Driving from Vancouver to Banff and Jasper and back is a great road trip! In a week you can see most places but you can easily stay longer to really enjoy the Rockies. Fall is the best time to see salmon in the many canyons and creeks while you’ll have the first snow in the mountains. The trip from Vancouver to Banff National Park can be done in one day but it’s nice to give yourself some time and stop on the way for one or two nights. Instead of staying in rather ugly Kamloops, the small town Hope is a nice place. Take an afternoon hike in the idyllic forest around the historic Othello tunnels and spot salmon in the canyon. Or drive to Hell’s Gate not too far away, where you can take an airtram down to the wild Fraser Canyon and see salmon, too. Eat in a typical Canadian diner, the Home restaurant or delicious bento boxes and sushi at Kimchi restaurant. Another very idyllic area is around Sushwap Lake, Adams River and Salmon Arm. Again famous for its Sockeye salmon with a nice information center and viewing platform in Tsútswecw Provincial Park (former Roderick Haig-Brown) the area is great for hikes and walks or activities on the water.
Revelstoke is also a good overnight-spot and already up in the mountains with lots of winter activity options. It’s also close to Mount Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park. When visiting different National Parks it is best to buy the Discovery Pass Parks Canada in advance to avoid the waiting time at the entrance.
While driving further east into the mountains stop in Golden at the Kicking Horse Resort. You can take the gondola and enjoy the view, ski and hike. From here it’s not far now to Yoho National Park. The smaller National Park is a highlight in the Rockies, its Emerald Lake and Natural Bridge near-by are some of the most beautiful natural sights here. Also stunning are the Takakkaw Falls, one of Canadas highest waterfalls. Already in Banff National Park lie Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the two very famous glacier lakes in the Rockies. From here you can take the Bow Valley Parkway instead of the big Transcanada Highway from Lake Louise to Banff. It takes a bit longer but you’ll see great nature and maybe some wildlife.
Banff and the neighboring town Canmore are great starting points for hikes and explorations around the mountains. There are nice accommodations in Canmore like the Stoneridge Mountain Resort and it’s only 20 minutes from Banff. You also find nice places like the Good Earth Coffeehouse or the cozy Drake Pub. Banff is more busy and touristy with many outdoor shops and supermarkets but there is a good, relaxed vibe and pretty shops like the Wild Flower Cafe. A nice activity right in town is the Banff Gondola. On a clear day you have fantastic views all over the valley, there is a short walkway and a discovery center, too.
There are also more lakes in the area, like Lake Minnewanka where you can rent boats or just sit on the dock and enjoy the view. There are walking trails at every lake but also nice, more advanced hikes in the mountains. On the Cascade Valley trail you’ll have great views on Lake Minnewanka and most likely a lot of untouched snow. Also nice is the short walk around the Johnston Canyon with its small waterfall and turquoise blue water.
You find many more highlight along the Icefield Parkway from Banff to Jasper. If you’re not planning extended hikes or stops apart from the main sights the route up north to Jasper can be done in one day. One of the first beautiful stops is Peyto Lake. It’s a short walk from the parking area to a lookout from where you see the turquoise water nestled in the green valley.
It’s busy around the Columbia Icefield but the sheer masses of ice and the sparse landscape are fascinating. The tourist attractions like Ice busses and Skywalk are nothing you really need. Next you’ll pass the Tangle Creek Falls directly at the street. Already close to Jasper there are the impressive waterfalls and canyons Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls. There are also the magnificent Maligne and Medicine Lake where you can walk or take a small boat trip. The town Jasper itself is less pretty than Banff. When staying in Jasper it’s advisable to book an accommodation early as choices are limited. In town there is Earls restaurant and Bear’s Paw Bakery for mouthwatering treats.
For more great travel inspiration in Canada see also the guide for Vancouver Island and the city guide for Vancouver! Or read more about road trips through the North American nature and national parks of New England here and here.