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Vancouver is a popular place to start any road trip. First of all, thanks to its large international airport, many visitors to Canada arrive in Vancouver. Second of all, there are some really amazing places to explore surrounding Vancouver – so getting out of the city on a road trip should be on your bucket list.
Honestly, one of the best road trips you can do from Vancouver just has to be the road trip from Vancouver to Banff! As one of the longer road trips in Western Canada, this route hits most of the most beautiful and adventurous places in the entire country. From the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the beautifully colored lakes in wine country, the road trip from Vancouver to Banff is nothing short of magical.
There’s a lot to know about planning this road trip though. I mean, it’s a long one, and the number and routes you can take are seemingly endless. Add in the question of where you should stop along the way, and you’ve got yourself a big planning task in front of you.
This is why I’m writing this blog. As a Canadian who has grown up in both BC and Alberta, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. I’ve traveled around Western Canada extensively and know there are some places that you really don’t want to miss.
Keep reading to learn all about driving from Vancouver to Banff including the best places to stop along the way, where to spend the night, and essential driving tips for this road trip.
About the Drive from Vancouver to Banff
The journey from Vancouver to Banff (or Banff to Vancouver)isn’t short by any means. Without stopping, the most direct route (via Hope) will take you around 11 hours to complete this 860 kilometer-long (535 miles) journey.
I recommend taking a different route for your road trip though. This way, you’ll be able to ensure that you see the best places along the way! My suggested route from Vancouver to Banff includes going through Whistler – one of my absolute favorite places ever! This road trip is slightly longer at 915 kilomters (568 miles), but believe me, it’s totally worth it.
There are several very fantastic stops along this route, and I recommend taking your time to appreciate each of the 21 sites as you go from Vancouver to Banff. Each of these stops has something unique to bring to the table, and they should be enjoyed as such.
Winter tires are required if you want to travel during the colder and snowier months (usually November to March). These tires will provide more traction on the ice and snow you’ll most likely encounter along the way.
If you’re not used to driving in the winter, Canadian winters may be challenging, with snowstorms, slippery roads, avalanches, and even bright, sunny days. Because weather conditions can vary quickly during the day, always check a road report and forecast before leaving.
21 BEST Stops on the Drive from Vancouver to Banff
1. Vancouver City
Vancouver is one of the most exciting cities in Canada. It has something fascinating to offer nature enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and even those interested in food and culture, with plenty of things to do. It’s the perfect place to start your epic Canadian road trip!
While you’re in Vancouver, be sure to go on a whale watching tour and get the opportunity to see various whale species including Humpbacks and Orcas. Also, get out and do some of the beautiful easy hikes around the city including the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge and treetop walk.
If you’re visiting Vancouver in the winter, then skiing or snowboarding are musts! Check out Mt Seymour, Cypress Mountain, or Grouse Mountain. You can rent gear and even just get a day pass if you only want to spend one day!
Vancouver is without a doubt one of my favorite destinations in BC, so be sure to give yourself a decent amount of time to explore the city before you hit the road!
Where to stay in Vancouver:
Times Square Suites for a beautiful hotel close to Stanley Park. It’s very hard to fault this hotel and the location is perfect. It is a good mix between being affordable as well as a very nice hotel.
There’s also The Cambie Hostel Gastown for a budget hostel option. The location is in the heart of Gastown and close to lots of bars and restaurants and attached to the hostel is a very lively bar too.
Related Read: While you may anticipate Vancovuer to be one of the more costly destinations on your journey from Vancouver to Banff, it isn’t. There are plenty of free activities in Vancouver as well!
2. Shannon Falls
Shannon Falls is one of my favorite stops on the drive from Vancouver to Banff! After leaving Vancouver, you’ll reach Shannon Falls in about an hour, the perfect time to get out to stretch your legs.
The trail to get to the falls viewing area is easy and somewhat level. There is also a paved trail for all people to enjoy. The walk is only about a kilometer long, and once you make it to the falls you’ll be in awe. Shannon Falls, at 335 meters (1100 feet), is a sight to behold! Late spring and early summer are the best times to visit when the winter snow on the adjacent mountains has melted and the falls are most forceful.
It’s free to visit Shannon Falls and you’ll find a large parking lot when you arrive as well as bathroom facilities and picnic tables.
