Spend 11 days in the outdoors of the Canadian Rockies. Starting and ending in Calgary, you'll base yourself in four locations that allow for nearby access to the best trails and lesser-known regions around Banff and Jasper national parks. This route is best done between May and September and was called the "drive of a lifetime" by National Geographic. 

Highlights

  • Drive the Icefields Parkway in both directions, taking in all the highlights
  • Multiple overnights in the best locations for accessing the backcountry trails
  • Hike through Kananaskis Country, the hidden gem of the Canadian Rockies
  • Experience the Canadian Rockies in a more unique way that avoids the crowds

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Calgary, Drive to Banff (2 hours) Banff
Day 2 Explore around Banff Banff
Day 3 Banff to Lake Louise (1 hour) Lake Louise
Day 4 Day Hikes around Lake Louise Lake Louise
Day 5 Explore Yoho National Park (from Lake Louise) Lake Louise
Day 6 Lake Louise to Jasper (3 hours) Jasper
Day 7 Day Hikes in Jasper National Park Jasper
Day 8 Explore Jasper National Park Jasper
Day 9 Jasper to Canmore (4 hours) Canmore
Day 10 Explore around Canmore Canmore
Day 11 Canmore to Calgary, Depart (1 h 30 min)  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Calgary, Drive to Banff (2 hours)

Banff Avenue in summer
Banff Avenue in summer

Welcome to Calgary, the gateway to the Canadian Rockies! Instead of staying in Calgary, grab any supplies you need and follow the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 1) west toward Banff, a popular base camp for exploring Banff National Park. En route, stop in Canmore for a quick meal and a short stroll. Check out the eclectic PD3 by Blake restaurant where they serve Asian-inspired cuisine from a remodeled 1962 silver double-decker bus.

Banff, a small mountain town located within Banff National Park (Canada's first national park), is one of Canada's most visited destinations and can become quite busy during summer months. You'll find year-round opportunities for outdoor adventures and can access most of the park's iconic sites on a day trip. 

Check out the Banff Park Museum for an introduction to the park and its local wildlife. There's also the Banff Gondola which takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain for a walk along the boardwalk trail (or skip the gondola and hike up for free). From the summit, you'll have great views of the nearby mountains and can also grab dinner at Sky Bistro. Take an evening dip in the hot mineral waters of the Upper Hot Springs Pool (closes 10 pm) before signing off for the night.

Driving time (Calgary International Airport to Banff): 2 hours (79 miles / 127 km)

Day 2: Explore around Banff

Evening reflection of Mount Rundle in Vermilion Lakes
Evening reflection of Mount Rundle in Vermilion Lakes

Spend the day exploring Banff and the surrounding region by foot, bike, horseback, or canoe. (Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center in downtown Banff the day before for the latest updates on trail conditions.) As always, the best time to visit these beautiful natural sites is at sunrise or sunset (and also the best way to beat the crowds during the busy summer months). The early starts may be difficult but well worth the reward!

Day 3: Banff to Lake Louise (1 hour)

Sunrise over Moraine Lake
Sunrise over Moraine Lake

Fuel up on breakfast at Wild Flour Bakery and proceed to follow the Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic alternative to Highway 1, west out of Banff. Take advantage of the short drive to Field with several notable pitstops, the first to trek along the cantilevered walkways of Johnston Canyon. Considered one of the busiest hikes of the park, come early to beat the mob.

Choose between the 1.5-mile (2.4-km) Lower Falls trail and the slightly steeper Upper Falls route. Allow two to two and a half hours to complete both, yet if there's interest, plan for a picnic at the Ink Pots, five pristine aquamarine-colored pools beyond Upper Falls. It's another 1.7 miles (2.7 km) one way, but worth the effort. Next, snap photos of Storm Mountain from a convenient viewpoint west of Castle Junction and take pause at the memorial plaque farther along the parkway to read about Canada's World War I Castle Mountain Internment Camp.

Close to Alberta's border with British Columbia sits captivating Lake Louise. Admire the turquoise lake and backdrop of chiseled mountain peaks and Victoria Glacier before taking to the trails. If time allows, hike the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail (around four hours), an intermediate-level 6.6-mile (10.6-km) route with an elevation gain of 1,198 feet (365 m). Conveniently, the trail leads to the less-visited Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse (closes at 5 pm), where you can down thick-cut sandwiches and cups of tea. 

