Do you yearn for the open road, surrounded by Canada’s breathtaking scenery and the excitement of discovery at every turn? Then saddle up for a road trip adventure from Vancouver’s harbour to the picturesque mountain hamlet of Banff. This Vancouver-to-Banff journey promises to be nothing short of magnificent, with beautiful mountain ranges, crystal clear lakes, abundant wildlife and a plethora of unique experiences.
Vancouver is a bustling west coast city noted for its active downtown and unrivalled scenery, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coastal Mountain Range. The metropolitan landscape gives way to nature’s magnificence as you journey east, culminating in the snow-capped peaks and turquoise waterways of Banff. The UNESCO World Heritage Site alpine town in Alberta’s Rockies provides unparalleled natural beauty and outdoor activities.
Other articles you may like:
A road trip from Vancouver to Banff provides an opportunity to witness the striking difference between coastal rainforests and majestic mountainscapes, with the route being as memorable as the destination. This guide will lead you through the potential routes, sites to visit along the way and lodging options. Whether you’re looking for a quick trip or a multi-day adventure, we have you covered.
So, sit back, relax, and let’s hit the open road with this ultimate Vancouver to Banff road trip guide. Discover the enchantment of Canada’s terrain, with pauses to immerse yourself in welcoming towns, enjoy regional food, and capture incredible images to remember your journey.
Why Take a Road Trip From Vancouver to Banff?
The road trip from Vancouver to Banff is one of Canada’s most famous, offering unmatched experiences through 850 km of breathtaking scenery. Travelling by car allows you to explore at your own leisure, stopping at hidden jewels, taking in stunning vistas, and diving into quaint villages along the way.
Beginning in Vancouver, a city known for its cultural diversity and stunning maritime and alpine panoramas, you’ll instantly embark on a journey through some of Canada’s most breathtaking landscapes. One of the ways out of Vancouver, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, is a destination in and of itself, with towering mountains on one side and vast ocean views on the other.
The drive through British Columbia showcases the province’s vast biodiversity, with settings ranging from lush wine valleys to desert-like terrain. It’s an ecological haven, especially for nature enthusiasts, who will find plenty of options for animal watching, hiking, and simply enjoying the great outdoors.
As you go east, you’ll cross into Alberta and the Rocky Mountains, where Banff awaits. Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park, is a refuge for outdoor lovers, with world-class hiking, skiing, and a plethora of wildlife.
While the distance between Vancouver and Banff may appear intimidating at first, it becomes manageable and undoubtedly gratifying when broken down into a 1, 2 or 3-day (one-way) adventure. Each variation of the journey offers a distinct viewpoint, with more opportunities to explore and discover the longer you go.
A road trip from Vancouver to Banff caters to everyone, whether you’re a solo traveller searching for adventure, a couple looking for a romantic escape, or a family embarking on a memorable holiday. It’s an excursion that, with the correct planning and an adventurous attitude, delivers a riveting blend of natural wonder, cultural immersion, and road travelling fun.
Tip: If you are doing a round trip (Vancouver-Banff-Vancouver) consider taking a different route there and back creating a loop and covering twice as much beautiful scenery.
Which Route for Your Vancouver to Banff Road Trip
Regardless of the route you pick, your Vancouver-to-Banff road trip will be a journey of discovery and adventure. Here are the three most common options:
Route of Scenic Beauty
|Roads: BC-99 N and BC-1 E||Distance: 913 KM||Drive Time: 11 Hours|
If you have the time for a beautiful, relaxed road journey, take the leisurely way along BC-99 N and BC-1 E. This route starts with the stunning Sea-to-Sky Highway, which travels through some of British Columbia’s most gorgeous scenery.
Begin your tour in Vancouver, travelling north on a road flanked by mountains, lush forests, and the winding shoreline of Howe Sound. Make a stop at Squamish, Canada’s ‘Outdoor Recreation Capital,’ for a brief hike or a ride on the Sea to Sky Gondola for panoramic views.
The famed ski resort of Whistler is just a short drive past Squamish and is well worth a visit any time of the year. However, even if you don’t partake in the abundance of outdoor, year-round adventure activities, the village will keep you busy for at least a couple of hours. So, if you’ve never been to Whistler, you may want to consider spending the night here.
