Road trippin’ through the Canadian Rockies in 15 days

WE DID IT! All it took was an expensive ticket to Vancouver city, a sleek SUV, backseat filled with snacks, camera in tow and most importantly our rush of adventure. Driving in Canada was an unbelievable experience with its open roads, motorways flanked with snow-capped mountains or pine trees and a few surreal moments like the time we got really lucky to have spotted a bear casually hunting for berries by the road.

This road trip is not scary (Read: Iceland) but requires a dedication to drive long hours only because you cannot road trip in Canada without stopping every few kilometres to take in the beautiful scenery that surrounds you. From sea to summit, we have mapped out the perfect itinerary for your next vacation and epic doesn’t begin to describe what you’re in for.

Day 1 – Fly in to Vancouver city

This is when we tell you how much in love with this city we really are. Have you ever wanted to live in a city that boasts mountain views from all corners, a stone’s throw distance from major national parks and teaming with cultures from all over the world? That city is Vancouver. If time permits, spend a few days exploring the city and all the activities it has to offer.

Stay: The Buchan Hotel (minutes from downtown Vancouver)

Day 2 – Day 4: Drive to Tofino (283 km – 5.5 hours)

Known for testing the unknown, we decided to make a quick weekend stop in Tofino located in Vancouver Island and what a payoff it was! Firstly, you get to drive your car in to a massive ferry that transports you across to Vancouver Island from where you continue driving a few hours until you reach the seaside town of Tofino. From here, you get to see Pacific Rim National Park and numerous bear and whale sightings via local tours and not to mention glowing sunsets from Tofino’s beach. FYI bears happen to chill on the beaches too so stay alert!

 Tour Company used: Adventure Tofino Wildlife Tours

Tofino has a variety of accommodations ranging from expensive to thrifty but we chose to stay at the cutest BnB owed by a local who spoiled us each morning with freshly baked muffins and other homemade goodness.

Stay: Storm Bay BnB by Jeanette & John

Day 4 – Drive back to Vancouver city (283 km – 5.5 hours)

Drive back to Vancouver city but not before making a few noteworthy stops. These can also be done in parts enroute to Tofino.

Tofino must-do stops include:

  • Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Parks (Upper & Lower)
  • Cathedra Grove – MacMillan Provincial Park
  • Giant Cedar Trail
  • Ucuelet (before entering Tofino)

Back in Vancouver, spend the late evening walking the famous “downtown” of Vancouver or strolling Stanley Park before heading to dinner.

Stay: Windsor Guesthouse

Day 5 – Drive to Clearwater & Wells Gray Provincial Park (482 km – 5 hours)

Get a head start no later than 7 AM in order to have a leisurely drive to Clearwater and Wells Gray Provincial Park. Upon arriving in Clearwater, grab a few beers, snacks and head straight to Dutch Lake. Here you can spend hours on the boardwalk sipping on a beer and taking the occasional dip in the lake to cool off or rent a kayak and explore the lake on your own.

Day 6 – In Clearwater

Time for some real adventure! The mighty and majestic Clearwater River stretches far through Wells Gray Provincial Park’s protected and undisturbed wilderness. This pristine river offers some of the best whitewater in all of British Columbia and that is exactly what we spent our morning doing – battling rapids and extremely cold cold waters.

For rafting: Liquid Lifestyles

The second half of the day was not devoid of water views as we made our way to Helmcken Falls, Spahat Creek Falls, Maul Falls followed by a lazy evening by Clearwater Lake.

Stay: Stoneshire Guesthouse (minutes’ walk to Dutch Lake)

Day 7 – Day 9 – Drive to Valemount for Jasper National Park. Overnight in Valemount (200 km – 2 hours)

You’ve probably seen it on Instagram or read about Jasper but nothing compares to what you witness in person. Just when we thought landscapes could not get any better, we began the second half of our road trip through more pine trees, dramatic mountain vistas and lakes.

Now is when you decide where exactly you want to stay when visiting Jasper National Park. The park houses a town – Jasper that offers adorable but expensive accommodation and if not booked months in advance (we’re talking 5 months in advance in the summer) you may not find suitable and reasonably priced accommodation here. As a result, we were left with virtually no budget friendly accommodations and chose the next best option and that was to stay in Valemount (100 km – 1 hour from Jasper National Park). Why Valemount? Valemount has good reasonably priced accommodations, gas stations and a few restaurants and supermarkets for basic needs.

Begin early from Clearwater, so you can make pit stops along the way to take photos of the scenery or a longer halt at Mount Robson for a quick photo opportunity.

P.S – Valemount sits in British Columbia while Jasper in Alberta that share different time zones! Ensure you change your watch each time you drive back & forth – you gain an hour, you lose one 🙂 

Enter Alberta and Jasper National Park! From here onward the next few days transported us to a whole new world that seemed too picture perfect to be true with its sharp jagged mountains, turquoise lakes and dense forest trails.

