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Ultimate Guide to a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: One Week Itinerary and Must-See Stops in Banff and Jasper

I've dreamed of visiting Banff and Jasper for years, and this last Autumn, my sister and I finally made this a reality. We decided to rent a campervan and make it a road trip, so that we could make the most of our time in the area, and be able to get to trailheads for sunrise, and this was the perfect solution for us!


Day One: Fly into Calgary airport, pick up the camper van in Calgary, and drive into the park. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the town of Banff, so we took this time to stock up on groceries and get ourselves situated for the evening. We stayed at the Tunnel Mountain Village 2 Campground, which is one of the only campgrounds in the area that is bookable online ahead of time.

Day Two: We woke up before sunrise to get a 5:30 am sunrise to Moraine Lake. Because of the driving restrictions to Moraine Lake, we booked our shuttle ahead of time, and met our driver at the Lake Louise Inn. This was an absolutely incredible way to start out our trip, and we found a great spot on the Rockpile Trail to watch sunrise. After this, we decided to head up to hike Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass. Because we'd gone for the first week of October, we thought we'd have missed the last of the larches, but we were treated to an absolutely beautiful display of color.

Once we'd finished the hike, we came back down to sit beside the lake, which was bright blue by this time, and took a return shuttle back to Lake Louise. We decided to stay another night at Tunnel Mountain Village 2, so that we could spend the next day in the area, as well.

Day Three: Again, we woke up before sunrise to drive to Lake Louise to get a parking spot. At 6am, the lot was probably about half full, and it was completely filled by mid afternoon when we got back from our hike, so I would recommend going as early as possible. Lake Louise is one of the most iconic spots in the Canadian Rockies, and for good reason. It's incredibly stunning, and a great starting point for a bunch of hikes in the area. After seeing another gorgeous alpine lake sunrise, we decided to head to the Lake Agnes Tea House hike, which was again incredibly beautiful, not to mention a great place to stop and have a snack - the crumble is a solid choice! From Lake Agnes, you can choose to do either the Beehive trail or Little Beehive, or even carry on to the Plain of Six Glaciers.

We planned to drive to Jasper that evening, so we headed back and hit the Icefield Parkway. This is one of the most beautiful roads in the world, and the views certainly didn't disappoint! We were planning to make all of the stops along the road on the way back, so we decided to get into Jasper for the evening, and head to the Jasper Brewing Company for dinner, which was lovely. We then ended the evening at the Wapiti Campground, with a front row seat to a herd of elk passing through the site.

Day Four: This was one of my most anticipated days, because we'd booked the boat ride to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake. I'm not kidding when I say that this is truly one of the most beautiful places I've seen in my life. Spirit Island is only accessible by boat, and is 14km from the Home Bay docks at Maligne Lake - the choices are to paddle out, or to book one of the local cruises. It's also a highly spiritual site for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, so it's very important to stick to the designated walking routes, and not on the island itself.

After the Maligne Lake cruise, we headed back along the Maligne Lake Road (infamous for wild animal spottings, although we weren't so lucky) to Medicine Lake. This spot is another beautiful one, with spectacular mountain views in the background. We also visited Maligne Canyon, to see some beautiful waterfalls, and the beautiful Pyramid Lake, with its picturesque island. We ended the day again at the Wapiti Campground, still surrounded by elk.

Day Five: Since this was our last day in Jasper, we decided to hit the renowned Bear Paw Bakery for breakfast, which definitely lived up to the hype, and was a nice treat after having to empty our grey and brown waste RV tanks that morning. Ironically, the sunrise we were treated to at the campground was the best of the entire trip, as well, just in the least photogenic location of our collective sunrises.

We decided to take our time heading back along the Icefields Parkway, and to stop along the way. If we'd had another day, we would have done the Edith Cavell meadows hike in Jasper, so we'll obviously need to go back to complete that one!

Along the Icefields Parkway, we stopped at Athabasca Falls, Peyto Lake, and Bow Lake. All three are beautiful spots, fantastic photo ops, and great for a walk around. We would have liked to rent canoes at Bow Lake, but the rental season had just ended, so that's something to be aware of if you're planning to visit in October.

Because we'd had no trouble with any of our day-of campsite bookings up until now, we decided to go for a non-bookable spot along the Icefields Parkway, Silverhorn Creek Campground. The campsite is run on an honor system, so we put our information in the booking box, and picked a camp spot. We had no cell service at all at this spot, so that's something to keep in mind if you're planning a visit.

Day Six: We decided to head back to Peyto Lake for sunrise, so took off early from our campsite. Whilst it was pretty busy at the Peyto Lake lookout point the previous evening, we were practically alone for sunrise - just one or two other photographers. We unfortunately didn't quite get the bright colors we'd hoped for, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

We decided to head back into Banff to do another hike, and stopped at the famous Morant's Curve viewpoint on the way. We kept joking that we were train whisperers, because as soon as we arrived, a train came around the bend! This was one of the spots I really wanted to photograph, so I felt very lucky to see it. It was also around this area that we saw our first and only bear of the trip - a small black bear munching berries in the distance.

We'd heard good things about the Ink Pots hike from Johnstone Canyon, so decided to head out for the afternoon. It was a fairly easy 7 mile trail, and was a nice hike for a mildly drizzly afternoon. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the ink pots were absolutely beautiful!

After our hike, we headed into Banff for the evening, and to the Three Bears Brewery for dinner. The beer and food was so good, and we ordered WAY too much. I particularly recommend the mushroom pizza with truffle and lemon. We ended up staying back at our old faithful, Tunnel Mountain Village 2 again that evening.

Day Seven: On our last full day, we decided to head to Lake Minnewanka for sunrise, which was super pretty. You'd think we would be tired of beautiful lakes by this point, but this one was definitely worth the visit, as well. Then, we headed to Canmore for the morning to poke around the shops and sit in cute coffee shops. We loved walking through the town, and seeing the impressive Canmore Engine bridge. We also decided to make a quick trip to the Blackshale Creek Suspension Bridge in Kananaskis, which was a short hike but a very cool spot. This was very much a day of seeing the last few things in the area we wanted to see, which was a fair amount of driving but very fun.

We then finished up the day in Banff, finally getting some poutine! The only place we found that had vegetarian gravy was The Eddie Burger Bar + Grill, and the poutine was good and a huge portion. Finally, we ended up at Banff Ave Brewing Co. for a final Canadian beer to toast a great week in the Rockies!


Final Thoughts: All in all, this was a fantastic trip. We definitely could have made the most of a few more days - added in some more hikes and spent more time in Banff - but a week was certainly enough time to see the main sights if you don't mind a packed schedule. In my opinion, renting an RV is definitely the best way to go - it allowed us the freedom to be flexible with our plans, and to drive to the trailheads for sunrise hikes.

Have you been to the Canadian Rockies before? Is it on your bucket list? Make sure to follow all of my adventures at @elise.abroad on Instagram!

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