Continue north through Cache Creek and on to Kamloops, situated at the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers. Here you’ll find more outdoor activities, such as hiking, cycling, and skiing. This is close to the halfway point between Vancouver and Banff, so it can make for a good overnight stop.
From Kamloops, you will take BC-1 E and travel through the lovely landscapes and towns of Revelstoke and Golden, cities noted for their unique cultural attractions and gates to different national parks. This longer route fully captures the natural beauty and diversity of Canada’s landscapes.
Quicker and To the Point
|Roads: BC-1 E and BC-5 N||Distance: 847 KM||Drive Time: 9 Hrs 20 Min|
If you want to go to Banff as quickly as possible, the Trans-Canada Highway BC-1 E and BC-5 N is the best option. Even though it is faster, this route still offers a variety of magnificent sights and excellent pauses.
After leaving Vancouver, travel east through the picturesque Fraser Valley, which is noted for its lush farmlands and vineyards. The trip then takes you through the Nicola Valley and the town of Merritt before arriving at Kamloops. From here you follow the same route as above.
While travelling through the gorgeous Rocky Mountains, make sure to stop at Glacier National Park and Yoho National Park, both of which are filled with glacier-clad peaks, turquoise lakes, and spectacular hiking routes. Even on this speedier route, Canada’s magnificent natural splendor is ever-present, making the trip to Banff a pleasure in and of itself.
Less-Travelled Route Through Wine-Country
|Roads: BC-1 E, BC-3 E and BC-93 N||Distance: 1,168 KM||Driving Time: 13 Hours|
This route is the longest option, so it will not be the standard choice if your only goal is to reach Banff. The first half of the journey will take you along the southern part of BC from west to east and then north to Banff.
Along the way, you will pass through Okanagan’s wine and orchard country, BC’s desert region, the Bohemian town of Nelson and then up through the Kootneys and Radium Hot Springs. It’s a long drive, but it really gives you a taste of the best of British Columbia.
Vancouver to Banff Road Trip Itineraries
A road trip from Vancouver to Banff can be personalized to your needs, whether you’re on a tight schedule or have the luxury of leisure. Let’s look at the daily schedules for a one-day, two-day, and three-day excursion.
One-Day Road Trip From Vancouver to Banff
While a one-day journey from Vancouver to Banff is very long, and not our first choice, it is achievable for people who are short on time or simply enjoy driving. This itinerary focuses on the “Quicker and To the Point” route above, with information on significant areas of interest, recommended pauses, and where to refuel yourself and your car.
Begin your day early because you will be travelling for about 9.5 hours without stopping. To make the most of your day, you should leave Vancouver as soon as the sun rises. The first striking sight as you drive east is Fraser Valley. This region is well-known for its beautiful farmlands and vineyards, which are framed by distant mountains. Consider stopping in Chilliwack, at the valley’s core, for a short coffee or breakfast snack. The Harvest Store & Cafe serves organic, locally produced food and would be a great place to start.
From late morning to early afternoon
Merritt, in the Nicola Valley, is a good place to refuel on food and gas. For a quick stop, Triple O’s Chevron is a decent option for a yummy and iconic Canadian White Spot burger.
If you don’t need to stop in Merritt, it’s only about a 1-hour drive to Kamloops, a thriving city at the convergence of the North and South Thompson Rivers. Consider taking a longer break for lunch and stretching your legs here. The city is recognized for its eclectic cuisine culture, with options such as the quirky Hello Toast and the nutritious Frick & Frack Taphouse.
Following lunch, your journey continues via the breathtaking alpine scenery of Glacier National Park (the Canadian one) and Yoho National Park. While time may not allow for a thorough investigation of these national parks, there are various vistas and small walking paths located just off the highway where you can take in the landscape, snap photographs, and breathe in the pure mountain air.
You should arrive in Banff by late evening, finishing your one-day road journey. After a hard day on the road, you’ll want to check into your hotel and relax. Consider staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs for a deluxe experience that includes expensive suites, a fully equipped spa, and various on-site eating options. If you’re searching for a more affordable choice, Banff Park Lodge is a pleasant option with beautiful views and an accessible location.
