Vancouver to Banff Road Trip

Vancouver to Banff Road Trip

Vancouver to Banff Road trip - Great for Spring in CanadaBack 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.

Final Tips:

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.

Vancouver to Banff Road Trip itinerary Road Trip- Vancouver to Banff - So many good views Vancouver to Banff Road Trip - Best stop offs

45 thoughts on “Vancouver to Banff Road Trip

  1. My husband just informed me that I said ‘I miiisssss hooomeee’ aloud while reading this! 😂 It’s sounds like an epic trip! I hope you have a good time in Jasper with your brother.

    1. Oh nooo! I don’t want to make you miss home, but I do think you two will need to come and explore the West of Canada at some point.

      I really hope my brother loves it as much as we do!

      1. I’ve been having a major bout of homesickness since the holidays. I haven’t been home in three years… I miss the big spaces and the wide roads! They do make roadtrips much easier!

        I’M sure your brother will love it. I might be biased, but Canada is a very loveable place! 😉

    1. Thanks Nancy! The views along this route are so pretty that they look fake! I hope you’ll be able to make it here at some point! 😀

  2. Banff is so high up on my bucket list! Living in Seattle, it isn’t too far away. I didn’t realize you how manageable it is to get there from Vancouver in just a day. Saving your post for reference when the time comes for me to take this epic road trip! I’ll definitely be stopping for at La Baguette for the “best BLT bagel ever” and the boozy hot chocolates at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel! Thanks for the recommendations 🙂

    1. Oooh it’s not far for you at all! Although adding an extra couple of hours to a 9 hour road trip *would* feel very long! In the end, Marc had the BLT, but I went for the smoked salmon and cream cheese (which was similarly perfect!!)

      p.s. I’ll have to pick your brains about places to see/hike near Seattle. 😉

  3. WOW. I’m on the east coast in the States and have made my fair share of long road trips but have yet to get to the west coast in the US or Canada. Keeping my fingers crossed for sometime in the future! Fabulous pictures!

    1. The scale in the USA and Canada is just so massive! Before I moved here, I thought 3 hours was a long drive! You can cross whole countries in Europe with 9 hours drive.

  4. I like the idea of seeing both Vancouver and Banff. Until I read this post, these two places were just names with pretty pictures attached in my mind. I wouldn’t know the first thing about getting from one place to another, how to do it, or what to see and how to see it! I’m someone who really needs a well laid out plan when it comes to things like road trips, so I very much appreciate how organized and easy to read you have kept this. Great call on both the snow tires (would definitely not even think to consider this) as well as packing sunglasses even though it might be snowy! Nothing is worse than only have squinty eyes photos as memories!

    1. I’m the same. I did so much research before we started driving. 😉
      I don’t think I ever even saw winter tires for sale in the UK… We have learnt so much about living and driving on this side of the world!

  5. This is a great list! I’ve driven most of the TransCanada, except for this section and the section in Newfoundland! It’s definitely on my list of places to see. Plus the mountains are so beautiful. It can be a really tricky area to navigate in the winter, I’m glad it was a safe journey for you. 🙂

  6. Swoon, those mountain pics are incredible! Lake reflection and all! I definitely wouldn’t have thought of snow tires in September, so great tip for a Banff road trip. It looks absolutely amazing!

  7. We did this roadtrip a few years back and your post is bringing back such great memories. The scenery is absolutely incredible isn’t it? We did it in Summer but driving it in Winter is also on the bucket list.

    1. Hehehe! We *thought* it would be the end of the summer, so i wasn’t really expecting such wintry road trip conditions! You lucky thing though – did you manage to fit in any epic summer hikes?

    1. It’s funny isn’t it. Before we moved here I’d be knackered after driving for just a few hours. Now, if we move back to Europe, we’ll be able to pop up North to visit you without blinking an eye. 😉

    1. Oooh Lorelle, as a fellow food lover, you would really like that hotel! I had a seafood chowder there too, and it was honestly the best chowder I have ever had.

