Vancouver to Banff | The ultimate Canadian Road trip Itinerary

vancouver to banff road trip itinerary

Plan your dream road trip through Canada with this all-comprehensive Canada road trip itinerary! I’ll show you how to spend the perfect 13 days in Canada travelling from Vancouver to Banff, plus everything you need to know about renting a car or campervan to self-drive during your road trip.

An epic road trip through Canada has been on my bucket list for many years now. I am eager to head to the roughed mountains, explore them during summer or winter time and soak up its incredible national parks.

Since I have not done this itinerary I called in the help of my editor, Kim. She lived in Canada for many years in her childhood and has done this trip many times. So together with her help, we reconstructed this ultimate Canada road trip itinerary from Vancouver to Banff!

Canada road trip itinerary

CANADA ROAD TRIP ITINERARY | BASIC INFORMATION

If you are heading to Canada for the first time, it is handy to know some of the country’s basic information. I always like to add this to my itineraries, so you have a complete picture of your trip in one handy post.

Money and Price

In Canada they use the Canadian dollar, currently (January 2020), the exchange rate sits around:

€1 = $ 1.45 CAD
$1 AUD = $ 0.90 CAD
£1 = $ 1.75 CAD

Canada is unfortunately not a cheap country to travel to and to stay in. So you will need a decent budget for your road trip. On average you should expect to spend about $150 AUD per day, including camper hire, campsites, petrol, food, and access to National Parks.  For a very basic but handy break down of costs, check out Budget your trip.

Pretty much all places will accept credit card. But it is always advised to carry loose change on you just in case. There might also be a couple of smaller stores that do not have an EFTPOS machine.

Tipping is not mandatory but generally expected because most of the service providers receive relatively low base pay. It is customary to tip approximately 15-20% on the total bill before tax, less for poor service, more for truly exceptional service.

Language

Canada has two official languages: French and English. The majority of most Canadians speak English, while almost all French-speakers live in the province of Quebec.  Since this road trip takes place in British Columbia you can expect to be able to speak English during your road trip.

Best time to visit Canada

The country is amazing to visit pretty much year-round! Yes, some months the weather will not be as great, but then it will have something else to offer that you can not experience sometime else.

In general, we would say that Mid-May to late June is a great time to visit Canada! There are not a lot of tourists so prices are a bit more reasonable. The summer tourist season has officially begun, although the first two weeks of May are generally quiet (and many attractions are still closed). There are new leaves in the trees; nature is in full bloom.

The same goes for the fall months, from September through November.  The weather will be a bit cooler, but the summer crowds have left, prices drop again, and changing fall foliage provides a stunning backdrop for many of your Instagram pictures.

Winter is also amazing if you don’t mind the cold and like snow.

VISA REGULATIONS IN CANADA

Getting a Canadian Tourist visa is fairly simple. Australian citizens are required to apply for a Canada eTA visa to enter Canada on a short term basis (under 90 days) for general tourism, business, transit or medical purposes.

The application is a simple online process that takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. You will need:

  • your passport
  • contact
  • employment
  • travel details
  • and a debit or credit card to pay the eTA application fees.

It only costs $7 CAD and an approved eTA will be valid for up to five years, or the date of passport expiry, whichever comes first.

Vancouver to Banff road trip itinerary

SELF-DRIVE ROAD TRIP IN CANADA

Canada is probably the best country in the world for an epic self-drive road trip! Because of the empty open roads (cities excluded, of course)

Hiring a campervan in Canada

For this itinerary, we are travelling in a campervan. Not the cheapest way of getting around, but definitely the most fun!

Since a lot of visitors drive in Canada, the market for a rental campervan is reasonably competitive, meaning you can usually get a pretty good deal. (If you don’t travel in high season)

There are two main things to consider when choosing a hire campervan: Size of the vehicle and luxury required. Campervans come in all shapes and sizes. Knowing how many people will travel and what you require in a van are essential. The more people and the more luxury, the higher your budget needs to be.

