Driving Around in the Canadian Rockies
February 20, 2019 6:38 AM   Subscribe

This summer my husband and I want to fly into Vancouver to see friends and then drive around in some beautiful nature. We will have about ten days, in July. Can you recommend some specific towns or areas to see? I'm also considering maybe driving from Vancouver all the way to Calgary and leaving from there, so let me know what you think of that option.

All tips welcome! Thanks!
posted by something something to Travel & Transportation around British Columbia (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much a beautiful trip - you almost can't go wrong in picking a route from Vancouver to Calgary.

The northern route (through Revelstoke... Rogers Pass) is a little prettier, IMO ... but, during the summer - the southern route is nice with the warmer lakes for swimming...

With the southern route, you can go through "Wine Country" - Peachland, Summerland, Penticton.

Do you like hot springs? Radium, Invermere.

Shopping? Banff.

Lake Louise is simply beautiful.

Going for day-hikes?
posted by jkaczor at 7:09 AM on February 20, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you do decide to drive to Calgary might I suggest skipping Banff and taking the yellow head through Jasper (and past the Columbia icefields!) instead? It's the direct route to Edmonton instead of Calgary, it's prettier, the road is less busy and you don't hit the bus tours doing the circle from Calgary to Banff and back.

Also, depending on what week(s) you're there note that the Calgary Stampede runs early to mid July and Edmonton's Klondike Days are the last week of July. The Stampede is larger and, IMHO, ruins everything. Everything in town is overcrowded, expensive and otherwise unavailable.

If you don't plan on making the big road trip then Vancouver is relatively central-ish to a number of destinations depending on what you're looking for.

Squamish/Whistler/Pemberton to the north, Ferries through the Georgia Straight/SAN Juan islands to the south west, some of the most impressive (Albright cold) beaches in the world to the west on the pacific coast of Vancouver Island, wineries with rolling hills and astonishing lakes (and unfortunately probably wild fires) in the Okanagan to the east. There are also the Olympics in Washington State which one can drive to; there's also a ferry running between Victoria and Port Angeles.

It's a big chunk of the world. If you're considering a 1500km+ drive in the mix. Are there particular sights, experiences and/or activities that you might be more specifically interested in?
posted by mce at 7:13 AM on February 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

The whole route is gorgeous - you won't have a problem seeing nature. There's no shortage of activities too - lake swimming, hiking, wine tours - it's very easy to choose your own adventure!

Banff does get quite touristy in summer, so I second Jasper. Edmonton and Calgary both have a lot of summer attractions and festivals. Calgary is a couple of hours south of Edmonton and it's still possible to deke out halfway and see the dinosaur museum in Drumheller. The badlands are really quite a sight!

The main thing to know about driving in Alberta and BC is that the provinces are huuuuge. They might look close on a map, but pace yourself appropriately so you get to enjoy the scenery as well.

Travel Alberta is your new friend!
posted by Calzephyr at 7:56 AM on February 20, 2019

My husband and I did this trip over about 10 days a couple of years ago. We stopped in Kelowna (wine tours, dinner in the vineyard at Quail's Gate, cycling on the Kettle Valley rail trail), Kaslo (Cody Caves, Ainsworth Hot Springs, Sandon BC), Golden and Banff (Shadow Lake Lodge, backcountry hiking). All these places are recommended.

When driving from Vancouver to Kelowna, we took hwy 1 up the Fraser Canyon, which is a more scenic drive than the more direct route.

Our original planned route was to go further south and stop in Radium, but the forest fires meant a reroute.

My Uncle, who knows these things, says the Bnaff-Jasper hwy is worth the drive. We din't do that, but there were lots of things we didn't see because we elected to stay a couple of days in each place we did stop in.

We started our trip by seeing an IMAX film (Rocky mountain Express) about the building of the railway. that was a good start. Also useful is Pierre Burton's The National Dream and The Last Spike for background reading.
posted by TORunner at 8:07 AM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think you're going to have a lovely time. If the one-way rental costs don't make it impractical, I think the idea of a through trip to Calgary/Edmonton makes a lot of sense. The Calgary Stampede is July 5-14 this year; it's hard to be objective as a local who's been through 40 of the things -- it is crowded, the prices do go up, but I think it's kind of fun how everybody gets into it. If you really love state fairs or are into Western type events like rodeos, consider it.

I think, from Vancouver, the Okanagan valley (Kelowna et al; BC's wine country) is where the scenery starts to get really good, and the Rockies (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay national parks) are spectacular. The drive from Banff to Jasper is great. As others have said, it is a lot of driving, but the roads are reasonable if not US interstate quality.

