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Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies & Alaska

The Classic Rocky Mountains Road Trip with an optional Alaska Cruise

Plus optional 2-day journey on the Rocky Mountaineer Train

The Canadian Rockies is a very easy self drive, and first I show you a route that I've done myself which takes in the most photogenic scenery. But if you don't have a car then you can still get around by coach and trains, or take a guided tour - there is a big choice to suit all budgets and I'd be delighted to help you choose the one to suit.

This is a perfect itinerary for fly-drive holidays, and many guided tours follow a similar route or variations of it. First, we detail the classic tour, and afterwards how you can tweak or add to it depending on your interests and budget.

** This route can be done in reverse - i.e. Vancouver to Calgary **

Summary

3 nights in Banff
3 nights in Jasper
1 night in Kamloops - OPTIONAL Rocky Mountaineer Train
3 nights in Vancouver 
7 nights Alaska cruise - optional

 
Banff
 
3 nights

Your flight will be from London to Calgary, however unless you are visiting in early July when the Calgary Stampede is on, there is not really much to see in Calgary - the best is further on. Collect your hire car and start your journey!

Car Hire Info - As with all car hire locations there's a choice of car size, although most popular are either compact or intermediate size. Keeping the excess down is quite important and if possible we'll book this to be either zero or as low as possible for you. Sat Navs are optional and cost extra, however as this is a relatively easy and straightforward self drive, you don't necessarily require one. There are usually no one-way drop off fees between Calgary Airport and Vancouver Airport, but any other pickup or drop off locations may be subject to a charge.

Banff is a delightful tourist town in the Rockies about 90 minutes drive from Calgary airport and a great base for many activities. There are lots of lovely shops, boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

Banff, Canada
What to do:
  • From the town centre you can do the easy Bow River Walk which takes you to Bow Falls
  • Go horse riding in the Rockies along the Sundance Canyon Trail and finish with a sunset BBQ - the actual ride lasts an hour.
  • Ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain by gondola and dine in Canada's highest restaurant. The cable car also takes you to the hot springs where you can bathe in the 90F pool.
  • Day trip to Lake Louise where you can enjoy a spectacular walk starting from near the Fairmont Lake Louise hotel. Further on are both Emerald Lake and
  • Moraine Lake, both very beautiful, with good walks. To really appreciate them at their best, consider staying in this area for a couple of nights - either in one of the lodges by the lakes or more affordably in Lake Louise Village.
  • N.B. To visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, pre-booked shuttles are currently the best or only option. Please see https://www.banfflakelouise.com/explore-the-park/lake-louise-shuttle and https://www.banfflakelouise.com/blog/how-to-get-to-moraine-lake-in-banff-national-park
  • Experience a spectacular helicopter flight - trips last from 12 to 30 minutes, and take you up to 10,000 feet for stunning panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies. The most expensive 30 minute ride is £201 per person including hotel transfers.
  • Watch out for wildlife on a spectacular 2 hour Bow Valley River Float experience with fabulous views of the Rocky Mountains along the way. You'll float along the river and watch out for elk, beavers and ospreys. An alternative white water rafting trip is also available - you get 90 minutes rafting in Horseshoe Canyon which has 3 and 4 grade white water.
  • Drive a few minutes out of Banff to see the hoodoos - bizarre sandstone formations, from where you will also get great photographs of Bow Valley. Continue to Lake Minnewanka which is the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies, and look out for wildlife such as black bears, elk, moose, deer and big horn sheep.
Your Hotel:  

Brewster Mountain Lodge is our choice for a great value Banff hotel - you can walk to the restaurants in the evening, and it has an authentic western atmosphere with log furnishings and historic photographs on display.

Jasper
 
3 nights

The road to Jasper is called the Icefields Parkway and is considered one of the world's most spectacular drives. Don't be surprised if you stop off so many times to take pictures that it takes all day!

One example is Peyto Lake which is an unbelievable shade of blue-green.

Then further along, you will come to the glacier where you should not miss the Icefield tour on a specially designed ice-buggy which transports you on to the glacier itself.