Do keep in mind, the bigger the campervan, the better your driving skills should be! You do have to be able to mauver the camper around in a safe way! If you are not a confident driver, then maybe go for a camper that is a bit more compact.

Underneath are a couple of websites that we have found useful in collecting information and quotes for different vans.

Motor Home Republic and Camper Champ are comparison sites that collect caravan deals from a variety of international and local tour agents. Two handy sites to see what is available and make some comparisons.

Sta Travel also offers a bunch of great deals on campervan hire!

How long does it take to drive from Vancouver to Banff?

This road trip can be as long or as short as you want it to be.  But in order for our sanity and to not have a never-ending Itinerary we have combined this trip into 13 days. You can definitely add on to this, as we haven’t even covered half of the country. You can also do this road trip in 7 days, but you don’t want to fly all the way to Canada to have to rush! You want to be able to enjoy your time and stop where you want to stop.

This almost 2-week self-drive Canada itinerary is still reasonably fast-paced, but if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Canada that you’re planning, you probably won’t mind being on the move regularly.

Canada Road trip route overview & drive times

Underneath you can find a basic (and handy) overview of our Canada road trip itinerary. Keep in mind that this is just an itinerary that we think works best. You can add on destinations are remove destinations If one simply does not appeal to you.

  • Days 1-2 | Vancouver
  • Day 3 | Victoria
  • Day 4 | Tofino
  • Day 5 | Whistler
  • Day 6-7 | Gold bridge
  • Day 8 | Clearwater
  • Day 9 | Jasper
  • Day 10-11 | Lake Louise
  • Day 12-13 | Banff

This Canadian itinerary covers a whopping 2,000km (about 1,250 miles). Underneath a break-down of destinations, distances and drive times:

Origin Destination Distance Drive time
Vancouver Victoria 115km 3 hours

Including a 1-hour Ferry

Victoria Tofino 317km 4-5 hours
Tofino Whistler 364km 6-7 Hours
Including a 2-hour ferry
Whistler Gold Bridge 185km 3 hours
Gold Bridge Clearwater 400km 5 hours
Clearwater Jasper 492km 4-5 hours
Jasper Lake Louise 232km 3 hours
Lake Louise Banff 86km 2 hour

VANCOUVER TO BANFF  |  ROAD TRIP ITINERARY

This section includes a detailed day-by-day breakdown of the 13-day road trip itinerary.

DAYS  1-2 | EXPLORING VANCOUVER

Canada road trip itinerary Day One Vancouver

We recommend spending at least 2 days in Vancouver to get a good feel for the city and see the main highlights (And get over the jetlag, if you are flying in from overseas) The city has a great public transport system, so you don’t need your campervan here! Pick it up when you start your road trip, so you don’t have to worry about parking it in the city.

Underneath are just a couple of things you could do when in Vancouver.

THINGS TO DO IN VANCOUVER

Watch for orca whales and other marine wildlife on a half-day whale watching tour. An incredible and relaxing way to spend some time exploring these incredible animals. There are many great tour options available, two tours that we recommend are Orca Spirit and Vancouver Whale Watching.  Do keep in mind that the Whale season in Vancouver is from April 1st till October 31st.

A definite Must-Do is the Capilano suspension bridge. Try going early in the morning as it is a magical place to see the sunrise through the trees, making it an even more amazing place. The bridge is a suspension bridge crossing the Capilano River and is 140 meters long. There is a free shuttle bus from downtown which is very convenient.  There’s a nice nature trail to walk around is you feel like taking a nice nature walk.

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s version of Hyde Park. Surrounded by water, this 400-hectare park is so large and entertaining that you can spend a whole day exploring and chilling. Hop on the Stanley Park Railway, go for a swim or walk along the more than 27 kilometres of forest trails, winding through the park’s dense foliage.

