for over TWO hours!)
Where to eat: Close to our accommodation were grocery stores (Save On Foods and Walmart) so we saved money by stocking up on bagels and cream cheese for breakfast at our Airbnb and a few cheap, easy meals like pasta. When it came time to dine out, we headed to La Taqueria for the very best, affordable and delicious tacos! Yum! This place was so good, we ended up eating there a few times, they have great lunch specials, the food is amazing and there are a few locations dotted around Vancouver.
Day 2 – Vancouver
Now you’re rested and refreshed, it’s time to explore Vancouver! This is where having a hire car, versus an RV, really came in handy. Of course, you could always hire a car for the first few days then return it and pick up an RV for the rest of the road trip, if you like. Either way, today is your BIG day of sightseeing in Vancouver followed by another night at your accommodation.
Things to do in Vancouver:
- Grab a coffee at a local cafe in the heart of Vancouver: try Prado Cafe, Birds and the Beets or Revolver
- Wander through Chinatown: visit the Millenium Gate and Sam Kee Building
- Explore the gorgeous grounds of the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
- Visit Gastown: check out the Steam Clock, stop in at funky boutiques or take a stroll along the waterfront
- Head to Granville Island: Listen to live music, check out shops and wander the stalls serving delicious, local food inside the Granville Island Public Market. Grab a few different things to try and enjoy a picnic along the water, overlooking Vancouver.
- Check out the Capilano Suspension Bridge and spend some time exploring the treetops and peering at the world below
- Take a drive up to High View Lookout in the Cypress Provincial Park for amazing views of Vancouver
Day 3 – Porteau Cove
You’ll be checking out of your accommodation today and kicking off the camping portion of events at Porteau Cove so be sure to make the most of your room. Sleep-in, start the day feeling refreshed, do any last minute laundry and pack the car up with your luggage. I strongly recommend devising some sort of order to your hire car, to make packing, unpacking and finding things easy over the next few weeks.
We needed to buy all our camping supplies so we did this here, after checking out of our Airbnb. We spent a couple of hours at Walmart stocking up on everything we needed, from a tent, air mattress, cooking equipment and cooler through to food, a cooler and plenty of ice. We also visited a local thrift store, Value Village, and bought some of our cooking equipment (pot, pan and kettle) there.
Drive time: Vancouver to Porteau Cove – 45 minutes
Things to do in Porteau Cove: Given it’s your first day, I recommend doing what we did which is just chill out and enjoy the campsite. It’s absolutely beautiful, situated around a lovely little cove drenched in sun for most of the day. It’s the perfect spot for a swim and you can lay on the beach with a good book if you like.
Where to stay in Porteau Cove: We booked a walk-in site at the Porteau Cove Campground and loved it! It was a fair amount of effort having a walk-in site as you need to use wheelbarrows and a cart to move all your gear between the car and the campground. As you need to be bear safe, you have to put anything with a scent in your car when it’s not in use so lugging your cooler in and out of the walk-in site can get annoying. If possible, I’d recommend you book a normal campsite where you can just keep everything in your car right next to you. Porteau Cove is located around 40 minutes drive from Vancouver.
Day 4 – Porteau Cove
One of the great things about Porteau Cove is how close it is to Vancouver, which means you can use the campground as an affordable base for more Vancouver sightseeing! The drive from Porteau Cove to Vancouver is around 40 minutes. I recommend doing a few activities in Vancouver that don’t involve going into the Downtown/City area then heading back to the campground for your second night at Porteau Cove.
To save money, from this point on, we packed our lunch with us each day and chose a gorgeous spot for a picnic. We kept things simple with either a delicious salad or warp, a piece of fruit and a muesli bar. It not only helped us stay on-budget but it helped us stay healthy too!
