It’s a 10 – 11 hour, 1,000 kilometre drive from Vancouver to Calgary if you stick to the Trans-Canada Highway. You could easily spend a week stopping at small towns along the way and taking advantage of all the hiking and biking opportunities.
If you’re not in a rush and you want to maximize the scenic factor then consider driving to Whistler from Vancouver via the Sea to Sky Highway and continuing east from Kamloops. On a sunny day, the drive offers extraordinary mountain scenery.
First Stop: Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park
For a hike close to Squamish, drive 16 kms east on the Mamquam Road to the trailhead for the Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park (no dogs allowed). The hike to Elfin Lakes is 11 kms one way – with even more hikes and even overnight trips possible out from there. The reward is first rate mountain scenery, along with meadows, ponds, cinder cones and even glaciers if you continue far enough.
Second Stop: Whistler area
You can spend a week hiking, biking and even canoeing in the Whistler area in summer. If you only have a half day sign up and canoe the River of Golden Dreams. But if you’re looking for an epic one day hike that’s 29 kms return with 1,735 metres of elevation gain then you must do the hike to the Black Tusk. Starting from the Rubble Creek parking lot, it will take you 8 – 10 hours. Do it for the high alpine meadows, the sight of Garibaldi Lake and high mountain views. The tusk itself is a spectacular sight up close.
Continue past Whistler on Highway 99 to Cache Creek where you can pick up the Trans-Canada Highway and head east for Kamloops but if you have time stop at the Joffre Lakes.
Third Stop: Joffre Lakes, 160 kms past Whistler on the Duffey Lake Road.
Before you reach Lillooet, consider a 4 – 5 hour, six km one-way hike to turquoise coloured Upper Joffre Lake. Views of the Matier Glacier and the Joffre Group Mountains are spectacular. It is possible to camp overnight at Middle Joffre Lake and on the west side of the Upper Lake.
Fourth Stop: Salmon Arm
The town of Salmon Arm is at approximately the half way point if you are driving directly through to Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. Located on Shuswap Lake, it is a boater’s paradise and in fact probably the top place in all of Canada for houseboating.
It’s also a fantastic place for both road and mountain biking. The North Okanagan – Shuswap area, encompassing seven towns, is home to over 675 kms of cycling trails. You can rent bikes in Salmon Arm from Skookum Cycle and Ski. Pick up a set of maps and then plan your day around your interests. Look for wineries, beaches, parks and birding opportunities.
Fifth Stop: Mount Revelstoke National Park
The town of Revelstoke is about an hour’s drive past Salmon Arm. And just past Revelstoke is Mount Revelstoke National Park. For a stellar day hike, drive 26 kms to the end of the Meadows in the Sky Parkway by Balsam Lake. Take the shuttle or start hiking from here. The 12 – 14 km return hike (depending in whether you shuttle) to Eva Lake is a standout for wildflowers in season, mountain vistas and the area around Eva Lake itself.
The drive east from the park up to Rogers Pass is very beautiful. Look for short hikes accessible from the highway in Glacier National Park. From Roger’s Pass it’s about an hour to Golden. The time change from Pacific to Mountain time happens at the top of Roger’s Pass so by the time you reach Golden you’ll need to move your clock ahead an hour.
It takes three hours to drive from Golden to Calgary and two of those hours are on beautiful highways through Yoho and Banff National Parks. You do not need to buy a Parks Canada pass if you are driving through without stopping.
Sixth Stop: Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park near Field, BC
Stop in Field for the night so you can take advantage of all that is in the area. The Truffle Pigs Bistro is definitely the place for a meal – but you may have to wait some time for a seat unless you’re staying at the attached hotel. Cathedral Mountain Lodge is also nearby as is Emerald Lake Lodge. There are also loads of B&B’s and camping in the park.
The Iceline Trail is a terrific hike. On it, you are treated to superb views of Takakkaw Falls as well as the mountains and glaciers of the Yoho Valley. You can do it as a 13 – 21 kilometre day hike depending on what combination of routes you do or it can be part of a multi-day backpacking trip that includes a stay in the Stanley Mitchell Hut. No matter what, you will be treated to high impact scenery within an hour of hitting the trail.
Seventh Stop: Lake O’Hara Area, Yoho National Park
You need to plan ahead if you want to visit the Lake O’Hara area. Truly some of the best mountain scenery in Canada is in this small area. But there is a problem. Access is restricted and there are only a few places to stay – all of which fill quickly. You must book either the hostel, a campsite or a night in Lake O’Hara Lodge as well as a seat on the bus so you don’t waste your time and energy walking a non-descript 11 kilometre road. Once you’re there, you won’t go wrong with any hike. Lake Oesa and Lake MacArthur are two easy hikes. The High Alpine Circuit is more difficult but the scenery is sublime.
Eighth Stop: Plain of the Six Glaciers, Lake Louise Area
Lake Louise is famous so despite the crowds you should visit. You can actually avoid people if you get going early in the day. The hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House starts right beside Lake Louise and continues up a valley affording grand vistas back to where you started. You can stop and enjoy something to eat or drink at the Lake Louise Tea House, 5.5 kms from the start. The grand glacier scenery is another 1.6 kms away.
Ninth Stop: Sentinel Pass, Moraine Lake Area, Banff National Park
Moraine Lake is almost as famous as Lake Louise. It’s super popular but if you get an early start you can beat the crowds. However, on the hike to Sentinel Pass you must form a group of four to avoid encounters with bears. It’s worth it. This is one of the most impressive hikes in Banff National Park. Allow 4 – 5 hours to do the 11.6 km return hike.
Tenth Stop: Cycle the Legacy Trail between Canmore and Banff
Built in 2010 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Parks Canada, the 26 km (one way) Legacy Trail is a super way to see the scenery between Canmore and Banff. There is now a station to do a bike repair near the start of the trail in Canmore. Bikes can be rented in both towns. There’s a bit more climbing on the way to Banff so it’s a pretty mellow ride back to Canmore. You can add on additional mileage by continuing to Highway 1A, riding around Lake Minnewanka or riding to Tunnel Mountain.
From Canmore it’s an hour’s drive to Calgary on great roads.
Hope you’ve enjoyed these suggestions and if you have others I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
And if you’re planning a drive across Canada – you’ll find some great info in this blog including more information on some of the best things to do in BC based on my experiences.