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The short but sweet 3-hour drive between Calgary and Golden is a popular driving route for both Canadians and tourists. That’s because it passes by some of the best tourist destinations in Canada including Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise. So, as you can imagine, this is a very popular road trip at all times of the year. It’s equally beautiful in all seasons!
For this blog, I’ve done my research and come up with 12 of the best stops on the drive from Calgary to Golden. I’ve started this road trip in the bustling city of Calgary but of course, you can do this road trip in reverse (from Golden to Calgary) and stop at all the below listed places but in the opposite order!
About the Drive from Calgary to Golden
The drive from Calgary to Golden will take 3 hours and 264 kilometers (164 miles) long. It follows the Trans-Canada Highway for most of the way – except for a short section where you must drive on the scenic Bow Valley Parkway in order to visit the picturesque Johnston Canyon and Morant’s Curve! I
This route is considered to be an easy drive, although it can be pretty busy, especially coming into the major tourist towns of Canmore and Banff. For such a short drive there’s so much to see along the way including Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and of course, Yoho National Park.
Even though this drive will only take 3 hours to complete, I highly recommend allowing at least a full day for this road trip if you want to stop at the best attractions along the way. There is just so much to see that it would be a shame to rush it! If you have time, you could turn it into a vacation and spend the night at some of the best destinations in Canada like Banff or Lake Louise!
Worth noting is that if you plan to drive this route in winter, you will need winter tires as there may be snow or ice on the roads, specifically in Banff National Park and Yoho National Park.
12 BEST Stops on the Drive from Calgary to Golden
Calgary is the largest city in Alberta and home to a large international airport – so it really is a popular place to begin any road trip.
Despite being a major city in the plains, Calgary has a variety of fun things to do. In fact, the city’s position provides it with a leg up on the competition. It is home to a huge international airport as well as being on the brink of the Rocky Mountains. As a result, Calgary has become a popular port of entry in Canada, surrounded by natural beauty!
So, since you’re going to be in town, you may as well spend some time seeing the city and take advantage of the city’s lower lodging costs than the adjacent Rocky Mountain resorts.
Calgary is especially a sight to see in the winter. While they may be cold, you’re still likely to have plenty of sunny days! Calgary actually has the most days of sunshine out of any Canadian city at 333 days a year! Even if you’re trying to dodge the cold or rain, there are plenty of fun indoor activities to keep you busy!
One of my favorite indoor activities is the Calgary Tower. You get the best city views, plus it’s the highest 360-degree observation deck in the world! I also recommend grabbing a bite at Sky 360, their revolving restaurant.
You can’t talk about Calgary without mentioning the Calgary Zoo. It’s open year-round and has nearly 1,000 different animals and exhibits. If you want to see something extra adorable, make sure you’re there at 10 am to witness the penguin walk! It’s literally the penguins taking a 15-minute walk through the zoo for their daily workout.
Related Read: Check out our guide on how to get from the Calgary Airport to Banff!
2. The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Once you’re done exploring Calgary, your next stop is Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. This hidden gem is a non-profit that cares for rescued wolfdogs. You have the opportunity to learn about the wolves and see them in their own environment.
The sanctuary is located about 45 minutes away from Calgary as you make your way towards Canmore (right outside of the town of Cochrane.) If you do decide to go, be aware that no children under the age of 6, dogs, and faux fur or real fur clothing items are allowed in the sanctuary. If you’re unsure about any rules or restrictions check the visitor rules on their website or call before you go.
You can visit the sanctuary Thursday through Monday for $13 CAD for youth, and $23 CAD for adults. They offer a variety of tours and it is a really unique experience that comes highly recommended.
3. Kananaskis Village & area
Bordering two of the most beautiful places in Alberta – Banff and Canmore, Kananaskis Village is well worth the short detour off of Highway 40. In the surrounding area, there are over 4,000 square kilometers of hiking and mountain bike trails, so if you’re a lover of the outdoors this is an even more worthy stop!
Ribbon Falls is a popular hiking and mountain biking trail, which is 16.5 kilometers in length but only the first 4 kilometers are open to cyclists. It’s rated as medium and passes by several waterfalls before you have to climb steeply up to beautiful Ribbon Lake.
