Ever since I first visited Banff and Jasper in 2018, I’ve wanted to do a Canadian Rockies road trip. I loved the idea of hiring a car and having the freedom to explore the iconic sights and discover hidden gems. With international travel off the cards this year, it was the perfect time to finally plan a Canadian Rockies road trip.
I’ve always wanted to visit the Rockies in autumn to see the larches turn golden. So this year, my friend Christina and I waited until we saw the first photos of the larches and booked a last minute road trip from Vancouver to the Rockies.
We spent 5 days on the road exploring Yoho, Banff, and Jasper National Parks, and had the most incredible time. If you’re thinking of doing your own road trip from Vancouver to the Rockies, I’ve compiled this comprehensive 5-day itinerary to help you plan your trip, including how to get there, where to stay, and what to do. There’s a lot of information in this post so make sure you save it so you can read it again!
Please note: This post contains some affiliate links which means if you follow a link and end up making a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks in advance for supporting my blog – Steph
Canadian Rockies Road Trip Itinerary
Vancouver to Revelstoke
Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake
Maligne Lake, Spirit Island, and Maligne Canyon
Jasper to Vancouver
VANCOUVER TO JASPER: 5-DAY CANADIAN ROCKIES ROAD TRIP
Home to some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in the world, the Canadian Rockies are made up of five national parks located in Alberta and British Columbia. These five parks are Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, and Waterton.
On our Canadian Rockies road trip, we explored Yoho, Banff, and Jasper National Parks. There is so much to see in each park that you could easily spend weeks if not months exploring the Rockies; however, if you only have 5 to 7 days this road trip itinerary from Vancouver to the Rockies is a good place to start.
At the end of the itinerary you’ll find a map with all of the places listed here. To save the map, click on the star on the right hand side of the title. This will save the map to “Your Places” in Google Maps.
Day 1: Vancouver to Revelstoke
It’s a long drive from Vancouver to the Rockies so it’s a good idea to split the drive across two days, especially if you’re planning to leave after work. A lot of people choose to stay in Kamloops which is just under 4 hours’ drive (354 km) from Vancouver, but you could also stay at Salmon Arm (461 km) or Revelstoke (565 km).
We choose the latter as we wanted a shorter drive the next morning to make the most of our time in Yoho National Park. The drive from Vancouver to Revelstoke takes about 6 hours. It’s a beautiful drive along the Coquihalla Highway through the mountains; however, it is very exposed so drive carefully. The temperatures can plummet the higher you climb and the weather can change very quickly, especially in the winter when the roads can become snowy and icy.
Revelstoke is nestled between the rugged Monashee and Selkirk mountain ranges, close to Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. This mountain town is a popular spot for skiing and snowboarding due to its incredible snow conditions. Yet, unlike some of the larger ski towns in BC and Alberta, Revelstoke has retained its small town charm.
If you decide to stay in Revelstoke, treat yourself to a delicious meal at Quartermaster Eatery on 1st Street. They work with local producers and farmers and make everything from scratch in house. The food is wonderful and the service is warm and personal. It’s a lovely spot to relax before the start of your Canadian Rockies road trip and enjoy some craft cocktails and local beers and wines.
Day 2: Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake
Wake up early on the second day of your Canadian Rockies road trip and spend the day at some of the most beautiful lakes in Yoho and Banff National Parks. You’ll start at Emerald Lake before continuing your road trip to Banff, stopping at picture-perfect Lake Louise and the iconic Moraine Lake along the way.
Located in Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake is a 2 h 30 minute drive (209 km) from Revelstoke through the beautiful Glacier National Park. The drive was even more spectacular when we went as the mountains were speckled with golden larches.
Set against the stunning backdrop of Mount Burgess and Wapta Mountain, Emerald Lake truly lives up to its name. Discovered back in 1882 during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the lake was named after its emerald-coloured water. Emerald Lake is the largest of the 61 lakes in Yoho National Park and is a wonderful place to kayak, canoe, and paddleboard. If you have time, there is an easy 5.2 km walking loop around the lake’s shoreline that offers some gorgeous views.
Emerald Lake’s water is most vibrant in early summer due to the high amount of glacial silt that flows into the lake from the surrounding mountains. The lake is situated high up in the mountains so it tends to freeze in November and doesn’t thaw until early June.
Although we’d both been to Lake Louise a few times before, it’s such a magical place that we couldn’t visit the Rockies and not stop here! With a soaring mountain backdrop, brilliant turquoise water, and the lovely Chateau Lake Louise perched on the lake, it’s one of the most iconic destinations in Banff National Park.
There are so many things to do at Lake Louise. You can simply relax and enjoy a leisurely stroll around the lakeshore, or if you have time, you can explore some of the hiking trails in the area:
- Fairview Lookout (2 km round trip): This is a short, uphill hike (100 metres elevation) which takes you to a unique viewpoint looking down over the lake and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
- Lake Agnes Teahouse (6.8 km round trip): This trail leads to a quaint, European-style tea house which overlooks the pretty Lake Agnes. From here, you can continue on to Little Beehive and Big Beehive which offer stunning panoramic views of Lake Louise and the Bow Valley.
