The Vancouver to Banff drive is one of most spectacular road trips in the world, and with good reason. There is more beautiful scenery per kilometer with iconic mountain views, wildlife, rivers and mountain lakes than you can even imagine.
There are many ways you can see the sights and tour Vancouver to Banff. You can rent a car or campervan and enjoy the drive at your own pace. You can find a great tour and leave the driving to someone else. Or, you can take one of the famous train journeys like the Rocky Mountaineer and see all the sights from a domed railcar.
How far is Banff from Vancouver? That depends on your route! If you’ve chosen to do the Vancouver to Banff road trip itinerary, you’ve come to right place. It’s a great choice to make after you’ve spent a few days in Vancouver. As a Canadian and lifelong resident of British Columbia, I’ve made the trip from Vancouver to Banff by car numerous times. I’ve tried all the different route options at different times of year and can provide you with all the information you need for a memorable Canadian Rockies itinerary.
Start off by reading the essential information you need to know before you set off on your Canadian Rockies itinerary. Then, pick from one of three different routes for your Vancouver to Banff road trip.
Let’s get started!
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Essential Information – Vancouver to Banff Drive
When to Go
You’ll find the most favourable weather for driving from Vancouver to Banff is from June to September. The snowy season has ended and the weather will be beautiful!
As elevation increases, the temperatures will decrease so you’ll still need to bring some warmer clothing. Rain is also a possibility although much less common in July and August.
If you choose to do the road trip from Vancouver to Banff in shoulder season (April, May, September, October) be prepared for the possibility of less than optimal road conditions and the prospect of snow. With the distance from Banff to Vancouver being more than 500 kilometres, it’s wise to ensure that you carry snow tires and/or tire chains during this season.
Road trips in winter from November to March are not for the faint of heart! You’ll need tire chains and a brave soul to make the trip. It’s not impossible but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have lots of experience in winter driving conditions. Visiting Vancouver in winter can be great, though!
Pro tip: Schedule your Vancouver to Banff road trip anytime between June and September.
Road conditions in the summer months are generally very good in the Canadian Rockies. Roads are well-maintained and gravel that was used during the winter months for tire traction should be removed by June. The best driving route from Vancouver to Banff will be easy to choose.
You may encounter road maintenance crews at work on your Vancouver to Banff road trip. Road works will be well-signed and slow downs don’t usually last for long. Your Vancouver to Banff drive won’t be much delayed.
When determining how far from Vancouver to Banff, it’s good to think about the vehicle you choose for the drive from Vancouver to Banff. Your choice will depend on a number of factors, primary among which is how many people you will be traveling with and how much luggage you’re carrying.
You will also want to consider choosing a vehicle with a reasonable amount of horsepower in order to easily ascend the mountain roads on the Vancouver to Banff drive.
You don’t really require a large truck or SUV. If you (and your budget) is more comfortable with a compact car, you shouldn’t experience any significant difficulties.
However, my recommendation for the most comfortable vehicle for a Vancouver to Banff road trip would be a mid-size vehicle (similar to a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord) with enough interior room for comfort and enough power to easily pass slower trucks on mountain roads. After all, the distance from Vancouver to Banff National Park is great and it’s better to be comfortable and confident.
Vancouver to Banff Drive Time
How far is Vancouver to Banff? Depending on the route you choose, the Banff to Vancouver distance could be anywhere from 9.5 hours to more than 12 hours. Of course, given how far is Vancouver to Banff, you’ll want to stop along the way for a few nights to fully appreciate this beautiful country.
What to Bring on a Vancouver to Banff Road Trip
Special clothing really isn’t required for a Vancouver to Banff road trip – what you brought with you from home should work just fine. However, Canadian weather, especially in the mountains, can get unpredictable so you’ll want to make sure you have clothing suitable for cooler conditions as well as rainy weather.
When you drive to Banff from Vancouver, Cowichan sweaters are a great choice and would make a unique souvenir from your Vancouver to Banff drive. These sweaters were traditionally knit by the Cowichan people indigenous to British Columbia. Distinctively patterned, these sweaters are ideal for British Columbia conditions. Cowichan sweaters make a great souvenir of Canada.
There’s lots of great options for hand-knit Cowichan sweaters on Etsy – check price and availability here.
Make sure you pack a reasonable rain jacket, just in case you get caught in some wet weather. You won’t want to miss out on some beautiful sights due to a lack of appropriate outerwear. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes 😉 If you’re a motorcyclist contemplating this road trip, make sure your gear is appropriate for the trip too.
The best kind of luggage for family road trip from Vancouver to Banff is a wheeled backpack. If you don’t already have one, check out this comprehensive guide to choosing the best one for you.
