Vancouver to Banff Road Trip: An Epic Journey Worth the Drive
A road trip through Canada’s most western province to its next-door neighbour, Alberta, is rich in natural wonders, history, and eclectic attractions. Even on the overstretched TransCanada Highway, you can get an eyeful of trees and towering mountains, but to fully experience the cornucopia of B.C.’s campy charm, jump on the two-lane secondary roads.
On the slow-cruising highways, the roads through British Columbia to Banff are defined by the rivers they trace – the Fraser, Harrison, Similkameen, Columbia, Kicking Horse, Bow. No matter where you go, there is a fresh stream of water to guide your way.
Before you hit the road, here are some good resources:
- 7 Road Trip Car Tips When Travelling with a Partner
- 9 of the Best Road Trip Apps You Can Download for Free
- 6 Tips to Prep Your Car for Long Summer Drives
Vancouver to Hope
As you exit the busyness of Vancouver, hop on the so-called Scenic7 – Highway 7 or Lougheed Highway – which traces the Fraser Valley all the way to Hope. Just 45 minutes from downtown Vancouver, you’ll come to Coquitlam, a vibrant bedroom community of 140,000 people lying on historic Coast Salish territory of the Kwikwetlem First Nation.
Fraser Valley and foothills
Next stop is Maple Ridge, located near the Golden Ears Provincial Park, Alouette Lake, Kanaka Creek Regional Park, and the UBC Research Forest. At Mission, you’ll be able to grab expansive views of the Fraser Valley and foothills of the Coast Mountain Range.
Harrison Hot Springs
Harrison Hot Springs public mineral pool | Photo: Tourism Harrison
At Agassiz-Kent, you’re firmly in farm country. Take a side trip north to Harrison Hot Springs for a must-do dip in one of the two publicly accessible hot springs, which the Coast Salish considered a healing place. The public pool reopened in May 2022 following the COVID-19 lockdown. Hope, at the confluence of the Fraser and Coquihalla rivers, features accessible mountainous terrain, and offers camping, hiking, fishing, golf, skiing, river rafting, soaring, and mountain biking.
Hope to Penticton
Avoid Highway 1 and take Highway 3
At Hope, avoid Highway 1, and seek out some real adventure heading south and then east on Highway 3 toward Princeton, in the heart of southern British Columbia. Highway 3, known as the Crowsnest Highway, will take you through beautiful Sunshine Valley, past the Coquihalla Provincial Park on your way up to Manning Provincial Park, a worthy stop for the night.
From there, take the long descent down the mountain, intersecting with Similkameen Provincial Park and then trace the Similkameen River into Princeton. Slammed by the floods of fall 2021, Princeton has recovered and retains its country charm.
You’ll pass through Hedley and then Keremeos where you turn north on Highway 3A. Within a few kilometres, 3A connects with Highway 97, taking you past Skaha Lake to the summer playground of Penticton.
Penticton to Revelstoke
Dozens of BC wineries enroute to Kelowna
There are dozens of wineries on the Naramata Bench, so make sure you keep an afternoon free and plan on staying the night. The next day, you’ll do one of the prettiest drives in Canada. It starts as you exit Penticton north on the west shore of Okanagan Lake via Highway 97.
You’ll amble through Trout Creek, Crescent Beach, Summerland, Peachland, West Bank and finally Kelowna – where the downtown brew district has a variety of lunch options.
Narmata Beach | Photo: Judy Bishop, Travelling Eye
Shuswap Lake at Sicamous
From there, continue into Lake Country, past Wood and Kalamalka lakes to Vernon. Then continue north through Enderby and finally Mara Lake, which connects to Shuswap Lake at Sicamous. This is the houseboating capital of Canada, and it’s a raucous and busy place all summer.
Last Spike, Enchanted Forest, and Three Valley Gap
From here, you’ll connect with TransCanada Highway and head east toward the remote resort town of Revelstoke. Take time to stop at Craigellachie – site of the Last Spike completing our country’s transcontinental railway in 1885. For some campy B.C. fun, take the kids to The Enchanted Forest and Three Valley Gap. Revelstoke is a great end-of-day destination, with fantastic winter skiing and in summer the stunning Mt. Revelstoke National Park, featuring the jaw-dropping Meadows in the Sky Parkway.
Revelstoke to Golden
Golden | Photo: Tourism Golden
Next day, head east through Rogers Pass and Glacier National Park, through the Columbia Valley and trace the Columbia River south into another B.C. interior gem – the old logging town of Golden, now a skiing and biking Mecca. Head downtown for lunch along the river at one of several favourite restaurants, such as the legendary Rockwater Grill & Bar.
Here are some great Golden adventure ideas from Nuvo Magazine.
Golden to Banff
Kicking Horse Pass
Heading east from town, you’ll enter the harrowing Kicking Horse Pass. Check with provincial authorities to ensure the TransCanada out of town is open during construction, if you want to avoid a 90-minute detour via Radium. After a few kilometres of twists and turns, the highway opens up into a scenic tour through the Rocky Mountains, passing through the lovely out-of-the-way hamlet of Field, at the Alberta border.
Lake Louise | Photo: Travel Alberta
Time it right, and you can grab a savoury lunch at Truffle Pig, a hidden gem in this mountain town. As you head east from there, you’ll climb up the Continental Divide toward Lake Louise. Summer at “The Lake”, as locals call it, is exceptionally busy, but it’s worth a stop as you pass by. Here’s what to do on a day trip to Lake Louise courtesy of Avenue Magazine Calgary.
Then, it’s just another 40 minutes to your ultimate destination of Banff. Take Highway 1A from Lake Louise to Castle Junction for a more leisurely pace, but the rest of the road is closed in summer for bicyclists.
In just a few days of ambling through B.C.’s interior, you’ll have witnessed some of the best mountain scenery this country has to offer. It’s one of those trips you just never want to end.
Ready for another road trip? Consider a drive through beautiful Ontario and its urban sophistication and iconic landmarks. Or head a little further east to Quebec to visit 6 places in La Belle Province.