Road-Tripping the U.S. and Canadian Rockies

This three-week adventure starts in Calgary and continues south to Denver, packing in the best of the Rocky Mountains along the way, including national parks like Banff, Jasper, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Park. The route takes in scenery filled with turquoise lakes, plunging waterfalls, rushing rivers, frozen icefields, and rugged pinnacles across nine national parks. Wildlife sightings punctuate the thrills in between idyllic mountain towns where outdoor recreation is a way of life. This is a once-in-a-lifetime road trip that covers over 2,500 miles (4,000 km). If you prefer to drive south to north, you can start in Denver and follow this itinerary in reverse.

Moose in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, outside of Banff National Park
Moose in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, just outside of Banff National Park. Photo © Chase Dekker | Dreamstime.com

Day 1

Calgary to Jasper

250 miles/400 km; 5 hours
Fly into the Calgary airport. From the city, it’s only about an hour’s drive to reach the mountains. Bypassing Banff and Lake Louise for a later day, head north on the stunning Icefields Parkway. At Bow Summit, walk to Peyto Lake Overlook. Tour Athabasca Falls before reaching the Jasper Townsite. Check into Jasper Park Lodge for two nights.

Day 2

Jasper National Park

62 miles/100 km; 2 hours
Drive to Maligne Lake for a boat tour followed by lunch in the lodge. After returning to the Jasper Townsite, take in the scenery from the Jasper Sky Tram and hike to the summit of Whistlers Summit. Afterward, tour the town and enjoy the evening on the shore of Beauvert Lake at Jasper Park Lodge.

Day 3

Jasper to Lake Louise

145 miles/235 km; 3 hours
Get an early start to enjoy multiple stops on the Icefields Parkway. Begin with Wabasso Falls, then continue to the Icefield Centre. From there, walk the Toe-of-the-Glacier Interpretive Trail and take a guided glacier tour. Stop at Bow Lake for views before descending to Lake Louise. Stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for three nights.

Day 4

Lake Louise

travelers viewing Lake Louise
Lake Louise. Photo © Robert Philip | Dreamstime.com

24 miles/39 km; 1.5 hours
Start the day by driving south to turquoise Moraine Lake. Follow the Rockpile Trail for classic lake photos. Afterward, head to Lake Louise Ski Area to catch the scenic lift for exceptional views of Temple Mountain, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and possibly grizzly bears. In the afternoon, paddle Lake Louise and walk the lakeshore. Cap off the day with dinner at the Fairmont and admire the tableside views of the lake.

Day 5

Lake Louise to Yoho National Park

84 miles/135 km; 3 hours
Yoho National Park yields unparalleled scenery. Stop at Kicking Horse Pass for views and interpretive displays. Descend to Emerald Lake for a walk along the shoreline followed by lunch. In the afternoon, drive up the scenic Yoho Valley Road to walk to the base of Takakkaw Falls spilling in a white ribbon from the Waputik Icefield. (It takes about an hour each way to drive Yoho Valley Road.) Return to Lake Louise for the night.

Day 6

Lake Louise to Banff

37 miles/60 km; 1 hour
Start the morning off with a drive down the Bow Valley Parkway along Bow River. The route takes you below the parapets of Castle Mountain before reaching the Banff Townsite. Spend the rest of the day touring the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, shopping downtown, or taking a boat tour on nearby Lake Minnewanka. Spend the night in the historic Fairmont Banff Springs.

Day 7

Banff to Radium Hot Springs

85 miles/137 km; 2.5 hours
A drive along the Vermilion and Kootenay Rivers on the Banff-Windemere Highway cuts through Kootenay National Park. The orange- and yellow-hued Paint Pots and the red walls of Sinclair Canyon add colorful surprises to the mountainous terrain. When you reach the Radium Hot Springs pool complex, stop for a dip in the refreshing pools. Continue into the town of Radium Hot Springs to spend the night.


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Day 8

Radium Hot Springs to Waterton Lakes National Park

250 miles/400 km; 5 hours
From Radium Hot Springs, follow the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers south through a series of small towns, then head east to Fernie to stop for lunch and a scenic chairlift ride. Continue to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre at Crowsnest Pass, where you can walk around the site of a colossal landslide. Follow the highway to Waterton Lakes National Park and check into your lodging in the Waterton Townsite for two nights.

Day 9

Waterton Lakes National Park

42 miles/68 km; 2 hours
In the morning, take the boat tour down Waterton Lake and across the Canadian-U.S. border to reach Goat Haunt, USA. In the afternoon, drive Akamina Parkway to Cameron Lake for paddling and a lakeshore walk. After dinner in Waterton Townsite, drive Red Rock Parkway to look for wildlife and walk the Red Rock Canyon loop trail.

Day 10

Waterton Lakes to Glacier National Park

71 miles/115 km; 2 hours
After a leisurely morning, take Chief Mountain Highway across the border between Canada and the United States. As you approach Many Glacier in Glacier National Park, watch for moose and bears on the entrance road. Stretch your legs on the trail to Red Rock Lake and Falls. Check into the historic Many Glacier Hotel for two nights.

