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Canadian Rockies in 5 days

Hi all, some family members of mine are doing a compact 5 day tour as a group from Vancouver and back. Below is an itinerary, would love to hear any feedback as to what to add (fun activities and sightseeing spots) and what to take off :)

Day 1: Vancouver - Hope - Kamloops - Sun Peaks
Day 2: Wells Gray provincial park - Spahats Creek - Clearwater River
Day 3: Jasper national park - Columbia Icefield - Athabasca Falls - Glacier Skywalk - Bow Lake - Moraine Lake - Lake Louise
Day 4: Banff Gondola - Banff town - Bow Falls - Emerald Lake
Day 5: Okanagan - Kelowna - Vancouver

We are a bunch of mixed aged tourists so not looking for any high intensity activities like hiking, so just a "best of" tour with a touch of off the beaten path route or activities. Thanks guys!

Posted by
6868 posts

When you're driving through your whole vacation, when do you have time to "see things"? Any chance of dropping the Alberta sites for another time and just sticking to BC? There are lot of things to see in BC. You can even take a few days to drive on Vancouver Island. It seems like the Rockies are better done from Calgary, not Vancouver which is a major trek (and you're backtracking to boot).

Posted by
5 posts

^which is why I'm looking for a good balance between driving and seeing, this is a temp itinerary.

Posted by
19 posts

I did much of this trip in Fall of '15, but bypassed Vancouver. That is a separate 2-3 days by itself. What time of year will you be traveling? Understand that in winter and the shoulder season the weather can be adverse and road conditions can change at the drop of a hat. Even if you are traveling in July/August you could have snow, so ten hours of driving a day may not be possible in daylight. In summer, the highways are clogged with RV's and there is LOTS of construction on the CanAm, so it is not like driving on a freeway time-wise. Also, the summer crowds at Lake Louise and especially Moraine Lake can be so bad that you will be forced to park elsewhere and take shuttle buses to see the sights, so Jasper down to Valley of the Ten Peaks in one day may be a stretch. Driving at night in the parks is hazardous due to the wildlife on the highways, and traveling at night diminishes the experience. The Okanogan is worth 2-3 days alone. I took ten days to do 2/3's of what you are proposing and still didn't see all of what you hope to see in 5 days. Each to his/her own, but respectfully, I think you might want to reconsider the time or the itinerary.

Posted by
14885 posts

When you calculate driving times, take into account that you'll want to stop many times along the way (especially between Jasper and Banff) to admire and photograph the scenery.

With only 5 days, have you considered flying round-trip to Calgary and renting a car. There's plenty to see and do between there and Jasper.

Edit: I've only been in early May and late September. Lots of wildlife and not so many visitors - or cars on the road.

Posted by
5456 posts

We discovered a great tour company to visit all these places. We had an Alaska cruise from Vancouver and after spending several days in Vancouver, we had a great four day, three night bus tour with KEY WEST TOURS.
It was very affordable. It cost us about $1300 for two persons. Hotels were nice and tour was in a comfortable bus with fantastic guide.

Posted by
178 posts

Yikes! Kind of reminds me of the National Lampoon vacation movie. Drive, stop for a picture and move on-LOL!!

Heed the information posted by others. You are taking in too much in too short a period of time. You will be driving through the mountains most of the time. The traffic is heavy not to mention the prospect of inclement weather to slow you down.

Posted by
327 posts

If this is your first visit to Vancouver, and you only have 5 days in total, I would suggest that you concentrate your "best of" touring in the Vancouver/Whistler area - which will give you a taste of urban and mountain sites. Save the Canadian Rockies for another trip when you have more time.

