Western Canada Road Trip: Vancouver to Calgary, the Scenic Route

Today, dear reader, I have a special treat for you. Leigh McAdam, of HikeBikeTravel fame, has kindly agreed to share her knowledge and love for Canada’s Big Sky country. This Western Canada road trip sounds and looks fantastic. Can’t wait to try it myself.

If you’ve never been to Western Canada you’re in for a treat. Summer or early fall is the best time to visit – particularly if you plan on a multi-day driving trip between Vancouver and Calgary. If time is of the essence you can drive between the two cities in as little as 10 hours. And it’s a scenic drive for about 80% of the route. But if you have the time, plan to take three to seven days so you can get out and explore Whistler, four national parks and the wonderful Okanagan Valley.

I’m going to assume you have time on your hands.

My suggested route for your Western Canada road trip

Instead of heading east out of Vancouver, opt for the incredible Sea to Sky Highway and head north towards Whistler. In 90 minutes you’ll be there. But what’s the rush – you’re on holidays so pull over and check out Stawamus Chief. You can’t miss it. The big hunk of granite is reportedly the second largest monolith in the world. Look for rock climbers or if you’re feeling ambitious take the hiker’s trail to the top and marvel at the views.

Western Canada Road Trip: Lakes and mountains in British Columbia View above the town of Squamish – with the big hunk of granite called the Chief on the left

Next up is Whistler. Stay the night. There’s a lot to do. You can mountain bike or just watch the young ones race down the hill, take a gondola ride to the top of the mountain, go for a more ambitious hike or simply stroll through town. There are loads of fantastic restaurants and a good bar scene if that’s your thing.

pub life, Western Canada The bar scene after mountain biking in Whistler

Farm scenery near Pemberton Farm scenery around Pemberton

Continue north through Pemberton where you’ll find wide open fields and big mountain views. This is farm country. In another 90 minutes – and after a lot of elevation change you land in the small town of Lillooet.

Lillooet is a town with a past. Back in the 1850’s and 60’s the Cariboo Gold Rush was on – and over 15,000 people came to seek their fortune. Now you can visit a museum with gold rush artifacts but there are beautiful lakes and outstanding hiking in the area should you be so inclined. You won’t have to worry much about rain either. You’ve entered a different climatic zone here – one that’s much drier and hotter than Whistler or Vancouver.

The drive from Lillooet to Cache Creek is a stunning one – jaw dropping views and colourful rocks. Once in Cache Creek pick up Highway 1 and head east towards Kamloops. The country is still dry and there’s enough visual interest with mountains and Kamloops Lake that you won’t fall asleep at the wheel.

Just past Kamloops you have a choice to make.

If you continue east on Highway 1 towards Salmon Arm you’ll miss the direct route to Vernon (Highway 97) and the Okanagan Valley. You have one more choice in Sicamous (Highway 97A) to head for Vernon but the drive is longer. Otherwise Revelstoke is the next major town on the route.

I think the Okanagan Valley is worth at least a few days of your time.

View of Lake Okanagan from the Kettle Valley Railway Trail View of Lake Okanagan from the Kettle Valley Railway Trail

In the Okanagan Valley, one of Canada’s premier wine growing regions, you’ll find over 100 wineries along the bluffs bordering the lakes between Vernon and Osoyoos. You can spend days tasting your way through the wineries – which is a delight in my view – but if that doesn’t appeal there are plenty of other activities.

This area is known for its hot dry sunny climate so boating, windsurfing and swimming are big. So is tubing. And there are wonderful bike trails including the famous Kettle Valley Railway. A particularly great way to spend the day is to rent a bike and get dropped off at the Myra Canyon Trailhead. Cycle over a series of railway trestles and then down the Kettle Valley Railway all the way to Penticton – a distance of 80 kilometers – but it’s all downhill. Get picked up in Penticton and treat yourself to a great meal at one of the wineries.

The Okanagan Valley has loads of resorts – and is a favourite place for locals from Alberta and British Columbia to visit on a summer holiday. There are plenty of people that are quite content to park themselves by a pool for a week and relax – another option for you.

Back on the road again

You’re going to have to retrace your steps to get back to Highway 1. It’s worth it, for what’s in store is mountain scenery on a grand scale beginning around Revelstoke.