Useful items for a Vancouver to Banff drive
When you’re driving to Banff from Vancouver (or driving from Banff to Vancouver) Sunscreen and bug repellant are must-have’s on your packing list. Bugs – particularly mosquitoes – can be a pest in the wild country of British Columbia and Alberta, so make sure you come prepared. Make sure you always use sunscreen, too. The sun can be stronger in higher elevations, and you don’t want to be unprotected. A good pair of sunglasses help to keep your vision sharp and your eyes protected during your Canadian Rockies road trip.
There’s a chance you might see the Northern Lights. Susan has a great post about how to photograph the Northern Lights so your photos look great. Bring your camera for sure!
It almost goes without saying that binoculars are essential for this road trip from Vancouver to Banff. You’ll definitely want to see animals close-up, and that doesn’t mean walking up to them! Stay safe and use binoculars instead 🙂
Make sure you have a paper map of British Columbia and Alberta with you in the car. Although you’ll probably rely mostly on your smart phone GPS or the GPS built into your car, these systems aren’t always 100% reliable. Cellular service isn’t consistent in more remote regions and GPS satellites can go off-line. Always have a paper map as a back-up.
Road trip snacks are one of the best parts about road-tripping from Vancouver to Banff! With the distance between Vancouver and Banff, you’ll definitely need sustenance on the road.
Take this opportunity to get to know some great Canadian food and snacks. Have you ever tried ketchup chips, Smarties or Coffee Crisp? Now’s the perfect time to stock your vehicle with these snacks for the road. It’s also a smart decision to ensure you always have food with you, in case you run late or have car trouble on the road.
Canadian Rockies Itinerary – Wildlife to Expect
You’re very likely to encounter wildlife on your road trip to Banff from Vancouver.
Bald eagles will be easy to spot as you make your way around the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Look for them swooping along the wind currents and perched on utility poles and in trees. Eagles make for great Instagram fodder, especially if you zoom in or use a telephoto lens. You’ll also see plenty of eagles if you drive the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler.
Great blue herons are also widely seen in and around Vancouver. These are the largest herons in North America. Look for them standing perfectly still in the water, waiting for bugs to catch and eat.
Raccoons and coyotes are common in the urban areas of Vancouver. Despite their urban appearance, they’re not very friendly! Give them a wide berth if you’re lucky enough to see one.
As you leave the urban area of Vancouver and head into the mountains, you’re likely to see more diverse and bigger wildlife. Wildlife more frequently ventures out of the forested areas at dawn and dusk, and road accidents between animals and cars become more common at these times of day. If you’re traveling at dawn or dusk, be extra vigilant and watch out for wildlife on the road.
Black bears are commonly seen on a Vancouver to Banff drive. These bears are not only black but also dark brown, brown and cinnamon. Bears like to avoid conflict and while they are usually gentle and calm, please do not try to get close to them. It’s isn’t uncommon to see visitors pull their cars over and get out to take photos of bears. This is a dangerous practice! Bears may have cubs nearby and they are very protective of their young. If you see a bear, keep your distance and stay safe.
Grizzly bears are also common in the mountains, especially in the more remote areas. Double up the advice above if you happen to see a grizzly bear. They’re huge and more aggressive than black bears!
William has a great post about the best places in Jasper National Park to spot wildlife.
Deer, elk and mountain goats are very common on the roads between Vancouver and Banff, and these are the most likely victims of road accidents between animals and vehicles. Moose are also present but less commonly seen. We’ve seen moose grazing at the side of the road and swimming in road-side lakes – they’re very exciting to see!
Once you reach Banff on your road trip from Vancouver to Banff, you are very likely to see elk strolling through the streets of Banff and Jasper. Don’t miss the video below!
Mike has a great post on the top things to do in Banff – check it out!
Time Zones to Expect on a Vancouver to Banff Drive
Vancouver and most of British Columbia operates on Pacific Standard Time (PST).
However, when you’re driving east from Vancouver to Banff, the time zone will change and move ahead by one hour to Mountain Standard Time (MST). If you’re taking the southern route through British Columbia to Banff, the time zone changes at Cranbrook, British Columbia to MST.
If you decide on the northern route or the shortest route from Vancouver to Banff, the time zone won’t change to MST until you cross the border into Alberta.
Best Driving Route from Vancouver to Banff
I don’t think there’s any one best driving route from Vancouver to Banff. Each route has its own charms and unique places to see and visit. Read through the descriptions of each route and see which appeals to you most!
All 3 of these road trips from Vancouver to Banff could also be done in the reverse – as a Banff to Vancouver drive. If you’d like to do your own Banff to Vancouver road trip, check one of the itineraries below and start at the end!