Only 2 of the 5 days you have included in your first itinerary are in the Canadian Rockies - Jasper National Park (Columbia Icefield, Glacier Skywalk, Athabasca Falls) and Banff National Park (Bow Lake, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Banff Gondola, Bow Falls, Banff town), and Yoho National Park (Emerald Lake). You could easily spend a week (or more) touring this area of the Canadian Rockies - flying into Calgary and flying out of Edmonton, Alberta (or vice versa) so that you are not backtracking. Driving the scenic Icefields Parkway between the town of Jasper and Lake Louise takes the better part of a full day (with stops) - it's not an interstate highway! I would spend more time in Jasper and take in the Maligne Canyon, Maligne Lake, Miette Hot Springs, Pyramid Mountain, Mount Edith Cavell, to name just a few of the points of interest.

If you are "not looking for any high intensity activities like hiking", then Kamloops, Sun Peaks, Wells Gray Provincial Park might require too many hours just driving to be of interest --- 4+ hours from Vancouver, 5+ hours from Jasper, and 6+ hours driving from Banff. Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley is another interior area of British Columbia where you could spend several days.

To really enjoy the highlights of all the places you listed in British Columbia and Alberta, I would suggest that you plan for at least 2 weeks. You don't say when you are planning to visit, but keep in mind that some of the beautiful blue lakes in the Rockies are not ice-free until June. Visitors in April or May have been disappointed to find that the iconic mountain lakes are covered in ice or snow.

Posted by
312 posts

We used to live in BC. I suggest you pick one location - and work with that. Way too much travel time and spent looking out a car window and not enough time enjoying what you are trying to see. Otherwise no time for fun activities or sightseeing spots.

Where are you all coming from, and what are the mutual activities you'd like to do? Weather and summer crowds could all impact your choices.

Posted by
3654 posts

I don't know much about your BC activities, other than you should add Takakkaw Falls, not far from Lake Louise, close and easy.

If you are this short of time drop all of Banff below Moraine Lake (Banff town, gondola, very average scenery) and spend more time in the northern part of Banff NP and Jasper.

In the summer Moraine Lake and Lake Louise can be packed out.

Posted by
166 posts

If you're interested in seeing the Canadian Rockies, then get to the Canadian Rockies, and don't spend any more time than you need to on the other places. If this is actually simply a "Western Canada Roadtrip", then it's certainly doable, but you'll be spending a lot of time in the car because the distance you're covering in the time you have is substantial. That said, some thoughts on each of your planned days:

Day 1: Vancouver - Hope - Kamloops - Sun Peaks
Not sure what you're looking for in Kamloops. No offense to those that live there, but it's not really scenic. But it does make a nice place to stop for gas and a meal. If you have to start in Vancouver, and are committed to driving from there, then you can get pretty close to the actual Rockies in one day if you simply drive straight to someplace like Blue River or Tête Jaune Cache. Then it's a relatively short drive the next day into Jasper (and if it were me, that's where I would spend most of my time.)

Day 2: Wells Gray provincial park - Spahats Creek - Clearwater River
None of those are technically in the Rockies. Might be an awesome place to go, and may be worth all 5 days, but if the classic Canadian Rockies are your goal, focus on being there.

Day 3: Jasper national park - Columbia Icefield - Athabasca Falls - Glacier Skywalk - Bow Lake - Moraine Lake - Lake Louise
You'll hit most of these on the way from Jasper to Banff, and unless you want to linger a long time in one spot, all of this can be done in a day, but it won't be relaxing...

Day 4: Banff Gondola - Banff town - Bow Falls - Emerald Lake
Again, based on your limited time, with so much else to see in the Rockies, I wouldn't spend a whole lot of time in Banff

Day 5: Okanagan - Kelowna - Vancouver
This area will be a bit of a let-down after being in the Rockies. Another idea would be to spend another day actually in the Rockies, then return the car in Calgary and fly back to Vancouver if that's where you need to end up.

Or, as another poster suggested, fly from Vancouver to Calgary, and rent a car from there, or better yet, start in Calgary, spend 4 days in the Rockies, then dead-head it down to Vancouver.

BTW, if you go to the Canadian National Parks website, you can register for a FREE pass that gets you into all Canadian National Parks for free for all of 2017. It's part of their 100th anniversary celebration. [edit: as noted below, it's actually the 150 year anniversary, which I really should have known, as I just received my pass in the mail the other day! : ) ]

Posted by
327 posts

Correction Re: BTW, if you go to the Canadian National Parks website, you can register for a FREE pass that gets you into all Canadian National Parks for free for all of 2017. It's part of their 100th anniversary celebration.