  8. This looks like an epic road trip, amazing! I’ve never been to Canada, but this is exactly the idea I have of this country – fantastic outdoors and beautiful landscapes. How many days in total did you need to do this trip?

    1. We had four nights staying up near Banff, so just three non-driving days to explore. It was worried it wouldn’t be worth driving for such a short trip, but we both loved every minute of it!

      If you have plans to visit Canada, I hope you can explore the Rockies too.

  9. This is such a well-written guide – I’ll try to save it! I would love to do that trip some day, and I would be stopping constantly! I appreciate all the points you made, and the choices of places, for sights AND food! Thank you!

    1. Thank you!

      Oh my goodness, if you came here with all your lenses, I have a feeling you’d take enough amazing photos to fill your blog for a year! 😀

  10. This looks incredibly beautiful – especially in the snow! 9.5 hours of driving – phew! Reading it now that sounds painful but I know what you mean about how the time passes when the scenery is incredible. I did a road trip a few years ago through the Southern States of the USA and we drove from LA to New York. Sometimes we were driving all day but actually the scenery and all the little places that we were able to pass through/stop off at along the way made it bearable.

    I am yet to make it to Canada but Banff is one of the places at the top of my list when I do get there. How many days would you advise spending in Banff? Im a big fan of hiking so I imagine there are soo many options for different trails!

    1. Woooah you did a road trip from LA to New York!? That sounds like the definition of epic road trip! How long did it take you? You must have been driving for daaaays! You’d find this mini road trip a piece of cake!

      So, if you are a fan of hiking, you can easily spend a week (or two, or three, or a month) in Banff. We found soooo many amazing hiking trails nearby. If you ever decide to take a holiday in this area, spend as long as you can, as the scenery will blow you away.

      If you are thinking about having a holiday here, consider buying “how not to waste your time in the rockies.” It is a fantastic hiking book that will tell you about all the best trails. 😀

  11. I have been wanting to visit Banff and the surrounding area for years, but flights from NYC to Calgary are always so pricy. Flying into Vancouver might be more worth it since I’m always catching deals – plus I love your itinerary and have always wanted ton hit the west coast.

    1. I guess the only problem with that is you’d be flying past your destination, and then driving back BUT it would definitely mean cheaper flights…plus if you get a window seat, you’d be able to see the rockies from above!!

    1. Yeah, it was pretty long for us too, although you could easily split it into smaller sections and stay the night in a couple of places on the way there. 🙂

      Lake Louise was so, sooo pretty!

  12. Banff is high on my list of places I have to visit. It looks incredible both in summer and winter. This road trip looks like an awesome one. Beautiful scenery sure makes the long drive better. I dis a road trip from Boston to Florida once, and drove through some really boring parts 🙂 These hours in the car were painful.

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment!

      The beautiful scenery does make the drive better, but i have to be sooo careful when it gets pretty. My eyes want to leave the road and look at all the mountains. Marc gets really mad about it! 😱

    1. Oooh yay! I hope you’ll enjoy it. Although, I guess you might need to add some extra stops if you go with a little’un!

      I recently saw a post about an enchanted forest near Revelstoke which looks amaaaazing for kids (and not so little kids like me) I’m going to add that to my plans next time.

    1. That is still a pretty long drive isn’t it? Can you see the mountains for some of that drive or is it all prairies? I sort of imagine it as flat, but with epic mountains in the distance…

    1. Oooh I hope you get to visit there too!

      It took us a year to get around to visiting, even though we live in Vancouver. It’s a loooong way from your side of the states!!

  13. I can totally picture all the “squeeing” as Marc drove along. I bet you are so excited to share this with your brother next week! I agree that you really have to be careful about gas in Canada once you leave the metro areas, it can be a long distance between stations and even then they may just be these little two pump stops with very little convenience. I hope to travel that way across Canada and appreciate the tips, Josy about where to stop, especially those hot chocolates!

    1. Thanks Shannon!

      I am really excited to see you too! <3 I am going to have a pretty epic April!!

      p.s. YES! those hot choccies were pretty amazing.

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