If you love going on road trips, you’ll really love road tripping through Andalusia in Spain. Tom has put together an amazing itinerary with all the details you need. It includes great destinations like Malaga, Granada and Seville – so much history! Check it out here.
Vancouver to Banff Drive – The Shortest Route
The distance from Vancouver to Banff for this itinerary is approximately 850 kilometres (Vancouver to Banff distance). This route is the shortest route for a Vancouver to Banff road trip. If you only have a few days to enjoy this beautiful drive, this is an excellent choice for you. In terms of the Vancouver to Banff drive time, refer to the Google Map below.
Driving Vancouver to Banff on this route is almost entirely on the Trans Canada Highway, also known as Highway #1. Once you’re on Highway #1, expect quite a lot of traffic coming out of Vancouver. I recommend leaving before 1pm if you’re traveling on a weekday, as Vancouver rush hour traffic will slow you down after 1pm.
Once you’re past Abbotsford the traffic will lighten significantly on this Vancouver to Banff drive itinerary, and you’ll enjoy the beautiful views of the Matsqui prairie farmland up against the Coastal mountains.
If you’re wondering how far from Vancouver to Banff on this route, this will soon become clear when you reach Hope, the point at which the different routes to Banff diverge. For this route, choose Highway #5, also known as the Coquihalla Highway, and begin your journey north.
Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park (157 km)
Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park is a great stop at the start of the Coquihalla Highway, and is home to the famous Othello tunnels. These tunnels are old train tunnels and bridges cutting through the solid granite of the mountains and passing over the raging Coquihalla River.
These tunnels were constructed in the early 1900’s to connect southern and northern British Columbia with the Kootenays. Walking through the tunnels you’ll get a real sense of how difficult it must have been to build a railway here, especially 100 years ago. Make sure to bring your flashlights!
The trail is 3.5 kilometres, just long enough for a memorable adventure. This is a pet-friendly area, is wheelchair accessible and has public toilets and picnic tables.
Merritt (271 km)
Half-way up the Coquihalla is the picturesque town of Merritt, a great stop on your Vancouver to Banff drive. Merritt has an excellent visitor’s centre with helpful staff willing to answer your questions. Merritt is a fisher’s paradise with over 200 lakes in the region stocked with rainbow trout. Biking and hiking are also popular in Merritt with many trails for both, as well as horseback riding.
Merritt is known as cowboy-country with many cattle ranches local to the region. Expect to see men with cowboy hats and boots wearing plaid shirts strolling around town, politely holding doors open and calling women ma’am ?.
Where to Stay in Merritt
Merritt is a great spot to stay overnight on your tour from Vancouver to Banff. In Merritt, we really love staying at the Best Western Plus. I’ve written a review of the hotel here, and needless to say, it’s one of my favourites :-). The staff at the Best Western Plus are very friendly and welcoming, and the hotel is almost brand-new. Bonus: breakfast is free and it’s really good.
Kamloops (354 km)
Located at the crossroads of the Coquihalla, Yellowhead Highway and Hwy #1, Kamloops is the second largest city in the interior of British Columbia.
There is a lot going in Kamloops and it boasts a semi-arid desert climate. There’s a great bandshell in Rotary Park with nightly free concerts throughout July and August. See Art in the Park in July if you’re in Kamloops on Canada Day, July 1.
There’s an International Buskers Festival every July where you can see professional street performers from around the world. In August there’s the spectacular Kamloopa Powwow, one of the largest celebrations of First Nations’ culture and heritage in western Canada. Not to be missed!
There are some great tours available in Kamloops. Some of the best river rafting in the world is available in and around Kamloops.
The micro-climate around Kamloops is a prime area for growing great wine grapes. If you’re a wine-lover, the Kamloops wine trail is not to be missed. This tour take you to 4 different wineries in the North Thompson Okanagan.
Where to Stay in Kamloops
Kamloops is also a great place to end the first day of your drive from Vancouver to Banff.
Our favourite place to stay in Kamloops is also a Best Western Plus. There’s many reasons why I love this brand, but mainly it’s because each location is super-comfortable and clean, and there’s always a complimentary full breakfast. The location of the Best Western Plus in Kamloops is also really handy.
Salmon Arm (462 km)
Located on famous Shuswap Lake, Salmon Arm is the perfect place to stop on your Vancouver to Banff drive and enjoy lake country. This is a favourite vacation area for locals and visitors alike with many people enjoying family cabins situated on Shuswap Lake. This area is also a great choice for a long weekend getaway from Vancouver.
