• Claire

12 Days Road Tripping CANADA's National Parks! | Itinerary, Budget, Activities, Top Tips

Updated: Apr 27, 2019


The Canadian Rockies are truly a bucket-list destination and pretty much the ultimate road trip. I recently spend 12 days road-tripping around B.C and Alberta and share with you my itinerary, budget, favourite activities and top tips for planning your very own Canadian Rockies road-trip!



Itinerary


Itinerary


We started off in Vancouver where hired a car then set out to do a loop incorporating Whistler, Kamloops, Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, Vernon before returning to Vancouver. We hired a Ford Escape from Enterprise and as an unexpected bonus, we got a 25% discount and free upgrade because they didn't have the car we booked available when we arrived! The car was really lovely to drive and fairly fuel efficient.


Our car for the 12 days!


Vancouver (1 Night)


We spent a day prior to picking up our hire car in Vancouver sightseeing before we headed off. We hired bikes and cycled along the Vancouver Seawall and around Stanley Park.


View of Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge

View of Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge

Totem poles in Stanley Park

Cycling the seawall

Cycling the seawall

Cycling the seawall


We caught a small ferry over to Granville Island and grabbed lunch at the Granville Island Public Market full which is full of incredible food stalls and produce markets.


Lunch at Granville Island


We caught an amazing sunset down at Sunset Beach.


Sunset Beach


Accommodation - in Vancouver we stayed at HI Vancouver which served up the best free breakfast spread!


Vancouver to Whistler - 2 hours


Once we picked up our hire car we headed north of Vancouver en route to Whistler. The Sea to Sky Highway connects Vancouver and Whistler and has incredible views of the surrounding mountains and Howe Sound.


Driving the Sea to Sky highway

Driving the Sea to Sky highway


Whistler (2 nights)


Whistler is home to the world famous ski resorts atop Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and was the venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Whilst there wasn't any skiing happening while we were there at the end of summer, there's still heaps of cool things to do around Whistler and it's surrounds. Many people come to Whistler in the summer for the mountain bike park and Whistler Village is full of plenty of cafes and shops to keep you busy on a rainy day.


Whistler Village


We spent a day doing the incredible Rainbow Lake hike. The trail head is located just 10 minutes drive out of Whistler. The trail is 16kms return and offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and an epic reward of the beautiful Rainbow Lake at the end.


Rainbow Lake hike

Rainbow Lake

Rainbow Lake

Rainbow Lake

Rainbow Lake hike


A number of rusting train carriages have laid near the Cheakamus River south of Whistler since they were derailed in an accident in 1956 and have now become a popular attraction. The trail to the Whistler train wreck is an easy 2km and is a fun way to spend a morning exploring!


Whistler train wreck

Whistler train wreck


Accommodation - in Whistler we stayed at the HI Whistler hostel which is located in the Whistler athletes village as it hosted athletes in the 2010 Vancouver winter olympics. It was really clean, had good facilities and was a 15 minute drive from Whistler village.


Whistler to Kamloops - 4.5 hours


Our our way to Kamloops from Whistler we stopped off at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park to hike the trail to three beautiful turquoise, glacier-fed lakes named Lower, Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes. This hike is probably one of the best hikes I've ever done - we were so lucky to have such a clear day and the views of the Matier Glacier were epic!


Lower Joffre Lake is a quick 5-minute walk from the carpark and Middle Joffre Lake is 3km along a well-maintained trail at an elevation of 1,535m. We didn't make it all the way to the Upper Joffre Lake as we pushed for time as we had a long drive ahead of us!


Lower Joffre Lake

Lower Joffre Lake

Joffre Lakes hike

Middle Joffre Lake

Middle Joffre Lake


This portion of the drive between Pembroke and Kamloops was incredibly scenic and the landscape changed from lush forest and snow-capped mountains to almost arid-conditions and barren mountains.