Things to do in and around Vancouver:
Here are a few more things you could reasonably do on your second day in Vancouver:
- Visit Stanley Park: spend a few hours exploring the area. You can hire bikes and ride along the Seawall, follow one of the many walking trails or take some time to visit the Aquarium
- Head up to the Sea to Sky Gondola: take a ride up to the top and savour the incredible views of the area, explore the walking trails and take in the stunning Stawamus Chief. Traverse the suspension bridge, laze in the shade of trees
- Drive a minute or two down the road to the incredible Shannon Falls. Wander the trail past the bubbling water and marvel at the sheer power and beauty of the falls. There are a few different walking trails you can follow, depending on how much time you have.
Day 5 – Whistler
The drive from Porteau Cove to Whistler should only take you an hour but if you plan on making the most of Whistler’s awesome range of outdoor activities, you’re going to want to get up and moving nice and early. We spent one night in Whistler but could easily have spent two, especially if there were more activities we wanted to do. The drive to Clear Water, tomorrow, is a big one and you’ll need to leave very early in the morning so if one day in Whistler doesn’t seem like enough, you may like to consider adding a second day here.
Drive time: Porteau Cove to Whistler – 1 hour
Things to do in Whistler:
Here are a few things you may like to do in Whistler, we managed to do two adventure activities with enough time in-between to check-in at the campground and set up our campsite:
- Join an RZR (pronounced Razor) tour with The Adventure Group! Climb into an epic little beast of an ATV and whizz through the Canadian wilderness, over puddles and rocks, up high and down low. We absolutely LOVED this experience.
- Fly through the treetops on a guided zipline tour with ZipTrek! Again, we really enjoyed our Zipline tour, soaring through the forest, over gorgeous waterways and learning about the local area. It’s also a great opportunity to spot bears, all under the watchful eye of your guide.
- Hire a BMX and make the most of all the incredible trails dotted throughout Whistler
- Check out the Peak 2 Peak Gondola and soak in unbeatable views of the area
- Hire a canoe or kayak and hit the water for a paddle and see things from a different angle
Where to stay: We stayed at Riverside Resort in a walk-in campsite and, again, it was a bit annoying moving all our gear between the car and the campsite. If possible, I do recommend going to a campsite where you can park your car right next to the car. The campsite is great as it offers bear bins within your site, so you can keep your food and scented products secure and ensure bear safety. The only downsides to the campsites is there were only two showers and toilets in the shower block and you have to pay for them by purchasing shower tokens that get you 6 minutes of shower time. Also, it’s quite the walk to get into town. That said, I still recommend the campsite and there is parking available at a reasonable daily rate so you can drive into town for your adventure activities and park your car for the day. Just be sure to secure your valuable, of course.
Day 6 – Clearwater and Wells Gray
We seriously underestimated the drive between Whistler and the Clearwater Lake Campground, where we stayed. The drive will take you around 6 hours 50 minutes. Of course, you have to factor in toilet stops, rest breaks and probably a lunch stop too. When we finally did arrive at Well’s Gray, we had to stop and check out the things we wanted to see on the way to our campground. What’s worse, we only factored in one night in Clearwater so we arrived late, set up our campsite in a rush, were exhausted and went to bed then had to get up super early to get to Jasper the next day and didn’t really get to experience Clearwater properly. You can definitely do the drive in one day, you just need extra time to enjoy the destination once you arrive.
Drive time: Whistler to Wells Gray Provincial Park – 5 hours 20 minutes
Things to do in Clearwater and Wells Gray Provincial Park:
- Visit a few of the incredible waterfalls in the area and marvel at just how awesome Canada really is! If you’re tight on time I recommend, in this order, visiting: Spahats, Dawson Falls and, finally, my favourite waterfall I saw in Canada, Helmken Falls
- Canoe on Clearwater Lake or Azure Lake
- Strap on your boots and head out on one of the many hiking trails in the area
- Saddle up for a trail ride and explore fields of wildflowers, winding paths and the gorgeous local area on horseback
- A lot of people like to hike to the Joffre Lakes on their way to Clearwater/Wells Gray, we didn’t as we simply didn’t have the time. I think, to squeeze them in, you’d need to break your stay up and do a night close by then continue on to Clearwater/Wells Gray the following day.
