The Canadian Rockies in Alberta are known for their uniquely carved mountain landmasses, fresh running glacier waters, lush green forests, and thunderous waterfalls.
One of the best ways to visit the Rockies and travel around Alberta is by car because of the vast distance that can be covered, while stopping off at all the eye-catching locations on your way. It’s fairly easy to get around and you can stop at our own convenience when driving.
Over the course of seven days, we drove from Calgary to Edmonton, before driving through Jasper, Banff, Golden (British Columbia) and then right back into Calgary. We liked the change of pace from the everyday hustle and bustle of city life to the peace we found in our adventures outdoors.
If you’re looking to do a similar trip, we’ve put together this itinerary that will help you plan your road trip across Alberta:
Day 1 – Calgary
Start your trip in Calgary, as it is a convenient location to fly into Calgary International Airport. Calgary is regarded as the center of Canada’s oil industry, complete with skyscrapers and its panoramic backdrop of the Canadian Rockies. You have the option of picking up a rental from the airport so that you can start your road trip upon touchdown.
There’s a lot to keep you busy. You can spend your time shopping, eating and exploring downtown Calgary.
Shop till you drop
You’re in a city after all, so, if you’re looking to shop, I would recommend the CrossIron Mills and CF Chinook Centre. Full disclosure: wait until you get to Edmonton to do the real shopping. Trust me on this one.
CrossIron Mills is located at 261055 Crossiron Blvd and opens daily at 10am
CF Chinook Centre is located at 6455 Macleod Trail and typically opens at 9:30am
Visit Peace Bridge
This appealing red bridge was constructed in Spain and shipped to Canada as a means to accommodate the passing bow river afoot or via cycle. The bridge is used daily by hundreds of people. You can walk the bridge, canoe the waters below the bridge, enjoy the beautiful weather around the park and people watch. If you want to explore the area, we would suggest renting a bike and following the winds.
Peace Bridge is free to visit anytime
Visit Calgary Tower and relax at the Olympic Plaza
These two hot spots, located in Downtown, Calgary, are basically neighbors, so it’s only a five-minute walk between the two. The Calgary Tower provides a 360° view of the city, and its mountains. We were satisfied with just seeing the Tower up close and personal, before heading to Olympic Plaza. The Olympic Plaza was built in 1988 for the winter games. The Plaza is set up with tables, chairs, and benches if you need some rest and relaxation. It is a vibrant destination that houses a pond, waterfall, stage for events, with shops nearby if you’re due for an afternoon snack.
The Calgary Tower is open daily, with admission ranging from CAD $9-18. Hours of operations vary depending on the time of year. Olympic Plaza is open daily from 6am – 11pm and admission is free
For food, I would recommend eating at the Blue Star Diner – they had lengthy pages full of typical brunch options. For me, typical is eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce and smoked salmon. The portion size was decent and the meal, left me full for the remainder of the day.
If you’re into burgers, we would suggest heading to Peter’s Drive-In. This drive-in has been around for years and delivers delicious burgers, fries, and milkshakes.
With a nice big patio to take the edge off – make your way to The Canadian Brewhouse. This is your typical pub grub with burgers, wings, and poutine (as Canadian as it gets).
Blue star diner is located on 809 1 Ave NE and opens daily from 8-10pm
Peter’s Drive-In is located 219 16 Ave N and opens daily from 9-12am
The Canadian Brewhouse is located 1200 – 9650 Harvest Hills Blvd N and open daily
Day 2 – Edmonton (3-hour drive from Calgary)
Edmonton is the capital of Alberta and it offers a plethora of parks, museums, segway tours, sunset cruises and is home to the largest shopping mall in North America.
Visit West Edmonton Mall
Our first stop was the big bad, 48 blocks of shopping and entertainment filled West Edmonton Mall. It was magical. Every turned corner holds something new to explore. The Mall not only houses hundreds of stores, but it also has a theme park, a waterpark, an ice rink, a casino, mini golf, a bowling alley –to name a few. If you venture to Edmonton and don’t end up at the West Edmonton mall, my friend, you aren’t living right!
West Edmonton Mall is located at 8882 170 St NW and opens daily at 10am
For a delicious meal, head to Thai Flavours. I tried the savory massaman curry, green Thai curry, and pad thai. All of which delivered in taste and excellent customer service.
Thai Flavours is located at 2570 Guardian Road and open Tuesday to Sunday
Other activities in Edmonton
Segway tours – through Louise McKinney Park on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River.
Bike Tours – explore the city landmarks and encounter wildlife, with a tour guide.
Visit Museums – venture into the history and the exhibitions offered by the different museums across Edmonton. Find yourself lost with the Vikings at the Royal Alberta Museum or learn to fly at the Alberta Aviation Museum.
Suggested accommodation: Comfort Inn West
If you are looking for a budget friendly hotel, then look no further, in terms of price and location, the Comfort Inn, served us well. We were offered the basics – a warm shower, towels, clean sheets and breakfast.
Comfort Inn West is located on 17610 100 Ave NW
Day 3 – Jasper National Park (4-hour drive from Edmonton)
Jasper National Park is in the Canadian Rockies and consists of valleys, peaks, mountains and abundant blue waterfalls. There are dozens of sights to see and a multitude of activities to keep you on your toes. Popular outdoor activities include camping, hiking and wildlife watching.
Visit Lake Edith + Lake Annette
Lake Edith and Lake Annette are sister lakes that sit across each other. They are an excellent place to get your start with Mother Nature. The experience was quiet and serene. Not many tourists, so, if you’re into taking pictures like us – you’ve won.
Revel in the beauty of Maligne Canyon and Lake
Maligne Canyon is a 12-minute drive from Lake Edith and Lake Annette. This is a great space to go hiking and have a picnic. There is a map that lays out the rough routes and easy ones. We stuck to the easy route, which truth be told, wore us down. Maligne Canyon is considered to be the deepest canyon in the Rockies – take serious caution when walking. There are multiple bridges to follow to get a good view of the Canyon. Although the canyon and lake fall under the same name – they are about a one-hour drive from each other.
Maligne Lake happens to be the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, and that is where we found rest. We took some time to disengage from each other and sit down to watch the beautiful blue waters of the lake dance in front of us. We didn’t make it to Spirit Island as it is only accessible by boat and we opted out of the boat tour on this one. You can either take a boat tour or private boat to go see the famous lake and find Spirit Island.
Day 4 – Jasper National Park & Banff National Park
Chase waterfalls at Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls
Our first stop was the magnificent Athabasca Falls a measly 22-minute drive from the bungalows. Although the Athabasca itself is not high in height, it is mighty in force. The falls have curved out the limestone below to appear like a well-intended design. If you are into chasing waterfalls, don’t forget Sunwapta Falls. Sunwapta Falls is about a 20-minute drive from Athabasca Falls. Sunwapta was named by the Assiniboine, which means turbulent river – which she is. Sunwapta Falls was created by hanging valleys and both a lower and upper falls. We parked our car in the parking lot and made our way to the bridge – this will get you a good view of the falls. There is a trail to follow if you would like to hike further down to get to the lower part of the falls.
Drink Glacier water at the Columbian Icefields
The Columbian Icefields is the largest icefield of the Rocky
Mountains and is believed to predate the human race (I know, incredible,
right?). We booked a tour a few days in advance to be taken to the Athabasca Glacier
on the Ice Explorer. If you book a tour, you will be picked up by a coach bus
and then dropped off at a gigantic tractor, which will take you to the jagged
snow-capped glacier. Dress warm or take layers with you, as it is winter
Narnia the Icefields. Don’t forget your water bottle. Drink
the water straight from the glacier cracks or fill up a boatload of water
bottles – either way, it’s a treat.
Walk the walk at the Glacier Skywalk
Once you’ve purchased your Glacier Skywalk ticket at the Columbia Icefield center or in advance – online, a bus will pick you up and transport you to the Skywalk. The Glacier Skywalk is known for its glass bottom, sitting at 918 feet above Sunwapta Valley. This is a frightening yet exciting experience, which provides you with an incredible view below and in front. You will be equipped with a headset and an interactive walkway, which provides a story about the wildlife and nature all around you. If you brave this walk, don’t forget to take those selfies!
Watch the sunset at Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is a spectacular blue glacier-fed lake, which takes the shape of a wolf’s head. There are mountains and a green tree line behind the lake, which give it a magnificent skyline. After you park your car, follow the pathway to the observation deck and swoon away. In the summer months, the sunset ranges from 8:30 to 10 PM – do your research ahead of time. The blue lake turns so many different vibrant tones and gives off a pink hue with the setting sun.
Day 5 – Golden, British Columbia
Golden is a city in British Columbia which is surrounded by some beautiful national parks such as Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Mount Revelstoke. As Golden borders Alberta, this is a good base to use to visit Yoho National park – famed for the iconic Emerald Lake. We stayed in Golden to go on our first white water rafting journey.
