What's the best route from Vancouver to Winnipeg?
May 28, 2004 6:46 PM   Subscribe

As part of a very large road trip I'm taking later in the summer, I'm planning on driving from Vancouver to Winnipeg. What's the best route, for scenic/cultural reasons or otherwise? Should I stay on Highway 1, cut up to Highway 16, or use something else?
posted by mrbula to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you'd like the scenic route and not the trucker's route, I'd take the Yellowhead, as Northern Saskatchewan is MUCH nicer up north. When it comes to Saskatoon vs. Regina, there's no contest.

Nothing against the 'gappers' (people from Saskatchewan), but Highway #1 in that province is bereft of scenery and is unsafe. Central Saskatchewan, on the other hand, is a hidden North American paradise that I'd bet few even know existed.

Plus, you'd get to see the Happy Rock. yay.
posted by sleslie at 7:29 PM on May 28, 2004

When heading out of BC into Alberta, you might want to wrangle a route that uses the Coquihalla tollway -- I rather liked it.
posted by aramaic at 8:24 PM on May 28, 2004

As an interior BC resident, I can assure you the Coq isn't worth it. Pretty enough, but it's damn difficult to have an ugly drive through out mountains.

If you have time and haven't had a lot of mountain scenary in your life, I strongly recommend spending several days doing the Jasper-Banff run. It is exceptionally pretty. It will cost you: there's a toll on that particular highway, plus there are national park fees.

Failing that, I recommend doing some loopy driving: Calgary, south to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump museum; south-west to Glacier National Park, where you should at least spend two days touring; Frank Slide and its museum, very stunning (it's worth walking up Turtle Mtn); cut North along the Kannanaskis, which is beautiful, with a walk up Mt. Indefatigable; day in Banff walking the Valley of the Seven Glaciers; south through the East Kooteneys; North through the West Kooteneys, along the east shore of the lake to Nelson/Kaslo (beware the ferry traffic: arrive *very* early; and do make the side-tour into the Park); North to Kaslo, West to New Denver, North to Nakusp (and you *must* go to the Hot Springs, Nakusp or Halcyon, either will do; avoid Fairmont, it's filthy these days); North to Revelstoke (look at the dam, it's world-class huge); West to Sicamous or Salmon Arm, then South through the Okanagan to Osoyoos (do winery tours, eat much fruit); West to Princeton and then to Vancouver through stunning mountains.

That route makes your trip about ten times longer than it needs to be, but covers everything interesting.

If you are a day-hiker/backpacker/motorcyclist, speak up: I've trekked endless over in this area.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:40 PM on May 28, 2004

You'll have to go to Dinosaur Prov. Park, too, at Drumheller. And I, personally, hate the East Kooteney valley, so if you were instead to go Banff-Revelstoke, you'd then go down the West Kooteneys, West to Osoyoos, dink about the sourth end of the Okanagan, and then pop the Princeton-Vancouver link. Cuts a few days travel time off that way.

Get a brake check before you leave. Many of the BC highways have extended steep grades. The one between Castlegar and Christina lake always blows me away.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:43 PM on May 28, 2004

I second Banff-Jasper, although it might be a tad crowded (Banff area especially). As a kid I always liked Malign Canyon, and the Athabasca Falls.

Skip Lake Louise. Crowded as all hell, not worth it in my view.

Probably don't bother with Drumheller (IMHO) if you've already been through the Montana Badlands, unless you're headed through there anyhow.

As far as Saskatchewan goes, the Qu'appelle valley isn't bad, if you end up in southern Saskatchewan. If you hit the seasons right, Saskatchewan can be pretty beautiful, with the various crops turning all different colors.

And FFF is right: check your brakes first or it'll be a terrifying ride.
posted by aramaic at 9:10 PM on May 28, 2004

Banff-Jasper will be crowded. No mights or tads about it. It's all worth seeing at least once as an adult. Do stop at Malign Canyon, Mt. Edith Cavell, and Athabasca Glacier (free displays in the snowbus depot).

If you're going to go walkies, the mountain immediately behind the snowbus depot is an easy summit; scramble the cliffs (they get lower toward the south, but with more scrub bush) and then head to the edge and follow it closely. DO NOT cross any snowbank slopes, they are lethally unstable and go avalanche in a heartbeat. There's a bit of a crux before the true summit, with a kilometer fall off either side. On a clear day, the view is easily the best in the west: a valley from horizon to horizon, a semi-ring of glaciers, some of them perhaps calving, a plains that sweeps into the distant hills. Simply astounding, best view for the least effort you'll ever find.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:51 PM on May 28, 2004

Thanks all, this is great information.
posted by mrbula at 10:41 PM on May 28, 2004

I'll add my voice to the chorus of people recommending the Icefields Parkway if you have the time. Back when I visited (~10 years ago, granted) there was an outfit that would take you on a hike on the Athabasca glacier, with proper safety equipment and everything. You get a better sense for the ice when you're walking on it as opposed to driving, I think.