Drive from Whistler to Kamloops

Drive from Whistler to Kamloops

Drive from Whistler to Kamloops


Kamloops (1 night)


Kamloops is a city in south-central B.C which is home to Sun Peaks ski resort. We used Kamloops as a stopover destination as it is roughly halfway between Whistler and Jasper. We stayed in this cute and cosy Airbnb for the night - it was nice to have our own space after staying in hostels for the last few nights!


Image: Airbnb


Kamloops to Jasper National Park - 5 hours


The drive from Kamloops to Jasper National park too roughly five hours and the views along the way were epic! We also changed provinces and time zones as we were now in Alberta.


The drive into Jasper NP

The drive into Jasper NP

The highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies - Mt Robson at 3,954m

Entering Alberta


Jasper National Park (2 nights)


Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies full of epic glaciers, mountains and lakes. It is also well know for its abundance of wildlife like elk, moose and bears. Jasper town is really quite small and full of souvenir shops and tourist eateries but really beautiful with amazing views of the Rockies on a clear day.


Jasper Town


Our firth stop was the Maligne Canyon which is a spectacular eroded stretch of canyon over 50 metres with many waterfalls. In the winter it all freezes over and you can actually walk on the ice down inside the canyon!


Maligne Canyon


Mt Edith Cavell is one of the most prominent peaks of the Canadian Rockies at 3,500m. If you look closely you can see Angel Glacier on the mountain.


Mt Edith Cavell


Jasper is a great place for wildlife spotting especially at dawn or dusk. Whilst we unfortunately didn't get to see a bear or a moose, we spotted deer and elk.


A deer by the river

A male elk right by our car!


We caught the sunset at Pyramid Lake with the view of Pyramid Mountain in the background.


Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake


We went white water rafting in Jasper on the Athabasca River. Whilst the rapids were a bit tame as it it was only class 2 and water levels were low, it was still awesome to be out on the river with beautiful scenery all around us. Unfortunately it was way too icy for a dip as the water runs directly from the Athabasca Glacier!


White water rafting in Jasper

White water rafting in Jasper


After white water rafting we warmed up with a dip in the pools at Miette Hot Springs which is fed by natural hot springs water that flows from the mountains.


Accommodation - in Jasper we stayed at the HI Mt Edith Wilderness Hostel. The hostel was located at the end of a super windy road and pretty much in the shadow of Mt Edith Cavell. As a wilderness hostel, it had no electricity, running water (showers/flushing toilets) and basic rooms but it is in such an incredible location and gave us a little taste of being in the Canadian wilderness.


View of Mt Edith Cavell from our wilderness hostel


Jasper National Park to Banff National Park - Lake Louise (1 Night)


We spent the next day driving down the Icefields Parkway. The Icefields Parkway is the stretch of highway that connects Jasper National Park to Banff National Park. The drive down the Icefields Parkway was so incredible that it has its own separate blog post here.


At the end of the Icefields Parkway we arrived at the town of Lake Louise as we were staying at a hostel there for the night. The town of Lake Louise is really small and food options were very limited and expensive so we ended up eating at our hostel. We went to Lake Louise twice - for sunrise and sunset - but even though it was overcast, it was still incredibly beautiful.


Lake Louise

Lake Louise


Accommodation - in Lake Louise we stayed at the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre which is located a convenient 8 minute drive away from the famous lake.


Banff National Park (3 nights)


Banff National Park is Canada's oldest national park and was established in 1885. The town was a lot more built-up than Jasper and incredibly scenic, with mountains surrounding the town and the beautiful Bow river flowing through it.


Entrance to Banff town

Banff Town


Tunnel mountain is know as the most popular hike in the Canadian Rockies. The trail is easily accessible from downtown Banff, suitable for all levels of fitness and has insane views over Banff town, the Bow and Spray River valleys, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel and surrounding peaks like Mt Rundle.