Jasper, Canada
What to do:
  • Ride the ice explorer on the Athabasca Glacier on your way up to Jasper.
  • Enjoy a scenic cruise on Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake with a photo stop at Spirit Island.
  • Take the 3 hour Maligne Valley wildlife tour and look out for osprey, eagles, big horn sheep, mountain goats, moose, elk, deer and bears.
  • Visit the shimmering Patricia and Pyramid Lakes where you can take a stroll over a rustic footbridge to Pyramid Lake Island.
  • Go rafting on the Athabasca river - this is a gentle rafting experience rather than white water rafting (which is also available).
Your Hotel:  

The pick of the main hotels close to the town centre is probably Forest Park Hotel- it's a 15 minute walk to the centre, and has a cosy feel to it with lots of wooden features.

Rocky Mountaineer
 
1 night in a hotel

The Rocky Mountaineer is one of the world's most scenic rail journeys - in fact there are a number of different routes but the one that fits in best with the Canadian Rockies is the 'Jasper to Vancouver' route.

For a couple of days you can put your feet up and relax, passing incredible mountain scenery, and enjoying a complimentary drink. Big windows and a small outdoor platform make for great viewing, and you can enjoy meals in your seat.

Upgrade from Silver Leaf to Gold Leaf and the experience is even better! The main difference is that the coach is split level, with seating above and dining below, and the windows are full glass dome for the best panoramic views. Add to this gourmet a-la-carte meals and a large outdoor viewing platform, and you have a once in a lifetime experience.

Whichever class you book, you'll stay in a hotel in Kamloops on the first night.

Rocky Mountaineer
Your Hotel:  
Kamloops
 
1 night

The journey from Jasper to Vancouver takes two days, and if you don't take the train, you can drive. Either way, you'll spend the night half way at Kamloops, a medium sized and convenient tourist town with a number of hotels and restaurants, although a quieter option if you have a car is Clearwater. Both the drive and the train are wonderful journeys with over 600 miles of forests, river canyons, and snow capped mountains to see.

Train or Car? When I did this trip myself, I ended up driving, partly to save money, and partly due to the dates - the train does not operate every day, and we didn't have enough time to be flexible. A bonus of the car journey was stopping to see black bears by a lake, a well signposted tourist attraction. However the train journey is immensely relaxing and scenic, and gives a couple of days break from driving. Either way you'll be happy - almost all my customers who have done one or the other have been very pleased.

Your Hotel:  

You'll probably spend less time in your hotel here than anywhere else in the itinerary, so it seems to make sense to book something cheap and cheerful for this night. The Thompson Hotel fits the bill perfectly with its pool and jacuzzi, and casual pub style restaurant serving tasty food.

Vancouver
 
3 nights

Vancouver is actually quite a small city and therefore many places are reachable on foot from your hotel. It is worth staying 3-4 nights here - Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its harbour setting, mountain backdrop and delightful restaurants.

Vancouver, Canada
What to do:
  • Hire a bike and do the circular ride around Stanley Park - there is a wonderful 5.5 mile route around the seawall with a succession of great views.
  • Visit the aquarium, also in Stanley Park.
  • Go to Granville Island - this is a quaint area with unique shops, colourful cafes, live street entertainment and galleries.
  • Take a gondola ride up to Grouse Mountain - as well as spectacular views over Vancouver, this is also home to grizzly bear cubs. Pass the Capilano Suspension bridge which rises above the canyon and enjoy the beautiful rainforest scenery. Sunset tours also available.
  • Go shopping on Robson Street.
  • Visit the Chinatown district and wander round one of the beautiful Chinese gardens.
  • Have lunch in Gastown which is a delightful district of quaint shops and cafes. This is also where you will find the famous steam clock.
  • Whale watching - see orca or killer whales between April and October as they search for salmon, as well as porpoises, sea lions and bald eagles
  • Enjoy a seaplane ride to Victoria
  • Day trip to Whistler on the scenic Whistler Mountaineer railway
  • Harbour cruise and sunset cruises around Vancouver. There is also a tour called Indian Arm which is a lunch cruise past spectacular fjord landscapes.
Your Hotel:  

The Century Plaza is in a great location, about 20 minutes walk down to the waterfront and about 10 minutes walk to Robson Street. After a day's sightseeing, you can come back to a lovely Italian restaurant or pop into the spa. Coffee is also good here, and the coffee shops sells various salads and paninis for lunch.

