Road trip through the Canadian Rockies: Banff to Jasper

Taking a road trip through the Canadian Rockies is an absolute must-do for any adventure seeker. The abundance of mountains, lakes and scenery will keep you mesmerised for days on end, with something to do for any type of traveller. Figuring out a plan of action for your road trip can be tricky, with so many incredible spots to visit, how do you choose the best ones? Let me help you organise your road trip from Banff to Jasper, with tips on the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies and the best places to stop for gorgeous viewpoints. 

 

 

The route from Lake Louise to Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys to take, rated by Condé Nast Traveller as one of the top drives in the world. More famously known as the Icefields Parkway, the 232km stretch winds through incredible mountain peaks and past dazzling lakes, it’s a route you don’t want to miss. 

When is the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies? 

It really depends on the experience you want. Summer is an extremely popular time to visit the Canadian Rockies since the weather is glorious and sunny, however, this means accommodation is fully booked and hotspots are incredibly busy. Winter is also another popular option as travellers come to marvel at the snow capped mountains and gorgeous frozen scenery. 

Travelling to the Canadian Rockies during shoulder seasons is a great option for those who want to escape the crowds and still experience good weather. September to October, and between May to June is the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies, in my opinion! 

 

I travelled in October and found it to be perfect. The lakes weren’t super busy and we managed to get accommodation at a reasonable price. My sister had travelled there the year before and said Lake Louise was unbearable in the summer due to the crowds! So, if you’d like a bit of personal space to enjoy the views, try travelling in the shoulder seasons. 

 

Things to know when taking a road trip through the Canadian Rockies

 

1. Car hire

First things first: car hire. You’ll likely fly into Calgary International Airport (YYC) to begin your road trip from Banff to Jasper, so make sure you book your car hire in advance for the best prices. It’s the best way to get around the region, since you will have the freedom to stop whenever and wherever you like. Between 1st of November 31st of March 31 or any other period during which the highways are covered with snow or ice, you will be required by law to have snow tyres or tyre chains – this will be checked upon arrival to the park. Double check this with your car rental. 

 

2. Weather 

The weather in Canada can be extreme. In the summer, temperatures reach up to 30°C whilst in the winter it can drop down to -15°C so make sure to pack accordingly and remember that the UV ratings are high all year round, so pack plenty of sunscreen no matter what season you travel to keep your skin protected. Canadians are pretty geared up for harsh winter conditions and during these periods, the highway to Banff and Jasper is well cleared and fine for driving.

 

3. National park passes 

Each national park requires a park pass to be displayed on your car. You can purchase them in advance or at time of entry. Both Banff and Jasper National Park passes are $10.50 CAD each. 

 

4. Parking 

When driving up the Icefields Parkway, you’ll be tempted to stop a lot for photo opportunities. There are plenty of spaces to park up safely, since you’ll see a slight opening in the road where you’ll have access to viewpoints. Some of the larger lakes have designated car parks, which can get extremely busy. Moraine Lake has a very tiny car park and was full the day we went (in October), so consider this before travelling. You’ll see signs if the car park is full, in which case you can drive into Lake Louise Village and purchase a park & ride pass. They’re super convenient and even include travel between Moraine and Louise in the pass so you can sit back and relax. 

 

5. Gas and petrol stations 

There is only ONE gas station on the stretch between Lake Louise and Jasper. Fuel up in Jasper or Lake Louise before starting out on the Icefields Parkway. There is one gas station at the Saskatchewan River Crossing Resort but prices are typically higher and during the peak summer months there can often be delays due to the high demand. 

 

Best places to stop on the Icefields Parkway

It’s impressive how much you can see in a short time frame. This itinerary is more suited for anyone who is strapped for time and might only be in Banff and Jasper for a few days. There are hikes and trails you can choose to do if you have the option to take it at a slower pace, however, the below spots are great for a quick pit stop.

The drive from Banff to Jasper takes 3 hours and 30 minutes, according to Google Maps. That’s with no stops whatsoever. Make sure you factor in the time to stop at your own pace, take photos, have a picnic, whatever it might be that won’t leave you rushed.

Vermillion Lakes

Situated within Banff, we discovered the Vermillion Lakes as we were enjoying a scenic brunch at The Juniper Bistro before we started our journey. We were overlooking a gorgeous view when we realised there was something just on the other side of the highway. So, before starting our journey, we stopped at Vermillion Lakes, which are a series of lakes and lush marshlands.

Lake Louise

One of the most famous lakes in Alberta, Lake Louise is a hamlet nestled in Banff National Park. The glacier-fed lake is surrounded by incredible mountain peaks, where you can find various hiking trails winding upwards. We didn’t have too much time, so we didn’t hike, but instead opted for a canoe rental across the lake for $135 per hour. It was such a great way to experience the lake, especially if you’re not an avid hiker.

Moraine Lake

Nestled between wondrous mountain tops and lush forest, Moraine Lake is a gorgeous glacial lake situated just 10 miles from Lake Louise. I found it far more enjoyable here since it felt much less busy than Louise. Head straight down the shoreline to marvel at the insane views or opt to hike the short Rockpile Trail that will take you to the iconic viewpoint. The trail is rugged, with some steps carved into rocks but it’s a fairly easy trail. It’s 5 miles long with an elevation of 30 metres, and will take around 25 minutes for a round trip depending on your hiking experience.

Bow Lake

Situated at the south of the Bow Summit, Bow Lake sits at an altitude of 1920 metres and its glistening turquoise waters made it one of my favourite stops of the day. The viewpoint is directly on the road, so you won’t need to hike further in to see it, simply stop, hop out of your car and marvel.

Peyto Lake

The incredible turquoise hue Peyto Lake isn’t one to be missed. Most of the lakes you’ll come across will be a glacial lake, however the abundance of rock flour in Peyto is what gives it its surreal colour. Get to the viewpoint with a short walk from the car park situated just off the highway.

Mistaya Canyon

Mistaya Canyon is located right off the Icefields Parkway and is well worth a stop. Formed by the Mistaya River, this canyon has distinctive curving rock formations that the river water crashes through. It’s easy to access and quite a spectacle, so definitely check it out.

Athabasca Glacier

Situated in Jasper National Park, the Athabasca Glacier is a marvel formed from the Columbia Icefield ice fall. The glacier is said to be around 800 feet deep and you can walk across it with the Ice Explorer Tours that they run. It blows my mind that we started in Banff where there were luscious marshlands and in the neighbouring national park, you can find a full glacier! 

Columbia Icefield Skywalk

Experience the cliff-edge walkway with a glass-floored observation platform overlooking the Sunwapta Valley. Witness the ice-capped mountain peaks and vast glacier-formed valleys on this nerve-wracking platform. It costs around $25 CAD, which is a bit pricey, but I really enjoyed it! The views were incredible!

 

Sunwapta Falls

After seeing the Sunwapta Valley from above, head down to the Sunwapta River to witness the incredible falls. This pair of waterfalls are accessible via a 600 metres road just off the Icefields Parkway. The trail isn’t too strenuous and winds through pine forest towards the lower falls.

 

Hopefully this guide has made planning your road trip through the Canadian Rockies a little bit easier. It’s been one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken and I loved how easy the drive was. Every moment of it was stunning and I highly recommend it when you’re in Canada.

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