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The Ultimate Canadian Rockies Road Trip, From Calgary to Banff to Jasper

Banff Calgary Road Trips
by Jill Weinlein Dec 20, 2023

The drive from Banff to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies is considered to be one of the world’s most scenic road trips. It’s approximately 179 miles long, takes roughly 3.5 hours to drive without stops, and spans two highways: the TransCanada Highway and the Icefields Parkway. The best time to drive the Icefields Parkway is between May and early October. During the cold winter months, the double-lane highway, which runs along the Continental Divide, can be icy.

Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. (Banff is the second largest.) It’s known for its crystal blue lakes and pounding waterfalls, dramatic peaks and tundra, beautiful valleys, and majestic forests. Both Banff and Jasper are also home to fascinating wildlife. Along the drive, you’ll notice six wildlife overpasses. Banff National Park actually has 44 wildlife crossings in total — the rest being underpasses — qualifying it as the single location with the most wildlife crossing structures and highway enclosure fencing anywhere in the world.

A quieter town than Banff, Jasper also provides plenty of opportunities to see wildlife in your daily life. During a recent stay at the Forest Park Hotel, I saw elk grazing across the street near the railroad tracks every morning. While driving to different scenic attractions, keep an eye out for groups of two to three cars stopped along the side of the road. That usually means that wildlife is up ahead. You might see bighorn sheep walking right up to slow-moving cars, or you could spot a black bear or moose in an open field.

To make the most of your road trip, be sure to purchase a Pursuit Pass to save up to 40 percent on some of the most thrilling Banff and Jasper attractions. The pass provides a single “Book Your Visit Anytime” ticket available May through October. Passholders can soar up Sulphur Mountain on the Banff Gondola, walk on the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, access the Columbia Icefield Adventure, and cruise on Maligne Lake.

But that’s not all you can do to have an epic road trip through this slice of the Canadian Rockies. Here’s how to plan an unforgettable Banff to Jasper road trip, starting and ending Calgary.

Rent a car in Calgary and spend the night in Banff


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For many visitors, a Banff to Jasper road trip will begin at the Calgary International Airport. From there, it’s about a two-hour drive to Banff where you can stay overnight at the Elk + Avenue Hotel to break up the journey to Jasper. This will give you time the following day for activities, such as glacier-top explorations at the Columbia Icefield.

Walk on the Columbia Icefield


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The Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains of North America. It’s located on the borders of Alberta and British Columbia, with its northern tip sitting in Banff and its southern tip sitting in Jasper. The Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre is located in between Banff and Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, roughly an hour south of Jasper. There, you can board a shuttle bus to ascend the ice field in a massive Ice Explorer vehicle on an official Columbia Icefield Adventure.

During the tour, you’ll learn about the surrounding six major interconnected valley snow-capped glaciers. Ice, water, and wind shaped the mountains and valleys over millions of years. A highlight of the tour is stepping out onto the hard packed ice. Be sure to come prepared and dress in layers — the glacial winds can be strong and cold all year long.

If you’d rather not spend the time (two to three hours) or money (rates vary depending on the time of year) on a formal tour, you can also opt for a short 10- to 20-minute Athabasca Glacier hike for some impressive views instead.

Grab lunch before heading to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk


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The casual Chalet restaurant inside the discovery center is ideal for a warm lunch and grab-and-go items before boarding another shuttle bus to the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. The shuttle bus leaves from the parking lot to transport you to the paved cliff-edge walkway.

Take in bird’s-eye views of enormous glaciers in the distance, as well as the aquamarine hues of the Athabasca and North Saskatchewan Rivers that originate in the Columbia Icefield. For even more excitement, walk on the glass-sided and -bottomed skywalk platform that cantilevers 918 feet above the canyon to see dense forests and flowing waterfalls crashing into rushing rivers below. The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is open from May to early October, weather permitting.

Explore the Athabasca River and falls


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About a 45-minute drive from the town of Jasper is Jasper National Park’s Athabasca Falls. This is one of the most beautiful and powerful falls in Canada. Spend around one hour walking along the paved pathways while visiting various viewing areas. The river plummets 79 feet down, tumbling over a layer of hard quartzite and soft limestone, carving a gorge over thousands of years. The spectacular blue colors range from dark blue to a spectacular light icy blue.

