As I mentioned in my last post, the Galapagos Islands are a bucket list trip for most travellers. But for me, the trip had its origins in a road trip I took from Vancouver to Calgary, a distance of approximately 800 miles. Even though it was a long trip, it was very enjoyable. Having time to explore (and eat) was one of the highlights of my trip. So naturally, I have some thoughts about the Galapagos Islands and I wanted to share them here.
It seems everyone is going to the mountains to ski these days, but few of them get to experience the real Canadian winter. When I thought about going on a road trip this winter, I realized I could do it on a budget. To make this even more of a challenge, I decided to drive from Vancouver to Calgary to see the “real” Canadian winter.The drive from Vancouver to Calgary takes in some of Canada’s most spectacular mountain scenery and, although it’s a long journey, it’s well worth it. Many say the Canadian Rockies are more picturesque than the American ones, so go ahead and decide for yourself.
The journey from Vancouver to Calgary takes 10 hours and 20 minutes and covers 970 kilometers. You can relax in Kamloops, take the scenic route to Glacier, Banff and Yoho National Parks, or head to the Colville or Canucksu National Forests in the United States.
You will want to read all the way through to see how legendary this trip can be.
How far is Calgary from Vancouver and how long does it take to get there?
On the fastest route, driving time from Vancouver to Calgary is approximately 970 kilometers and takes 10 hours and 20 minutes, not counting weather conditions. Aside from the winding mountain roads, the four-lane Trans-Canada Highway is an easy ride any time of year.
Morant Bend is just one of the many breathtaking views you’ll encounter along the Trans-Canada Highway.
An alternative route, which can be taken via the Crowsnest Highway, extends the travel time to about 13 hours and 40 minutes. This route runs between beautiful Canadian parks in the north and the best forests of Washington, Idaho and Montana in the south.
This route is a double-edged sword, however, as you won’t have access to Banff and Yoho National Parks, which are arguably the highlights of the area, unless you’re willing to take a substantial detour.
Also keep in mind that there are many more turns on this route, which is always a risk factor when driving in mountainous terrain.
Please note that the phone signal can be very weak in this part of the Rockies. So be prepared and bring food, water and blankets in case you get stuck on the side of the road.
An outbound trip to Calgary and a return trip are optimal for sightseeing, although the Crowsnest route is a bit harder to recommend in the winter.
Both routes are scenic, but keep in mind that it’s hard to find gas stations outside of major cities like Abbotsford and Kamloops. You should make sure your tank is full when you leave Vancouver.
Best route from Vancouver to Calgary
While there are arguments in favour of the southern route, the best road link between Vancouver and Calgary would be the Trans-Canada Highway – not only is it faster and safer, but it passes close to many of the region’s attractions.
Trans-Canada Highway (Route 1)
Follow Highway 1 from Vancouver along the Fraser River and take an optional detour through Pinecone Burke Provincial Park and Golden Ears before reaching Abbotsford.
Continue north on Highway 5 through the Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area, then visit Monck and Lac Le Jeune Provincial Parks before reaching Kamloops.
From there, return to Highway 1 and follow the South Thompson River, stopping at the British Columbia Wildlife Park. Drive through a series of small provincial parks past Tsútswecw Provincial Park, past Shuswap Lake and through the Enchanted Forest before preparing to cross the Rocky Mountains.
Without leaving the highway, you can admire the stunning rocky peaks as you drive through the Revelstoke Mountains, Glacier, Yoho, Banff and Kootenay National Parks. Shortly after driving through Bow Valley Provincial Park, you will see the Calaway Amusement Park at the entrance to Calgary.
Crowsnest Road (Highway 3)
As with the previous route, leave Vancouver on the Trans-Canada Highway and follow it to Abbotsford. After passing Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park, take Highway 3 and follow it along the edge of Hope Township, past Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park and the Othello Tunnels.
After you pass E.C. Manning Provincial Park, a somewhat barren stretch of road awaits you that leads to Sẁiẁs Provincial Park. After crossing the Columbia River, turn south onto Highway 6 and follow it into the Colville National Forest in Washington State, or return to the Crowsnest Highway heading east.
As you travel through the Rockies, you’ll see a chain of small provincial parks in the north and Kaniksu and Kootenay National Parks in the south. Once you’re out of the mountains, you can head to Glacier National Park in Montana (not to be confused with Canadian Glacier Park on another route!) or take highways 22 and 2 into Calgary.
As an additional footnote: If you want to see more of Washington State, you can take BC Highway 11 and Washington State Highway 9 into the United States from Abbotsford. It’s a short drive to North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
Best places to stop between Vancouver and Calgary
For a car trip from Vancouver to Calgary, you will probably need at least two to three days. If you want to see as much as possible, plan at least a week to explore the Rockies or even the northern parts of the states. These are some of the best stops the trip has to offer:
Fill up your batteries in Kamloops
It’s hard to divide the trip from Vancouver to Calgary into equal parts, but Kamloops is almost in the middle; best of all, it’s a relatively short distance from the Rockies.
