Canada is a country that boasts some of the world’s most stunning natural landscapes, with dense forests, tundra, and prairie landscapes, and the towering Rocky Mountains covering over half of its 417 million hectares of land. For those looking to explore this breathtaking scenery, the city of Calgary is the perfect starting point for a road trip adventure.
But before you set out on your road trip, I recommend taking the time to explore Calgary’s bustling metropolis, which is brimming with history, impressive viewpoints, and a diverse cultural scene. From the city, you can embark on one of the four recommended road trips that will take you into the untouched wilderness of Canada. The duration of these trips is entirely up to you, but make sure to allocate enough time for photo stops, as there are impressive landscapes around every corner.
The first road trip takes you to Banff National Park, which is widely considered the jewel of the Canadian Rockies. The stunningly beautiful park boasts turquoise lakes, towering mountains, and breathtaking glaciers, making it a must-see destination for any nature lover.
The second road trip takes you to Jasper National Park, which is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Here, you can explore the stunning natural beauty of the park’s glaciers, lakes, and forests, and even take a dip in the Miette Hot Springs.
The third road trip takes you to the Icefields Parkway, which is one of the most scenic drives in the world. This road trip takes you through the heart of the Canadian Rockies, with towering mountains, sparkling lakes, and stunning glaciers at every turn.
Finally, the fourth road trip takes you to Waterton Lakes National Park, located in southern Alberta. This park is known for its stunning mountain vistas, crystal-clear lakes, and diverse wildlife, making it a perfect place to experience the natural beauty of Canada.
No matter which road trip you choose, you’re guaranteed to be blown away by the natural beauty of Canada. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
From Calgary to Vancouver: Crossing the Rocky Mountains Once
Calgary – Banff National Park – Lake Louise – Glacier National Park – Kamloops – Vancouver
Distance: 970 kilometers
Embarking on a road trip from Calgary to Vancouver, you’ll immediately be captivated by the majestic Rocky Mountains. The journey takes you through Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park. Across more than 6,600 square kilometers, you’ll encounter dense pine forests, picturesque mountain ranges, steep glaciers, and shimmering lakes.
One of the most famous and arguably the most beautiful lake in Canada is Lake Louise, known for its vivid emerald-green color. Equally impressive is the next national park on the route, Glacier National Park, characterized by glaciers, waterfalls, and rainforests. The route also includes the Rogers Pass, a spectacular mountain pass offering breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks.
Just before reaching Vancouver, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, you’ll pass through the city of Kamloops. Situated at the confluence of the South and North Thompson Rivers, Kamloops hosts the annual Kamloopa Powwow, dedicated to the customs and traditions of indigenous peoples.
Upon arriving in Vancouver, you’ll encounter a blend of modernity and cultural traditions. Among the top highlights to explore in the city center are Stanley Park, with its ancient cedar trees and panoramic views of the ocean and sandy beaches, as well as the Granville Island Public Market.
The Five National Parks of the Rocky Mountains
Calgary – Banff National Park – Jasper National Park – Icefields Parkway – Kootenay National Park – Yoho National Park – Waterton Lakes National Park – Calgary
Distance: 1,200 kilometers
It is truly remarkable that from Calgary, you can access a total of five national parks, all located within the breathtaking Rocky Mountains region. The journey spans approximately 1,200 kilometers, and along the way, you’ll encounter some of the most spectacular scenic routes in the world. One of these routes is the awe-inspiring 230-kilometer-long Icefields Parkway, which connects Jasper National Park to Banff National Park. This route is lined with towering mountains that soar over 3,000 meters high, and it traverses two of the highest drivable passes: Sunwapta Pass (2,030 m) and Bow Pass (2,067 m).
The natural beauty of the national parks themselves is equally awe-inspiring. Just outside of Calgary, you’ll find Banff and Yoho National Parks, which are characterized by their weathered rock walls, majestic waterfalls, and serene lakes. These parks are home to a vast array of wildlife, including elk, moose, black bears, and mountain goats.
The journey then takes you into the largest national park in the Rocky Mountains, Jasper National Park, which is renowned for its majestic peaks. The park is also home to the Columbia Icefield, an expansive icefield that covers 325 square kilometers and is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Canadian Rockies, including the Athabasca Glacier.
As you continue southward on your journey, you’ll encounter Kootenay National Park, which is known for its impressive canyons, mountain lakes, and waterfalls. Some of the highlights of this park include Marble Canyon, Numa Falls, Olive Lake, and the hot springs at Radium Hot Springs. Finally, you’ll arrive at the smallest national park in the Rockies and the southernmost, Waterton Lakes National Park. Situated in the southwestern corner of Alberta, where the Rocky Mountains meet the endless expanse of the prairie, this park is still considered a hidden gem. Its name is derived from its three lakes, with Upper Waterton Lake being the deepest at 157 meters and connecting Canada to the USA.
Overall, this journey through the Rocky Mountains is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers unparalleled natural beauty and breathtaking scenery.
TIP: In this article, you can read about the 11 most beautiful attractions along the Icefields Parkway.
Exploring Alberta with Cowboys and Dinosaurs
Calgary – Black Diamond – Bar-U-Ranch – Pincher Creek – Vulcan – Dinosaur Provincial Park – Drumheller – Calgary
Distance: 640 kilometers
Take a scenic road trip through Alberta’s Cowboy Trail, spanning 640 kilometers from Mayerthorpe to Pincher Creek. This historic route takes you through Alberta’s cattle country, nestled between the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian prairie. Along the way, you’ll witness cowboys tending to their herds on lush pastures and enjoy the quaint towns reminiscent of the 19th century, hosting summer rodeos.
This tour covers the southern portion of the Cowboy Trail, starting from Calgary and ending in Pincher Creek. Black Diamond is a highlight, once a coal mining site in the region and now offering a classic American 1950s diner experience. The Bar-U-Ranch is a must-visit to immerse yourself in authenticity and witness cowboys and cowgirls at work, demonstrating traditional techniques for plowing, saddle-making, and horse care.
Pincher Creek is the southernmost point of the road trip, surrounded by grain fields and windmills set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Lundbreck Falls and the Frank Slide Interpretive Center, showcasing Canada’s largest landslide in history, are other attractions to explore.
Vulcan, situated in the heart of the prairie, is adorned with Star Trek graffiti and figures from the saga, including a replica of the USS Enterprise. Dinosaur Provincial Park is another otherworldly destination, renowned as one of the world’s richest sources of dinosaur fossils.
Drumheller is the final stop on the trip, featuring the Historical Atlas Coal Mine and Hoodoos, towering stone formations shaped by wind erosion. These make for fantastic photo opportunities before heading back to Calgary.
Into the Prairie: Exploring Eastern Canada
Calgary – Saskatoon – Prince Albert National Park – Riding Mountain National Park – Winnipeg – Big Muddy – Grasslands National Park – Lundbreck Falls – Calgary
Distance: 3,300 kilometers
On this approximately 3,300-kilometer road trip, leave the Rocky Mountains behind and venture into the vast plains of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. About 200 kilometers north of Saskatoon, you’ll reach Prince Albert National Park, known for its forests, lakes, and prairies. It’s renowned for its 1,500 flowing and standing bodies of water and the large herd of prairie bison that has been reintroduced here. Wolves roam the area, and North America’s only white pelican colony has its breeding grounds here. Further east lies the next nature reserve, Riding Mountain National Park, characterized by its forests and lakes in stark contrast to the surrounding prairie. It is the territory of the Ojibwe, an indigenous people who have been residing here for 6,000 years. You can also observe black bears, moose, coyotes, and lynx from a safe distance, and in winter, the northern lights illuminate the sky.
From nature, your journey continues to the only major city on the route, Winnipeg. The capital of Manitoba is located at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. Particularly noteworthy is the Exchange District with its historic warehouses, where furs were once prepared for transport. Today, it houses studios, fashion boutiques, cool restaurants, and bars. The most impressive architectural wonder in the city is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, designed by American architect Antoine Predock, inspired by nature, the northern lights, and Canada’s First Nations indigenous peoples.
As you head back toward Calgary, you’ll pass through the Big Muddy Badlands. From your car, you’ll witness the fascinating landscape with its cone-shaped, reddish-brown hills and steep cliffs. The most famous rock formation in the valley is Castle Butte. This 70-meter-high sandstone and pressed clay rock formation rises dramatically from the flat prairie landscape and is reminiscent of Australia’s Ayers Rock.
Just before Calgary, you’ll reach the final national park on the route, Grasslands National Park. It epitomizes the vast prairie, flat, covered in grass, and stretching as far as the eye can see. Scientists frequently discover dinosaur bones in its soil, and you’ll also see many live animals, especially buffalo and antelope. Not far from here, right by the roadside, you can make a stop at Lundbreck Falls. The Crowsnest River’s waterfalls cascade up to twelve meters deep, providing an impressive natural spectacle at the end of your journey.
TIP: If you want to learn more about Calgary, I recommend reading this article.
In conclusion, Calgary is the perfect starting point for some of the most breathtaking road trips in Canada. From the stunning beauty of Banff and Jasper National Parks to the rugged wilderness of the Kootenay Rockies, these four road trips offer something for everyone. So, pack your bags, hit the open road, and let the natural beauty of Western Canada take your breath away. Happy travels!