Tunnel Mountain hike - View over Banff town

Tunnel Mountain hike - View over Banff town

Tunnel Mountain hike - View over Bow River

Tunnel Mountain hike - View over Bow river

Tunnel Mountain hike - view of Mt Rundle


While in Banff we hired a canoe from Banff Canoe Club (within walking distance from downtown Banff) and went canoeing in the beautiful Bow River for an hour. The Bow River is directly fed by the Bow Glacier, which is how it gets its bright turquoise colour - but unfortunately makes it freezing and too cold for a swim!


Canoeing on Bow River

Canoeing on Bow River

Canoeing on Bow River


The Banff Hoodoos are the remnants of eroded sedimentary rock which leaves tower-like rock needles behind. A short trail follows Tunnel Mountain road with great views of the Hoodoos.


Banff Hoodoos


Two Jack Lake is an easy 10 minute drive from Banff Town and is a beautiful spot for kayaking or a picnic or to chill in a hammock!


Chilling out by Two Jack Lake

Chilling out by Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake


While we were in Banff we also did a quick day trip to the nearby city of Calgary when the weather wasn't too great.


Accommodation - in Banff we stayed at the Samesun Banff hostel. It had free parking, a good free breakfast and was easy walking distance into town.


Banff National Park to Vernon - 5.5 hours


Unfortunately it was time for us to leave the Rockies and Banff NP and begin our drive back to Vancouver. We used Vernon as a stopover point as it was roughly halfway between Vancouver and Banff.


Vernon (1 night)


In Vernon we stayed in this Airbnb - a guest cottage in someone's backyard. It was cosy and also had a hot tub!


Image: Airbnb


Vernon to Vancouver - 5 hours


On the last day of our road trip we set off from Vernon early as we had to return our rental car by midday. Luckily with minimal stops and lots of coffee we made it in time!

Sunrise leaving Vernon


Budget


Canada is an expensive country to travel and the Rockies are a touristy area that is particularly expensive. We were able to cut our costs down by splitting a car rental between 3 of us, staying in hostels/airbnb's and cooking meals ourselves. Even still by doing this, it was quite expensive in backpacker standards but completely worth it!


  • Car Hire: $300 each for 12 days ($25 per person, per day)

  • Petrol: cost us $300 ($100 each) for the 3000kms we drove

  • Accommodation: roughly $40-60 per night for a bed in a hostel dorm. Our Airbnbs cost $30 and $25 each split between us. We also reserved all our accommodation 6 months ahead of time which enabled us to get the cheapest rates. Accommodation in the national parks tends to sell out quickly in peak seasons and prices rise exorbitantly quickly.

  • Food: most of our hostels offered free breakfast which we made the most of! We aimed to spend under $10/meal for our other meals by eating at cheap takeaways rather than restaurants or cooking meals at our hostel ourselves.

  • Tours and activities: We found tours and touristy activities to be exorbitantly overpriced. For example, at Lake Louise it was $120 to hire a canoe for half an hour! We opted to canoe on the Bow River at Banff instead which was $40 per hour. We chose to swap super expensive touristy activities for incredible hikes instead.

  • National Parks Pass: our national parks pass coast $136.00 for a car load and is valid for entry to all of Canada's national parks for 12 months. Otherwise the cost of entry is $10 per person, per day.


Top Tips


  • Book your accommodation well in advance

  • Pack good hiking shoes if you are planning on doing extended hikes - my feet were so sore after doing 16kms in running shoes!

  • Having a HI membership saved us roughly 10% every night on hostels and got us an extra 5% discount on our car rental

  • Getting a yearly national parks pass enabled us to sell it onto someone else and for us to re-coup some of our money

  • It is recommended that you carry bear spray/bear bells on hikes in many areas! Some hostels will loan them to you for a refundable deposit.

  • Stock up on basic groceries in a big city as they are a lot more expensive, the more rural you go


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Check out my other adventures in Canada here!