3. Sea to Sky Gondola
The panoramic views from the Sea to Sky Gondola are breathtaking. It’s an absolute must-see on your way from Vancouver to Banff! The gondola is located just outside of Squamish (your next stop) and takes you up the mountain with 360-degree views of the Howe Sound.
Once you ride the gondola to the top, you may explore around the summit and see the suspension bridge, as well as have a drink or some food while taking in the sights.
A day admission for the gondola costs $55.95 CAD per adult. You may also trek to the point instead of riding the gondola, although it is rather strenuous (nearly 1,000 meters in height gain!). I recommend just riding the gondola both ways – it’s so much fun and saves you time on your road trip!
Squamish is a fantastic town to visit or even stay overnight to maximize your time there and break up your trip. It’s renowned as an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. There is hiking, rock climbing, and windsurfing all at your fingertips!
If you’re just looking for a bite to eat or a drink, stop by the Howe Sound Brewery or Zephyr Café, both of which are entertaining, local hangouts. The Railway Museum of British Columbia is a great place to go if you want to learn about culture and history.
It’s also enjoyable to simply stroll around the downtown area, since there are several beautiful tiny businesses to peruse.
Where to Stay in Squamish
If you want to take a break from driving from Vancouver to Banff, Squamish is a great area to stay for a night or two. There’s plenty to do in Squamish, and there are plenty of hotels and vacation rentals to pick from.
The Adventure Inn is a good place to stay if you’re on a budget. You may obtain a private room here for a reasonable fee, as well as access to shared community amenities such as laundry and a kitchen, which is especially useful if you want to save money by cooking.
The Highlands Bed & Breakfast is a must-see for affluent tourists. The one-bedroom rooms are beautiful, and breakfast is included in the price. The views from surrounding the property are just breathtaking, and this B&B is the ideal place to unwind in the Garibaldi Highlands.
5. Garibaldi Lake
Garibaldi Lake, one of Canada’s most magnificent alpine lakes, is located in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Despite its magnificence, it receives far less visitors than other Canadian lakes.
The only way to see the stunning Garibaldi Lake is to hike a 9-kilometer (5.6 mile) long trail with a 900-meter (2,950-foot) elevation gain. It’s possible that this difficult hike is what keeps this stunning lake so quiet. Believe me, if you can handle the challenging hike, it is definitely worth it!
Garibaldi Lake is a great place to camp overnight if you can’t get enough of the scenery. When you wake up, you may visit Blacktusk and Panorama Ridge Lookout, two further hikes and overlooks. Both are 5.5 km (3.4 miles) and 7 km (4.3 miles) longer and include a 500 m gradient (1,640 ft). These hikes are designed for more experienced hikers.
If you want to camp overnight, there are approximately 50 campsites with restrooms and cooking shelters at the lake’s campground. Campsites cost $13 per person per night and must be reserved in advance online.
If you have problems making a reservation, you may have the Squamish tourist center do one for you (like we did).
In Whistler, there are so many exciting things to do and see that you could easily spend weeks exploring it. If you’re visiting Whistler in the winter, don’t forget to hit the slopes, and if you’re going in the summer, take advantage of the hiking paths.
The following are some of the greatest activities and attractions in Whistler:
- Ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola – This massive gondola holds the world record for not only being the longest gondola but also being the tallest and longest unsupported span of any lift in the world.
- Go skiing or snowboarding – Whistler’s winter pride and joy, Blackcomb Mountain, has over 200 distinct routes, 3,307 hectares (8,171 acres) of terrain, and 36 different lifts.
- Explore Whistler village – Take a look at the various eateries and boutique shops in the area. Pure Bread, an incredible bakery and coffee store, is a must-see.
- Check out some of the nearby lakes – Green Lake, Alta Lake, and my personal favorite, Lost Lake, are all easily accessible by pleasant walking routes through the surrounding pine forest.
Where to stay in Whistler
If you decided not to stay at Garibaldi Provincial Park, Whistler is another great option for breaking up your road trip. Like I said you could easily spend weeks here doing all of the fun activities and there are some awesome places to stay in Whistler.
For budget travelers, Pangea Pod Hotel is a great option. It’s a basic hotel with pod-style rooms with clean, well looked after facilities. The location is also really good and you are within walking distance to the ski lifts in Whistler Upper Village.
For luxury travelers, I obviously love the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, but another option slightly cheaper is the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre. Its location is perfect for luxury skiers because it’s only 250 meters from the closest gondola.