While the goal is to go to Banff in a single day, don’t be afraid to make unplanned breaks to take in the scenery. The trip is as essential as the destination, especially when the road is as beautiful as the trek from Vancouver to Banff.
Two-Day Road Trip From Vancouver to Banff
A two-day road trip from Vancouver to Banff offers a more leisurely journey. You’ll have more time to explore the attractions along the trip and see a greater range of scenery. You’ll take the scenic route through BC-99 N and AB-93 S, which offers breathtaking coastline and mountain vistas.
Day One: From Vancouver to Revelstoke
Start your trip north from Vancouver via the Sea-to-Sky Highway (BC-99 N), a breathtaking coastal route with magnificent ocean vistas on one side and towering mountains on the other. Take your time admiring the natural splendour, and consider stopping at Squamish for a brief trek up the Stawamus Chief for stunning views of Howe Sound.
Continue to Whistler, a world-renowned ski resort and year-round destination. Take a stroll around Whistler Village, stopping by the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre to learn about the region’s indigenous customs and grab a bite to eat.
Continue down Duffey Lake Road, which is part of BC-99, from Whistler. This winding mountain route provides stunning vistas, particularly near Duffey Lake. You’ll eventually arrive at Lillooet, which is a nice area to stop for a break.
Continue on to Cache Creek, and then east on the Trans-Canada Highway to Kamloops. This is a good place to consider stopping for the night as it’s about halfway to Banff. The Plaza Hotel has nice accommodations in the city centre, near to eateries and Riverside Park on the river.
Day 2: Kamloops to Banff
Take BC-1 E out of Kamloops, going via Salmon Arm and Revelstoke, both of which have stunning lake and mountain views. Consider a brief stop at Craigellachie, the location of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s final spike.
Further east, you’ll visit Glacier National Park and then Yoho National Park, both of which have plenty of picturesque stops and short walks. Take time to visit the Natural Bridge, an extraordinary rock feature that spans the Kicking Horse River.
You should arrive at Banff by late afternoon. As with the one-day trip, you might base yourself in Banff at the historic opulence of Fairmont Banff Springs or the budget-friendly Banff Park Lodge.
A two-day road journey from Vancouver to Banff allows you to take your time to see the different landscapes of British Columbia and Alberta. It is an incredible drive through some of Canada’s most breathtaking countryside.
Three-Day Road Trip Vancouver to Banff
A three-day road journey from Vancouver to Banff allows you to thoroughly immerse yourself in the varied Canadian landscapes. This plan recommends a novel route, travelling east on BC-3 E (Crowsnest Highway) for a change of scenery and pace.
Day One: Vancouver to Osoyoos
Begin your journey by using BC-3 E, often known as the Crowsnest Highway. This less-travelled road goes past picturesque villages and lush vineyards, offering an alternative to the more typical routes.
Your first stop will be at Hope, where you may see the Othello Tunnels, a collection of historic railroad tunnels and bridges nestled in a spectacular canyon.
Continue east to Manning Provincial Park, which is ideal for an afternoon stroll or a picnic. In the summer, the park is recognized for its diverse animals and bright floral meadows.
Arrive at Osoyoos around dusk, a remarkable desert town noted for its warm lakes and vineyards. Check out the Watermark Beach Resort, which has lakeside rooms and a wine bar.
Day 2: Osoyoos to Nelson
Before hitting the road again, start the day with a swim in Osoyoos Lake. As you go east, you’ll pass through Grand Forks, a tiny city with a rich Doukhobor past.
Continue on to Castlegar, sometimes known as the “Sculpture Capital of Canada.” Stop here to stretch your legs and maybe visit Millennium Park & Ponds.
Finish your day in Nelson, a lovely town with a thriving cultural scene and old buildings. Enjoy a relaxing night at the Hume Hotel & Spa, a renovated 1898 landmark with a unique combination of modern and historic characteristics.
Third day: Nelson to Banff
Begin your final part of the adventure by travelling north on BC-31 and then east on BC-95. The trip around Kootenay Lake is magnificent, and as you approach Banff, you’ll travel through Kootenay National Park.
Consider taking a diversion to Radium Hot Springs, a natural hot spring located within Kootenay National Park, before arriving in Banff. The mineral-rich water is an ideal introduction to the majestic splendour that awaits in Banff.
Arrive in Banff in the evening and check into your hotel. Your three-day adventure has brought you to a destination of incomparable natural beauty, whether it’s the opulent Rimrock Resort Hotel or the lovely Banff Boutique Inn – Pension Tannenhof.
A three-day road journey from Vancouver to Banff along the Crowsnest Highway gives you plenty of opportunity to see British Columbia and Alberta’s less-travelled roads. It’s a voyage full of beautiful scenery, attractive towns, and unique experiences.
Tip: The above itinerary can be shortened to just under 10 hours drive time by going via Merritt and Kelowna and Revelstoke. This will provide a look at the Okanagan wine country but not Nelson or the Kootenays.
Some Additional Things to see during your Road Trip
One of the things that makes a road trip from Vancouver to Banff so interesting is the range of views you’ll see along the route. This road trip is as much about the route as it is about the destination, with expansive landscapes that provide a view of nature’s majesty and villages loaded with cultural treasures. Here is a list of some must-see attractions:
Harrison Hot Springs: This resort town is about an hour and a half drive from Vancouver and is noted for its hot springs, gorgeous lake, and stunning mountain landscape. Before continuing your journey, have a relaxing swim in the springs or a lakeside promenade.
E.C. Manning Provincial Park: This park is known for its diversified fauna and unusual alpine meadows, and it offers a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and camping. Take a hike up to the Cascade Lookout for panoramic views of the park.
Osoyoos Lake: Nestled in Canada’s only desert, this warm-water lake is ideal for swimming, boating, or simply taking in breathtaking scenery. During the summer, its warm, sandy beaches are popular.
Kootenay National Park: As you approach Banff, you will drive through the magnificent Kootenay National Park. Visit Marble Canyon, walk the Juniper/Sinclair loop, or relax at Radium Hot Springs.
Historic Yale: Visit this little village to learn about the region’s Gold Rush history. The Yale Historic Site comprises St. John the Divine Church, the Creighton House Museum, and other historic structures.
The Othello Tunnels: These are a collection of ancient railroad tunnels and bridges located near Hope that are now part of the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. The breathtaking canyon beauty and architectural feat make this a memorable stay.
Nelson’s Art Walk: Nelson is well-known for its thriving arts sector. Explore the streets of the town, which are lined with restored history buildings, public art works, and a wide range of art studios and galleries.
Cranbrook’s Canadian Museum of Rail Travel: This is a must-see for history aficionados. Explore magnificently restored train carriages, learn about the famous “Trans-Canada Limited,” and learn about the importance of railways in Canada’s growth.
These natural and cultural attractions not only break up the drive, but also enrich it, increasing your understanding and enjoyment of the landscapes and towns you pass through from Vancouver to Banff.
Top Sights to See in Banff
The stunning vistas that surround Banff will soon captivate your heart once you arrive. Banff, located in the heart of the Rockies, has a plethora of attractions that highlight the region’s natural beauty and cultural appeal. Here are some must-see attractions in Banff that should be on your itinerary:
Banff Gondola: Begin your journey of Banff with a bird’s-eye perspective of the town and its surroundings. Take the Banff Gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain for a breathtaking view of six mountain ranges, the Bow River, and the Banff townsite. It’s a fantastic chance for photographers.
Lake Louise: This is a Canadian Rockies icon known for its turquoise waters, Victoria Glacier background, and magnificent Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on its eastern coast. It’s a site you won’t want to miss, whether you want to canoe, trek, or simply relax and absorb the vista.
Moraine Lake: Moraine Lake’s magnificent beauty is unparalleled in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The lake’s bright blue water is a sight to see, and neighbouring hikes provide breathtaking views of the lake and its hilly surroundings.
Banff Upper Hot Springs: Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs after a day of exploring. The naturally heated mineral water provides relaxation while seeing the mountains, making it a one-of-a-kind Banff experience.
