Three weeks in British Columbia & Alberta - the ultimate road trip itinerary
Updated: May 7
A lot of people ask us what’s the best route to do in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta (especially British people), where to hit up and all the other niggly questions one gets. This is because we have been to this part of the world quite a few times and looking forward to planning our next trip. We have been in the winter months and in the summer. A common question we have is ‘how long should I go for?’ (which I usually respond to in two to three weeks if doing a road trip). Then I had a thought, why don’t we do a blog post and hopefully help out a lot of people who are thinking or going to this part of the world. So here it is everyone, a three week road trip itinerary to British Columbia and Alberta.
Note: We have put this itinerary together and it is free for your own personal use if you wish to use it. If you have any questions or have any extra ideas, please feel free to leave a comment below.
A quick intro
We have put this itinerary together but it's designed for those staying in hotels and other accommodations whilst driving a rented vehicle and not for those who have a minivan and using campsites (well, you can but you probably want to look elsewhere for campsite addresses as we haven’t done camping in this part of the world). Also the itinerary is for those who want a taste of these two amazing provinces. The ideal time to do this journey is from the end of May to the end of September due to weather conditions. We always say there are two seasons in this area, winter season and then construction season as a lot of roads will have work on them, repairing the tarmac from the harsh winter conditions. Another thing to think about is the Park Passes as this route does go through the Yoho, Banff and Jasper National Parks. More information on the passes can be found on my Banff National Park blog here. This route we have done is starting and finishing in Vancouver, BC (however with the same guide and a bit of juggling around, it can also be started and finished in Calgary, AB). The reason is that Vancouver is one of the biggest airports in the country and has great connections for visitors arriving from the rest of the world.
Day 1 - 3 Vancouver and its surroundings
We always say the first day arriving in Vancouver is a ‘get yourself sorted’ day or a ‘junk day’ especially arriving early in the morning from Europe due to the major time difference. The rest of the day is about getting the car rental sorted (if anyone wants to know which car rental company we use, we use Alamo, but that’s our own personal choice), driving to the hotel (hopefully with one with its own parking as parking rates in Downtown are expensive) and familiarise with the local area. Then the rest of the day we would check out the food scene and see what downtown Vancouver has to offer.
The second day we would stay in the city, keep walking around and check out the beautiful Stanley Park, check out the food scene in the harbour and go for a boat tour at night taking in the magical sunset whilst having dinner. Our full guide to Vancouver can be found here.
The third day, drive twenty minutes northwards and head up to Capilano Suspension Drive for a morning of fun walking across a huge gorge and around the treetops. Nearby is Cleveland Dam (a good stop off also to check out the mountains overlooking the dam). Full guide to Capilano Suspension Bridge can be found here.
At lunchtime drive up the road to the very end and there is fun to be had at Grouse Mountain. Once the cable car (or hike if you are feeling fit enough) ride has been completed, have lunch at the summit before checking out nature, the bears and a lumberjack show. Our full guide to Grouse Mountain mountain can be found here.
Day 4-5 Fraser Valley
Now it’s time to head out of Vancouver and find a base somewhere in the Abbotsford or Chilliwack areas. This is about a ninety-minute drive east from Vancouver and both towns are next to the Trans Canadian Highway 1 and road trippers will get used to this road on this itinerary. It’s the main highway which goes from Victoria on Vancouver Island all the way to St John’s in Newfoundland. After finding a base, the natural beauty of the valley is truly amazing. As well as the main river which follows through this area (of course, it’s called the Fraser), there are amazing waterfalls, nature trails, lakes and amazing mountain views. The town of Mission is great for its breakfast, the town of Harrison Hot Springs is great for relaxing and of course the town of Hope is great if you are into films. The Othello Tunnels on the outskirts of town are featured in Rambo: First Blood, War for the Planet of the Apes and Shoot to Kill. Check out our guide on the Fraser Valley here.
Another day can be spent doing the wineries in the Fraser Valley as there are over forty to choose from (that’s if you like your wine). They are some of the best we have tried on my travels.
Day 6 - drive from the Fraser Valley to Field
This is probably one of the longest drives of the trip but with plenty of stops on the way to refresh, eat or even take a photo or two. The route from Hope to Field (on the BC border) is about seven hours driving (without stops) and goes through Kamloops and Revelstoke. The mountains make this a truly amazing drive. Once in Field, have a good meal, check into a guesthouse or hotel and unwind under the stars.
Day 7 - A day in the Yoho National Park
Very close to the small town of Field are a few places to check out like the famous Natural Bridge, the Takakkaw Falls and the stunning Emerald Lake. All this can be done in one day and then in late afternoon drive over the border into Alberta. We would drive all the way to Banff in the evening as that is where the best accommodation for all budgets are and a great base to be located in. Check out my Yoho National Park guide here.
Day 8 - Banff
This is probably a good day to chill out from all the driving and take in what Banff has to offer. Check out the amazing food scene here and the shops but also spend some time at Cave and Basin, the birthplace of the Canadian National Park system and also take a trip up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain by gondola. Then relax at the Banff Hot Springs and soak in those amazing views whilst bathing. Our full guide on Banff and Banff national park can be found here.
Day 9 - A trip along the Bow Valley Parkway
Start off with a short trip to Lake Minnewanka on the outskirts of town, hire a pedal boat and take in the mountains overlooking this lake. Then afterwards drive along the Bow Valley Parkway (which runs alongside the Trans Canadian Highway 1) to Johnston Canyon and spend a few hours hiking and taking in the amazing falls. Then head back to Banff, relax and take in the night scene.