7. Lillooet Lake
At the bottom of Duffey Lake Road, you’ll discover the lovely, peaceful Lillooet Lake. This lake used to have a gorgeous turquoise color, comparable to other Canadian lakes, but following a landslide in 2010, the water became a muddy brown color. It’s slowly starting to regain its once-beautiful hue. When the currents are slow in the winter, it’s easier to see.
Recreational areas and campsites border the shores of Lillooet Lake. Strawberry Point Campground is the most well-known. It’s a woodland day-use area with walk-in camping. There’s a lot of room here, but the amenities are minimal (they have a pit toilet, but no picnic area or designated camp spots).
Twin One Campground is a drive-in campground with a semi-open layout. A boat launch, beach access, and spectacular views are all available. Picnic tables and pit toilets are supplied as amenities. The only campsite that can accommodate big recreational RVs is this one.
Other possibilities include Lizzie Bay and Driftwood Bay Campgrounds! While you’re here enjoy a campfire or a stargazing session with no light pollution.
8. Joffre Lakes
On the way from Vancouver to Banff, this is a must-see! Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes, with their gorgeous turquoise blue water, are the highlight of the trip through Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. The hue is caused by “rockflour,” or glacial silt trapped in the water, which reflects blue and green wavelengths from sunlight — it’s stunning!
The hike to Upper Joffre Lake is around 10 kilometers (6 miles) long (return) and mostly uphill. The three wonderful lakes, stream crossings, great views of the mountain range, a waterfall, and the Matier Glacier at the summit overlooking Upper Joffre Lake are all visible along the trip. Retrace your steps to return and enjoy the simpler climb down and another look at these beautiful lakes.
This is a very popular summer attraction, and parking might be difficult. The parking lot is frequently full, and you are not permitted to park on the street. They do offer shuttle buses from a neighboring overflow parking lot on occasion, but this isn’t always the case. I recommend staying the night prior in Pemberton, which is close by, to ensure your early arrival.
9. Duffy Lake Viewpoint
On the way from Vancouver to Banff, Duffy Lake Viewpoint is but a brief stop. Simply drive off the road into a makeshift parking lot next to Duffy Lake, snap a few shots, and enjoy the breathtaking sight.
It’s not easy to appreciate the vistas while driving, but because the pull-off is so simple, it’s well worth the time. You may even dip your toes in the freezing lake if you’re feeling adventurous!
On the route to Banff, Lillooet is a little village along the Fraser River with some spectacular mountain vistas. Thousands of people came into Lillooet during the Fraser River Gold Rush in 1858, making it one of the biggest settlements in North America. Inside the Lillooet Museum, you can now examine items from the Gold Rush era.
Lillooet has a desert-like environment with some of Canada’s hottest temps ever recorded. With such a lengthy growing season, there are several orchards and vineyards in the area; enjoy some of Fort Berens Estate Winery’s award-winning wine. Take a stroll over the Old Suspension Bridge while you’re here. It was constructed more than a century ago and is currently only accessible to pedestrians.
If you wish to spend the night, the Reynolds Hotel is a lovely location to stay that has just been refurbished and has some historic appeal (it was built in the 1940s). It includes a fantastic restaurant and a little convenience shop where you can fill up on road trip needs for the remainder of your journey.
Kamloops is a terrific city to visit in every season, whether you want to go downhill skiing or snowshoeing in the winter, or enjoy the long summers on the water with pleasant weather from April to November.
Within an hour’s drive of the city, there are over 100 lakes! These are ideal for paddling in a canoe, kayak, or even trying stand-up paddleboarding. Take a boat ride around Kamloops Lake to see it from the water. You’ll pass by historic stone railroad bridges and tunnels, as well as rocky bluffs and maybe an eagle’s nest.
There are lots of hiking trails around Kamloops too. Wide-open meadows, ponderosa pine woods, sandstone canyons, and steep valleys may all be explored. With 40 kilometers (25 miles) of paths, the Kenna Cartwright Nature Park is a good choice. There are various beaches and picnic sites, as well as stunning views of Kamloops and the Thompson Valley. For a really stunning sight, go out during sunset or sunrise.
The BC Wildlife Park allows visitors to get up close and personal with Canadian wildlife. It’s a rescue and rehabilitation facility, and the majority of the animals are here because they’ve been saved. Clover the Spirit Bear, a rare white bear and the world’s only Kermode Bear in captivity, is one of more than 60 distinct species you’ll learn about at the park. For the youngsters, there’s a splash park, a playground, and a mini-train. Adult admission to the park is $14.95 CAD.
