Help me plan a Canadian Rockies road trip
June 13, 2016 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I want to drive from Calgary to Vancouver with my partner, most likely in October. Every aspect of our trip is so flexible that I'm having trouble nailing down an itinerary, plus we've only got a few places we definitely want to see and thus could do with some suggestions.

We are two late twenties British people who would like to see some mountains and lakes. We originally thought about taking the Rocky Mountaineer, but it seemed very expensive compared to what we could do if we planned a trip ourselves, and itineraries around the time of year we want to go were limited. Plus I get bored sitting in one place for a long time, but much less so when I have something like driving to pay attention to.

Timing is super flexible - I'm due a six-week sabbatical from work in the second half of the year and I can negotiate to take it whenever, so if the Rockies are better in late September or early November than they are in October, no problem. We want to spend around two and a half weeks on the North American continent in total, including the drive and a trip to Seattle from Vancouver at the end of it.

Money is also relatively flexible - I've budgeted up to £5k/CAD$9k for the trip, and it looks like we can get flights for around £1k. I could increase this budget a bit if there's an extremely compelling reason; equally, I won't feel at all sore if it ends up costing less than that.

Driving - only one of us can drive (me) and I've never driven an automatic before (because England) but I'm told it's not so bad as long as you ignore the existence of your left leg. I'm used to relatively long drives - my mother lives 300 miles away and I can happily drive that far or a bit further in a day. How far should we be aiming to drive each day/in each stretch?

I'm relaxed about the prospect of highway driving (and I hear the infrastructure is good); I'm much less relaxed about the prospect of city driving and want to avoid as much of it as I can. I'd be tempted to hire a car at the airport in Calgary and ditch it at the airport when we get to Vancouver (get the train downtown or something). Advice on this is very welcome, and on what kind of car to rent. I'd prefer not to drive something as big as an SUV (I've got a large-ish sedan at home and don't really want to go much bigger, plus parking rental cars freaks me out enough when they're not huge) but if it's super necessary for the road conditions I'd consider it.

Route - we want to start in Calgary, and definitely go to Banff, Lake Louise and probably Jasper. My partner has a friend who lives in Whistler and we might visit him and spend a few nights there towards the end, but neither of us are skiers. We want to end in Vancouver and spend a few nights there doing city things, and then either fly or take a train (is one better than the other?) to Seattle, spend a few more nights there, then fly home. Other than that, no idea. What else is good? Where else would you go?

Accommodation etc. - I'm thinking hotels/motels along the way, but I have no idea how feasible that is or what the range of accommodation is like - are there any particularly nice or terrible places to stay. Also I've never road tripped before so I don't know if you're meant to book all of your accommodation in advance or see what you feel like/what's free when you get there (I'm an anxious person and would generally lean towards the former unless it's a bad idea). We both enjoy making a random picnic from stuff we find in supermarkets when we're on vacation - presumably there are stores where we can do this? But also restaurants? Also we're both vegetarian, but I'm confident they have vegetables in Canada.

Things to do that aren't driving - we'd like to have a walk around some national park type places and hang out in nature. My partner does some serious hiking but I don't because my ligaments are made of chewing gum, so we wouldn't be looking to do anything like going up a mountain. I'd quite like to see a glacier, if that's a thing one can do. We don't need a huge amount of entertainment. My favourite thing to do on vacation is turn up and look at some stuff for a bit, maybe eat some food. If there are other things to do that are worth doing, it would be very useful to hear about them.

Hit me with your recommendations! Does this trip sound feasible? What have I forgotten or been blithely over-confident about? What else do we need to plan or prepare?

Thank you!
posted by terretu to Travel & Transportation around Canadian Rockies, BC (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are a lot of questions here, but to answer a few of them:

if the Rockies are better in late September or early November than they are in October, no problem.

Even late September is getting into the time of year in which you can get snow and other nasty weather in the Canadian Rockies. In October, the risk increases. Planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies in early November is madness. "High season" for the Canadian Rockies is July and August; the tourists will die down once the school year starts at the beginning of September. If you can push your trip even earlier, to late August or early September, you'll probably be better off.

