- Admire Lake Louise and its backdrop of chiseled mountains and Victoria Glacier
- Paddle the turbulent Kicking Horse River from white water rafting haven, Golden
- Ascend the scenic Meadows in the Sky Parkway to summit Mount Revelstoke
- Don your swimsuit and relax in Canada's warmest freshwater lake in Osoyoos
- Visit Vancouver's Klahowya Village to see First Nations cultural performances
|Arrive in Calgary, Drive to Banff
|Explore around Banff
|Drive from Banff to Golden
|Drive from Golden to Revelstoke
|Drive from Revelstoke to Nelson
|Drive from Nelson to Osoyoos
|Explore around Osoyoos
|Drive from Osoyoos to Vancouver
Day 1: Arrive in Calgary, Drive to Banff (2 hours)
Welcome to Calgary, the gateway to the Canadian Rockies! Starting your road trip adventure from Canada's cowboy capital, collect your rental car and follow the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 1) west and ever closer to the magnificent Rocky Mountains and popular Banff. Pull over in picturesque Canmore, worth a stop for a meal and a stroll, and find a seat at the town's 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 the country's most visited destinations, packed with visitors in the peak summer months. For good reason, Banff provides year-round opportunities for wildlife watching, outdoor adventures, cultural activities, and makes for a great hub for nearby Canadian Rockies icons, like Lake Louise and the Yoho and Kootenay national parks.
Stroll the shop-lined streets to get your bearings as you make your way to the Banff Park Museum for an introduction to the local wildlife. From there, take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain to walk the boardwalk trail. Enjoy the mountain panoramas and stay for dinner with a view at Sky Bistro. And then indulge in an evening dip in the hot mineral waters of the Upper Hot Springs Pool near the base of the cable car.
Driving time (Calgary to Banff): 1.5-2 hours (79 miles / 127 km)
Day 2: Explore around Banff
Before the crowds arrive, find your way to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site to understand how the popular park got its start. Walk through a dimly lit rock-lined tunnel to see the grotto discovered in 1883 that lead to Banffs national park 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.
- Surprise Corner. Great photo spot across the Bow River overlooking the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
- Horseback riding. Join a local outfitter for a few hours on horseback along local trails.
- Rent a bike. Ride the Sundance or Spray River loops or, for something more epic, pedal the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail from Bow Valley Parkway to Canmore, where 14 miles (22 km) are within the boundaries of Banff National Park.
- Restaurants. Dine on T-bones at Saltlik or shareable platters of gourmet vegetarian dishes at Nourish.
- Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Check out exhibits that trace Banff's cultural and artistic roots, from First Nations communities and early explorers to mountain guides and skiers.
- Cascade Gardens. Escape the crowds and take advantage of the classic photo op of Banff and the Cascade Mountain in the background.
- Sunshine Village. Ride the Standish Chairlift over 8,000 feet (2,400 m) for 360-degree views of three alpine lakes and the surrounding iconic peaks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Day 3: Drive from Banff to Golden (2 hours)
Fuel up on breakfast at Wild Flour Bakery and follow the Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic alternative to Highway 1, west out of Banff. Take advantage of the short drive to Golden with several notable pitstops, the first of which is captivating Lake Louise, close to Alberta's border with British Columbia.
Admire the turquoise lake and backdrop of chiseled mountain peaks and Victoria Glacier before taking to the trails (if time allows). Opt for 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 away from the crowds. Then 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.)
It's only a 30-minute drive to Field, the only town within Yoho National Park, where you can get gas and a bite to eat at Truffle Pigs, a legendary bistro known for its seasonal and inventive menu.
In the afternoon, take the time to explore Yoho National Park. If you're feeling ambitious, drive the series of switchbacks (about 30 minutes each way) to reach Takakkaw Falls, the most impressive in the Canadian Rockies (opens mid-June) before stopping at Natural Bridge on your way to visit Emerald Lake. Allow 90 minutes to walk the three-mile (5.2-km) Emerald Lake Loop, taking in the jewel-hued lake encircled by spruce and firs and the snow-capped Rockies.
