A Canadian Adventure: Itinerary for Western Canada

canadian adventure -alpine meadow

Alpine meadows and wild flowers can be found throughout Western Canada. Photo courtesy of rosshellgirl on Flickr.

Planning a Canadian adventure for Western Canada is a daunting task due to the size of the country, but if you have two weeks (more is better of course), you can still see a lot of Western Canada.  This Canadian adventure is a combination of cities and provincial and national parks since most visitors to Canada are interested in seeing both.  This itinerary for Western Canada is loosely based on my recommendations for J.P.’s (my German fiance) family and German friends who are coming to Canada for the first time and eager to see as much of Western Canada as possible.  We are also going to the same places as indicated below for our honeymoon until we get to Vancouver Island when we will be veering off onto other destinations for diving and whale watching (but we were in Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet and Sooke last year for another Canadian adventure).

This itinerary for Western Canada is loosely based on my recommendations for J.P.’s (my German fiance) family and German friends who are coming to Canada for the first time and eager to see as much of Western Canada as possible.  We are also going to the same places as indicated below for our honeymoon until we get to Vancouver Island when we will be veering off onto other destinations for diving and whale watching (but we were in Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet and Sooke last year for another Canadian adventure).

For this Canadian adventure you will need a rental car as public transportation is not nearly as good in Canada as it is in other parts of the world.  Although it is possible to cut out a lot of the driving by flying from Calgary to Vancouver, I would recommend driving to really experience Western Canada and some at some of the interesting points of interest along the way, not to mention the jagged peaks and forests that seem to go on forever.

Calgary, first stop on the Canadian adventure

Calgary, first stop on the Canadian adventure. Photo courtesy of Stephen Desroches on Flickr

Day 1:  Arrive in Calgary and stay in Calgary for one day. I know that one day isn’t very long, but I lived in Calgary for 10 years and while I think it’s a nice place to live, from a tourist point of view, I think there are more interesting places to spend your time, which is likely quite limited.  I would recommend spending a day in Calgary checking out some of the more popular attractions.

My top picks would be: Fort Calgary, Heritage Park Historical Village, Canada Olympic Park or going for a walk up McHugh Bluff which has a nice view of the Bow River and downtown Calgary (ask the Tourist Information Office to point this out to you on a map).

Canadian adventure - Lake Louise

Next stop on the Canadian Adventure? Banff and Lake Louise (pictured above). Photo courtesy of simsbury119 on Flickr

Day2:  Drive from Calgary to Banff National Park. Discover Banff/Lake Louise for days 2 through 5.
The drive from Calgary to Banff is 130km and takes around 1:30 hr.  Three days is not even close to do Banff and Lake Louise justice, especially if you are a hiker.  If you have more time you could easily tack on an extra week and also explore nearby Yoho National P ark in B.C. from Banff as well.  I would recommend staying in Banff rather than Lake Louise as accommodations are usually cheaper in Banff and Lake Louise is just a short drive away.

The hikes you will want to do will really depend on your fitness level, but even if you are only a casual walker, you will still find plenty of trails for your ability level and can soak away your aches and pains in the Banff Hot Springs.  For trails check with the well informed staff at the Banff Tourism Office.  Trail conditions are always changing or sometimes closed because of bear activity so it’s a good idea to check with the tourist office right before you go. See our recommendations for a day hiking packing list.

Parks Canada Banff/Lake Louise website is an excellent source of information on hikes in the area, bear activity and safety.  If you’re in Banff for the wildlife, be sure to check out Wild Adventures in Banff.  I have traveled a lot, hiked a lot in Banff, live in Germany, but have still chosen to come back to Banff to get married – it’s truly that spectacular!

Canadian adventure - Columbia Ice Fields

No Canadian adventure of Western Canada is complete without a stop at the Columbia Icefields along the Columbia Icefield Parkway enroute to Jasper. Photo courtesy of LipBalm on Flickr.