I'd quite like to see a glacier, if that's a thing one can do.

You want to drive the Icefields Parkway, which is a scenic highway that runs through the mountains between Banff and Jasper. The highway is entirely paved and generally pretty good; you can see lots and lots of cool stuff from this highway without needing to drive on the types of roads that would require an SUV. At the Columbia Icefield, there are outfitters who will take you out onto the nearby glaciers (either via a special kind of all-terrain bus, or on foot if you prefer.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:03 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about driving through the Okanagan Valley (read: wine region) of BC on your way over to Vancouver? See this previous AskMe for more specific ideas.
posted by Halo in reverse at 8:04 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Timing: Go as early as you possibly can. The Rockies will be cold and likely snowy in October. September is much better. In areas where there are alpine larches, they are a beautiful golden colour near the end of September as well.

Driving: You'll be fine with an automatic; there really isn't anything to it. The issue you may have is that rental cars don't have snow tires and you may run into snow. If you do, be very cautious.

Distances: It really isn't that far between Calgary and Vancouver (you could do it in two 300 mile days), so you have plenty of time.

Rental car: One-way trips can be hideously expensive. Definitely shop around and look at city centre locations as well (airport locations are often more expensive). You don't need an SUV or anything like that. There is really no advantage over a reasonable front wheel drive car for highway driving (in fact, the SUV is more likely to roll).

Accommodation and food: This is shoulder season, so it won't be busy. I think you could happily just book as you go. It may be cheaper to book earlier in the day or the day before online than just showing up, but you will be fine. There are plenty of places to stay along the way and plenty of grocery stores. You won't have any troubles as vegetarians (though in some smaller towns, you might find it a little tougher to find restaurants that work for you).

Seattle: The train is the most pleasant.

Route: This is a big question and really depends on what you like. If you provide more details, I'm happy to help (I live in this area). Here are a few ideas:

1) Head north through the Alberta foothills to Jasper, then take the Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise and to Banff (plenty of glaciers to see and you can ever take a tour to drive around on one if you like). There are also lots of nice lakes and short walks to waterfalls, etc. Plan a few days for this at a minimum.

2) Hot Springs: if you like them, there are plenty around.

3) From Banff, take Highway 1 through to Golden (more National Park). Drive to Takakkaw Falls. Take the bus up to Lake O'Hara for the day (you may want to book this a bit in advance if you can).

4) In Golden you can take the gondola to the top of the ski hill and walk around. You may see the grizzly there (it was rescued and is in a large enclosure), if you haven't seen one yet.

5) Drive south from Golden along the Columbia wetlands (very beautiful). Hot Springs in Radium or Fairmont. Kimberley and Fernie are cool mountain towns to check out.

6) Head west to Creston, north along Kootenay Lake (another beautiful drive) and take the ferry across the lake and drive to Nelson (very nice town to check out). If you like little towns, there are quite a few north of here. I recommend driving up through the Slocan Valley to Nakusp, then to Vernon. Alternately, you can head back up to north to Revelstoke and more National Parks if you want more mountains.

7) Now you are starting into BC's wine country, there are lots of vineyards to visit if you are into wine.

8) You can head from the Okanagan straight to Vancouver or head north to Kamloops and then to Pemberton and from there south through Whistler to Vancouver (mountains, spectacular scenery). If you have extra time, take the ferry to the Sunshine Coast for a day or two.

There is so much to do in BC - what do you like doing?
posted by ssg at 8:31 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The major tourist-business for the Alberta rockies is Brewster Travel Canada. They sell tickets to the Columbia Icefield glacier walk mentioned above, but other things like boat rides on the various lakes, the Banff gondola to the top of Sulpher Mountain, the glacier skywalk over the gorge, etc. You can buy a bundle package to save money.

