Back in September, Marc and I did our first ever Vancouver to Banff Road Trip, and we had a blast! Distances within Canada are massive; So even though we were mostly driving across the bottom of one province (British Columbia), to the corner of another (Alberta), it was over 9 hours at the wheel! I was expecting the drive to feel long and exhausting, but there are soooo many pretty mountains, that we both really enjoyed it. Marc did the lions share of the driving. So I spent my time making “squeee” noises and attempting to take photos.
This post is mostly for my little brother, George and his wife Cerys because they are coming to Canada to visit us, (yay!!) and we are hoping to go on another epic road trip to Jasper. I figured I should share some photos about what to expect when you drive to the Canadian Rockies.
Vancouver to Banff Road Trip Stop Offs:
How many stop offs do you need between Vancouver and Banff? This really depends on how long you can drive without taking a break or switching drivers! If you drive the whole way to Banff without stopping, it will take around 9.5 hours. We are not used to taking long road trips, so we made quite a few stops along the way. You may be able to manage with fewer stops, or you might need even more than we did! There are plenty of gas stations and places to stop for food along the way. Just make sure you have a full tank when you leave Revelstoke, as we saw far fewer gas stations after that!
The map above shows all the places we stopped (in both directions)
Stop offs from Vancouver to Banff :
Vancouver → Merritt (stopped for a coffee) → Revelstoke (stopped to stretch our legs) → Rogers Pass (stopped for photos) → Johnston Canyon
Vancouver →270 km→ Merritt →295 km→ Revelstoke →66 km→ Rogers Pass →193 km→ Johnston Canyon
(Total 824 km)
Stop Offs from Banff to Vancouver:
Banff → Emerald Lake (stopped to stretch our legs, then hiked for an hour) → Revelstoke (stopped for lunch) → Tsútswecw Provincial Park (stopped to see the Salmon run) → Vancouver
Banff →94 km→ Emerald Lake →210 km→ Revelstoke →151 km→ Tsútswecw Provincial Park →422 km→ Vancouver
(Total 877 km)
This time, we plan to stop and stay somewhere on the way home, because the drive home was exhausting.
Vancouver to Banff Road Trip Essentials:
- Winter Tires – Check if you need them! Several people told me we’d be fine without winter tires in September. But then it snowed VERY heavily during our drive. I am very glad we bought tires before this road trip.
- Bring Snacks – We bought a cooler and filled it up with bread, cheese, fruits, carrots, nuts and spreads. Plus a little milk for tea once we arrived. We’re so English.
- Map – Because you never know when you might lose phone signal
- Sunglasses – There are always moments when you’ll be driving towards the sun!
- Camera – Because you will take a zillion photos out the window, even if you know photos from car windows never come out well!
Possible stop off – Tsútswecw Provincial Park for the Salmon run
We actually stopped at Tsútswecw Provincial Park on our way home from Banff, but it was a great place to stop and explore. Our reason for visiting was the salmon run! Our Vancouver to Banff road trip coincided with the best time for viewing the Salmon run at the Adams River. Salmon are a keystone species for the Pacific Northwest, as the beautiful temperate rain-forests need the nutrients they bring up the rivers, so it was amazing to see the bright red sockeye salmon splashing about.
Every fourth year is a “dominant” salmon run year, and the Adams River is meant to be one of the best places to see the salmon run. 2018 was one of these bumper years, so we were expecting to see the waters full of salmon. Unfortunately 2018 was also a very warm summer, so most of the salmon died in the warm waters further down river. Several people told us there were far fewer salmon than they had seen on previous dominant years. It’s yet another thing we can blame on climate change.
Stop in Revelstoke for food!
One of the bar staff at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel told us to stop in Revelstoke and visit La Baguette for decent coffee and the “best BLT bagel ever”. We were both really glad that we listened to him, as our bagels were sooo good. It seemed like there were plenty of tasty things to eat in Revelstoke, but if you can only stop for one meal, try La Baguette!
We also had a wander around Revelstoke as it is a pretty place to explore, surrounded by mountains in all directions. There was a farmers market on the Saturday morning when we arrived, which had plenty of tasty-looking fruit and veggies.
Stop off for photos: Roger’s Pass:
Once you’ve left Revelstoke, you’ll be looking at epic mountain views for the rest of the journey. In particular, the views on the road to Roger’s pass just get better and better! Seriously, this road had moments when it was slow moving, but it was all worth it for this view.
My favourite stop off – Emerald Lake:
On the Way home we had one quick stop-off for a hike at Emerald Lake. Our plan was to quickly stretch our legs and see another pretty glacial lake. However, Emerald lake is soooo pretty! Once we’d started walking, we had to keep going, so we hiked the whole way around the lake.
Possible stop off – Lake Louise:
I actually don’t recommend visiting Lake Louise as a quick stop off. It is such a beautiful and fun place to explore, it is better to save it for a full day out (or several!) My favourite two walks were the Plain of Six Glaciers hike and the Highline trail to the Big Beehive. Both of those trails involve some effort (and some elevation gain), but they finish at teahouses with amazing views.
However, if you do just want to take a quick peek at Lake Louise, there is also a pretty (and easy) shoreline trail that will take you around the lake.
Possible stop off – Johnston Canyon:
We didn’t drive the whole way to Banff in one day, instead we spent our first night by the gorgeous Johnston Canyon. We arrived with plenty of time to hike up to all the waterfalls. Still, even if you’re going the whole way to Banff, this would be a great stop off.
Arriving in Banff:
Once you get to Banff, there is plenty to see. Hopefully you’ll have better views than we did – we arrived during a snow storm! I have a whole post about our day exploring Banff, so take a look at that if you need some ideas. If you need an easy hike to stretch your legs, take a look at the Hoodoos trail, or have a stroll along the Bow river to see the amazing Bow Falls.
Even if you don’t stay there, it’s worth popping in to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for a drink. We had the most amaaaazing boozy hot chocolates when we visited.
If you do a Vancouver to Banff road trip in winter, expect some delays. We had a few delays for road works, but friends have told me sometimes you need to wait much longer for highway closures for avalanche control. Actual avalanches can also occur at any time, so if there is a road sign that says you’re in an avalanche area, don’t stop there.
The first couple of hours from Vancouver are not particularly beautiful. We decided to start reeeeally early in the morning (at 5am). This way, we got past the boring section of the drive while it was dark and when there were very few cars on the road. The day didn’t really feel like it had started until we got to Merritt as the sun was rising. So it made the journey seem shorter.
Get ready for all kinds of weather! We had a mix of beautiful sunny weather as well as mist, rain and snow on this drive. If you visit during autumn, winter or spring, just make sure you have winter tires; And drive carefully to match the conditions of the roads. We saw plenty of crazy drivers zooming along at speeds far above the speed limits, even on ice. Don’t be that crazy person!
I hope you like the look of our trip! I am pretty excited to do this all over again (and a bit further) with my brother.