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Best driving route from Calgary to Vancouver

Perth, Western...
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Best driving route from Calgary to Vancouver

Hi

We are going to be in Calgary for the first two days of stampede and then we plan on driving from Calgary to Vancouver. Can someone please let me know the best route to travel and the best places to stay overnight if I plan to leave on the Sunday morning and arrive in Vancouver on Tuesday afternoon.

Thanks in advance

Calgary, Canada
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1. Re: Best driving route from Calgary to Vancouver

Welcome to TripAdvisor! Sorry it's taken a while to respond to your posting, but as you will see, it's not an easy question to answer. Also, since most of this route actually goes through British Columbia, you might want to post on the BC forum to get their feedback as well ( tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g154922-i80-Britis… ).

First, you didn't mention Banff National Park in your plans. If you didn't visit Banff earlier in your trip, schedule a significant amount of time to see the sights in Banff on Sunday, possibly overnighting in Banff. Here is a link to info on the most popular sights in the Banff area:

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g659487-c112507/Canad…

If you did stay at Banff earlier in your visit, then let me know, as that opens up one more possible route.

There is only one practical route from Calgary to Banff: the Trans-Canada Highway (aka Hwy 1, TCH, or 16 Ave N within the city of Calgary). The Hwy 1A also connects the two centers (almost) but is a much more dangerous route, as it is only 2 lanes, undivided, winding, and with poor visibility in many sections.

There are two route options westbound from Banff: the Trans-Canada Hwy (Hwy 1), which is a 4-lane divided highway with a 110km/h speed limit; and the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A), which is 2 lanes, undivided, and has a 60 km/h speed limit. It is accessed after a short drive on the Trans-Canada.

The 1A is more scenic and has many pullouts and viewpoints along its route; it also goes right past popular Johnston Canyon, which is also accessible from the Hwy 1 through the Castle Junction exit.

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Route A: Vancouver via Cranbrook.

Castle Junction connects Hwy 1 and Hwy 1A (which run parallel to each other) with Hwy 93S. Hwy 93S goes south through the Rockies to Cranbrook, and then you would stick to Hwy 3 (Crowsnest Hwy) west to go parallel to the US border to Hope, BC. Then you would take the Hwy 1 (Trans-Canada) from Hope to Vancouver. Total driving time from Banff to Vancouver (excluding stops for food, fuel and sightseeing) is 14 hours. Recommended overnight stop is Cranbrook, as it is the largest center near the midpoint of your journey. Cranbrook is also near Fort Steele Heritage Town, which is a living history village. Unfortunately, I can't give you more details on what to do and see along this route, but the BC folks (or other people on this forum) might fill you in. Here is the route on Mapquest: http://preview.tinyurl.com/pxm8oh

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Route B: Vancouver via Okanagan Valley

Take the Hwy 1 or Hwy 1A from Banff to Lake Louise, and the Hwy 1 west from Lake Louise to Salmon Arm, BC. Note that this road (Trans-Canada Hwy) is Canada’s main highway connector through the mountains, so there may be heavy traffic (both cars and transport trucks) and slow trucks climbing hills. (The slow trucks can give you more of an oppurtunity to view the scenery; there are also a number of roadside viewpoints.) The section of Hwy 1 between Lake Louise and Revelstoke, BC passes through four national parks (in addition to Banff NP): Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke. All of them are lovely. Watch for the Spiral Tunnel. Yoho has Takkakaw Falls (about a 10 minute drive from the Trans-Canada Hwy); this waterfall doesn't have the huge water volume of Niagara Falls, but is much more impressive to me because it is a very high waterfall (over 250m). Also in Yoho is the Natural Bridge and Emerald Lake.

Glacier National Park has stunning mountain scenery; if you can't drive the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93N) between Lake Louise and Jasper due to time constraints, then the Trans-Canada through Glacier NP makes a nice consolation prize. Glacier NP is also the site of the Rogers Pass, which in the winter time operates the world’s largest avalanche control program to keep the highway and railway open.

Mount Revelstoke NP has three very interesting short interpretive trails which are just off of the Trans-Canada: Giant Cedars (most easily accessed westbound), Skunk Cabbage (easily accessed when eastbound), and Meadows in the Sky, a spectacular wildflower meadow. The access road to Meadows in the Sky can be reached fairly readily regardless of which direction you’re going. Remember, you will need to pay a parks fee to access these trails, but I would consider them well worth it. More info on Parks Canada’s website: pc.gc.ca/pn-np/…activ2_E.asp

Your last stop on the Trans-Canada Highway westbound (before heading south) is the small city of Salmon Arm, BC. I would recommend this for an overnight stop. Located in the forested hills of BC, Salmon Arm is on the shores of the huge Shuswap Lake. There is a pier and walking trails next to the lake; the pier area features regular free entertainment in the evenings throughout the summer (look for details in the local newspaper, at www.saobserver.net ). The lake is home to Canada’s largest concentration of houseboats; there is a houseboat rental operation based on the pier (Twin Anchors) which opens a houseboat or two for a few hours each day so you can have a look inside. There is a fast food operation at the end of the pier, along with washrooms; the pier is 300m long (“Canada’s longest freshwater pier!”) but it is also wheelchair accessible. Near the pier are walking trails which are perfect for birdwatchers; watch for Clark’s Grebe and Great Blue Herons.

