With 9 days, this is the minimum amount of time you'll want to make the journey across British Columbia without feeling too rushed. After having a couple of days to explore Vancouver and Whistler, you'll head east to the impressive mountains, rivers, and waterfalls of the Canadian Rockies where you'll have shorter driving days and more time outdoors. This route is designed for nature lovers, focusing on the best parks, hidden gems, and ways to avoid the crowds.

Highlights

  • Follow the Sea-to-Sky Highway to the alpine resort town of Whistler
  • Check out the impressive waterfalls of Wells Gray Provincial Park
  • Take a "drive of a lifetime" along the iconic Icefields Parkway
  • Hike in Kananaskis Country, a vastly underrated region of the Canadian Rockies

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver Vancouver
Day 2 Vancouver to Whistler (2 hours) Whistler
Day 3 Whistler to Wells Gray (6 hours) Clearwater
Day 4 Wells Gray Provincial Park to Jasper (3 h 30 min) Jasper
Day 5 Explore Jasper National Park Jasper
Day 6 Jasper to Lake Louise (3 hours) Lake Louise
Day 7 Lake Louise to Canmore (1 h 45 min) Canmore
Day 8 Explore around Canmore Canmore
Day 9 Canmore to Calgary, Depart (1 h 30 min)  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver

Stanley Park, Deadman's Island, and downtown Vancouver
Stanley Park, Deadman's Island, and downtown Vancouver

Fringed by the Pacific Ocean and backed by the coastal mountains, Vancouver is one of the world's most livable cities with some of North America's best cuisine, rich indigenous heritage, and opportunities for outdoor activities. 

It takes around 30 minutes to get from the airport to downtown. The city center and surrounding neighborhoods are within easy walking or biking distance and all the main attractions are a short distance away. To get your bearings, start with a stroll along the seawall from English Bay to False Creek before wandering the historical, cobbled streets of Gastown and Chinatown

With over 60 different cultures, pick from a variety of international restaurants serving anything from Asian cuisine to seasonal farm-to-table dishes. For dinner, choose from a selection of top-notch eateries—from downtown and the West End to the North Shore and Kitsilano. Keep in mind, Vancouverites love eating out any day of the week so be sure to make a reservation if it's a popular restaurant.

Day 2: Vancouver to Whistler (2 hours)

Town of Squamish, outdoor mecca for rock climbing, hiking, and water sports.
Town of Squamish, outdoor mecca for rock climbing, hiking, and water sports.

Begin your road trip north to Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway (otherwise known as Route 99), one of the country's most iconic drives. A scenic route from sea level to the mountains, there are several beautiful spots worth stopping at during the drive. 

Halfway to Whistler—and where the ocean, river, and alpine forest meet—there's Squamish, an access point for outdoor activities and adventure. Just before reaching Squamish, you can see the area's most famous peak from the highway, the Chief, a sheer granite rockface popular with skilled climbers. Pick up the Stawamus Chief Trail for a hike up the back to reach the summit (divided into three peaks and graded as an intermediate hike, it takes the average person 3-4 hours to reach the first—and most visited—summit). Or, take the Sea-to-Sky Gondola up the mountain for excellent views of Howe Sound from Summit Lodge at the top where you can also grab lunch.

You'll reach Whistler, an upscale, chalet-style pedestrian village (and venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics) in the early to mid-afternoon. Whistler is North America's largest winter sports resort worth a visit at any time of year. The village is built around Whistler-Blackcomb, twin peaks accessed by an ultramodern lift system that provides opportunities to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, rock climb, or zip-line in warmer months and ski or snowboard in the winter.

Driving time (Vancouver to Whistler): 2 hours (75 miles /120 km)

Day 3: Whistler to Wells Gray (6 hours)

Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray Provincial Park
Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray Provincial Park

Head northeast, transitioning from the pacific coastal rainforest and mountains to the hot, dry interior of British Columbia's ranch lands. You'll pass through the small towns of Pemberton and Lillooet and cross the mighty Fraser River, entering into the Cariboo region of the province, famous for its gold rush history. 

En route, stop at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park to hike to a series of turquoise lakes that are framed by hanging glaciers and mountain peaks. The first (lower) Joffre Lake is a short 5-minute walk from the parking lot and Upper Joffre Lake (6 miles / 10 km, return) takes more effort but is well worth the views (if you have the time).

