Alpine meadows and wild flowers can be found throughout Western Canada. Photo courtesy of rosshellgirl on Flickr.
Planning a Canadian adventure for Western Canada is a daunting task due to the size of the country, but if you have two weeks (more is better of course), you can still see a lot of Western Canada. This Canadian adventure is a combination of cities and provincial and national parks since most visitors to Canada are interested in seeing both. This itinerary for Western Canada is loosely based on my recommendations for J.P.’s (my German fiance) family and German friends who are coming to to Canada for the first time and eager to see as much of Western Canada as possible. We are also going to the same places as indicated below for our honeymoon until we get to Vancouver Island when we will be veering off onto other destinations for diving and whale watching (but we were in Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet and Sooke last year for another Canadian adventure).
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For this Canadian adventure you will need a rental car as public transportation is not nearly as good in Canada as it is in other parts of the world. Although it is possible to cut out a lot of the driving by flying from Calgary to Vancouver, I would recommend driving to really experience Western Canada and some at some of the interesting points of interest along the way, not to mention the jagged peaks and forests that seem to go on forever.
Calgary, first stop on the Canadian adventure. Photo courtesy of Stephen Desroches on Flickr
Day 1: Arrive in Calgary and stay in Calgary for one day. I know that one day isn't very long, but I lived in Calgary for 10 years and while I think it's a nice place to live, from a tourist point of view, I think there are more interesting places to spend your time, which is likely quite limited. I would recommend spending a day in Calgary checking out some of the more popular attractions. My top picks would be: Fort Calgary, Heritage Park Historical Village, Canada Olympic Park or going for a walk up McHugh Bluff which has a nice view of the Bow River and downtown Calgary (ask the Tourist Information Office to point this out to you on a map). More information about these and other attractions can be found at Visit Calgary.
Next stop on the Canadian Adventure? Banff and Lake Louise (pictured above). Photo courtesy of simsbury119 on Flickr
Day2: Drive from Calgary to Banff National Park. Discover Banff/Lake Louise for days 2 through 5.
The drive from Calgary to Banff is 130km and takes around 1:30 hr. Three days is not even close to do Banff and Lake Louise justice, especially if you are a hiker. If you have more time you could easily tack on an extra week and also explore nearby Yoho National P ark in B.C. from Banff as well. I would recommend staying in Banff rather than Lake Louise as accommodations are usually cheaper in Banff and Lake Louise is just a short drive away. The hikes you will want to do will really depend on your fitness level, but even if you are only a casual walker, you will still find plenty of trails for your ability level and can soak away your aches and pains in the Banff Hot Springs. For trails check with the well informed staff at the Banff Tourism Office. Trail conditions are always changing or sometimes closed because of bear activity so it's a good idea to check with the tourist office right before you go. Parks Canada Banff/Lake Louise website is an excellent source of information on hikes in the area, bear activity and safety. If you're in Banff for the wildlife, be sure to check out Wild Adventures in Banff. I have traveled a lot, hiked a lot in Banff, live in Germany, but have still chosen to come back to Banff to get married - it's truly that spectacular!
No Canadian adventure of Western Canada is complete without a stop at the Columbia Icefields along the Columbia Icefield Parkway enroute to Jasper. Photo courtesy of LipBalm on Flickr.
Day 6: Drive from Banff to Jasper along the Columbia Icefields Parkway. The Columbia Icefields Parkway is frequently referred to as the most scenic highway in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This part of the journey is 290 km and will take just under 4 hours. The parkway is a leisurely journey as you take in the panoramic of peaks, many of which are over 3300m. Be on the lookout for bears, which sometimes can be seen by the road - another reason to drive slowly, as almost every year a bear is hit by a car on the parkway, but please don't get out to take pictures (it happens every year). You will also want to stop at the Columbia Icefields themselves, which are the largest icefields in the Rocky Mountains measuring 200 sq km! You can visit the information center (well marked) or take a tour of the icefields in a specially designed vehicle for driving over glaciers. I haven't done the tour yet as I normally stay away from really touristy things, but will be doing it this summer on my honeymoon and think it will be a tour with taking as you are able to see the icefields from a vantage point that you wouldn't see any other way.