Day 6:  Drive from Banff to Jasper along the Columbia Icefields Parkway.  The Columbia Icefields Parkway is frequently referred to as the most scenic highway in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This part of the journey is 290 km and will take just under 4 hours.  The parkway is  a leisurely journey as you take in the panoramic of peaks, many  of which are over 3300m.  Be on the lookout for bears, which sometimes can be seen by the road – another reason to drive slowly, as almost every year a bear is hit by a car on the parkway, but please don’t get out to take pictures (it happens every year).

You will also want to stop at the Columbia Icefields themselves, which are the largest icefields in the Rocky Mountains measuring 200 sq km! You can visit the information center (well marked) or take a tour of the icefields in a specially designed vehicle for driving over glaciers.

I haven’t done the tour yet as I normally stay away from really touristy things, but will be doing it this summer on my honeymoon and think it will be a tour with taking as you are able to see the icefields from a vantage point that you wouldn’t see any other way.

canadian adventure - jasper

Next stop on the Canadian advnture – Jasper National Park. Photo of Maligne Lake courtesy of briandeadly

Day 7 – 8:  Explore Jasper National Park.  Jasper is not as well known as Banff National Park, but perhaps because of that I always see a lot of wildlife in Jasper.  The last time I was there I saw three wolves!  For hikers, spend more time in Jasper if time allows as in two days you will only begin to scratch the surface.  I could easily spend a couple of weeks hiking in Jasper. For more information on things to do in Jasper see Official Travel Site for Jasper National Park.

Canadian adventure - wells gray provincial park

Wells Gray Provincial Park is not famous outside of Canada, but perhaps it should be. Check out Helmcken Falls. Photo courtesy of meironke on Flickr.

Day 9:  Drive from Jasper to Wells Gray Provincial Park in British Columbia.  Total driving distance is 317km, just under 4 hours.  You could save 1/2 day and drive straight to Vancouver missing Wells Gray Provincial Park, which  is not well known outside of Canada, but I think it’s worth a stop, particularly for that reason.  Northern British Columbia is sparsely populated and from my experience ,less people equals more wildlife.

I must confess that I’ve never been to Wells Gray, but my brother worked there for a summer and loved all the waterfalls and wildlife that he saw  daily.  We’re staying there for one night on our Canadian adventure honeymoon this summer and already I’m wishing we could spend more time there.  If you get up early, you could arrive at Wells Gray in the early afternoon and get in a short hike in the afternoon, or better yet, stay for an extra day or two if you have time.  For more info see:  Wells Gray Provincial Park.

Canadian adventure - grizzly bear

If you’re really lucky you may just see a grizzly bear on your Canadian adventure. Photo courtesy of Princess-Lodges on Flickr.

Day 10:  Drive from Wells Gray Provincial Park to Vancouver, then hop the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria.  Day 10 is largely a traveling day, but at least you will time to take in all the forests and peaks.  The drive from Wells Gray to Vancouver is just under 480 km, taking ~ 5:30 hours.   A ferry from Vancouver to Victoria is 1:35 minutes.  Be sure to book early through BC Ferries, especially since you are taking a car.

Canadian adventure - victoria

There’s no shortage of cultural or nature in Victoria and the surrounding area.

Days 11 & 12:  Sightseeing in Victoria and surrounding area. Victoria is known as Canada’s most English city  and has the mildest climate of any city in Canada.  There is no shortage of cultural events and sites, the famed Butchard Gardens, native history, wine tours, whale watching tours and  the list goes on and on. See Tourism Victoria for more ideas, or visit the informative Tourist Information Office once you’re in Victoria.

If you have more time, there is so much more to explore on Vancouver Island, I love the area of Sooke, a short 40km drive from Victoria and the Gulf Island are also a popular choice.  If you have longer, I would be remiss not to mention Tofino and Ucluelet.  Tofino is 317km or a 5 hour drive from Victoria so you would need at least a few extra days, but for nature lovers these two small towns are surrounded by fabulous hiking trails, surfing and whale watching.