Lake Louise and Morraine Lake are nice looking lakes (you can rent a canoe at Lake Louise), but for sheer natural beauty, nothing beats Peyto Lake, located along the main highway in between Lake Louise and Jasper. Really, that whole drive is nice so make lots of stops along the way with a tourist pamphlet at hand.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 8:35 AM on June 13, 2016

I once booked train tickets from Vancouver to Portland and ended up in a bus to Seattle and then the train from check first!
posted by chapps at 8:37 AM on June 13, 2016

On Vancouver: you can easily do Vancouver without a car with a combination of TransLink and an occasional cab/Uber, and you can take the Canada Line from the airport to downtown easily. The main reason as a tourist to have a car in Vancouver is to be able to get to some of the outlying natural areas, but if you've just come from the Rockies you're probably wanting to do more city-like things anyway.

I've done the train from Vancouver to Seattle and it is pleasant. However, IIRC there are only two departures a day, one in the morning and one in the evening; I'd book the morning departure if it is convenient for you because much of the appeal of the route is the gorgeous waterside scenery from the train, and by October most of the evening trip is going to be in darkness.
posted by andrewesque at 8:40 AM on June 13, 2016

Please do plan your trip for September. In addition to the warmer temperatures, you will appreciate the extra daylight.

I get the appeal of the road trip but if the cost of a one-way car rental is prohibitive, it is OK to fly from Calgary to Vancouver, rent cars at both ends, and skip the middle drive. It is 1100 km from Banff to Vancouver on a windy mountain highway with very limited services in the eastern portion of the drive. Unlike ssg I was not enamoured of the mountain towns such as Golden, Revelstoke, Kimberley, Fernie - in September, they are not busy. Kimberley gave me a ghost town vibe. Golden and Revelstoke are resort towns - Banff and Whistler are both better resort towns than these, you will be resort-towned out. Nelson is nice. If you could hike or you had two drivers then I would say yes definitely, do the middle drive, but with one driver, I dunno.

If you decide just to rent on either end, you can hit your objectives. In Alberta, you get hot springs, Icefields parkway, glaciers, mountains. I would then consider extending the Alberta portion of the trip east to Drumheller to see the badlands, then head to the airport. On the Vancouver side, I would look at doing the loop around highway 99 to Pemberton (this is one hour north of Whistler) then looping back.

Both the train and plane to Seattle kind of suck. Driving is the best mode of transport. An alternative is to take the ferry or seaplane from Vancouver to Victoria, stay a night in Victoria (visit Butchart Gardens, take high tea, or wander about), then take the Clipper (walk-on ferry) from Victoria to Seattle. You may return the way you came, if you are doing both legs in the same day definitely use the seaplane for the Victoria->Vancouver or Seattle->Victoria link.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:51 AM on June 13, 2016

I drove from Calgary to Victoria a few years back and had a great trip. Banff and Lake Louise were definitely the tourist highlight. But Highway 1 all the way to Kamloops is quite beautiful. Revelstoke is a pretty big town with a lot of tourist infrastructure, convenient for planning. From Kamloops we took the northern route on Highway 99 through Whistler which was amazingly remote and beautiful. Whistler also has plenty of tourist amenities, even out of ski season.

The roads are all excellent and frequently travelled, but not too crowded. You definitely want to go before winter snows come.
posted by Nelson at 9:10 AM on June 13, 2016

You could happily spend two weeks just in Banff and Lake Louise strolling around town, visiting the lakes/falls/hot springs/viewpoints, and going on Brewster day trips to places like the Columbia glacier and various nature walks and trips to gorges and beauty spots.

There is also whitewater rafting, kayaking, cycling and that sort of thing. The gondolas still run up the mountain in summer, so hiking is not actually that strenuous. Banff town museum is small and quirky. And the spectacular/Shining-creepy Chateau Lake Louise and Banff Springs Hotel are worth walking around.

Golden is a bit of a dump tbh (though Kicking Horse is a fabulous ski area if you ever go back in winter). A lot of the whitewater rafting stuff is based near there, but they provide transport from other resorts so no need to stay locally. Calgary is a bit rubbish too, so don't allocate a huge amount of time there (I'm sure it's a great place to live but it doesn't have much for tourists).

