A Canadian road trip, driving from Banff to Jasper, is something I’ve dreamt of for years. I remember seeing the Fairmont Hotel in Banff, covered in snow and surrounded by mountains, thinking that I had to get there one day. SO, when I was granted my Canadian working visa earlier this year I KIND of used it as an excuse to finally tick my ultimate Canada road trip off my bucket-list. If you read my previous article about my boyfriend and I, you’ll know that we love a good road trip! So it was without hesitation that we decided to drive the 2,390KM from Calgary to Edmonton via Banff and Jasper national parks. Here’s everything you need to know about our epic trip.
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Banff and Jasper National Parks – Our Road Trip
5 Day Canada Road Trip Itinerary – Canmore, Banff and Jasper
Day 1 – Drive from Calgary to Sundance Lodges, Kanaskis Country.
Day 2 – Visit Canmore and Banff.
Day 3 – Drive from Kananaskis to Golden, stopping at Lake Louise & Lake Moraine.
Day 4 – Drive from Golden to Jasper along the famous Icefields Parkway, stopping at Columbia Icefields.
Day 5 – Drive from Jasper to Lake Maligne and then back to Edmonton.
TIP: If you’re planning a road trip, I found a great article on how to export your Google map itinerary to your phone and use it offline. Saves you paying to rent a GPS!
Where to Stay From Banff to Jasper
Accommodation will be the main budget killer on any Canadian road trip. However, there are ways to keep it affordable if you need to. We purposely visited in June as accommodation prices double in July and August due to school holidays. We also opted to stay outside the main touristy areas. Booking in advance is a good idea as hotels and lodges fill up quickly. However, if you’re planning a last minute trip don’t panic; most hotels keep a number of rooms for drive through customers. Camping is a cheap alternative to hotels or lodges. There are not a lot of AirBnB options in Banff or Jasper unless you book very far in advance. There’s PLENTY of AirBnB options in Edmonton and Calgary though.
Sundance Lodges – Kananaskis Country: If you’re not cut out for camping then try glamping! You can choose from luxury TPs or large safari tents. There are shared bathrooms. Prices start from $64.50 (£38/€43) per night for a small TP. Bedding is extra.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – Jasper: If you want luxury, this is it! I am DYING to go back in Winter and see this place all done up in its festive glory. Rooms START at $769 (£457/€520) a night, so get saving those pennies.
Banff to Jasper Vlog
Here’s what me and Ali got up to on our trip through Banff and Jasper national parks.
If you’d like to watch another video of beautiful Canada check out this gorgeous “This is Canada” video by fellow travel blogger Danielle.
Our Canadian Rockies Road trip
Our first stop was a quirky glamping site in Kananaskis country, Sundance Lodges. We had reserved a two person TP with double bed and heater. Upon arrival we were given a kerosene lamp and cautioned to keep all our food in the car, due to bears being spotted in the campsite. I was dubious about how well our TP flap would hold up against a curious bear. Each camp site was private and secluded. It was the perfect balance of nature and comfort.
Kananskis country is often overlooked in favour of Banff town and Icefields Parkway. However, there is plenty to see in the area and it is off the tourist trail. Barrier Lake is well worth a photo shoot for any photography buffs (a photo I took there was featured on Lonely Planet) and there are plenty of nature trails. Mt.Lorette Ponds is a good early morning spot to catch birds of prey fishing for their breakfast.
Canmore is a small town on the way to Banff. It is favoured by Calgary locals over the more commercial town of Banff. If you can, visit on a Thursday as they have a lovely farmers market during the summer months from 10am to 6pm. We stocked up on “healthy” breakfast foods such as bread and cake. It’s also a great spot for unique, handmade, local souvenirs. I purchased a couple of stickers to add to my growing collection from around the world.
For a dinner hit the Grizzly Paw Brewing Co and sample some of the local brews. You can get your hands on a locally farmed elk burger here or try Canada’s national dish, POUTINE. Poutine is as delicious as it is unhealthy, EXTREMELY. It consists of a basket of chips (fries) smothered in gravy and sprinkled with cheese curds. If you drank a bit too much the night before, it’s an ideal hang over cure.
When we finally cruised into Banff we were nervous; was it going to live up to the hype or would it be just another small town that sold its soul to tourists? The lack of traffic gave us hope. We found a parking space easily and as I hopped out of the car I could feel Banff weaving a spell upon me. It had a distinctly local feel. The buildings were small, wooden and brightly coloured. People greeted each other on the street. Don’t get me wrong, there were tourists, but not overwhelmingly so.