Canadian adventure - vancouver

And the last stop on the Canadian adventure? Vancouver. Photo courtesy of KK+ on Flickr.

Day 12:  Take the Ferry from Victoria to Vancouver and take in the Sights of Vancouver until Day 14. One of my favorite things to do in Vancouver is to explore the city by walking.  There are so many funky districts, each with it’s own flavor and feel.  Among my favorite things to do in Vancouver are going for walk by the Sea Wall, cycling   in Stanley Park and taking one of the many water taxis, but there’s so much more to do in Vancouver.  See Tourism Vancouver for more info.

And there you have it, a two week Canadian adventure!  Have I left out lots of other interesting places?  Yes,definitely, Canada is a big place and there’s so many wonderful places to discover.  You’ll just have to make a second trip to Hike to Stanley Glacier, or to check out the vineyards of Kelowna or Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, or Waterton National Park, or… What are your “can’t miss” destinations in Western Canada?

canadian adventure -alpine meadow

Alpine meadows and wild flowers can be found throughout Western Canada. Photo courtesy of rosshellgirl on Flickr.

Planning a Canadian adventure for Western Canada is a daunting task due to the size of the country, but if you have two weeks (more is better of course), you can still see a lot of Western Canada.  This Canadian adventure is a combination of cities and provincial and national parks since most visitors to Canada are interested in seeing both.  This itinerary for Western Canada is loosely based on my recommendations for J.P.’s (my German fiance) family and German friends who are coming to Canada for the first time and eager to see as much of Western Canada as possible.  We are also going to the same places as indicated below for our honeymoon until we get to Vancouver Island when we will be veering off onto other destinations for diving and whale watching (but we were in Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet and Sooke last year for another Canadian adventure).

This itinerary for Western Canada is loosely based on my recommendations for J.P.’s (my German fiance) family and German friends who are coming to Canada for the first time and eager to see as much of Western Canada as possible.  We are also going to the same places as indicated below for our honeymoon until we get to Vancouver Island when we will be veering off onto other destinations for diving and whale watching (but we were in Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet and Sooke last year for another Canadian adventure).

For this Canadian adventure you will need a rental car as public transportation is not nearly as good in Canada as it is in other parts of the world.  Although it is possible to cut out a lot of the driving by flying from Calgary to Vancouver, I would recommend driving to really experience Western Canada and some at some of the interesting points of interest along the way, not to mention the jagged peaks and forests that seem to go on forever.

Calgary, first stop on the Canadian adventure

Calgary, first stop on the Canadian adventure. Photo courtesy of Stephen Desroches on Flickr

Day 1:  Arrive in Calgary and stay in Calgary for one day. I know that one day isn’t very long, but I lived in Calgary for 10 years and while I think it’s a nice place to live, from a tourist point of view, I think there are more interesting places to spend your time, which is likely quite limited.  I would recommend spending a day in Calgary checking out some of the more popular attractions.

My top picks would be: Fort Calgary, Heritage Park Historical Village, Canada Olympic Park or going for a walk up McHugh Bluff which has a nice view of the Bow River and downtown Calgary (ask the Tourist Information Office to point this out to you on a map).

Canadian adventure - Lake Louise

Next stop on the Canadian Adventure? Banff and Lake Louise (pictured above). Photo courtesy of simsbury119 on Flickr

Day2:  Drive from Calgary to Banff National Park. Discover Banff/Lake Louise for days 2 through 5.
The drive from Calgary to Banff is 130km and takes around 1:30 hr.  Three days is not even close to do Banff and Lake Louise justice, especially if you are a hiker.  If you have more time you could easily tack on an extra week and also explore nearby Yoho National P ark in B.C. from Banff as well.  I would recommend staying in Banff rather than Lake Louise as accommodations are usually cheaper in Banff and Lake Louise is just a short drive away.