Where to stay: We stayed at the Clearwater Lake Campground and really loved it! It took nearly an extra hour to get from the Wells Gray turn off to the Campground as the road is unsealed toward the end, you have to pay $2 for three minutes in the shower (and the shower ate a $2 coin of ours EACH) and there are only drop toilets. BUT it’s an affordable option and the location is absolutely stunning, just be sure to book yourself a campsite that overlooks Clearwater Lake. I also stayed at the nearby Wells Gray Ranch as part of my TrekAmerica trip and it was fantastic too, the shower blocks were much better and free to use.
Day 7 – Jasper
Jasper was another fail for us as we really should’ve stopped here for two nights, not one. It felt like we didn’t really get to see or experience Jasper and after such a big driving day the day before, we were exhausted and couldn’t muster up the energy to do any of the activities we had planned we arrived. Of course, if you’re tight on time and can only do one night in Jasper, it can be done!
We also lost a bit of time because I wanted/needed to do the Berg Lake Trail Hike at the Mount Robson Provincial Park. I hate hiking and I absolutely loved this hike! I loved it so much, I did it twice! It’s a beautiful walk and it’s not challenging, it just takes a bit of time. The views of the lake, stunning scenery and forest you walk through, as well as the mountains, make it worthwhile. It took us a little over three hours all up.
Drive time: Wells Gray Provincial Park to Jasper – 3 hours 20 minutes
Things to do in Jasper:
- You may like to do as we did and stop along the way and do the Berg Lake Trail at Mount Robson Provincial Park
- For a less-crowded hot springs experience, make the one hour drive to the gorgeous Miette Hot Springs
- Take a guided tour of the stunning Maligne Canyon
- Climb aboard the Jasper Skytram and take the longest and highest aerial tramway in the Rockies all the way to the top of Whistler’s Mountain
- Hire a bike and spend a few hours exploring the network of trails around Jasper
- Make the most of the many rivers in Jasper National Park with a spot of white water rafting
Where to stay: We spent one night at Whistlers Campground and had a great stay! Our site was drive-in, which made it really easy for us to be bear safe. We made sure to choose a site that was quite private and close to the shower block, which made life easier. I also liked that the campground had a number of toilet blocks separate to the main shower block. The only annoying thing about the showers is you have to press the button in to get the water to come out and if there are a lot of people trying to use the shower at once, the water isn’t very hot so be sure to wake up super early or go late at night to avoid others.
Day 8 – Icefields Parkway
Another day, another fail…. but this one is a little different. When we were planning our trip we became aware that it wasn’t possible to book a campsite along the Icefields Parkway and the campsites operate on a self-registration, first-come, first served basis! Panic set in and we decided to stop at the first campsite we could find, Wilcox, where we chose a site and registered. Wilcox is very close to the Athabasca Glacier which, simply put, means it’s cold as shit and there was a fire ban in Jasper National Park at the time. We set up our campsite then went for a drive and, about 45 minutes down the road, stumbled across Rampart Creek where it was 10 degrees warmer and there was no fire ban as it’s in Banff National Park. So, we had to drive back to Wilcox, pack up our stuff and go back to Rampart Creek to set up again. We ended up missing all the things we wanted to see but we were warm and had a campfire!
The lesson here, I would say, is not to panic. Don’t feel like you have to take the first free campsite you see. There are quite a few campgrounds along the Icefields Parkway so if your first choice wasn’t available, there would be more you could check out. Also, you need to make sure you self-register and mark your campsite in some way so people know that site is taken. I understand there have been some issues in the past where people have snaked other people’s campsites and chaos has ensued #CampFight
Drive time: Jasper to Icefields Parkway – 1 hour 30 minutes
Things to do on the Icefields Parkway:
- A great, underrated thing to do is to take a quick drive off the Icefields Parkway out to Abraham Lake where you can drive down to the water’s edge and soak in incredible views of the turquoise waters with very few (or no) other visitors around!