Check into the Forest Park Hotel

With so much to see and do when you get to Jasper, you’ll want to stay in town for a couple of nights. The Forest Park Hotel offers guests the choice of two different hotel room experiences.

The recently built Alpine wing is fresh and clean, providing a contemporary, forest-inspired design. Each room has a kitchenette, spacious bathroom and sliding doors leading out to a small patio or balcony with forest views. The original Woodland wing is conveniently situated near the hotel’s restaurants, swimming pool, and meeting rooms.

Breakfast is popular on site at Walter’s Dining Room. Early risers can order from an a la carte menu or select the prix fixe hot and cold breakfast buffet. For dinner, Hearthstone Lounge features a menu filled with Rocky Mountain specialties, curated wines, and satisfying desserts.

Dine at Terra

If you’re not planning on eating at Hearthstone Lounge, Terra is an excellent choice for your first dinner in town. Located inside The Crimson Hotel, Terra is a 10-minute walk from the Forest Park Hotel. Some of the restaurant’s most popular menu items are foraged or from local farms, including the wood-grilled Alberta ribeye dinner for two. This includes two side choices and is served with a foraged mushroom demi sauce. Another standout, the housemade game sausage platter is served with hickory sticks, pickles, and a juniper mustard.

Enjoy a Maligne Lake cruise


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The next morning, take in the beauty of the crystal clear blue waters of Maligne Lake by boat. Less than a 45-minute drive from the Forest Park Hotel, this popular lake is fed by the glaciers of Jasper National Park. Keep an eye out for moose, bear, and elk as the boat cruises along the scenic shores. When the boat docks, you’ll have 15 minutes to follow the designated pathway to the edge of the sacred Spirit Island. This island holds deep significance for the Indigenous Stoney Nation. Walking on the island is prohibited, but you can photograph the remaining small enclave of evergreens surrounded by pristine water. The natural beauty is reflected on the surface of the lake and is one of the most picturesque spots in the Canadian Rockies.

Do a beer tasting at the Jasper Brewing Company

In the center of town, three local best friends named Brett Ireland, Alexander Derksen, and Socrates Korogonas founded Jasper Brewing Company in 2005. Growing up in the food and beverage industry, they felt there was a strong demand for local dining and drinking experiences in Jasper. They decided to tell their “Albeerta” story by combining their love of craft beer to become Canada’s first national park brewery.

The brewpub has become a community hub for locals and visitors seeking well-crafted beer and Alberta-inspired cuisine. Try a flight of six beers, such as their Crisp Pils, tropical fruity Trail Session IPA, and coriander-flavored Jasper The Bear Ale, with a warm buttered pretzel, seared halloumi bowl, or rustic elk meatloaf if you’re hungry for lunch.

Hike around Pyramid Lake and have dinner at Aalto


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Drive 10 minutes north of downtown Jasper and you’ll find yourself at scenic Pyramid Lake. Take a short hike along the pathway before sunset for stunning lake, forest, and mountain views. Walk back before dark to enjoy a scenic dinner at nearby Aalto. Chef Shane Rutledge’s inspiration for his menus are the shimmering waters of the lake and sky-scraping peaks towering above. Be sure to order the house rye bread with hay butter and British Columbia Gindara sable fish with rainbow seaweed and fermented barley. The sliced duck breast is served with roasted fennel and slightly sweet turnip-apple puree.

Stop by Lake Louise on your way back to Calgary


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The next morning, on your way back to Calgary International Airport, stop at Lake Louise for another sensational mountain and lake view. This hamlet in Banff National Park has the most unique turquoise colored water in its glacier-fed lake.

If you’d like to spend an extra night in the Canadian Rockies, the stately Fairmont Château Lake Louise Hotel has guest rooms and restaurants overlooking this beautiful setting. There’s a canoe dock for rowing on the lake in summer and an ice skating rink on the frozen lake in winter. Plush one- and two-bedroom suites have separate lounges; upgraded and club-level rooms and suites include free breakfast and canapes in the club lounge.

Visit the 1988 Winter Olympics site


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For your last stop on your Banff-Jasper road trip, see where the Winter Olympics were hosted in Calgary just 10 minutes from the Calgary International Airport. This is where Jamaica’s first ever bobsledding team made their debut. Pilot Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes and brakeman Michael White were cheered on by fans as they placed 31st. This was the inspiration for the popular 1992 film Cool Runnings.

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