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How to Drive Vancouver to Banff – Rockies Roadtrip

Peyto lake from the viewpoint

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE a road trip. Especially when you consider the drive from Vancouver to Banff and how picturesque it is, it’s definitely one of my favourite road trips so far.

I will always try to find as many view points, tourist stops or landmarks as possible so that I can really make the most of it. There is just something about having the freedom to travel on your own itinerary and at your own pace. Unlike an organised tour where you have to stop at their chosen intervals.

Plus, if you have the world’s smallest bladder like me, being able to stop whenever you like is a blessing. This is why road trips are superior in my opinion.

Table of Contents

I highly recommend everyone to do a Rockies road trip. There are just so many postcard perfect views to see along the way. Waterfalls, mountains, caves and lakes. What more could you want?

Yes, you could just drive straight to Banff in 10 hours and not stop to see anything along the way..

But where is the fun in that?! You may as well see as much as you can!

Map courtesy of Wanderlog, the best travel planner app on iOS and Android

There are many ways you can amend the itinerary above and a few different routes to take when you drive from Vancouver to Banff. As many people who do a road trip in this direction often head to Banff or Calgary to catch flights, I have decided to include the drive times for the way back to Vancouver as well.

Want to start planning your own itinerary? Make sure you start with your national park passes! You can get these direct on the Government of Canada’s website here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/admission

Accommodations

If you are planning to stay in the Rockies you can either opt for hostel & hotel accommodation in each place, or you could go camping.

If you choose to camp, you can use the site HipCAMP. On their site you can search countless campsites throughout the Rocky mountains (and all of Canada) to book your nights stay.

  • If you want some free HipCash (the website currency) feel free to use my referral code below and you’ll get $10 (CAD) to use for your own trip!
  • Just enter BRITADVENTURES0122 during sign-up to get the reward!

Safety tip: If camping, make sure you are aware of what wildlife may be around you. In many locations wolves and bears are everywhere and you wouldn’t want to get too close.

If you prefer to stay in actual accommodation, my top two booking platforms are:

  • Hostelworld – for sociable hostels and ways to meet other travellers
  • Booking – for a more relaxed and quiet property

The Tourist Attractions

us at a clearing near johnston canyon
Chris & I at a clearing in Johnston Canyon taking a break from walking.

Othello Tunnels

The Othello Tunnels are the first stop on your drive from Vancouver to Banff. The tunnels were once used for old trains and were carved out of the solid granite canyon in the area. The tunnels are now used as a popular hiking trail that is short and flat so is easily accessible for anyone! There are 4 large tunnels of varying styles and a bridge that crosses across the Coquihalla river.

The trail continues past the 4th tunnel, however most visitors to the area stop and turn around here to return to the car park.

Time needed to visit: It should only take 1 hour to walk the length of the trail.

When can you visit? Between April and October. During the winter the park is closed due to landslide risk.

Cascade view point

Another great stop on the drive from Vancouver to Banff, This is a great 360-degree lookout point in Manning park. It is opposite the Manning Park Resort and the top of the lookout has bad phone reception so don’t be surprised if you can’t upload to your insta story straight away. The trail can get quite steep in some areas so take extra care on windy or wet days.

It is only accessible as a walk during the summer as the snow is usually not cleared in winter which makes the trail unsafe. If you do happen to visit in winter, part of the trail is used as a sledding hill. This area regularly has landslide risk

Time needed to visit: 30 minutes – one hour to complete the walk to the lookout and get back down.

When can you visit? Summer months between May – October for the view lookout point. You can access some of the trails in winter for sledging however.

Kinney Lake

This is one of the longest walks to reach a destination on our list. From the car park and trail head, it takes between 2.5 and 3 hours to complete this trail. It is a slightly difficult trail as it has tricky terrain and is not flat the entire way. If you are less physically able this might be a good one to miss out on – but don’t worry there are plenty of other beautiful lakes still to visit on this drive from Vancouver to Banff.

Time needed to visit: 3 hours for the trail to the lake and back for the average hiker.

When can you visit? Technically it is a year-round destination however the trail is best used between May and October.

