A land of soaring peaks, rushing waterfalls and turquoise lakes, the Canadian Rockies are the perfect mountains to immerse in nature, where wild adventures and restorative encounters are calling. Much of the region is divided into official parks including Banff National Park–the oldest national park in Canada and fourth oldest in the world. Though it’s impossible to experience the entirety of the Canadian Rockies in one road trip, here’s a 7-day itinerary to introduce you to its historic, cultural, and natural wonders.
DAY ONE: BANFF, THE CAVE AND BASIN & SULPHUR MOUNTAIN
Uniquely situated amidst soaring peaks, Banff is the only Canadian municipality within the borders of a national park. Upon the discovery of natural hot springs, the Canadian Pacific Railway developed the area into an international spa resort in the hopes of financing the expansion of the railway due west. Banff has been a tourist destination ever since its establishment in 1885, making it a fitting place to plan the first day of your Canadian Rockies itinerary.
No matter which road leads you to Banff, you’re in for a scenic drive. For visitors coming from abroad, the closest major airport is Calgary International Airport (YYC), located just a 1.5-hour drive along the Trans-Canada’s Highway (also known as Highway 1). Alternative routes to Banff pass through Kootenay National Park, Yoho National Park, or Jasper National Park. Once in Banff, we recommend exploring this pedestrian-friendly town on foot or with bicycles as parking is limited.
Total driving time: 1.5 hours (Calgary – Banff)
- Pop into the Banff Avenue Visitor Centre, a great place to get oriented and obtain information about local offerings, seasonal closures, and health regulations.
- Begin your adventure at the Cave & Basin Natural Historic Site, the birthplace of Canada’s first national park.
- Stroll through Banff Avenue and explore the bustling heart of this vibrant mountain town.
- Get your bearings with 360-degree views atop Sulphur Mountain, accessible via gondola or a well-marked hiking trail. A viewing platform extends to the historic Cosmic Ray Station. Don’t miss the informative display boards along the way!
Note: As of July 2020, a by-law requires masks to be worn in downtown Banff. Visit https://www.banfflakelouise.com for information & updates.
DAY TWO: BANFF WALKING TOUR & VERMILLION LAKES
On the second day of our Canadian Rockies itinerary, we recommend checking out the wealth of sights, attractions, and experiences in Banff. As you explore, you’ll discover just how closely the local history and culture are intertwined with nature.
- Sign up for a walking tour or follow the Bow River trail for a self-led tour including Bow Falls, the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, and the Cascades of Time Garden.
- Discover the history and heritage of Banff’s Indigenous People and Early Settlers at the Whyte Museum.
- Walk, bike, or paddle to the far side of Vermillion Lakes and soak up the iconic view of Mt. Rundle looming over Banff. This also makes a great sunrise or sunset outing.
- Stay at one of the many hotels, hostels, or lodges in town. Outdoor lovers will find a selection of local campgrounds located within a short drive from town.
Total driving time: Depends on the location of your accommodations. We recommend staying close to Banff and leaving the car parked today; Banff is a great town to explore by foot or on a bike (local rentals available).
DAY THREE: LAKE LOUISE & MORAINE LAKE
With vivid turquoise waters set against a backdrop of glaciated peaks, it’s no wonder Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are among the most popular destinations in the Canadian Rockies. Set out early to improve your chances of securing parking and spotting wildlife on the way. As with many bucket list Rockies destinations, exploring beyond the main viewpoints will lead to unique and secluded experiences on the third day of our itinerary.
- Drive along Highway 1 and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as moose, elk, bears, or bighorn sheep. If the Bow Valley Parkway (1A) is open, consider taking this scenic detour.
- Visit Moraine Lake, nestled in the striking Valley of the Ten Peaks. Be sure to enjoy various vantage points by walking around the shore trail, scrambling up the Rockpile for a higher view, or renting a canoe. The road to Moraine Lake closes seasonally so be sure to check the Parks Canada website.
- Explore Lake Louise and the iconic Chateau Lake Louise. Ditch the crowds and get a closer view of Victoria Glacier by renting a canoe or walking the shoreline trail that leads to the far side of the lake.
- Dine and stay at Chateau Lake Louise or book a night at one of the rustic lodges in the area.
Total driving time: 1 hour (Banff – Moraine Lake – Lake Louise).
Note: In peak season, consider taking the Roam transit system from Banff to Lake Louise since these parking lots are known to fill up by 8 am or earlier. If this itinerary day falls on a weekend or holiday, consider switching.
DAY FOUR: ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
On the fourth day of our Canadian Rockies itinerary, enter a world of rock and ice, where hanging glaciers linger even at the height of summer. A narrow ribbon of pavement will lead you winding through a glaciated valley. Pull over at a series of breathtaking roadside viewpoints, each offering a closer glimpse at sparkling lakes, cracking glaciers, and thundering waterfalls.
- Stop at the Crowfoot Glacier lookout and get a first taste of the natural wonders in store for you today.
