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Authored by Chan Komagan

About a year ago a message popped up on my Twitter feed. It said that all national parks in Canada will be free in 2017 to mark its 150th anniversary. Home to some of the most incredible scenery in the world, I immediately started planning my trip.

With the aim to avoid the peak tourist season, I planned to go in early June and spend 5 days across 4 major national parks –  Jasper, Yoho, Glacier and Banff. Late spring or early to mid autumn is the best time to visit if you’re not a fan of shoulder to shoulder crowds.

I rented a mid-size car from Edmonton for less than $80 a week. It was about a 4-hour drive to the entrance of Jasper National Park. Now, I’ve done a few amazing scenic drives in my lifetime, like the Pacific Coast Highway along the California coast, Hue to Hoi An in Vietnam, and Lisbon to Algarve in Portugal. But with exhilarating vistas of forest, craig, glacier, ice fields and wildlife, the drive from Jasper to Banff takes out the top spot on my list. It’s easily one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

The following is a rough 5-day itinerary. If you’re thinking of a self drive adventure through the Canadian rockies, I encourage you to follow this route.

How to Self Drive the Canadian Rockies: A 5 Day Itinerary From Jasper to Banff

You’ll need to order a Park permit pass (which is free of cost) in order to obtain access to the parks. As you can imagine Canadian National Park issued a record number of passes this year due to high demand. You can order your pass from the Canadian Parks Website.

Find the cheapest flights to Canada by downloading the free Skyscanner app. Click here.

Day 1 – 2: Jasper National Park

Lake Maligne. The first stop was Lake Maligne. By the time I arrived it was late in the day and the kayak rental was closed. But there was enough time for a 2 hour hike around the lake.

Athabasca Falls: The water that you see in the falls originates from the Mt. Athabasca Glacier. This was my first sighting of a Grizzly bear in the wild.

Columbia Ice Field: Hiked to see remnants of the once magnanimous Glacier that used to occupy the car park but has now it has receded far from this area. Ironic that I was here the same week when Trump announced pulling out of the Paris agreement. Very sad!

Bow Summit: You hike up almost 1000 meters to the top of the summit to see the most beautiful lake you will ever witness in your life – Peyto Lake. Bow lake is the longest lake that goes from Jasper to Banff.

Wilcox Pass: If you want to experience an amazing hiking opportunity go to the top of the Wilcox pass. It’s here that you can sit in the infamous red chair you see in most travel guides. As an added bonus you can witness many Mountain goats hanging around enjoying the sun.

Car rental Canadian rockies

 If you want to experience an amazing hiking opportunity go to the top of the Wilcox pass

You hike up almost 1000 meters to the top of the summit to see the most beautiful lake you will ever witness in your life – Peyto Lake.

From top: Car Rental / Wilcox Pass / Peyto Lake

Day 3 – Yoho National Park

Wapta Falls: Initially took the wrong road while looking for the trail head but ended up finding a beautiful vantage point from where one can see the Wapta Falls from far. I also bumped into a large black Grizzly bear.

Once I found the right trail head, the real hike to Wapta Falls took about 2 hours. But getting lost is the best way to experience the most interesting things!

Natural Bridge: If you want to witness history being made, make sure you visit the Natural bridge. The forceful water from the melting Glacier is slowly carving (what once used to be) a rock bridge into a canyon.

Lake Emerald: My favorite lakes in all of the National Parks for its serenity and vista. Managed to complete a loop around the lake in 3 hours.

Day 4 – 5: Banff National Park

Banff is the most touristy and most advertised national park in Canada, mainly due to the attraction of Lake Louise. It is undoubtedly beautiful, though in my opinion overrated, as it’s far too over crowded for my taste. Instead I recommend you visit:

Lake Morraine: This is underdeveloped, rocky and still covered in ice. But when you climb to the top of the hill you will enjoy a breathtaking view of the lake with the backdrop of surrounding high mountains.

Johnston Canyon: I hiked about 1.5 km and saw the fast flowing river carving a deep canyon. Also saw a grizzly bear here.

Sulphur Mountain: Avoid the easy Gondola ride instead take the steep hike to the top of the mountain. The climb is about 2 hours to the top and it was simply the best workout you will ever get. Once there you will go to several scenic spots. There is a cosmic ray telescope

Banff Minnewanka Lake: Another underrated lake but a must see if you go to Banff.

That said, if you do decide you want to take in Banff National Park, here are 100 ideas for things to do.

The most overrated and touristy of all the places. Beautiful view but over crowded for my taste.

Underdeveloped, rocky and still covered in ice.

