The drive from Vancouver to Banff is one of the most beautiful drives in North America, a continent full of epic road trips! Starting at the Pacific Ocean, you’ll cross multiple mountain ranges and arid wine country. You may see wildlife and there are lots of things to see and do along the way.
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What is there to see between Vancouver and Banff?
So much! This is an incredibly scenic drive that you could easily spend a week doing and not see everything. There are plenty of places to hike, five national parks and many provincial parks, lakes for swimming, paddling and fishing and plenty of charming towns with delicious food. Add in a visit to British Columbia’s wine country and you pretty much have it all.
A few highlights you don’t want to miss on the drive from Vancouver to Banff that are included in the itineraries below:
The Sea to Sky Highway
Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish
Whistler Peak 2 Peak Gondola
British Columbia wine country
Giant Cedars Trail in Mt Revelstoke National Park
Glacier National Park of Canada
Radium Hot Springs and Kootenay National Park (a worthwhile detour!)
How long does it take to drive from Vancouver to Banff?
You can make the drive from Vancouver to Banff in one long day but why would you when this spectacular drive is an incredible journey and trip all by itself?
There are multiple routes you can take but this article will focus on the shortest route from Vancouver to Banff, which takes you over the Sea to Sky Highway through Whistler to Kamloops and then over to Banff on the Trans Canada Highway. Going east from Vancouver to Abbotsford and then up to Kamloops is slightly longer but generally faster. I recommend going through Whistler because it’s even more scenic with even more things to do!
The route is 917 kilometers (568 miles). Expect at least 11 hours of driving time, not including stops.
This article includes recommended three and five day itineraries for your Vancouver to Banff road trip. The five day one includes a detour to Radium Hot Springs which is absolutely worth the additional 60 miles.
Is the road from Vancouver to Banff open all year?
Yes. You can drive from Vancouver to Banff anytime of year. This itinerary follows major highways that are cleared of snow in the winter.
Summer is the busiest time with lots of summer visitors enjoying the legendary views as well as pursuing lots of outdoor adventures like hiking, rafting and biking.
Winter is also quite busy as your journey takes you to many world famous ski resorts! There is also plenty of opportunity for cross country skiing along the way. If you are doing a winter trip, plan on driving time being much longer and be ready for winter driving conditions. Roads may be closed for a period of time during heavy snowstorms.
Fall is gorgeous in British Columbia with fall colors everywhere. Be aware that fall is a very crowded and popular time to visit Banff National Park, so be ready for summer level crowds.
Spring can be a wonderful time to visit. The weather is extra unpredictable in the spring and mountain areas are likely to still have deep snow (though probably not on the road).
Make sure to arrange your lodging along the way and especially in Banff well in advance no matter what time of year it is.
Vancouver to Banff Road Trip Itinerary – Three days
Day 1 – Vancouver to Whistler
Driving Distance: 120 kilometers (75 miles) – about two hours of driving time
Don’t let the short distance today fool you. There is so much to see today as you start your journey from Vancouver to Banff. Depart from Stanley Park over the Lions Gate Bridge and start your journey on the Sea to Sky Highway heading towards Squamish and Whistler.
Once over the bridge, you’ll be in North Vancouver and passing through the Greater Vancouver area for awhile. You’ll pass Horseshoe Bay and it’s ferry terminal and then you’ll be driving along the edge of incredibly beautiful Howe Sound. Howe Sound is a fjord that extends up to the town of Squamish.
Shortly before arriving in Squamish, make sure to stop at Shannon Falls. If it’s a clear day, go up the Sea to Sky Gondola for epic views of the mountains and water. There are plenty of hiking trails here in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park if you’d like to get out and stretch your legs.
Stop in Squamish for lunch (I love the Howe Sound Brewing) and then head up the steep mountain pass to Whistler. Make sure to stop at Brandywine Falls along the way!
When you arrive in Whistler, check in and have dinner in one of the many wonderful restaurants in Whistler. If there’s enough daylight and it’s a clear day, ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola (or you can save that for the morning if the weather looks better the next day).
Day 2 – Whistler to Revelstoke
Driving Distance: 510 kilometers (316 miles) – six hours and fifteen minutes of driving time
Today you’ll come down from the mountains onto the dry side of British Columbia. The weather here is hotter in summer and colder in winter and it is much drier than Whistler, Squamish and Vancouver. Plenty of agriculture and vineyards great you along the journey to Revelstoke. Make sure to stop and taste some British Columbia wine and soak up the sun in Kamloops or the area around it.
Caen Road Community Park (between Chase and Salmon Arm) has a great swimming beach if you want to get out of the car for a bit and soak up the sun.
Enjoy dinner and stay overnight in the town of Revelstoke.
Day 3 – Revelstoke to Banff
Driving Distance: 390 kilometers (240 miles) – 3 hours and 30 minutes of driving time
Heading out from Revelstoke, you’ll quickly enter Mt Revelstoke National Park. Stop here at the Giant Cedars Boardwalk to wander through a forest with ancient trees that have been there for hundreds of years.
Further on you’ll enter yet another national park, Glacier National Park of Canada (not to be confused with the American national park in Montana!). Stop here to take the short but steep hike (less than a mile but dropping 100 feet) down to lovely Bear Creek Falls.
Back on the road, continue on the Trans Canada Highway towards Yoho National Park and Banff National Park. Take the 45 minute detour in Field to the internet famous Emerald Lake. This gorgeous lake and it’s picturesque lodge and frequently photographed and all over the internet for good reason! Escape the crowd by walking on the trail around the edge of the lake.
Back on the road, you’ll soon come to even more famous Lake Louise. Lake Louise is extremely crowded and there is a shuttle from the main highway to avoid the traffic and parking mess. Sometimes even the shuttle gets very backed up. If this is the case at the time of your visit, I recommend skipping Lake Louise for now and returning very early in the morning on another day of your Banff trip.
Once you return to the road, you’ll be in Banff within an hour, wrapping up your Vancouver to Banff road trip!
Vancouver to Banff Road Trip Itinerary – Five days
Day 1 – Vancouver to Whistler
Driving Distance: 75 miles (about two hours of driving time)
Like the three day itinerary above, you’ll be starting with a short day to Whistler. It might sound short but it will take all day with all the amazing stops you’ll be making!
Day 2 – Whistler to Kamloops
Driving Distance: 300 kilometers (186 miles) – about four hours of driving time
Today you’re leaving Whistler and driving to Kamloops. Make sure to make time for wine tasting today in the Thompson Valley as well as exploring the shops and restaurants of Kamloops.
Day 3 – Kamloops to Golden
Driving Distance: 360 kilometers (225 miles) – just over four hours of driving time
Today you’ll leave the arid wine country and head back into the mountains, passing through two spectacular national parks, Mt Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park of Canada (different from the American one in Montana!). You’ll have plenty of time to explore in these national parks as well as spend some time at the beach on Shuswap Lake.
Heading out of Kamloops, if you want to get in some lake time with a great swimming beach, stop at Caen Road Community Park on the shores of Shuswap Lake, between the towns of Chase and Salmon Arm.
When you’ve had enough sun, head back on the road and get ready to visit the hidden gem of Mt Revelstoke National Park! Start on the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, a paved road that takes you from the lowlands in town up to an alpine meadow with amazing views. Trailers and long RVs are not permitted (or possible) on this road, but there’s a shuttle you can take and an area to drop your RV lower down.
Meadows in the Sky Parkway is just 16 miles, but takes you to what feels like the top of the world in the alpine meadows of Balsam Lake. From here you can do a variety of short or longer hikes to explore even bigger views, endless wildflower meadows in mid to late summer and a historic fire lookout.
Once you drive back down to town and continue on the Trans Canada Highway towards Golden and Banff, you’re find the deep forests of Mt Revelstoke National Park. Stop at the Giant Cedars Trail off the highway and stroll the boardwalk deep into a forest of 500 year old cedar trees.
Stop at the Roger’s Pass National Historic Site at Roger’s Pass. In addition to more stunning scenery, this site also commemorates the location where the Canadian Pacific Railway connected Canada from coast to coast by rail for the first time in 1885.
Find dinner and overnight in the delightful town of Golden.
Day 4 – Golden to Radium Hot Springs
Driving Distance: 103 kilometers (64 miles) – just over an hour of driving time
Since this is five day itinerary and you have a little more time, I highly encourage you to add a total of 60 stunning miles to your trip by going to Radium Hot Springs and Kootenay National Park. The town of Radium Hot Springs is just over an hour from Golden, with plenty of places to stay. Very near town is the actual Radium Hot Springs, operated by Parks Canada. This is the best Parks Canada hot springs in my opinion, I’ve never had to wait and it’s so much less crowded than Banff Hot Springs and Miette Hot Springs (in Jasper). It is also the location of one of my absolute favorite campgrounds in Canada (and you can walk to the hot springs from your campsite!).
When you arrive in Radium, you definitely need to go for a soak in the hot springs! I also recommend driving into Kootenay National Park on this day so that you can get to Lake Louise early the next morning. Kootenay is a small but beautiful park! Make sure to go to Marble Canyon which is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been as well as the views from the highway.
Day 5 – Radium Hot Springs to Banff (and Lake Louise)
Driving Distance: 188 kilometers (117 miles) – about two and a half hours of driving time (including Lake Louise)
Get up early and grab breakfast and coffee to go at the Big Horn Cafe and head north through Kootenay National Park towards Banff. When you join up with the Trans Canada Highway again, instead of going to the right (directly to Banff) go left towards Lake Louise. I highly recommend parking and taking the shuttle and getting there as early as possible. This will save you a ton of time! It should take you about an hour and a half to get to Lake Louise from Radium Hot Springs.
When you get to Lake Louise, you have a few options. Of course you want to spend some time checking out the view of the famous lake with it’s stunning mountain scenery. Canoes are available for rent if you’d like to get out on the water and there are several hiking trails starting from Lake Louise.
I also recommend checking out Morraine Lake, which is a bit further up the road and every bit, if not more, beautiful. You can take the shuttle between the lakes (check to see if reservations for the shuttles are required).
Once you get back to your car, it should take about 45 minutes of driving time to get to Banff and complete your Vancouver to Banff road trip!
If you aren’t tied of gorgeous waterfalls and mountain scenery yet, stop at Silverton Falls and Johnston Canyon Falls between Lake Louise and Banff.
Things to do if you have more time if you have more time
If you have more time, it’s easy to spend many days exploring the city of Vancouver or Banff and Jasper National Parks. Kootenay National Park and Radium Hot Springs are also great places to spend more time.
There are lots more hot springs to visit in Southeastern British Columbia, along with lots of fun outdoors oriented towns like Vernon, Nelson and Trail. You’ll find plenty of lakes for swimming or paddling as well as plenty of hikes and ski areas.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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