Johnston Canyon: A climb through Johnston Canyon’s catwalks leads to a succession of waterfalls and deep pools. This trail’s features include the Lower and Upper Falls, as well as the secret cave.
Banff National Park Visitor Centre: Visit here to gain a better understanding of the area’s rich natural and cultural history. Here, you may learn about the park’s fauna and history, as well as speak with expert park employees about the best places to explore.
These attractions not only capture Banff’s beautiful nature, but also provide unforgettable experiences that capture the soul of this renowned mountain town. These Banff attractions will assure a wonderful vacation in this Rocky Mountain wonderland, from sweeping panoramas to calm lake views, hot spring soaks to instructive walks.
Choosing the proper lodging will tremendously improve your road journey from Vancouver to Banff. Whether you’re stopping for a rest along the route or staying in Banff for a few nights, there are a variety of alternatives to fit a variety of budgets and interests.
Where to Stay on a Vancouver to Banff Road Trip
Budget: There are various campsites and hostels dispersed along the road for people looking for a low-cost alternative. The HI Whistler Hostel is a popular option, with clean amenities and a shared kitchen for self-catering.
The Plaza Hotel in Kamloops offers nice accommodations in an excellent location surrounded by shops and restaurants. The Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort in Cranbrook, located farther along, has well-appointed accommodations and an on-site restaurant.
If you’re prepared to pay, the Echo Valley Ranch & Spa in Clinton provides luxurious accommodations in a tranquil environment. Expect luxurious accommodations, a full-service spa, and gourmet cuisine.
Where to Stay in the Banff Area
The Banff International Hostel and YWCA Banff Hotel provide modest accommodations in convenient areas for budget-conscious travellers. If you don’t mind staying a little out of town, the Tunnel Mountain Village I campsite is a cheap option with wonderful scenery.
In the centre of Banff, the Elk + Avenue Hotel offers contemporary accommodations and an on-site restaurant. Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows offer rustic comfort near the famed Johnston Canyon for those who prefer a cabin experience.
Consider the renowned Fairmont Banff Springs or the Rimrock Resort Hotel for a splurge-worthy stay. Both include magnificent accommodations and suites, as well as superb dining options and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
On this Vancouver to Banff road trip, you’ll discover hotels to suit your preferences, whether you’re a budget-conscious backpacker or a luxury seeker. It all comes down to selecting the one that best suits your needs and budget. Remember that it’s not only about the goal, but also about the trip, and getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of that journey!
Essential Tips for Your Vancouver to Banff Road Trip
Plan your itinerary ahead of time: Before you go, plan your itinerary and decide where you’ll stop along the way. Depending on the length of your journey, you’ll want to schedule rest stops and, if required, overnight lodgings. To aid with your planning, use internet mapping tools, guidebooks, or travel blogs.
Check the weather: The weather in Canada may be unpredictable, and conditions can vary greatly between Vancouver and Banff. Always check the weather forecast for your trip dates and make any necessary adjustments. Remember that safety should always come first.
Pack appropriately: Given the variety of terrain you’ll be crossing, it’s critical to be prepared for any eventuality. Bring a choice of garments to accommodate both hot and cold weather. Remember to bring your swimwear for hot spring dives and hiking boots for mountain treks. Remember that layers are your friend!
Watch for wildlife: You’re bound to see animals on your road journey, especially when you approach Banff National Park. Always keep a safe distance and never feed wild animals. It’s also a good idea to educate yourself on bear protection before your trip.
Fuel up: Gas stations might be scarce in certain rural areas between towns. Start your travel with a full tank and don’t allow it drop too low during your adventure. It’s better to refuel when you have the opportunity than to be stranded!
Enjoy the journey: While the destination is wonderful, the travel from Vancouver to Banff is an important part of the experience. Take in the scenery, visit the places you travel through, and immerse yourself in the local culture. This road trip is about more than simply getting to Banff; it’s also about having fun along the way.
You’ll be well-prepared for a terrific road trip if you follow these suggestions. Whether it’s a speedy one-day trip or a leisurely three-day trek, your trip from Vancouver to Banff is guaranteed to be spectacular.
Writer, traveler, wine & food lover and co owner of Discover the Pacific Northwest and Live Dream Discover.