Next stop on the Canadian advnture - Jasper National Park. Photo of Maligne Lake courtesy of briandeadly
Day 7 - 8: Explore Jasper National Park. Jasper is not as well known as Banff National Park, but perhaps because of that I always see a lot of wildlife in Jasper. The last time I was there I saw three wolves! For hikers, spend more time in Jasper if time allows as in two days you will only begin to scratch the surface. I could easily spend a couple of weeks hiking in Jasper. For more information on things to do in Jasper see Official Travel Site for Jasper National Park.
Wells Gray Provincial Park is not famous outside of Canada, but perhaps it should be. Check out Helmcken Falls. Photo courtesy of meironke on Flickr.
Day 9: Drive from Jasper to Wells Gray Provincial Park in British Columbia. Total driving distance is 317km, just under 4 hours. You could save 1/2 day and drive straight to Vancouver missing Wells Gray Provincial Park, which is not well known outside of Canada, but I think it's worth a stop, particularly for that reason. Northern British Columbia is sparsely populated and from my experience ,less people equals more wildlife. I must confess that I've never been to Wells Gray, but my brother worked there for a summer and loved all the waterfalls and wildlife that he saw daily. We're staying there for one night on our Canadian adventure honeymoon this summer and already I'm wishing we could spend more time there. If you get up early, you could arrive at Wells Gray in the early afternoon and get in a short hike in the afternoon, or better yet, stay for an extra day or two if you have time. For more info see: Wells Gray Provincial Park.
If you're really lucky you may just see a grizzly bear on your Canadian adventure. Photo courtesy of Princess-Lodges on Flickr.
Day 10: Drive from Wells Gray Provincial Park to Vancouver, then hop the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. Day 10 is largely a traveling day, but at least you will time to take in all the forests and peaks. The drive from Wells Gray to Vancouver is just under 480 km, taking ~ 5:30 hours. A ferry from Vancouver to Victoria is 1:35 minutes. Be sure to book early through BC Ferries, especially since you are taking a car.
There's no shortage of cultural or nature in Victoria and the surrounding area.
Days 11 & 12: Sightseeing in Victoria and surrounding area. Victoria is known as Canada's most English city and has the mildest climate of any city in Canada. There is no shortage of cultural events and sites, the famed Butchard Gardens, native history, wine tours, whale watching tours and the list goes on and on. See Tourism Victoria for more ideas, or visit the informative Tourist Information Office once you're in Victoria. If you have more time, there is so much more to explore on Vancouver Island, I love the area of Sooke, a short 40km drive from Victoria and the Gulf Island are also a popular choice. If you have longer, I would be remiss not to mention Tofino and Ucluelet. Tofino is 317km or a 5 hour drive from Victoria so you would need at least a few extra days, but for nature lovers these two small towns are surrounded by fabulous hiking trails, surfing and whale watching.
And the last stop on the Canadian adventure? Vancouver. Photo courtesy of KK+ on Flickr.
Day 12: Take the Ferry from Victoria to Vancouver and take in the Sights of Vancouver until Day 14. One of my favorite things to do in Vancouver is to explore the city by walking. There are so many funky districts, each with it's own flavor and feel. Among my favorite things to do in Vancouver are going for walk by the Sea Wall, cycling in Stanley Park and taking one of the many water taxis, but there's so much more to do in Vancouver. See Tourism Vancouver for more info.
And there you have it, a two week Canadian adventure! Have I left out lots of other interesting places? Yes,definitely, Canada is a big place and there's so many wonderful places to discover. You'll just have to make a second trip to Hike to Stanley Glacier, or to check out the vineyards of Kelowna or Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, or Waterton National Park, or... What are your "can't miss" destinations in Western Canada?