With just three full days, this is the minimum amount of time you'll want to get a great feel for the Canadian Rockies. Besides two longer days of driving, you'll be able to focus your time exploring the countless trails and viewpoints along the scenic Icefields Parkway. After returning to Canmore on your last night, it's a short drive to Calgary for your onward journey. 

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 Banff to Jasper (3 h 30 min) Jasper
Day 3 Explore Jasper National Park Jasper
Day 4 Jasper to Canmore (4 hours) Canmore
Day 5 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: Banff to Jasper (3 h 30 min)

Icefields Parkway, a scenic stretch of the Canadian Rockies
Icefields Parkway, a scenic stretch of the Canadian Rockies

Head north along the Trans Canada Highway to Lake Louise (taking the alternate route through the Bow Valley Parkway). Lake Louise marks the southern extremity of the Icefields Parkway, a famous 144-mile (232 km) stretch of highway that winds through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Canadian Rockies.

Before leaving Banff, fill up on gas as there's only one gas station at Saskatchewan River Crossing and prices are high. It's also good to stock up on picnic supplies to enjoy at the viewpoints or on the hiking trails. 

To help plan your day, most people can fit in 1-2 day hikes along with stopping at the numerous roadside viewpoints. As always, get an early start so you can make the most of the daylight as well as avoid the line ups of vehicles that build up throughout the day (especially in summer). Keep in mind that the Icefields Parkway has little to no mobile reception, so expect to be disconnected during the drive. 

Expect to arrive in Jasper early evening. This scenic town feels less 'touristy' than Banff and serves as a convenient basecamp for the impressive hikes and beautiful scenery of Jasper National Park. 

Day 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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 - 5 Days
Map of Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff, Lake Louise, & Jasper - 5 Days