Looking for the greatest mountain road trip in North America? Follow our six-days of one of this favorite scenic driving tours from British Columbia to Alberta, Canada.
Head to the Canadian Rockies where the ride from Vancouver to Banff is 800km one-way (a 10-hour car ride) with awe-inspiring mountains, lakes, glaciers, and wildlife views. Allow ample time for unplanned breaks to check out the stunning landscapes, take photos, and embark on exhilarating outdoor adventures.
- Checked into Fairmont Banff Springs, after a 12-hour road trip from Vancouver. Lovely nice picturesque drive, through Revelstoke National Park, Glacier National Park, Yoho National Park in BC and spectacular views of the Alberta Rockies after crossing the border into the “Wild Rose” Province.
- The room had views of the Sulphur Mountain and the Banff Gondola, a fairly good size room, with great amenities including the COVID-19 sanitizer and mask Kit. The room is perfect for 2 adults with a king-size bed and ample space. We settled in with a good night's sleep.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a castle-style hotel that opened in 1888. It’s set in an enviable spot amid a rising blanket of forest. Even if you don’t stay, you can wander the historic interiors with a map, hike the trails on the property, and have a drink at one of its many restaurants and bars.
- The Fairmont is near Bow Falls, so we hiked for 10 minutes to these beautiful falls on the turquoise-colored bow river. A short walk downhill from here, and we were at a lovely scenic spot with views of the Bow Valley and the Falls together.
- The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is about 20 minutes’ walk to Downtown Banff, so we strolled over the Bow river vehicular bridge right into the downtown area. There is a pedestrian-only area in Banff downtown (yay), where you can shop, dine and just walkabout, and get 360 views of the Rockies (with the majestic Rundell and Cascade mountains in the backdrop). We shopped for a few souvenirs. There are plenty of bars, restaurants and ice cream shops to cool you down. The walk back to the hotel was a bit strenuous considering the smelting 30C temperatures.
- In the evening, we did a guided bike tour, 15 km both ways from the hotel to the Vermillion Lakes area, this was a moderate intensity bike ride, with breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains around us. The bike tour was an exclusive experience offered by the Fairmont hotel with a very knowledgeable guide ( his name was Blake Hinchey), who told us about the history of the Banff National Park (from now on called BNP in this blog) and the way CP rail built the railway line through the Rocky Mountains. On our way back to the hotel, we were greeted by a “Black bear” who seemed to care less about our proximity and more about the red delicious wild berries he was munching on. So, we just glanced at him and kept paddling. This was our little “bear encounter” in the Rockies.
- Back to the hotel for another good night’s sleep...zzzzzzz
INSIDE TIP: The Fairmont Banff Springs has numerous exclusive experiences for guests staying there including a private Romantic Alpine Picnic, Sunrise Hike with a guide, stand-up paddleboarding & picnic and so much more.
- We drove towards the BC-Alberta border wanting to go “Lake Hopping”. There are so many picturesque lakes in the Banff Area, and we wanted to catch as many as we could. As we had already planned our stay at the Banff Chateau Lake Louise in the later part of our vacation, we decided to go to Lake Moraine first. Due to heavy tourist, the Park Rangers had closed the access road to Lake Moraine, so we drove to another lake, called Emerald Lake, it’s another beautiful turquoise colored lake, not quite popular with the “average tourist” , so was less crowded. It turned out to be a hidden gem, with fewer people around and more to explore and we got to soak in the views. It’s on the BC side of the border and technically not in the BNP, but worth the drive.
- After having a picnic lunch at the “Emerald Lake” and taking loads of pictures, we headed back towards Banff and decided to drive on the “Trans-Canada” highway to the other side of the National Park to the city of Canmore, it’s a lovely little town, and is the gateway to the park from the East Side. Note: You must buy a National Park Pass if you are going to be parking your car at any of the lakes or hiking locations.
- While driving towards Banff, we decided to stop at another Lake called “Lake Minnewanka”, it’s a blue water lake surrounded by the Rockies on one side and mountains on the other. This is a good spot to view a sunrise or sunset as well. It has facilities for a boat launch, and you could go for a swim in the icy-cold glacier-fed lake.
- After reaching the hotel, we went out for an evening walk to the newly built Pedestrian Bridge over the Bow River. We took more pictures of the lovely sunset in and around the pedestrian bridge. (Took lots of bug spray to escape the attack from the black flies)
INSIDE TIP: The sunrise views at Lake Moraine is a must-watch, however that calls for a 430am wake-up call and then a 20-minute drive to get the best spot. The mountain peaks light up like candles at sunrise.
