Travel BC on this 21-day epic BC road trip to Banff, Alberta. It is an adventure of a lifetime.
Journey from Vancouver to explore Vancouver Island, Whistler, Jasper, Banff and the Okanagan Wine Country.
This BC Travel Guide will help get you started on the ultimate BC/Alberta Road Trip. You will never have enough time to see or do everything in every area, but our suggested stops will give you the best highlights of what not to miss.
Epic BC road trip to Banff
This route takes you by ferry through the spectacular Gulf Islands offering sweeping Pacific Ocean views to the charming Victorian-era, British influenced city of Victoria.
Travel up Vancouver Island to the wild west coast surf of Pacific Rim National Park. Experience towering old growth rainforests as you walk among giant Douglas fir trees that have stood for at least 800 years at Cathedral Grove. Take a few short hikes to marvel at numerous tumbling waterfalls and walk out on kilometres of sandy beaches.
Follow the Sea-to-Sky highway up to Whistler for dramatic sweeping views of fjords, mountains and dormant volcanoes along the Pacific Rim of Fire. Access breathtaking waterfalls on route.
At Whistler, see it all from the Top of the World Cloudraker Skybridge or take in the panoramic vista for the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the world’s highest lift of its kind. If you are daring enough, ride the longest zipline in Canada and the USA.
Drive over the Pacific Coast Mountain range and descend into an arid desert-like terrain to Kamloops. Head up to Clearwater, the gateway to Wells Gray Provincial Park, home to one of the highest waterfalls in BC.
Soon the Canadian Rockies will be in sight, and the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, majestic Mount Robson. You are now entering the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The drive through the breathtaking Canadian Rockies from Jasper to Banff along the Columbian Icefields Parkways is one of the most scenic drives in the world. The natural beauty of the area will leave you in awe. Cross the Continental Divide back into British Columbia then travel to Okanagan Wine Country. If you love wine, you will be in your glory here. There are more than 180 wineries in the Okanagan Valley, with stunning lake views, rolling mountains, sandy beaches, orchards and vineyards.
Leave the semi-arid desert behind and the highway winds its way through the Cascade Mountains into the coastal rainforest. Travel into the fertile Fraser Valley to explore Vancouver, a culturally diverse city surrounded by mountains and water. It is the largest city in BC and the third largest city in Canada.
The entire trip will be about 38 hours driving time, without stops and covers more than 2,822 kms. If you are renting a vehicle make sure you have factored in enough mileage allowance. Adjust the routing to meet your needs and time available.
There is a lot more information in this BC Travel Guide than you would typically find in one article, so we have broken this guide down at the halfway mark into two sections to make it more manageable for the reader. Don’t miss reading Part 2 of this epic BC Travel Guide to continue your adventure.
We hope this BC travel guide will save you time and be a valuable resource for your incredible journey. Please leave any comments, questions or suggestions below.
Looking for more incredible adventures of a lifetime in BC? Be sure to check out these articles to help start planning your trip:
– Road Trip – Top things to do driving from Victoria to Pacific Rim National Park
– Discover some of the best prehistoric rock carvings found in BC
– Explore the Sea-to-Sky Highway, one of the most scenic drives in North America
– BC Travel Guide: 21-day road trip Part 2 – Vancouver, Jasper, Banff and Okanagan wine country
– Top 10 things to see and do in Victoria, BC – a city guide
Road conditions and construction delays
Make sure to check for the latest road conditions and any construction delays or incidents along your planned route on the DriveBC website.
Always be cautious while driving and watch for wildlife on the road, especially in the many National Parks on this route. Many roads are winding and mountainous.
Some areas along this route have limited services. Keep your eye on the fuel gauge. At each fill up, check your tires and make sure your vehicle is in top operating condition.
- Make sure you have all-weather, waterproof clothing and dress in layers. Weather conditions can change quickly and you should be prepared for rain and wind. The weather can also be very sunny and warm. Consider bringing sunscreen, shorts, bathing suit and a quick-dry towel.
- Wear good sturdy walking or hiking shoes to navigate uneven trails, rocky or sandy beaches, brick, cobblestone or wooden walkways.
- A good insect repellent is advisable just in case you run into any areas with mosquitoes.
- Remember to order your Parks Canada Discover Pass as you will be visiting many Canadian National Parks.