Jasper Mountain

Jasper is a tourist destination where you can either enjoy the ski village or head to the top of the mountain! The village triples its residents when the winter season arrives as it is a favourite ski resort for Canadians and foreigners alike. As this is a ski village there are restaurants, bars, shops and plenty of other amenities for visitors to enjoy.

You can travel to the top of the mountain for ($54.60 +GST pp) using the skytram. This is one of the most popular attractions in Jasper and if you’re lucky you’ll get amazing mountain top views. The skytram only takes 7 minutes to get you to the top of the mountain and then you are able to either stay in their cafe/restaurant to observe the views or you can access multiple hikes with varying difficulty to get further up the peak.

Time needed to visit: Anything from an hour if you only want to do the skytram to a few days!

When can you visit? Year- round

the island and waterfall of sunwapta falls a stop on our drive from vancouver to banff
The famous Sunwapta Falls from the viewpoint

Athabasca Falls

Only a 25 minute drive from Jasper village is Athabasca falls. It’s on most major tour itineraries and the parking lot is often filled with coaches and tour buses. The falls are only a height of 23-metres (not as tall as many others in the area) but the fast flowing river and the landscape makes this waterfall a tourist favourite.

One of the highlights of this location (other than the falls of course!) is walking down staircases in between limestone canyons. The water is that crystal-clear, bright blue shade you normally expect in the rockies. If you follow the limestone walkways to the end of the trail, you’ll reach a quiet opening down the river where countless Inukshuk will line the riverbank. If you follow the river further, you eventually reach the fast flowing falls.

Time needed to visit: The walk to fully enjoy the falls takes around 1 hour and is an out and back trail. There is only a small elevation of 25metres.

When can you visit?: The falls are open to visitors year-round.

Amenities: Free parking, public dry toilets & picnic tables available for visitors to use.

Kerkeslin Goat Lick

There is a famous viewpoint just off of the side of the road overlooking Mount Kerkeslin and the valley below named the Kerkeslin Goat Lick. Normally you’d expect to see the large white mountain goats that call this valley home, however just our luck that we didn’t even get to see one! It is definitely worth a visit however, as everyone else we know that had stopped by got to see them!

Time needed to visit: However long you would like to see the goats for.

When can you visit?: Year-round

Cost: FREE – as it is just a simple viewpoint off of the highway.

Sunwapta Falls

Sunwapta falls consists of 2 large waterfalls (Upper and Lower) flowing through the Sunwapta river. It is one of the most impressive waterfalls off of the icefields parkway. The walk from the Upper falls to the Lower falls follows a light dirt trail through the pinelodge forest. The first waterfall is roughly 600m from the parking area and then the second waterfall is further along the trail.

You will need to cross a bridge (a good photo op) to continue down the trail. The falls get their name from the Stoney Indian language and means ‘turbulent river’. This is very fitting as the falls are known for the fast rushing water flowing between them.

Time needed to visit: Around 30 mins there and back – depending on how long you hang around. An easy trail (more of a walk to a view rather than a hike) for all skill levels. There is an elevation of 143m which is quite gradual.

When can you visit? open 24 hours a day year-round

Amenities: There is a lodge by the falls that have toilets, a cafe and free parking.

takkakaw falls my favourite waterfall in the rockies when driving vancouver ot banff
Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park

Athabasca Glacier

The most visited glacier in North America, it’s roughly 1 hour 40 min drive from Sunwapta Falls. You will stay on the Icefields parkway for the entirety of the journey. When you arrive you can’t miss the glacier as it’s pretty obvious – even though it shrinks by 5m every year.

There are a few tour companies that offer ‘glacier hikes’ and ‘glacier walks’ here. Most of these do need to be booked in advance during the peak season as they typically have limited numbers in the tour groups at any time. We decided not to do a tour here and instead opted to do the short – but steep – hike to the foot of the glacier.

This was more than enough for us to enjoy the scenery and get a photo op considering we had not wanted to book a tour guide. No one can go ON the glacier without a specialist guide as it can be dangerous and slippery without appropriate gear.

Time needed to visit: 1 hour if just visiting independently without a tour guide as this gives you enough time to get some photo opportunities and walk to the foot of the glacier.

When can you visit? Usually the summer months are the best/only time to visit, as some of the roads to visit are closed between November and May due to weather and accessibility issues.