Mount Revelstoke National Park can be reached as a side trip via the 26 km Meadows in the Sky Parkway, just outside of Revelstoke. The road rises 1500 meters (5200 feet) and at the top you can see dozens of peaks that are part of the Selkirk and Monashee Ranges. Get out of the car and be greeted by a carpet – quite literally – of wildflowers. They’re usually at their best in the first two weeks of August. As you climb out of Revelstoke there are several pullouts, still in the National Park, that offer short interpretative hikes. Try the Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail to get up close to old growth forest.

Next up is Glacier National Park. It’s best known for its spectacular mountain scenery which you can’t miss on a clear day at Roger’s Pass. If you need to stretch your legs, stop at the Hemlock Grove Broadwalk Trail and take a quick 400 meter stroll through more old growth western hemlock.

Mountain pass in Western CanadaRoger’s Pass area

Once over Roger’s Pass, an area to be avoided at all costs during a winter storm, head for Golden about an hour’s drive away. As you climb out of Golden you enter Yoho National Park, famous for its incredible hiking trails with world class scenery and the beautiful Takakkaw Falls.

Pull over in the quaint town of Field for the night – or stay in one of the beautiful Rocky Mountain lodges – Emerald Lake or Cathedral Mountain Lodge and take the time to hike some of the more famous trails like the Iceline. You could easily spend a week or two hiking in this park.

When you leave Yoho National Park you enter the province of Alberta and Banff National Park. Banff needs no introduction. You’ve probably seen the pictures. Now you’ll see the real McCoy. And wild animals – like elk, big horned sheep and bears. Plunk yourself down for a few days in Banff or Lake Louise and take in the vistas. Drive the highway up to the Columbia Icefields. Hike the trails. Drink the local beer.

Lakes and mountains in British ColumbiaMoraine Lake near Lake Louise

Winter scene in Banff National ParkBanff National Park – in the winter

The Prairie Sky

And then it’s only a two hour drive to Calgary. Some of you will be underwhelmed by the landscape once you’re out of the mountains. But I have come to love the prairie sky; it’s big and it’s blue. And the hills are rolling as you head into Calgary.

Prairie skies and Calgary skylineCalgary’s downtown – and its gorgeous blue skies

Welcome – and if you make it to Calgary between July 6th and 15th you’ll be in time for the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede.

Leigh McAdam runs HikeBikeTravel, and is an enthusiastic adventurer with a bucket list that gets longer with each passing year. Be sure to check out her blog. You can reach her on Facebook or Twitter.


For even more travel photo fun, head over to another Canadian for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday.

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  1. Sophie I have just returned from a houseboating trip near Salmon Arm – which if you drive straight through from Vancouver to Calgary or vice versa in 10 hours is the halfway point. It’s so worth a stop for the food – much of it right on the highway. I just wrote a blog about six food discoveries and one short waterfront hike – here’s the link if you’re OK with that http://hikebiketravel.com/18890/10-reasons-plan-stop-salmon-arm-bc/. Thanks for inviting me to guest post.

    • Love this post, Leigh- and so, apparently, does everyone else 🙂
      Now to check out Salmon Arm (what a fab name that is).

  2. We recently completed a long road trip in the US and I think it will be a few months before we set out on another one. However… I do love road trips and think it would be a great way to see Canada!

    • And for you, it’s just up the street a bit, too … well, a looong street.

  3. WOW! Your photos are stunning. Particularly of Moraine Louise, the Calgary skyline, and your very first shot. I would love to do a road trip like this. I actually have a lot of routes I’d like to do in the States and in Canada. Trying to talk my hub into it. (He’d rather cruise and not mess with starting and stopping and driving ourselves all over.)

  4. Wow. Gorgeous photos as usual, Leigh. You’ve gotten me to looking at maps and all but pulling out the suitcases. Your photo of Calgary is really stunning, proving our pictures don’t have to have the drama of mountains and water–sometimes just stark contrast in color does it. That one looks like a painting.

  5. Wonderful post offering great insight and inspiration to visit this wonderful area! Banff has been on my list for way too long. My parents have visited Okanagan many times and rave about it. As usual, all of your pictures are majestic! I do love mountains and your picture of Moraine Lake is breathtaking.

    • Even the name Banff evokes all sorts of fantastic images of nature, I think.