The hikes you will want to do will really depend on your fitness level, but even if you are only a casual walker, you will still find plenty of trails for your ability level and can soak away your aches and pains in the Banff Hot Springs.  For trails check with the well informed staff at the Banff Tourism Office.  Trail conditions are always changing or sometimes closed because of bear activity so it’s a good idea to check with the tourist office right before you go.

Parks Canada Banff/Lake Louise website is an excellent source of information on hikes in the area, bear activity and safety.  If you’re in Banff for the wildlife, be sure to check out Wild Adventures in Banff.  I have traveled a lot, hiked a lot in Banff, live in Germany, but have still chosen to come back to Banff to get married – it’s truly that spectacular!

Canadian adventure - Columbia Ice Fields

No Canadian adventure of Western Canada is complete without a stop at the Columbia Icefields along the Columbia Icefield Parkway enroute to Jasper. Photo courtesy of LipBalm on Flickr.

Day 6:  Drive from Banff to Jasper along the Columbia Icefields Parkway.  The Columbia Icefields Parkway is frequently referred to as the most scenic highway in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This part of the journey is 290 km and will take just under 4 hours.  The parkway is  a leisurely journey as you take in the panoramic of peaks, many  of which are over 3300m.  Be on the lookout for bears, which sometimes can be seen by the road – another reason to drive slowly, as almost every year a bear is hit by a car on the parkway, but please don’t get out to take pictures (it happens every year).

You will also want to stop at the Columbia Icefields themselves, which are the largest icefields in the Rocky Mountains measuring 200 sq km! You can visit the information center (well marked) or take a tour of the icefields in a specially designed vehicle for driving over glaciers.

I haven’t done the tour yet as I normally stay away from really touristy things, but will be doing it this summer on my honeymoon and think it will be a tour with taking as you are able to see the icefields from a vantage point that you wouldn’t see any other way.

canadian adventure - jasper

Next stop on the Canadian advnture – Jasper National Park. Photo of Maligne Lake courtesy of briandeadly

Day 7 – 8:  Explore Jasper National Park.  Jasper is not as well known as Banff National Park, but perhaps because of that I always see a lot of wildlife in Jasper.  The last time I was there I saw three wolves!  For hikers, spend more time in Jasper if time allows as in two days you will only begin to scratch the surface.  I could easily spend a couple of weeks hiking in Jasper. For more information on things to do in Jasper see Official Travel Site for Jasper National Park.

Canadian adventure - wells gray provincial park

Wells Gray Provincial Park is not famous outside of Canada, but perhaps it should be. Check out Helmcken Falls. Photo courtesy of meironke on Flickr.

Day 9:  Drive from Jasper to Wells Gray Provincial Park in British Columbia.  Total driving distance is 317km, just under 4 hours.  You could save 1/2 day and drive straight to Vancouver missing Wells Gray Provincial Park, which  is not well known outside of Canada, but I think it’s worth a stop, particularly for that reason.  Northern British Columbia is sparsely populated and from my experience ,less people equals more wildlife.

I must confess that I’ve never been to Wells Gray, but my brother worked there for a summer and loved all the waterfalls and wildlife that he saw  daily.  We’re staying there for one night on our Canadian adventure honeymoon this summer and already I’m wishing we could spend more time there.  If you get up early, you could arrive at Wells Gray in the early afternoon and get in a short hike in the afternoon, or better yet, stay for an extra day or two if you have time.  For more info see:  Wells Gray Provincial Park.

Canadian adventure - grizzly bear

If you’re really lucky you may just see a grizzly bear on your Canadian adventure. Photo courtesy of Princess-Lodges on Flickr.