The automatic cars are fine once you get over the visceral horror of them starting! To! Move! on their own as soon as you select "drive", even though your foot is completely off the pedal, like they're possessed. Disconcerting as fuck.
posted by tinkletown at 9:21 AM on June 13, 2016

A cheap alternative to Rocky Mountaineer is Via Rail, if taking the train is still an option. It leaves from Jasper and is less than $200 to Vancouver. You can also take your bikes on without having to box them, which will really come in handy for getting around once you get to Vancouver. I've taken the train before and really enjoyed it.

You mention not being interested in hiking, but if biking is an option, I can't recommend biking from Banff to Jasper enough as a way of immersing yourself in the place (takes 2-3 days, and is easy on the joints). Bonus: you can take the train from Jasper after with your bikes!
posted by PorcupineQuills at 9:24 AM on June 13, 2016

You don't have to stop in Calgary if city-driving scares you, the airport is in the north end of town and very near the main thoroughfares, for whichever route you decide to embark upon. Grocery stores are easily found, the main ones are Superstore, Safeway, and Sobeys. Superstore has groceries and a lot of other stuff like household goods, generally inexpensive, so if you go here you could also pick up a cooler and picnic gear. I live in the north end of Calgary, and can recommend this superstore location.

You may want to go with a car that has 4x4 capability and a low gear - important for going down steep inclines. We almost burnt out the brakes on our van this summer, driving to Whistler on highway 99 from the north, through the steep winding areas. You'll likely pass through the same area too if you want to go to Whistler from Jasper. Learn how to use the low gear ahead of time, and take those areas very slowly! pull over frequently!
posted by lizbunny at 11:49 AM on June 13, 2016

Echoing others: go before the snow.

Definitely go at least as far as Jasper. The Columbia Icefield has been mentioned and I second that -- it's an easy place for you to stop and get close to a glacier (most likely the Athabasca Glacier). I do not recommend going out onto the glacier unless you are with a guide or know what you are doing. You will be arriving at a time of year when the glacier has had surface melting going on for most of the summer and trust me when I say you don't want to fall into a crevasse filled with glacial meltwater. But do visit -- it's very impressive -- and if you want to go further then go with an outfitter that knows local conditions and is experienced in guiding people on the glacier.

The Columbia Icefield is interesting for another reason as well -- it sits atop a rare three-way continental divide. Precipitation falling on the icefield can drain (depending on where it falls) to the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, or Hudson Bay (considered in this sense to be part of the Atlantic Ocean system.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:32 PM on June 13, 2016

You have three basic routes - because there is only three roads across the Rockies. I have done this trip a dozen times. None of these roads are like the 300 mile drive to your mums' house, unless she lives in the alps. Even if you stick to the most boring route (Highway ONE) you are going to be driving over at least 6 major mountain ranges.

For every one who's been along for the ride, but especially Europeans, the drive to and from the coast has been an intense experience for them. For locals I would expect Calgary to Van to run about 16 hours. Of driving. Like an adult. Yes, I've done it faster but you will be slower. Traffic is slower (large trucks up large hills) and there likely going got be delayed construction projects in the early fall. Pad your schedule. Stop driving at dusk, and start after dawn as the wildlife will be most active and hardest to see at those times. Get a car you're comfortable with. I've done the trip in an under powered Honda, an overpowered Honda, a minivan and the usual assortment of crap cars college students have. Any reasonable sized car will be adequate to the task. Pay attention to road reports- if it sounds bad it is going to be bad. You are driving over very large mountains - the valley will look lovely, but the passes will, as noted repeatedly by others, be bad. Given time the road crews will clear it. You won't need a 4x4, you will want something comfortable.

Let's start with the route.
I would suggest either the southern route or the northern route. The north route is simple - Calgary over to Banff (which is the popular one) Stay at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise. That's money. And then head north up to Jasper on 93. This will run you about 150-200 for a night. This is my favorite park and it's truly amazing. These sorts of places are all over but should be booked ahead of time. I always wish I had more days to cruise around these national parks - so plan some time there. Traffic in the park will be stopped for the herds of creatures so drive carefully. Turn south at Valemount on highway 5. This is still pretty toursity country so know that even smaller towns will have decent hotels but there will be nothing in between towns. Nothing. Know that from Valemount to Kamloops is the quintessential Canadian experience where you'll be forced to confront your own significance in the face of an unrelenting and unending terrain of mountains and rivers. For miles and miles. So plan your bathroom breaks and snacks. Kamloops is a regional city and ok for a pit stop. From Kamloops it's over to Cache Creek and then you can go down the Frazer river on Highway 1 (fun windy road) to Vancouver or over the Coastal Mountains on 99 to Whistler.