  6. Stunning photos – I love the Banff and Lake Louise area! Other than Vancouver, we haven’t had our kids to Western Canada yet so it is high on our list of places to visit in the next couple of years – this post pretty much outlines my dream trip for them.

    • Me too. Only been to Eastern Canada – and it looks like the west might be an entirely different world.

  7. Wow! Would you look at that blue sky! We are hoping to get back to Whistler this summer so we can experience it in both seasons. You are making me want to take the drive to Calgary too now.

  8. I so love the shots of the mountains! After living in Salt Lake City and recently visiting Keystone, Colorado, I’ve decided that I can’t get enough of them. Banff and Glacier are very much on my list. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. I’ve done a lot of this route, so I have experienced first hand how beautiful it is. Stunning photos Leigh, and a great tour. What is it with all the Canadian posts this week. I think everyone is trying to make me homesick 🙂

    • Well, with such a beautiful home country what can you expect, Nancie… 🙂

  10. PS…I also lived in Banff for two years back in the 1970s. The winters are brutal, but snow on the mountains is so beautiful!

  11. Sounds like a wonderful trip. Nicely illustrated in this series of photos, too.

  12. Leigh/Sophie, I’m hooked! It’s such stunningly beautiful country, I really should have done the Western Canada trip, instead of the familiar Toronto one.

    • Luckily, there’s cheap flights these days. Also from Jamaica, I hope…

  13. Did a variation of your trip on 2010: Vancouver, Whistler, Kamloops, Okanagan, back to Vancouver, over two weeks, in Sept-October. Great places to visit, great food, great wine, great scenery, friendly folks.

  14. I would absolutely LOVE this drive and a stop in Whistler would be the icing on the cake for me. What a beautiful part of the world. Great post and photos!

  15. As a Canadian who has done that trip several times in several different ways, I agree with Leigh’s advice – she knows what she’s talking about.

  16. I do not appreciate my own back yard enough. Thanks for the great post. You’ve inspired me to seriously consider this for next summer!

  17. Such stunning photos of a scenic drive we’ve been wanting to do for years. Moraine Lake and Banff have been on our travel list for so long. We’ve always visited Whistler and Vancouver during winter and these pictures inspire me to visit during the other seasons.

  18. I love the detail of this post–it would really help a traveler plan such a trip. Leigh’s photos are beautiful, as usual.

  19. An enjoyable route, but I think I’d crash that first night in Pemberton. Whistler is expensive, unless you have plans there the next day.

    And having done both Hwy 1 through Banff and the Yellowhead Hwy through Jasper, right now I’d been inclined to take the Yellowhead again, as it’s less busy and I want to explore it some more.

  20. Great tips thanks – I’m doing the Vancouver to Calgary trip in spring next year and it’s so useful to have these recommendations as I’ve been overwhelmed by route choices so far!

    • This route does sound like a gorgeous one, as well as relatively easy to follow without getting lost (my specialty).

  21. This is a great article. I love BC, and next time I’d like to visit Alberta, too. Especially Banff. Not so sure I’d like Calgary though – I guess it’s like you say, many will be underwhelmed when they’re out of the mountains. The endless plains or prairie isn’t my kind of thing. But at least Banff isn’t too far away!

    • I think you’re right. Many Americans seem to forget their neighbour to the north. Deterred by the cold, perhaps?

  22. I have driven this route many times in my life, but in reverse. When I was a kid I much preferred the drive through the mountain parts, holding onto the hope of seeing an elusive moose or bear, but as an adult I definitely look much more forward to the flatness of the prairies. Specially in the winter.

    Something calming about nice, straight, flat, double-wide roads!

  23. This is an awesome post, thanks for sharing. This may seem like a silly question, but what sort of budget would one need for a trip like this? Assuming we stopped for 3 nights on the way? (I’m thinking Whistler, Kamloops and Banff before finally hitting Calgary).

    • If you’re on a budget I’d probably recommend the B&B route for accommodation though there are some chain hotels – they just don’t have a lot of soul in my opinion.

      Here are a few suggestions:
      Whistler tends to be more expensive but you can stay in nearby Pemberton (~30 kms away which doesn’t seem far in Canada) to save money. Otherwise for hotels you could try the Glacier Lodge & Suites for $69/night, or the Mountainside Lodge for $66/night. The Whistler hostel has shared rooms for $36/night and private rooms for $85/night.

