- See displays of Wild West heritage during the lively Calgary Stampede in July
- Trek the intermediate Plain of Six Glaciers Trail to have tea in Lake Louise
- Admire the historic architecture of artsy Nelson and hang out next to BOB
- Discover Okanagan wine country and sip wines from the Black Sage Bench
- Wander the cobbled streets of Vancouver’s historic Gastown
|Welcome to Calgary!
|Drive from Calgary to Banff (1.5 hours)
|Drive from Banff to Field (1.5 hours)
|Drive from Field to Radium Hot Springs via Golden (2 hours)
|Radium Hot Springs
|Drive from Radium Hot Springs to Nelson (4 hours)
|Explore around Nelson
|Drive from Nelson to Osoyoos (3 hours)
|Explore around Osoyoos
|Drive from Osoyoos to Vancouver (4.5 hours)
|Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology, Kits Beach, & Stanley Park
Day 1: Welcome to Calgary!
Welcome to Calgary, the gateway to the Canadian Rockies! Nicknamed "Cowtown" due to the city's ranching heritage, Calgary's cowboy culture today is most evident for 10 days in July during the Calgary Stampede, touted as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." Though in more recent times, Calgary has become a hip and sophisticated city offering year-round entertainment with plenty of shopping, dining, and nightlife options as well as cultural activities. Not to mention, Calgary's proximity to Canada's Rocky Mountain national parks adds to its allure.
It's a quick 20-minute drive from the airport to downtown if you opt to pick up your rental at the airport or it's about 45 minutes by bus. The city center is easily walkable and it's a short taxi ride away to attractions slightly farther afield. Depending on time and interest, explore a couple of Calgary's neighborhoods to get a feel for the city as well as hit up a few major attractions, namely the impressive Glenbow Museum. Stroll through the East Village to the 1912 Simmons Building for a bite to eat and continue to Inglewood, Calgary's oldest (and hippest) neighborhood for cool eateries and boutique shopping.
In the evening, head to 17th Avenue, the entertainment district complete with some of the city's top restaurants and bars or consider Kensington and Stephen Avenue, downtown. Known for its Alberta beef, order a hearty steak from any of the city's choice restaurants. Try Caesar's, a Calgary institution, or Vintage Chophouse & Tavern. For seasonal Canadian cuisine, you can't go wrong with River Café, long considered one of Calgary's best restaurants. For the contemporary tastebuds, there's Model Milk, a former dairy turned hip restaurant serving modern fare. Wherever you choose to go, it's wise to make reservations well in advance.
- National Music Center. Glean insight into Canada's musical history with cool artifacts (Elton John's piano) and interactive displays at this highly entertaining hotspot in Studio Bell.
- Calgary Tower. Listen to the free audio tour for historical background and points of interest from the world's highest 360-degree observation deck at 627 feet (191 m) above the city.
- Canada Olympic Park. Get an adrenaline rush and luge, zip-line, or fly down the bobsled track at the 1988 Winter Olympic's venue.
- Ten Foot Henry. More of an herbivore? This vegetable-forward restaurant serves family-style plates.
Day 2: Drive from Calgary to Banff (1.5 hours)
Wake up the senses with a fried chicken and pancakes breakfast from Blue Star Diner in Bridgeland (across the Bow River) before collecting your rental car (if you haven't already done so). Then step back in time with a visit to Heritage Park Historical Village just south of town. Canada's largest living history village, you can roam 127 acres (51 ha) of re-created town where all the buildings are from 1915 or earlier.
When you're ready, hit the road and begin the road trip portion of your trip, saying farewell to the country's cowboy capital as you 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 hours (79 miles / 127 km)
Day 3: Drive from Banff to Field (1.5 hours)
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.)
It's only a 30-minute drive to your accommodation in Field, the only town within Yoho National Park, so stay in Lake Louise as long as you like taking Highway 1 into British Columbia when you're ready.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Short hiking alternatives. 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.
- 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).
- Ride horseback to Lake Louise's historic teahouses. Select the three-hour Lake Agnes Teahouse ride or the four-hour Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse ride. (Tours departing daily at 9 am and 1 pm.)
Driving time (Banff to Field): 1.5 hours (52 miles / 84 km)
Day 4: Drive from Field to Radium Hot Springs via Golden (2 hours)
Spend the better part of the morning discovering Yoho's most accessible highlights, getting an early start to avoid the throngs of travelers. 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, follow Highway 1 on your way out of the park toward Golden, famous for white-water rafting and kayaking on the Kicking Horse River, and stop for lunch with a view. Step aboard the Golden Eagle Express Gondola up Kicking Horse Mountain to eat at the Eagle's Eye Restaurant and then pick up Highway 95 south to Radium Hot Springs, just over an hour's drive away in the rugged mountain wilderness.
Located at the southern boundary of Kootenay National Park, 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. Drive the 10 miles (16 km) east of Radium for sweeping vistas of the Mitchell and Vermillion Mountains and the Kootenay River below and then on the way back, pull over to go on a short hike. Opt for 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).
Complete the day with a warming 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.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Wapta Falls. Hike the three miles (4.8 km) to Wapta Falls, the largest along the Kicking Horse River at Yoho's western entrance.
- Eleven22. A Golden favorite serving upscale Canadian fare in a cozy art-decorated space.
- Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge. Saunter across Golden's Kicking Horse River using Canada's longest, freestanding timber-frame pedestrian bridge.
- Mount Assiniboine National Park. Nicknamed "The Matterhorn of the Rockies," the pyramid-shaped Mt. Assiniboine is the focal piece of the park offering plenty of rock climbing, hiking, and photography opportunities. (Inaccessible by road, you have to hike or helicopter in.)
- The Home of A Thousand Faces. Meet the Radium Woodcarver and see the eccentric artist's large chainsaw-made carvings just outside of town.
- Guided or self-guided paddle. Discover the Columbia Valley wetlands from the vantage of a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, just south of Radium.
Driving time (Field to Radium Hot Springs): 2 hours (99 miles / 160 km)
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Drive from Radium Hot Springs to Nelson (4 hours)
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.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Lake Windemere. Stop for a swim at the sandy beaches of the charming Invermere's in-town lake.
- Ktunaxa Interpretive Center. Outside of Cranbrook, learn of the Ktunaxa First Nations history from the first floor of the St. Eugene Resort, the former mission and residential school for indigenous students.
- Fort Steele Heritage Town. If you like history, pay a visit to the living history village to experience life back in the gold rush days of the 1860s.
- Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery. Make a reservation in advance to sample superb cool-climate wines of the Creston Valley.
- The Glass House. Pick up Highway 3A for an alternate route to Nelson to see the unusual 1950s home of former funeral director, David H. Brown, made up of 500,000 empty embalming fluid bottles
Driving time (Radium Hot Springs to Nelson): 4-4.5 hours (232 miles / 373 km)
Day 6: Explore around Nelson
In spring and summer, there are a host of outdoor activities to experience from kayaking and canoeing deep-blue Kootenay Lake to hiking and mountain biking nearby trails. At the same time, the closeby Selkirk Mountains (and magnificent Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park) in the winter provide conditions for world-class skiing and snowboarding. Meanwhile, as a cosmopolitan city, Nelson boasts more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, blocks of specialty and boutique shops, and access to numerous spas.
Today is yours to spend as you like. To satisfy your breakfast needs, watch the world float by over coffee and baked goods from local favorite, Oso Negro. Then consider paying a mid-morning visit to Touchstones Nelson, a museum of local history and art that features modern displays of First Nations, explorers, miners, and the Doukhobors as well as Nelson's contribution to World War I.
If you're looking to get outdoors, head to the visitors center for up-to-date information on road and hiking trail conditions before venturing into the remote wilderness surrounding Nelson. For some of the best trails, drive into Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. Here you can hike the two-hour summer-only circuit to Kokanee Lake uphill from Gibson Lake (2.5 miles / 4 km). Driving out the way you came in, and before turning west, you'll find Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, a perfect place to plonk your towel anywhere on the half-mile stretch of sandy beach.
Come the evening, make your way to the Hume Hotel to listen to live jazz from your cozy candlelit spot in the elegant Library Lounge after dining on "Viet-Modern" cuisine at Yum Son or wood-fired pizzas at Marzano's.
Recommended stops and activities:
- Cottonwood Falls Park. Relax in peaceful environs and see the misty falls cascade beneath the highway overpass off Baker Street.
- 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.
- Nelson-Salmo Great Northern Trail. Hike at least the first 3.7 miles (6 km) of the former Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line from the corner of Cherry and Gore Streets.
- 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.
- Kokanee spawning. At the end of summer, be sure to see the spawning kokanee (freshwater salmon) accessed from the visitors center of Kokanee Creek Provincial Park.
Day 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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.
Driving time (Osoyoos to Vancouver): 4.5 hours (247 miles / 398 km)
Day 10: Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology, Kits Beach, & Stanley Park
In the morning, head southwest of downtown to the University of British Columbia's ("UBC") campus to dedicate a couple of hours to explore the Museum of Anthropology, a great introduction to the history of the Pacific Northwest. Showcasing spectacular First Nations totem poles and impressive carvings, join a free daily tour to get a better understanding of British Columbia's rich indigenous history.
After that, make your way along the coast to Vancouver's trendy beachside suburb of Kitsilano (locally referred to as "Kits") for an afternoon of picnicking on the beach and swimming in the ocean or the outdoor saltwater pool. From Kits' shoreline, you have some of the best views in the city of Vancouver's skyline and nearby Coastal Range.
Walking distance from Kitsilano, head over to Granville Island, checking out the restaurants, gift shops, fresh food markets, and local boutique shops that reflect the island's maritime heritage. For a deep-dive of the island's culinary offerings, join a walking food tour that takes you through the bustling Granville Island Public Market.
Just before sunset, work up an appetite by walking (two hours) or biking (one hour) around Stanley Park's Seawall, a 6-mile (10-km) loop around a 400-hectare 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.
- Bard on the Beach. Catch a Shakespeare play in beautiful Vanier Park overlooking the city.
- Science World. Witness the wonderful world of science with hands-on displays in a 17-story geodesic-shaped dome (great for kids).
- Vancouver Aquarium. Learn about Pacific Canada's sea life at Canada's largest aquarium in Stanley Park.
- VanDusen Botanical Garden. Get lost in an Elizabethan hedge maze in this popular botanical garden.
Day 11: 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.