Riding Mountain is also worthwhile if you can get to it, if only for the escarpment trail. If you can arrange two cars, hiking down it is a lot of fun. Hiking up, not so much.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:00 PM on May 28, 2004

So tell us more about your plans, mrbula, so we can help you better.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:11 PM on May 29, 2004

I want to marry five fresh fish, he's my dream man. If he is a man. If not, well, we can still get married here!

A route to the prairies that I love is Vancouver onto the Crows Nest (stop at Fort Steele and swim in Christina lake), through to Alberta then hit head-smashed-in-buffalo-jump, north to Calgary and then head through Sask via Saskatoon if you can. It really depends on how much time you have. Dinosaur park is a lot of fun, you can hunt for dinosaur bones. That you don't get to keep. Which sucks.

If you cut north instead, pull over to look at "Chasm". That's all the signs say. Not "The chasm" or "a chasm", just "chasm". It's the natural world's version of Cher, only not very showy.

Winnipeg, eh? Take bug spray.
posted by Salmonberry at 11:17 PM on May 29, 2004

Er, married, sorry.

Crowsnest is awesome hiking territory. Mt. Tecumseh is a great day-time scramble: start early in the morning before the glacial waters start running, and you can have a blast cragging and bouldering the slickrock streambed. Plus it has some interesting cruxes, a wonderful view, and a great glissade on the downtrip.

Then there's Turtle Mtn, which is best approached from the west (the east side is just a long bushy slog; the west has a series of stair-step scrambles that at least make it all more interesting. Be very, *very* careful when you push boulders over the edge: the entire mountaintop is inherently unstable, and it'd be damnably easy to follow the rock over. And pray you don't set off a second landslide.

There's also a ton of excellent abandoned coalmining sites and seams to explore. Drop a boulder down a shaft and listen to it rumble for a good thirty seconds ... hella deep holes! There's an exposed-seam "notched" high hill, too, that is a blast to scree-run. Just avoid stepping on the smooth-looking patches: turns out they're solid, and have no grip. Hurts to land on them.

Finally, there's the Promised Land caving area. We've done some minor, silly spelunking through there. Probably extremely dangerous, given our naivety re: how to do it, but it looks like we survived. Problem with that particular area is that the alpine area simply has no capability for recuperating from campers, yet one really doesn't want to camp at the bottom and hike to the top every day.

Most of my best hiking memories are of Crowsnest and Kokanee Park. Crowsnest we did mostly when we were still car camping, and it was just a wonderland of abandoned mining sites, fabulous dayhikes, and really nice campgrounds. Kokanee we've done entirely by backpack, and is again a wonderland of abandoned minesites, gorgeous vistas, great isolation, and grizzly bears.

What Chasm are you talking about? The one I know is a little reststop at around, oooh, perhaps 100 Mile House. Not really much of anything: big hole in the ground.

I liked Dinosaur Park if only because it was such a surreal sort of landscape. You're driving across bog-standard prairie for hours on end, then all of a sudden the whole plain drops straight down, eviscerated by an old creek, and turned into a doomsday hell of heat and clay and fantastic old bones.

Ft. Steele didn't do anything for me.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:41 AM on May 30, 2004

FFF: I'm visiting friends in a number of places on the west coast, and figured that instead of driving back through the U.S., which I've done before, I'd go through Canada. (Besides, do I really need to camp at the Badlands for a third time?) Overall, I don't have any specific goals other than not seeing pavement 24 hours a day on my way across. Unfortunately, I only have about 4 1/2 days to make it from Vancouver to Minneapolis, so any lengthy side trips are out of the question. (I figure at least 36 hours of it will be spent driving.)

I used to be really big on hiking and camping, although I haven't done anything substantial for over three years now. This thread really makes me want to start doing that again, though.

Salmonberry: I'm from Minnesota, so I'm familiar with the bug spray issue.
posted by mrbula at 4:02 PM on May 30, 2004

Ok. For the best possible shot across BC you might do:

Depart Vancouver 6AM -> Hope (view Othello tunnels ~1hr sidetrip) -> Manning Park (stop at the slide, at S_____ trail, at ranger station to see if Heather Meadows is in flower, 2-2.5hr of sidetrips) -> Princeton -> Keremeos (lunch) -> Osoyoos (swimming, tours, vinyards, fruit orchards, say 2hr) -> Grand Forks -> Greenwood (tour Japanese Internment museum, 1hr) -> Castlegar -> Nelson, stop for supper and a wander-round, very artsy and historic city, stay overnight. There is a ton of forestry camping if you bring a tent. Get the appropriate Backroads Mapbook for the details. If you've time aplenty, you might be able to pull in a short walk up in Kokanee Glacier Park. Or maybe the busker festival will be in town. Drink Nelson Afterdark! Best. Beer. Ever.