If you need a great pool to cool off in after a long drive, book a room at Wingate by Wyndham Kamloops.
Even in winter, the view of Kamloops Lake will take your breath away.
Everything about this hotel, from the impressive rooms to the first-class concierge service, is synonymous with class, and an excellent fitness center is hard to miss. As for the food, you can choose between an American breakfast and a luxury buffet.
The view is perhaps the most impressive feature of the hotel. In addition to the picturesque mountain scenery, the quaint town of Kamloops invites you to rent a bike and explore the area at the famous Kamloops Bike Ranch.
Nevertheless, the hotel is about 3.5 kilometers from the city center and thus offers many opportunities to explore. The Wingate is one of the most expensive hotels in the area, but that is more than justified when you consider the quality of the offerings.
Get lost in the lights of Calgary
When you think of Canada, the image of giant buildings may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but Calgary is very similar to many American cities in its stunning architecture and urban atmosphere.
To complete your trip with the best rooms and views in town, book a room at Le Germain Calgary.
With world-class rooms and unparalleled cuisine from the Charcut Roast House, this hotel sets the bar high for all local competitors with its 10-foot ceilings. The icing on the cake is the Santé Spa, which offers all kinds of treatments under the sun.
The windows of the hotel’s rooms offer spectacular views, and there’s one – if you’re lucky enough to have a room on or near the 20th floor. If you rent an apartment on the second floor, you will enjoy an unparalleled view of the city and skyline that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The hotel is quite expensive, but if you can afford it, there is no better way to explore the city. Hotel Le Germain is located 500 metres from the city centre, within walking distance of all major Calgary attractions, including the Glenbow Museum and the Calgary Art Gallery.
Things to see on a road trip from Vancouver to Calgary
By combining the two routes, the journey from Vancouver to Calgary is just as scenic as the rest. While it’s impossible to mention everything, these stops should be among your top priorities on your trip:
- Mount Seymour Provincial Park: An iconic mountain biking destination in the North Coast Mountains, with great views of Indian Arm.
- Golden Ears Provincial Park: It has the distinctive peaks of Mount Blanchard and Golden Ears, as well as some of the best campgrounds in the area.
- Abbotsford: The city is best known for the Abbotsford International Airshow.
- Chilliwack Lake National Park: It is a large event building where anything can be organized, from rodeos to kart races.
- Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area: This area is home to the legendary Coquihalla Highway and the Kettle Valley Railroad.
- Lake of the Woods Prairie Reserve: a unique grassland and forest system and a complex intersection of different geologic formations
- Kamloops: Centre of the Trans Canada Trail and home to several major parks and ski areas.
- Mount Revelstoke National Park: Despite its relatively small size, this park is a major precursor to the chain of parks that characterize the Rockies.
- Glacier National Park in Canada: Many picturesque caves, towering peaks and native wildlife call this incredible park system home.
- Yoho National Park: The incredible rock walls and high altitude views make the park a must for passers-by; Takakkau Falls is a must!
- Banff National Park: Canada’s oldest national park and the best place to explore the Canadian Rockies.
- Morant’s curve: A view along a particularly beautiful curve of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
- Bow Valley Provincial Park: The spring water in this park, which flows along the Bow River, is known for not freezing in the winter.
- Skagit Valley Provincial Park: About 50 km of scenic hiking trails and great fishing.
- E.C. Manning Provincial Park: Regardless of the time of day, this spectacular park offers everything from hiking to skiing.
- Kaniksu and Kootenay National Forests: Located primarily in Washington State and Montana respectively, these forests are an excellent complement to Canada’s more southern attractions.
The kaleidoscope of colours in Banff National Park is one of the highlights of the trip.
Best time to drive from Vancouver to Calgary
When it comes to choosing the best time to drive from Vancouver to Calgary, keep two key areas in mind: the Canadian Rockies and Calgary itself.
Many find that the Canadian parts of the Rockies are more lush and beautiful in spring than the American parts. In addition, the mountain peaks are less rugged on average than in the United States, making hikes in the spring or fall accessible and scenic.
As for Calgary, the best time to visit depends on how well you tolerate the Canadian climate. Although Calgary is sunny year-round, summer peaks at 13°C (or 55°F), which is when the city sees the most tourists.
Temperatures can drop to -1°C in winter and tourists are almost non-existent. This is always a good time to visit if you want to ski in the Rockies, as the slopes are only 90 minutes away.
If you don’t like crowds, you can get a good deal on hotels in the spring. Remember, this is not a normal southern spring and you can expect lots of snow and slippery roads by the end of April.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to road trip from Vancouver to Calgary?
It takes about six hours to drive from Vancouver to Calgary.
Where should I stop between Vancouver and Calgary?
The best place to stop is in Jasper, Alberta.
Is it safe to drive from Vancouver to Calgary?
It is safe to drive from Vancouver to Calgary.
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