- Walk the shores of Bow Lake and glimpse the red-roofed Num-Ti-Jah lodge. Follow the shoreline trail around Bow Lake and if you’re feeling up to it, hike as far as the spectacular Bow Glacier Falls.
- Visit Peyto Lake to pay homage to pioneer, mountaineer, and early park warden Bill Peyto.
- Park and walk 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometres) down to Mistaya Canyon. It’s rushing crystal-clear waters make it well worth the uphill return trip.
- Coast down the Big Hill and around the Big Bend, a famous hairpin turn leading up to the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier.
- Grab lunch at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre and soak up views from the patio. Hike close to the Athabasca Glacier (free of charge) or pay for an Athabasca Glacier Tour, where a big-wheeled bus takes you close enough to walk on the toe of the glacier.
- Grab tickets and take the shuttle to the Glacier Skywalk, where you’ll enjoy an elevated view of the Columbia Icefield and surrounding Rockies. This suspended, glass-floored walkway is not for the faint of heart!
- Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls are two formidable waterfalls at the northern end of the Icefields Parkway. Both will end your day of exploring on a high note.
Dine and stay in the remote and rustic town of Jasper.
Total driving time: 3 hours (Lake Louise – Jasper)
Note: The majority of the Icefields Parkway lacks cell reception so plan accordingly. Accommodations, gas stations, and shops are also limited so we recommend booking ahead, setting off with a full gas tank, and packing food and beverages. Several first-come-first-serve provincial campsites are also available along the Icefields Parkway for those who wish to immerse in tranquil nature.
DAY FIVE: JASPER NATIONAL PARK
Ready to experience pristine nature without the crowds? Neighboring Jasper National Park lies just north of Banff National Park but is known for being rugged and remote. Spend any length of time in Jasper and you’ll feel like you’re in on a best-kept secret.
- Hit the boardwalks of Pyramid Lake and soak up some fresh mountain air.
- Head to Maligne Canyon, where a gentle 4.4-km walk/hike offers stunning views of roaring water carving ancient stone.
- Enjoy the scenic drive to Maligne Lake, a magical destination for hiking, paddling, or simply observing nature’s rhythms.
- Enjoy dinner with a view at the Maligne Lake Chalet, a rustic setting with a sweeping outdoor patio.
Total driving time: 1 hour (Jasper – Maligne Lake one-way).
DAY SIX: HIT THE TRAILS
There’s no way around it — the best parts of the Canadian Rockies lay beyond its network of roads. The majority of visitors only see a small percentage of the Rockies, areas within sight of parking lots and pullouts. Whether you set out on a short out-and-back hike or scrambling a remote ridge, you won’t regret delving deeper into the wilds of the Canadian Rockies on the sixth day of our itinerary. Since there are countless incredible hikes spread all over, we recommend choosing one closer to your departure point.
Leaving from Edmonton International Airport (YEG)? Hike in Jasper National Park.
- Valley of the Five Lakes Trail
- Sulphur Skyline Trail
Helpful link: Day hiking in Jasper National Park
Leaving from Calgary International Airport (YYC)? Hike near Banff or Lake Louise.
- Tunnel Mountain
- Surprise Corner to Hoodoos Viewpoint
- Cory Pass Loop
- Healy Creek
- Little Beehive or Big Beehive via Lake Agnes
- Plain of the Six Glaciers and Teahouse
Guided hikes and adventure tours are also readily available and cover a wide range of activities including boating, horseback riding, rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering.
If you’re all about road tripping, take a scenic drive through one of the neighbouring parks instead. There is plenty more Canadian Rockies wilderness!
- Mount Robson Provincial Park
- Yoho National Park
- Kootenay National Park
Total driving time: Variable.
DAY SEVEN: COMMUNE WITH NATURE
If you have time before your departure, soak up the tranquility and serenity of the Canadian Rockies one last time.
Heading from Jasper to Edmonton International Airport (YEG)
- Go for a morning walk and try to spot some local wildlife.
- Enjoy a lazy lake day at Patricia Lake or Edith Lake.
- Soak up the local history at the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum & Archives.
Total driving time: 4 hours (Jasper to Edmonton International Airport).
Heading from Banff to Calgary International Airport (YYC)
- Take a dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs or visit Two Jack Lake.
- Step back in time at the Banff Park Museum, a Victorian-era collection of wildlife specimens and natural history.
- Buy souvenirs for friends and family on Banff Avenue.
Total driving time: 1.5 hours (Banff to Calgary International Airport)
WAVE THE CANADIAN ROCKIES FAREWELL
Note: All driving times are estimates. Your Canadian Rockies road trip may take longer depending on various factors. You may also need to adjust your schedule slightly depending on when your flights arrive and depart. This itinerary is ideal for late spring and summer, where longer days allow ample time for activities and driving.
For more ideas, check out our comprehensive Go-To Guide to Banff National Park and share your Canadian Rockies adventure tales with us in the comments below!