There’s a lot of great beaches in and around Salmon Arm. If you and your family enjoy water sports, then Salmon Arm is the perfect place for you. Canoe Beach is our favourite. There’s a pebbly-sand beach, lots of shade trees, a roped off swimming area, boat launch, and excellent facilities.
Trout fishing is also popular in this area with several species of trout swimming about including Kamloops, Rainbow, Bull and Eastern Brook trout.
Craigellachie (517 km)
Located on the Eagle Pass summit in the Monashee Mountains, Craigellachie is famous for being the site of the “Last Spike” of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in November 1885.
Pro Tip: Easily accessible right off the highway, this is a great spot to stretch your legs and have a picnic while on your Vancouver to Banff road trip.
Revelstoke (565 km)
Right on the banks of the Columbia River and just east of the Selkirk Mountains, Revelstoke is an old railway town with a history of mining.
Famous for it’s great heli-skiing and prevalence of bears (both black and grizzly!), Revelstoke offers great hiking and mountain biking in the Monashee and Selkirk mountain ranges as well as dirt biking and a great golf course.
I recommend the white water rafting in Revelstoke on the Illecillewaet – very exciting!
Revelstoke was named a “must do trip” on National Geographic’s Ultimate Adventure Bucket list!
Expert tip: For a second night along this route, Revelstoke is a great choice.
Revelstoke – By Urbain J. Kinet –
Where to Stay in Revelstoke
There are two great places to stay in Revelstoke, and both are highly rated on Trip Advisor too!
The first is the Best Western Plus, and this one is my favourite for all the reasons I love about this brand. Another reason to love it is that the Best Western loyalty program is really generous.
The other great place to stay in Revelstoke is The Sutton Place Revelstoke Mountain Resort. This is a classic ski hotel that is open year-round. The lobby is particularly lovely and there are 3 on-site restaurants, which can be very handy after a long day sightseeing!
Golden (713 km)
Nestled in the Rocky Mountain trench at the junction of the Columbia and Kicking Horse rivers, Golden is surrounded by mountains on 3 sides (Purcell, Rocky and Selkirk) and has six (!) National Parks near by (Yoho, Banff, Jasper, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke and Kootenay). When it comes to beautiful scenery, Golden has definitely earned its name!
Golden has the longest freestanding timber frame bridge in Canada at 150 feet – the Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge.
You’ll get a warm mountain town welcome in Golden. It’s a great base for exploring any of the numerous national parks. Getting to know more about the local wildlife is easy in Golden, where you can walk with wolves and see grizzly bears up close at the grizzly bear refuge. There’s also great whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse river.
Kicking Horse Pass & Spiral Tunnels (750 km)
Kicking Horse Pass is a Canadian national historic site due to its significant history in building the Canadian national railroad. The spiral tunnels were engineered as a solution to the extreme grade of Kicking Horse Pass. The elevation was initially seen as an insurmountable barrier to Canada’s national railroad.
This is a fascinating place to stop on your Vancouver to Banff drive, especially for railroad and history buffs. There are several excellent viewpoints where you can safely watch trains make their way through the spiral tunnels. An average of 25-30 freight and passenger trains a day still pass through the area!
There’s also a short 1.2 km hike where you can see an old spur line and abandoned locomotive that was used during the construction of the spiral tunnels.
If you’d love to spend more time in this area, check out this great Yoho National Park trip planner.
Lake Louise (791 km)
At just a short drive from the town of Banff, you’ll find the absolutely stunning vistas of Lake Louise in Banff National Park. There’s so much to see and do at Lake Louise – this article has some great tips for all the best things to do in Lake Louise.
Dominated by the iconic Chateau Lake Louise, this exquisite jewel in the crown of Banff National Park is a must-see destination.
Originally built for mountaineering enthusiasts over 100 years ago, Chateau Lake Louise is now a year-round luxury mountain resort.
Even if you’re not going to stay at Chateau Lake Louise, it’s worth stepping inside just to get a glimpse of its unparallelled interiors. Movies have been shot here, hundreds of Hollywood’s royalty (and real royalty too!) have stayed here and enjoyed the beauty of the local surroundings.
I recommend a meal at the Lakeview Lounge or Walliser Stube featuring stunning views of the mountains and lake.
The experience of staying at Chateau Lake Louise is worth the splurge if you can manage it. It’s definitely one of those iconic Canadian experiences.
Vancouver to Banff Drive – the Southern Route
When thinking about how far is it from Vancouver to Banff, this southern route for a Vancouver to Banff road trip is the longest Vancouver to Banff distance of the 3 routes (distance Vancouver to Banff). It hugs the border between Canada and the United States for 2/3 of the route and then heads north just as you enter the Mountain Time Zone.