Avoid the tacky souvenir shops and visit the All In The Wild Photo Gallery and Branches Marketplace for more authentic purchases. If you love adventure then the Banff Adventure Film Festival is a must. We went to a showing in the Lux theatre and were blown away by the talent and daring of the people involved.
For a bird’s eye view of the town and the surrounding landscape head up in the Banff gondola. Grab a coffee at the top and take your time wandering along the boardwalk in clouds. With countless photo opps you could spend an hour or more up there. Just make sure you bring a warm coat. No matter how sunny it is on the valley floor, it’s always cold at the top of the mountain.
For dinner make sure to visit Masala, the only Indian restaurant in the Rockies. They are always busy but they’ll find room for you. The food is incredible and served in mammoth portions. You will have left overs. Try the Shahi Paneer and have a mango lassi to drink. My boyfriend had to roll me out of there and back to the car.
Lake Louise and Moraine are world famous, but honestly, they are packed full of tourists. We went, took some photos, stole the free wifi in the Fairmont hotel and then left. I recommend renting a kayak at Lake Moraine to get a better view and escape the hordes of holiday makers on the shores. It’s just a spot to tick off the list. The real beauty is still to come.
The drive from Banff to Jasper is one of the most picturesque in the world. Icefields Parkway is the most famous stretch filled with turquoise lakes and countless glaciers. Do this drive in the evening, preferably around 6pm. That way it’s still light, but all the tourist buses are off the roads and you have all the major stops to yourself.
Peyto Lake is the highlight of this route. I have never seen a more perfect place in my life. We were the only people there. This meant we could have an uninterrupted photoshoot and soak up the beauty of the place without having to dodge the crowds. We left when it started to get dark and we were worried about bear attacks.
Dusk is also prime-time for animal spotting. Watch out for black bears by the side of the road. They love to munch on dandelions growing road-side. If you’re going to pull over, make sure you don’t get out of the car and hassle the animals or a park ranger could give you a hefty fine. We spotted a coyote and her pups, white tailed deer and caribou while we were driving in the evenings.
Petrol stations are few and far between so make sure to stop at The Crossing to refuel and have your windows cleaned. Grab a snack at The Crossing Café or have a meal at the Parkway Pub where you can grill your own burgers and garlic bread!
Between the borders of Banff and Jasper national parks are the Columbia Icefields, boasting 8 glaciers. We decided to partake in Brewster Canada’s Glacier Adventure tour. This consisted of travelling in a giant all-terrain ice explorer to Athabasca glacier, walking along the surface of the glacier and filling our water bottles with fresh glacier water.
For those of you afraid of heights you might want to skip the grand-finale of the tour, the Glacier Skywalk. It is a walkway suspended from a cliff, 918ft (280m) over Sunwapta Valley. The walkway is 1km long and ends with a glass-bottomed viewing platform. I’m not usually afraid of heights but my legs definitely turned to jelly when I first stepped out onto what looked like thin air.
Next stop is Jasper. It’s a smaller town than Banff but tends to feel more crowded due to its size. Treat yourself to some jewellery here, if that’s your thing. Ammolite is officially the world’s newest gemstone. It looks like a rainbow trapped in an opal. It can only be found in Alberta Canada and makes a great keepsake from a spectacular trip. There are plenty of shops in Jasper but I bought my silver ammolite ring from Our Native Land on Patricia Street.
The next morning, drive to Maligne Lake. This is a great area for spotting black bears. It’s a scenic drive skirting valleys and lakes with steep drops on one side. You will notice scars on the landscape from previous years’ forest fires.
At Maligne Lake I highly recommend taking a lake cruise out to Spirit Island with Brewster Canada. They are the only company that have a license to bring a motor boat that far out onto the lake. You can also kayak, if you have arms of steel. Spirit Island is the most photographed spot in the national parks and it’s easy to see why. We also spotted a rare bald eagle on the way back to shore.
After a couple of days in Jasper National Park we ended out journey in Edmonton, determined to visit the parks again in winter.
Without a doubt, no matter whom you are or where you’re from, the beauty of Jasper and Banff national parks will leave you speechless. Or, at the very least, will leave you with one seriously full SD card in your phone/camera.