When people think of the term “holiday”, they usually picture a white sandy beach, hot weather and copious amount of tequila.
If you are getting tired of skin-cancer and hangovers, I have a new holiday idea for you: CANADA!
I might be biased because I grew up in a small town just east of the rocky mountains in Canada, but I assure you, this local gal will guide you on the best trip of your life.
Let’s start with getting you there: you will need to fly into Calgary, Alberta.
I recommend flying into Calgary during the “Shoulder” season (May, Sept, Oct) as prices and crowds drop off. The temperatures are mild, but you will need to pack jeans, sweaters and proper shoes as it can still be a little brisk.
I am the trip-master, and always find sweet deals. I use Google Flights which allows me to play with dates and airports to get the best possible price. It’s a good idea to test this out and find the dates and prices that work best for you.
If you are flying in from Dallas, the price is only $105. LA, $118. New York, $145! (These flights are for Sept. 6, 2017.)
Next, you will rent a car. I have used Enterprise while traveling in Canada and they were fantastic. Expect to pay about $30 a day for a car rental (you can find great deals online, especially if you are renting for over a week).
Now that we have your flights and car booked, let’s take a look at your sleeping options:
- My number one recommendation is Airbnb. You can find some stellar deals and stay with a local (click here for $34 towards your Canadian vacation).
- If you have a type-A personality and don’t like the idea of a BNB (and need to have your schedule laid out), I recommend you check out Expedia and pre-book your hotels (they have good insurance if something happens).
- If you are an adventurous spirit, you can find better deals and avoid being stuck to a schedule if you wait and pull into a motel/hostel when you get tired.
- Or if you are a hiker, you can bring your tent and sleep in there (I also highly recommend this)!
Day 1 – km 0
You will start this trip in Calgary, Alberta. I would suggest puttering around Calgary for at least one day, as it’s a big city with lots to do:
- Bow River (beautiful pathways and parks along the river and downtown).
- Heritage Park or Fort Calgary (if you are into history or have kids with you).
- Olympic Park (you will see this from afar as you leave Calgary).
- Calgary Stampede (this event is July 7-16).
My dinner recommendation is pricey, but the views and experience is worth it: the Calgary Tower.
It’s a relaxing first dinner, and it will give you a great spinning view of the city and sunset. (I highly recommend the steak dinner, as Alberta is big on beef).
For your first night, it’s a good idea to book an Airbnb in advance so you can get a good nights sleep after your day of traveling. Here is a fabulous condo downtown, hosted by AJ, who is a Superhost.
Day 2 – 104 km
The morning of Day 2. You will be downtown, so get breakfast at Cora’s or Timmies (Tim Horton’s… get to know your Canadian slang, eh). I would recommend spending the morning exploring downtown, walking by Prince’s Island Park, etc.
To avoid early morning rush-hour traffic, head out of Calgary in the late morning. An 11 o’clock checkout is perfect to head towards Canmore, Alberta.
The hour and a half drive is beautiful, as you quickly leave the city and will enter into the foothills. You will watch as the prairies turn into mountains.
This is downtown Canmore. I would suggest you stay in Canmore your second night and get an Airbnb (totally recommend this gorgeous condo). Go drop your stuff off at the Airbnb and drive up to Spray Lakes. It’s a long gravel road to get you to the top of the viewpoint over Canmore:
From there, putter back down and hike Grassi Lake. It’s the perfect family hike (anyone can do it)! The trail winds past a waterfall where it eventually leads you to two majestic turquoise lakes. You can’t miss the panoramic views of Canmore that surround you every step of the hike.
The trail has two routes. The easy route takes you up a gravel access road with a gentle rising slope to the lake. The difficult route takes you through the wooded trail out to the Grassi Lakes Waterfall before a steep accent to the lake.
After your nice hike, reward yourself with some authentic Canmore craft beer and cuisine at Grizzly Paw Brewing Co.
Day 3 – 208 km
You didn’t think it could get any better after the gorgeous views in Canmore–but, trust me, it does.
On your third day, get up early and head towards Lake Louise. This will be a big day, with lots of adventuring–so remember to bring food (and fill up on gas)!
It takes about an hour to get from Canmore to Lake Louise, so I would recommend popping into Banff, which is just a short drive north of Canmore.
It’s a huge tourist destination (as I am sure you have heard of Banff). It’s a gorgeous spot, but it’s very busy, over-priced and a little over-hyped. Take a quick 15 to drive through town (to say you’ve seen it) and head back towards Lake Louise.
Once you hit town, continue through and follow the signs to “Lake Louise”.
Depending on your athletic ability, energy and preferences, this is when things start to get intense. You can make your way up to the Tea House (cash only), which is a great hike with a treat at the end! Or if you want to test your athletic ability, push yourself further and do the full hike up to the Big Beehive.
This hike will be at least 4 hours up and down. Remember to pack lots of water and snacks!
Now for a local secret: Moraine Lake. It’s a spot that is overlooked and ignored because of the grandeur of it’s sister attraction, Lake Louise. But make no mistake, Moraine Lake is equally as gorgeous with it’s less crowded and much easier hike.
By this point, you will be exhausted so head back towards town and check-in to your new Airbnb. I recommend this cute and reasonably priced listing in Field, BC (it’s a short ~20 minute drive west of Lake Louise).
Day 4 – 822 km
I bet you are sore! Let’s switch things up and get most of the driving over with. Field is a neat area, but very limited.
Yesterday you left Alberta, and today you have a full day of driving through mountain ranges. You will pass through Yoho National Park to Golden, and cross the Rogers Pass through the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains. As you descend into the Interior of BC you arrive at Revelstoke, a city on the banks of the massive Columbia River system.
From there, the highways winds westward into the pretty Shushwap Lakes region, and the towns of Sicamous and Salmon Arm famous for its fleet of houseboats. To the south of Shushwap Lake is the sunny and hot Okanagan Lake region. The only major city on the Trans-Canada Highway is Kamloops, where the North Thompson River joins the South Thompson.
The Trans-Canada route (along the #1) heads west along the Thompson River through a high plateau and then south through the Fraser River canyon past scenic towns like Lytton and Yale. The Coquihalla Highway route south from Kamloops (no longer a toll highway), cuts time by heading diagonally southwest to the town of Hope.
By dinner time you will have made it to Hope, BC:
As the meeting point of highways traveling in every compass direction, it’s all too easy to bypass this small, vibrant community but savvy travelers know to stay awhile. I recommend staying the night here after a long day of driving, as the sleeping accommodations will be cheaper than Vancouver.
Day 5 – 972 km
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but remember to take a step back and take in the sights, smells and sounds of these mountains!
When you get up on Day 5, you will drive westwards through the lush farmlands of the Fraser River Delta and through the suburbs (Langley, Surrey, New Westminster, and Burnaby) of Vancouver. Once you cross the Burrard Inlet, the highway climbs through North Vancouver and West Vancouver for magnificent views of Vancouver‘s downtown across the water.
(Note: this is a crazy strip of driving, as there is always traffic and it will take you roughly 2 hours to get to downtown Vancouver from Hope. I suggest staying in the right lane, taking your time and enjoying the beautiful valley drive.)
Once you hit Vancouver, there is truly an endless amount of things to do and see. What you want to do will depend on you, so here is a list of recommendations for Vancouver:
This is the Airbnb I stayed at while visiting Vancouver and I couldn’t recommend anything better. Rob and Kirk, the hosts, are fabulous people who took every step in ensuring our stay was perfect. The views, location, price and company are unbeatable.
I recommend spending the night, hitting the town and enjoying this gorgeous city for a couple of days.
Day 6 – 972 km
Enjoy another day in Vancouver, BC!
Day 7 – 1,254 km
If you are looking for just a seven-day week trip, you can leave today from Vancouver International Airport. But I would recommend one last adventure, as it’s my favourite part of the trip: Van Island.
After spending two nights in the city, you will be rested and ready to hit the road one last time. Get up and catch the ferry across the Georgia Straight to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. The ferry ride is typically 90 minutes. From there it’s a three-hour drive west through towns like Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Uclelet to Tofino and “Mile 0” of the Trans-Canada Highway.
The Vancouver Island region is a large, sparsely populated area, encompassing Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, as well as a portion of the mainland.
It has one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems: Rainforests, marshes, meadows, beaches, mountains, oceans, rivers and lakes create habitats for multitudes of wildlife species. In fact, the region is one of the world’s premier locations for whale watching, birding, as well as salmon and trout fishing.
Much of the island is protected parkland. It contains many pockets of old-growth fir and cedar forests, as well as rare, naturally occurring groves of Garry oak. Vancouver Island is bisected, north to south, by the Beaufort Mountain Range, which is home to one of Canada’s biggest all-natural ski bases.
The beauty and tranquility of this region has long been a draw for artists and artisans. Art galleries, studios and shops selling unique, locally produced arts and crafts are found in many population centres, particularly on the Gulf Islands.
Day 8 – 1,570 km
There is lots to do in Tofino, from hiking and horseback riding to surfing and bear-watching—adventure is around every corner.
Things to do:
- Chesterman Beach
- Pacific Rim National Park
- Rainforest Trail
- HotSprings Cove
- Tofino Brewing
- Sup Boarding
- Fishing/Chartered Tours
You can stay in Tofino or on the Island for as long as you want (you won’t want to go home).
But when you do, make your way down to Victoria and catch a flight home. Prices are great, even though it’s a relatively small airport.
I hope you enjoy your time in Canada! This is a big list, so it might take you two trips to knock off everything. Take your time, snap lots of photos, eat good food, explore and be merry! As a Canadian, I appreciate you spending your free time in my beautiful home country.
If you are looking for a true local Canadian guide, I would be happy to join you on your travels (for free)! The only stipulation is you would have to purchase flights and sleeping accommodations for both my husband and me. I have made this trip several dozen times and it gets better each time I do!