From here, pick up Highway 1 and meander down the Kicking Horse River valley to Golden. Famous for white-water rafting, Golden sits at the confluence of the Columbia and Kicking Horse rivers, where its central location to six nearby national parks—as well as its proximity to the Purcell Mountains and the Canadian Rockies—offers plenty of outdoor adventure for the active traveler. With not much to see in town, find your way to the Columbia River Wetlands, alive with wildlife, for a late afternoon paddle and dine at Eleven22, a Golden favorite serving upscale Canadian fare in a cozy art-decorated space.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Johnston Canyon. Trek along the cantilevered walkways of one of the busiest hikes of Banff National Park. Allow two to two and a half hours to complete both the Lower and Upper Falls trails.
- Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Boathouse. Rent a canoe to explore Lake Louise on your own steam.
- Lake Louise Gondola. Spot grizzlies on the avalanche slopes, disembarking at the top of Whitehorn Mountain at 6,850 feet (2,088 m).
- Wapta Falls. Hike the three miles (4.8 km) to Wapta Falls, the largest along the Kicking Horse River at Yoho's western entrance.
- Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge. Saunter (or bike) across Golden's Kicking Horse River using Canada's longest, freestanding timber-frame pedestrian bridge.
- Golden Eagle Express Gondola. Ride up Kicking Horse Mountain in 18 minutes to enjoy all-encompassing vistas where you can dine at Eagle's Eye Restaurant at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (Canada's highest restaurant at 7,700 feet / 2,350 m) or spend the afternoon hiking and biking the graded trails.
Driving time (Banff to Golden): 1.5-2 hours (86 miles / 139 km)
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Drive from Golden to Revelstoke (2 hours)
Take advantage of Golden's claim to fame and spend a few hours this morning rafting down the swirling and chilly Kicking Horse River between the sheer walls of the Kicking Horse Valley. Paddle through Class III and IV rapids on the turbulent waters or for something less demanding, opt to kayak a quieter segment in an inflatable kayak (two hours).
Set your watch back an hour to Pacific Coast time and fill your gas tank to take a little detour through Glacier National Park. Stop to check out the Rogers Pass Discovery Center to learn about the significance of Rogers Pass, the area's wildlife, and avalanches and then be sure to traipse the less than a half-mile (400 m) Hemlock Grove Trail through an ancient hemlock forest and then arrive in Revelstoke in the mid-afternoon.
Revelstoke sits on the Columbia River tucked amid British Columbia's Selkirk and Monashee Mountains outside Mount Revelstoke National Park. An outdoor adventurist's (and photographer's) paradise, Revelstoke offers serious powder skiing in winter and an abundance of outdoor summer experiences. Check into your hotel and then see about getting familiar with your surroundings. For a bit of town history, visit the Revelstoke Museum followed by a stroll through town to see 60-some heritage buildings and public art. Cap off the day with a satisfying meal at Woolsey Creek Bistro and linger on the patio.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Center. Go on a 25-minute tour to see Canada's gray wolves (and wolf-husky crosses) in Golden. (Best to come in the morning when they're most active.)
- Canyon Hot Springs Resort. Enjoy the surrounding scenery as you relax or swim in the Hot Mineral Soaking Pool.
- Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail. Hike through an old-growth forest of cedars (0.3 miles / 480 m)—some more than 500 years old—east of Revelstoke.
- Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk Trail. Spend 30 minutes and loop across marshes and wetlands amid malodorous skunk cabbages (May) and the Illecillewaet River (0.75 miles / 1.2 km).
Driving time (Golden to Revelstoke): 2 hours (92 miles / 148 km)
Day 5: Drive from Revelstoke to Nelson (3.5 hours)
Enjoy a quiet morning in Revelstoke. Break bread at La Baguette and then explore Mount Revelstoke National Park with the iconic steep and snaking drive along the Meadows in the Sky Parkway to summit Mount Revelstoke En route, pause at any of the viewpoints for sweeping mountain vistas. Once at the end of the parkway, take the free summit shuttle bus or trek the short half-mile (1-km) Upper Summit Trail to the Heather Lake summit area. The parkway one-way takes 35 to 40 minutes (16 miles / 26 km) and ascends an elevation of 6,500 feet (2,000 m). (Open May to September.)
Leaving Revelstoke, take your time as you drive south along Upper Arrow Lake, stopping twenty minutes out at Blanket Creek Provincial Park to view the 45-foot (13.7 m) cascade of Sutherland Falls and then continue to Shelter Bay. Here, you'll cross the lake on the (free) 20-minute Upper Arrow Lake Ferry to Galena Bay, taking in the picturesque views. Stop in Nakusp, a quaint village nestled in the foothills of the Selkirk Mountains to grab lunch before venturing east toward the sleepy communities of the Slocan Valley, tucked between the Slocan and Valhalla ranges.
