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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 **
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.
What to do?
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.
What to do?
The journey from Jasper to Vancouver takes two days, and you can either drive or take the famous Rocky Mountaineer train. 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.
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.
What to do?
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:
7 night round trip cruises from £950 per person
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.
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.
Silver Leaf from £1,090 per person Gold Leaf from £1,520 per person
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.
While you can easily get to Lake Louise from Banff in around an hour, to get the best out of it and the nearby Moraine and Emerald Lakes, 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.
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.
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.
3 day packages from £1,000 per person
4 day packages from £1,720 per person
5 day packages from £2,430 per person
The classic itinerary for a Canadian Rockies to Vancouver trip is Banff - Jasper - Vancouver, followed possibly by a 7 night round trip Alaska cruise. Some tours will also include the 2 day Rocky Mountaineer in the itinerary, while the cheaper options will do this journey by coach.
There are dozens of different options, all offering something slightly different. Here's a few of the things to think about...
• Quality and location of hotels
• Quality of the cruise ship
• VIP home pickup - is this important to you?
• The itinerary - how much time in the most spectacular parts of the Rockies around Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper?
• Is the train included as part of the package or coach?
We'll also help you with the flights, and any airport hotels and/or car parking if it makes things easier for you. Some tours have fixed flights so essentially you have to go only on the dates that are offered, but often we're able to take you out a couple of days earlier if you'd like to do you own thing before (or after) the tour.
Please note that these should be seen as a guideline only - please call us for up to date availability and an exact costing. Prices are 'per person' based on 2 adults sharing one room.
Prices vary depending on time of year, but as a rough guide we have:
June - from £1995 per person
August - from £2595 per person
September - from £1995 per person
In practice, your final cost will be different from this for any number of reasons, but it gives a good starting point.
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.
On Your Travels is an Accredited Body Member of The Global Travel Group Limited (ATOL 3973).
Some of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. This website will provide you with information on the protection that applies in the case of each holiday and travel service offered before you make your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.caa.co.uk