Granville island in Vancouver

Granville island is mostly known for its great food! Is also offers some amazing shopping opportunities as well as amazing markets. But the main attraction is their insane food. Some of the best doughnuts you will ever try can found here at Lee’s Donuts.  There is so much to see and do at Granville Island, that we recommend taking a food tour. We loved the Granville Island Market Tour, filled with lots of information and interesting facts.

WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT IN VANCOUVER

Additionally, Vancouver is famous for its fresh, local seafood, especially it’s Salmon.

Hook Seabar offers a killer fish and chips. They also have an awesome patio with views of English Bay and an affordable happy hour too. So worth checking out.
Address: 1210 Denman Street, Vancouver
Phone: : 604-620-4668

Salmon n’ Bannock is also a great restaurant to check out. They are the cities only full-service First Nations restaurant and are specialized in wild fish, free-range and/or organic and wild game meats.
Address: 1128 W Broadway #7, Vancouver
Phone: : 604-568-8971

Where to stay in Vancouver

If you are heading to Vancouver for the first time, then we suggest staying in Yaletown.  This suburb is located on the waterfront and offers a number of chic hotels and independent boutiques as well as modern restaurants and trendy bars. Its location is perfect, making it one of the best suburbs to stay in.

OPUS Vancouver is one of our favourite hotels in this area. it is not the cheapest, but the colourful and luxury rooms are simply amazing.

We also love Hotel BLU Vancouver, a 4-star hotel located a 2-minute walk past high-end shopping on Robson Street.  If these hotels are not within your budget then we suggest checking out Samesun Vancouver, a 3-star hostel in a 1908 building.

DAY 3 | VICTORIA ON VANCOUVER ISLAND

Today is the day we start our road trip. Pick up your campervan as early as possible as it is time to hit the road.  Today we are driving about 115 kilometres and will be taken a 1-hour ferry as well.

Victoria is known as the Garden City, it’s in full bloom in spring and summer, and has such a mild winter, you can golf year-round! Easily accessible from Vancouver, Victoria is the perfect day trip. As Victoria is located on Vancouver Island, you will have to take a ferry over.

BC FERRIES 

BC Ferries offers 90-minute sailings to Victoria’s Swartz Bay terminal from the Tsawwassen terminal, approximately 45 minutes south of downtown Vancouver.

Ferries run at least every two hours (at the top of the hour), increasing to hourly during peak season. These ferries take both vehicles and walk-on passengers.

I suggest booking your tickets in advance, as you never know. Underneath are the ticket prices (April 2020)

We definitely recommend doing a food or wine tour here as they have some of the most beautiful picturesque locations for these tours. A taste of Victoria Food Tours offers a variety of options.

Royal British Columbia Museum is one of the best museums to visit in the whole of Canada.  You will learn about the indigenous history of the country, and the diversity of animals and environments. No wonder this museum is ranked in the top 5 for North America!

Another great stop is Miniature World, it is so cool! Highly recommended for families. Mom and I did this when I was little and loved it. you learn a lot about Canada and the famous railways.

A must-see is the British Columbia parliament houses/buildings. They are so beautiful and historical. The Parliament Buildings are open to the public from Monday to Friday between the hours of 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Guided tours are free and last approximately 35 minutes, and we recommend you join one of them. They are filled with great information, and since they are free, it would be silly not to join them.

Lastly, we recommend checking out Craigdarroch castle.  A beautiful castle, which has been beautifully restored and accurately furnished with original furniture and artwork, completed with period-correct artifacts. Extremely knowledgeable staff to explain the complex history of the house and inhabitants. If you are not afraid, then a haunted tour might be a great option for you!

DAY 4 | VANCOUVER ISLAND – TOFINO  | FAMOUS FOR ITS BEACHES AND NATURE

vancouver to banff road trip itinerary. Must see is tofino

On the fourth day of the road trip we are travelling to Tofino, know for its incredible nature and its stunning beaches.  The drive is about 4-5 hours and is about 317 kilometres.