Devote time to discover the equally beautiful—if not more rugged—nearby glacier-fed Moraine Lake. Hike the accessible Lakeshore Trail along the deep-teal lake (1 mile / 1.6 km) or the 3.6-mile (5.8-km) Consolation Lakes Trail. (Best to come closer to 5 pm when the crowds have thinned.)

Driving time (Banff to Lake Louise): 1 hour (37 miles / 57 km)

Day 4: Day Hikes around Lake Louise

Moraine Lake at sunrise
Moraine Lake at sunrise

The day is yours to explore by foot around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. There are numerous amazing routes that get you away from the crowds and up into the beautiful alpine of the Canadian Rockies. All of the hikes are well marked and regularly maintained. You'll find map boards with trail descriptions at both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake right near the shoreline. Still, don't hesitate to visit the visitor center beforehand or purchase a backcountry map, just to be safe. The intensely blue Lake Moraine gets very crowded during the day, so best to visit very early in the morning and then visit Lake Louise afterward.

Day 5: Explore Yoho National Park (from Lake Louise)

Serene Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
Serene Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

Drive 30 minutes west to nearby Yoho National Park. Slightly underrated in comparison to its neighbour, Banff National Park, Yoho is just as beautiful and is one of the best ways to escape the crowds around Lake Louise. 

A Cree expression for "awe" and "wonder," start the day early to cover Yoho's highlights as well as to avoid the throngs of travelers. Drive to Emerald Lake and allow 90 minutes to walk the 3-mile (5.2-km) Emerald Lake Loop. Enjoy views of the jewel-hued waters encircled by spruce and firs and the snow-capped Rockies, including the iconic profile of Mount Burgess. Make sure to check out Natural Bridge on your way in or out.

Meanwhile, if it's serious hiking you're after, choose from one or two of over 250 miles (400 km) worth of trails. One of the best hikes in the Rockies is the Iceline Trail, a challenging 13-mile (21-km) roundtrip. It will take you the better part of the day (typically eight hours), but the views alone will supply you the fuel to keep going. 

Then there's the wealth of trails that radiate out from picturesque Lake O'Hara with the longest only 4.7 miles (7.5 km). While it's possible to walk to Lake O'Hara (7 miles /11 km), reserve a seat on the Park's Canada shuttle bus (private cars are not allowed on the Lake O'Hara road) to spend more time enjoying the lake and its surroundings. Take the 2-mile (3.2 km) Lake Oesa Trail to climb an elevation of 787 feet (240 m) to overlook the lake. If you're experienced, opt for one of five Alpine routes for a bit of everything: alpine meadows, glaciers, and wooded hillsides.

Day 6: Lake Louise to Jasper (3 hours)

Icefields Parkway and Cirrus Mountain
Icefields Parkway and Cirrus Mountain

Today, take the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper. Lake Louise Village marks the start of this famous 144-mile (232 km) stretch of road which takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery of the Canadian Rockies. Be sure to get an early start so you have ample time to enjoy the viewpoints and world-class hiking trails.

Expect to arrive in Jasper in the early evening. This alpine town is situated in the heart of Jasper National Park, set against a backdrop of mountains. It’s small enough to explore on foot, with a decent selection of restaurants, bars and shops. It’s mainly used, however, as a gateway for enjoying nearby outdoor activities, from hiking, canoeing and white water rafting along the Athabasca River, to simply enjoying the scenic roadside viewpoints.

Just southwest of town is the Jasper SkyTram, which will take you to Whistlers Peak (8,100 ft / 2,500 m). The views from here stretch for miles, giving you a great feel for the town, lakes, and the entirety of Jasper National Park. Aim to go near sunset at the last ride up the mountain.

Day 7: Day Hikes in Jasper National Park

Mountain goats along the Sulphur Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park
Mountain goats along the Sulphur Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park

Lace up your hiking boots and get above treeline in the rugged mountains of Jasper National Park. A general rule of thumb for the outdoors—the greater the effort, the greater the reward! Given the size of the park (it's the largest of the UNESCO World Heritage Parks in the Canadian Rockies), you're bound to find the perfect hike for you and your own corner of wilderness to explore. All the best trails in Jasper are well-trodden and easy to follow, but best to grab a map at the visitor center in town before heading off. Some of the most popular trails are The Valley of Five Lakes, Bald Hills, and Sulphur Skyline.