July is the high season in the parks, so some of the most popular locations in Banff park specifically will have crowds, traffic congestion and possibly time-based closures. I would recommend planning on being in Banff midweek (Tuesday and Wednesday in particular) if at all possible to at least avoid the city crowds; the highway in the park has 40% more traffic on a Sunday than on a Tuesday.

In the mountain parks, I heartily recommend walking a little, you don't have to be big hikers. Last September, for instance, we stopped at Emerald Lake in Yoho. (Which is gorgeous.) The 100 feet of the lake closest to the parking lot had dozens of people taking selfies. We walked for just 15 minutes (along a flat, well marked trail) along the lake, and would only meet someone every minute or so; it's a huge difference.

You could also consider Vancouver Island, which has rugged coastal scenery instead, and can be reached by ferry from Vancouver. Tofino is the Banff equivalent there; touristy, crowded, expensive and still worth it.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:36 AM on February 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would also suggest booking soon - we planned to visit this summer and the dates we wanted were already booked up in Jasper and Banff. They are pretty small towns and people want to visit from all over the world.

But yes it is amazing and you should definitely go. Driving from Vancouver to Calgary/Edmonton would work well, but one-way car hire will cost more than round-trip. Last time we did it we drove back via Wyoming and Seattle, so that’s another option to consider. Definitely do not skip Banff/Lake Louise as they are lovely.
posted by tinkletown at 9:55 AM on February 20, 2019

Best answer: If it's the "driving around in beautiful nature" that is your main criteria, and not the Rockies specifically, I think you can't go wrong with a little side trip over to the Island (and maybe the Gulf Islands, too, if you have time). Some AMAZING drives worth driving there, and lots to see and do in between miles on the road.

One road trip itinerary I'd suggest:
Day 1-2: Take the ferry from Vancouver to Galiano Island. Spend the day (or two). Don't miss the stunning Dionisio Point or Bodega Ridge provincial parks. LOADS of adorable B&Bs to choose from.
Day 3: Take the ferry over to Victoria, a delightful sleepy town with great food options. Drive from Victoria out towards Sooke, and on to Port Renfrew along a STUNNING oceanside highway, stopping along the way at whatever beaches and coastal hikes strike your fancy (I'd recommend Sombrio Beach, just outside Port Renfrew, which combines a nice short-ish hike with a gorgeous beach. If you don't want to hike, French Beach and China Beach both have very short paths from parking lot to beach).
Day 3-4: Drive from Renfrew to Tofino or Uclulet (just on the other end of the peninsula from the much busier Tofino). It's a long drive, but a lovely one. Stop in Chemainus or Parksville for lunch. Spend at least a day or so in Ukie/Tofino.
Day 5: Drive back out to the island highway, and further north to Courtenay. Take the ferry over to Powell River. Toodle about.
Day 6: Drive the stunning Sunshine Coast highway (includes short ferry ride from Saltery to Earl's Cove, and from Langdale to Horshoe Bay/North Van) back south towards Vancouver. Sob because you have to leave the greatest little corner of the planet.

Easy to extend or shorten this trip! Consider a night in Gibsons to break up the Sunshine Coast potion of the trip. Also consider short stops in quaint little Island towns like Sooke, Coombs, Qualicum Beach, which always have a hidden gem or two in the restaurant or B&B department. Also consider, if you have the time, venturing out north and then west from Courtenay to Gold River, a logging town that includes one of the more beautiful drives on the Island between Campbell River and Gold River through Strathcona Park. If you're feeling REALLY adventurous, you could continue north from Campbell all the way to Cape Scott, the northernmost tip of the island, passing through ruggedly beautiful Port Hardy. Really, get your car on the island and drive in almost any direction, and you're bound to hit much beauty!!

Also, I drove the Vancouver-Calgary/Edmonton drive EVERY SINGLE SUMMER of my life when I was a kid, and it never got dull. Both routes are lovely, and both Jasper and Banff are worth seeing (Jasper is slightly less busy). Between the coastal tour outlined above, and the Rockies, you really can't go wrong. My preference is for oceans and coastal highways over mountainous ones, but neither is going to disappoint!

Let me know if you want more specific recommendations for things on the Island, if you choose that option.
posted by Dorinda at 10:42 AM on February 20, 2019

I recommend the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper very highly. Banff and Lake Louise, while beautiful, are usually super busy at that time of year which takes away from the experience for me. If you are in Jasper, you can also come in or leave west and see Mt Robson near Valemount.

Towns I really like are Revelstoke, Golden, Nelson, and Rossland.

When leaving Vancouver, consider driving north past Whistler, through Pemberton and to Lillooet. That highway is spectacular.
posted by sinical at 1:15 PM on February 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

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