Amenities: Two car parks and a toilet at the Columbia icefield discovery centre (across the road from the trailhead)

Peyto Lake

This is one of the most photographed lakes in all of Canada.

Located in Banff National Park, formed in a valley of the Waputik Range, Peyto lake is glacier-fed, which is what gives it this bright turquoise hue. What’s great about this lake’s viewpoint is it’s right off of the highway, well signposted, and is easily accessible for all, with no difficult terrain. This might be my favourite lake during our entire Rockies road trip!

If you would prefer to take a trail down to the lake itself (rather than stay at the overhead viewpoint) you can do so following this trail instead. It has an elevation of 163 m and can take up to an hour to reach the water’s edge on average.

Time needed to visit: As little as 10 minutes to walk to the viewpoint from the car park or up to 2 hours round trip to the lake itself.

When can you visit? 24 hours and year-round

Amenities: Car Park for cars, RVs and even coaches, and year-round toilets (renovated and improved in 2021).

peyto lake from the high up view point
Peyto Lake from the viewpoint

Takakkaw Falls

The next stop is Takakkaw falls. Located in Yoho National Park, this 373 metre waterfall is the second tallest in Canada. There is an easy trail for all skill levels from the carpark to the waterfall viewpoint. This only takes 15 minutes by walking. You’ll hear the falls before you see them. You may even get sprayed when close enough. This park used to be overlooked by tourists due to its proximity to Jasper & Banff national Parks. This is not so much the case anymore.

Most of the walk to the falls viewpoint is along a well-kept boardwalk and realistically you can see the falls at many stops along the way. This is definitely a location to visit at the start of summer just after the ice melts. This is when the falls are at their fullest, otherwise there really isn’t too much to see.

Time needed to visit: 10 minutes to walk to the falls and then however long you wish to enjoy the views (and water mist)

When can you visit? Year-round, although some parts of the road are an avalanche risk so this means they’re more likely to be closed during the winter.

Amenities: Free parking

Emerald lake

It is the largest of 61 lakes in Yoho National Park and is a major tourist attraction. Many people walk around the river’s edge on the common trail. It is an easy trail as it has no incline and is practically flat the entire way!

If you want to see the lake at its brightest shade of blue, visit in the summer months. You won’t see much in winter when the lake freezes over. However, in the winter many people ice skate here.

Time needed to visit: Since there are different walks and activities to be done near the lake there is no recommended timeframe.

When can you visit? Year-Round and is popular both in summer and winter

Amenities: There is free parking for the Emerald Lake Lodge which also has toilets and a few other amenities you might expect at a lodge.

Lake Louise

Up next is Lake Louise next to the Fairmont Hotel.

To give you an idea of how popular this place is, an average of 15,000 people visit every day in the summer. This is crazy to me because it doesn’t even have a large car park! Due to its much higher elevation compared to other lakes in this national park, it is not unheard of for it to snow here in any month of the year, including the middle of the summer.

We visited the lake at the start of September, on one of the last days the boathouse would allow boats on the water due to the temperature already starting to drop. If you are after a bucket list experience, I highly recommend hiring a canoe out onto the water. You can do this anytime of day from sunrise to sunset in the summer. or if you prefer to stay away from the water there are a few trails that start here too.

Time needed to visit: at least one hour

When can you visit? year-round. This is both a summer and winter destination. However the lake itself only allows canoeing during May-October. Many people ice skate here during the winter.

Amenities: Free parking in a small car park) and public toilets available.

emerald lake and the lodge over the water a fun stop on the vancouver banff drive
Emerald Lake Lodge across the lake from the walking trail

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is one of the most common images from the Rockies to be found on a postcard. The multiple mountain peaks here are stunning no matter the weather and compliment the bright blue water as expected. There is a rockpile between the car park and the lake itself which many visitors climb to get a better view from higher ground. If you choose to climb this please take care as it can be slippery.

There are many trails around the lake for visitors to enjoy. There is a trail for everybody! If you are less able then a simple stroll on the shoreline trail is very relaxing and almost completely flat – until you reach the viewpoint pile.

Time needed to visit: Depending on if you want to walk the entire length of the lake or not – 2-3 hours to really enjoy the area.

When can you visit? Between June and September only as the access road is closed during winter. You can check for updates here.

