Written by: Mikaela Ferguson; This post is part three of the series Great Canadian Road Trip. Note: The cover photo is from Kluane National Park and belongs to Parks Canada.
In part one we drove from Toronto to Thunder Bay, visiting three national parks: Bruce Peninsula, Georgian Bay Islands and Pukaskwa and one bonus: Killarney Provincial Park. In part two we drove from Thunder Bay into the Rocky Mountains, visiting seven national parks: Riding Mountain, Grasslands, Waterton Lakes, Elk Island, Banff, Yoho and Kootenay.
From here we have the choice to go north to Jasper National Park and continue north to Yukon, or go south through Glacier National Park of Canada and Mount Revelstoke National Park and onwards to Vancouver. For part 3, let’s imagine we have ample time and head north. In part 4, I’ll go south on a more direct route to Vancouver.
Banff National Park to Kluane National Park
After spending time in the Banff-Yoho-Kootenay area (A), drive two hours to Glacier National Park of Canada (B).
There is some great hiking here in the summer and amazing backcountry skiing in the winter.If you are coming in the winter, be aware that some areas are winter restricted, so you’ll want to read the Parks Canada site carefully to ensure you know what you’re heading into. I’ve assumed for this road trip you’re travelling in the late spring/summer/early autumn, in which case there are some great hikes you can check out. I’m interested in the Abbott Ridge hike (difficult, 6.5 hours), Balu Pass hike (moderate, 4 hours) and the Bostock Creek hike (moderate, 7 hours). Also, there is both front- and backcountry camping, plus four different huts you can book. I’d aim to spend at least 3 nights here (to allow for at least two day hikes).
Next, drive another hour to Mount Revelstoke National Park (C). This is another park with so much great hiking. I’d like to do the Eva Lake Trail (see below), which is moderate hike 2-3 hours each way and see some giant cedars (a 15 minute loop), but you can also ask the visitor centre for recommendations. They always have great ideas, especially for the given weather conditions and time of year!
Parks Canada is currently working on developing camping grounds accessible by car in the park. Until then, you have the choice between backcountry sites, huts or camping in Glacier National Park and driving to Mount Revelstoke for the day (since it’s only an hour’s drive).
If you’re visiting in the winter, Revelstoke has amazing skiing. A best friend of mine and her family are extremely skilled skiers (we’re talking heli-skiing and triple black diamonds) and they go to Revelstoke every couple of years.
Either way, Glacier and Mount Revelstoke and beautiful national parks and not to be missed!
Next, you’ll need to drive to the Banff area back the way you came. After this, drive about 3 hours north to Jasper National Park (D). Jasper is open year round for camping – either backcountry, car camping or motorhomes, and has over 1000km of trails for hiking.
And no trip to Jasper would be complete without visiting Lake Maligne. This lake is home to the iconic Jasper photo (right).
You could spend anywhere from a couple nights to weeks here and never get bored. For the basis of this road trip though, I’d say 3 or 4 nights in the park would be sufficient.
After Jasper, drive 4 hours to Prince George (E). I met a lovely couple from Prince George when I was guiding in Nunavut a ways back, and they said it is a wonderful little mountain town. This can either be a quick pit stop or you can take a night to rest and reset; it’ll be an 8 our drive to the next destination, Prince Rupert (F).
From Prince Rupert, take the ferry (the route is illustrated on the right) to Haida Gwaii, home to Gwaii Haanas National Park (on the map above, it’s the purple arrow on the island west of F). The ferry isn’t the cheapest: one way fares range between $38 to $48 CAD per adult, and a vehicle is between $140 and $170 CAD. If you’re tight on funds, this may not be the most feasible. Check out the gallery on the Haida Gwaii’s tourism page, GoHaidaGwaii, and you’ll fall in love with the place (see sample below).
The ferry is about 7 hours each way. You can stay in the park or in the communities north of the park. Within the park, there aren’t formal campsites, which is why following Leave No Trace Principles is especially important here. Considering the time and expense required to reach Haida Gwaii, I’d personally want to stay as long as possible, but if you’re short on time I think 3 or 4 nights would be reasonable (if you have extra time though, add days here). My own goal would be 5 or 6 nights.
Now comes the longest stretch of driving thus far: Prince Rupert, British Columbia to Whitehorse, Yukon. This is an 18 hour drive, but it’s beautiful throughout: mountains, forests, maybe even the northern lights. You could try to do it in one stretch, or find a campsite/motel halfway between.
After arriving in Whitehorse (G), Kluane National Park (H) is less than a two hour drive away. Some activities in the park include: rafting the Alsek river, hiking some of the many trails, mountain biking and canoeing. Fun fact: 17 of Canada’s largest peaks are in the park including the tallest, Mount Logan! You can camp in the park with the right gear or spend a few nights in Whitehorse.
Again, how long you choose to stay is up to you. Being so far away, I’d choose more time than less time (probably 2 nights in Whitehorse to check out the town, refuel and refresh, 4 nights in the park, and then the last night in Whitehorse before beginning the long drive south).
For part three’s leg of the journey I budgeted between 18-22 days, but you can make adjustments for your length of trip and what most interests you. It is a lot of time to dedicate to just three national parks, but are you likely to ever be back to these remote environments? As with any of my recommendations, if you feel sort of indifferent about one park, skip it and add those days to a park that excites you. These are only suggestions meant to inspire – take the trip where you would like it!
Getting South Again – From Whitehorse to Vancouver
From Whitehorse (A) to Vancouver (B) it’s about 2,400km, or 27 hours of straight driving. I’d aim for 10-12 hours of driving each day and aim to do in in 2.5 days. I hear the drive is beautiful, just very long. I came across this article on HelloBC (the province’s official tourism page) which explains one group’s experience driving to Yukon. They started in Vancouver and drove to Whitehorse, so you’d just be doing the opposite.
You’ll notice there are two national parks in The Northwest Territories that look close to Whitehorse; why are we skipping those Mikaela? Unfortunately, Nááts’įhch’oh and Nahanni National Parks (along with all of the other parks in the territories) are not accessible by roads. I hope to get to them some day, but that’s an adventure for another post.
So that’s part 3 of The Great Canadian Road Trip! In part 4 I’m going to start with a direct route from Banff to Vancouver if you don’t want to go as far north as we did in part 3. Then I’ll give a thorough guide to Vancouver (one of my favourite cities in the world) and exploring Vancouver Island (where Pacific Rim National Park is located).
Stay tuned for more!