Depart Nelson 6AM -> South Slocan -> New Denver (breakfast) -> sidetrip to Sandon & Idaho Peak, ~3hr?; -> Nakusp (lunch, museum) -> Halcyon Hot Springs? -> Galena Bay Ferry (be prepared for up to 1hr wait if it's busy) -> Revelstoke (Revelstoke Dam, incredible engineering, 1hr; alpine meadows, incredible when in bloom, 1hr, and keep to the speed limit on the TransCanada, it is aggressively patrolled) -> camp in Glacier Nat'l Park, at the Illecillewaet or Loop Brook campgrounds. In the evening, tour the Skunk Cabbage Walk (you passed it coming into the park), Loop Brook Walk, and the back corner of the Illecillewaet campground. Buy your park pass in Revelstoke or at the top of the Roger's Pass just up from the campgrounds; you'll need it also if you wish to stop in Field or Banff. (If you're not camping, there is a lodge up at the top of the Pass.)

Depart campground very early. Rogers Pass -> Golden (breakfast) -> Kicking Horse Pass -> Field -> sidetrip to Takkakaw Falls, ~1hr -> Field -> Lake Louise. Sidetrip to Valley of the Seven Glaciers (busy, but spectacular, eat lunch @ glacier tearoom or swank hotel back at the foot of the trail), ~4hr -> Banff, very touristy and I personally avoid it -> Calgary (supper, meet MeFi members, sleep).

This leaves you 1.5 days to get home. I'd go south to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (2hr) -> Waterton Nat'l Park (might was well continue using that parks pass!), hit the highlights, nip into Montana and over through Glacier Nat'l Park (spectacular if it's not socked in with fog!), then sky it to the nearest Interstate and just boogie for home. But that's because the prairies make me want to steer head-on into the nearest Immovable Object.

I think this gives you basically the best bang for the buck. It's a real shame to miss Creston (wetlands tour), Edgewood (coal mine tour), Frank (Frank Slide disaster tour), Blairmore (Bellevue Mine tour, my god it was hell to be a miner), and thence to HSMBJ & Waterton... but I don't think you've time to pull that off.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:02 PM on May 30, 2004

Say, what do you mean by "different places on the West Coast"? There's Vancouver & area, the Sunshine Coast, and that's about it until way the hell up in Bella Coola.

Come to think of it, where will you be when you start "leaving" the Vancouver area? There are a couple routes that might prove more interesting, if not faster.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:04 PM on May 30, 2004

I think you just made me reroute my trip. (I guess I'll have to check out Happy Rock some other time.)

For Vancouver, I'll either be downtown or around the airport. I'm not sure yet.

By West Coast, I mean the following: San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Olympic National Park, and Vancouver. It's a big trip.
posted by mrbula at 10:43 PM on May 30, 2004

listen to fff, those are some great trips. And great advice - especially about the Nelson beer (I prefer the IPA though). One small note. When you head out from Calgary to go south, take the 22, not highway 2, which is just 90 minutes of two lane straight ahead road. ugh. 22 will take a bit longer (30 minutes, maybe) but is well worth it.

Also after leaving Nelson, since you are already there, I'd suggest taking the southern route through Creston and Cranbrook, there you have the option of driving through Crowsnest pass with all the aforementioned sights, or up the Columbia valley, stopping in Radium Hot Springs and maybe Castle Junction. Fairmont is also a nice little stop. The 93 from Radium up to Castle Junction is so impressive that it had my friends from Vancouver gawking.

Alternitavely, if you go through Crowsnest, avoid Calgary altogether, and set up camp in Waterton Park.

For your Calgary - Winnipeg section, you might also want to check out Cypress Hills. The prairies will pretty much suck no matter which way you go. ugh.
posted by sauril at 9:01 AM on May 31, 2004

I've toured extensively in south BC, both as car camping and backpacking. Fire away if you've questions.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:08 AM on May 31, 2004

My guess is that Crowsnest will add another day to the trip. However, if that's the way he wants to go, I've got dozens of little stops and advice.

Mrbula, what say you? North to Revelstoke, or East to Crowsnest?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:44 PM on May 31, 2004

ok fff, got any brothers? I mean, except for the caving bit (I can barely handle sitting at the back of the cave at Ainsworth Hot Springs) it just sounds too perfect.

I also recommend Waterton if you can, it's great. I've been there on long weekends in summer, just drove in and got a campsite. Likely the "bear in campground do not leave food anywhere except the cache" affected it.

Also, when is this trip? The way it is, we're heading towards another really bad fire season. You'd best keep an eye on the fire situation and have a plan B. There are only a few highways east in BC, so a detour can add hours.
posted by Salmonberry at 1:06 AM on June 1, 2004

FFF, I'm still processing. (This is a heck of a lot to go through.) Thanks for all the great ideas!
posted by mrbula at 6:39 AM on June 1, 2004

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