AAA Travel Tips / How to Plan the Perfect Western Canada Road Trip

How to Plan the Perfect Western Canada Road Trip

iStockphoto.com/kavram
By AAA Travel Editor Katie Broome
May 13, 2020
Is a road trip across Canada on your travel bucket list? If so, you’re not alone! Driving across Canada offers the chance to see some truly amazing scenery, and the vistas in Western Canada—encompassing Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Northwest and Yukon territories—are second to none. From the glacial lakes along the Icefields Parkway to the coastal mountains surrounding Vancouver Island, the scenery in Western Canada is as varied as it is spectacular.
Whether you’re planning to hit the road in a car or an RV, here is everything you need to know before heading out on a Western Canada road trip, including ideas about where to go and what to see.
Hand holding a US Passport
iStockphoto.com/heller181

First Things First: The Logistics of Road Tripping in Canada

Before planning your Canada road trip, consider a few of the logistics.
• Can I drive in Canada with a U.S. license? - Yes, a valid U.S. driver’s license is accepted in Canada. Remember to also bring proof of auto insurance.
• Should I buy a national parks pass? - It depends on how many days you plan on driving through lands managed by Parks Canada. If your road trip involves seven or more days of travel in Canada’s national parks, you can save money by opting for a Parks Canada Discovery Pass (valid for one year) instead of paying the daily admission rate at park gates.
• Does AAA roadside assistance work in Canada? - Yes, AAA membership is honored in Canada through reciprocal arrangements with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), and roadside assistance is covered for road trips through Canada.
• Are passports required for car travel in Canada? - You will need a valid passport to cross a land border from the United States into Canada.

Top 5 Things to See on a Road Trip Across Western Canada

Whether this is your first time planning a road trip across Canada or your 20th, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the many things to see and do. Glaciers, mountains, coastal islands and vineyards—the varied topography of Western Canada offers seemingly endless possibilities to fill your road trip itinerary.
Here are the top five things to do when road tripping in Western Canada (plus links to the AAA Road Trips that will help get you there):
icefields parkway
jimfeng/iStockphoto.com

1. Drive the Icefields Parkway.

Allow plenty of time to cruise the Icefields Parkway (Hwy. 93), a scenic highway in the Canadian Rockies that parallels the Continental Divide. Snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, lakes, rivers and the massive Columbia Icefield are highlights of the drive, which stretches between jewel-toned Lake Louise and the town of Jasper. Allow at least three hours each direction—more if you’re planning to stop along the way. Keep in mind that admission fees are charged for driving through Banff and Jasper national parks.
Tip: AAA’s Alberta Road Trip includes the Icefields Parkway as well as Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, the two most-visited national parks in Canada. The Alberta Road Trip is easily reached from Calgary or Edmonton.
The Lions' Gate Bridge carries Highway 99 between Vancouver and North Vancouver.
Wikimedia Commons / CC BY SA/Tawker

2. Soak Up Coastal Views on the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

An easy day trip from Vancouver, the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Hwy. 99) offers one of the most beautiful drives in Canada. The two-lane highway connects Vancouver with the resort town of Whistler, a winter sports mecca that hosted many events during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Tip: AAA’s Sea to Sky Scenic Highway Road Trip will take you past snowcapped peaks and plunging river gorges on the way to Squamish and Whistler. Allow at least four hours to drive each direction.
View of the dome-capped building of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in Victoria.
AAA/Katie Broome

3. Visit Victoria on Vancouver Island.

British Columbia’s capital city of Victoria is a popular cruise ship destination on Vancouver Island, but it’s also fun to visit by car (via a scenic ferry ride). The city’s charm is best experienced in spring and summer when its expertly manicured gardens are in full bloom. Castles and stately parliament buildings offer prime photo opportunities, and outdoor activities like whale watching and kayaking offer the chance to soak up the stunning coastal scenery and breathe the crisp ocean air.
Tip: AAA’s Vancouver, Victoria and Coastal Vancouver Island Road Trip makes a loop from downtown Vancouver out to Victoria. The trip follows the Trans-Canada Highway on Vancouver Island and includes two ferry rides across the Strait of Georgia. (Keep in mind that extra ferry fees are charged for longer vehicles and RVs). Allow at least 10 hours for the loop.
Vineyards in Okanagan Valley British Columbia
iStockphoto.com/laughingmango