Day 10:  Drive from Wells Gray Provincial Park to Vancouver, then hop the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria.  Day 10 is largely a traveling day, but at least you will time to take in all the forests and peaks.  The drive from Wells Gray to Vancouver is just under 480 km, taking ~ 5:30 hours.   A ferry from Vancouver to Victoria is 1:35 minutes.  Be sure to book early through BC Ferries, especially since you are taking a car.

Canadian adventure - victoria

There’s no shortage of cultural or nature in Victoria and the surrounding area.

Days 11 & 12:  Sightseeing in Victoria and surrounding area. Victoria is known as Canada’s most English city  and has the mildest climate of any city in Canada.  There is no shortage of cultural events and sites, the famed Butchard Gardens, native history, wine tours, whale watching tours and  the list goes on and on. See Tourism Victoria for more ideas, or visit the informative Tourist Information Office once you’re in Victoria.

If you have more time, there is so much more to explore on Vancouver Island, I love the area of Sooke, a short 40km drive from Victoria and the Gulf Island are also a popular choice.  If you have longer, I would be remiss not to mention Tofino and Ucluelet.  Tofino is 317km or a 5 hour drive from Victoria so you would need at least a few extra days, but for nature lovers these two small towns are surrounded by fabulous hiking trails, surfing and whale watching.

Canadian adventure - vancouver

And the last stop on the Canadian adventure? Vancouver. Photo courtesy of KK+ on Flickr.

Day 12:  Take the Ferry from Victoria to Vancouver and take in the Sights of Vancouver until Day 14. One of my favorite things to do in Vancouver is to explore the city by walking.  There are so many funky districts, each with it’s own flavor and feel.  Among my favorite things to do in Vancouver are going for walk by the Sea Wall, cycling   in Stanley Park and taking one of the many water taxis, but there’s so much more to do in Vancouver.  See Tourism Vancouver for more info.

And there you have it, a two week Canadian adventure!  Have I left out lots of other interesting places?  Yes,definitely, Canada is a big place and there’s so many wonderful places to discover.  You’ll just have to make a second trip to Hike to Stanley Glacier, or to check out the vineyards of Kelowna or Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, or Waterton National Park, or… What are your “can’t miss” destinations in Western Canada?

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.
2017-09-24T17:37:25+00:00

18 Comments

  1. John April 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Great post Laurel! Waterton is definitely a very nice park as well. My fianceé and I just found out today that we are moving from near Calgary to Vancouver at the end of the month. When are you guys in Vancouver? Let’s have a beer together 🙂 Have a great weekend, JP

  2. Laurel April 8, 2011 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    Thanks John and so glad you mentioned Waterton, I grew up in PIncher Creek and LOVE Waterton, plus the wildlife there can’t be beat. I love Vancouver, much better than Calgary actually, so hope you enjoy it. Good luck with the move. Would love to meet up since our lives seem to be running in parallel. We’re only in Vancouver for a day and a half from Aug 25/26. I’ll send you an email :).

  3. robin April 9, 2011 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Calgary certainly looks colourful. And some of that scenery id ok, I suppose 😉

    Seriously though – out of this world landscapes to someone coming from little old Ireland.

  4. Laurel April 9, 2011 at 10:54 am - Reply

    @Robin – I think it’s safe to say that Calgary is not normally that colorful 🙂

    The landscapes of Western Canada are hard to beat, I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland (I’m part Irish), it looks beautiful as well.

  5. Debbie Beardsley April 9, 2011 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    This sounds like a great fun trip! For most of my adult life I have wanted to go to Lake Louise. No clue why I haven’t made it yet but reading this post and seeing the pictures has me longing to go!

  6. Terry April 9, 2011 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Laurel, when you are in Banff be sure to take a side trip to Johnston Canyon http://www.JohnstonCanyon.com. It is a great way to spend a day, offering incredible views of turquoise waterfalls with only minimal hiking effort. It is a bit more effort to continue your hike up to the Ink Pots, but it is a worthwhile trek.

