Last updated: November 23rd, 2022
When it comes to choosing a Canada road trip, it can be a tough decision as there are so many options from coast to coast to coast. But for road trips that are less than 12 hours in length (drive time without stops), few can rival the drive from Calgary to Vancouver. On this 975-kilometre journey, you’ll pass through the foothills, the Canadian Rockies, the towns of Banff and Canmore, and multiple national parks, lakes, rivers, and quaint mountain towns before arriving at the Pacific Ocean. You’ll also get to see two beautiful Canadian cities: Calgary and Vancouver. Plus, you can go slightly off the Trans-Canada and experience one of Canada’s most prominent wine regions: the Okanagan valley. Yes, indeed, this road trip pretty much has it all.
Whether you start in Calgary or in Vancouver, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the same trip either way. What does matter is that you don’t limit yourself to a 12-hour drive without stops. Take some time, spend some nights, explore the area, and create some memories on this beautiful drive from Calgary to Vancouver.
About the Road Trip
Fastest route: Enjoy the drive from Calgary to Vancouver via the Trans-Canada.
Even better: Take a jaunt off the Trans-Canada and hit Highway 97 to Kelowna! This will bring you to the Okanagan valley and give you a taste of the desert, beautiful Okanagan Lake, and BC’s top wine region.
Calgary, Alberta: Start or finish in Alberta’s biggest city. This vibrant and energetic city is often voted in the top 5 cities worldwide to live, the cleanest city in the world, and one of the youngest in Canada. It’s situated in the prairies and the foothills with the Canadian Rockies as its backdrop. It might be known for the Calgary Stampede, but there are many things to do in Calgary and we recommend spending at least a couple of days to take it all in.
Vancouver, BC: Start or finish in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Vancouver is also often ranked as one of the top cities to live in the world, although it’s becoming very expensive in terms of real estate. For the visitor though, it’s bound to take your breath away. Hugged by high mountains, tall trees, and the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver is both a paradise for those who love the outdoors and for those who live a thriving metropolis. You’ll definitely want to spend at least a few days here to experience some of the many things to do in Vancouver.
Getting to Vancouver
While driving yourself is always the best option for maximum independence, there are other ways to get between the two major cities as well.
Drive from Calgary to Vancouver by Car
If you have your own car, it’s quite simple. Just take the Trans-Canada Highway and away you go. If you need to rent a car, there are many, many options in Calgary and at the Calgary International Airport. We typically just use Expedia, rentalcars.com, or booking.com. Just use those and find the cheapest option for what you need. There’s also Turo, which is like Airbnb for cars, but then you’d likely have to return back to the same place.
Calgary to Vancouver by Bus
As of now, there’s only one bus company that makes the 12-hour journey and it’s called the Ride Express. There are many pick-up and drop-off locations and the ride costs around $100. You can also use Busbud to see if any other options open up.
Drive from Calgary to Vancouver by Rideshare
If you don’t mind jumping in a car with someone else, you might want to consider Poparide.com. This is basically car-pooling simplified. It’s cheaper than the bus and it may be quicker too. However, you’ll want to check what sort of luggage they can take and if the driver has good reviews.
Canada Park Pass
Along the way, you’re going to pass a variety of national parks. If you intend to stop in any of them, you’ll need a Parks Canada Entry Pass, which can be purchased in advance, at the entrance of the park or at any of the visitor’s centres.
The current daily fees are:
Youth (up to 17 yo): FREE
Family/group (up to 7 people): $19.60
Commercial group (per person): $8.30
The daily passes expire at 4 pm the following day.
If you’re going to be spending more than 6 days at any national park or historic site across Canada, you’re much better off buying a Parks Canada Discovery Pass. These passes are valid for an entire year and are a very good value.
The fees are:
To really enjoy this road trip, spending a week between the national parks is a good thing to do. For this, we highly recommend buying the Discovery Pass, which is much cheaper than buying daily entries along the way/
For more information, visit the Parks Canada website.
Things To Do on the Drive from Calgary to Vancouver
Although the drive can be done in one long day, it would be a shame to not take the time and enjoy the incredible places along the way. Whether you want to rush it all in a couple of days or spread it out over 2-4 weeks, you certainly won’t be bored. Between a variety of national parks, provincial parks, lakes, rivers, and mountain towns, there’s no shortage of things to do.
As mentioned above, Calgary is a great destination in its own right. From the world-famous library to the National Music Centre, there are so many things to do in Calgary. I’d spend 2-3 days at a minimum in Calgary, but of course, it’s up to you and what you hope to do during your time here.
The first scenic mountain town you’ll pass through during your road trip is Canmore, Alberta. This scenic mountain town is the last stop before entering Banff National Park. However, this is one of the most beautiful towns you’ll ever see. Surrounded by towering mountains, there are loads of things to do in Canmore, including numerous hiking trails, biking paths, camping sites, mountain climbing, and lots of lakes and rivers for paddling.
Just after Canmore is the world-famous town of Banff. This is Canada’s most visited destination and is home to Canada’s first national park. Just like Canmore, there are so many things to do in Banff for those who love the outdoors. However, Banff has even more in terms of world-class restaurants, many shops, and even some nightlife. From gondola rides to the top of mountains to relaxing in a natural hot spring, Banff will easily become one of your highlights.