- From the Icefields Parkway, you can also do those fringe activities just outside of Banff, like Emerald Lake and Lake Louise
- Head to Bow Summitt and check out the incredible views of Peyto Lake, just be sure to walk away from the viewing platform! The best views can be found by following the trails away from the platform, then to the right, leading you to openings where you can sit on rocks and enjoy the sights
- Plan a waterfall crawl and visit spots like Panther Falls, Athabasca Falls, Bow Glacier Falls and Tangle Falls
- Get your fix of perfect, pristine Lakes at Helen Lake or Herbert Lake
- Check out the incredible Mistaya Canyon
- Explore the white expanse of the stunning Athabasca Glacier
Where to stay: As I said, we tried to stay at Wilcox and weren’t feeling it. Rampart Creek campground was awesome! The drop toilets were really nice and clean, there wasn’t a fire ban at the time and, as part of your self-registration, you can purchase a fire permit and use all the wood you like. The location of Rampart Creek is gorgeous, you can wander along the water’s edge, spot wildflowers and soak in the mountains. We really loved this spot and could easily have spent two nights here, if needed, but one was probably enough. To self-register, you simply fill out the registration forms available, usually, at the information/notice board at the entry to the campground. You don’t need cash as you can fill out a credit card authorisation form and drop it into the lockbox.
Day 9 – Banff
We spent two nights in Banff and were really happy with that amount of time. Matt absolutely loves Banff and probably would’ve been happy with one extra night, though it wasn’t necessary as two nights was enough time to see and do all the things we wanted.
Drive time: Icefields Parkway to Banff – 2 hours
Things to do in Banff:
- If you haven’t already, be sure to visit Lake Louise and Emerald Lake
- One of my favourite, unexpected spots in Banff was the gorgeous Vermillion Lakes
- Take a trip out to Johnston Canyon and follow the trail to stunning waterfalls
- Eat the very best poutine in town with a fantastic burger at The Eddie
- Take the Banff Gondola up for stunning views of the area
- Head to Surprise Corner for awesome views of the iconic Banff Fairmont Springs Hotel
Where to stay: We stayed at Tunnel Mountain Campground. There appear to be two Tunnel Mountain campgrounds, one which caters to RVs and another which caters to tents. We really enjoyed our stay as the location was great for exploring Banff, we got to wake up to views of Mount Rundle each day and meet some interesting people too. There’s a shower block located in the middle of each campground section (i.e. ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ etc) and my only issue was the water in the shower wasn’t hot, which made me a bit angry at one point but I got over it. We found it to be very cold in Banff so make sure you have warm camping gear (sleeping bag, thermals etc) and warm clothes too.
Day 10 – Banff
You’ve already ticked a few things off your Banff bucket list, now it’s time to get back out there and spend your second day doing everything else!
More things to do in Banff:
- Check out the gorgeous Lake Minnewanka
- Head to the Cascade Gardens in town and explore the wildflowers and great views of Banff town
- Check out the Bankhead Ghost Town by parking at the Lower Bankhead carpark and following the path down
- If you’re in Banff on a Wednesday, head to the awesome Farmers Market for great food, live music and local artisans
- Strap on your boots for a hike along the Hoodoo Trail
- While you’re at it, take the hike up to Tunnel Mountain for awesome views of Mount Rundle
- Stroll through the town along Banff Avenue, checking out local stores and trying treats like Beaver Tail
Day 11 – Canmore
We actually spent five nights in Canmore staying with a friend, but of course, that’s not going to be on the cards for anybody else. That said, I still wanted to put one night in here as we really loved Canmore. It’s a nice, quiet town a short drive from Banff and offers some really good food and awesome outdoor activities in a place you may not have thought to visit. Quite the hidden destination!
Drive time: Banff to Canmore – 20 minutes
Things to do in Canmore:
- Matt and our friend, Mindy, did an epic five-hour hike up EEOR (Eeyore) a.k.a East End Of Rundle and loved it! The views were awesome!
