Spend 9 days exploring the best of the Canadian Rockies. You'll base yourself in just a few locations to avoid moving around too much and instead spend your days on beautiful alpine trails. Besides having enough time to take in all the main highlights on the Icefields Parkway, you'll also explore some of the lesser-known regions that help you escape the crowds. 

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 Lake Louise to Jasper (3 hours) Jasper
Day 6 Explore Jasper National Park Jasper
Day 7 Jasper to Canmore (4 hours) Canmore
Day 8 Day Hikes in Kananaskis Country Canmore
Day 9 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

Mount Rundle reflected in  Vermilion Lakes
Mount Rundle reflected in Vermilion Lakes

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 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: 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: Day Hikes in Kananaskis Country

Little Emerald Lake, Kananaskis Country
Little Emerald Lake, Kananaskis Country

Kananaskis Country is a region south of Canmore that encompasses 10 provincial parks in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Overlooked by international visitors, this area is held dear by local residents given its lack of crowds, more pristine trails, and equally stunning vistas compared to Banff National Park.

From Canmore, follow the scenic Smith Dorrien Trail (gravel highway) into the heart of Smith-Dorrien Valley and make your way to the trailhead of your choosing. With several peaks over 10,000 ft (3050 m), there are numerous day hikes to choose from.

Day 9: 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 - 9 Days
Map of Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, & Canmore - 9 Days