Personally, though, Troll Falls is my favorite hike in the area. That’s because there’s a very photogenic waterfall at the end of the trail. It’s just 3.2 kilometers (2.1 miles) round-trip so is a great short hike option! This hike is most popular in the summer, but it’s equally beautiful in the winter when the waterfall can freeze over! If you do this hike in the winter be sure to wear ice cleats or spikes as it can be pretty slippy in parts!
If your itinerary allows, stay a couple of nights at The Crosswater Resort – a very family-friendly resort with a large indoor pool in the heart of the Kananaskis. Staying here also gives you access to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, which is famous for its innovative hydrotherapy treatments. Here there are several hot and cold pools with epic mountain views.
Nakiska Ski Resort is located just a 5-minute drive from Kananaskis Village. It was built for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and has excellent groomed ski runs as well as a state-of-the-art snowmaking system. Due to this system, it’s usually one of the first ski resorts to open in Canada every year and one of the last to close. It typically opens in mid-November and closes at the end of April.
Important note: A Conservation Pass is required for any vehicles stopping in parks or public places in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley Corridor. A daily pass costs $15 CAD and may be purchased online or at any Kananaskis Visitor Information Center.
Canmore is one of Alberta’s best mountainside tourist towns. But unlike Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise, Canmore isn’t actually located within one of Canada’s National Parks – making it cheaper and more accessible for everyone.
Sitting on the edge of Banff National Park, Canmore boasts some of Canada’s most impressive mountain peaks and is an outdoor playground for visitors.
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Canmore on several occasions. In fact, we also recently lived in Canmore for a couple of months (I know, lucky us!) So, we know all of the best things to do in Canmore, which include:
- Go Skiing – Located about 55km away from Canmore (a 45-minute drive), Nakiska is a popular ski resort known for its long seasons due to lots of snow. It has 64 trails with four chairlifts and costs $98 CAD for a day pass. Skiing is the most popular activity in the winter in Canmore.
- Hike to Grassi Lakes – Grassi Lakes is also one of the easiest hikes in Canmore at only 5 kilometers long (return) with only a 125-meter elevation gain. This means it’s family-friendly and suitable for most fitness levels.
- Visit the local breweries – Canmore is one of the best places to try amazing craft beer and there are lots of local breweries in Canmore to visit! One of my favorites is The Grizzly Paw. They have a bar on 8 St and their brewery is located on Old Canmore Road on the outskirts of town (called Tank 310).
- Hit the trails at the Nordic Centre – The Canmore Nordic Centre offers a variety of trails for hiking, biking, or even cross country skiing. The area was developed to host cross country skiing events at the 1988 Olympic Games and is now an active training center as well as a recreational area.
Where to Stay in Canmore:
In case you want to spend a couple of nights in Canmore (and you should!) there are plenty of hotels to choose from.
For budget travelers, I love the Canmore Rocky Mountain Inn. If you don’t mind spending a little more you can certainly get a nice hotel closer to town. The Grande Rockies Resort-Bellstar Hotels & Resorts is still a short walk from town (but it only takes 5 minutes) and the hotel itself is beautiful complete with a pool, hot tub, fitness center, and restaurant and bar.
Related Read: There are some really incredible coffee shops in Canmore that you should check out while you’re there!
In Banff town, book yourself a hotel for a few nights as you’ll definitely need time to explore this vibrant mountain town!
Truthfully, there are tons of fun things to do in Banff, it can be hard to know even where to start – to make it easy you can check out our 1, 2, and 3 day Banff itinerary! Or here are some of my personal favorite activities in Banff:
- Visit Mt Norquay – The views from Mt Norquay are unlike any other. In the summer, ride the sightseeing gondola and visit the restaurant at the top for a beer with a view. If you visit Banff in the winter, you can’t miss hitting the slopes or testing out their famous tube park (fun for the whole family!) If you buy the SkiBig3 Lift Ticket Mt Norquay is the third ski resort you’ll have access to.