4. Sip Wine in the Okanagan Valley.

The fertile Okanagan Valley—flanked on both sides by impressive mountains—draws travelers to its wineries, fruit orchards, farm-to-table restaurants and fall festivals. Mild winters, hot summers and abundant sunshine make the Okanagan wine country an ideal year-round destination in south-central British Columbia.
Tip: AAA’s Lower Okanagan Scenic Highway Road Trip is accessible from Kelowna, British Columbia, and from the U.S. border in Washington state. The one-way road trip takes you through Penticton and along the sandy shores of Lake Okanagan. Allow at least one hour each way.
The Mile Zero sign that marks the start/end point of the Trans-Canada Highway in Victoria, British Columbia.
AAA/Katie Broome

5. Travel a Portion of the Trans-Canada Highway.

For the serious road tripper, the 7,821-kilometre (4,860-mi.) Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) offers an unforgettable east-west journey across all 10 provinces of Canada, from its western terminus in Victoria, British Columbia, to the eastern terminus in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. In Western Canada, the route passes through many major cities including Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg, and provides access to scenic national parks like Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho and Banff.
Tip: AAA’s Vancouver, Victoria and Coastal Vancouver Island Road Trip takes you near the western terminus of the TCH in Victoria. (A good photo op is the highway’s Mile Zero monument in Beacon Hill Park at the intersection of Douglas Street and Dallas Road.) Farther inland in British Columbia, the Fraser Canyon Scenic Highway traverses a north-south portion of the TCH. AAA’s Alberta Road Trip also includes a stretch of the highway from Lake Louise to Calgary.
The Trans Canada Highway through the Crowsnest Pass in Southern Alberta Canada
iStockphoto.com/wwing

Best Road Trips to Take in Summer and Fall

Summertime can mean big crowds in Canada’s national parks, especially on holiday weekends. To avoid the traffic jams, plan your road trip for the shoulder months of summer (June and September), or opt for scenic drives far away from the tourist hotspots. British Columbia’s International Selkirk Scenic Loop and Crowsnest Scenic Highway are two good options for summer road trips.
Fall is a great shoulder season for road trips as well, with lighter crowds and cheaper hotel prices.
northern lights
antonyspencer/iStockphoto.com

Top Winter Road Trips

Is seeing the northern lights on your bucket list? Consider a winter road trip on Yukon’s Alaska Scenic Highway near Whitehorse. The night sky is darkest in this region from late August to mid-April, which provides the ideal viewing conditions for the nighttime spectacle. You’ll need to prepare your vehicle accordingly for this road trip, as winter temperatures can be extremely cold.
For winter adventures that aren’t quite as remote, hit the slopes around Whistler, British Columbia, via the Sea to Sky Scenic Highway.
Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, Canada, located near Victoria on Vancouver Island.
AAA/Katie Broome

Road Trips to See Spring Blooms

Spring arrives early (around March or April) in southwestern British Columbia, making it the perfect destination for an end-of-winter road trip. Expect to see plenty of colorful flowers on the Vancouver, Victoria and Coastal Vancouver Island Road Trip; cherry blossoms make their appearance around Vancouver in April. Plan to stop at Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island for even more floral displays.
Domestic Travel Boiler Plate Graphic
AAA

Start Your Next Vacation with AAA

AAA Travel provides peace of mind for travelers—from the first mile of the journey to the last. Get inspiration for your next road trip with AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner, or browse pre-planned itineraries on AAA.com/RoadTrips. Estimating fuel costs for your trip is easy with the AAA Gas Cost Calculator, and if your car needs a quick tune-up before the trip, find a AAA Approved auto repair facility near you at AAA.com/AutoRepair. For printed maps, AAA TourBook guides and trip planning advice, visit your local AAA office.
X