This is a great Vancouver to Banff road trip itinerary to take if you’re doing your Vancouver to Banff drive early in the season, as you’re least likely to see snow on the road in the southern-most area of British Columbia. That’s not to say that the southern mountain passes won’t have snow early in the season – it’s definitely still possible, but it’s just not as probable as the more northern routes. This is the perfect route for you if you’re interested in seeing more of the small towns in British Columbia as this route passes through many fascinating places.
This Vancouver to Rocky Mountains drive is the same as the Northern and and Shortest route until you reach Hope. At Hope, the routes diverge and this route begins to follow Highway 3 East.
Manning Provincial Park (216 km, 67km from Hope)
Home of the beautiful Manning Park Resort, this Park is located in heart of the Cascade Mountain range and is one of the most popular provincial parks in British Columbia.
Manning Park is famous for its hiking trails, and is a great choice to stop and stretch your legs on your Vancouver to Banff drive. You can choose anything from an easy and scenic 15-minute hike to a 6-day alpine hike. This park boasts significant diversity in its flora and fauna.
Camping is a popular activity in Manning Park and there are many campsites in the park including winter campsites. If you’re looking for recreational vehicle campsites, be aware that Manning Park offers only dry camp sites. All-terrain vehicles are not permitted in Manning Park so you can be assured of a peaceful experience in this beautiful area of the province.
In terms of things to do at Manning Park, Lightning Lake offers canoeing and kayaking with rentals available seasonally. Mountain biking is a popular activity, and rainbow trout fishing is available in Lightning Lake, Poland Lake or Nicomen Lake. Motorized boats are not permitted in the Park. You’ll see visitors horseback riding and backcountry horseback camping is popular.
Park naturalists are available for interpretive programs from June to September, and this is a great way to get to know more about the Park and its environment.
Osoyoos (398 km)
Osoyoos (pronounced O-soy-yous) is a pretty little town on Osoyoos Lake in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia. It’s a beautiful spot to stop on your Vancouver to Banff drive.
Osoyoos is home to many of British Columbia’s fine wineries as the Osoyoos Lake Bench is perfect for growing Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier grapes. Wine tours are very popular in Osoyoos!
The south Okanagan is also home to many of British Columbia’s fruit orchards, with abundant tree fruits, cherries, plums, and more. Fruit stands are ubiquitous throughout the region and you won’t find a more delicious snack in the summer time.
Osoyoos is often the hottest town in British Columbia in summer and is the perfect spot to rest and relax by a lake for a few days. The many resorts in Osoyoos cater to visitors, offering spa treatments, gourmet food and wine and enriching activities.
Where to Stay in Osoyoos
We love staying at the Best Western Plus in Osoyoos – it’s my favourite hotel brand :-).
Another great place in Osoyoos is the Coast Osoyoos Beach Hotel. It’s right on the most popular beach in Osoyoos and is a great spot for families and couples.
Located in the Selkirk Mountains on Kootenay Lake, Nelson is one of prettiest little towns you’ll ever see.
Known as the cultural centre of the Kootenays region of British Columbia, Nelson is largely devoid of chain stores, franchises and strip malls. Instead, it favours local Mom & Pop establishments that bring more local colour to the area.
Downtown Nelson restored its historical Baker Street in the 1980s , completely transforming it into the lovely streetscape it is today. You can see many areas of Nelson prominently featured in the Steve Martin movie, “Roxanne“, which was filmed in Nelson.
Nelson has a large number of organic farms, marijuana growers, market gardens and home gardens. It is partly for this reason that Nelson has become known as being welcoming to folks that embrace an alternative lifestyle. The local organic farms and gardens grow for Nelson’s many fine restaurants. Many artists make Nelson their home and there is great diversity with potters, jewelry makers, clothing producers, iron workers and blacksmiths all making beautiful hand-crafted products.
Nelson is very close to Salmo, home of the world-renowned Shambhala Music Festival, held each summer (July 24-27, 2020). For more information about Nelson, check out Sally’s great post with all the details.
I really love visiting Nelson, and usually do so each year on motorcycle trips. It’s a fabulous stop on a Vancouver to Banff drive.
Cranbrook is the largest town in the East Kootenays of British Columbia, located in the northeastern tip of the province. While the town itself is relatively flat, it is surrounded by the Rocky and Purcell Mountain foothills, making the visuals absolutely stunning.
Cranbrook gets the most sunshine hours in British Columbia, meriting its moniker of “The Sunshine City”. Boasting a vibrant arts and culture community, there’s always something going on in Cranbrook. Festivals run year-round and include cycling races and other sporting events. Golf is a popular sport in Cranbrook with six local golf courses.