For insight into the silver mining history of the area, visit Sandon, the original Slocan Valley boomtown when silver was discovered in the 1800s and British Columbia's best-known ghost town today. Buy a copy of the Sandon Walking Tour Guide inside the historic City Hall and set out on foot to see the highlights. On your return back to Highway 6, stop in at the Nikkei Internment Memorial Center, an informative museum on the site of a World War II-era camp.
Resume the drive to Nelson and today's final destination. 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.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Blanket Creek Provincial Park. View the 45-foot (13.7 m) cascade of Sutherland Falls.
- Halcyon Hot Spring. Indulge in a soak of mineral-rich healing waters with views of the Monashee Mountains.
- Silvery Slocan Museum. Housed in New Denver's 1897 wooden Bank of Montreal building, discover the region's silver rush past.
- Caves and hot springs. Join a guided caving tour of Cody Caves (be sure to make reservations in advance) an hour northeast of Nelson and warm up in the spring-fed horseshoe-shaped cave lined with stalagmites and stalactites of Ainsworth Hot Springs.
- Pulpit Rock. For views of Nelson and Kootenay Lake, set out from the parking lot on Johnstone Road to climb a couple of hours to the lookout, the most frequented Nelson hike.
- Mountain biking. Pick from the many downhill options of Mountain Station or ride the winding Svoboda Road Trail, an old logging and mining road, in West Arm Provincial Park.
Driving time (Revelstoke to Nelson): 3.5 hours (156 miles / 251 km)
Day 6: Drive from Nelson to Osoyoos (3 hours)
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.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Grand Forks. Order a bowl of borscht with a side of pyrahi (baked turnover stuffed with potatoes, spinach, or cheese) at The Borscht Bowl, a restaurant serving Doukhobor cuisine.
- Cascade Gorge Trail. Hike the easy 3-mile (5-km) route, developed along the original Kettle Valley Railway bed in Christina Lake, and see Cascade Falls.
- Rock Creek. Make like a prospector and pan for gold at the Canyon Creek Ranch.
Driving time (Nelson to Osoyoos): 3 hours (162 miles / 261 km)
Day 7: Explore around Osoyoos
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.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Osoyoos Golf and Country Club. Take to its sagebrush-lined fairways for a round of golf.
- Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center. Watch Coyote Spirit and walk the trail through the desert to significant points of interest complete with interpretive panels.
- Mount Kobau. Drive the gravel road to the summit (6,150 feet / 1,874 m) for a bird's eye view over Osoyoos Lake and look out for Spotted Lake, a curious natural phenomenon.
- Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa. Pamper yourself with a spa, great food, and local wines.
- La Stella Winery. Drink the highly-regarded Cabernet-Sauvignon-based Maestoso at this beautiful winery with terracotta roof tiles and floors—a vision straight out of Italy.
Day 8: Drive from Osoyoos to Vancouver (4.5 hours)
Following Highway 3 out of Osoyoos, zigzag your way across southern British Columbia to Vancouver. Stop in the Similkameen Valley to visit a winery or two, 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.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Canyon scenery. Twenty minutes off the main drag, cross the river at the north end of Princeton's Bridge Street toward whimsical Coalmont.
- Othello-Quintette Tunnels. Five tunnels carved out of solid granite of the Coquihalla Canyon.
- Hell's Gate Airtram. Ride the tram over the Fraser River Canyon, a scenic pit stop (and 50-minute detour north of Hope).
- Harrison Hot Springs. Charming village and spring-fed mineral hot springs, popular with families.
- Fort Langley National Historic Site. Heritage-style antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants with interpreters in period costume.
- Stanley Park's Seawall. Just before sunset, walk (two hours) or bike (one hour) the six-mile (10-km) loop around a natural West Coast rainforest with views over the city. Time your walk to hit the midpoint at Siwash Rock and Third Beach for the best spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon.
Driving time (Osoyoos to Vancouver): 4.5 hours (247 miles / 398 km)
Day 9: Depart Vancouver
Head to The Naam (open 24/7) for 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.