A memorable road-trip through Banff and Jasper
So you love road trips, eh? We do too. We also love taking pictures and procrastinate doing any post-processing work. If you are the same way, look no further! A road trip in the Canadian Rockies is tailor made for you. Believe us, you would not have to do any photoshopping to make your pictures look stunning. The colors of the glacier fed lakes and the rugged snow clad peaks in the background will make smartphone photos print-worthy!
Before you start planning for a road trip of a lifetime, recommend chalking out some details that we often ignore –
- There will not be much cellphone reception. So get a printed map. We have a Google maps view chalked out below that you can customize and print.
- Recommend downloading an offline guide app. We love the Gypsy Guide apps. We have used it in road trips around North America. Highly recommended. There are two – for Banff (Lake Louise Guide) and for Jasper (Jasper Guide)
Suggested Duration: 3-4 Days Best Time of Visit: End May – Early Oct Base: Banff/Canmore
We set base location in Canmore. The itinerary is divided into days; all days complete at Banff or Canmore. So expect to do a lot of driving each day.
- Start at the town of Banff and follow Trans-Canada Highway. Put in your GPS, Lake Louise as the destination for now.
- Drive to Lake Minnewanka and Vermillion Lakes – Should take about 1 hour to get back to the Highway.
- Drive northbound and take the exit towards Bow Valley Parkway leaving the Trans Canada Highway. This is a slower road but chances of wildlife and soaking in history are higher.
- First stop is Johnston Canyon. Takes about 1.5 hours for about a mile long round trip hike to the spectacular Lower Falls.
- Drive slow to spot wildlife, remnants of forest fires and terrain battered by landslides.
- Merge into the Trans Canada Highway at Castle Junction and travel north.The Bow River flows south along the road here to your right.
- You will also spot some interesting bridges – they are for the bears to cross the highway safely.
- Next up is Lake Louise. It is highly visited especially during summer months as the roads are closed until mid-May due to risk of avalanches. There is a hotel – Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, where you will park the car. A hike around the pristine waters will give you ample opportunities to soak in the beauty. Don’t forget to look around for avalanche debris. Whole trip here should take about 2 hours.
- From Lake Louise, follow directions to Moraine Lake. Looking at the deep blue
waters of the lake surrounded by 10 peaks is an incredible experience. A little hike up the hill created by avalanche debris, will give you an awesome view from the vantage point. The log pile in front of the lake after the parking lot creates a nice foreground for the photography enthusiasts. Taking in the beauty and doing a bit of hiking around should take about 1 hour. Can you guess why the waters in the lake are so blue? Check the answer here.
- We chose to end our day after tiring hikes and posing for numerous pictures all day. We will continue this journey on Day 2, but the evening can be spent at the beautiful town of Banff.
- Fill up gas and your stomach before hitting the road. This will be a much lighter day, and we can revisit one of the hikes or trails that we missed out yesterday. We will head towards Yoho National Park first. About a 45 minute drive from Banff, after the intersection of Icefields parkway, Instead of going towards Icefields Parkway (which we will do on our third day), stay on Trans Canada highway towards Yoho National Park.
- Along the road, try spotting some bears as this is a nice habitat for bears by the railroad tracks. Why? As the grain carriages on the tracks may leak some grains which attract bears, causing a number of bear deaths. You will hear train whistles along the way as well to keep bears away from the tracks.
- About 15 minutes in, you will spot the Continental Divide which is also the Alberta and British Columbia border. The rivers on either side of the divide flows in opposite directions.
- Don’t miss the Spiral Tunnels pull out. You may have to wait a bit for the best experience. You may be able to spot a train, which will pass above itself through the spiral tunnels at various levels. This was done due to the steep mountain side that the engineers had to build necessary rail tracks to transport goods. It’s an incredible site. A train generally passes through here every half an hour.
- As you drive west along the Yoho parkway, you will spot the upper tunnels as well. We will drive towards Emerald Lake. You will see Natural Bridge signs. This road is typically closed during winters and does not open until early June. We missed the lake and the bridge, but the road up is picturesque enough to fill your appetite.
- As you drive down to the main highway, take a left towards Field, BC. If you go west, the road takes straight to Vancouver, BC, and is about 9 hour ride. Stop at the idyllic town of Field, BC. It is a charming town in the summer, but winter is harsh here as the towering Mt. Steven hinders sunlight from getting here. Grab a bite in the small town stylish cafes before hitting the road.
- Quick turn left to take a steep climb up through a seasonal road towards Takkaka Falls. Pull out at the sign to see the meeting of the waters to the right. Difference between glacial greenish water of Yoho river and clearer waters of Kicking Horse river meet here in a whirlwind. Through multiple switchbacks up, reach the lot for the spectacular Takkaka falls.