The Parks Canada Discovery Pass free admission during 2017 is in celebration Canada 150 - 150 years since confederation.
parkscanada.gc.ca

Posted by
31467 posts

fyz,

It would help to have a bit more information on where you're from, and what type of "a touch of off the beaten path route or activities" you have in mind?

IMHO, that's far too ambitious for the distances you're travelling and the time you have available. You're going to be spending a lot of "windshield time" and won't be able to spend long in the places you've come to see. I would suggest not relying too much on driving times provided by Google Maps or whatever, as you'll probably find these take longer than even the best laid plans.

A few thoughts and questions.....

  • Why are you visiting Hope? If you're travelling via Highway 1, you'll have to exit which will take time. There's really not a lot to see there, unless you want to stop for a meal or fuel.
  • As mentioned in a previous post, there's not a lot to see in Kamloops.
  • Why Sun Peaks? That's about an hour (each way) from Kamloops, which will add to your driving times and detract from your sightseeing times.
  • I'm not sure how long you'll have to actually enjoy the sights on Day 3, and suspect you'll mostly be driving
  • The trip from Banff to Kelowna is going to take the better part of a full day. You won't be able to see any other parts of the "Okanagan". From Kelowna it's going to take about another six hours to get to Vancouver. You'll have to navigate the bridge and the sometimes "thick" traffic in West Kelowna to reach the Okanagan Connector in Peachland.
  • When is this trip taking place? If it's taking place in the near future and you're using a car rented in Vancouver, it may not be equipped with proper winter tires. You can be ticketed on the Coquihalla for lack of proper tires. Winter conditions on the Coquihalla can be challenging at best - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emyWSqCtfSk

IMHO, this trip needs a serious re-evaluation as it's going to be difficult (if not impossible) to accomplish in its present form.

Good luck!

Posted by
923 posts

Ken's response is correct; he's in the Okanagan Valley, I'm in Calgary and there is just too much distance on slow roads between us to make this trip any fun. Seriously, do not underestimate the RV factor - they are numerous and slow. Much of the highway through the mountains (up until Lake Louise) is only 1 lane each way with occasional passing lanes where every yahoo wants to pass every single RV in one go. I have told every European home exchanger we've had the same thing, as they always want to do the trip you're proposing. Afterwards, they're usually relieved they didn't try.

My two cents for the best itinerary option: fly into Calgary, rent a car, pick a place to stay in either Canmore or Banff and do the rest of the Canadian Rockies stuff as day trips. Emerald Lake/Takkakkaw Falls/Field/Lake Louise/Moraine Lake is one or two day trips. Jasper/Columbia Icefield/Athabasca Falls/Glacier Skywalk is another. Banff, Johnston Canyon, Canmore, Kananaskis and environs is a third. Then pick your favourite and go back there for more. Sleeping in one place each night will be much more fun and relaxing; you can come "home" and either cook or eat out, relax with wine and tell your stories. I'd stay in Canmore if it were my trip.

Alternatively, stick to BC. You could do Vancouver, Whistler and the Okanagan if you really want to go nuts, but I'd drop the Okanagan for a better trip (don't get me wrong, I love it there, but it's out of the way.)

My firm opinion is you'll enjoy the trip more if you cut it back, but have a wonderful time whatever you decide.

Posted by
31467 posts

With five days, it should be possible to do a "loop" using the Coquihalla to Kamloops, down through Vernon to whichever Okanagan destination you're interested in and then back to Vancouver via the Okanagan Connector (connect with the Coquihalla in Merritt). Alternatively fly into Calgary and do the Jasper and Banff trip as described in the previous reply.

Don't underestimate the driving times here as it takes awhile to get anywhere by road. To put that into perspective, keep in mind that British Columbia is three times larger than Italy and also larger than Washington, Oregon and California combined!