Southern Route.
Highway ONE into Banff Park, Banff city and Lake Louise. Pick your resort - the old victorian hotel linked above is hard to beat. Exit on Highway one over to Revelstoke (which is touristy enough) and then head South on 23. It's a regional highway so it's narrow and small. Stop in shelter bay park, one of my favorites while you wait for the ferry. Take the ferry and know that no-ones actually died on it. Recently. Ponder why the locals love these ferries so much. Next: choose your adventure: continue South on 23 and stay at one of the hotsprings or Nakusp then into the Slocan Valley to Nelson. Or cut back east to go down Kootenay Lake with a stay in one the other hotspring/resorts or Kaslo. You're going to loose some ground here but Nelson is the jewel of the area. It's worth a stay. Leave Nelson and head west but skip Castlegar (except for Indian dinner/lunch) and find yourself on highway 3- Grand Forks is another hippy dippy village and then it's into the Okanagan Valley. I would stay on highway three and go up through the whole valley, which as noted is full of vinyards and other toursity stuff. Kelowna is this region's major city so you can side step it by staying in one of the many smaller spots like peachland or summerland or such. Then it's over to Merritt where get to choose if you want to go down the fraiser (fun) or take the toll road (fast) or head over to Whistler through Lillooet.

Southern route will have pies. Amazing pies. Best pies you'll ever have eaten and you will be comparing pie notes with other fall tourists on where is the very best pies. And cider and wine. And more pies. I should note that the best pies are in the diner in Yak. If it's still open. Which you likely won't be passing through. Sorry. There will be more vegetarian options on the southern route. Big parts of the Kootaney region around Nelson is full of hippies. So Nelson has a full on vegetarian restaurant and a decent tea spot thats open 24/7 Also look to Indian restaurants for veggie options. You can get super traditional veggie borsch in Grand Forks.

Things to do:
WaterFalls. There's lots of them with maps and often relatively accessible. The Northern route is best for this.
Parks. Throughout this trip you will be passing many of the most amazing parks in the world. River parks. Lake Parks. Mountain top parks. Nation sized parks. Many are drive in. Some are even drive through. Personal favs: Kokanee Glacier Park, Glacier National Park and Manning.
You'll be driving by 13 or so Gondolas including Hells Gate. Float plane tour that lands on water and Whistler has a couple operating for short day trips. I've ridden in one. Pretty certain you can claim citizenship if the plane is a Beaver. Helicopter rides are surprisingly affordable. Look for heli-skiing outfits. Off roading is a thing that's more fun than you might think and goes places you would never otherwise go. Horse back riding trades foot and leg pain for ass pain. Recommended in small doses. Zip lines - I love the one at Whistler and my mom was up for it and it wasn't to rigorous. Lake cruises like Banff Lake Cruise or Maligne Lake Cruise.

Forest fires will be a real thing in some areas in the fall. They'll be listed in the news/road conditions and are generally neat. Only actively avoid them if they are near population centers - those ones aren't fun to watch and difficult to navigate around. Weather is also an issue - rain in the valley could be snow in the pass. Reports of "patches of black ice" should be read as death and approached with extreme caution. Locals will honk. Pull over to let them pass. There's also the potential for fog. Most of fall is hunting season so wear bright colors if you get off the road and you're not in a park. The bears won't eat you.
posted by zenon at 1:55 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Correction: Once in the Okanagan valley I stated that "I would stay on highway three and go up through the whole valley" that should be stay on highway 3A which then turns into 97.
posted by zenon at 2:04 PM on June 13, 2016

Canada has a long weekend the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of September after which kids in both BC and Alberta are back in school and traffic volumes on the park highways takes a nose dive. I'd plan to arrive in Calgary during the week of the 5th after the 5th. This gets you the most hours of light and would pretty well eliminate the chances of snow sticking to the roads anywhere on any of your routes barring some freak storm (and even then with a flexible schedule you just grab a hotel for a day and get back on your way).