The golf courses in Cranbrook may be a bit different than what you’re used to as these courses typically feature fairways beside rushing mountain rivers and greens overlooking mountain peaks. Don’t be surprised if some of the local wildlife wanders through the course while you’re playing 🙂 But, you’ll be accustomed to seeing wildlife by the time you reach Cranbrook on your Vancouver to Banff drive.
Cranbrook is the ancestral home of the Ktunaxa people. Their language is unique and distinct from any other language in the world, and this First Nation remains active in the Cranbrook area. The Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre in Cranbrook is a fascinating place to visit and learn more about the Ktunaxa and their history including their heritage, mythology and culture.
Radium Hot Springs (985 km)
Informally known as Radium, this small town is located in Kootenay National Park. Named after the odourless local hot springs and the small traces of radon found therein, this charming place is an excellent stop on your Vancouver to Banff drive.
The hot springs complex contains two large pools, one of which is a hot pool for soaking, and the other is a larger and slightly cooler pool. There is also a smaller plunge pool where the water temperature varies greatly – from hot, to quite cold!
Despite its small size, there’s lots to do in Radium Hot Springs. There’s river rafting on the Columbia River, paddling on the Columbia River, and plenty of golf courses.
The entrance to Kootenay National Park is right in the village of Radium. This beautiful park (one of the 7 contiguous parks forming the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site) is a study in contrasts, from icy rivers to the steamy hot springs. The park offers guided hikes through the forests to see fossil sites. Archeological evidence has shown that humans have been using the area for more than 10,000 years.
One of the features of Kootenay National Park are the Paint Pots. These Paint Pots are an acidic, cold water mineral spring from which ochre is deposited at spring outlets. This ochre was collected by the local Ktunaxa people for use as pigments.
The continental divide is the boundary between Kootenay and Banff National Parks.
Vancouver to Banff Road Trip – the Northern Route
Vancouver to Banff map
This distance between Banff and Vancouver is the most northern of the 3 routes for a Vancouver to Banff drive. I must admit that this Vancouver to Banff itinerary is also my personal favourite 🙂 Despite that the driving distance Vancouver to Banff is a bit longer than the direct route, the spectacular scenery in north-central British Columbia more than makes up for the additional time this route can take.
The beginning of this road trip to Banff from Vancouver (or a road trip from Banff to Vancouver, in reverse) is the same as the shorter route up to Kamloops, before it diverts north and continues on Highway 5, also known as the Yellowhead Highway. This highway acquired it’s interesting name from the Yellowhead Pass, a route chosen to cross the Canadian Rockies. The Yellowhead Pass was named after a fur trader and explorer who had yellow streaks in his hair, and was nicknamed “Tete Jaune” (Yellowhead).
Clearwater (482 km, 128 km from Kamloops)
Clearwater is known as the gateway to the magnificent Wells Gray Provincial Park, which can find out more about below. Surrounded by the Trophy Mountains, Raft Peak, Grizzly Peak and Dunn Peak, Clearwater is an area of stunning natural beauty and abundant wildlife.
Clearwater is a great stop for local area hiking. However, if you’re looking for a few thrills, Clearwater is world-famous for white-water river rafting. With plenty of challenge class II rapids, rafting in Clearwater will no doubt get your adrenaline rushing! There are many local tour companies with exemplary safety records ready to show you all the beauty of the local area as you travel on a raft down the Clearwater River.
No past experience is required to enjoy river rafting, and I urge you to give it a try. It’s an absolutely memorable experience that you’ll not soon forget.
Wells Gray Provincial Park
Home of 41 waterfalls, Wells Gray Provincial Park is probably what you always imagined when you thought about what British Columbia would look like. At 1.3 million acres of alpine wilderness, this park has it all and then some! You’ll see old-growth rain-forest, soaring mountain peaks, pristine lakes, not to mention all those beautiful waterfalls.
There is a wealth of things to see and do in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The hiking is unparalleled with glacier-fed lakes, wildflower meadows and abundant wildlife. There is a large variety of different types of hiking trails from simple strolls to multi-day treks into the alpine. You can take a short hike from the main road to see some original homesteads that are now being reclaimed by the forest.
For a more challenging hike (and my favourite), Trophy Mountain is a hike through an old-growth rainforest of spruce and fir. If you’re there in July or August, you’ll be lucky enough to see fields of wildflowers blooming 🙂
In terms of wildlife, there are grizzly bears and black bears as well as moose, deer, elk, coyotes and wolves. Be sure to follow the safe viewing rules that are posted throughout the park!