Day 10 - Lake Louise & Lake Moraine
This is backtracking a little bit but is only a forty minute drive from Banff back towards the Alberta-British Columbia border. Really start early and take in the drive to Lake Moraine which is one of Canada’s best natural highlights. The peaks overlooking the lake here are truly amazing. But get here early before the crowds come in (especially the tour companies with their coaches!). Then take the short drive back to Lake Louise and see the glacier over the lake and have tea in the Fairmont Hotel here which also overlooks the lake. In the evening, take in the drive from Lake Louise to Calgary for the next stop of this amazing journey.
Day 11 - Canmore
Just east of Banff is the town of Canmore, again another place for food and shopping (if you are into that thing) but what we love about this town is the hiking trails to the south.
Day 12 - Calgary
Spend this day taking in Calgary and what it has to offer. As well as shopping, eating out, there is also the Calgary Tower to go up, events at the Stampede ground or maybe just take a stroll around and see what you can find. Check out our guide on Calgary here.
Day 13 - Drumheller
One hour’s drive north-east of Calgary is Drumheller which is a great day out (especially those with children). Drumheller is known as ‘Dinosaur Town’ with lots of Dinosaur’s statues dotted around the place but also there is a museum dedicated to these creatures.
Nearby is Horseshoe Canyon and Star Mine Suspension Bridge but another highlight has to be the Hoodoos. All this plus the drive and lunch will take up a full day but it's a day worth doing.
Day 14 Drive to Jasper from Calgary
Another day in the car up the route 2 to Edmonton (which is a great halfway point and take in lunch and a bit of shopping at the huge shopping mall here on the western side of the city). We have to admit, apart from the shopping mall, we haven’t spent any time in the city but hopefully that will change soon and we can give you guys some tips. However in the afternoon take the drive westwards into the Jasper National Park and base yourself in Jasper. In the evening take in the food and drink scene and if you arrive early enough, take in a food tour. Check out my Jasper blog post here.
Day 15 Jasper
Jasper maybe a small town but there is plenty to do here. Take a ride up Whistler’s Mountain nearby and take in the amazing views over the town. There are also some wonderful short hikes to be had here also. In the afternoon, check out the town some more, relax and for beer lovers, there is also a great craft beer place to check out (which shows a lot of sports on screens around the bar if you need that sport fix) at the Jasper Brewing Company.
Day 16 - Mount Robson Provincial Park
Head westwards on route 16 for a great day in the Mount Robson Provincial Park which is just over the border in BC. The short drive goes past Moose Lake and Yellowhead Lake before arriving at the Mount Robson Visitor Centre. As well as a small museum and a place to grab a light snack, views of one of the highest peaks around can be seen from the back of the building. Again, another place for short hikes can be had here and just to point out, there are LOTS of moose and elk we came across whilst in this part of the world as well as bears (we saw a couple). If that’s the case and thinking about hiking, make sure to have that bear spray and a jingling bell clipped onto you.
Day 17 - Driving the Icefields Parkway
One of the most beautiful scenic drives we have done in the world. This 232km drive from Jasper to Lake Louise is spectacular. The drive is supposed to be three hours non-stop but we took hours to complete it. There are a lot of stops on the way, laybys to pull over and take in all the natural beauty. There are waterfalls, lakes, glaciers and mountains as well as wildlife to look out for. At the start of the day make sure there is enough gas in the tank as there is only one gas station at the Saskatchewan River Crossing (which we like to call the half-way point), which also is a good place to get a snack and use the restrooms. The main sights to see are Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Athabasca Falls and Columbia Icefield. Accommodation in the evening can be either Lake Louise, Field or back to Banff.
Day 18 - Days drive and sea crossing to Vancouver Island
We have added a short stay on Vancouver Island to this itinerary. Yes there are a dam lot of places between Lake Louise and Vancouver to stop off but we feel a shortstop on BC’s largest island is a must. So day 18 is a long drive with all the stops and then make sure there is enough time to catch the ferry at Tsawwassen for the short hop over to Swartz Bay. Victoria is a very short journey from Swartz Bay ferry port.
Day 19 - 20 Victoria and surrounding area
A short two day trip on the south of the island and get a feel for the small city of Victoria with its beautiful buildings by the water. If you have enough time, go for the drive north of the city along the Trans Canada Highway Route 1 to Chemainus and check out this ‘hippy’ town with its beautiful murals on the buildings and the surrounding nature. At the end of day twenty, catch an early evening ferry back to the mainland and stay in a hotel near Vancouver Airport (or stay until day 21 if flight from Vancouver is late in the evening and depart on the ferry on the final morning). Check out my blog post here.
Day 21 - time to go home!
It is time to be sad and leave the beautiful landscape and charming people of Canada behind. If the flight is in the evening, head back into Vancouver and find some more hidden gems.
Accommodation - the best place to find a budget covering all ranges of hotels, hostels, guesthouses can be found via my booking.com search box. Also if looking to splash the cash, please check out my hotel reviews at the Fairmont Jasper Lodge and Fairmont Banff Springs.
Car Hire - as mentioned, we personally use Alamo to book up car rentals and never had a problem renting from them when we pick up and drop off at Vancouver airport. That is our personal recommendation but there are other major car rental companies based here also which can be found elsewhere on the internet.
National parks of Canada - a great guide on the national parks and a good guide to find hiking trails can be found here.
There you go guys, we really hope this will help you in planning a road trip for 2-3 weeks around the Canadian Rockies plus other areas of Alberta and British Columbia. If you have any questions then please leave a comment below. As mentioned we have been here for quite a few times and hope to be back very soon exploring new areas.
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