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Canada’s Most Scenic Drive: Banff To Jasper, Alberta

Canada’s Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

The drive between from Calgary all the way through to Jasper, Alberta is a treat. Once you’re about 20 minutes west of Calgary you get into big sky country and from there it just gets better and better. Highlights include the area around Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Bow Lake and the Columbia Icefields. I personally think the drive between Banff and Jasper is the most scenic drive in Canada – though there is some close competition – the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia for instance and the the Trans-Canada Highway between Revelstoke and Golden in British Columbia.

It’s 289 gorgeous kilometres (175 miles) of mountainous country between Banff and Jasper. There is so much jaw-dropping scenery packed in that distance that I’d suggest taking your time. As in take several days to drive it.

Plan on a minimum of four hours between Banff and Jasper if it’s your first time driving the Icefields Parkway. There are lots of pull-offs along the way, usually at the most scenic points. In summer patience is an asset.

The drive doesn’t require any route finding. You won’t get lost. Just be sure to turn north, not west, onto the Icefields Parkway shortly after Lake Louise. In winter the road can be treacherous – and with almost no cell service – it’s one you don’t want to do in a storm.

Read: 5 Stunning Hikes You’ll Want to do Along the Icefields Parkway

Canada's Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

Castle Mountain north of Banff

Canada's Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

It pays to look up too

10 Stops you Shouldn’t Miss between Banff and Jasper

  • Visit Lake Minnewanka – especially as you almost always see bighorn sheep on the loop drive. Stopping in at Two Jack Lake for a Parks Canada red chair moment is also worthwhile.
  • Take the gondola up in Banff, Jasper or both. You get stunning views at both locations.
  • Check out Vermilion Lakes especially at sunrise or sunset. Access is via the Banff townsite.
  • Take Highway 1A and plan to spend at least an hour visiting Johnston Canyon. Walk the cantilevered catwalk up to two sets of falls – no matter what time of the year it is.
  • Hike the Lake Agnes Trail to the Teahouse in the summer.
  • Stop at Bow Lake to enjoy the views and a picnic. Num Ti Jah Lodge is here so you can get a meal too.
  • Visit the Bow Summit and Peyto Lake north of Lake Louise. Note that for part of 2019 the access is closed for rehabilitation.
  • Hike the 1.0 kilometre return trail to Mistaya Canyon.
  • Visit Sunwapta Falls. It’s worth hiking the trail to the bottom where few people go.
  • Go for a walk at the Columbia Icefields. 
Canada's Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

Big in your face Rocky Mountain views

A slightly snowier look in early spring

A slightly snowier look in early spring

Some places to eat between Banff and Jasper

There are places to eat in Banff, Castle Mountain (just off the highway), Lake Louise, Saskatchewan Crossing, the hotel at Columbia Icefields, Sunwapta Falls Resort and then of course in Jasper.

For great coffees and treats for the car, I recommend the Wild Flour Bakery Cafe in Banff, Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Deli in the Samson Mall in Lake Louise and the Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper.

Be sure to pull over at Bow Lake

Be sure to pull over at Bow Lake

Near Mistaya Canyon - in early spring

Near Mistaya Canyon – in early spring

Canada's Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

It doesn’t hurt to look in your mirrors occasionally

Canada's Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

Around Saskatchewan River Crossing

Canada's Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

North of the Icefields Parkway

"Incredible viewpoint near the Columbia Icefields"

Incredible viewpoint near the Columbia Icefields

What to take on the drive between Lake Louise and Jasper

Bring some warm clothes for this drive. I’ve left Calgary when the temperature has been in the mid twenties Centigrade and three hours later it was just above freezing at the Columbia Icefields. If you plan to do the Columbia Icefields tour then include a hat and mittens too. And don’t forget the rain gear.

Two minutes up the Parker Ridge Trail just before the Columbia Icefields

Two minutes up the Parker Ridge Trail just before the Columbia Icefields

No matter what the season get out of your car and walk a little closer to the Icefields

No matter what the season get out of your car and walk a little closer to the Icefields

Canada's Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

An atypical view of the Columbia Icefields

Canada's Most Scenic Drive: Banff to Jasper, Alberta

Near the Beauty Creek Trailhead

Elk crossing the highway in Jasper

Elk crossing the highway in Jasper

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

Where to stay along the Icefields Parkway

There is plenty of camping you can do along the parkway but not everyone wants to rough it. Here are ideas of where to stay – many personally tested. Hotels and motels fill quickly in summer so reservations are recommended. I’m including Banff too since most visitors end up at least visiting the townsite.

Read: Everything You Need to Know About Camping on the Icefields Parkway

Banff

  • The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a beautiful place to stay – though a pricey one.
  • If you don’t want to be in the thick of the craziness in Banff in summer, but you still want to be close by I’d suggest The Juniper Hotel & Bistro. They also have an excellent restaurant.
  • I have enjoyed several stays in Buffalo Mountain Lodge. They have an awesome outdoor hot tub and a great restaurant too. Plus free bikes in summer.
  • On the hotel strip I like the Moose Hotel. If you’re traveling in a group or as a family and you’re cool with bunkbeds (not all rooms) then the cheerful Canalta Hotel is a great choice. 
  • If you’re after the hostel experience check out Samesun Banff.
Lovely patio with a view of Mt Rundle at the Juniper Lodge

Lovely patio with a view of Mt Rundle at the Juniper Hotel

Lake Louise

Bow Lake

Saskatchewan River Crossing Area

  • The Crossing Resort is a good place to base yourself, especially if you also want to explore the David Thompson Highway.
  • Before Saskatchewan River Crossing there is the option to stay at the Mosquito Creek hostel.
  • The Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel is just north of Saskatchewan River Crossing.
  • The Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel is another option. It’s just 42 kilometres north of Saskatchewan River Crossing.

