A Calgary to Vancouver road trip

By Katherine Smith

Title photography by Getty

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Making the epic drive over the Rockies is ideal for a short trip or an ambitious adventure. Take a week and stop off at the main sights such as Banff and Lake Louise or extend your trip and linger at Kamloops and unwind at the tranquil thermal springs surrounded by pine forests. Check out our ideas for making the most of your Canadian road trip.


The journey…

You’ll get a warm welcome to Canada in Calgary, a traditional cowboy town that’s a sprawling mass of malls and skyscrapers with the Rockies right on your doorstep. The best way to see the city is by bike using the 500 miles of city cycle paths. Take a bike tour of Stanley Park and you’ll quickly get a feel for Calgary. No visit is complete without a trip up the Calgary Tower and breakfast at Tim Hortons – it’s vital that you discover their coffee and doughnuts at the start of the trip as they’ll become a dietary staple.

The road out of Calgary is flat, but you’ll see snow-capped mountains peek into view as you near the National Park

When the sun sets, head to Stephen Avenue, which has a lively buzz from the dozens of pavement cafes and restaurants. Charcut is a hip steakhouse and serves up cuts of meat fit for the cowboy collective – try the bison brisket, beech mushrooms, boar bacon and sour cream with polenta. For something a bit more refined, River Cafe in Prince’s Island Park is a chic eatery in a leafy setting serving up moreish seasonal Canadian dishes.

Where to stay

The Fairmont Palliser is a former railway hotel that oozes luxury. The grand entrance hall is a perfect welcome to the city, and downtown restaurants are within lassoing distance.

  • Look up: the Calgary Tower © Dan_Prat / Getty.

    Did you know?

    Although it stands at a whopping 191 metres above ground level, 60% of the tower is below ground.

  • Try a prime steak at Charcut.

    Cowboy diet

    The famous Calgary Stampede started in 1912 and currently offers the largest prize for outdoor rodeo – a huge $2 million for the daring cowboy. Fly from London to Calgary from:

  • The beautiful grand facade of railway hotel Fairmont Palliser.

    On the right track

    The luxurious Fairmont Palliser is Calgary’s oldest hotel. It opened in 1914 and was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway company.

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The journey…

Heading west out of the city in your hire car towards Banff National Park (a Unesco World Heritage site), you’ll pass the Canadian Olympic Park with a view of the ski slope which (quite literally) launched Eddie the Eagle to fame in 1988. The road out of Calgary is flat, but you’ll see snow-capped mountains peek into view as you near the National Park. Red-suited Mounties patrol the main street with its clusters of souvenir shops and restaurants. A trip on the Banff Gondola is a must – standing on top of a mountain looking over the vastness of summits and valleys puts everything into perspective. For a once in a lifetime experience, go one further and take a helicopter ride over the Rockies.

Where to stay

The Fairmont Banff Springs floats above the pine tree forest on a hill just outside of town. The fairy-tale castle has seven bars and restaurants and offers activities such as river rafting and a 27-hole golf course.

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  • Take a ride on the Banff Gondola © frwooar / Getty.

    In the swing of things

    Take the hair-raising ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain where you’ll be eye level with the white-capped peaks of the Rockies on the observation deck, with a breathtaking view for miles.

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Lake Louise and Jasper

The journey…

Leaving Banff behind, head just 30 minutes along the road to Lake Louise. The impossibly turquoise waters are one of the Rockies’ main draws and, depending on the season, you can either skate or canoe on the lake. Zigzagging hiking trails are etched on the mountains, but for most it’s a base on the way to Jasper National Park. It’s here that the real breathtaking scenery begins as you wind through the mountains following a ribbon of road, passing glaciers and canyons. Spend a few days in the park and strap on your crampons for a tour on the Colombia Ice Field or visit the churning emerald waters of the Athabasca Falls canyon.

Where to stay…

Just 11 miles to the Marmont Basin’s ski slopes, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge provides a great base for activities in the park.

  • Discover the walking trails around Lake Louise © NetaDegany / Getty.

    Take a hike

    Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest and if you’re lucky you might spot deer, elk or caribou.

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  • A bumpy ride across the Columbia Icefield © isaacmalcazar / Getty.

    Cool runnings

    The Columbia Icefield is the biggest glacier in the Rocky Mountains and lies on the continental divide. It’s the only glacier in the world to feed three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic.

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  • Go canoeing on bright blue Lake Louise © Erik Pronske / Getty.

    Row your boat

    You’ll need to visit Lake Louise during July and August to see the lake at its brightest. The turquoise waters are caused by light reflecting off rock flow in the glacial runoff.

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Kamloops and Whistler

The journey…

From Jasper, drive west on your final leg of the journey. Stop for a night in the historic railroad town of Kamloops to break up the drive. Ride the heritage railway, taste the delights of local wine on the Kamloops Wine Trail or head to the Kamloops Art Gallery, great for learning about the local culture.

Take the scenic long drive to Whistler – a truly year-round destination. An iconic skiing destination in the winter, offering two mountains for all ability levels, a long season with impressive yearly snowfall and which even played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics. In the Summer, Whistler is a true mountain playground offering miles of alpine hiking and mountain biking trails. The dynamic village has all sorts of dining options but Rim Rock Cafe and Oyster Bar is a cut above the rest – the menu changes seasonally but elk and seafood platters are regularly featured.

Where to stay…

Styled as a luxury mountain lodge, the Four Seasons Whistler is the ideal place to cosy down after a day outdoors.


The journey…

This Pacific city is consistently named as one of the world’s ‘most liveable’ and it’s not hard to see why. If you’re a foodie, head to Mainland and Hamilton Streets in Yaletown, it’s a hub of great restaurants. Stop by Blue Water Cafe for fresh seafood with a Japanese twist. For historic cultural sights spend the day wandering around Gastown, named after Yorkshire sailor “Gassy” Jack Deighton who opened the city’s first saloon in the area. Visit the steam-powered clock and check out some of the cool boutiques, such as Vancouver designer John Fluevog’s Shoes or Oak + Fort for uncomplicated, thoughtfully-designed clothing.

From Vancouver, take a ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island and spend a few days spotting orca whales in the wild and checking out the Royal British Colombia Museum for more natural and human history.

Where to stay…

The Rosedale on Robson Suite Hotel is an affordable all-suites hotel with a spa, garden terrace and indoor pool, making it the perfect relaxing bolthole in Vancouver.

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