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My suggested two week road trip itinerary from Vancouver to Calgary - Part 2: Lake Louise to Calgary
This is part 2 of my two week road itinerary from Vancouver to Calgary. If you'd like to go back to part 1 click the button below or follow the link at the end of this post!
Vancouver to Calgary road trip map
I am reposting the map of the road trip. If you click in the top left of the map you will find separate layers marking the route, photography spots, hikes, points of interest and campsites. To hide and show different layers just click on the check box next to layer's name. You can also click on the icons on the map to see names of the places I have marked. I will be talking about them as I break the itinerary down day by day.
Day 7-9: Lake Louise
At the end of Part 1 we just finished driving down the Icefields Parkway and are now in Lake Louise - a little town in the mountains and home to possibly the most famous lake in the World - Moraine lake (pictured above). During the summer Lake Louise becomes a beehive of activity.
A myriad of popular hiking trails around Lake Louise make it a great place for anybody who loves the outdoors as much as I do. There isn't much directly at Lake Louise Village. It's got a small overpriced supermarket, a few fast paced coffee shops and an information centre. The nearby surroundings on the other hand, that's a completely different story!
Best things to do around lake louise
Take your time exploring the area around Moraine Lake and Lake Louise
Moraine Lake is one of the many famous postcard worthy photography spots in Banff National Park. Its turquoise waters are incredibly framed beneath the famous Valley of the Ten Peaks. The first time I stood in its presence I had tears in my eyes! Damn you ninjas cutting onions!
Moraine lake is a short 20 minute drive from Lake Louise Village, but it gets intensely busy during the summer holidays. Arrive as early as possible. Sometimes the parking lot fills up as early as 7am! I am not kidding!
The Lakeshore stroll offers fantastic views to minimal effort ratio. It’s a 2.4km (1.4 mile) flat return walk, which only takes 40 minutes. For the classic postcard view of the lake you’ll need to climb the “massive piles of stones” as Walter Wilcox proclaimed when he was documenting the area in 1899. However it’s not as daunting as he made it out to be and only takes ten minutes to get to the top.
Once you are done here head over to Lake Louise. Another popular lake thanks to the famous Chateau standing right on its shore. Personally, I am not a huge fan of this lake, because it attracts a ridiculous amounts of tourists, however a little bit of effort will transport you into another world.
Consider completing few of the incredible day hikes around the Lake Louise area to understand what I am talking about. My personal favorite is the hike up Mount Saint Piran.
Visit the nearby Yoho National Park
As soon as one national park ends, the other begins. That's the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Yoho National Park is slightly underrated in comparison to its neighbour Banff National Park. However in my eyes it is even more beautiful!
Yoho is only 30 minutes west of Lake Louise. Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls - Canada's 3rd highest waterfall, as well as the famous Lake O'hara region - one of my favorite backcountry trips in the Rockies are just few of the highlights here. If you want to escape the crowds at Lake Louise - this is your best bet!
Accommodation in Lake Louise (Night 7 & 8)
Lake Louise Tent or Lake Louise Trailer
Day 9-10: The Bow Valley Parkway
Lake Louise accommodates quite a handful of epic locations but believe me there's even more to come. Can you handle it? For the next portion of this journey, leave the Trans Canada Highway behind and head onto the more relaxed Bow Valley Parkway (1a).
From Lake Louise it's a right turn just on the other side of the highway overpass. It's one of the best roads where you can spot wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.
The Bow Valley Parkway is shorter version of the Icefields Parkway, but don't worry. You won't be left high and dry in the awesome views department. The 50km stretch of road between Lake Louise and Banff is home to Morant's Curve, Castle Junction, Johnston Canyon and more wildlife than you'll be able to shake a stick at.
The highlight for me is visiting Johnston Canyon but make sure to get there early. Not only because the morning light coming through the trees and shining upon the falls is a sight to behold, but because it gets pretty busy during peak hours. Providing the weather is good of course!
Please note that From March 1st to June 25th, travel is not permitted between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on the 17-kilometre section of the parkway from Johnston Canyon Campground to the Fireside Picnic Area. This is to ensure the area remains a high quality home for wildlife. Remember to always keep your eyes on the road at any time.
Accommodation on the Bow Valley Parkway (Night 9)
Johnston Canyon Campground
Day 10-12: Banff and the surrounding area
At the end of the Bow Valley Parkway is Canada's beloved resort town - Banff. Much like Whistler, Banff is very affluent. If only I had enough money to buy a house here! For now I will have to stick to my camper.
There are a few campsites once you arrive in Banff, you’ll be able to call home for the next few days. My favourite, due to its location and beautiful views, is Two Jack Lakeside campground. However, if you want to be closer to town centre you should go for the Tunnel Mountain Campground.
