The Best of Western Canada
Covering the best of western Canada in two weeks is possible, but it requires some flying to reach the northern territories. If you had three weeks or more, this itinerary could be completed by road. Starting and ending in Vancouver, it requires a rental vehicle for the main portion of the trip, but it has been configured to keep driving to a minimum—around 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles).
Head north from Vancouver airport and loop around Point Grey to the Museum of Anthropology, a wonderful introduction to history of the Pacific Northwest. Duck through the old growth forest behind the museum to get a feel for the city’s natural splendor. Check in to your downtown hotel and take a stroll around Canada Place and through Gastown.
Even if you hit the Stanley Park as the sun first rises, you’ll find that many locals have beaten you on their morning jog. Catch the ferry to Vancouver Island and you’ll be at colorful Butchart Gardens around lunchtime. The rest of the day is spent exploring Victoria’s Inner Harbour on foot, including a visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum and Fairmont Empress.
Before leaving the capital, take a walk through the lush forests of Goldstream Provincial Park. Drive north and take a whale-watching trip departing the boardwalk village of Tofino. Drive back to Nanaimo, catch the ferry back to Vancouver and drive the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.
Activities at Whistler can be as energetic as whitewater rafting or as peaceful as riding the Whistler Gondola. Drive to Vernon. Experience the colorful resort village of Silver Star Mountain Resort, go for an afternoon swim in the crystal clear waters of Kalamalka Lake, and spend the night in Kelowna, where the Okanagan Wineries produce some of the country’s best wine.
Drive to Golden and take the gondola to the top of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Continue east into Yoho National Park where the beautiful Emerald Lake beckons. Spend the night in the village of Lake Louise.
The best time to see Lake Louise in all her glory is early in the morning. From Lake Louise, it’s a short drive to Moraine Lake, where you take to the water in a rented canoe. Continue to Banff National Park via the quietly scenic Bow Valley Parkway. Explore the area around the town of Banff (the path to the top of Tunnel Mountain is a good choice for an easy walk). Soak up the luxury of the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
Leaving the mountains behind, make time to take in the Olympic legacy that is Canada Olympic Park before heading out to Calgary. If you have some time later in the day, also plan stops at Calgary Tower and the Glenbow Museum.
Drive east from Calgary into Dinosaur Valley and Dinosaur Provincial Park. Continue the theme with a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Stay overnight in Drumheller or begin driving north and stay overnight in Red Deer.
Continue north to Edmonton, where the highlights include the Royal Alberta Museum and Fort Edmonton Park. These can easily be seen in a day, but you’ll also want to take a break from the official attractions to include a shopping trip to Old Strathcona.
Edmonton is one of the world’s largest northern cities, which makes it an ideal jumping-off point for excursions to the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. Begin with the former, by flying into Yellowknife. The sightseeing highlights here are the historic exhibits at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and the eclectic streets of Old Town, but you’ll also want dine on local game at the Wildcat Café.
Fly south to Dawson City and spend the day exploring the gold-rush-era buildings of the Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Site. Then head out to the gold fields and try you hand at panning. Take an afternoon flight to Whitehorse, where you can visit the historic paddlesteamer SS Klondike tied up along the river.
Return by air to Edmonton and drive west to Jasper National Park. Visit the enchanting Maligne Canyon and take a boat tour on super-scenic Maligne Lake. Spend the night at a cabin accommodation south of town.
The drive between Jasper and your starting point, Vancouver, takes the best part of a day. By getting on the road early, there will be enough time to marvel at the magnificent mountain scenery protected by Mount Robson Provincial Park and explore the flower-filled meadows accessed along the Meadows in the Sky Parkway.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition