Canada: Banff, Jasper, Whistler, and Vancouver in 4 Days

During the summer of June 2019, my friend Jen and I took a road trip from Montana, up through Canada, and back down into Washington State. You can read about the first leg of the trip including Glacier National Park and the Half Marathon we ran here.

Day 4: Sunday June 22

Sunday morning, we woke up pretty early and made our way toward East Glacier to then to Banff. It’s about a 5.5 hour drive so would be about a half day’s worth of driving. We crossed the Canadian border near Chief Mountain. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, so the only person in front of us in line at the border was one person on a motorcycle. It only took about 10 minutes to cross. Once in Alberta, there were signs for Waterton Lakes National Park.

If you’re not familiar, Waterton Lakes National Park is the Canadian side of Glacier National Park. We took Route 5 back toward the park and the Prince of Whales Hotel. I had seen the hotel prior in pictures, but WOAH, it was beautiful and quite tall. It sits on top of a bluff and overlooks Waterton Lake. It was built in 1927 by the Great Northern Railway. The winds that come down the mountains, across the lake, and up the bluff are intense. We learned that during construction, the wind almost blew the building over. While there, we ate a wonderful lunch overlooking the lake before driving into downtown Waterton.

Banff was our next stop so we continued the few hours north. The GPS took us on a “back road” which was more like a dirt road driveway for 50 miles. It weaved its way through camping areas and farm pastures and in between small cliffs. We had to stop at one point for a herd of cattle that just were hanging out on the road.

After getting onto a main highway, we began to see views of the mountains in Canada that seem like they are only in photos -t he incredibly high peaks covered in snow, one right after another. And the road that winds between them for as far as the eye can see.

We arrived in Banff and checked into our hotel before heading downtown for dinner. Parking is very limited downtown but we were lucky enough to find a spot I could parallel park the F150. We ate at the spaghetti house for dinner before heading into a few stores to check them out.

The main street of town is has a direct view of Sulfer Mountain in the background of it. There’s a gondola that is available to take you up and down the mountain. We didn’t take this specific ride, but heard that some people hike up the mountain, and then it’s free to ride the gondola back down. We were exhausted from the day so headed back to relax in the hotel and game plan for the next day where we planned which included Banff National Park and Lake Louise.

Day 5: Monday June 23

Our first stop the next morning was for breakfast and tea. We went to Evelyn’s Coffee World in downtown Banff. Then we took the main highway up to Banff National Park. It had beautiful views along the way. The parking lots at the various lakes in the park get absolutely packed even before sunrise, so we parked in the overflow lot and boarded a bus as our mode of transport for the day. It was a short ride up to Lake Louise. We were able to walk along the trail on the edge of the lake and take photos and appreciate the different views and clear water. There are a lot of hiking trails in the area, but there were very large warnings about bears in the area and to make sure your bear spray was out and ready to be used if needed. We did not have bear spray, so we stuck to the lower level trails, with the crowds, and no bears.

Overlooking Lake Louise is the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s a high end hotel and has restaurants and shops on the premises. We got some snacks from the bakery before boarding our next bus to the Lake Louise Gondola which was 15 or so minutes away. The Gondola takes you to the top of the mountain and has a restaurant that overlooks the mountain range. We sat outside on the deck and enjoyed our burgers and Diet Coke with the most incredible view.

After the gondola ride and lunch, a bus took us back to Lake Louise, so we could then get on a different bus to go visit Lake Moraine. The road to get back to Lake Moraine took a while. I didn’t realize how far the lakes were from each other by road. The almost black color of the mountains contrasted so well against the blue of the lake.

Instead of driving back into the town of Banff on the highway, we decided to take the scenic route, 1A, also known as Bow Valley Parkway. This is where people report seeing the most moose, deer, bears, and other wildlife. We drove slowly along the route, and almost got the entire way back to Banff before encountering a bear. We saw someone pull off with binoculars, and did the same. We spotted a bear and three cubs very small in the distance on the mountain. As we kept driving, we saw another bear that was much closer destroying any fallen wood to eat from what was left in it. The power behind it’s paws when ripping the wood would cause wood to fly into the air. It was a sight to see. On our way back into town, we drove out by a park along the water and checked out the Fairmont Banff Springs.

Back in town, we grabbed a snack before dinner called a Beaver Tale. It was a type of large pastry with different toppings on it. I got the nutella and banana flavor and it was delightful. We had dinner at Park Distillery before heading back to the hotel to relax and sleep.

Day 6: Tuesday June 24

Tuesday’s plan was to drive from Banff up toward Jasper and then over to Kamloops. In total, the drive is about 8 hours. We wanted to check out the Columbia Icefield and Jasper National Park area, and if you look at a map, this is the only route to do so. We drove north about 3 hours or so on Route 93 to get to the Icefield. There was a small little cafe / hotel on the way where we used the bathrooms and took in the gorgeous lakeside views. Other than that, there’s really nothing along the road on the way there. Gas is limited and towns are nonexistent. It’s just miles and miles of road between beautifully tall snow capped mountains.