This is bear country. Be prepared if you go out exploring in the woods of B.C. Chances are you won’t run into one, but you should know what to do. If a bear has recently been spotted on the trail, there is usually a sign at the trailhead. This picture is taken at the trailhead to the popular Whistler Train Wreck trail. Download a handy guide to tell you how to identify a black bear or a grizzly bear. Be sure to check out the Wild Safe BC website.
- Use bear bells to jingle and make some noise as you journey along the trail.
- Carry bear spray and know how to use it. (If you are flying, you can not transport bear spray)
- Stay calm. Do not run or climb a tree.
- Do not turn your back to the bear. Back away slowly and do not make eye contact.
- If you are with a group, act as a group. Pick up and carry small children.
- Stay at least 7 metres away.
- Do not feed the bear.
- Make sure the bear has a clear escape route.
- If you are camping, never store food in your tent, sleep with a flashlight and make sure your bear spray is within reach.
- Research other safety tips here, especially if you are traveling in an area known for grizzly bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, deer, moose and elk.
Day 1 – Arrive in Vancouver – Stay overnight
If you are picking up a camper/RV or car rental, stay close to the pick up location or near the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. If your flight arrives early in the day, it may be possible to head over to Victoria the same day giving you an extra day to enjoy anywhere else along your route. Search for accommodations.
Day 2 & 3 – Travel to Vancouver Island by ferry – Stay two nights in Victoria
Take a scenic ferry ride from Tsawwassen through the Gulf Islands to Swartz Bay, then drive into Victoria. Make a ferry reservation to ensure you sail on the ferry of your choice. Remember to arrive at the terminal at least one hour before the scheduled departure. Food is available for purchase onboard. Book an early morning ferry reservation.
Victoria is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada about 100 kms or 60 miles from Vancouver. The ferry to Swartz Bay terminal takes 1 hour and 35 minutes. The drive to Victoria city centre is about 30 mins (31.7 kms).
Where to stay in Victoria
Hotels – Our favourite spot has always been to stay at the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel when we can find a great special rate. It is situated right on Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour. Many attractions and restaurants are within walking distance. The Oak Bay Beach Hotel is a luxury boutique resort located a short distance from the centre of Victoria. The hotel offers wonderful ocean views and outdoor mineral pools.
Visit the Tourism Victoria website for more options, BC Ferries Vacations for special promotions including ferry transportation and hotel packages, https://www.bcferriesvacations.com or the Black Ball Ferry packages if you are traveling from Port Angeles, Washington. Here is a complete list of accommodations in the area.
Motorhome Park -The closest RV Park is the Salish Seaside RV Haven. It is located near Victoria’s Inner Harbour. During the summer, the Harbour Ferries stop at the park.
Camping – There are many campsite locations outside of Victoria.
Day 4 & 5 – Scenic drive north from Victoria to Pacific Rim National Park – 4 hrs, 51 mins (320 kms) without stops. Stay two nights in the Tofino/Pacific Rim Park area.
Get an early start for your full day adventure to the wild west coast of Pacific Rim National Park. The drive from Victoria to Pacific Rim National Park is 4 hrs, 51 mins (320 km) without stops.
Suggested stops on the way to Pacific Rim National Park
- Take in the views from the Malahat Summit.
- See the historic murals at Chemainus, known as the City of Murals.
- Eat a legendary Nanaimo bar, a dessert originating from the city of Nanaimo.
- Hike to the waterfalls at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. **
- Check out the goats on the roof at the Coombs Market. **
- Do another short hike to the waterfalls at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park.
- Take a swim or have a picnic at Cameron Lake Provincial Park.
- Experience towering old growth rainforests at Cathedral Grove, MacMillan Provincial Park, as you walk among giant Douglas fir trees that have stood for at least 800 years. **
- IMPORTANT – Make sure the gas tank is full and check the tires and brakes in Port Alberni. There are no services for the next 126 kms along Highway 4. The road is undergoing highway upgrades at Kennedy Lake. The construction should be finished by Summer 2020. Check road conditions and highway construction here.
- Discover ancient rock carvings at Sproat Lake Provincial Park. The prehistoric petroglyphs are some of the best found in British Columbia. Find out more.
** Please note these stops can be made on your return to Parksville and Rathtrevor Beach and will be on the right side of the road for easy access.