Amenities: Free parking and public toilets available

Johnston Canyon

Similar to Sunwapta falls, Johnston Canyon consists of two waterfalls. The upper and lower falls. After a 40 minute drive to Johnston Canyon, you can easily follow the sign marked trail all the way through to the Upper Falls.

A gradual incline which takes roughly 2-3 hours there and back to complete. This man-made trail takes you through the canyon past a continuous stream of Glacial water. Eventually you will reach a clearing on top of a hill. You really do get to see a wide range of landscapes on this walk. Everything from the dense forest one minute to surrounded by mountains in a valley the next.

Time needed to visit: Roughly 1 hour to the furthest falls and back.

When can you visit? Open year-round. However the lodge nearby with some of the tourist amenities is only open between mid-May and mid October.

Cost: $5 for adults and $2.50 for Seniors/Youth. If you are travelling with Children under 12, they enter for free.

glacier river rushing through the canadian canyon
Johnston Canyon river

Banff

Banff is a beautiful ski resort town and the final stop on your drive from Vancouver. A small population which triples during the winter season and looks like a postcard perfect winter village. Undoubtedly the most well-known ski resort in the entire country. There is so much to do here including skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing (and almost any other snow sport you can think of).

If you are visiting during the summer, there are countless hikes to take advantage of on the many trails in the area. Banff gives you panoramic views of the rocky mountains so it’s no wonder why so many tourists start or end their trip here! As it is also a small village, make sure to check out the many bars and restaurants that grab your interest. You’ll be spoilt for choice.

Time needed to visit: This completely depends on the activities you want to do so it is hard to say a recommended time.

When can you visit? Year-round, although it is much more popular in the winter when the snow-sports begin.


Petrol Stations along the way

petrol stations along the road from vancouver to banff via jasper
I have highlighted some easy-to-access petrol stations along the route in green

Plan where you can get petrol before you head out. We nearly ran out of gas before realising our next petrol garage was still a few hours away. This is why I have listed some of the easier petrol stations above, to help you plan your route.

The drive from Vancouver to Banff (via Jasper)

  • Petro-Canada – 8100 Young Rd, Chilliwack, BC V2P 0C4
  • Esso – 5061 BC-3, Manning Park, BC V0X 1R0
  • HUSKY – 580 BC-3, Princeton, BC V0X 1W0
  • Petro-Canada – 3591 Voght St, Merritt, BC V1K 1C5
  • Chevron – 1520 Hugh Allan Dr, Kamloops, BC V1S 1Y2
  • Super Save -10 Old North Thompson Highway Rd W, Clearwater, BC V0E 1N0
  • Petro – 1495 5 Ave, Valemount, BC V0E 2Z0
  • Petro-Canada – 701 Connaught Dr, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0
  • Petro – 100 Village Rd, Lake Louise, AB T0L 1E0
  • Petro-Canada – 302 Squirrel St, Banff, AB T1L 1B8

The drive back to Vancouver from Banff (via Revelstoke)

  • Petro-Canada – 820 10th Ave N, Golden, BC V0A 1H0
  • Chevron – 101 Trans-Canada Hwy, Salmon Arm, BC V1E 4R5
  • Chevron – 1520 Hugh Allan Dr, Kamloops, BC V1S 1Y2
  • Petro-Canada – 3591 Voght St, Merritt, BC V1K 1C5
  • HUSKY – 580 BC-3, Princeton, BC V0X 1W0
  • Esso – 5061 BC-3, Manning Park, BC V0X 1R0
  • Petro-Canada – 8100 Young Rd, Chilliwack, BC V2P 0C4

Seasons to visit the Rockies

Summer

If you arrive during the summer months (May-June) then each of the locations above will be open (unless some unforeseen circumstance takes place of course).

This is the peak time of travel so be prepared that there is a very high chance you enjoy these tourist hotspots with hundreds – if not thousands of other tourists. At some of the higher altitude locations it can still be a bit cold so it’s always worth bringing an extra layer – just in case.

Winter

Some tourist destinations in the Rocky Mountains are inaccessible during the winter due to the weather. So make sure you are always prepared and check updates for each park before and during your trip. You need to be prepared for road closures on your drive from Vancouver to Banff.

Banff National Park

Jasper National Park

Yoho National Park




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