The tank is full, drinks and snacks in the cooler, boots are laced up, and cameras are ready. You have all the essentials for a thrilling experience of a lifetime.
Oh yeah, do not forget the bear spray! That might come in handy on this Canada road trip we have in mind for you.
This will be truly a life-changing journey whether you tackle this adventure with loved ones or want to seek solitude and serenity.
Buckle up and be prepared to feel like you are standing on the edge of the world along this Canada road trip.
We are driving straight to the Canadian Rockies and exploring four majestic national parks along the way. Be prepared to have your breath taken away with scenic beauty at every turn along this Canada road trip that will leave you with memories you will never forget.
Where to Begin Your Canada Road Trip?
If you do not reside within close proximity of the picturesque Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, or Yoho National Parks, then flying into Calgary or Edmonton, Alberta is the best bet to begin your journey. The perfect starting location is up to you.
Edmonton is located three hours due north of Calgary with Jasper National Park situated roughly 3-3.5 hours west of the province capital. Calgary, the largest city in Alberta, sits at the foothills of the mountains just over an hour’s drive from Banff National Park. Once you cross the gorgeous mountain town of Canmore, you know the fun is just beginning.
While the Canadian Rockies are easily accessible from either city, my recommendation is to begin the trek from Calgary. The eager wait to watch the horizon morph from high-rises to mountains will be much more bearable with Calgary as a launching pad.
*Insider tip – Beginning your exhilarating Canada road trip from Calgary will allow you to make the breathtaking and often overlooked pit stop of Kananaskis Country. This gorgeous stretch of scenery is a peaceful and rustic getaway from the cornerstones of urban life. The region has been utilized to film multiple Hollywood films such as The Revenant and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
A Canada Road Trip Checklist
After you have arrived at your basecamp for the trip (I am going to assume Calgary) and picked out a suitable rental car, step one will be to stock up on snacks and drinks (a refillable water bottle is a plus). Prices can get hefty once you reach Banff National Park and stops can be hard to find outside of the few small towns along our route which we will discuss momentarily.
Make sure to pack a variety of clothes and be prepared for a diverse range of weather. If you wish to marvel at all the natural phenomena the Canadian Rockies have to offer, then you will likely visit during the high tourist season from June-August.
While the daytime temperatures normally hit a comfortable 70+°F, record highs in the past have soared into the 90s. Once the sun sets, the temperature plunges into the 40s or below. Quite chilly indeed. Not a bad idea to bring some sweaters and sweatpants despite your Canada road trip being in blissful summer. Wear layers of clothing so you are well prepared for all types of weather shenanigans.
And bring proper hiking shoes! The last thing you want is a sprained ankle when you hop out of the car to explore.
If you plan on taking lots of photographs, then a high-quality camera or a fully charged smartphone should be in your bookbag at all times. You will want to take footage every few minutes of the ride so lots of battery and storage is crucial.
Highlights of our Route
Now for the exciting part! Where is this extravaganza going to take you? For this scenic route, you will loop around all four gorgeous national parks that straddle the border of Alberta and British Columbia.
After departing Calgary, you want to merge onto Highway 1, otherwise known as the Trans-Canada Highway. Highway 1 will carry you through Kananaskis Country, Canmore, and into the heart of the jaw-dropping town of Banff. Along the way, you will gain perfect views of the turquoise blue water of the Bow River winding through the countryside.
The town of Banff is a must do and is the ideal place to stretch your legs and get a bite to eat at a traditional restaurant. If you would like to take a slight detour from Banff, check out Lake Minnewanka for lots of possibilities to get up close with nature.
Got extra time to kill in Banff? If so, enjoy tranquil walks around town or take a ride on the Banff Gondola for stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
Continue along the Trans-Canada Highway until crossing the border into British Columbia and enter the wonders of Kootenay National Park. The route along Highway 93 southbound will provide breathtaking highlights excluded on the typical itinerary within the Canadian Rockies. Amazing destinations where you could have a relaxing afternoon include Numa Falls and Marble Canyon.
After your journey along Highway 93 ends, merge onto Highway 95 northbound to drive from Radium Hot Springs to Golden. The route between these two welcoming towns will traverse straight through the Columbia Valley which provides marvelous views of the Rocky Mountains and Bugaboos.
Hopping back on the Trans-Canada Highway will present imagery of your third national park, Yoho. As you drive back towards Alberta, you will be captivated by more mountain ranges that rise high into the sky. Takakkaw Falls and Emerald Lake present ideal stopping locations as you prepare for the last leg of this mesmerizing Canada road trip.
Weave along the Trans-Canada Highway into Alberta until you reach Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, two of the crown jewels of the Canadian Rockies. Although these two deep-blue glacial lakes are the most popular tourist attractions, they are an absolute must-see!
From Lake Louise, begin the world-renowned trek along the Icefields Parkway up to the beautiful town of Jasper. Every turn provides jaw-dropping scenery that will make your heart skip a beat. The highway will appear it is soaring into the heavens in the distance then out of nowhere, there is a giant glacier melting into an unbelievably blue lake.
Some of the most breathtaking sights along the famous Icefields Parkway include Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Columbia Icefield, Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Falls. Along the way, come face to face with loads of Canadian wildlife grazing in their natural habitat. The sheer number of enchanting mountain ranges, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and more makes this one of the most sought after road trips around the globe.
That is why we saved the Icefields Parkway for last on your epic ride!
1. What are costs I might overlook on my road trip?
The National Parks you will be exploring all require daily entry fees and can add up in a hurry the longer your trip lasts. Daily rates per adults are $9.80 or $19.60 for a group within one vehicle. Passes expire at 4:00p.m. the next day regardless of the time you purchase it. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass can be purchased for $67.70 per adult or $136.40 for a group. If you are hoping to make your Canada road trip last as long as possible, then a Parks Canada Discovery Pass may be a money saver.
2. What are my accommodation options?
You have a plethora of lodging options in the Canadian Rockies ranging from hotels and hostels to RV parks and campsites. If you are on a budget and do not mind sleeping in the woods, then camping out may be your best bet to save on funds. A booking at a hotel or hostel may require reservations months in advance during the summer season. Many options may be fully booked or prices can sky rocket should you wait until the last minute to make reservations.
3. So, do I really need bear spray?
If you plan on staying in touristy areas where humans tend to mingle together, then bear spray may not be essential. However, any ventures that involve hiking, biking, trail running, or camping will be made safer with bear spray available. You can travel in groups, make lots of noise, and avoid areas known for bears to avoid an encounter, but having bear spray as a last resort is never a bad backup plan to have.
Time to Hit the Open Road!
A Canada road trip through the natural wonders of the Rockies is a truly once in a lifetime expedition. Leave no stone unturned and make the most out of every single sight along the way.
You will not regret it!