- Banff Upper Hot Springs – For only a few dollars you can relax in Banff’s very own hot springs with mountain views. The hot springs can get busy though so it’s best to go first thing in the morning or the last hour before they close.
- Take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain – Ride the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain to experience panoramic views of Banff National Park. If you want to skip paying for the ride, hike up instead!
- Indulge in food and drinks – Banff has tons of tasty restaurants and bars. For beer, head to Baff Brewing Co. For a delicious meal with crafted cocktails, head to Parks Distillery.
- Go hiking – The hiking trails in and around Banff are almost endless. In the summer in Banff, conquer difficult summits. But even in the winter, there are tons of epic hikes to challenge you. Hiking is one of the best free things to do in Banff.
Where to stay in Banff:
There are lots of amazing hotels to choose from in Banff town. My personal favorite is Moose Hotel & Suites which has a great location, is reasonably priced, and has all the amenities you could want including two rooftop hot tubs.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider checking out King Edward Hotel. It is easily the most affordable place to stay. Plus, it is located right in town on Banff Ave!
And for a little luxury, the Rimrock Resort Hotel is a must! With an onsite spa, balconies with amazing views, as well as a restaurant and bar this hotel is a must! Plus, it is located a couple of minutes from town in a quieter location.
Alternatively, there are a few Airbnbs to choose from in Banff as well as lots of other places to stay around Banff National Park including Lake Louise and the Bow Valley Parkway.
Parks Canada Pass Quick Info
If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.
Single Daily Admission:
This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for one day.
- Adult (ages 18-64) is $11.04 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.41 CAD
- Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE
Group Daily Admission:
If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)
- $21.36 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke and so much more.
- Adult (age 18-64) – $93.81 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $80.18 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $188.59 CAD
Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!
Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers of booths at the entrance to many national parks.
6. Jonhston Canyon
Once you’ve left Banff, be sure to head to the stunning Bow Valley Parkway, where your first stop will be the iconic Johnston Canyon.
The hike through Johnston Canyon is an easy walk with huge rewards. The boardwalk along the path leads you right into a canyon filled with seven glacial waterfalls that cascade over rocky cliffs. You can get right next to the water flowing from Johnston Creek and close enough to waterfalls to feel the spray of the water on your face!
This is also a great place in the winter! The waterfalls freeze over and create layers of giant icicles, which are incredible to see. The ice on the Lower and Upper Waterfalls here also takes on a blue color that is quite beautiful. It’s a good idea to book a guided ice walk tour in the winter to ensure you’re safe and have the right gear.
Johnston Canyon is open all year and it’s free to get to – including free parking in one of two parking lots. It is one of the more popular hikes in Banff National Park and is great for families as the path is wide and not too steep. The hike is about 2.5 km (1.6 miles) to get all the way to the Upper Falls. However, you can shorten it and just walk the 1.2km to the Lower Falls before turning back around to return to the parking lot.
Note: There will be some closures to vehicle traffic on sections of the Bow Valley Parkway this year (2022). From May 1-June 30 and then again from Sept 1-Sept 30 vehicles will NOT be able to drive the 17km/11mi stretch of road from the TransCanada-Highway junction to Johnston Canyon, it will be restricted to cyclists’ use only. This is the eastern part of the road. You will still be able to access Johnston Canyon and the Bow Valley Parkway via the intersection near Castle Mountain Chalets.
7. Morant’s Curve
This is an excellent viewpoint for a photo along a bend in the Bow River where trains typically pass through with a spectacular mountain backdrop. Morant’s Curve is about 30 minutes along the Bow Valley Parkway after you leave Johnston Canyon. Keep an eye out for the signs indicating the viewpoint and park across the highway in the small parking lot.
The best photos are when a train is traveling around the bend and framed perfectly in the shot. Your best chance to catch a train is during a weekday – trains typically pass by at least once an hour. The curve is named after a photographer (Nicholas Morant) who worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and this was one of his favorite places to capture.
8. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is definitely one of the most popular stops on the drive between Calgary and Golden. From hikes with the most gorgeous views (the Lake Agnes Tea House Trail is one of my favorites) to amazing restaurants Lake Louise really has it all in terms of awesome things to do.