When we got to the IceFields, there were more cars in the parking lot than we’d seen in total on the drive up. This was the only real stop along the road, so everyone merged here to check out the Icefield. I’m not sure if you know this but I do not like heights. Especially when I can see the way down easily, like through a glass floor. Nope nope nope nope nope. No thank you. Well, we purchased tickets to do the Skywalk which is literally a huge overhang off a cliff and everything is glass. I got a pit in my stomach just typing that. Imagine me actually getting foot on it.

You get on a nice big bus from the adventure center to the Skywalk complete with a tour guide. We learned that most of the employees there are from Australia and live in one of the buildings on the ice field site. Their pay includes room and board so they get some spending money to adventure out on days off.

There’s some information on the ice field and glaciers along the path to the glass overhang. I tried to stop and learn some things but was already too nervous to really focus on anything. I went out slightly on the glass, but not to the overhang like everyone else. I got farther than I normally would, but didn’t have it in me to go out where you see everyone else in the photos below. No thank you to anything with glass as your protection from falling. The views were beautiful if you didn’t look down. There were waterfalls under you, and we even saw a mountain goat on the cliff across from us. They send a bus to pick you up about 30 minutes after drop off to take you back to the center which was more than enough time for my rapidly beating heart. (See photo below of me reacting oh so well to being on the glass.)

If you want to spend more time at the Icefields Parkway center, you can go on a glacier tour in this tank looking vehicle that goes out on the glacier itself. They also have a gift shop, a restaurant, and lodge you can stay at that overlooks the glacier. Now it costs $$$ but I”m sure would be an incredible experience just with the views.

We were hungry but wanted to wait to eat until we got to Jasper so we got back on the parkway and headed north. Jasper is a cute little town. It’s much smaller and less touristy than Banff itself. We settled on Jasper Brewing Company for lunch and I had a great spaghetti with meatballs. We walked around town a bit and grabbed coffee and tea and then headed west toward Kamloops which was about 4 hours away.

We made it there around dinnertime and checked into our hotel before walking a few blocks to a restaurant and bar for dinner. We had full day, even if it was just from driving so we went back to the hotel and slept.

Day 7: Wednesday June 25th

Our seventh day started off with coffee from the Starbucks near the hotel and hitting the road toward Whistler. If you’ve never been to Whistler, the best place I can think to compare it to would be Vail, Colorado. The community is planned all around the ski lifts and has restaurants, many hotels, and outdoorsy clothing stores all around as well as higher end retailers. Whistler is where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held, and they still have the Olympic medals in the grassy park area when you come in.

We spent about half the day in Whistler. We parked and walked through the town area which is more like a planned community. We went to Stonesedge Kitchen for lunch which had a fun menu, great food, and was decorated in just my style. Deer antlers on the walls, wooden tables and chairs, mixed with a slate blue wall color and a muted burgundy leather booth. Loved the vibe.

After lunch we went into a few shops and got some gifts for people before going on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. In Whistler, there is Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain. There’s a lift that goes up each side, and then connects the two through a valley on a third type of gondola. It’s the tallest of its kind at 1427 feet above the valley floor. During the summer, you can ride it just as a “ride”, but in the winter it is used as the lift for skiers. Cue my fear of heights. Now, Gondola rides up a mountain don’t bother me because you’re really never that far from the ground, even if it means you’d topple down a mountain if the cable snapped. BUT, a glass bottom and sided little box on a string between two mountains about 1500 feet off the ground? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

But we did it anyways. I was definitely in panic mode, but it was still beautiful. There’s a gift shop and food at each of the peaks so you can spend more time at either one if you’d like. They also have hiking, and a Cloudraker Skybridge at the top of one of the mountains. I’d already done a skybridge on the trip, so we passed on this one, but if you’re into terrifying experiences, this one is for you. It shown in the last picture below, right at the top of the two peaks.

We went down the mountain in the Blackcomb gondola and spent some time in the town before driving the two hours toward Vancouver.

We took route 99 along the coast, so the views on the way to Vancouver were beautiful with the Howe Sound on your right. We got into Vancouver around dinner time and stopped by Wayside Park to enjoy the sunset before sitting in traffic on our way to Stanley Park. If you only have a few hours in Vancouver, I would HIGHLY recommend Stanley Park. It’s huge, right on the edge of the city but overlooks the water and has various trails and paths and really great views. It doesn’t feel like you’re in the city at all.

We drove through Vancouver and headed east to our hotel for the night which was a Best Western in Langley that got us out of Vancouver traffic for the next morning. We had goldfish and cookies for dinner, because all dinners on vacation are not made equal.

Overall, we spent about 4 or so days in Canada. We covered about 1600 miles and spent about 20 hours driving. I had only ever been to Niagara Falls in Canada before, and let me tell you, this was way better than Niagara. The mountains out here are just so overwhelming but in the best way possible. The water is the teal clear blue, the cities are clean, and even the drive in between points of interest are beautiful. Stay tune for our next stop – the National Parks in Washington State!