Go white water rafting on the Kicking Horse River
If there’s anywhere, you should consider white water rafting it’s here. We pre-booked our white water class II rafting tour at the Wild Water Adventure River Base. Once you get to the meeting point, you will be provided with a wetsuit, life jacket, gloves, a helmet, GoPro rental options, and safety instructions. For those of you that have a hard time following instructions like myself, good luck. The instructors are fun, engaging, and helpful – so all you really have to do is paddle when you’re told to and hang tight when you’re told to. The adrenaline rush was incredible with the waves crashing against you, water splashing everywhere and the raft rocking from side to side. Once, you’re back to the base in one piece, you will have the opportunity to change, warm up, and share your stories as an alumni rafter.
Wild Water Adventure rafting cost $99 plus taxes per person and is located at 111 Lake Louise Drive
Explore Emerald Lake
A name entirely fitting, as the lake is emerald green. Emerald Lake is located in the admirable Yoho National Park. Mountains from Mount Burgess to Wapta Mountain surround the lake. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy. You can go fishing, hiking, swimming, and even try your luck at canoeing. Either way, you won’t run out of things to do here.
Emerald Lake is located at #1 Emerald Lake Road, and canoe rentals cost $60/hour
Day 6 – Banff National Park
Banff National Park hold rich history in Canada as it is the oldest national park situated in the Canadian Rockies. Banff is home to the awe-inspiring lakes and mountains that appear to be hand-placed intricately all around the park. From observing the wildlife and syncing yourself with nature – the activities are endless.
Visit Lake Louise + Moraine Lake
Save the best for last – Lake Louise! She is a hamlet located in Banff National Park, known for her picturesque turquoise water surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. There are so many things to do in Lake Louise: from hiking to canoeing, to just embracing the outdoors in its entire splendor. Similar to Lake Louise – Moraine Lake is known for its vivid turquoise color that changes with the melting glaciers. Moraine Lake will leave you with an impression paralleled to that of Lake Louise, but different. Take your time; breathe the air and relish in the now.
Take a gondola to Sulphur Mountain
Gondola rides are so much fun! You sit in one spot and will be seamlessly transported to another. In the event you purchase a gondola ride up to Sulphur Mountain observation deck, brace yourself for an eye-catching 8-minute ride, which will take you up 2,292 feet onto the ground base of the observation deck. Once at level one, you’re free to roam all four levels of the deck and get to that perfect view of the mountains. You might opt to follow the boardwalk trails to either, inch closer or move further away from the mountain summit.
Banff Gondola tickets range from $52-$66 plus taxes for a ride up and down
Relax at Miette Hot Springs
The Miette Hot Springs is considered the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies. The water temperature goes between 37ºC and 40ºC. The springs are a blend of minerals, gases and temperatures. So, if you’re looking to soak in some minerals, work on your tan or lay low – this is it.
Miette Hot Springs day passes range from $7.55 – $9.55 and is located on Miette Road
Day 7 – Back to Calgary (Free day)
Our time in the great outdoors had come to a rolling halt, and we were heading back to Calgary for a night of Netflix and chill. On our drive back to Calgary we hit a detour and ended up in British Columbia again, where we had our first bear encounter. After our last day in Calgary, we returned our rental to the airport and flew back home.
Tips on your road trip through the Canadian Rockies
- Shop at Walmart (grocery store) – pick up water bottles, snacks, juice boxes – basically anything you will eat or drink, on the road. While on the road, there are pit stops but it is more cost effective and convenient to stock up on groceries.
- Gas stations – fill-up every chance you get, as there aren’t a lot of gas stations around.
- Dress appropriately – much like life, the weather is unpredictable, take layers with you, such as scarves, gloves, raincoats, sweaters, socks, and hoodies.
- Stay safe – do your research on animal interaction. Do not engage with the animals unnecessarily and do not feed or harm them.
- Book Accommodations early – book in advance as accommodation fills up quickly in Banff and Jasper.
- Get a Park pass – you’ll need a pass from either the Banff or Jasper Park entrance, which is dependent on the number of people and time being spent there.
- Lastly, depending on your time – you can do all of the listed things for Calgary in a day or spread it across two days.
Suggested Accommodations in the Canadian Rockies
We have pulled a list of hotel options for your stops on your road trip through Alberta. Please consider booking your accommodations through the included link. It costs you nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!
There is so much to see in the Canadian Rockies that you might find yourself coming back, multiple times to immerse yourself in different experiences. Take your time and discover as much as possible. The great outdoors provides you with adventure on so many different levels – whether by the rivers, valleys, mountains, or waterfalls – it is yours to discover.
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