This fast-paced road trip takes you from Calgary to Vancouver in 8 days. You'll pass through the dramatic landscape of the Canadian Rockies, the picturesque towns of the Kootenays, and the laid-back wine country of the Okanagan Valley. This itinerary is designed for people who don't mind driving long hours in order to cover a vast region with numerous highlights. 

Highlights

  • Dive into Calgary's and western Canada’s past at the world-class Glenbow Museum
  • Take in the mountain scenery from a canoe on Emerald Lake in Yoho
  • Soak in the natural hot pools of Lussier Hot Springs beside the chilly Lussier River
  • Pamper yourself with great food and local wines at Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa
  • Bike Stanley Park's Seawall Promenade for beautiful water and Vancouver city views

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 Radium Hot Springs (2 hours) Radium Hot Springs
Day 4 Radium Hot Springs to Nelson (4 hours) Nelson
Day 5 Nelson to Osoyoos (3 hours) Osoyoos
Day 6 Explore around Osoyoos Osoyoos
Day 7 Osoyoos to Vancouver (4 h 30 min) Vancouver
Day 8 Depart Vancouver  

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

Two Jack Lake at the gulf of Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park
Two Jack Lake at the gulf of Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park

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 Radium Hot Springs (2 hours)

Sunrise over Moraine Lake
Sunrise over Moraine Lake

Fuel up on an early breakfast at Wild Flour Bakery and proceed to follow the Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic alternative to Highway 1, west out of Banff to reach captivating Lake Louise. Admire the turquoise lake and its backdrop of chiseled mountain peaks and Victoria Glacier. Escape the crowds by taking a short hike and follow the flat 1.3 mile (2 km) Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail or the steep Fairview Lookout Trail for stunning views. Then be sure to visit the equally beautiful—if not more rugged—glacier-fed Moraine Lake. (Have lunch in Lake Louise or be sure to pack a picnic lunch for the next segment of today's drive.)

From Lake Louise, backtrack to Castle Junction and turn south on Highway 93 to cross into British Columbia at the Continental Divide and into the exquisite Kootenay National Park—the only Canadian national park to contain both glaciers and cacti.

Laced with 125 miles (200 km) of hiking trails—from easy walks to challenging hikes through remote backcountry—take advantage of today's short drive to hike through your surroundings. See the red, orange, and mustard yellow Paint Pots at the end of a scenic 0.6-mile (1-km, one way) trail over the Vermilion River. Or tackle the full-day Stanley Glacier Trail through a massive U-shaped glacial valley to end at the crest of a moraine before returning the way you came in (6.3 miles / 10 km).

Nearing Radium Hot Springs, you'll cross the Vermilion and Kootenay rivers at separate crossings, offering pretty views of the milky-green rivers surrounded by grassy meadows and tree-lined hills. Nearly 2 miles (2.8 km) south of Verdant Creek at the Vermilion Crossing, look to the east for Mt. Assiniboine, "The Matterhorn of the Rockies," in the remote Mount Assiniboine National Park. Then pull over at the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint for views that stretch from the Kootenay River Valley to the mountains along the Continental Divide before squeezing through the narrow Sinclair Canyon on your way into Radium Hot Springs.

The town of Radium Hot Springs is home to wandering bighorn sheep and, of course, its namesake hot springs—one of the largest hot spring mineral pools in Canada. Depending on timing, you can go on the 3.7-mile (6 km) Juniper or Sinclair Canyon trail that leads you into the canyon with an elevation change of 850 feet (260 m). End the day with a restorative soak in the outdoor mineral-rich waters of Radium Hot Springs, followed by a casual meal accompanied by a glass or two of provincial wine.

For your accommodation, consider staying in Invermere, a pretty lakeside town south of Radium Hot Springs, only 15 minutes by vehicle. 

Driving time (Banff to Radium Hot Springs): 2 hours (85 miles / 136 km)

Day 4: Radium Hot Springs to Nelson (4 hours)

Fishing boat on Kootenay Lake and
Fishing boat on Kootenay Lake and "BOB" in the background

Get an early start to the day with breakfast at Bighorn Café before heading south alongside the Columbia River, passing by lakes, hot springs, and quaint communities with the every-present Kootenay Rockies just beyond.

For a unique mid-morning break, veer off Highway 93 for 11 miles (18 km) to soak in the natural, rock-lined hot pools of Lussier Hot Springs in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park accessed via a gravel logging road. Set amid a chilly river, you'll want sturdy water shoes to mitigate the slick rocks. Farther south, consider pulling over in the small community of Kimberley to stroll The Platzl, a Bavarian-themed promenade to admire the grand cuckoo clock and choose a cool restaurant for a bite of lunch.

Continue the drive south toward the agricultural town of Creston, setting your watch back an hour to Pacific Coast time as you enter the West Kootenays and continue to work your way toward Nelson. Sitting on the extreme West Arm of Kootenay Lake, Nelson is an artsy town of eclectic shops and restaurants and up to 350 restored Victorian-era heritage buildings, some of which creep up a hill that overlooks the park and beach-lined waterfront. Its main drawcard, however, is the surrounding wilderness of the Selkirk Mountains.

