If you do just one road trip in Canada, let it be this.
This Essay article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
Gorgeous blue lakes, glaciers, stunning snow-capped mountains, seeing orcas in their natural habitat, drinking great wine in the desert, and driving through a rainforest to surf at the beach — sounds like a lot of vacations, right?
You can do all that in this three-week road trip around western Canada, and if you're not exhausted and exhilarated by the end of it, you've done it all wrong.
So, if you're looking for some inspiration this summer, this trip works for all budgets, whether you're driving in a motorhome or car, camping or glamping, or staying in luxury hotels.
Vancouver to Kelowna
Day 1: Wherever you're travelling from, it starts in Vancouver International Airport (or Abbotsford International Airport if you want to knock a couple of hours off the initial drive).
We decided to tackle the big drive as soon as we landed, as we knew we were coming back to Vancouver later in the trip. The drive to Kelowna takes five hours, but if you can do it during daylight hours, it's safer to navigate the Coquihalla Highway and much more stunning to pass through the B.C. Interior.
Day 2: Winery time! Most of the wineries are situated on one road which hugs the eastern side of the Okanagan River. Either book a wine tour or find yourself a driver who isn't drinking, so that you can sit back, relax and enjoy the stunning wine and views of the Okanagan Valley.
We went to Cedarcreek Estate Winery, St. Hubertus Estate Winery, Summerhill Pyramid Winery for lunch, Barn Owl Brewery, Tantalus Vineyards and then finished at Sperling Vineyards.
Then, spend your evening in the centre of Kelowna going for a walk around the marina and along Bernard Avenue, where there is so much choice for bars and restaurants.
Kelowna to Revelstoke
Day 3: The drive from Kelowna to Revelstoke is between two and three hours, and if you're looking for a stop for lunch, Vernon is around 45 minutes north of Kelowna.
Before you settle in the town for the night, head to Revelstoke Mountain Resort and, depending on how much daylight time is left, get a pass and hike back down to the ski village. Alternatively, for those who enjoy the adrenaline-fuelled activities, take the mountain coaster — a 1.4-kilometre ride that twists and turns through the trees at speeds of up to 42 km/h.
We stayed at Regent Hotel, which was really central and had a great bar underneath.
Day 4: Mount Revelstoke National Park has an abundance of hikes to suit all abilities. Depending on the time of year, the winding road up the mountain can be closed part way up if the snow hasn't cleared.
We attempted to hike to Eva Lake in mid-June but had to turn around because the snow was too deep and it was too difficult to follow the trail. However, if it's clear, Eva Lake, Miller Lake and Jade Lake are all situated on a 15-kilometre out-and-back trail offering some stunning views.
After exhausting ourselves hiking through snow, we sampled the variety of bars in the town including Chubby Funsters (which had a dive bar feel) and ski-themed bar The Village Idiot.
Revelstoke to Canmore
Day 5: En route to Canmore, there are plenty of hikes to break up the 3.5-hour drive. We decided to do part of the Abbott Ridge Trail, a 16-kilometre route that travels over rushing white water and alongside valley views.
After building up an appetite, stop for lunch (or the night) in Golden. The upstairs outdoor patio at Rockwater Grill and Bar has great fish and chips with views of the Columbia River and the mountain that makes up Kicking Horse Ski Resort in the winter.
We ended the day in Canmore and stayed at the Drake Inn which thankfully had a pub and restaurant with live music joined to the accommodation. It's super close to all the shops, breweries and restaurants. Make sure you get a balcony room that faces the Three Sisters mountain range.
The centre of Canmore looking at the Three Sisters mountain range.Google Maps
Day 6: There are so many breakfast and brunch spots along 8 Street to re-fuel. There's also tons of independent shops to pick up locally-handcrafted gifts and the Grizzly Paw Pub — something for everyone!
If you're not planning to stay overnight in Banff, this is the best opportunity to visit the town. It's a 30-minute drive and parking was reasonably easy to find. We spent the afternoon walking around and then took the gondola up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain for panoramic views of the town and a meal 7,200 feet above sea level at Sky Bistro.
Sky Bistro's Sky Experience is $80 per person and includes your gondola, appetizer and entree. It's a quintessential Canadian dining experience. I had the Alberta beef short rib, which almost melted in your mouth, and in between mouthfuls you have almost 360-degree views of six mountain ranges.
Day 7: Before heading to Jasper, do one of the hikes along Highway 742. The Smith Dorrien Trail is a dusty scenic drive (watch out for boulders on the road). Grassi Lakes is a great short hike that was on our list and Lady MacDonald Teahouse was the moderate hike. We opted for the Tent Ridge Horseshoe Trail, which ended up being the most terrifying and exciting hike I've ever done. If you take this on, you'll conquer 8,000 feet in altitude and experience gorgeous views of Spray Lakes Reservoir. Warning, it takes four to five hours.
Canmore to Jasper
The four-hour drive along the awesome Icefields Parkway has to be one of the prettiest drives in the world. While you're travelling through Banff National Park up to Jasper National Park, keep your eyes open for plenty of bears and stop at Bow Lake to take in its beautiful blue water.
We stayed at Mount Robson Inn, a five-minute walk from the centre of Jasper. I would recommend Earl's Kitchen and Bar, which has a great terrace, and Jasper Brewing Company. For me, there were too many tourist/souvenir shops, because it became a bit like déjà vu walking into shops.
Day 8: Maligne Canyon is an easy hike that is suited to all abilities and fitness levels where you can walk along cascading waterfalls and rushing white water. It's only a short drive from the centre of Jasper.
We also earmarked Mount Edith Cavell as a hike to do if but we didn't have enough energy in our legs that day.
