- 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
|Arrive in Calgary, Drive to Banff (2 hours)
|Explore around Banff
|Banff to Jasper (3 h 30 min)
|Day Hikes in Jasper National Park
|Explore Jasper National Park
|Jasper to Canmore (4 hours)
|Explore around Canmore
|Canmore to Calgary, Depart (1 h 30 min)
Day 1: Arrive in Calgary, Drive to Banff (2 hours)
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
Before the crowds arrive, head to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site to learn how the Banff National Park got its start. You'll walk through a dimly lit rock-lined tunnel to see the grotto discovered in 1883 that lead to the park's designation and then enjoy a morning hike choosing from one of the hundreds of options available. Pick up park maps and hiking tips (and bear spray) from the Banff Visitor Center.
For a challenge, arrange a guided climb (three hours) on the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata (Italian for 'iron way') following a protected climbing route as you clip into a series of fixed iron cables. An easier option (and one of the best hikes from the town center) is to take the Bow River and Hoodoos trails. Starting at Gopher Street, hike past the Bow Falls and Surprise Corner to the hoodoos, odd-looking limestone rock spires (6.3 miles / 10.2 km roundtrip).
To satisfy your post-hiking appetite, head to Bear Street Tavern and then take to the water on a one-hour cruise of Lake Minnewanka. If you have the energy to spare, consider renting a canoe or kayak instead. Toward dusk, look for wildlife—beavers, elk, ospreys, and bald eagles—along the shores of tranquil Vermilion Lakes followed by pre-dinner drinks and Mediterrasian tapas at Block Kitchen & Bar. Then hang out with real live cowboys as you two-step the night away at Wild Bill's Legendary Saloon.
Day 3: Banff to Jasper (3 h 30 min)
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.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Day Hikes in 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 5: Explore 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 6: Jasper to Canmore (4 hours)
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 7: Explore around 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 8: Canmore to Calgary, Depart (1 h 30 min)
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)