Where to Stay in Kamloops
There are plenty of hotels to choose from to base yourself in Kamloops for a while and enjoy the city and surrounding area.
For a more luxury option, try the South Thompson Inn and Conference Centre. It’s located on 55 acres of green space surrounded by mountains and the South Thompson River. The rooms have great views, there’s a 24 hour hot-tub overlooking the river and nearby hiking trails.
Budget travelers can grab a room at the Kings Motor Inn. It’s a very reasonably priced place to stay with large rooms.
Side trip to Kelowna and Vernon:
From Kamloops, you can go on a bit of a detour if you want to explore the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan is known for beautiful lakes, warm weather, delicious fruit, and most importantly, wine! Head to the cities of Kelowna and Vernon first, then if you want to venture further south you can check out Osoyoos or Peachland.
12. Salmon Arm
Salmon Arm is a charming little town that is easy to fall in love with. I surely did when I lived there for a few years. There is enough to do for people who enjoy the outdoors, especially! Explore the city, eat (and drink) your way through it, or just kick back and relax! Here, there is truly something for everyone.
Where should we begin with stunning walks, excellent fruit, and top-notch vineyards in Salmon Arm? Here are a handful of the most popular activities in Salmon Arm:
- Walk North America’s largest wooden wharf — You may walk on the wharf all year, soaking in the grandeur of Shuswap Lake. I love it even more in the summer when there is live music and food trucks to enjoy! It has a wonderful, communal vibe about it.
- Hike — There are hikes for all levels of expertise here! Mt. Ida, a grand 1,564-meter peak south of Salmon Arm, is one of my favorites for trekking. If you’re searching for a challenge, Mount Ida Loop is a good option. It’s a 33-kilometer (20.5-mile) loop with a 1,598-meter (5,243-foot) elevation rise — a challenging hike, but well worth it. The Raven Trail and the Shuswap North Rail Trail are significantly more laid-back and accessible.
- Visit the Northernmost winery in BC – Because this region is recognized for its wine, a visit to a vineyard is a necessity on your itinerary. One of my personal favorites is Larch Hills. Their wine is wonderful, and they even provide complimentary sampling. Enjoy your wine while learning about its production and taking in the breathtaking sights
Where to stay in Salmon Arm
This might be an excellent area to take a break during your road trip. Not to mention the fact that I’m sure you’ve just scratched the surface of the fantastic list of things to do here and wish you had more time to do so.
The Hilltop Inn is a popular option because of its bigger rooms, which can accommodate small families. This hotel also features a pool, free parking, and a complimentary breakfast.
The Inn at the Ninth Hole Bed & Breakfast is the place to stay whether you’re traveling with your significant other or want a luxurious stay for an affordable rate. The accommodations are lovely and very inexpensive. Of course, this location offers a fantastic breakfast and is located in a beautiful setting just outside of Salmon Arm.
13. Revelstoke and Mount Revelstoke National Park
Revelstoke, British Columbia, is one of Canada’s most picturesque destinations. It contains everything you could ever desire! Mountain ranges, lakes, glaciers, enormous woods, and warm people!
Here, it’s all about the great outdoors. When determining what to do, there is a lot to choose from, from hiking routes to breathtaking views. Some of the top things to do in Revelstoke include:
- Visit Mt Revelstoke National Park – It’s a one-of-a-kind national park in that you can drive straight into it and up to the peak of Mt Revelstoke. As a result, practically anyone can use it! After parking your car at the peak, you may go hiking on one of the many gorgeous routes, eat lunch by one of the lakes, or even take a short walk to see all of the magnificent flowers and perspectives. Eva Lake path, a 12km (7.5 mile) round trip through spectacular landscapes perfect for seeing bears. Check out Heather Lake trail, a short 10-minute stroll around a lovely lake with breathtaking reflections. You’ll need a Parks Pass to visit this national park.
- Take a Ride on the Pipe Mountain Coaster – One of Revelstoke’s biggest attractions is this fascinating gravity-fed roller coaster. This coaster can zoom down the hill if you want it to, and it’s actually a lot of fun and gets the adrenaline pumping. Of course, you may ride as fast or as slow as you wish, and the coaster includes brakes, making it suitable for children. The Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s Mountain Coaster is located at the top of the first gondola.
- Hit the slopes – In the winter, Revelstoke, BC is known for its awesome downhill skiing and snowboarding. It’s clear that this little mountain village is a winter wonderland! Revelstoke is known for its massive annual snowfalls and steep alpine terrain, which may test even the most experienced skiers. However, if you’re like me and prefer green or blue runs, they offer them as well!
- Ride the gondola up at Revelstoke Mountain Resort – It’s without a doubt one of Revelstoke’s greatest vistas, with the added benefit of not having to hike up! Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy trekking, but there are moments when you simply want to relax. At the resort, there are two gondolas. The first will lead you to the mountain’s peak. This second gondola trip takes around ten minutes, and when you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the valley!
Related read: If you want to stay a night or two in Revelstoke, and you should, check out our guide on the best places to stay in Revelstoke!
14. Glacier National Park
This road trip takes you right through the middle of Glacier National Park as you drive out of Revelstoke and make your way towards Golden. The road through Glacier National Park is called “Rogers Pass” as you climb through the mountain pass. on this stretch of road you may observe plenty of wildlife including bears and mountain goats in beautiful ancient forests with old cedars and alpine meadows which really set the scene.
Make a point of visiting the park’s Rogers Pass National Historic Site. Hike along Canada’s first coast-to-coast railway route, which is now decommissioned. The visitor center has a plethora of historical information about the area as well as the wildlife you can find in the area.
You’ll also have the opportunity to check out some amazing hikes like the Hemlock Grove Boardwalk, which is a series of boardwalks through the forest, or Bear Creek Falls which provides lovely waterfall views. Bear Creek Falls only takes around 15-20 minutes so it’s the perfect short hike on your road trip from Vancouver to Lake Louise. !
Note: If you plan on stopping in Glacier National Park you’ll need to purchase a Parks Canada Pass. There are various types of passes you can buy that range from $10 to $140 CAD depending on the number of parks, people, and amount of time the pass covers.
Golden is a little town in the Rockies, but it’s surrounded by national parks, mountain ranges, and limitless outdoor activities, so there’s always something to do. Not to mention the fantastic restaurants, one-of-a-kind stores, lively bars, and fascinating cultural sites.
Your visit to Golden may be as exciting or as relaxing as you like! Here are a few ideas for epic things to do in Golden:
- Stroll the Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge – Golden is situated in such a lovely region that you will want to get outside and explore it on foot! Make a point of crossing the Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge while you’re at it. It begins on 8th Avenue North in Golden and stretches 46 meters across the Kicking Horse River.
- Enjoy supper with a view — Eagle’s Eye Restaurant is the finest location to eat while taking in the mountain views! It’s the “crown gem” of resort cuisine and a must-do while staying at Kicking Horse Resort. The views from this restaurant, which is located at the top of the picturesque gondola, are unsurpassed. At 7,710 feet above sea level, it is Canada’s highest restaurant (in terms of elevation) — how awesome is that?!
- 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.
- 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.
Related read: If you aren’t quite ready to leave Golden just yet, check out the best places to stay in Golden.
16. Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park, with the township of Field at its heart, is a fantastic destination to visit on your road trip from Vancouver to Banff. Plan on spending at least a few hours, if not a whole day here! The park is famed for its towering waterfalls, sparkling lakes, and a wide range of activities that may be enjoyed at any time of year. Field also has stores, restaurants, and other attractions.
The magnificent Emerald Lake, with its vibrant waters that live up to its name, is a must-see. In about an hour, you may walk around the entire lake or snowshoe over it in the winter. It’s a terrific chance to observe local blooms, such as wild orchids, as well as bald eagles, moose, and loons. On the lake’s quiet and clean waters, you may also canoe or kayak. Spoil yourself and stay a night at the Emerald Lake Lodge on the edge of the lake.
The Natural Bridge, an old rock feature that spans the Kicking Horse River, is another magnificent sight. It’s simple to get to by driving, as Emerald Lake Road is only 3 km (1.9 miles) from Field. You may also embark on a guided trek to the area’s fossil beds, which include 500 million-year-old fossils.
17. Lake Louise
During my years of living in the Rockies, I was fortunate enough to visit Lake Louise several times. Every time, I make a mental list of all the finest things to do in Lake Louise. I’ve done it all from hikes to restaurants and everything in between!
Relaxing on the Lake Louise beachfront is one of the easiest, but most pleasant things to do. You’ll be speechless when you see the glaciers, mountain peaks, and azure lake!
There are various options for furthering your exploration of Lake Louise! You may paddle the lake or ice skate on the lake if you visit Lake Louise in the winter. Both are traditional Canadian pastimes.
Lake Louise also has some fantastic hikes! The Lake Agnes Tea House Trail is one of my favorites. It begins at the lake’s edge and takes you well over Lake Louise, where you can glance down and see areas of the lake from afar. The Lake Agnes Tea House Trail is a somewhat challenging, but not technical, 7.3-kilometer (4.5-mile) return trail.
Where to Stay in Lake Louise:
Do yourself a favor and stop for a least a night in Lake Louise. The only problem is sometimes it can be hard to find somewhere to stay in Lake Louise (hotels often book up well in advance.) But if you can, book a hotel in Lake Louise Village.
HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre is where I always stay. It is the cheapest option and has everything you’ll need for a comfortable, and central, stay.
If you’re looking for luxury, then you can splurge at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It is an icon of the area and simply breathtaking.
18. Moraine Lake
Is there a more stunning and magnificent lake than Lake Louise? There is, in my perspective, and it is Moraine Lake!
Moraine Lake is a must-see for anybody visiting the Rocky Mountains and is only a 15-minute drive from Lake Louise. This alpine lake may be the only one that has more color than Lake Louise, and the best thing is that it’s free.
The iconic 10 Peaks serve as a backdrop to this bright-blue lake. These massive mountains stand over the lake, giving a breathtaking panorama that has become famous all around the world.
When you arrive at Moraine Lake, you’ll find lots to do and see. Visit the Rock Pile (for that renowned view) or take a leisurely stroll along the Lakeshore Trail or Consolation Lakes Trail. If you visit in the fall, be sure to hike the Larch Valey Trail for the best views and colorful trees you’ve ever seen. Whatever you do, Moraine Lake holds up to its reputation as the most beautiful lake in Canada!
Important: Read about parking at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. This is very important before going!
19. Morant’s Curve
After leaving Lake Louise, Morant’s Curve is only a short drive (approximately 5-7 minutes) along the Bow Valley Parkway (the road that connects Lake Louise and Banff.) Keep an eye out for the viewing signs and park in the little parking space across the highway.
This is a great spot for a photo near the Bow River’s bend, where trains usually pass by with a stunning mountain backdrop.
The greatest images are taken when a train is approaching the bend and is ideally framed in the shot. The optimum time to catch a train is on a weekday when trains usually run once every hour. The curve is named after famous photographer, Nicholas Morant, who made this one of his favorite sites to photograph.
20. Johnston Canyon
Hiking in Johnston Canyon is one of Banff National Park’s most well-known free attractions. The best part about exploring this canyon is that it is open all year! During the summer, you may stroll along the boardwalk close to the turquoise-watered canyon. Two waterfalls can be seen along the route, one 1.7 km (1 mile) from the parking lot and the other 1 km (0.6 miles) farther on.
In the winter, the canyon freezes in several places, making the hike appear like something out of a winter wonderland! Imagine icicles dangling from cliffs and frozen waterfalls — it’s a sight to behold!
Hot Tip: If you’re visiting in the winter, you really need ice cleats or spikes. If you don’t have them, then consider joining a guided ice walk tour that will safely lead you on the ice and supply all of the safety gear you’ll need.
The drawback to Johnston Canyon is that it may become quite crowded. It’s so popular that the large parking lot frequently fills up, forcing you to use the public bus!
21. Banff Town
The Banff Gondola is possibly the singular most popular thing to do in Banff – and for good reason! From the top of the Banff Gondola, the views of the mountains and Banff town are out of this world. The first time I rode the gondola was during my first Christmas in Banff and I loved it! At the top of the gondola, you’ll find a restaurant and cafe, a gift shop, lots of information on the area and wildlife, as well as my personal favorite, the boardwalk!
For a few bucks, the Banff Upper Hot Springs is a fantastic opportunity to relax while taking in breathtaking vistas all year. Check out the unlimited amount of hiking routes surrounding the region or test out the slopes (and vistas) at Mt Norquay to earn that relaxation. If you’re visiting Banff in the winter, you must visit their famous tube park, which is great fun for the whole family!
Also, while you’re here, don’t forget to eat and drink. There are several good restaurants and bars in Banff. Parks Distillery is the place to go for a fantastic dinner and craft cocktails, while Banff Brewing Co. is the place to go for a beer.