Day 8: Explore Jasper National Park

Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park
Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park

Spend the day exploring Jasper National Park. Twice as vast as its southern neighbor, Banff National Park, this is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and home to countless lakes, hiking trails, and a variety of wildlife. Many of the park's main highlights are located within the Maligne Valley, a 15-minute drive northwest of town. Get there early (before 8 am) to beat the crowds, stopping first for a short walk to Maligne Canyon, a 160 ft (50 m) deep gorge carved out by the river over the course of 10,000 years. From there, you can rent a canoe or take a guided cruise on Maligne Lake just before midday before heading back to Jasper.

Other popular highlights the hike to Mount Edith Cavell and the cable car that takes you up Whistlers Mountain for panoramic views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Keep an eye out for the park's wildlife at all times, as you're likely to see sheep and mountain goats along the valley trails. 

You can also check out Miette Hotsprings (a 45-minute drive northwest of Jasper) on the same day depending on how much driving you're willing to do (or save it for another day).

Day 9: Jasper to Canmore (4 hours)

Peyto lake, Banff National Park
Peyto lake, Banff National Park

Drive south along the spectacular Icefields Parkway to Canmore. You'll leave the forested valley around Jasper and ascend to alpine near the Columbia Icefield, then cross from Jasper National Park to Banff National Park. Besides the incredible mountain scenery, watch for wildlife along the way—from ptarmigan to bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

It's going to be a long day (190 miles / 310 km) with numerous stops at roadside pullouts and trails that access beautiful waterfalls and vantage points. Consider setting aside time for 1-2 short day hikes that veer off into the surrounding wilderness and get you away from the crowds.

Expect to arrive in Canmore in the early evening.

Day 10: Explore around Canmore

Ha Ling Peak reflecting in Grassi Lakes near Canmore
Ha Ling Peak reflecting in Grassi Lakes near Canmore

Located just outside of Banff National Park, Canmore, like everywhere in the Canadian Rockies, is surrounded by incredible scenery and serves as a great base for exploring the outdoors—but without as many crowds as Banff. Downtown, you'll find souvenir shops, galleries, breweries, outdoor stores and a number of great restaurants. There's also a Mountain Market held every Thursday in summer where you can pick up local produce and artisan products. 

To explore the area, consider renting a bike and cycling the mostly flat Legacy Trail (16 miles / 26 km) between Canmore and Banff for breathtaking views of the Three Sisters and Vermillion Lakes. (Returning from Banff, you can take the Roam transit bus if you don't want to cycle back.)

Canmore is also the closest town for heading off into Kananaskis Country, a park system encompassing the eastern foothills of the Canadian Rockies—a hidden, lesser-known gem containing numerous beautiful hikes and vantage points but without the crowds of the national park.

As far as options go, Ha Ling Peak is a popular hike that takes around 2-3 hours to get up and one hour to get back down. For a longer hike, check out Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge, a moderate 7-mile (11 km) hike near the eastern tip of Upper Kananaskis Lake (around 5 hours return). If you're keen to see wildlife, head to Engadine Lodge and Moose Meadows (a one-hour drive down the Spray Lakes/Smith Dorien trail from Canmore). It's a nice spot for an afternoon tea surrounded by beautiful meadows which are one fo the best spots in the Canadian Rockies to spot wildlife. 

You can also check out the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, a non-profit organization that rehabilitates and houses wolfdogs (part wolf, part dog) from all over North America. They run educational tours that take you through their habitat and raise awareness about this type of breed.

Day 11: Canmore to Calgary, Depart (1 h 30 min)

Quiet spot overlooking downtown Calgary
Quiet spot overlooking downtown Calgary

From Canmore, it's a short drive to Calgary's international airport. Be sure to leave ample time in case of traffic and to drop off your rental vehicle. En route look for signage leading you to the airport.

Driving time (Canmore to Calgary International Airport): 1 hour, 30 minutes (75 miles / 120 km)

Map

Map of Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, & Canmore - 11 Days
Map of Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, & Canmore - 11 Days