Alaska Cruise
 
7 nights

There are several cruises that sail to Alaska and it can be quite a minefield picking the best one for you. But here are a few general notes:

  • Most cruises are 7 nights duration, but some are longer - 8, 10 or 11 nights. These typically are with the luxury cruise lines.
  • Holland America are one of the premier cruise companies with a premium 7 night round trip cruise at a fair price - another good cruise is the Celebrity Cruise round trip, while the Viking Cruise is a longer trip of 10 nights.
  • The choice is either one way (e.g. Vancouver to Seward) or a round trip (Vancouver to Vancouver). If you do the one way, you will get more time in each place to see things, and be able to take part in some excellent excursions. On the other hand, the round trip saves the cost of a flight back!
  • Book an ocean view stateroom with balcony. It makes a lot of difference in Alaska because unlike an ocean voyage there is much more to see near shore, and if its cold, you may want to watch the scenery from the warmth of your room.
  • You may have read about the inside passage and how spectacular it is. Almost all cruises will take you there. Similarly, Glacier Bay and the Hubbard Glacier are spectacular sights. Each cruise can do one or the other, but not both. It is hard to say if one is a better experience than the other.
  • If you stay on land in Alaska, the main highlight is Denali National Park. Mount Denali is the highest peak in North America, but the wildlife is the main attraction including moose and grizzly bears.
  • The weather will be mixed so pack for all seasons!
  • The season runs from May (or late April) to September, and high season is considered to be June, July And August when the weather is better.

If you're ending your cruise in Alaska on a one-way sailing, then we would be delighted to put together a little post cruise itinerary for you. Alternatively some cruise lines run their own post-cruise tours which takes care of all the travel and may include one or two excursions. Rail service to Denali is included as are all the transfers.

Alaska
Vancouver Island
 
2-5 nights

The highlights of Vancouver Island are the Butchart Gardens, a short drive outside Victoria, and the city of Victoria itself.

In addition, Tofino is a few hours drive to the north of Victoria, and the reason to come here is for the wildlife. There is fantastic black bear spotting as well as whale watching, however early booking is essential as accommodation is scarce even in low season.

There's a couple of ways to get her - one is with your car on the ferry, but if you won't have a car then an exciting way to arrive is by floatplane - not only are the views magnificent but it takes you right from Vancouver Harbour to Victoria Harbour.

Victoria, Canada
Lake Louise or Moraine Lake
 
2 nights

While you can easily get to Lake Louise and the nearby Moraine and Emerald Lakes from Banff in around an hour, to get the best out of them, consider staying for a couple of nights. There are a few affordable hotels in Lake Louise Village, or you can splash out with a couple of nights in the Fairmont Lake Louise which is situated right on the shores of Lake Louise.

Moraine Lake Lodge (https://morainelake.com/) is right on the shores of arguably the most photogenic lake in the Canadian Rockies (see the photo in the Banff section above). Many of the rooms have a view of the lake, some with a private balcony, and others with a fireplace. As well as plenty of walking trails, you can take a canoe out onto the lake, or try horseback riding and fishing.

A stay here could be done after a few days in Banff, or you could choose to stay instead of Banff - it's just over an hour's drive between them.

Moraine Lake Lodge
Knight Inlet
 
3 nights

Knight Inlet is the best place in Canada to see grizzly bears. It is a once in a lifetime experience, and only reachable by a 30 minute floatplane from Campbell River on Vancouver Island. A typical itinerary is shown below.

 

Bear, Canada

Day 1: Make your way to Campbell River. You can fly from Vancouver, or if you are already on Vancouver Island, then it is a several hour drive from Victoria. There are a few hotels where you spend the night.

Day 2: Fly to the lodge at 9.30am, and arrive at 10am. You will then go and view the grizzly bears, either on small boats or in purpose built stands, depending on where the bears are at the time.

Day 3: Enjoy more bear viewing but also the other wildlife tours on offer. These will take you to see seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and sometimes whales, although you will see more whales in September than in other months. There is also a bald eagle viewing excursion included in the 3 night rate.

Day 4: Fly back to Campbell River at 10.30am, arriving at 11am. Then either fly back to Vancouver or collect your car and drive back south towards Victoria.

The best time to see the bears is in late May to early summer, and then even better in late summer to early autumn. You can still see bears in high summer as they will be present, but not in the same numbers as in early autumn. Please note the last date is mid October, and the lodge is closed for the last week in July.

Guide Prices

What's Included?
  • International Flights into Calgary and out of Vancouver (or vice versa)
  • Hotels
  • Car hire for all or part of your journey, or else shuttle transport
  • Optional - Train from Jasper to Vancouver
  • Optional - Transport by either ferry or float plane between Vancouver and Vancouver Island
  • Optional - Once in a lifetime bear watching packages

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What hotels do you use?
A. In the itinerary above we've listed good, affordable hotels in each location, however in practice we may offer an alternative due to lack of availability, or because a premium hotel might have a really special offer on. And of course you may decide to splash out on a luxury stay, even in not for every hotel on the trip. Please note that availability in high season can be limited, and there may be very little choice especially booking close to departure.