Even something as simple as relaxing on the Lake Louise beachfront is sure to leave you in awe as you look out at the glaciers, mountain peaks, and clear lake!
Where to Stay in Lake Louise
There are lots of different places to choose from when it comes to accommodation in Lake Louise.
If you want to stay in Lake Louise town, consider the Lake Louise Inn, or the budget-friendly HI Lake Louise Hostel. Dan and I often stay at the HI Hostel and think it’s clean, comfortable, and great value for money.
For a little luxury or to spoil yourself, don’t miss the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This is arguably the most beautiful hotel in Canada set in the most beautiful location (right on the lake!)
Note: From May 13th until October 10th, you’ll be required to pay $12.25 per vehicle per day to park at Lake Louise lakefront (2022 updated price). The paid parking is in effect from 7 am until 7 pm daily.
9. Moraine Lake
We might be biased (as this is where we got engaged) but we think Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful places to visit near Banff, and an absolute must-stop on your road trip from Calgary to Golden.
The lake itself is the brightest turquoise color possible and the surrounding mountains are nothing short of amazing. Daniel chose this place to get engaged because of how beautiful it is!
Unfortunately, because of its beauty, Moraine Lake is one of the most visited places between Calgary and Golden. It is easy to get to with only a short couple hundred-meter walk from the car parking lot, so it’s accessible to most. Visiting Moraine Lake is also free. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go?!
The parking lot to visit Moraine Lake is consistently full for most of the day. This means most people visit by taking a shuttle either from Banff town itself or from Lake Louise.
The shuttles also only run during select hours so if you want to go at sunrise, you are going to have to snag yourself a parking space! This can be a challenge, but if you arrive before 6 am, you should be able to get one. To me, a sunrise at Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful things to see in Banff.
The alternative to taking a shuttle is going on an organized tour. This way you get dropped off and picked up as well as shown around to the most beautiful spots with an experienced guide!
Avoid the crowds: If you want to void the crowds then it’s best to visit Moraine Lake in the late afternoon. This is by far the least busy time.
Important info: Moraine Lake is open from the end of May to mid-October and closes for the winter due to avalanche risk. This means it’s only one of the best things to do if you’re driving this route in the summer.
10. Yoho National Park/Field
Yoho National Park, which includes the municipality of Field, is a terrific place to visit! Plan on spending at least a few hours (maybe even a whole day) here! The park is known for its towering waterfalls, dazzling lakes, and a variety of year-round activities. There are also shops, restaurants, and other attractions in the town of Field.
The gorgeous Emerald Lake (pictured above) is a must-see, with its brilliant waters that live up to their name. You can walk around the entire lake in approximately an hour, or snowshoe across it in the winter. It’s a great opportunity to see wild orchids, bald eagles, moose, and more. You may also canoe or kayak on the lake’s calm waters. Spoil yourself and stay a night at the Emerald Lake Lodge on the edge of the lake.
Another stunning site is the Natural Bridge, an ancient rock formation that spans the Kicking Horse River. Emerald Lake Road is approximately 3 km (1.9 miles) from Field, making it easy to reach there by car. A guided hike to the area’s fossil beds, which feature 500 million-year-old fossils, is also available.
11. Wapta Falls
A short 15-minute drive from Yoho National Park is Wapta Falls, which at a huge 107 meters wide is considered the largest waterfall on the Kicking Horse River. The falls are 18 meters tall, and what I love the most about visiting these falls is that when the water levels in the river are low (typically in peak summer) you can walk onto the islands in the middle of the river. This gives you an up-close look at the falls and is the perfect spot for a photo. Beware though – you will get sprayed from the waterfall!
The hike from the car park into Wapta Falls is just 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and will take approximately 90 minutes to complete both ways. The hike is rated as easy, and mostly follows a gravel path so it’s ideal for the whole family. The only tough section on this trail is the 60 meter downhill section on the approach to the falls, on your return you will need to climb back up this steep section. So keep that in mind!
To reach the start of the trail, take the Wapta Falls turnoff of the Trans Canada Highway.