Pro Tip: Bring lots of bug repellent – the mosquitoes are hungry!
Canoeing is another great activity in Wells Gray Park. Murtle Lake is the biggest non-motorized paddle-only lake in the world with beautiful sandy beaches. Lots of the beaches are well-equipped with outhouses, picnic tables and fire-pits. You’ll need to portage your canoe into Murtle Lake, but carts are available to make it easier. Canoes and kayaks are available to rent – register in advance!
There’s lots more to do at Wells Gray Provincial Park including horseback riding, paragliding, mountain biking, golfing, fishing, and more. Don’t miss this great park!
Where to stay near Wells Gray Provincial Park
This area is an ideal place to stay for a day or two on your Vancouver to Banff road trip. There are many one-of-a-kind lodges and rustic retreats. One of the nicest is Helmcken Falls Lodge, which you will find at the entrance to the park.
Blue River (589 km)
Sitting just to the right of Wells Gray Provincial Park is this little jewel of a town. Located at the confluence of the Blue and North Thompson rivers, Blue River is home to the planet’s only inland temperate rain-forest. This little place is a true gem on a trip from Vancouver to Banff National Park.
The one experience I highly recommend in Blue River is the River Safari Eco Tour. Using specially designed boats, you’ll explore kilometres of the spectacular Grizzly Bear Valley. With great guides and unparalleled scenery, you’re sure to have an amazing experience. Choose between 1 or 1.5 hour river adventures or 1.5 hour jeep safaris. I’ve tried both and couldn’t pick which one I liked best! During the river safari you’ll be able to view wildlife on the shoreline and get into places otherwise not accessible on foot. The jeep safari takes you in the heart of the rain-forest habitat of bears which I personally found very exciting. Moose are commonly seen as well as eagles.
Valemount (679 km)
Situated in the shadow of looming Mount Robson (the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies), Valemount is a beautiful little mountain community in east-central British Columbia and perfect for a stop on a road trip to Banff. Famous for its winter heli-skiing and heli-hiking, Valemount offers an abundance of summer activities that appeal to outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
River rafting on the mighty Fraser River is popular in Valemount, as is mountain biking, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) touring, hiking and fishing.
There’s a great craft beer experience in Valemount each June with live music and delicious food in a block-party style event. Vale Mountain days are also each June with dancing in the streets and live music.
Mount Robson Provincial Park (706 km)
Mount Robson Provincial Park is the second oldest provincial park in British Columbia, and is considered one of the world’s crown jewels.
This spectacular mountain is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and it really towers over everything else around it. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Mount Robson. I was driving east on the Yellowhead Highway out of Valemount in an area of dense forest. I drove around a deep curve and all of a sudden there it was! Somehow, the looming presence of Mount Robson had been all but invisible from the road up until that moment. Given it’s sheer height, it was a pretty amazing sight! You too will be awestruck by this spectacular mountain.
Mount Robson is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site, protected by UNESCO. The area has a little bit of everything from vehicle camping to areas where a human has never been. Imagine being able to see something no one has ever seen before? You can do this at Mount Robson Provincial Park – pretty wonderful I think 🙂
Mount Robson is home to more than 182 species of birds, and all of the wildlife that is indigenous to the Canadian Rockies area can be found here, such as deer, moose, elk, black and grizzly bear, cariboo, and mountain goats and sheep. The park offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities throughout.
Most of the park sites are open from May 15 to September 30 each year, with several higher alpine campsites remaining closed until June or July. The back-country around Mount Robson is open to the public year-round.
Activities available in Mount Robson Provincial Park are seasonally dependent. In summer, there is ample hiking, swimming, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, wildlife-viewing, cycling, water-skiing, horseback riding, mountaineering, and much more.
If you’re visiting British Columbia to experience nature, Mount Robson should definitely be at the top of your must-see list!
Jasper and Banff National Parks (starting at 769 km)
If you have to choose between visiting Mount Robson Provincial Park and Jasper or Banff National Parks …. pick all 3!
But seriously, if you only have time to visit one or two of these beautiful parks, it’s helpful to know what stands out about each of the parks so you can choose wisely.
The most defining characteristic of Mount Robson Provincial Park is Mount Robson itself. Its sheer height overwhelms all other peaks in the area and it is naturally spectacular. The other aspect to know about Mount Robson Provincial Park as compared to Jasper or Banff National Parks is that it is quite a bit quieter. Banff and Jasper National Parks are internationally known and visited by large numbers of people annually whereas Mount Robson Provincial Park is lesser known internationally. Wildlife viewing opportunities are also slightly better at Mount Robson than at Banff or Jasper. You’re likely to see a greater variety of wildlife at Mount Robson, although the sheer number of wildlife is huge at both Banff and Jasper.