- We woke up very early in preparation to watch the sunrise at Lake Minnewanka. It’s a 15-minute drive from Banff. Sunrise with Lakeviews in the backdrop is the best in the BNP, and it's advised that you at least watch one sunrise if possible. We set up our camera around 6:00 AM, in anticipation of the impending sunrise and waited for the sky to change colors from light orange to orange and then to various colors of red. NATURE re-created its magic and we were treated to this morning ritual of multiple hues of colors around the mountains and the orange-colored peaks.
- We checked out of the Fairmont Banff Springs and drove westwards towards Lake Louise to check-in at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. As we had around 4 hours before Check-in, we decided to go up the Lake Louise Gondola to catch the views of the majestic Rockies and Lake Louise itself, with the Victoria Glacier, in the backdrop.
- Lake Louise Gondola is in the Ski Area around Lake Louise and on the North Side of the Trans-Canada highway, a 15-minutes’ drive from Lake Louise. The ride up the gondola is 25 minutes and we were treated to breath-taking views of all the majestic peaks in the Rockies, and Lake Louise itself in the distant far. It’s worth the $44 per adult ticket price and you can visit the “interpretive center” on top of the mountain as well. There were guides up at the tops that were available for any questions and were gladly telling up about the different peaks and best viewing spots.
- We came down the Gondola and drove straight to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and finally checked into our Lake-View Room. From the room window, the “iconic” Lake Louise was in front of us, we were dazzled by the views. Luckily, we got the room in the center wing of the hotel on the topmost floor (8th floor) which was right in the center of the hotel wing and gave us a direct view of the lake and the glacial peaks around it. Amazing, Spectacular and Breath-taking.
- We settled into the room and went out for an evening walk around the lake. There are many hiking trails around the lake as well, to other small lakes called, Lake Agnes, Mirror Lake and to a teahouse at the far end of the lake as well. There are many locations around the lake for taking pictures and you will always be in a dilemma on which ones to take and which way to shoot.
- After dinner at the patio with lake views, we settled in for another good night's sleep, as we had decided to wake up early the next day at 6 AM to catch the “iconic” sunrise at the Lake.
INSIDE TIP: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise only has a handful of balcony rooms and those do not give the best views of the lake. Get yourself a lake view room with the center of the hotel for spectacular views of the lake.
Views from our lake view room
- We woke up at 6 AM, to set up our cameras for another “spectacular” sunrise, at Lake Louise, and to our surprise, there were not many people to soak in the sunrise, so we had the whole area pretty much to ourselves. Not saying much here, even pictures below do not do justice to the natural magic which happens around the lake in the first few hours of the morning
- After breakfast, we decided to try our hands at “canoeing” for the first time and that too at Lake Louise. The whole experience turned out to be cool, and we paddled our way to the far end of the lake to take more pictures of the glacier at the South End and the Fairmont Hotel at the North End. It was a 1-hour canoe experience worth the $95. For hotel guests, there is a priority queue at the boathouse and wait times were not much in peak hours if you are staying at the hotel.
- After the canoe experience, we decided to head back to the hotel to have a “patio lunch” with more views of the Lake while watching people taking pictures and canoeing. People-watching can be fun also.
- We then decided to try if Lake Moraine Road is open and Park Rangers are not restricting traffic on it, and we were lucky to find the road open around 5 PM, so we thought to experience the sunset on another picturesque lake with 6 Rocky Peaks among its backdrop.
- There is a little lakeshore path along the lake, which leads you to a vantage point to take more pictures of the turquoise color water and the peaks in the background. This lake is known for its sunrise as well, but you must wake up at 4:30 AM to beat the traffic (yes, it’s that early), as this is a very popular spot for hikers and nature enthusiasts for the SUNRISE EXPERIENCE.
- After watching the sunset at this lake, we headed back at the hotel for a good night’s sleep, as we had to drive back to Vancouver the next day, with an early morning start.
INSIDE TIP: rent a canoe to enjoy Lake Louise’ massive beauty. The hotel also offers activities for guests only, such as private couples’ yoga class, paddle-board yoga, sunrise hikes and much more. Other Summer Activities include horseback riding, biking, heli-tours, wildlife tours, and more
On our morning walk by Lake Louise
- Another lovely morning at the Lake and we decided to watch the sunrise once again at Lake Louise, this time from our hotel room itself ( remember, we had the lake view room), which is another way to watch the sunrise for those who are too lazy to walk down to the shoreline ( hey some of us can be lazy at times, and that is a perfect opportunity to be lazy and still take in the breath-taking views, right while you are lying in the comfy bed, probably sipping coffee)
- Checked out of the hotel and on our way back to Vancouver, a 10-hour drive back with mountain views all along.
TRAVEL TIP: The best time to drive this mountainous route is June to September, however, it’s also the busiest travel season. Consider making the trip in late May or early October instead, and check local weather conditions before you go.