- I did something more low key and took a relatively quick hike up to the stunning Grassi Lakes, where the water is so clear you can see everything
- Grab a bite to eat and sample local beer at The Grizzly Paw
- Head to Blake for awesome food and the very best cocktails in town (seriously!)
- Explore the Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk
- Wander along the edge of the stunning Upper Kananaskis Lake
- Take some time to check out Canmore town on foot and pop in for a bite at local eateries as you go
Where to stay: Of course, we stayed at a friend’s house and I don’t think she’s up for the whole internet crashing at her place too. There are quite a few campgrounds in Canmore, including Wapiti Campground, Rundle Mountain RV Park and Spring Creek RV Campground.
Day 12 – Calgary
One night in Calgary is more than enough as it’s quite easy to drive around to see and do everything, we had no issues getting from place to place other than getting a little confused with the roads sometimes. The roads are HUGE and, often, the exit you want to take starts quite a way back so it’s easy to miss it. If you’re looking for something awesome to do in addition to Calgary, you might like to plan some time to visit Drumheller and the Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Drive time: Canmore to Calgary – 1 hour
Things to do in Calgary:
- Take in views of the area from the top of Calgary Tower (just beware of big queues!)
- Try a Saskatoon Berry Pie at Pie Junkie (it just sounds perfectly Canadian, right?!)
- Check out the Calgary Zoo, perfect for anyone travelling with little ones
- Explore Prince’s Island Park or Heritage Park
- Spend a little time perusing artworks inside the Glenbow Museum
- Get your feet on the ground and take a stroll along Stephen Avenue, popping into stores as you go
- Head to the Calgary Farmers Market, held on Thursdays
- As it’s a big city that’s easy to drive around we stopped at a few shops we wanted to visit, stocking up on a couple of things we wanted to buy in Canada as you can’t get them at home
Where to stay: We hadn’t planned to stay in Calgary but were running late and ended up checking into a hotel last minute! We stayed at the Comfort Inn & Suites Calgary Airport North for a little over $100 per night, breakfast included and loved it. The room was modern, spacious and really comfortable. There are quite a number of campgrounds to choose from in Calgary, including Calgary West Campground, Clearwater Tipi Park and Mountain View Farm Camping.
Day 13 – Merritt
When it came time to drive back to Vancouver from Calgary, we decided we wanted to do the bulk of the drive in one day. Now, most people tend to stay in either Kelowna or Kamloops but we wanted to drive a little further than Kamloops so we were closer to Vancouver. The drive from Calgary to Merritt should take just shy of 8 hours which may seem like a lot but, honestly, it went really fast! We stopped for breaks, including lunch, and just found it was a really easy drive and set us up for an easy last day. We also found the accommodation was cheaper in Merritt when we were looking.
We didn’t do any activities in Merritt, other than eating a lot of food from Dairy Queen. It was more of a rest stop for us and a place for us to re-pack our luggage and get ready and organised for the big flight home the next day.
Drive time: Calgary to Merritt – 7 hours 50 minutes
Where to stay: We stayed at the Quality Inn and really liked it as an affordable, one-night-only option. The room was very spacious and comfortable, the shower was great and we had loads of room to open up our suitcases, spread everything out and do a total repack of our bags. It wasn’t anything flash but it served the purpose perfectly, especially as we were on a budget. To save money, we cashed in our Agoda points and got a discount on the room rate.
Day 14 – Vancouver
With the bulk of the driving done, you’ll only need 2 hours 45 minutes to get from Meritt to Vancouver. We booked a flight that departed Vancouver International Airport late at night and arranged to take our rental car back at 8:30pm. So, we could sleep in and arrange a late check-out in Merritt, slowly drive into Vancouver with no stress, grab some dinner then drop the car back when we were ready and head to the airport for our departure.
Drive time: Meritt to Vancouver – 2 hours 45 minutes
If you’re hiring a vehicle for your trip and want to avoid paying expensive rental counter prices for optional insurance you might like to look into using Bonzah. They offer affordable car rental damage and supplemental liability insurance that’s compatible with all licensed car rental companies. Learn more about Bonzah here.
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