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There are a number of different options when driving between Vancouver and Calgary (or the reverse). Which one you take will depend on how much time you have and what you like to do. There are three routes that head directly for the Rockies, and then a number of deviations from the main routes are possible, allowing you to customize the route to your personal schedule and interests. Keep in mind that if you add in the suggested sightseeing stops, you are adding overnight stops to the journey. Do NOT expect to travel from Vancouver to Banff in one day and actually have time to do more than wolf down some fast food and fill the tank with gas. The primary choices to get to the Rockies from Vancouver, from shortest to longest, are:
A. Along the main highway east to Hope, then north to Kamloops and east again through Revelstoke and Golden to Banff.
B. Along the main highway east to Hope, then north to Kamloops, head north through Barriere and Clearwater to Jasper.
C. From Vancouver, head east to Hope, then stay on the southern route #3 through Manning Park, Princeton, Osoyoos, Grand Forks, Cranbrook, then northeast through Invermere to Banff.
Any of these routes can be adjusted to include the Whistler-Pemberton-Lillooet (Hwy 99) gateway to the interior which connects to Highway 97 at Hat Creek north of Cache Creek.
This is the main highway route for traffic going to Calgary. To drive directly to Banff with a minimum of stops is about 10 hours, so if you have a very limited amount of time and just want a quick trip to the Rockies, this is your best choice. It is also quite scenic as you travel through several mountain ranges and national parks to get to your destination.
If you are going to do some sightseeing enroute, then you can extend your journey by:
-- taking Hwy 1 up the Fraser Canyon through Boston Bar to Cache Creek, then on to Kamloops from there
-- taking 97C at Merritt and heading into the Central Okanagan Valley at Kelowna and heading north to Highway 1 through Vernon and some terrific BC wine and lake country.
Sightseeing options along the way include The Othello Tunnels (Hope), Alexandria Bridge Provincial Park, Hell's Gate Tramway, Kamloops Wild Animal Park, Shuswap Lake, the location of the last spike on the CP Rail Line at Craigellachie, Mount Revelstoke National Park (Meadows in the Sky Parkway, Skunk Cabbage boardwalk, Giant Cedars interpretive walk), Glacier National Park, and Yoho National Park (Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, Takakkaw Falls).
This route follows the same as Option 1 for the southern portion, but then heads north to Jasper along the Yellowhead Highway.
Route extensions include:
-- continuing north on 97 from Cache Creek through Clinton and the high Cariboo Plateau to Lone Bute, then east on 24 to join the Yellowhead ( Hwy 5) at Little Fort. The Cariboo is cowboy country and there are several working guest ranches (also called dude ranches) in this area that welcome visitors for a ranch experience.There are also many beautiful and peaceful lakes for fishing and boating.
A popular sightseeing stop along this route is Wells Grey Provincial Park and Helmcken Falls, with an overnight at Clearwater. Once in Jasper, you head down the world famous Icefields Parkway to Banff and on to Calgary.
The vistas on this route are prettier heading east to west so this mght be a preferred return to the coast route.The highway through Kootenay National Park begins between Banff and Lake Louise. A free ferry crosses Kootenay Lake if Nelson is a desired stop. Midway is Osoyoos with a warm water lake, hot dry summers and many wineries near by. A great stop.
Route extensions include:
-- the opportunity to visit the Okanagan and the Kootenays, including Arrow Lakes. At Osooyoos take Hwy 33 north to Kelowna then Hwy 97 on to Vernon; you could easliy spend a few days in this area. From Vernon head east on Hwy 6 to Needles where you'll take a free ferry across one of the lakes. Continue on Hwy 6 up to Nakusp and on down towards Nelson. Once in Nelson take Hwy 3A down to Creston (or the ferry from Balfour to Crawford Bay) and on to Banff as above.
-- If for some reason you want to skip Banff and simply go on to Calgary, then stick to Hwy 3 and head to Fernie (delightful town with lots of good hiking and skiing) and continue east through the Crows Nest Pass to Pincher Creek, Alberta. Take time to stop at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump UNESCO World Heritage Site near Fort McLeod. From there you can head north into Calgary. This route can be driven in two easy days but 4 or 5 days will give you a real sample of all the variety BC has to offer.
View a map of the region on Google Maps.
This region has a lot to offer, and most vacationers simply do not have time to see everything, meaning some difficult choices are ahead. Choosing your preferred route is the first step, then head back over to the Trip Advisor BC and Canadian Rockies forums to fine tune your plan and complete your vacation.
Why Drive the Icefields Parkway Twice?
People are generally pretty torn about how to organize their route, and the idea of driving the same piece of road twice is something that often puts people off. The regular advisors on the BC and Alberta forums usually lean towards doing the route to Jasper and back along the Icefields Parkway in both directions. Here's the reasons for it:
1. It is one of the most scenic, spectacular drives anywhere **in the world**. Like a really good movie, you need to see it twice.
2. There are lots of stops on the Parkway and its quite a long way. You most likely will run out of time and energy before you get through all the features and attractions on the Parkway. You'll need a second day on the Parkway to finish it off.
3. The views are different southbound. If you don't drive it in both directions, you've only seen half of it!
4. What if you plan this magnificent, expensive holiday and you allow one day - only a single day - on what is arguably the highlight of the entire trip...and its raining. Low clouds, rain... you see *nothing*. Those magnificent mountain peaks are hidden. You have to come back another time and try again! Or you can put some insurance in your plan and make sure to allow a second day on the Parkway after 2-3 days in Jasper.