From Lillooet, continue east along the Gold Nugget Route toward Kamloops, taking in the changing desertlike scene of sagebrush-covered hills and mostly-barren landscape. In Historic Hat Creek, you'll find buildings from gold rush times still standing—some dating as far back as 1861. Experience the western atmosphere as you tour the grounds, and if you're hungry, dine on suitably western dishes, like bison chili, at the Historic Hat Creek Ranch.

Reaching Kamloops, elect to press on or stop to stroll through Kamloops' heritage center, pick up supplies, and do some shopping. From there, head north to Clearwater, the gateway town to Wells Gray Provincial Park which hosts some of the most impressive waterfalls in the province.

If there's time, consider visiting some of the waterfalls. The closest is Spahats Creek Falls, around 10 minutes' drive north of Clearwater. In another 15 minutes, you'll reach Moul Falls, the smallest and most difficult to reach (3 miles / 5 km, around 2 hours return). Helmcken Falls, the most famous in the park, is an hour's drive from Clearwater. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as you drive to the waterfalls, as this road is one of the best spots to catch a glimpse of black bears grazing along the roadside.

Driving time (Whistler to Wells Gray): 6 hours (270 miles / 430 km)

Day 4: Wells Gray Provincial Park to Jasper (3 h 30 min)

Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park
Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park

From Clearwater, head east and then head north on Highway 5. It's a beautiful drive to Jasper with the highlight of stopping at Mount Robson Provincial Park en route. 

As you pass through Blue River, consider stopping for a wildlife tour to see bears, moose, and eagles or continue on if you want to focus your time at Mount Robson. Once you pass Valemount, you'll catch your first glimpse of Mount Robson's majestic peak at 12,972 ft (3,954 m), the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

You can grab lunch and information on the local trails at the Mount Robson Visitor Centre. For a multi-day hiking trip, the Berg Lake Trail offers stunning alpine views and scenic vistas of peaks, lakes, and glaciers. For a day hike, you can walk the first leg of the Berg Lake trail along the Robson River to Kinney Lake (9 miles / 14 km, round trip).

From Mount Robson, it's only an hour's drive to Jasper. This alpine town is situated in the heart of Jasper National Park, set against a backdrop of beautiful mountains. It’s small enough to explore on foot and has a decent selection of restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s mainly used, however, as a gateway for enjoying the nearby outdoor activities—from hiking, canoeing and white water rafting along the Athabasca River to simply enjoying the viewpoints which are accessible by car.

Driving time (Wells Gray to Jasper): 3 hours, 30 minutes (200 miles / 320 km)

Day 5: 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 6: Jasper to Lake Louise (3 hours)

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park
Peyto Lake, Banff National Park

Head south along the spectacular Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise. You'll leave the forested valley around Jasper and ascend to alpine near the Columbia Icefield. Besides the incredible mountain scenery, keep your eyes out for wildlife along the way—from ptarmigan to bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

Take the entire day to explore this 144-mile (232 km) stretch of highway, stopping at the numerous viewpoints and hitting the hiking trails that veer off into the surrounding wilderness (also a great way to avoid the summer crowds). Expect to arrive in Lake Louise in the early evening.

Day 7: Lake Louise to Canmore (1 h 45 min)

The scenic Bow Valley Parkway
The scenic Bow Valley Parkway

From Lake Louise, head south on the Bow Valley Parkway, an alternate and more relaxed route and one of the best roads in the Canadian Rockies to spot wildlife. This 30-mile (50 km) stretch of road has a number of worthwhile stops, such as Morant's Curve, Castle Junction, and Johnston Canyon. At Johnston Canyon, take a lunch and picnic near the waterfalls and spend time exploring along the banks of the creek.

After stopping in Banff, it's a short drive to Canmore which lies just on the edge of Banff National Park. Canmore used to be a mining town but now serves as a popular back-up location to the busier (and more touristy) town of Banff. Depending on who you ask, Canmore and its surroundings are arguably more beautiful and you'll be closer to Calgary for your onward journey. Canmore is also the gateway to Kananaskis Country—a beautiful region of mountains and lakes in the eastern foothills of the Rockies (yet without the crowds!).

Driving time (Lake Louise to Canmore): 1 hour, 45 minutes (50 miles / 80 km )

Day 8: Explore around Canmore

Ha Ling Peak reflecting in Grassi Lakes near Canmore
Ha Ling Peak reflecting in Grassi Lakes near 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 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 Vancouver to Calgary: Whistler, Wells Gray, & the Canadian Rockies - 9 Days
Map of Vancouver to Calgary: Whistler, Wells Gray, & the Canadian Rockies - 9 Days