Alaska Brown Bear

From top: Lake Louise / Lake Morraine / Grizzly bear

That Beautiful Blue

You will that notice most of the lakes throughout Canada’s National Parks are blue. This is due to the constant grinding of glacier with rocks. The rubble left behind (also called “Rock Flour”) in the water scatters the blue-green rays of light, giving the lake its special blue color.

There are of course many other hikes throughout each national park which I didn’t have time to include. The highway from Jasper to Banff has a ton of sightseeing/hiking opportunities, and the great thing about a self drive vacation is that you can experience them at your own pace, depending on your time and your fitness level.

If you’re into nature, wildlife, camping and hiking you must visit Canada’s National Parks this year. They’re free!

OUR FAVORITE CANADA TRAVEL GUIDES! CLICK TO LOOK INSIDE ↓

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Chan is an avid traveler and a tech enthusiast who has traveled to 5 continents and 40 countries in his lifetime. He quit his job last December to pursue his dream of traveling to the far corners of the world.

Based in New York, while traveling he does stock trading and blogging at Komagan.com. You can connect with Chan on Facebook and Twitter. You can read more of his guest posts on this blog on his author page.

    24 Comments

  1. Such an epic experience and I must enjoy the view of the mountain immensely that I would forget I have to drive 😀 thanks for the post and awesome pictures! @ knycx.journeying

    • Haha very good point – might want to plan for some extra time with all the likely stops along the way, and pull overs into the viewing lanes!

      Hope you have the chance to visit soon 🙂

  2. Love touring in Canada, haven’t made it to the Rockies yet. So many great places on the way.

    • Hope you have the chance to visit again and take in the Rockies on your next trip 🙂

  3. I have lived in Canada my whole life and never explored this area properly. I really need to get out there!

    • Yes I’ve met many Canadians during my trip and have never been to the Rockies or the Maritimes. But same goes for many people in other countries who have not had time to explore their own country.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  4. I am all about the combination of FREE (yay!!) and doing things in the off season (SO much less crowded!!)

    As a Canadian, I have to shamefully admit that I’ve never been West of Ontario but every time I see photos of Alberta it just tugs at my heartstrings – what a gorgeous, gorgeous area.

    • Hi Vanessa – It is the best kept secret of Canada (and New Foundland as well). Hope you make it there soon.

  5. Thanks for the car rental tip! $80 for a week seem like a good price. Would love to do a roadtrip between these parks soon. Thanks for off season tip too.

    • Hey Carla – Yea if you check carrentals.com in advance you can see some amazing rental prices. Best to pick up the car from Edmonton or Calgary. Some people drove all the way from Vancouver and I don’t recommend it as the flight is very cheap and fast.

  6. I have done the same road trip but didnt have time to do a hike at the time due to time but visited most of these places mentioned. Love the Rockies and would recommend them to anyone who loves nature and scenic landscapes. Fantastic post and I cant wait to get out there again next June.

    • Thanks Danik. I would have spent more time hiking if I didn’t have my remote job 🙂

  7. The Canadian Rockies are beautiful. But you didn’t mention Lake Louise, perhaps the most well-known lake in the Canadian Rockies. And the hike to the two tea houses.

    • Hey John – Thanks for reading. I did mention Lake Louse in the post on Day 4. Although I found it very touristy it is still worth a visit. Yes I hiked around the lake for half a day.

  8. The more I see about Jasper, the more I want to visit. These parks rival anything I have seen in the USA and it is amazing. (Then again, it’s the same mountain ranges so I shouldn’t be surprised but I am,) I would love to do this road trip some time soon.

    • Hope you have the chance to travel soon! I agree, I think Canada National Parks wipe the floor with the USA 😀 Though that said, it’s a difficult call because America has some stunning landscapes too. Nice thing being you can combine Canada and the US into one long road trip and see them all 😀

  9. Oh I wish, wish, wish I could transport myself (only for a day) to the very top of the Wilcox pass and be sat in that infamous red chair.

    And wowza, 80 bucks for a weeks car rental is amazing. For some reason I thought travelling in Canada wasnt easily achievable for those of us who dont have much of a budget.

    Your guide is very cool, inspires me to get my fit on and actually tick a few of these impressive hikes and walks off my list.

    • Hi Anna – Yes, the car rental is very cheap. I was surprised as well. The hike to the top of Wlcox pass is amazing. You hardly come across other people. Glad you enjoyed my article. Thanks for reading.

  10. Five days of exploring with these breathtaking landscapes must be such really wonderful experience! I love the lakes with snow capped mountains as a backdrop. It’s just so beautiful! All the photos are really stunning!

    • Hope you have the chance to plan a self drive through Canada soon 🙂

  11. It has been such a rare treat to have free access to the parks this year to celebrate Canada 150! I live an hour from Banff and have been taking advantage all year. So beautiful there!

    • Great to hear that wanderlust wayfarer!

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