Golden, British Columbia is a small town of just around 4,000 people in the Canadian Rockies. But what it lacks by way of population, it absolutely makes up for in terms of epic things to do! This small town is surrounded by a bunch of national parks and mountain ranges, so there are endless outdoor activities to enjoy.
The town of Golden also has some amazing restaurants, shops, bars, and cultural attractions to offer.
- Walk the Golden Skybridge – Why not start off with Golden’s newest attraction? The Golden Skybridge is Canada’s highest suspension bridge and it only just open in the summer of 2021! At 130 meters (426 feet) above the canyon, you’ll experience such a thrill walking over it and taking in all the amazing views of the Columbia Valley. If walking along a suspension bridge is not enough for you, there is also a zipline experience and ropes course. I also hear rumors that a canyon swing will open one day too – how cool!
- Explore downtown Golden – You’ll be pretty busy with all the different outdoor recreation activities around Golden, but don’t forget the town itself! Downtown Golden is a quaint, historic-looking town with a bunch of things to do! A good place to start your exploration is 9th Avenue, which has a lot of shops, cafes, and restaurants to explore. You can learn more about the city at the Visitor Centre or Golden Museum.
- Visit the Wolf Centre – Wolves are only one of the many magnificent creatures that may be found in the Canadian Rockies. While you probably don’t want to run into any in the wild, the Northern Lights Wolf Centre in Golden is an excellent location to learn about wolves and even see them.
- Go whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse – The best way to experience the river is to go whitewater rafting! Whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River is such an adrenaline rush. With grade 3-4 rapids, it’s one of the best rivers in Canada to go rafting. There are a number of tour groups that you can join, such as this full-day tour. For $112 CAD, you will get a 5-hour experience out on the river. All equipment is included, along with a buffet lunch! You will also have an expert guide leading the way and keeping you safe.
- Hit the slopes at Kicking Horse Resort – Golden’s Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is a very popular ski resort in Canada, and for good reason! It’s known for the huge amounts of annual snowfall and expert terrain that will challenge even the most experienced riders. It’s a must-visit if you’re in Golden in the winter months.
So now that you know about all of the amazing things to do in Golden, you’re going to need somewhere to stay a few nights. There’s just so much to explore in the area you might as well book a great hotel and enjoy a few days in one of Canada’s most underrated mountain towns.
Heading to Vancouver next? Check out our road trip guide to driving from Calgary to Vancouver!
Where to Stay in Golden, BC
There are plenty of places to stay in Golden, and when compared to nearby towns like Revelstoke and Banff, Golden hotels are generally more affordable.
Here are some of the best places to stay in Golden for every budget:
Located outside of Golden surrounded by nature, this lodge is the perfect luxury escape for anybody looking fo a little R&R. The rooms are best suited for couples, with king suites with private kitchenettes, a balcony, and a spa bath. There is an onsite sauna here too and hiking trails start from the property.
This is the perfect place to stay if you’re visiting Golden for a ski or snowboard holiday. This hotel is located only 50 meters from Kicking Horse Mountain resort’s chairlift – how convenient! Besides that, all rooms have mountain views and there is an onsite sauna to enjoy after a day of hitting the slopes.
This is a great choice if you’re looking for something in town. This hotel is clean and comfortable and has everything you could want including an indoor pool and an included breakfast. The reviews are great and the price is modest.
Those on a budget can’t pass on the Travelodge. With a central location, indoor pool with a waterslide and hot tub, as well as an included breakfast, this hotel is a steal! they even have pet-friendly rooms and an outdoor picnic area with a BBQ.
Of course, there are lots of hotels to choose from in Golden – check them all out here! It’s a good idea to book well in advance too, the best ones book up quick!
For more detailed info on the different areas to stay in Golden, check out or blog: Where to Stay in Golden, BC.
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada is relatively cheap, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Thanks for reading!!
I’m so excited that you’re planning to drive the scenic route between Calgary and Golden. I mean, along the way you get to see some of the most beautiful natural sights in the world such as Lake Louise, Banff National Park and Yoho National Park. I hope that after reading this blog post you’re filled with enthusiasm for your road trip!
If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also enjoy some of my other road trip posts. Some of my favorites include: