Road trips are the best. I’m not sure if there’s a better way to see and explore a large area than on the road with my camera and some good company. You have the freedom to go wherever your vehicle will allow and you can stay as long as you like in each location. There are no flights, trains, or buses to catch. No tour guides telling you what the itinerary is for the day.
I had been planning to see the Rocky Mountains in Canada for a LONG time, so when the day arrived to pack up my Ford Explorer (El Tundy) and begin my epic Canadian Rockies Road Trip, needless to say, I was pumped. This would be the second big bucket-list item to tick off in as many months, and El Tundy was still warm from the Pacific Coast Highway, so I knew she was rearing to go.
If you’ve seen images of Canada so beautiful that they stop you in your tracks, they’re likely from Canada’s Rocky Mountains in Alberta. The Canadian Rockies span four national parks and are home to some of the most spectacular mountains, lakes, hikes, and drives you have ever seen. Perfect for an epic camping, hiking, and photography road trip.
The Sea-To-Sky Highway
Connecting Vancouver with the famous mountain resort Whistler, the Sea-To-Sky Highway is a pretty stunning way to start a Vancouver to Canadian Rockies Road Trip. The views of the water and mountains will have you stopping so often that the drive can take twice as long as it needs to. You can drive to Whistler in under two hours, but it’s definitely worth taking your time to enjoy some of the incredible hiking, waterfalls, lakes, and photo opportunities along the way.
Revelstoke Mountain National Park
It was snowboarding that drew me to Canada, and if you like the fluffy white stuff, Revelstoke has a reputation as one of the best ski resorts in the country. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to get there. Unfortunately, it was July, so there wasn’t a lot of snowboarding to be had. Revelstoke Mountain National Park is still an incredibly beautiful place in summer. The Meadows In The Sky hike stands out as one of the highlights of the whole road trip for me.
The drive from Revelstoke through Rogers Pass and into Alberta and the Canadian Rockies is stunning, but it’s only a taste of what’s to come. The Icefields Parkway connects Lake Louise with Jasper and is considered to be one of the most breathtaking drives in the world. The road itself is only about 230km, but it winds up through impossibly huge, snow-capped mountains, emerald lakes, and glaciers. Your chances of seeing wildlife are also pretty good.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it all the way up to Jasper as it was the middle of the worst summer for wildfires in history. Many roads were closed due to wildfires, and reports were that the smoke was so bad that it was unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst. Disappointing, but we still got to see half of it.
One of the reasons I love road trips is that you have your own vehicle, so if you do want to visit a popular location, you can get there before the crowds. Moraine Lake is one of Canada’s most popular tourist attractions, and for good reason. It reminded me a little of Yosemite National Park – otherworldly. You’ve likely seen many photos of Moraine Lake before, but don’t let the popularity of it put you off. It’s well worth a visit, just make sure you get there early. We got there well before sunrise and it was definitely worth the 4am alarm.
They are so close that many visitors get them confused, but Moraine Lake is actually just outside Lake Louise, which is a lake and a village. Confusing, I know. Lake Louise is pretty stunning in its own right and well worth a visit. Again, get there early. I recommend the buffet breakfast at Chateau Lake Louise. Not cheap, but the view! Also, if you want to get your sweat on, the Plain of Six Glaciers hike starts at Lake Louise and your hard work will be rewarded.
Image courtesy of Rachael Doyle.
Banff National Park
As we didn’t make it as far north as Jasper, most of our time in the Canadian Rockies was spent in Banff National Park. The park itself is pretty huge, and is one of the jewels in Canada’s crown. The country is well known for its incredible scenery, and much of the most recognisable is in Banff National Park. Banff village is also a pretty cool little place. It’s hugely popular in winter, as it’s close to a number of world-class ski resorts. Again, we missed the magical white stuff on this road trip, but it was still a pretty magical place in summer.
Yoho National Park
Back on the British Columbia side of the Canadian Rockies is Yoho National Park. With some pretty impressive lakes and waterfalls, you could spend a lot of time exploring here. Lake O’Hara is so popular that visitor numbers are limited, meaning you need to book months in advance. We planned this trip a few weeks earlier, so we missed Lake O’Hara unfortunately. Emerald Lake and Takakkaw Falls still made Yoho National Park worth stopping, though.
From Yoho you can either head straight down the BC-5 highway back to Vancouver, but I strongly suggest you venture south to Okanagan Valley – wine country! Oliver is wine-lovers heaven. There are dozens of wineries in the area producing some of Canada’s best wines. I was told by one of the many experts that served me there that Okanagan shares the same latitude as Champagne, France. I guess that’s a good thing because the wine was damn good from what I remember.
You may be confused as to how Washington has made an appearance in my Canadian Rockies Road Trip. Well, driving straight back to Vancouver didn’t really take our fancy, so we decided to duck down into the US of A to take the long route back. We spent a night in a strange, but very cool little cowboy town called Winthrop before making the drive through the gorgeous North Cascades National Park. I was tempted to stop back at Baker Lake after falling in love with it on my West Coast USA Road Trip, but we needed to get to Seattle to spend the last night of our road trip watching a band play that I had been dying to see for over ten years.
Back To Canada
I would’ve happily stayed in Seattle for longer. Every time I go there I feel like I leave too soon, but our time was up. Three weeks on the road was fantastic, but all good things must come to an end. We drove back to the Canadian border and Vancouver, another epic road trip ticked off the list. Now I want to go back and do it all again in winter!
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