Mandated snow tire season in BC doesn't start until October 1st. Wrap up your trip (or at least be west of Hope in the lower mainland (IE the outskirts of greater Vancouver) by then and you won't need snow tires, chains, four wheel drive or any other serious winter gear.

I'd rent the smallest car you can sit in comfortably. Gas is cheaper than Europe (currently ~C$1.20/l) but you'll be driving 1300+ kilometres not counting side trips by my suggested route; no use spending more money than necessary on gas. A one up from the lowest tier car (compacts like the Nissan Versa) will easily handle two people plus luggage with space left over for a cooler. The route is paved the whole way so no need for something with ground clearance.

I've never felt the need for any sort of extra low range that a 4x4 would give you anywhere along that route and I've done most of it in either a fully loaded minivan pulling a tent trailer or a huge '60s American car with drum brakes. Pay attention to grade and curve warning signs; downshift the automatic in your rental out of overdrive on steep descents and you'll be fine. Driving an automatic won't give you any problem. Modern automatics don't let you take the car out of park without your foot on the brake so the chance of your car moving unexpectedly is minimized.

Pay attention to your gas tank level. Several of the intervals between gas stations exceed 100kms along my suggested route.

Given your location check list I'd take zenon's northern route. Calgary Airport to Banff is a quick drive of less than two hours on an excellent divided highway (Trans-Canada #1). You are now in a park and you'll be in either a National or Provincial park until you leave Mt. Robson. There are several places to stay in either Banff or Lake Louise though the Chateau Lake Louise is a great choice. They close the road to Moraine lake in September but I don't know exactly when.

Then from Banff head north on 93 (on the Icefields Parkway) to Jasper.

West from Jasper in Highway 16 to Tete Jaune Cache.

South on Yellowhead Highway 5 to Kamloops. You'll pass through Clearwater which is the base community for the south end of Wells Grey Park. There is quite a bit of easy day hiking in Wells Grey and in September it'll be really quiet. You can rent camping equipment in Clearwater if that appeals. Because of forest fire concerns this will probably be the only place you may be able to have an open fire anywhere along your route.

Kamloops has lots of amenities for travelers and is a common stop over point. I'd love to host a lunch or dinner mini-meetup if you stay here. Once you leave Kamloops it's back on Trans Canada Highway #1 west to Cache Creek.

Then from Cache Creek west to Lillooet, Pemberton and Whistler on Highway 99.

Finally Whistler to Vancouver on 99, a road that isn't nearly as scary as it was since it was upgraded for the Olympics. Half this drive is through or bordering more National/Provincial Parks.

There is several months worth of things to see without trying along that route depending on your interests. However I'll mention one other thing off the route. If either of you are interested in paleontology the Royal Turrell Museum in Drumheller would be worth a visit and is an hour and a half drive from Calgary. Along the way is Horseshoe Canyon. Also worth seeing IMO in Drumheller are Hoodoos.

terretu: "I'd be tempted to hire a car at the airport in Calgary and ditch it at the airport when we get to Vancouver (get the train downtown or something)."

YVR is actually south of Vancouver proper, right on the ocean, so maximum city traffic driving by the time you get there. Except not really because much of the drive is via urban highway/freeway. However the SkyTrain goes right to the airport so any rental drop off location near the SkyTrain will get you to the airport with minimal fuss.

The only other town/city of any size along the route I've outlined is Kamloops. The drive through Kamloops is all highway (with only three controlled traffic stops) or freeway. Hotels/motels are located right at the freeway exits.

One is required to slow to 60 and move to the left when passing stopped emergency vehicles on a highway/freeway. Cops will stop along the side the road with their lights on grabbing people for this offense. Traffic fines including for speeding double in posted work zones even if no workers are present. Penalties for driving while impaired kick in at a blood alcohol level of .05 in BC. One is legally required to keep right on multilane highways/freeways unless passing. You are also required to turn on your headlights and marker lights in BC if you have your windshield wipers on.