- Plain of Six Glaciers (10.6 km round trip): This is a more moderate/ difficult trail which takes you up past a lovely tea house to the back of the valley where you’ll get stunning glacier views.
Please be aware that the area has a high concentration of bears so it is always best to check with the tourist office before setting off on any trails.
If you’d prefer to stay closer to the water, you can rent a canoe from Lake Louise Boathouse and paddle around the lake to soak in the scenery. The Boathouse is now closed for the season but will reopen in June 2021 when Lake Louise has thawed.
Moraine Lake is the last lake of the day, and is one of my favourite lakes on this Canadian Rockies road trip. Known for its vivid turquoise blue water, the lake is surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks and was once immortalised on Canadian twenty-dollar bills.
Located high in the mountains, the lake often remains frozen until late May or June. Moraine Lake Road is generally open from late May/ early June to mid-October depending on the weather conditions. The car park is quite small so there is traffic control measures in place which means you might not always be allowed down the road. If you plan to go for sunrise or sunset leave plenty of time to get down the road.
After watching the sun set at Moraine Lake, drive to Banff where you’ll stay for the evening. Despite being more commercial that some of the other places on this Canadian Rockies itinerary, it’s a charming mountain town and one of the most magical places I’ve ever been.
There is so much to see in Banff that you could easily spend 5 days here alone. As we’d both been to Banff before, we only spent the evening and next morning here so that we had time to explore places we hadn’t been before instead. If you have more time then you can add on a few days to this road trip and stay in Banff.
Day 3: The Icefields Parkway
Today you’ll be driving one of the most scenic highways in the world, the Icefields Parkway. Stretching 232 km from Lake Louise to Jasper National Park, the Icefields Parkway is an enchanting drive filled with brilliant blue lakes, jagged peaks, icy glaciers and cascading waterfalls. The scenery is so spectacular that it’s bound to be the highlight of your Canadian Rockies road trip.
The drive takes about 3 h 30 minutes but there are so many beautiful places to stop along the way so you’ll want to make a day of it. When we went, the mountains were covered in larch foliage and we ended up pulling over several times to take photos so the journey took closer to 7 hours!
There are plenty of places to pull over along the way to revel in the views and get those iconic road shots. If you stop to get some photos of the road, be very careful as there can be a lot of fast traffic so make sure you have good visibility.
For more information about driving the Icefields Parkway, I have a detailed guide which includes everything you need to know. Here are just a few of the best sights along the Icefields Parkway.
One of the most famous stops along the Icefields Parkway, Peyto Lake was named after the early Banff National Park warden, Bill Peyto. The lake is renowned for its brilliant aqua colour created by the meltwater from the Wapta Glacier. You can get some lovely photos of the lake from the viewing platform which is a short walk from the parking lots, or you can take the trail up to Bow Summit for even better views.
(Peyto Lake viewing platform and trails are currently closed until August 2021 for rehabilitation.)
The largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies, the Columbia Icefield covers approximately 230 sq. km and is an incredible sight to see on your Canadian Rockies road trip. You can park at the Icefield Centre on the opposite side of the road for a view looking out over the icefield. Alternatively, you can park at the foot of the glacier for a closer view. For your safety, stay behind the barriers and don’t walk on the glacier yourself.
Athabasca Falls may not be the tallest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies but it is one of the most powerful. There are plenty of platforms along the interpretive trail where you can witness the sheer power of the falls and learn about the Athabasca River.
Continue along the highway until you reach Jasper where you’ll stay for the next couple of nights. Check in to your accommodation and head downtown to explore and get some food. Nestled in the heart of Jasper National Park, the town of Jasper is less commercial than Banff and has a rustic charm.
Due to work commitments, we were only able to stay for a couple of nights before heading back to Vancouver. If you have more time, you can add on a couple of days to this itinerary and explore more of Jasper National Park.
Day 4: Maligne Lake, Spirit Island, and Maligne Canyon
Today you’ll explore some of the most beautiful places in Jasper National Park, starting with Maligne Lake. Located 48.1km from Jasper, Maligne Lake is the longest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, stretching an impressive 22 km. It’s also the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
The drive along Maligne Lake road to the lake is a sight in itself. It’s incredibly picturesque and offers plenty of opportunities to spot local wildlife. Drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled for elk, bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats that often frequent the area. We actually saw our first moose on the way to Maligne Lake. It was hidden in the trees so we didn’t get great photos but it was incredible to see one in real life.
You’ll also pass Medicine Lake along the way. It’s a very unique lake as it vanishes and appears each year. In summer, the lake is filled with icy blue melt water; however, by autumn, the lake shrinks and only a few pools of water are left. This incredible phenomena is caused by the large network of underground caves which drain the lake over the course of the year.
Once you arrive at Maligne Lake, there is no shortage of things to do. Whilst the water is too cold for swimming, you can hire canoes and kayaks from the Curly Philips boathouse and paddle on the lake’s gorgeous jade blue waters. There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking along the lake and around the surrounding area. The easiest trail is the Mary Shaffer Loop (3.2 km) which follows the path along the lake shore and offers panoramic views of the mountain ranges.