Some of the beaches that you have to check out are Long Beach, Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay! All so amazing! Also generally in the winter, these beaches have recorded some of the biggest waves in the world! So if you are travelling in the wintertime you can still head to the beaches and check it out.

Cox Bay is a wonderful place for surfing, and you can watch them having fun all day and into the late evening.

Cox Bay Beach, Tofino, Canada

Tofino is also great to go for a bear watching tour they are active between April 1st to October 31st.  On the tours, you will spot our beautiful black bears on a kayaking or adventure tour. A great tour to take is the Ocean Outfitters – Bear Watching Tours.

DAY 5 | WHISTLER – HOME TO ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS SKI RESORTS IN THE WORLD

Today is a pretty long day of travel, it is only 364 kilometres, but because you have to take a 2-hour ferry, the trip will take you about 6-7 hours. It is absolutely stunning though, and time will fly by.

Drive to Nanaimo, which is about 204 kilometres, then hop on the Trans-Canada ferry to Horseshoe Bay. This will take 1.58 hours, make sure to book in advance. Prices vary tremendously, so check online on the BC ferries for correct pricing.  

Skiing in Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler, Canada

When you arrive in Whistler make sure you ride the peak to peak Gondola on Blackcomb’s mountain – this is the highest gondola in the world and offer incredible 360 views.

DATES & HOURS OF THE GONDOLA

May 23, 2020 – September 13, 2020 10am – 5pm Daily
September 14, 2020 – October 12, 2020 10am – 5pm Weekends & Holidays Only

If you are doing this road trip in winter, then make sure to ski, snowboard or toboggan on whistler mountain.

Visit Blackcomb a world-renown ski resort, receive lessons in snowsports, go shopping or have food at one of the famous eateries.

If you are doing this in summer then check out Lost Lake. Bushwalking, hiking, water sports are just some of the activities you can do at this lake. It is also incredibly gorgeous, an amazing place for an Instagram photoshoot.

Whistler in the Fall

In Autumn the town is also gorgeous to visit, especially when the leaves are changing colour.

Day 6-7 | GOLD BRIDGE 

On day 6 we are driving to Gold bridge and will spend 2 nights there. The drive from Whistler to Gold Bridge is only 185 kilometres and will take about 3 hours. After spending many days on the road and seeing many incredible sights it is time to take a breather at South Chilcotin Mountain Park.

British Columbia, Canada

This is a very special place for mountain adventurers, simply a world-class destination. This remote yet accessible mountainous park offers unparalleled opportunities to enjoy the dramatic scenery and unspoiled nature of southern British Columbia.

Breathtaking surroundings and really mysterious scenery. Filled with glacial melt the turquoise blue rivers seem surreal. Lots of history of the Gold Rush and just an awesome place to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

There is over 200 km of trails through broad valleys, alpine meadows and ridges, offer an excellent variety of loop trips of varying difficulty and distances for hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers.

South Chilcotin Mountain Park Spot grizxzly bears

If you know how to ride horseback, then adventures.com has an incredible multi-day tour where you will track grizzly bears in their natural habitat, or follow the haunting howls of wolves. On this multi-species safari, we’ll be on the lookout for Canadian moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep or mule deer.

Or you can simply enjoy the fresh air, grab a book and put your feet up.

DAY 8 | CLEARWATER

After 2 days at Gold Bridge, it is time to move on. Today we are heading to Clearwater, which is located 492 kilometers away. This will take about a 6-7 hour drive.

We are firstly driving a bit further than Clearwater, as we are going to check out Helmcken Falls. Really beautiful and impressive fall. In general, we were really positively surprised by Wells Gray National park. Lots of really beautiful spots and quiet compared to some of the other national parks in the area.