      Kamloops – Sandman Inn for $97, Plaza Hotel – $66.

      I’d be tempted to drive an extra hour and stay in Salmon Arm. It’s smaller but prettier and there are several good things to do including these 7 things – http://hikebiketravel.com/18890/10-reasons-plan-stop-salmon-arm-bc/. There is a B&B called Raven’s Roost for $80 per night including breakfast.

      Revelstoke has an excellent B&B – The Courthouse Inn B&B starting at $120 per night.

      Field, BC – 90 minutes from Banff – has a hotel with a fantastic and very lively restaurant – The Kicking Horse Lodge.

      In Banff there is the Banff Alpine Center Hostel starting at about $45 for a shared room. Along Banff Avenue there are 13 hotels in 6 blocks. At the budget end you’ll find the Red Carpet Inn and the Inns of Banff to be at the low end – the Banff Springs Hotel at the high end – though it offers some good deals. If nothing else have a drink in their lounge.

      I hope this helps.

  24. Pingback: Vancouver to Calgary road trip | Our Magical Mystery Canadian Adventure

  25. Just found this on the internet whilst researching our trip and its just what I needed, so thanks.
    We will be coming from the UK in late April 2013 to do a massive tour, over two separate sessions, one in Spring and one in Autumn. We are planning on getting to Vancouver by late May, then leaving the bike in Calgary for a few weeks whilst we head back to the UK for late June/July/Aug and then coming back in mid-Sept to collect the bike and then ride back to LA via Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Are there any parts of your journey that we would not be able to do in May? I should add that we are on a motorbike (a Harley), not in a car!!

    • Hi Carole,
      The reality is that if you’re heading through the mountains you can get snow at any time of the year – even in the middle of summer. But the Highway people only recommend snow tires and chains until the end of April in the mountains so chances are you’ll be fine. It could in fact be hot. But bring lots of layers and full rain gear just in case. And the same holds true for your trip through WY, Montana, New Mexico and Colorado. Arizona is a pretty safe bet. That part of the world can also have the odd freak storm – and thunderstorms are very common in June in Colorado. It sounds like a fabulous trip.
      Leigh

  26. We’re from the Okanagan (Vernon), our families live in Penticton, Kamloops, Vancouver and we lived in Calgary for 7 years…so we know this area very well!

    I loved this post, you described our home very well! It’s stunning, isn’t it?

    Cheers 🙂

    • Best time to explore these areas is June to August. If you lucky you can get a nice weather days in May and September as well. i have explored some of these areas and scenery is marvelous. Every inch of this land tells us a story of the creator of all creations.

  27. Thanks for this inspiring and beautiful post! I live in England and my husband and I are on the cusp of booking a trip to Chicago for 2 weeks then on to Calgary to spend 3 weeks driving across to Vancouver and love hearing about these top places to include! We are going to be there in April though – will it be very cold? Our son will be 11 months old, do you think it is safe/accessible enough for our situation? Thank you again! x

  28. @Lara You should be prepared for all types of weather. The drive from Calgary to Vancouver can still end up being snowy in April – but it can also be very pleasant and the roads can be dry. I definitely think it’s safe and accessible but I also think you want to plan your trip around the weather. Sometimes the roads around Revelstoke/Rogers Pass get closed – even just for a few hours – and yes even in April – but that being said I’ve driven several times at that time of year with no problem. If there is a storm forecast it would be prudent to postpone travel for a day. I hope that helps answer your question.

  29. Hey ~
    I will doing the route from Vancouver to Calgary in late April – Early May
    Planning on stopping at each place for a night
    – Kelowna
    – Rivelstoke
    – Golden
    – Lake Louise
    – Banff

    6 days 5 nights total. if I were to add a night or two to the trip, where would you suggest me staying? ( That means less days in Van or Calgary too)

  30. @Jon I would definitely spend more time in the Kelowna area as that’s where there are so many wineries. to visit. Salmon Arm is also a worthwhile stop – with lots of great biking, a nice waterfront walk and plenty of local foodie things to do.(http://hikebiketravel.com/18890/10-reasons-plan-stop-salmon-arm-bc/). I personally would probably not spend a night in Revelstoke and Golden and instead I’d probably head for the small town of Field, an hour past Golden. It’s got a great little vibe and only 15 mins away is Emerald Lake – which you can walk around (very beautiful) and also Takakkaw Falls – if the road is open.
    Hope that helps.