    Cheers, Terry

  7. Arti April 10, 2011 at 7:43 am - Reply

    This looks like a fantasyland, my dream destination!!! This is gorgeous, almost surreal!

  8. Pete @ Hecktic Travels April 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Great post! There is so much to do in Western Canada that you need a couple months to see it all! If there was one thing on your list you didn’t mention it is the Kootenays in British Columbia. Beautiful region with so much to do, and Nelson is one of our favorite little towns that we have spent a lot of time in and around. Agree with the Waterton comments above as well. Cheers!

  9. The NVR Guys April 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    We have actually taken a very similar road trip. Ours started in Portland and took us through Glacier National Park (our favorite place on the planet, literally) and Waterton on the front side. A trip of a lifetime really.

  10. Laurel April 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    @Debbie – Lake Louise is beyond stunning, hope you’re able to make it there soon, it will be worth the wait.

    @Terry – Thanks for the suggestion, I love Johnson’s Canyon and agree the Ink Pots are worth the effort. It was one of the first places I took J.P. when he came to visit the first time.

    @Arti – It’s beautiful, but I would recommend going in the summer as it gets cold in winter (which is very beautiful in a different way, but cold 🙂

    @Pete – The Kootenays are a great suggestion! Glad to hear you like Waterton as well. You’re right that you really need a couple of months to see everything.

    @TheNVR Guys – I love Glacier National Park as well, but haven’t spent even close to enough time there. So glad you’ve been to Waterton as well. I’m amazed at how many people live in Calgary, a 3 hour drive from Waterton that haven’t been, so wonderful that so many people have heard of it. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

  11. Grace April 10, 2011 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    Laurel, it is a beautiful place to get married. I have not explored western Canada so this is a useful guide.

  12. Laurel April 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    @Grace – Thanks Grace, I think Banff is a great place to get married too :). The challenge of trying to explore Canada is not having enough time. This is true almost everywhere you go, but in Canada is especially challenging due to the distance and flights within the country are not cheap either. Hope you’re able to experience it for yourself one day.

  13. Tracy D April 11, 2011 at 3:45 am - Reply

    Even as a Calgarian I found this post helpful, I’ve never been to Wells Gray provincial park but it just made my list. There is so much to see & do between Calgary and Vancouver Island, but I think you hit some real high points & I love the photos you chose!

  14. Jeremy B April 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm - Reply

    Love all the outdoor places in Canada. Incredibly beautiful and hope to get a chance to visit. However, I do NOT want to see a Grizzly! 🙂

  15. Kelly April 15, 2011 at 2:14 am - Reply

    If you had more time, I would inquire…why not head a little east and visit Drumheller (dinosaurs!) and continue on into the prairies of Saskatchewan? Grassland National Park, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (AB/SK), Fort Walsh, the Great Sand Hills — all worthwhile to see, and a marked contrast to the mountains/forests you see in the itinerary you listed above. But again, it all requires time…

  16. Cathy Sweeney April 15, 2011 at 3:49 am - Reply

    What an awesome itinerary! I loved Sooke on Vancouver island and Waterton Lakes Nat’l Park in Alberta. Can’t wait to see more of Western Canada!

  17. Roy April 16, 2011 at 12:19 am - Reply

    Great itinerary. I did something similar last summer. Also, if you are traveling those parts around early August, it’s worth checking out Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo.

  18. MaryM August 22, 2011 at 9:38 am - Reply

    I’m chomping at the bit to take on this itinerary. Two other items to add to the list…the Sea to Sky Highway north of Vancouver. When I was in Vancouver, my favorite place was Granville Island for the public market. You can get there by water taxi or take a short taxi ride up False Creek from there. The public market has all kinds of food stands (we loved the honey we bought there), handmade items, street performers, and the Granville Island Brewery tasting room. Vancouver is a great walking city.

Leave A Comment

20 Shares
Share4
Tweet1
Pin15
Stumble
+1
Buffer