- This is the wet side of the continental divide, and the vegetation is much greener than the rugged landscape of the other side. But look out for steep slopes that are devoid of any trees. It is a sign of deadly avalanches and landslides have depleted any vegetation.
- The Takkaka Falls are fed by the hidden icefields above it which has about 8 different glaciers. The falls are one of the tallest in Canada, and the gigantic amount of water coming down eroded the landscape for ages to create the sharp cliff and gorge.
- On your way back down to the highway, look at the Spiral Tunnels from a higher vantage point. On the highway before crossing the AB/BC border, the nice lake of Wapta Lake will be on your right.
- Once past the provincial border into Alberta, you are inside Banff National Park again from Yoho National Park. We will end our day here on the road, and spend the afternoon in town of Banff. There are plenty to keep yourselves busy in Banff. Tomorrow is Icefields parkway, and will start very early.
- Begin as early as possible, preferably before 6am. Fill up gas tank and coffee mugs. From Banff, drive up north about 40 minutes and take the exit towards Icefields Parkway into Jasper. This is voted the best mountain drive in the world. Hopefully you are here around sunrise to spot the golden crowns of the steep peaks around you.
- First stop is at Herbert Lake. On a still day, the reflections of the mountains on the lake is inspirational at its best. Many people would stop at the shoulder of the road to take the pictures.
- At a distance, about 15 minutes later, you will see Hector Lake which is a large water body only accessible via a trail.
- Next up is Bow Lake which has a pristine calm beauty around it. The view is spectacular from the road, but even better is from a tiny alley north of the lake. The alley on the left will take you to the lodge Nampti-Ja, and the view from that level (lake level) is incredible. From here you can spot the Bow Glacier as well.
- Next up is the Bow Summit and the Peyto Lake. The best photo opportunity appears after a steep but short hike. Many postcards, travel magazine covers and wallpapers feature a photo of this. It is about 2500 meters above sea level, so a brief period of out-of-breath is common.
- Next up is Snowbird Glacier on your left getting its name from the shape like a bird spreading its wings. There is a small shoulder pull out for a quick stop and snap pictures.
- Continuing up north, you will see multiple noteworthy mountain peaks – Mt. Weed on the right hand side, Mt. Cephren pyramid shaped peaks on left, Mt. Wilson with the back of the icefield on top. Stop at the Mistaya Canyon for a quick hike (~30 minutes) through the narrow canyons. You will see washouts caused by melting snow and heavy glaciers. One of them is a big washout on your right.
- About 10-15 minutes north, you will see the wide Graveyard Flats where Alexandra and Saskatchewan rivers meet. On your right up ahead is Mt. Coleman with the green vegetation, look out for mountain goats on the cliff. You will see Sakatchewan Glacier and Mt. Andromeda from up ahead.
- As you pass the Big Bend, you will spot the end of the glacier and beginning of the river. Mt. Athabasca and Mt. Andromeda, two of the highest mountain peaks in the Rockies, can be seen from the bend ahead. You will enter the Jasper National Park from here.
- Next up is the Columbia Icefields where you will spend 2-3 hours exploring the glacier and surrounding vista including the Glacier Skywalk. Read more here.
- Quick stop ahead is the Tangle Falls on the right. Set your shutter speed slower and smaller aperture for a nice water strands of the falls falling in multiple stages. Take a closer look up ahead of the Stutfield Glacier.
- Endless chain ridge, a row of knife like peaks, 17 mile in length with highest peak at 9000 feet will be visible to your right. Quick entry on the left and an easy walk to Sunwapta Falls is warranted here.
- Past a bunch of lakes like Buck Lake and Honeymoon Lake, drive up towards Athabasca Falls. This is where heavy amounts of water from the river of the same name plunges down through a narrow canyon. Try to capture the falls with the gorgeous mountains in the backdrop.
- Press on towards the town of Jasper. You will see the Valley of the Five Lakes which is a 1-2 hour easy trail that takes you to 5 pristine but tiny lakes. But may not be a good one to do on the short time today. So lets skip it, and revisit if you are staying a night in Jasper. You will spot the Pyramid Mountains and Whistlers Mountain Trams up ahead.
- End the drive in Jasper town for an evening snack or dinner. We drove back to Banff the same evening, but not recommended. Try to find reservation in one of the quaint lodges in Jasper.
Okay, that’s it for the road trip. Please note that a 3 day itinerary is slightly aggressive, but can easily be stretched into four, especially if weather Gods are not merciful on one of the days. Hope you enjoyed the tour. Please reach out via comments or Instagram/Twitter if we can be of any help to put together an itinerary for you.
Below is a map view. You can also download the map for navigation here.