Things to do in Jasper:

  • Hikes – With all those mountains comes innumerable hiking trails one leading to a view more beautiful than the last. While summer may be the busiest time of year for parks in Canada, it is almost impossible to run in to massive crowds for all you have to do is walk a few metres following a trail and you’ve lost all your fellow hikers. This is when you realize just how massive Canada and it’s parks really are and how lucky you are to be there in that moment.
  • Skytram to Whistlers summit: It is easy to take a CAD 45 gondola ride up to Whistler’s summit from where you walk a short path to take in the view.
  • Cruising along Maligne Lake is one of the most popular activities you can indulge in when in jasper. The cruise is a little over an hour and stops at Spirit Island to take photos.
  • Sunwapta Falls & Canyon – short hike to the falls
  • Medicine Lake – For a peaceful picnic by a massive lake
  • Quick stops at the 3 lakes – Pyramid, Patricia & Edith Lakes.

The town of Jasper deserves a special mention for it sits in the midst of Canada’s extraordinary wilderness unpretentious and pretty. Restaurants are plenty; locals are forever smiling and looking to give you suggestions or weather updates. We highly recommend spending your nights in Jasper for a quintessential rocky mountain experience.

In case you’re wondering when you’ll reach the much coveted Icefields Parkway for that unbelievable drive; you’re already there! The Icefields Parkway is a 230 kilometre mountain road running through Banff and Jasper National Park. This scenic road, rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveller traverses the rugged landscape of the Canadian Rockies. If you’ve made it this far, you’re really in for something very special. The entire drive takes no more than 3 hours NOT counting the incessant stopping to take photos of your surroundings.

There are numerous view-point pullouts, hiking and walking opportunities, waterfalls, lakes and attractions to see along the Icefields Parkway.

  • Herbert & Hector Lakes
  • Bow Lake
  • Peyto Lake
  • Waterfowl Lake & Chephren Lake
  • Cirrus Mountain View Point
  • Athabasca Glacier
  • Sunwapta Falls
  • Athabasca Falls

Stay: Valley Mountain Ranch – Valemount (Yes, it was a real ranch with animals!)

Day 9 – Day 12 – Continue driving to Banff National Park. Stay in Canmore (180 km – 2 hours)

You will spend the next 3 days exploring the scenic spots in and around Banff National Park. Take your time to soak in the various spots along the Icefields Parkway as you make your way to Banff. All the above attractions along the parkway can be split between your days exploring Jasper & Banff.

Alberta boats several turquoise lakes and one such underrated lake is Peyto Lake. At 2,068 meters, Bow Pass is the highest pass in Banff National Park and the watershed between the river systems of the North and South Saskatchewan River. A short branch road leads to the magnificent Peyto Lake glistening in turquoise and fed by many of the surrounding glaciers.

The moment you’ve been waiting for is finally here – The jewel of Banff National Park is Lake Louise with its shimmering turquoise blue green water and surrounding snow capped mountains rising up to 3000 meters high. It’s difficult to tear yourself away from the shores of the lake but you can also take one of the many trails (some running along the waters edge) up in to forest opening up to breathtaking views of the lake from above. The most popular of them is the trail leading up to Lake Agnes, which lies in a picturesque location between the two round hills known as the Beehives. The strenuous climb to the top of one of the Beehives is rewarded by a superb view over the entire area. In summer, the Lake Agnes Teahouse supplies food and drinks to weary hikers (such as ourselves).

While Lake Louise did not disappoint, it was Morraine Lake that stole the show and our hearts. An extremely cold and bleak morning was the chosen day to explore this lake. Hours of waiting in our car for the rain to stop and several playlists later the sun appeared and brightened the day. Pictured on the reverse of the old Canadian twenty dollar bill, Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks surrounded by peaks more than 3,000 meters high, and the Wenkchemna Glacier was one of the most beautiful sights I have personally ever witnessed. The most scenic walk involves a short climb up the Rockpile Trail to the best view of the lake which involved us monkeying around in the cold trying to not break any bones. WORTH IT!

At the end of each day we made our way back to our apartment in Canmore, a sleepy ski town in the rocky mountains.

Stay: Cozy Penthouse Suite – Mountain View (Air BnB)

Day 12 – Day 15 – Drive to Yoho National Park. Overnight in Golden ( 85 km 1 hour)

In case you feel that you can’t do justice to the above sights, you can always drive back to either of the aforementioned lakes as they’re no more than an hour’s drive from your next halt in Golden.

The next park on our agenda was Yoho National Park and one that is often skipped by most road trippers. Extremely underrated, we enjoyed this park a lot more than we expected. Located along the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies, in the province of British Columbia lies Yoho the smallest of the contiguous parks of Banff, Jasper and Kootenay. The most notable highlights of Yoho are Takkakaw Falls, one of Canada’s highest free falling waterfalls, the Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River, Emerald Lake and Lake O’Hara.

With Golden as our base we spent the last few days exploring the above mentioned sights and simply breathing the crisp, fresh Canadian air.

Stay: Kicking Horse Lodge, Golden (Air BnB)

Day 15 – Drive to Calgary Airport & say goodbye (225 km 2.5 hours).