Pick up a Heritage Walking Tour brochure from the visitor center and then walk pedestrian-friendly Baker Street, the city's main drag, to admire the historic architecture. Follow the Waterfront Pathway that runs the length of the lakeshore to hang out next to BOB ("Big Orange Bridge"), the iconic Nelson Bridge, from the shade of a bench or spot on the beach in Lakeside Park. And when it's time for dinner, head over to All Seasons Café to sit under the maples lit with twinkling lights for an artful meal of seasonal British Columbian eats.

Driving time (Radium Hot Springs to Nelson): 4-4.5 hours (232 miles / 373 km)

Day 5: Nelson to Osoyoos (3 hours)

Osoyoos Lake at dawn
Osoyoos Lake at dawn

Wind your way through the West Kootenays this morning, navigating the undulating Highway 3 toward the South Okanagan. Stop in at the Doukhobor Discovery Center in Castlegar to discover the Doukhobor legacy, Russian pacifists who emigrated to the Kootenays in the early 1900s. Before leaving, head over to the Brilliant Suspension Bridge, a National Historic Site and one built at the hands of the Doukhobor community.

Stop in Greenwood, Canada's smallest city. Savor tasty butter tarts from Copper Eagle Cappuccino & Bakery as you complete a short (self-guided) walking tour of the town's historic structures, including a saloon established in 1899. (You can pick up a free guide from the Greenwood Museum and Visitor Center.)

Resting at the arid southern end of the Okanagan Valley along the Canada-US border sits Osoyoos, a small town on a narrow spit of land ringed by the beaches of Osoyoos Lake, as well as the orchards, farms, and vineyards it irrigates. If you arrive early enough, venture a short distance north to sip wines from the Black Sage Bench, renowned for its premium Bordeaux-style grapes. Check out two notable wineries, Stoneboat Vineyards, and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, where you can reserve a table for an exceptional dinner at The Sonora Room.

Driving time (Nelson to Osoyoos): 3 hours (162 miles / 261 km)

Day 6: Explore around Osoyoos

Southern Okanagan Valley and Vaseux Lake, north of Oliver
Southern Okanagan Valley and Vaseux Lake, north of Oliver

A day to relax and explore the surrounding region. Head north to Covert Farms to pick fruits, taste organic wine, and shop the country-style market, an excellent local-approved spot to stock up on supplies. Then, if it's not too hot (Osoyoos boasts Canada's highest year-round average temps), return to Osoyoos to visit the Desert Center. Learn about this very unique corner of Canada, from the pocket desert to its desert dwellers, including 23 invertebrates found nowhere else in the world.

When the warm, dry weather becomes a little too much, head to Gyro Beach or Cottonwood Beach on Osoyoos Lake. There's also Sẁiẁs Provincial Park (Haynes Point), a skinny peninsula that juts into the lake south of town, that affords a narrow beach and a walking trail through the marsh. Dry off and have lunch from an outdoor table overlooking the vineyard at Nk'Mip Cellars, the signature restaurant of Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center.

Early evening, make the short drive to Oliver for dinner at Terrafina, a Tuscan-style restaurant belonging to Hester Creek Estate Winery.

Day 7: Osoyoos to Vancouver (4 h 30 min)

Lightning Lake in Manning Park
Lightning Lake in Manning Park

Following Highway 3 out of Osoyoos, zigzag your way across southern British Columbia to Vancouver. Stop in the Similkameen Valley to visit any of the smaller, less-discovered wineries, like Forbidden Fruit or Orofino wineries in Cawston, or check out the historic grist mill in Keremeos and purchase fresh-picked fruit from any number of roadside stands in between. 

For a taste of gold rush history, visit Princeton and District Pioneer Museum to see pioneer artifacts from Granite City, Chinese and Salish artifacts, and a considerable fossil display. Stretch the legs and experience the lakes and alpine meadows of E.C. Manning Provincial Park. If you have three hours to spare, hike Heather Trail (12 miles / 20 km) to Three Brothers Mountain and enjoy the colorful views: a carpet of yellow, orange, and white wildflowers (late July to mid-August).

Approaching Vancouver, the scenery transforms from the bright sunlit rock faces of the Coast Mountains to misty coastal cedars and tall firs as you near the coast. Have dinner in the suburb of Richmond for some of the best Chinese cuisine outside of China.

Driving time (Osoyoos to Vancouver): 4 hours, 30 minutes (247 miles / 398 km)

Day 8: Depart Vancouver

Sunset over Vancouver from Kits Beach
Sunset over Vancouver from Kits Beach

Grab an early morning breakfast before making your way to the airport. If you're feeling indulgent, splurge on a seaplane harbor tour to take in the magnificent scenery of the mountain-and-sea-dominated city from a new perspective. Alternatively, enjoy some more time at Stanley Park, paying a visit to Klahowya Village via the Spirit Catcher miniature train to watch cultural performances. Here you can also purchase souvenirs and gifts of traditional First Nations arts and crafts from the Artisan Marketplace and Métis Trading Post.

It usually takes 30 minutes to travel from downtown Vancouver to Vancouver International Airport but allow extra time in case of traffic. Best to arrive at least two hours prior to your international departure while allowing extra time to drop off your rental car.

Map

Map of Calgary to Vancouver Road Trip: Banff, Radium, Nelson, & Osoyoos - 8 Days
Map of Calgary to Vancouver Road Trip: Banff, Radium, Nelson, & Osoyoos - 8 Days