I don't know what your plans for cell service are or whether your current phone will work in Canada. You can get cheap pay as you go SIMs at 7-11s. However be aware there are places along the route with no cell service.

Finally a warning on wildlife. Unless you are hugely unlucky you will see some combination of bears, moose, elk, deer, goats, and sheep (mountain not domestic (well you'll domestic sheep too)) on your trip. You might also see wolves or coyotes and on rare occasions cougars. You may see people out of their cars approaching said wildlife. Do not emulate these Darwin Award candidates. All of the megafauna in BC/AB is quite capable of causing serious injury or death. Bears can run 50km/h. Give all of them plenty of space and stay in your car if they are along the side of the road.
posted by Mitheral at 7:47 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Re: Food. There is a pretty good large scale fruit and vegetable stand at McLure BC a few hours north of Kamloops. Corn will be in season and is grown right there. One of the best ways to cook corn on the cob is in a microwave so even if you are staying in hotels you can enjoy it.

Also keep an eye out for roadside places selling Bannock. I can't think of a specific place along my suggested route but it is cheap and the fried variety is oh so good.
posted by Mitheral at 12:35 AM on June 14, 2016

When in B.C., check out the Kootenays!
This website has some trip ideas broken down into interest areas.
And the accommodation page has some useful ideas.
If you stick to the main highways, there will be plenty of motels - look for where transport trucks are parked, as these drivers know the services along the roads. Make sure you have an emergency kit (food, water, blankets, flashlights) in case you do have vehicle problems.
There might be some road-side farm booths, selling fruits and veggies. Harvest time is end of August - September and you likely won't find many road-side stalls in October. The Kootenays & Okanagan (closer to Vancouver) are prime fruit growing areas. I like Osoyoos.
Another "be aware of the bears & cougars" advice. If you are hiking or stopped along the highway, wear bells or other noise making devices (for warning bears). The Park's staff are pretty good about posting warning signs, when bears or cougars are in the area.
In October, you may run into nasty weather along the Coquihala Highway. Strongly recommend following this advice.
Personally, I would rent a small camper van or something you can sleep in. There will be lots of clearly marked roadside pull overs (many with bathrooms, info booths and light hiking trails) that can be very enjoyable. As well, there will be camp sites along the way - although I imagine many will be closed by October. Driving automatic is fairly easy - however, from Jasper down to Vancouver, expect steep mountainous terrain. Smaller, compact vehicles will be slower through the mountains. There is a reason why you only see trucks and large SUV's along these roads.
Along the main roads, you will see visitor centre signs, just before coming into a town of 10,000 population or more. They can be very useful stops - and the staff there can advise you what's affordable, hiking trails etc... Some visitor centres many be closed by October.
B.C. is one of the more expensive provinces. Typical roadside motels may run from $65. -$85. CAD a night to $100 - $145 for a hotel. A lot of motels will have small "kitchenette" rooms, where you can cook etc.. There will be chain motels/hotels along the way. The ones along the highways will be more expensive then those in town. Prices tend to drop near the end of Sept. and into Oct. - and for ski towns, prices may go back up by Oct/Nov. . Expect accommodation prices to radically increase as you get closer to Vancouver. For the smaller towns, I do not think you would have to book ahead. Closer to the larger cities - yes!
Be mindful of your time as there is lots to see and do. I would suggest setting up key towns/cities to stop in for a few days, to explore the area around it (maybe car rental from there?).
Whistler has a lot of activities, besides skiing. Lots of easy to very-skilled hiking trails and trams up to the mountains. Very 'touristy' town with lots of expensive shops, restaurants etc...
Have a great trip. Best part of Canada :) !
posted by what's her name at 9:36 AM on June 16, 2016

Feel free to MeMail me if you have more specific questions, I've been living in Banff for about 10 years and am well acquainted with the area (and BC interior), happy to guide you to more info. In short: Definitely September, definitely drive up the Icefield Parkway to Jasper, definitely visit the Okanagan valley (lots of wine fests in Sept/Oct), and you'll definitely have a good time.
posted by furtive at 9:11 PM on July 2, 2016

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