If you’re still not sure where to start. check out our 1, 2, and 3 day Banff itinerary!
Related read: Visiting Banff on a tight budget? Check out our blog about the 33 best free things to do in Banff!
Where to Stay in Banff
This is one of the most important parts of your trip and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. Below are some great hotels we recommend, but if you’d like more info check out our best hotels in Banff blog. It includes options for everyone’s budget and travel style!
Samesun Banff Hostel – A great budget hostel with dorm rooms. Perfect for those on a tight budget.
King Edward Hotel – A budget range hotel where you still get a private room for a great price.
Banff Inn – The Banff Inn is in the perfect price and luxury range. It’s still cheap but also comes with lots of luxuries.
Banff Rocky Mountian Resort – Pushing up into the mid-range budget this hotel has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens.
Fairmont Banff Springs – This is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. If you’re saving by doing free things in Banff so you can splurge a little more on your accommodation, this is the spot to do it! It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible (pictured above!) If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose!
Essential Info About the Drive Before You Go
- There are a variety of paths to choose from, but this guide highlights the most fascinating. The journey from Vancouver to Banff takes roughly 11 hours and 950 kilometers if you use this route (590 miles).
- When traveling along this roadway at any time of year, keep a look out for wildlife, especially in the early morning and late evening. If at all feasible, drive the trip during the day so you can fully appreciate the beauty.
- If you’re going on this road trip in the winter, make sure to verify the road conditions first. The vehicle must have winter or all-season tires. If you need to book a last-minute accommodation due to changing weather conditions, there are lots of options along this route.
- Get a Parks Pass! You’ll need a pass to get into Mount Revelstoke National Park, Glacier National Park, and Banff National Park. Since you’ll be visiting multiple parks, it is probably worth it to just pruchard the Discovery Pass, which is good for a year at many national parks. Pay $140 CAD for an entire vehicle pass (groiup of people) or $69 for one person.
- From March 1 to June 25, all travel on a short part of the Bow Valley Parkway is prohibited from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Keep it in mind when you plan your schedule and route through the region.
- Bring a camera with you! You will witness some of the most beautiful sights and locations in the Rocky Mountains during this road trip. It’ll be an incredible journey, and you’ll want to document the memories you build along the way.
Renting a Car in British Columbia
If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province and traveling between cities and even just getting out to the best attractions within them requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this 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 a pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $70 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Rental Cars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Rental Cars.com 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!
Canada Travel Essentials
Before you decide to head off and explore the gorgeous mountains, lakes, towns, and cities around Canada it’s important to have the right equipment. Of course, it’s likely you’ll have most of the basics already but there are some common items people forget that I never travel without.
Crampons: In winter crampons are super handy, but what people don’t realize is that they come in handy in summer too. In fact, up until mid-July, you can still expect icy conditions in the mountains. The pair I use is only $29 and they have lasted me 3 seasons so far!
Waterproof shell: Most people will have this item but I thought I’d include it anyway since it’s so handy in Canada. The Columbia waterproof jacket is a lightweight windproof jacket that will seriously save you in many situations. The best part though? It comes in pink!
Scent-proof bag (for bears): Most people think you only need to keep the smell of food away from you when you’re overnight camping. However, bears can smell the food in your bag while you’re hiking and the best way to avoid an encounter is to use a scent-proof bear bag. Basically, you put your food in the bag and the bear cannot smell it while you’re hiking. This is one item most people never have (I never hike without it) but it could save you and the bear.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Dry bag: I have expensive camera equipment so I always travel with a dry bag large enough to fit some of my equipment. It can be a camera, book, binoculars, or even my keys. Regardless, a dry bag gives me peace of mind! The MARCHWAY bag is really good quality, and when not in use, takes up only a small amount of room.
Binoculars: I love my binoculars! Seriously they have come in hand so many times especially when I’m looking for wildlife. The best part is, I use a set that only costs $27 and they serve my basic needs without any issues!
Thanks for reading!
I hope you feel prepared and thrilled to visit these lovely parts of Canada after reading this guide! Whatever season you choose for your road trip from Vancouver to Banff, there will be plenty to see and do!
The nicest aspect about this road trip is that it offers a lot of variation. Hikes, lakes, grand restaurants, and unique activities! It has everything. So relax and enjoy yourself as you travel from Vancouver to Banff, taking your time to take it all in.
Don’t forget to check out some of our other posts before you leave!