  31. Leigh,
    Sweet, thanks for your advice. I’m actually doing a 5000 mile loop in 30 days, I might spend more time in the rockies if I feel like. I’ve never been to canada and not sure how long should I spend in Van and Calgary. thinking about 2 days a piece before head south to moab and do the great american southwest and navajo nation and west on ward to LA. I love the small town idea, once again. Thank you mucho 😀

  32. Pingback: Insider Tips - Things to Do in Vancouver, Canada

  33. Hi Leigh,

    Just read the article and it sounds amazing. Me and my girlfriend are doing it the other way from Calgary back to BC and would really appreciate some advice on this.

    We are british so haven’t got a clue really regarding highways etc :-0

    So any help would be fantastic

    • Hi Phil,
      I’ll ask Leigh, but perhaps you could be a bit more specific on what you would like to know more about, regarding highways – and other things?

  34. Great article! Planning road trip out of and back into Vancouver next summer and route from Van to Calgary is just perfect! Anyone have any recommendations for return route to Vancouver? maybe good to save the Okanagan bit for the return and approach from the east? What do people think?

    • Hi Helen, I haven’t taken this road trip myself. yet. But I’ve forwarded your comment to Leigh, author of the article. Hope you have a fab trip 🙂

      • Hi Sophie, great article and a great help! My wife and I are visiting in mid September this year and are looking to follow your suggested route. We have 8 nights to travel from Vancouver to Calgary (after 3 nights to see Vancouver)so will probably cut out the okanagan detour as we want to concentrate on walking mountains. Would love your opinion if the following makes sense please;

        Night 1 whistler
        Night 2 salmon arm
        Night 3/ 4 Revelstoke or Glacier
        Night 5/6 Field
        Night 7 Banff

        1 night spare as well

        Hopefully this puts us in touching distance of all of the beautiful places that you suggest

        Thanks for all the help

        Cheers
        Mike

          • Hi Mike,
            I’ll check with Leigh (who wrote this article and knows all about Canada’s wild west 🙂 ), and get back to you.

  35. I am going in June this year from Vancouver to Calgary . I have 8 nights starting from 4 June . Please advise about the valley route

  36. Hey hey! Great article!!!! Is it worth doing this itinerary in spring? How long does it take? I will be skiing in Whistler from the 1st of March 2016 for 2 weeks then was just going to go highway 1 to banff, jasper, lake louise and calgary.

    My friend is in sunpeaks so I could visit him if I do this route. Is it feasible via bus or much more complicated? I’ve heard highway 1 is beautiful but this route looks sweeeeet!

    Thanks for your help 🙂

    Georgie.

    • Hi George,
      My friend Leigh of HikeBikeTravel wrote this guest post quite a few years ago. You can contact her via her blog.

  37. Inspired by this article we have just got back from a 3 week circular road trip out of Vancouver – it was truly amazing! Our itinerary worked out just fine but if I was to do it again I would do an A to B from Vancouver to Calgary as it was a huge drive back from Jasper to Vancouver, even with a stopover in Kamloops (where there wasn’t much to see). I’d also build in some time in Whistler as we only stopped there for dinner on way back to Vancouver and could have easily spent a couple of days there. We are quite outdoorsy but on this trip weren’t up to big hikes and a lot of the trails were closed due to bear activity at this time of year. We did the following, which worked out really well so thanks for great inspiring article!!
    Vancouver 4 nights
    West Kelowna (for wineries) 2
    Revelstoke 1
    Lake Louise 3
    Calgary 4
    Banff 3
    Jasper 3
    Kamloops 1
    Vancouver 1

    • Thanks for your kind words, Helen – and additional tips.
      I’ll be sure to pass it on to Leigh, the Western Canada resident expert 🙂

  38. Ms. Redische,
    Thanks so much for your marvelous description of the Vancouver-Calgary trip. It convinced us about two hours ago and we’re now booked on flights for June 15-June 27. We are flying into Calgary and will drive to Vancouver first; you mentioned that 80% is scenic. Are there spots we should stop off on the way?
    Thanks again; we’re sort of all aflutter just thinking about it.
    Jim Fatka and Sue Ellen Pabst