To sum up, if you’re more interested in remote and unspoiled nature with fewer people around and seeing a variety of wildlife is high on your list, choose to spend more time at Mount Robson Provincial Park.
Differences between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park
In terms of the differences between Jasper and Banff National Parks, the easiest way to sum them up is that Jasper is to Banff what Mount Robson is to Jasper.
Both Jasper and Banff offer the unparalleled natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Hiking and walking trails are in abundance and wildlife can be seen in both Jasper and Banff.
Jasper National Park is nearly twice the size of Banff National Park. Jasper is less visited than Banff, but not for any reason other than ease of accessibility. Most visitors to Banff fly into Calgary and drive 2 hours north to get to Banff. Jasper is 5.5 hours north of Calgary and therefore harder for most visitors to reach. However, on this route from Vancouver to Banff, you’ll reach Jasper first so you can choose which park you prefer to spend your time at.
The town of Banff is more than double the size of Jasper. Banff is much busier in the summer and winter seasons and has an abundance of urban amenities that Jasper does not have. Jasper has been described as more of a typical mountain town whereas Banff is definitely more of a commercial centre with chain stores and high-end boutiques. Don’t get me wrong! Banff is still quite a small town at less than 10,000 inhabitants, but it’s much bigger than Jasper.
Differences and Similarities
Banff offers public transportation around the town as well as to some of more popular visitor sites. Jasper does not have public transportation options.
Banff has many more options than Jasper in terms of hotels, restaurants and nightlife. Hotels in both Jasper and Banff book up during the prime visitor seasons so it’s always wise to book your hotel early in either location.
In terms of available activities, both Jasper and Banff have similar hiking, walking, swimming and wildlife viewing opportunities. You’re likely to see more wildlife in Jasper than in Banff due to the urban expansion in Banff and the increased number of visitors. Moraine Lake is a big draw in Banff due to it’s stunning natural beauty. Hiking trails are usually less trafficked in Jasper than in Banff. There’s more room to spread out in Jasper.
In summary, whether you decide to spend time in Jasper National Park or Banff National Park (or both) will depend on what you prefer to see and do. If you want more amenities with enhanced access to a variety of services and urban activities, Banff is probably a better choice. If you prefer a more rustic or wilder experience and like a more unspoiled and pristine natural environment, you might prefer spending time at Jasper National Park.
I honestly love both Banff and Jasper and find it hard to choose which one I prefer ;-). If you’ve spend most of your life living in a city like me, you’ll always be amazed by seeing elk walk by the restaurant window or beside your car. This has happened to me in both Jasper and Banff!
Elk Walking Through the Streets of Banff – Video
Check out this short YouTube video showing elk walking through the streets of Banff. I always forget how huge they are!
Where to Stay in Banff
There are many beautiful hotels in Banff with a wide variety of price ranges. Banff is very walkable and not too large so your hotel location doesn’t have to be a deciding factor for where to stay.
If you want the quintessential Canadian Rockies experience, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a spectacular choice. Very similar to the Chateau Lake Louise, this beautiful hotel is known as Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies”, and has been providing legendary hospitality for more than 130 years.
A great mid-range hotel in Banff that we’ve loved staying at is the Rimrock Resort Hotel. This hotel offers exceptional value, fine dining, a lovely spa and superb hospitality. The Rimrock has one of the most comfortable hotel beds that I’ve ever slept in!
A budget-friendly option in Banff that has great reviews is the Bow View Lodge. With the only river view in Banff, the Bow View is in a quiet setting with comfortable and clean rooms.
Cat has a great post that details all of the great places to eat in Banff. Check it out!
Fun Activities in Banff
There are some great tours and activities available in Banff that allow you to see and visit some of the most awe-inspiring sites that you may not be able to get to on your own. Non-touristy things to do are always my focus so I always seek out things like that. One of the best that I’ve tried was a tour that took in the Columbia Icefields Parkway, Lake Louise, Crowfoot Glacier and Peyto Lake. The tour vehicle is a large all-terrain vehicle that will get to many spots otherwise inaccessible by car. The tour includes lunch and a knowledgeable guide.
Something else I found really fun was a tour via horseback (or covered wagon if horses aren’t your thing) that included a BBQ. The BBQ is outdoors following a ride though the Bow River valley, and the cowboys who come along show you how to rope and throw horseshoes – I loved it. I have to admit my posterior was a bit sore the next day but it was worth it 🙂
Have you done the Vancouver to Banff drive? What do you love most about the Canadian Rockies? Let me know in the comments below!
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