Maligne Lake is also home to one of the most iconic spots in Jasper National Park: Spirit Island. This small island is a spiritual place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation and is situated 14 km up-lake. There is no road access so the island is only accessible by boat. You can canoe or kayak there which takes 5 – 8 hours, or you can book a 90-minute Maligne Lake Cruise with Pursuit which takes you directly to Spirit Island.
On your way back, stop at Maligne Canyon and spend some time exploring the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park. There is a self-guided interpretive trail that takes you through the canyon and explains the geological history. The trail passes over six bridges which offer incredible views looking down into the canyon.
When we went the weather was just starting to change and the canyon had a light dusting of snow. By December, most of the water drains away or freezes turning Maligne Canyon into a magical winter wonderland. This means you can walk directly along the canyon’s frozen floor past giant frozen waterfalls, icy caverns, and incredible ice formations.
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Day 5: Jasper to Vancouver
It’s time to say goodbye to Jasper and begin the drive back to Vancouver. The drive takes about 8 hours but there are some nice places to stop along the way so our journey home took 12 hours overall. If you don’t fancy driving that far in one day, you could break the journey up and stay overnight in Kamloops before driving back to Vancouver the next day.
Whatever you decide, don’t miss the chance to stop at Mount Robson Visitor Centre to get some photos of the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. At 3,954 m high, this towering, snow-capped mountain is a sight to behold. The views from the car park are wonderful and there is also a road behind the Visitor Centre where you can get some fun shots of Mount Robson in the distance.
CANADIAN ROCKIES ROAD TRIP LOCATIONS
Here is the route for this Canadian Rockies road trip along with all of the places listed above. You can save the map by clicking on the star next to the title so you can use it to plan your own itinerary.
PLANNING YOUR CANADIAN ROCKIES ROAD TRIP
Best time to visit the Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies are magical all year round. In the summer months (June to September), the weather is usually warmer although it’s not uncommon to have some freak snow days in June! Most of the roads and hiking trails are open so it’s the best time to explore the parks. If you want to see the turquoise lakes you should aim to go between July and September when the colours are more vibrant.
The Rockies are a lot more popular in the summer so be prepared for crowds and more cars on the road. Accommodation will be more expensive and often gets booked up in advance so plan well ahead so you don’t miss out.
From mid-September to early October, the larches turn golden for a couple of weeks, lighting up the landscapes and lakes they surround. This beautiful display doesn’t last long and it’s hard to know exactly when they will change as it varies each year but it’s a wonderful time for hiking.
From October to April, the Rockies are transformed into a striking winter wonderland. It’s a lovely time to visit the Rockies but weather conditions can make driving more dangerous. Make sure you check road conditions and ensure your car is suitable for winter driving. Snow tires are mandatory from November 1 to April 1. The Icefields Parkway is open year-round; however, you need to plan ahead as all services (restaurants, accommodation and the only fuel station) are closed from November to April. There is also a lot of snow clearing and maintenance on the highway.
Where to stay on your Canadian Rockies road trip
Accommodation in the Rockies can be very expensive so try to book as far in advance as you can. That being said, there are plenty of options depending on your budget. The best place to start your search is booking.com. During our time in the Rockies, we stayed at the following places which I would highly recommend:
Revelstoke: Alpine Inn & Suites
As we were only staying the night in Revelstoke to break up the drive, we opted for something more affordable. Alpine Inn & Suites is simple but very comfortable, and had everything we needed for the night, including a fridge, microwave, kettle and good Wi-Fi. It was also in a great location, not too far from the town but also close enough to get on the highway quickly the next morning.
Banff: Banff Caribou Lodge
If you want to stay in the heart of Banff, this mountain lodge is a great choice. Located on Banff Avenue, Banff Caribou Lodge is only a 10 minute walk to all the shops and restaurants. It’s a beautiful hotel with a hot pool, steam room and a gym. I’ve stayed here three times over the past 2 years so I think that’s a testament to the hotel and staff!
Jasper: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
We decided to treat ourselves and stay at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge during our time in Jasper to celebrate Christina getting her Permanent Residency. Located on the shores of Lac Beauvert, Jasper Park Lodge is set over 700 acres and has an award-winning golf course, a luxurious spa, as well as a boat house where you can hire canoes, kayaks, pedal boats and paddleboards.
Please remember that you are visiting National Parks and there are certain precautions you need to take. Many of the places on this Canadian Rockies itinerary are in the wild so you need to make sure you are well informed and prepared.
- To visit the National Parks, you’ll need to buy a Parks Pass which contributes to the upkeep of the parks. There are ticket booths along the highway and at the park entrances. You don’t need separate passes for different parks; you can visit all the National Parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay) with the same pass. You can find more information on the Parks Canada website.
- Please follow the Leave No Trace Principles during your time in the park. These are guidelines to help you plan, prepare and explore the outdoors more responsibly. They include staying on the designated trails, not touching or removing any natural objects, packing out all your trash, and respecting wildlife.
- As part of the Leave No Trace Principles, you should know the regulations and special concerns for the area you are visiting. Make sure you look at the Parks Canada website for important information about the parks you plan to visit.