This summer we went on the most epic road trip in western Canada. It was a six-week road trip, with a one-week Alaskan cruise in the middle, and it was beyond fantastic. Seriously, the trip of a lifetime! The first part of our trip serves as a great Canadian Rockies road trip and could totally be done on its own.
With a trip of this magnitude, you better believe I spent a boatload of time researching and planning everything. And now, I’m sharing it all with you!!
This post is the first in a four-part series about our itinerary, and then I will link up other posts that go into more detail on the places we stayed and things we did. This is really serving more as an outline rather than an in-depth look at specific attractions, activities, hikes, hotels, etc.
This first part was ten days, focusing on the Canadian Rockies. We started this leg of the trip in Calgary and ended in Lake Louise, but you could definitely return to Calgary if you wanted to do this as a standalone itinerary.
Because our trip was so long and involved so many different places in Western Canada, it will take a while to get all of this done. This post and the other itinerary posts will be a work in progress probably for the rest of the year. But, I will make sure to update with links as other blog posts get finished.
June 1, 2022: Fly to Calgary
Where We Stayed – Hampton Inn Calgary University Northwest
There’s not a lot to say about the Hampton Inn & Suites Calgary University Northwest; it was a run-of-the-mill Hampton Inn. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, but there was nothing special about it either. I booked a King 1 bedroom suite + a connecting 2 queen room using our Hilton points.
To maximize points, we almost exclusively stay within the Hilton family of hotels when we’re traveling. A lot of our spending goes on the Hilton AMEX Surpass card, so we rack up A LOT of Hilton points that we redeem for stays like this one. If you’re looking for a new credit card to maximize points/miles travel, I highly recommend the Hilton AMEX Surpass, and right now, you can get 150,000 points for free after making $3000 in purchases. There is a small annual fee, but I’ve found the rewards to make the fee totally worth it.
What We Did in Calgary
OK, so the first thing we did was pick up our rental car at the airport from Enterprise. We almost always rent with either Enterprise or Alamo, but it’s definitely always done through the Costco Travel website. You cannot beat Costco travel pricing even with military deals or coupon codes. Seriously, if you travel a lot, it’s worth it to have a Costco membership!
Groceries & Supplies
Next, we made stops at Costco and Walmart (there’s no Target in Canada! ????????) to pick up groceries and supplies. We bought an inexpensive cooler so that we could get lunch meat and cheese and things like that to make lunches on driving days. Groceries were more expensive in Canada than I expected, so we stuck to the basics and didn’t buy a variety of treats.
On our trip last summer, we also grabbed a kids’ sleeping bag for Ellie to use since she can be picky about who she’s sleeping next to. I was able to pack it in my duffle bag and didn’t need to get a new one this summer!
June 2-5, 2022: Banff, Alberta
Where We Stayed – Canalta Lodge
We absolutely loved Canalta Lodge! I went back and forth because there are tons of options in Banff, but Canalta Lodge worked out absolutely perfectly for our family. It is not the closest hotel to all the action on Banff Avenue, but it is well worth being a little bit further away from everything.
We stayed in a double queen + bunkbed suite, and it was amazing. Plenty of beds and enough room to spread out, which is invaluable when traveling with a larger family. It also had a full kitchen that we likely would have used if we’d stayed longer. And, perhaps most importantly, our suite had two bathrooms!
What We Did in Banff
Johnston Canyon Hike
Johnston Canyon is a great hike near Banff, and it’s only about 1.5 miles round-trip to the Lower Falls. One of the coolest things about this hike is the elevated boardwalks on the canyon’s sides- it’s totally different from just walking on a trail. And if you go, make sure to check out the cave with an awesome (wet!) view of the falls. It’s about 3 miles round-trip to go to the Upper Falls and about 7.5 miles round-trip to the Ink Pots.
If you’re looking for one of the best views of Banff, you can’t beat the Banff Gondola. It whisks you 2300 feet up to the top of Sulfur Mountain. Once you’re at the top, take in the views of the town of Banff and the surrounding mountain ranges, hike one of the many trails, and check out the Above Banff Interpretive Center.
At Lake Minnewanka, in Banff National Park, hop aboard a boat for one of their famous lake cruises. Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park, and a Lake Minnewanka boat tour is one of the best ways to see the lake. You can also rent kayaks, canoes, and motorboats if you want to explore on your own.
Banff Avenue is the main street in town, with the bulk of the hotels and restaurants. The road is typically closed to traffic in the downtown business area, and it’s a great place to wander around on foot. Pay attention to parking signs downtown because while there are a couple of free lots (like the train station), you’ll need to pay to park in most places.
Cave & Basin National Park
In 1883, Canadian Pacific Railroad construction workers discovered the Cave and Basin hot springs just outside of the town of Banff. Banff National Park, the first in Canada(!), was created just a few years later to protect the Cave and Basin and Upper hot springs. Now, you can visit Cave and Basin National Historic Site and see those original hot springs.
Where We Ate in Banff
Ever since she ate there last summer, The Keg has been Ellie’s favorite restaurant. It’s a Canadian chain with a few locations around the US, but it is infinitely better in Canada, where you can get the absolutely delicious Alberta beef. There are two locations in Banff – we went to the downtown location, and it was delightful.
Kind of like a flat donut covered in toppings, BeaverTails are a quintessential Canadian treat. I highly recommend ordering several and splitting them with your group! Our favorites were the Mehple- maple flavored spread + maple sugar crunch, and the Coco Vanil – vanilla icing, crushed Oreos, and chocolate sauce.
Old Spaghetti Factory
We also enjoyed dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Banff. Yes, it’s a chain with locations in the US and Canada, but we don’t have one around us. Every entrée on the menu is one of 3 courses and the kids thought it was fun to get a salad AND dessert with their dinners!
June 5-6, 2022: Icefields Parkway, Alberta
Where We Stayed – Glacier View Lodge
Located on the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper, Glacier View Lodge has stunning views of the Columbia Icefields and the Athabasca Glacier. They even have glacier-view rooms! It’s also one of the only places to stay around the midpoint of the Icefields Parkway unless you’re camping or have an RV. The fact that it’s one of the only places to stay does mean that the prices are on the higher side. We loved staying at Glacier View Lodge, though, and wouldn’t hesitate to stay there next time we’re in town.
What We Did on the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is considered one of the most scenic drives in Canada and maybe even the world. This road goes through the Canadian Rockies, connecting Banff and Jasper. Whether you drive it north or south, it is absolutely breathtaking – and we did both! There are LOTS of places to stop on the way, so even though it’s only 144 miles long, expect it to take you all day.
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is a glass observation platform that juts out from the side of a cliff and has expansive views. The platform is suspended 918 feet above the Sunwpata Valley floor, and it is not for the faint of heart! The Skywalk is made of 1.5-inch thick glass panels and can hold the weight of TWO Boeing 747s.
Did you know that you can go out onto a glacier? At Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefields, you can board an Ice Explorer – a 30-ton, specially designed bus – that takes you out onto the glacier. You’ll get about half an hour to carefully walk around, and you can even get some glacier water to drink from a glacier stream.
Located on the Icefields Parkway, Sunwapta Falls has both upper and lower waterfalls that are fed by the Athabasca Glacier. The Upper Falls are easily accessed from the parking lot. It’s a 0.8-mile hike down to get to the Lower Falls. We only visited the Upper Falls because it started to rain as soon as we got out of the car.
Also on the Icefields Parkway, Athabasca Falls is just north of Sunwapta Falls. This is another quick stop, as the falls aren’t too far from the parking area. There is a 1km hike over a few bridges and to observation lookouts if you’re interested and have the time.
Where We Ate on the Icefields Parkway
We packed sandwich stuff in our cooler – lunchmeat, cheese, fruit, etc – and then we were able to stop and have lunch whenever we were hungry. It worked out so much better than trying to time our drive to be somewhere with restaurants at meal times. Plus, it was wayyyyy cheaper!
There aren’t many places to eat along the Icefields Parkway, hence the picnic lunches. We ate at Altitude, but it is currently only open to Glacier View Lodge guests. We had dinner there after we visited the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. It was a bit on the pricy side, but since it’s the only restaurant around, the prices were understandable.
June 6-8, 2022: Jasper, Alberta
Where We Stayed – Miette Mountain Cabins
With a family of six, it can be hard to find accommodations – especially without paying for two rooms. I rerouted our trip to include Jasper kind of last minute, and there was very little availability in the town of Jasper itself.
Miette Mountain Cabins had an awesome suite in the lodge (not in a standalone cabin) with three queen beds plus a sofa bed, and it even had a full kitchen! It’s about a half-hour drive from the town of Jasper, at the turn-off for the Miette Hot Springs.
What We Did in Jasper
Did you know that Jasper is in a dark sky preserve and is one of the country’s best places to see the night sky?? The Jasper Planetarium is a great spot to check out when you’re in town. They host their events at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and offer nightly planetarium shows and stargazing – assuming it’s not cloudy and raining like when we were there! If the night sky isn’t visible due to clouds/weather, they also have a cloudy sky program in place.
Perhaps my favorite, Maligne Lake, is another beautiful lake in the Rockies. This one is famous for Spirit Island, one of the most photographed places in Jasper National Park. The easiest way to get there is on the Maligne Lake Cruise. Unfortunately, when we were there, the lake was still frozen, so the boat tours were not running yet. But the lake was beautiful, all covered in ice and snow.
I think everybody traveling to the Canadian Rockies is hoping to catch a glimpse of a bear! We had much better luck seeing bears in Jasper National Park than in Banff National Park, partly because there are fewer people there and also because there are more bears around.
This one was spotted on the road out to Maligne Lake. ALWAYS be bear aware while you’re driving – we saw several hanging out on the side of the road. And ALWAYS stay in your vehicle if you come across one!
Where We Ate in Jasper
Oh, Earls, how I love you! Yes, I know it’s another Canadian chain with several US locations, but it just might be my favorite restaurant on the planet. They have everything from Chicken Hunan Kung Pao (absolute BEST thing on the menu!!!) to chicken street tacos to cajun salmon to steaks, and everything in between!
June 8-10, 2022: Lake Louise, Alberta
Where We Stayed – Lake Louise Inn
Lake Louise is another place with availability issues during the summer – so always book well in advance – but we lucked out with Lake Louise Inn. We booked a fabulous one-bedroom condo with a loft and had plenty of room to spread out. The grounds are beautiful, and you can’t beat the location unless you’re able to actually stay at the lake!
What We Did Near Lake Louise
Peyto Lake is one of the most popular lakes in the Canadian Rockies, and for a good reason! From the observation point, the lake looks like a wolf’s head, and it’s the most gorgeous shade of blue. Later in the season, when all the ice has melted, it turns more of a turquoise color.
From the parking lot, it’s about a half km hike to the main viewpoint, but it is UP most of the way. We visited in early June, and the trail was still covered under several feet of snow, making it quite an interesting endeavor.
Moraine Lake is an absolute must-do when you’re in the Lake Louise area. The parking lot is small, and the lake is SUPER popular, so if you’re not there well before sunrise, you will most likely need to take the shuttle – make reservations ahead of time!
If it’s not peak season, you may luck out and find that the parking lot is open on and off throughout the day, but do not count on that!! The road to Moraine Lake is only open from mid-May to mid-October; the exact dates are dependent on the weather. Make sure to check if the road is open ahead of time if you’re visiting in shoulder season. When we visited, the lake was still covered in snow and ice, so it wasn’t the usual brilliant turquoise color of later in the summer.
Lake Louise is the lake that most people think of if you say you’re going to the Canadian Rockies. And it’s quite understandable that it is so popular! The famous Fairmont Château Lake Louise sits on the shores and it’s an exceptional place to stay – if you can afford the exceptional price tag.
Like at Moraine Lake, parking can be an issue, but there is a shuttle that will take you from the Park & Ride to Lake Louise and/or Moraine Lake. Reservations are required so make sure to check out all the details of the Lake Louise Summer Shuttle.
Where We Ate In Lake Louise
Timberwolf Pizza and Pasta
Our days were jampacked with adventuring and exploring, so we opted for late dinners. However, the town of Lake Louise does not have many restaurants that stay open late. Luckily, Timberwolf at the Lake Louise Inn was open late and had delicious pizzas! The Rocky Mountain with Alberta beef, bacon, spicy chorizo, red onion, sun-dried tomato, and grilled asparagus was one of our faves!
For my birthday, we had lunch at the Lakeview Lounge at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise. You can’t make a reservation if you’re not staying at the resort, so we put our name in for a table as soon as we arrived at the lake, and about two hours later, it was our turn. We had a table out on the patio with a phenomenal view and enjoyed a delicious lunch!
Things to Remember for your Canadian Rockies Road Trip
- From Lake Louise, it’s about a two-hour drive east to get back to Calgary if you’re making this a round trip out of Calgary. We headed west to British Columbia to continue our road trip, which you can follow in Part Two of our Western Canada Road Trip!
- Like Calgary and Denver, the Canadian Rockies are on Mountain Time.
- If you’re coming from the US, remember that speed limit signs are in kilometers in Canada. No, you cannot drive 100mph!!
- Always check the weather before setting out. While less common in the summer, it can snow every month of the year in the Canadian Rockies.
- If you’re driving through the Rockies in the winter, be prepared with chains and/or snow tires.
Have you visited Alberta, Canada before? The Canadian Rockies are one of those places that should be on EVERYONE’S bucket list – they’re really that amazing!