Q. Can I do the trip without a car?
A. Yes, we can book a transfer for you from Calgary Airport to Banff, and then a shuttle from Banff to Jasper. Take the Rocky Mountaineer train to Vancouver, and even the float plane to Victoria. So yes, all possible without a car!

Q. Which is the best way round to do the trip?
A. You can do this trip either way round. Sometimes, due to train or cruise schedules, one way round may work better than the other. Many people like to do the cruise last, but this is really personal preference.

Q. Do I need a visa for Canada?
A. You need an Electronic Travel Authorization to enter Canada - we'll send you the correct link if you're unsure.

Q. I see some Alaska cruises are 1 way - how does this affect things?
A. If your cruise ends in Anchorage (or Seward) then we'll arrange your flight home from there, although it won't be direct.

Q. Which airlines do you use?
A. Air Transat normally have the lowest cost flights but you may need to be flexible on dates. Air Canada are the premium carrier and can also be useful if you are stopping over, for example in Toronto.

Q. Where can I go whale watching?
A. The best place is from Victoria on Vancouver Island, but there are also boat trips from Vancouver.

Q. Where can I see bears?
A. If you're lucky, you may see black and grizzly bears from the road, especially around the Jasper area. For a once in a lifetime experience and if budget allows, you can see grizzly bears from Campbell River, and black bears from Tofino on Vancouver Island.

Escorted Tours

We offer a wide range of escorted tours to the Canadian Rockies, but there are many different price points reflecting sometimes significant differences between the different choices.

For a tour that includes everything, including time in Banff, Jasper, and Vancouver, plus the Rocky Mountaineer Train and an Alaska cruise, please follow the link below:

Escorted Tour:  Deluxe Alaskan Voyage and Rocky Mountaineer by Titan Travel

Next, which is right for you - an escorted group tour or independent tailor made trip, usually self drive?

Group Tours - pros

  • Can be a cheaper way of seeing Canada than even a self drive tour.
  • Everything is done and organised for you, so takes away all the stress of getting to places in time.
  • You'll tend to see more overall, although often there is free time included.
  • Chance to mix with others who have similar travel interests.
  • Some of the included experiences are a little tricky to arrange yourself.

Tailor made trips - pros

  • Can choose exactly where you visit and for how long
  • Hand picked accommodation in excellent locations.
  • Greater flexibility in how long you spend at any particular attraction.
  • You can enjoy local restaurants every night if you wish, and at a time that suits.
  • You can get around at a more relaxing pace.

There's been a recent trend of smaller group sizes in the last few years so one thing to consider is how many others will you be travelling with. It's a very different experience going with a group of 6 to a group of 48 for example. Typically, the adventure tour operators such as G Adventures, Explore, Exodus have smaller groups - often a maximum of 16.

While the bulk of the itinerary may be fairly fixed, it may be possible to book an extension either before or after your trip. For example if the tour doesn't offer a cruise afterwards and you'd like to see Alaska, we can often add one as long as the dates work.

For other inclusions, have a close look at how long you get in the Banff / Jasper area, as this is the most spectacular part of the Rockies. And if the Rocky Mountaineer Train is included, that's a huge bonus, but it does of course significantly increase the tour price.

We are official retail partners for the following touring companies...

  • Newmarket Holidays
  • Riviera Travel
  • Great Rail Journeys
  • APT Tours
  • Titan
  • Scenic Tours
  • Luxury Gold
  • Cox and Kings
  • G Adventures
  • Exodus
  • Explore
  • Intrepid
  • Travelsphere
  • Globus
  • Cosmos Tours
  • Insider Journeys

Please get in touch with your requirements and I'd be delighted to go through a few possible options with you.

More information

Call  01462 677111

Local to Letchworth, Baldock, Hitchin or Stevenage?

On selected holidays, we now offer face to face appointments so that we can have an initial discussion about your requirements. These can be in your own home, a local cafe, or another place that's convenient to you, and would typically last around 30 minutes.
Available in Letchworth Garden City, Baldock, Hitchin, Stevenage and surrounding towns and villages - just click on the link below or give us a call on 01462 677 111 to arrange a suitable time.