Don’t Miss – Check out our guide to the best spots to stop driving from Victoria to Pacific Rim National Reserve
Where to stay in Pacific Rim National Park
Hotels – Our favourite spot to stay is Ocean Village Resort. It is a perfect beach location with a wide sandy beach and lots of tidal pools to investigate when the tide is out. The rustic beehive accommodations are comfortable. There is also an indoor pool to enjoy. Here are a few other popular places to stay in this stunning beach area: Pacific Sands Resort, Middle Beach Lodge, or Wickannish Inn on Chesterman Beach 28 kms north of the Highway 4 junction to Tofino. Search below for more accommodation ideas or check the official British Columbia travel site here.
Motorhome Park – Crystal Cove Beach Resort offers an RV Park, Glamping and Cabins. They are located next to Ocean Village Resort listed above.
Camping – The Long Beach Unit of Green Point Campground in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has 94 camp spots. Parks Canada also offers a oTENTik. These A-frame cabins blend the camping experience. Each cabin sleeps 6. These sites are located between Ucluelet and Tofino, 12 kms north of the Highway 4 junction.
Day 6 – Travel back to the Qualicum Beach or Parksville beach resort area – 2 hrs, 41 mins (117 kms) without stops. Stay one night in Rathtrevor.
Retrace your route back to Port Alberni and take in any points of interest you may have missed on the way over to Pacific Rim National Park. Head over to Qualicum Beach and drive down scenic Highway 19A, the beach route or drive straight to Parksville and to Rathtrevor Beach to enjoy the day. Be sure to check the tide schedule.
Suggested stops on the way back to Parksville
- Experience towering old growth rainforests as you walk amongst giant Douglas fir trees that have stood for at least 800 years at Cathedral Grove, MacMillan Provincial Park.
- Hike to the waterfalls at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park.
- Check out the goats on the roof at the Coombs Market and enjoy an ice cream cone, or pick up a Billy G’s doughnut if you are there before they sell out.
- Try a flight of local hand-crafted beer at Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company.
- Have a beach fire and roast marshmallows, take a walk on the beach, watch the sunset or sunrise on the beach, or play a round of mini-golf.
Where to stay in Qualicum Beach, Parksville and Rathtrevor Beach
Book early to avoid disappointment. We book our stay in Qualicum Beach 10 months in advance.
Hotels – Our favourite spot to stay is Rathtrevor Beach. Here are a few of our favourites close to the wonderful sandy beach: Madrona Resort, Beach Acres Resort, Tigh-Na-Mara Resort and Spa Search below for more accommodation ideas or check the the official British Columbia travel site here.
Motorhome Park and Camping – Rathtrevor Provincial Park Camp Site is a fantastic location.
Day 7 & 8 Take a ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay – drive to Whistler – 1 hr, 52 mins (125 kms) without stops or ferry crossing time. Stay two nights. Book an early morning ferry reservation.
Take an early morning ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay. The ferry will take about 1 hour and 35 minutes. If you have a reservation, arrive at least one hour before the sailing time. After leaving the ferry terminal in Horseshoe Bay, watch the highway signs for the Whistler exit.
Follow the Sea-to-Sky highway up to Whistler, one of the most scenic drives in North America for dramatic sweeping views of fjords, mountains and dormant volcanoes along the Pacific Rim of Fire.
Access more breathtaking waterfalls on route. At Whistler, see it all from the Top of the World Cloudraker Skybridge or take in the panoramic vista from the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the world’s highest lift of its kind. If you are daring enough, ride the longest zipline in Canada and the USA.
Suggested stops along the Sea-to-Sky Highway
- Make a quick stop at Porteau Cove to see North America’s most southern fjord.
- Learn about Britannia Beach Mine, once an important source of copper ore. It is a significant Canadian National Historic Site and a BC Historic Site. Hop on the mine train to learn what it was like to be a miner in 1914. This popular underground tour is a once-in-a-lifetime Canadian Signature Experience.
- Take a short hike to see Shannon Falls, the third tallest waterfall in BC
- Board the Sea to Sky Gondola for breathtaking views of the Howe Sound and surrounding mountains. Walk over the 150-metre Sky Pilot Suspension bridge.
- Marvel at the towering Stawamus Chief Mountain, one the largest granite monoliths in the world and a world class rock climbing destination.
- If you are a train buff, you will enjoy the West Coast Railway Heritage Park, Canada’s second largest vintage collection of locomotives.
- View spectacular Brandywine Falls as it tumbles over volcanic rock. The entire park was formed by volcanoes.
Where to stay in Whistler
Hotels – There are so many wonderful accommodations at Whistler/Blackcomb. We have our favourites and have stayed in these hotels several times: The Westin Resort and Spa, the Mountainside Lodge and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. They all provide easy access to the gondola, restaurants and other activities. We always look for special promotions when we book. Last time we went to the Mountainside Lodge, parking was only $20 a night and there was no resort fee, which made it good value for us. . Search for accommodation in this area, or check the official Whistler Destination site here. If you use Booking.Com with the link provided, any commissions earned will help keep this website running.
Motorhome Park and Camping – The closest RV site to Whistler is the Riverside Resort and Campground. It offers a variety of accommodations from RV camping, camping, Yurt and cabin rentals.
Day 8 – Whistler Resort Area
Suggested things to do in Whistler/Blackcomb area. These are only a few of the many activities you can do.
- Ride the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola for stunning mountain views and the 360 degree experience on the world’s highest lift of its kind .
- Walk out on the Top of the World Cloudraker Skybridge, a 130-metre suspension bridge.
- Ride the longest zipline in Canada and the USA.
- Canoe down the River of Golden Dreams from Alta Lake to Green Lake.
- Ski in the winter.
- Mountain bike in the spring, summer and fall.
- Try a Winter Olympic sport experience. Take a bobsleigh or skeleton ride at the Whistler Sliding Centre, the fastest sliding track in the world!
- Axe throwing.
- Take the leap with bungee jumping.
- Bear viewing.
- Escape on a magical adventure filled with stardust and fairy tales. Vallea Lumina is a multimedia walk in the forest on Cougar Mountain.
- Take hikes in the mountains or follow the numerous Whistler Village walks. See trail maps here.
- Whitewater Rafting.
Day 9 – Drive over the mountains from Pemberton to Lillooet, on to Kamloops to overnight in Clearwater, 5 hrs, 34 mins (425 kms) via BC-99 N without stops.
Drive over the Pacific Coastal mountain range on the Pemberton-Lillooet Highway. The scenery is stunning, although the road is winding with steep grades. Take your time. After crossing over the mountains, you descend into an arid desert-like terrain. Once you reach Kamloops, head north on Highway 5 to Clearwater, the gateway to Wells Gray Provincial Park. Settle in for the night so you are well rested to explore some of Wells Gray waterfalls tomorrow. Be sure to stop at the Wells Gray Visitors Centre to pick up a map.
Where to stay in Clearwater
Motorhome Park and Camping – Clearwater Lodge and RV Park
Where to eat and drink in Clearwater – Hop “N” Hog Tap & Smokehouse – If you are a meat lover you must try this place. Come hungry. It is BC’s highest rated smoke house. It has a great atmosphere and serves locally source craft beer.
Day 10 – Clearwater to Mount Robson – 2hrs and 20 mins (228 kms)- Stay one night
Today you will head off to Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. But before you do, we suggest taking a trip into Wells Gray Provincial Park to see one of the highest waterfalls in BC. Explore the pristine wilderness of the alpine old growth rainforest, mountains, lakes, valleys, rivers and waterfalls created from volcanoes and retreating glaciers. Remember to stop at the Mount Robson Park Visitor Centre to add any other adventures you have time for that day. Mount Robson is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Suggested stops along the way
- There are about 41 named waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Drive into the park to see a few of them within a short distance off Clearwater Valley Road.
- Helmcken Falls is Canada’s fourth largest waterfall and one of the highest in BC. The rushing waters tumble 141 metres into the canyon below. These falls are not far from the road.
- Spahats Falls flows through layers of volcanic rock and plunges 80 metres into the deep canyon. Stunning views of the falls are accessed by a short walk to the viewing platform.
- Moul Falls is further off the road and the hike will be 6 kms roundtrip. Check at the visitors centre to make sure about the changing conditions on the trail and regarding access behind the waterfall. Last year you were able to go behind the falls as you can see from the the photo below.
- Dawson Waterfall is 90-metres-wide flowing over ancient lava beds. The falls are easily accessible after following a trail for about 10 minutes. The trail is just off Clearwater Valley Road and is 3 km roundtrip.
- Take a short break at the Three Ranges Brewing Company. It is a small town craft brewery in Valemount open from 3-8 p.m. It is on the Northern BC Ale Trail.
Where to stay near Mount Robson
Motorhome Park and Camping – Overnight Robson Shadows Campground has views of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, or stay at the Mount Robson Provincial Park campground. It is close to the Visitors Centre, store, and restaurant.
Be sure to read part 2 of this BC Travel Guide to continue your adventure of a lifetime into the Canadian Rocky Mountains, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jasper, Banff, the Okanagan Wine Country and Vancouver.
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