Day 11

Glacier National Park

No driving today! Hike to Grinnell Lake, go horseback riding, and sit on the hotel deck watching for wildlife. For a full-day hike, go to Grinnell Glacier.

white goat grazing among the wildflowers.
Glacier National Park. Photo © Sdbower/Dreamstime.com.

Day 12

Glacier National Park to Flathead Valley

97 miles/156 km; 3 hours
Of all the mountain roads you’ve driven so far, Going-to-the-Sun Road stands in a class of its own. Stop at overlooks as it climbs to Logan Pass. Hike to Hidden Lake Overlook to enjoy the meadows and mountain goats. Wade in Lake McDonald before exiting the park at West Glacier to reach Whitefish in the Flathead Valley.

Day 13

Flathead Valley

14 miles/23 km; 30 minutes
Have a leisurely morning, then take the scenic chairlift at Whitefish Mountain Resort to eat lunch with a view of Glacier and Flathead Valley below. Go paddling on Whitefish Lake for a spell. In the evening, enjoy the small-town scene: Eat dinner at Tupelo Grille, listen to live music, and go bar-hopping.

Day 14

Flathead Valley to Yellowstone National Park

424 miles/682 km; 6.5 hours
Get an early start today. You’ll drive through Missoula and Butte before crossing Pipestone Pass, surrounded by rock spires. After passing Bozeman, a scenic drive tours Paradise Valley, ascending along the Yellowstone River to Gardiner. Enter Yellowstone National Park, climb the winding road to Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, where you’ll spend the night. Be sure to walk through the travertine terraces.

Day 15

Yellowstone National Park

113 miles/183 km; 3.5 hours
Head to Lamar Valley in the morning for wildlife-watching. Then drop down to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to see the thundering Upper and Lower Falls from the North Rim. Swing west to Norris Geyser Basin and then south to Lower and Midway Geyser Basins, stopping to walk the boardwalks at each. At Upper Geyser Basin, see Old Faithful erupt. Spend the night in historic Old Faithful Inn.

Day 16

Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park

steam shooting into the air from a geyser
Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Photo © Peng Zhuang/Dreamstime.

65 miles/105 km; 2 hours
In the morning, make your way to West Thumb Geyser Basin to walk the boardwalk loop along immense Yellowstone Lake. Stop to see Lewis Falls before exiting Yellowstone and driving to Grand Teton National Park. Pop by Colter Bay to tour the Indigenous arts exhibit at the visitors center and hike to Heron Pond. End your day at Jackson Lake Lodge, watching the sun set over the Tetons.

Day 17

Grand Teton National Park

35 miles/56 km; 1 hour
Tour Teton Park Road for closeup views of the Grand Teton and Teton Glacier. En route, stop at Jenny Lake for a boat tour and hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point for views out over Jackson Hole. Dine in downtown Jackson and finish the night at the famed Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Spend the night at one of the hotels in town.

Day 18

Jackson to Salt Lake City

280 miles/450 km; 4.5 hours
Hit the road bright and early. Follow the Snake River as it cuts south through Hoback Canyon and Bridger Teton National Forest. At Alpine, turn south through Star Valley to reach Freedom, where a jaunt westward and south leads to glimpses of Great Salt Lake. Stop to stretch your legs in Ogden and walk down historic 25th Street, or push onward to Salt Lake City, where you’ll spend the night. Unwind with a walk along City Creek Canyon and delicious Mexican food at the Red Iguana.

Day 19

Salt Lake City to Rocky Mountain National Park

440 miles/710 km; 8 hours
Cross northern Utah, taking a break at Dinosaur National Monument to visit the Quarry Visitor Center, where you can see the dinosaur fossils dotting the landscape. Next, you’ll make the trek across Colorado. After passing through the resort town of Steamboat Springs, pull into Grand Lake, the quiet western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Day 20

Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road in Colorado Rocky Mountains National Park
Trail Ridge Road in Colorado Rocky Mountains National Park. Photo © Oleksandr Buzko | Dreamstime.com

48 miles/77 km; 2 hours
Today will take to you the top of the world along the windswept Trail Ridge Road, where you may see elk, bighorn sheep, and alpine wildflowers. The road climbs to Alpine Visitor Center, the highest national park visitors center in the country. Hike up the short Alpine Ridge Trail to get a picture next to the sign reading “Elevation 12,000 feet.” Stop at pullouts like Forest Canyon Overlook to soak up the views and walk interpretive trails. Roll into Estes Park, Rocky’s eastern gateway, in time for dinner.

Day 21

Estes Park to Denver

64 miles/103 km; 1.5 hours
Do some sightseeing in Estes Park, making sure to stop at the allegedly haunted Stanley Hotel. Take the scenic drive to Boulder and stop there for lunch. Then, tackle the final miles to Denver. Celebrate your trip in the vibrant downtown area, enjoying the bustle of the city.

 


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