Canada is an enormous country (the world’s second largest) with no shortage of beautiful places. The western part of the country, which includes the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, is particularly renown for its jaw-dropping natural scenery. Here, the Canadian Rocky Mountains represent a pristine wilderness area on a scale difficult to imagine, amazing its visitors with deep blue glacial lakes, endless pine forests, rugged mountains, and abundant wildlife, including the mighty grizzly bear. Towards the Pacific Ocean, the shoreline is dotted with islands (such as Vancouver Island), spectacular fjords, endless patches of temperate rain forest, and magnificent wild beaches, all within easy reach from one of the world’s greatest cities, Vancouver.
Get the most out of your trip to West Canada & The Rockies with my travel guide. Find out more about:
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
- Travel requirements
- Getting around
- Inspiration, highlights, & travel tips
- Suggested itineraries
- Recommended luxury hotels (+ reviews)
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit western Canada is in summer from mid-June to mid-September. This time frame offers the best chance for sightseeing and hiking in good and dry weather; however, this seasons also sees the largest crowds and highest rates for accommodation. Consider a trip during the shoulder season such as mid-May to June and mid-September to October: the crowds are thinner; the room rates are lower compared to the summer months; and your chances of spotting wildlife are much better, especially towards autumn, when dozens of grizzlies converge on the spawning channels along the coast to feed on salmon. British Columbia is notorious for its abundance of rainfall in autumn, winter and spring, so unless you like non-stop drizzle and heavy rain, you best avoid traveling during this period. However, the Rockies are located far more inland and protected from most winter storms, making early December through March a perfect time for winter sports such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
HOW TO GET THERE
Most visitors arrive via one of West Canada’s 3 major airports.
- Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is located about 12 km (7.5 mi) from Downtown Vancouver and the most important getaway to British Columbia. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Vancouver.
- Calgary International Airport (YYC) is located approximately 9 km(5.6 mi) northeast of downtown Calgary and serves as the main getaway to the southern part of the Rockies (Banff town is located a 90 min drive from the airport). Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Calgary.
- Edmonton International Airport (YEG) is located 26 kilometers (16 mi) southwest of downtown Edmonton and serves as the main getaway to the northern part of the Rockies (Jasper town is located a 4 hour drive from the airport). Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Edmonton.
If you want to cover all of West Canada during your vacation, it’s best to either arrive in Calgary and depart from Vancouver, or the other way around, to avoid backtracking on the last day(s) of your holiday. When you limit your holiday to the Rockies only, you’re best off flying in via Calgary and moving north for a departure via Edmonton, or the other way around, since that will save you at least one day of backtracking via the road.
Before you buy a plane ticket, consider reading my tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket.
Requirements for entry into Canada differ from country to country, and are subject to change. Prior to departure, always check with your government and your nearest Canadian embassy or consulate to find out which documents you need to enter Canada.
- You need a valid passport.
- Most people need a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization to travel to Canada.
Make sure you read my 10 tips to plan a worry-free trip.
Although public transport in the cities is quite good, getting from one area to another by public transport can be though and is generally not recommended unless you like to backpack. The vast bulk of visitors rent cars and drive, while flying is an excellent albeit expensive alternative if you don’t have much time.
- Most travelers will rent a car. This is indeed the easiest way of getting around and taking in the amazing scenery. Rental car companies are present at major airports and central city locations.
- Another way to travel worry-free around western Canada is by signing up for a tour (which can be arranged via most hotels in the Rockies, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island).
- The Rocky Mountaineer is a world-renowned, luxurious train that travels by daylight through the wild beauty of Canada’s West, connecting Vancouver with the Rockies.
- Domestic flights might be an option if you don’t have a lot of time and want to travel in a fast way between the Rockies and Vancouver. Tickets can be booked online on the website of the two main carriers that offer flights within Canada:
- Air Canadas (this is Canada’s national carrier, a Star Alliance member)
INSPIRATION, HIGHLIGHTS & TRAVEL TIPS
There are several good reasons why you should put West Canada on your bucket list:
- Icefield Parkway, one of world’s most scenic drives
- Emerald blue lakes in Banff National Park
- The vast wilderness of Jasper National Park
- Hiking Yoho National Park’s Lake O’Hara
- Wildlife spotting with focus on bears and whales
- Vancouver, one of the world’s greatest cities
- The Inside Passage, one of the world’s most scenic boat trips
- Wild beaches on Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim National Park
The following, comprehensive articles may also inspire you and help you plan your holiday to West Canada & The Rockies:
- Top 10 best things to see & do in the Rockies
- Top 10 best hotels & lodges in the Rockies
- Top 10 best luxury hotels in Canada
- Top 10 best hotels & resorts in British Columbia
- Tips & tricks for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel
- Tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket
It’s impossible to suggest one itinerary for West Canada, but I hereby suggest a two-week itinerary based on my own holidays to Canada (although three weeks are recommended if you have more time and want to see all of the area)
- Day 1: explore Calgary (recommended hotel: Fairmont Palliser).
- Day 2-3: explore Banff National Park (recommended hotel: Fairmont Banff).
- Day 4-5: explore Yoho National Park while staying in the Lake Louise area (recommended hotels: Fairmont Lake Louise, Post Hotel, or Lake Moraine Lodge).
- Day 5-6: explore Icefield Highway & Jasper National Park (recommended hotel: Fairmont Jasper).
- Day 7: transfer from Rockies to Vancouver (plane or car).
- Day 8-10: explore northern Vancouver Island with focus on grizzly and killer whale watching (recommended hotel: Hidden Cove Lodge)
- Day 11-13: Pacific Rim National Park (recommended hotels: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Long Beach Lodge or Wickanninsh Inn)
- Day 14-16: Vancouver city & surroundings (recommended hotels: Fairmont Pacific Rim, Shangri-La Vancouver, or Rosewood Vancouver).
If money is no issue, you may also opt to skip northern Vancouver Island and stay at one of British Columbia’s best lodges instead (Sonora Resort).
If you have three weeks instead of two weeks, I suggest you stay a few extra days in the Rockies, after which you drive to Prince Rupert on British Columbia’s West Coast (a drive that takes 2 to 3 days). From there you take the ferry via the world-famous Inside Passage to Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island, after which you catch up with the schedule as described above.
For more ideas, I suggest the excellent Canadian itineraries as suggested by The Rough Guides and Frommers.
RECOMMENDED LUXURY HOTELS (+ REVIEWS)
Consider visiting my top 10 lists if you are eager to know how I rank The Rockies and West Canada’s top properties, based on my own experience:
Below, you find my reviews of hotels in Canada (with pros, cons, and tips to save money per property).
- Review of Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver (Canada)
- Review: Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver (Canada)
- Review: Mount Engadine Lodge, Rockies (Canada)
- Review: Moraine Lake Lodge, Banff National Park (Canada)
- Review: Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park (Canada)
- Review: the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (Canada)
- Review: Post Hotel & Spa, Lake Louise (Canada)
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