Jasper to Lake Louise
Day 9: To split up the drive, we did a walking tour of Athabasca Glacier. We used Rockaboo Mountain Adventures and, for $175 per person, you spend four hours hiking up the glacier, abseiling down into the glacier close to the rushing meltwater underneath you as you hang perilously close to the drop. They also teach you about your surroundings, the history of the glacier and its uncertain future. You can also drink the glacier water. Pay the difference and you'll go to places everyone on the red bus wishes they could go to.
A man jumps over a river of melting glacial water.Daniel Milligan | Narcity
To end the day, we treated ourselves to a night's stay at the Fairmont overlooking Lake Louise.
Lake Louise to Fernie
Day 10: An early start meant the night-time short drive to Moraine Lake. If you want to beat the crowds and get a good spot, especially in the summer, you have to arrive by 4 a.m. The sun rises around 5.30 a.m and while it is spectacular when we see the warm glow hit the mountain peaks, it's definitely only a once-in-a-lifetime experience, unless getting eaten by bugs is your thing.
The sunrise at Moraine Lake.Daniel Milligan | Narcity
Make sure you head back for a power nap after this hike and then tackle the Lake Agnes Teahouse hike at Lake Louise.
Day 11: We decided to skip the early start, and just recorded the sunrise on a phone from the hotel window instead, before our long drive to Fernie.
Stop at one of the hot springs on the way. Radium Hot Springs is one of the places that is well-marketed, but it was 44C when we got out of the car, so we had a look around but a hot bath didn't feel like the relaxing thing to do, compared to the AC of the car. Tickets were $8 if you're interested.
Headed to Fernie, we kept things budget at Canada’s Best Value Inn & Suites and went for a lovely meal in a former bank called The Brickhouse Bar and Grill on the corner of 4th Street and 2nd Avenue.
Day 12: Fernie is such a cute mountain town, often overlooked by most road trips. Walk around the town and then drive 20 minutes to Island Lake Lodge for lunch at their Bear Lodge Bistro — you're so far away from the hustle and bustle of work.
They also have a variety of hikes, including a 2-kilometre look around Island Lake. It takes about one hour and you get to walk alongside huge 800-year-old trees. If you were looking for a harder hike, we had earmarked Heiko's Trail but simply didn't get to it.
Fernie to Nelson
Day 13: To break up the journey back to Vancouver, stay overnight in Nelson. Baker Street is the centre of this quirky mountain town and Torchlight Brewing Company has great local drops.
Nelson to Penticton
Day 14: Penticton is around 30 minutes south of Kelowna, and much quieter, but it still has great wineries. We stayed at Wesbert Winery — this family-run business was amazing because you can taste their wines and not worry about driving home because you're sleeping upstairs.
Other wineries to check out are Hillside Estate Winery, Black Widow Winery, Bench 1775 Winery, Poplar Grove Winery, and Red Rooster Winery.
Penticton to Vancouver
Day 15: The drive back to Vancouver takes around four hours so set off early and then you get the full day in Vancouver. Head to Granville Market for great independent shops and fresh seafood at The Sandbar restaurant. Their seafood tower is $150 but it's huge, enough for two people, and includes lobster, oysters, crab and much more.
A man sat in front of a tower of seafood at The Sandbar restaurant with downtown Vancouver in the background.Daniel Milligan | Narcity
Day 16: After a stroll through Gastown, get breakfast at the Water Street Cafe to watch the steam clock perform at the top of each hour. Then, either walk or get a day pass on the transit system, and head to Canada Park, Stanley Park, along the sea wall and get the water taxi across to Kitsilano Beach.
Vancouver to Victoria
Day 17: If you have time, take the BC Ferries across to Victoria — it takes four hours. We were rushing, so we took the 20-minute flight into Victoria International Airport and picked up a hire car.
We stayed in a floating home at Fisherman's Wharf, a surreal experience, and got seafood from the pop-up restaurants around the marina. In the evening, we booked a whale-watching tour. We used Eagle Wings and they were great. Pro tip: Book the tour for the first night of your stay, because if you don't see whales, you're often booked on to another tour the next day for free.
Day 18: This is a great chance to explore Victoria, wander around all the shops, head to Butchart Gardens, and walk out to the Breakwater Lighthouse. If we had our time again, we'd hire a bike for the day and cycle around the coast — it is around 30 kilometres past Beacon Hill Park, Gonzales Bay, McMicking Point and Oak Bay Beach.
Victoria to Tofino
Day 19: Set off early to beat the rush-hour traffic in Victoria and give yourself some time to stop in Nanaimo to stretch your legs or grab a bite to eat. Pro tip: Check if there is construction work or delays on the road towards Tofino, as it was closed for several hours at a time during the summer of 2021.
It's a 4.5-hour drive across Vancouver Island to Tofino but when you get there, it's like stepping into another world. Take a walk along the beaches — Mackenzie Beach, Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay Beach — before heading into the centre of Tofino for fresh seafood. If you like tacos, a food van called Tacofino is off the main road into Tofino and serves amazing tacos.
Day 20: We stayed at Middle Beach Lodge which was a peaceful oasis with its own private beach. When you're in Tofino, do as the locals do and go surfing. The waves are consistent and great for all abilities. The water is cold but there are lots of companies offering lessons and wet suits are included in the price.
After your lesson, head to the Wickannish Inn for lunch and a relaxing afternoon before watching the sun go down at 1909 Kitchen at Tofino Harbour.
Day 21: Drive to Victoria International Airport and then head back to your original destination!
Before you get going, check our Responsible Travel Guide so you can be informed, be safe, be smart, and most of all, be respectful on your adventure.
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