Sunwapta Falls

Columbia Icefields

  • If you want to wake up looking at glaciers book The Glacier View Lodge at the Icefield Centre.
  • Drive 17 kilometres north of the Columbia Icefields to reach the Beauty Creek Hostel.

Jasper

Serene setting in front of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Serene setting in front of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Further reading related to the drive between Banff and Jasper

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Canada's most scenic drive from Banff to Jasper

 

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 39 Comments
  1. I absolutely love this drive! I saw it several years ago while doing a motorcycle trip through Alberta and British Columbia. I thought our mountains here in Utah were tall, but they’ve got nothing on Canada’s. Lake Louise, glacial water, icefields, ahhhh. Gorgeous pictures…thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  2. I absolutely love this drive! I saw it several years ago while doing a motorcycle trip through Alberta and British Columbia. I thought our mountains here in Utah were tall, but they’ve got nothing on Canada’s. Lake Louise, glacial water, icefields, ahhhh. Gorgeous pictures…thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  3. Love all the gorgeous pictures here, Leigh! This looks like a gorgeous drive. It would probably take me a long time to drive this as I will be stopping by so many points to admire and take pictures. Those rainbow shots are awesome! I want to go to these parks so badly! My most scenic road so far would have to be the drive along the central California coast.

  4. Love all the gorgeous pictures here, Leigh! This looks like a gorgeous drive. It would probably take me a long time to drive this as I will be stopping by so many points to admire and take pictures. Those rainbow shots are awesome! I want to go to these parks so badly! My most scenic road so far would have to be the drive along the central California coast.

  5. Gorgeous photos and I agree, it is the most scenic drive in Canada (that I’ve ever done anyway). I also love the Wild Flour Cafe in Banff, it’s one of my favorites and I know it’s also popular with locals which is another good sign.

  6. Gorgeous photos and I agree, it is the most scenic drive in Canada (that I’ve ever done anyway). I also love the Wild Flour Cafe in Banff, it’s one of my favorites and I know it’s also popular with locals which is another good sign.

  7. Awesome shots, Leigh! When I lived in Banff back in the 70’s I really wasn’t into photography. Now, I need to go back and bring my camera! However, I do remember the beauty of the Rockies, and these photos certainly bring those memories back.

    Another drive I love is the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. I’m thinking that since you lived in NS you have probably driven it as well.

  8. Awesome shots, Leigh! When I lived in Banff back in the 70’s I really wasn’t into photography. Now, I need to go back and bring my camera! However, I do remember the beauty of the Rockies, and these photos certainly bring those memories back.

    Another drive I love is the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. I’m thinking that since you lived in NS you have probably driven it as well.

  9. Western Canada continues to dazzle me. I agree with Jackie, you’re going to make us all head out there really soon.
    I was in California several years ago and drove the Pacific Coast Highway to Carmel. I was going to say it’s the most scenic drive I’ve taken but I just remembered the Costa Brava. Okay, it’s a tie. Now, I’ll have to add this to my list.

  10. Western Canada continues to dazzle me. I agree with Jackie, you’re going to make us all head out there really soon.
    I was in California several years ago and drove the Pacific Coast Highway to Carmel. I was going to say it’s the most scenic drive I’ve taken but I just remembered the Costa Brava. Okay, it’s a tie. Now, I’ll have to add this to my list.

  11. GORGEOUS!! I was blessed to travel a part of this drive over 10 years ago – I remember the Castle Mountain – wasn’t there a story about the “green” in front of it? They called it one of the US President’s “Greens” for golfing – I don’t remember who but the story is plain as day to me.

    SO BEAUTIFUL! I hope to see it again one day!

  12. GORGEOUS!! I was blessed to travel a part of this drive over 10 years ago – I remember the Castle Mountain – wasn’t there a story about the “green” in front of it? They called it one of the US President’s “Greens” for golfing – I don’t remember who but the story is plain as day to me.

    SO BEAUTIFUL! I hope to see it again one day!

  13. Gorgeous with a capital “G”! Nice job on that full rainbow pic — right place, right time, right photographer. I’ve taken some pretty spectacular drives in my time — Colorado, Hawaii, California etc. Hard to pick a favorite!

  14. Gorgeous with a capital “G”! Nice job on that full rainbow pic — right place, right time, right photographer. I’ve taken some pretty spectacular drives in my time — Colorado, Hawaii, California etc. Hard to pick a favorite!

  15. Not really sure what to say because each of these photos is stunning and I can’t believe you saw all the amazing scenery in just a few hours. Incredible. I need to explore Canada!

  16. Not really sure what to say because each of these photos is stunning and I can’t believe you saw all the amazing scenery in just a few hours. Incredible. I need to explore Canada!

  17. Surreal seeing photos by someone else in a place I was just clicking away in. I was going to say this is one of the most beautiful drives on Earth. Now I have to try the Nova Scotia one. Would love to hear what international “best drives” you’d rate.

  18. Surreal seeing photos by someone else in a place I was just clicking away in. I was going to say this is one of the most beautiful drives on Earth. Now I have to try the Nova Scotia one. Would love to hear what international “best drives” you’d rate.

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