The Must Do's In Banff
Sulphur Mountain Gondola
The cost of the gondola is 62$ per person which personally I think is a tad too pricey. If you're able, give your legs some exercise instead. A series of strenuous switchbacks for 5.5km (3.4mi), offer short glimpses through the trees of surrounding valleys but will be nothing compared to the view when you make it to the Upper Gondola Terminal on Sulphur Mountain.
You’ll ascend 700m (2,300ft) and it’ll take around 1-2 hours one way but the views of Mount Rundle and Cascade mountain are well worth the effort. I've done this hike in the winter and stood up on the top photographing this sunset in what felt like -100 degrees!
The Banff Hot Springs
Conveniently located near the lower gondola terminal, just like the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper, are a treat after the journey down. They are owned and operated by Parks Canada and at around $7CAD are a much deserved bargain. Whilst not as nice as the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper they are still a must do in Banff, just try to avoid rush hour in the late afternoon.
See the best photography spots
Banff is a dream location, fantasised about by many because of it’s incredible geological features. I defy any itinerary not to include it. It’s quaint high street gets pretty crowded in the summertime and so do many of the photography spots in Banff.
The best time to visit the locations is as early as possible to beat the crowds or later on in the evening to watch sunset whilst everyone else is having dinner. Vermillion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, Surprise Corner or the viewpoint up on Mount Norquay should be on every photographer's list.
Accommodation in Banff (Night 10 & 11)
Two Jack Lake Campground
Day 12-14: Canmore & Kananaskis Country
Canmore, a town that I hold very close to my heart. Why you may wonder? It's where I was based in Canada during my research for this guide. It's also the gateway to Kananaskis country - my favorite area for hiking in the Rockies!
Canmore is only a twenty minute drive east on the Trans Canada Highway, away from Banff. It is much more subdued and far less touristy. It has also seen a lot of new development recently, as it doesn't have to adhere to the building regulations that all towns in the national parks do, also meaning slightly lower prices.
The two campgrounds that I would recommend are the Bow River Campground (26$ per site) or the Spray Lakes West Campground near the Spray Lake Reservoir (26$ per site), with the latter being my preferable choice. The Spray Lakes site is around 20 minute drive from the town centre on the Smith Dorien highway (gravel road).
The views next to the campground are some of the best you will get. If however you want to be closer to the town, Bow River Campground should be your choice. Downside? it's a bit close to the highway and it may be a bit noisy.
What not to miss around Canmore
The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Unfortunately wolves no longer inhabit the Bow Valley (Banff and Canmore). Mainly due to irresponsible human activity. Check out the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary for a chance to learn more about these creatures.
Although the animals in the sanctuary aren't strictly 100% wolf, some of these wolfdogs are extremely high content and impossible to tell apart. It's a fun activity for people of all ages and really shines a light on the problem of rearing wolfdogs. It's a non-profit organization that rehabilitates, and houses, wolfdogs from all over North America.
Look for Moose and other wildlife near Mount Engadine Lodge
Engadine Lodge is one hour (38km) down the Spray Lakes Road south of Canmore. Its picturesque interior with original features and Hudson Bay blankets make it a very pleasant stop for a cup of tea and a slice of cake.
On the way there you'll drive past many of the locations that movie star Leonardo DiCaprio acted for "The Revenant" and where Anthony Hopkins helped make "The Edge". The Moose Meadows are right next to to the lodge and as the name suggests, are a great place for spotting Moose.
Visit these famous photography and hiking spots
Canmore and Kananaskis Country are my favourite places to hike in the Canadian Rockies. I know I am repeating myself, but seriously guys, they are just too good not to share! Check out my post about best hikes in Canmore and Kananaskis Country that was a whole year in the making! I just didn't want to miss anything!
If photography is more your thing then I've also got an article on the best photography spots in and around Canmore.
Accommodation in Canmore (Night 12 & 13)
Spray Lakes West Campground
Day 14: It's time to say goodbye to this
Eventually your road trip has to come to an end. I know, it sucks! I've been there more than once. I'm sure you've had an incredible time and won't be able to stop thinking about the places you've visited for many years to come.
On the final leg of the epic journey take the Trans Canada Highway (1) east from Canmore for just over an hour to Calgary, where you can drop off your rental and catch your flight home. Once you get back make sure to let me know how it went! I want to hear all about it!
I hope that this itinerary will help you with planning your Canadian Road Trip. As always please feel free to like, share or comment below with any questions you may have. I always respond! I'll appreciate it if you use the affiliate links provided in the itinerary. Each time you book something using the links I get paid a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. Thank you!
To go back to part one click on the button below.
Useful websites for planning your trip
Below are some links that will become useful for planning your road trip, which I have mentioned before:
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.