 Car rental: Avis Canada

 

When: Summer months – June, July, August & September

How: Fly to Vancouver or Calgary and end with the same

What: Natural beauty in its wildest form.

 

Advisory: While the summer months are undoubtedly the best time to visit weather wise, the 3 major disruptions include:

  • Higher prices everywhere due to it being peak season
  • Lack of economical accommodations due to it being high season
  • Forest fires. Forest fires are no joke and can entirely disrupt your travel schedule. We were caught in the middle of forest fires towards the end of our trip and had to make last minute adjustments to our itinerary due to the smoky air.

Nee more inspiration? We have it covered.

Check out our – “20 photos to inspire you to visit Canada”.

 

Iceland – the country of your dreams

If there ever was a country that had terrain that seemed like it is from another planet, it is Iceland and where better to celebrate your marriage turning one than in a freezing country surrounded by absolutely nothing! My husband and I landed in the capital city of Reykjavik and began a 10-day journey traversing volcanoes, lava fields, icy, and snow laden roads with air so pure and views so magical; we may have lost our hearts to another world.

Day trips from Chiangmai

The scent of delicately basted meat being grilled over charcoal fire and the sharp, intoxicating trail of freshly brewed coffee is hard to ignore – old city Chiangmai is littered with meat stalls and petite coffee houses. I like low-key holidays with long lunches and easy living as much as the next girl… so days strolling through the old city and evening bazaars were perfect. But just outside the city lie wonders of a different kind, and I put my explorer shoes on (Dora, who?) and headed out.

Up, up and away
Endless views of Chiangmai city (if the sky is clear), a national park to trek through and of course, the Wat Phra Doi Suthep, to appease your inner devotee. The Doi Suthep mountain is 40kms from the city and worth making a day-trip for. My companion and I picked a bike, but make sure you invest in a heavy-duty bike that can handle the winding uphill roads, because ours started over heating after about 20 minutes on the highway.

The weather is pleasant in Chiangmai in January when we visited (and tends to get cooler as you get higher), so make sure you’re well covered. Head to the Bhubing Palace first, if you’re a botany or flower enthusiast – it’s all about the well-manicured gardens, stopping to smell the roses and appreciating the finery that you’ll probably never have. The next stop was of course the Wat Phra Doi Suthep, which I found way too crowded to enjoy. The views from the wat are sublime (they’d better be, after the endless stairs you have to climb up to get there) but the temple itself was too crowded to buckle down and enjoy the space.

That’s why our next stop was the (shockingly) isolated Monta Than Waterfall at the Doi Suthep National park that is en-route the wat. Quiet, remote and cut off from the cacophony at the wat and the touristy rush in Chiangmai city, we loved the 40-50 min trek that brought us right back to the waterfall we started at. Carry a swimsuit and a change of clothes if you intend to take a dip and snacks to make a day out of it (no alcohol is allowed at the park). Tents pitched a few metres from the waterfall are where you can camp out if you choose to stay overnight. (Check details in advance on the park’s website)

 Doi Inthano(t)

The highest mountain in Thailand. The popular Kew Mae Pan that offers endless views, the promise of waterfalls, cloud forest and a vigorous workout. We were super excited about our day trip to Doi Inthanon. About 104kms away from Chiangmai city, the day trip seemed doable on paper.

However, we stopped midway to the destination because our bike was overheating, and we realised belatedly that we needed a much more powerful (read reliable) vehicle for the long/uphill journey. Don’t make the same mistake we did and rent an able car or engage a city tour group to organise your trip – you’ll find agents scattered all over the old city. There are a couple of hotels around the park (still quite far) and you can camp overnight, so make sure to plan your day trip as soon as you land in the city, so you have enough time to plan correctly. While we were disappointed at this development, we stopped over at the Grand Canyon Water Park where you can drown your sorrows in food, drink, zip-lining and other water-based adventures. It’s no Doi Inthanon, but for us eternal children, there’s no place more fun than one you can cannonball into the water at! A word to the wise, while Chiangmai old city’s incredible food, exciting night life, endless bazaars and touristy vibe might tempt you to sleep in and saunter around at leisure, give the great outdoors a chance, set the alarm earlier than you’d like to… and we’re promising rewards of the best kind. Sunrises, sunsets, waterfalls gushing, viewing points with soul-stirring coffee, the wind in your hair and lots, lots more. Get set, go.

We recommend planning these day trips on weekdays as weekends at any of the above involve dealing with long queues and large crowds (both locals + tourists) 

Fact file
Location
: Chiang Mai City, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand
Getting there: Easily accessible via road and rail (Approx 685 kms from Bangkok, overnight bus and train, booked prior to travel is your best bet – you can get tickets on the day of travel, if you are lucky) and air (closest airport: Chiang Mai International Airport CNX)
Best time to visit: October – April
Other attractions: Elephant sanctuaries (Elephant Nature Park; Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary; Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand), San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

Read more on our adventures in our complete guide to Chiang Mai