On your way back towards Clearwater also make a stop at Dawson Falls. The falls are a five-minute walk from the parking lot, altho the trail itself is pretty good, it does have some ups and downs and the occasional tree root sticking up. The Falls are really well worth the short trek, and the first thing you’ll notice is the noise of the water. The Falls are likened to Niagra, and although pretty spectacular, they are way smaller, both in height and breadth. Worth the visit, definitely.

If you still want to see more waterfalls, then also stop at Spahat Falls about 25 minutes from Dawsons Falls. It is a short walk from the parking lot to the view platform with a loop trail through the forest if you want some exercise, but I don’t think there were any better views than the platform.

Day 9 | JASPER

Today we are heading to Jasper, which is located 318 kilometers away, this will take you about 3-4 hours. Jasper is the perfect place for adventurers and explorers.  You can add some kilometers today, if you wish to explore a couple of attractions.

The National Park has one of the highest concentrated black and brown bear populations in Canada and you are almost guaranteed to see at least one. Some of the animals that you can spit her are deer, elk, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep.

Maligne Lake, Canada

Make sure to check out Spirit Island on Maligne Lake. One of the most photographed scenes in the world, and not without reason. It is absolutely stunning!

If you feel like driving a bit further, then check out The Glacier Skywalk. This Skywalk is an incredible cliff-edge walkway where a glass floor is all that separates you from a 280 m (918 ft) drop. If you are afraid of heights, this might not be the best place for you.

In the summer months, take the scenic drive from Jasper townsite through the wild Fiddle Valley to the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies. Follow one of the hiking trails and then come back for a long leisurely soak.

Tonight make sure you stay up late. Jasper is the world’s second-largest Dark Sky Preserve. You will be able to spot millions and millions of sparkling stars. Perfect for a romantic night or snap some incredible night shots.

DAY 10-11 | LAKE LOUISE

After a late-night in Jasper, we are heading to stunning Lake Louise today. A 232-kilometre drive, which will take about 3 hours.

On your full day at Lake Louise, we suggest you wake up early (We recommend getting up before 6 AM, sorry). Since the area around Lake Louise gets extremely crowded during the day, so the best time to go is early in the morning before the masses of people arrive.

Grab breakfast and a coffee at the Fairmont Lake Louise. While there, you can choose to go on one of the Lake Louise hikes:

  • Lake Agnes Tea House (1.5 hours)
  • Plain of Six Glaciers (5 hours)

Both walks are absolutely gorgeous ways to explore the surrounding Lake Louise area. Many incredible photo opportunities.

If you’re tuckered out from the morning exercise, then you can go for a nice soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a relaxing place to watch the sunset and relax your poor tired legs.

Admission to the Hot Springs is very reasonable! Adult admission is $8.30, seniors $7.30, youth $6.30, and children under the age of 3 are free.

Vancouver to Banff road trip itinerary

DAY 12-13 | BANFF

Banff is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places in Canada. Whether you’re an avid hiker or just someone who loves tranquil and untouched nature, then this place is for you! There are simple many incredible things to see and do in Banff.

Moraine LakeThe drive from Lake Louise to Banff will only take about 1 hour. Therefore we are going to take a detour and drive up to Moraine Lake. I find this is one of the most iconic sights in all of Banff. It is only 14 kilometres from Lake Louse, so worth the short detour.  With its glassy lake and impressive trees surrounding this view, it can simply not be missed!  Hike up to the viewpoint above the lake or around the perimeter a bit, or just enjoy the quiet of the morning in this spectacular space. The earlier you get there the better, as this point also can get a bit crowded.

Check out Lake Minnewanka, a large glacial lake five kilometres (three miles) from the town of Banff. After that, it is time to check out Banff National Park, home to some stunning emerald lakes and amazing hot springs. 

I hope you have enjoyed this extensive Vancouver to Banff road trip itinerary. Are you planning to do this road trip or have you done it already? Let me know in the comments below.

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