From Salmon Arm, take the Hwy 97 south to Vernon, Kelowna, and Penticton, BC. Kelowna and Penticton are in the Okanagan Valley, a desert-like area which is very popular with Western Canadian holiday makers because of its hot summer weather, the huge Okanagan Lake, and the many orchards, vineyards, and wineries in the area. Again, posting on the Kelowna or Penticton forums may help you find out more information on what to do and see in the Okanagan:

tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g154933-i523-Kelow…

tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g154937-i1086-Pent…

To get to Vancouver from Banff via the Okanagan (not including stops for food, fuel, or sights) is 12 ½ hours of driving. Here’s the route on Mapquest: http://preview.tinyurl.com/q7x7rt

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Route C: Vancouver via Coquihalla Hwy

This is the shortest, fastest, and safest route, as it is 4-lane divided highway most of the way. Take the Hwy 1 (Trans-Canada Hwy) from Banff to Kamloops, BC. The route from Banff to Salmon Arm has already been described above; Kamloops is an hour’s drive west of Salmon Arm. Between Salmon Arm and Kamloops, the route first follows the south shore of Shuswap Lake before striking out across desert-like terrain for Kamloops. Kamloops is a small city with lots of accommodations and services, but little else for visitors, despite the town’s best efforts. (At Kamloops, check your fuel gauge; the next fuel stop is an hour away, at Merritt, BC and is easy to miss as you will have to exit the highway to refuel. The fuel stop after Merritt is Hope, another hour’s drive away.) From Kamloops, exit onto the Hwy 5 south to the Coquihalla Hwy. The Coquihalla was a toll highway for many years, but the BC government removed the toll in late 2008.

The Coquihalla goes through grassland for its first half (roughly to Merritt), and the latter part of the section from Merritt to Hope goes through mountains (I want to call them the Coquihalla Mountains, but I don’t know if that’s correct). These mountains are not as scenic as the Rockies, but have an interesting copper colour to them and are more angular and raw-looking.

To get to Vancouver from Banff via Kamloops and the Coquihalla Hwy (not including stops for food, fuel, or sights) is 10 ½ hours of driving. Here’s the route on Mapquest: http://preview.tinyurl.com/qsshef

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Route D: Vancouver via Trans-Canada Hwy

This duplicates the route above as far as Kamloops, and I would recommend an overnight stop at either Salmon Arm or Kamloops, as suitable accommodations are much more scarce further west. From Kamloops, instead of veering south onto the Coquihalla, you continue west on the Trans-Canada Hwy to Cache Creek. At Cache Creek, the Hwy 1 veers south to follow the Fraser River. This part of the route goes along the top edge of the dramatic Fraser River Canyon; a popular tourist attraction along the way is the Hell’s Gate Airtram, which takes you from one side of the canyon to the other above the foaming river below: http://www.hellsgateairtram.com/

Stops for food and fuel on this leg of the journey (Kamloops to Hope) are relatively limited, as there are only a few very small towns along the route. I haven’t taken this route in over 20 years; at that time, it was 2-lane undivided and many sections were uncomfortably close to the canyon edge. However, it is quite likely that it has been improved substantially since then. Again, other folks might be able to fill in the blanks for you.

To get to Vancouver from Banff via Kamloops while sticking to the Hwy 1 (not including stops for food, fuel, or sights) is 12 1/4 hours of driving. Here’s the route on Mapquest: http://preview.tinyurl.com/qp5yw7

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I hope that helps, and that other members will be able to fill in some missing details for you.

Perth, Western...
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2. Re: Best driving route from Calgary to Vancouver

Wow. Thanks Country Wife for such great suggestions.

To answer your question, we wouldnt have visited Banff earlier in our trip so we will definitely spend that Sunday visiting Banff NP.

I think Route B sounds like the best route for us. We defintely want to visit Lake Louise and it sounds like there are a lot of amazing sights to be seen on this route.

We were initially going to stop over in Kamloops but given your recommendation i think Salmon Arm is a better option.

Thank you

Calgary, Canada
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3. Re: Best driving route from Calgary to Vancouver

Thanks for the kind words, Radioactive4! Just to make completely sure there's no confusion, routes B, C, and D all go right past Lake Louise; it's only route A that doesn't.

Greater Sydney...
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4. Re: Best driving route from Calgary to Vancouver

Radioactive Sandgroper.

Great advice from C_W above. We did a variation of option B and it was a great trip. We drove from Jasper to Golden, but if driving from Calgary, Salmon Arm makes good sense.

As mentioned though, it is a long way around, particularly as we went from Kelowna, where we had our second overnight, via Princeton and Hope.

Mate, driving for over 100km along the banks of a beautiful natural lake all the way is something we certainly don't get to do in Oz. That is the Okanagan Lake mentioned by C_W.

5. Re: Best driving route from Calgary to Vancouver

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