Not too far from Banff but still inside Banff National Park is the wonderful short hike to Johnston Canyon. Whether you visit in the summer or the winter, this is a lovely 3-hour hike to see waterfalls and a canyon. In the winter, the waterfalls are frozen and you can witness a winter wonderland as you’ve never seen before.
Just like Banff, Lake Louise is another famous landmark. Named after the daughter of Queen Victoria, the stunning turquoise-coloured lake is surrounded by mountains and glaciers. It’s also home to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a luxury resort hotel that overlooks the lake. Winter or summer, the lake is well worth a visit. You can also go hiking, rent a canoe, or simply stroll through the Fairmont and have a beer. If you’re here around January or February, you might even catch the incredible Ice Magic Festival.
Located not too far from Lake Louise, Moraine Lake has become one of the most photographed locations in all of Canada and one of the top things to do in Lake Louise. In our opinion, it’s even more beautiful than Lake Louise, due mostly to the mountains looking so much bigger. This glacier-fed lake situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks attracts thousands of tourists during the summer to see its beautiful turquoise colour and the stunning scenery surrounding it. However, it’s become a victim of its own success as well. In the summer, you will need to arrive very, very early in the morning, possibly before 6 or 7 am. If not, you will most likely need to take a shuttle as the parking lot at the lake is too small to accommodate all the visitors. In the winter, it’s closed due to avalanches.
You’ve now arrived in British Columbia and this incredibly beautiful turquoise-coloured lake is your first stop. Situated in the heart of Yoho National Park, it’s accessible year-round and is just a taste of what this national park has to offer. If you’re looking for epic waterfalls, hikes, and camping opportunities, you may want to spend more time here. This is also a great spot for a romantic getaway as there is a beautiful historic lodge next to the lake that provides relaxing accommodation and dining.
Next up on the drive is the lovely town of Golden. As part of the Golden Triangle, this is another great location for those who love the outdoors. You’ll find great hiking opportunities, whitewater rafting, biking trails, mountain climbing, and skiing and snowboarding at the nearby Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. In the summer, you can also visit Boo, the grizzly bear. He was rescued as a cub and now resides in his very own 20-acre home, which happens to be the largest enclosed and protected grizzly bear habitat in the world! For those who love the outdoors, there are so many things to do in Golden BC.
More mountains! This is another Canadian Pacific Railway town and a wonderful mountain playground located in the heart of the Monashee and Columbia Mountains and surrounded by FIVE National Parks. Home to Revelstoke Mountain Resort, this is often a favourite for skiers and snowboarders wanting to get away from the crowds. It’s also home to the Pipe Mountain Coaster, a really fun 1.4-kilometre coaster that twists and turns across ski runs and travels up to 42 km/hr. It’s open in the summer months and is fun for the whole family.
This is a beautiful lake, which is at the heart of a region known as “the Shuswap” has a shoreline that stretches 1,000 km. There are many recreational lakeshore communities here, including Salmon Arm. This is a popular place for house boating. However, there are lots of other activities here including swimming, skiing, larch walks, cycling, salmon runs, fishing, rock climbing, scuba diving, rafting, and so much more.
This is one of the bigger cities you’ll see on the way to Vancouver (unless you go through Kelowna instead). With a population close to 100,000, you’ll be able to find much more than just outdoor adventures. However, like all the places along this route, the outdoors is where the true fun lies in this region. From rafting to hiking to cycling and fishing, there are a lot of things you can do here.
Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley
If you’re looking for wineries, desert climates, beaches, and beautiful lakes, you might want to take the short extension and head toward Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley. Popular towns include Kelowna, Penticton, and Vernon. You can go out on boat tours, sip wine at award-winning wineries, sunbathe on the many beaches, sample world-class cuisine, or even take a helicopter tour over the area. This is one of the most popular vacation destinations for Calgarians and one of the top things you can do in British Columbia.
Congratulations, you somehow made it to Vancouver despite all the beauty during the drive from Calgary to Vancouver We thought you may have just gotten lost somewhere while having the time of your life. That’s okay though. Vancouver is an incredible city. Fringed by both mountains and oceans, there are really so many things to do in Vancouver. From Vancouver whale watching to simply taking a stroll through incredible Stanley Park, Vancouver is one of the most popular places to visit in Canada.
For more ideas on what to do in the area, check out these articles below:
- Things To Do in British Columbia
- Things To Do in Alberta
- Things to Do in Kelowna
- Things To Do in Jasper
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Suzanne Keating says
I will be doing the drive between Calgary and Vancouver in July. I have the option of starting in Vancouver or Calgary. Would you recommend one direction (east to west vs west to east) given I have the choice? Thanks for any advice you may have.
Matthew G. Bailey says
No, not really, both ways are beautiful. Just make sure to stop lots along the way! We haven’t explored Kamloops much (we will be this year) but we often go to Kelowna on that trip
we have 2 days to get from calgary to vancouver-what are the 3 must see things?
And where would you spend the
Matthew G. Bailey says
Well as much as we love Banff, it’s a bit close I suppose to spend one night there. But I would say something like Banff, Golden, Kamloops, or Kelowna. Kelowna is a great spot as it’s not far off, has the big lake, and is about halfway… There’s the pipe mountain roller coaster in the mountains of Revelstoke ski resort too