With five national parks and several cute towns, the scenery in the Canadian Rockies is simply breathtaking. It’s not surprising this is one of the most visited places in Canada. I’ve visited the Canadian Rockies by car and by train and I prefer the car option because it allows you some form of control over your itinerary. You can stop anytime you want to admire a green valley or fiddle around with your camera trying to capture landscapes dramatic canyons and mountains. Here’s a Canadian Rockies Itinerary to help you plan your visit.
- Canadian Rockies Itinerary
Canadian Rockies Itinerary
This is a self-drive itinerary that will allow you to explore the Canadian Rockies in your own time, stopping whenever you want and for however long you want in each place. As the Canadian Rockies has so many of Canada’s beautiful places to visit, you’ll need at least 10 days.
Day 1 – Calgary to Banff
Calgary is a cool city with a cowboy vibe. If you happen to be visiting in July you’re in luck as the Calgary Stampede is quite a hoot and certainly worth spending a few days at. You’ll need to book your hotel in Calgary way ahead though, as this is the most popular time of year in the city. You’ll photograph some amazing pictures of Canada on your first day of this itinerary but there’s lots more to come.
Day 2 and 3 – Banff
Banff is a beautiful mountain town with a lovely vibe and a destination to put on your list to spend some time at when on a road trip around Western Canada. Winter is a stunning time of year to explore and your Banff winter visit will leave you with wonderful memories. Here are some suggestions on what to do in Banff for your Canadian Rockies itinerary:
- Cruise on Lake Minnewanka or Johnson Lake
- Drive up to Mount Norquay Lookout for a fantastic view of Banff
- Cruise Vermilion Lakes
- Ride the Sulpher Mountain gondola (an option is to hike to the peak and ride down if you’re feeling fit)
- Soak in Banff Hot Springs
- Go shopping for crafts, clothes and souvenirs in Banff’s main street
Day 4 – Johnson Canyon
Johnson Canyon is one of the most stunning places in the Canadian Rockies and should be on everyone’s itinerary.
Even if you’re not a regular hiker, join a tour and go with a guide. The scenery is jaw-dropping and there’s so much to discover on a Johnston Canyon hike. From secret caves to frozen waterfalls, it’s an experience you’ll always remember.
Day 5 – Lake Louise
Lake Louise is possibly one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies. If you can afford it, stay at the Fairmont Lake Louise and if you can’t, make sure you pop in there for afternoon tea or a drink. Here are some suggestions on what to do in Lake Louise for your Canadian Rockies itinerary:
- Canoe on Lake Louise
- Lake Agnes Tea House hike – it’s a wonderful hike with amazing views.
- Big Beehive hike – advanced hikers will enjoy the challenges posed by the steeper cliffs and it can be a bit difficult in some parts but the views are worth the effort.
- Dine at the Fairmont Lake Louise
- If you’re an experienced climber, you can hike to the Abbot Pass hut from Lake Louise but it’s much easier to hike to this historic hut from Lake O’Hara, which is in Yoho National Park. Whichever way you choose, it’s a challenging climb that will leave you with a euphoric sense of achievement.
Day 6 – Moraine Lake
Sunrise at Moraine Lake is the time to capture that perfect shot. If you love the water, paddling in a canoe is a peaceful way to spend a few hours.
Day 7 and 8 – Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway has got to be the most beautiful drive in Canada! It’s certainly a section your Canadian Rockies Itinerary you’ll want to take you time exploring. This 227 km of mountain road parallel to the Continental Divide (which is the backbone of the continent) is also known as Highway 93. It connects Lake Louise and Jasper National Park in Alberta. Driving the Icefields Parkway is the highlight of any Canadian Rockies itinerary and most people take it slow in order to cover many of the attractions along the way. Here are some things not to miss:
- Herbert Lake is a great place for a photo stop
- Bow Lake is one of the most picturesque places along the Icefields Parkway
- Bow Summit Trail is a doable hike to amazing views of Peyto Lake
- Mistaya Canyon has a short hiking trail to the waterfall
- The Athabasca Glacier, which is the most accessible glacier of the Columbia Icefields, is one attraction you should miss. Even though you can see it from the road, going on the Glacier Adventure is a must-do. Here are some Athabasca Glacier hikes to try.
Day 9 and 10 – Jasper
Jasper is a town in the wilderness and the gateway to Jasper National Park and a good place to base yourself for outdoor adventures in Jasper National Park. The top things to do in Jasper for your Canadian Rockies itinerary are:
- Ride the Jasper SkyTram for views of mountains and lakes and the Athabasca River.
- Spirit Island Boat Cruise on Maligne Lake (it’s one of the most photographed lakes in Canada!)
- Hike Maligne Canyon (winter is a great time to see frozen waterfalls!)
For more driving, head to Vancouver and explore Whistler, Kamloops and Canmore on this road trip between Vancouver and Calgary. If you enjoy hiking and discovering hidden gems, you’ll love the hole in the wall in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, which is easily accessible from Vancouver.
Tips for your Canadian Rockies tour
- Make sure to check if all trails are open at the visitor centers at each national park before hiking as some trails can be closed and others might require hikers to form groups of four.
- Pack plenty of bear spray
- Always clean up after you and make sure you take your own rubbish with you.
- Don’t deviate from the trails as you could easily get lost
- Pack a raincoat, spare jacket and plenty of water.
- If you’re visiting in winter, here’s a packing list to help you get organized.
- Pack bug spray to keep away insects, flies and particularly mosquitoes.
- Do not try to feed any wild animal
When is the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies?
Most people like to visit in summer, which is a wonderful season in the Canadian Rockies, however, it can get wet in June. July and August are great months to go hiking in the Rockies but if you want to avoid crowds, pick September. This is my favorite time of year as the fall colors are simply stunning.
How do I get to the Canadian Rockies?
Calgary is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies and the driving time from Calgary International Airport to Banff is around 90 minutes. Edmonton is another city near the Canadian Rockies (about three hours from Jasper).
- This post provides more information about applying for a visa for Canada.
- The Via Rail train through Canada is a good way to explore the Rockies and beyond, connecting Toronto to Vancouver.