We live in Calgary, our friends and family are all in the Vancouver area. That means a big road trip each year to go and visit. It’s “only” a 10-11 hour drive that is quite doable in one big drive. We tried it – once. It took us closer to 15 hours. Charlie was only 7 months old, and was not impressed with being cooped up for that long.
Since then we have always chopped the drive into two, staying somewhere between Vernon and Revelstoke on each leg, usually in Sicamous.
Having two shorter trips of 5 ish hours each leaves plenty of time to stop along the way and make it even less of a haul, and more of an adventure. Our new Hyundai Santa Fe XL is perfect for long road trips like this. It holds all the things we need for a long road trip away (skateboards, golf clubs, and bikes for the kids) and there is still a lot of room for us to stretch out up front.
I love the beefy profile of this car with a much stronger look at both ends. With a wide range of controls for the front seat, it was easy to make it a comfortable ride whether it’s my wife or I doing the driving.
Heading to the coast or the mountains? Here’s 25 places worth stopping between Calgary and Vancouver that makes getting there even more of the fun. Note that most of the stops happen in the middle of the route.
No need stopping 30 minutes after you start your run, best to get some mileage in, so that’s why I don’t really pick anything before Banff. Conversely, with the finish line in sight, my final pick to spot in the homestretch is Othello Tunnels.
CALGARY – GOLDEN
Don’t want to get a bunch of mileage in before the first break? You could always grab ice cream at the School Bus in Canmore, pop over to Lake Minnewanka for a boat ride, climb Tunnel Mountain, or dip in the Banff Hot Springs.
1. Morant’s Curve
If you’re in a rush, stay on the Trans Canada through Banff National Park. If you want something more scenic, take the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Lake Louise. The speeds are slower, plus you’ll have a greater chance at spying wildlife, and if you time things perfectly, you’ll get an iconic shot of a train in the Rockies at Morant’s Curve.
2. Spiral Tunnels
If you missed a train at Morant’s Curve, maybe you’ll have better luck at the Spiral Tunnels just a few kilometres down the road. This marvel of engineering greatly improved rail safety through the mountains eliminating steep grades in favour of a gradual grade on a 900m loop inside a mountain.
3. Takakkaw Falls
Take a right hand turn just before you hit Field to travel up a valley to find Canada’s second highest free flowing waterfall. Takakkaw Falls is a great place for a picnic, a wander along the river, or up to the mist of the waterfall. This is also a popular place to launch multiday hikes into the alpine and back country.
We stopped here on a family trip back in the 80s, and I loved re-visiting it with my sons some 30 years later.
This quaint town is filled with B&B’s and vacation rentals that many travelers use as a home base to explore the Rockies. There’s a quiet beach in a rest stop near the highway if you need to splash around, or you can head into town and check out The Siding Cafe or Truffle Pigs, both very popular with fresh and unique menus.
5. Emerald Lake and Natural Bridge
After Jillian dumped that guy at the train station, she took the rest of her suitors over to Emerald Lake. This is a very popular tour bus stop, but the parking lot is very small. If you want to visit Emerald Lake in the summer, arrive early or be prepared to walk. The Emerald Lake Lodge has a nice restaurant where you can rent canoes for paddling the lake. You can also hike around it. The mountain at the back of the lake is home to the Burgess Shale where fossils representing the earliest signs of life have been uncovered.
Just up the road from Emerald Lake is Natural Bridge, another popular tour bus stop and a chance to see the awesome power of rivers in the Rocky Mountains carving the landscape.
If you haven’t taken a stop yet, perhaps a wander out to Wapta Falls, just before Golden, would be in order. After the twists and turns of the Kicking Horse Pass, this is the place to switch drivers, fill up your tank, and grab a snack. You can find all sorts of fast food fare along the highway and a classic diner. Legendz offers familiar truck stop fare with old school 50s decor.
We bought the premium trim for our 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL which gives us keyless entry, a warmer on the steering wheel, and an easy button to automatically close the trunk for those frequent breaks you have to take when you’re driving kids on a long road trip.
GOLDEN – SICAMOUS
7. Northern Lights Wolf Centre
We take any chance to visit animals we can (as you’ll find further down the list of stops). We have yet to visit the Northern Lights Wolf Centre, but it is on next summer’s road trip itinerary. Just minutes after leaving Golden, you will pass by the centre that promotes wolf conservation and provides a one-of-a-kind, year-round experience through interpretive programs and walks with wolves.
8. Rogers Pass / Glacier National Park
That one time we tried to do the drive straight, the rest area at Rogers Pass was a perfect place to stop for a picnic. The gas station and lodge are falling apart and no longer open, but there is a Parks Canada centre here to learn about the history of the area and the immense effort it took to connect Canada by rail through the Rockies.
Just past Rogers Pass is the Hemlock Grove Boardwalk, a short 400m loop trail through massive old growth forests.
9. Mount Revelstoke National Park
The Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail in Mount Revelstoke National Park takes you on a short walk through an ancient forest of trees that seem to touch the sky. Many of these giant cedars could be as much as 500 years old. The spot is a favourite for all who venture west. There are interpretive signs along the 500m path to inform visitors about the importance of the functioning ecosystem. If you’d prefer to look down instead of up, the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk trail is 1.2 km and also in this area.
Revy is a great spot to take a break. Sometimes we will bolt late on Friday and use Revelstoke, just 4hrs into the trip, as our overnight stop, but if you’re coming during the day, there are plenty of places to stop and explore and stretch your legs in Revelstoke.
You can wander up north of town to the Revelstoke Dam, you can stay in town and check out the Revelstoke Railway Museum, and wander around the historic buildings in town. You can also head up and blow off some steam at the Revelstoke Pipe Coaster:
Sometimes, you just want to make the drive a little longer, and taking the Meadows in the Sky Parkway will do just that. The journey will pull you from 470m above sea level on the Trans-Canada to a height of 1 500m at Balsam Lake. The parkway winds uphill for 26km taking you through forests of cedar and hemlock, spruce and fir to the park’s renowned subalpine wildflower meadows. In the summer, you can grab a shuttle bus to the top of Mount Revelstoke.
11. 3 Valley Gap
I have always wanted to stop at 3 Valley Gap, but have yet to do so. There are tourist trap-type places like Ghost Town, Antique Auto Museum, and Railway Roundhouse here that are all part of the Three Valley Lake Chateau which features a gorgeous beach and a helicopter pad to fly people to glacier tours and more. It’s a spectacular looking place to catch your breath.
12. Enchanted Forest – Skytrek Adventure Park
Just down the road is another coulda woulda shoulda stopped kind of place that 12 year old me pined for on every summer road trip with my parents. The Enchanted Forest is a nature walk through a forest with more than 350 random fairy tale figurines. You can climb BC’s tallest tree house, explore a giant cedar stump house, seek out the castle and dungeon, or tour the beaver pond in a rowboat. Also part of the complex is Skytrek Adventure Park featuring zip lines, giant swings, and an aerial adventure park.
This is the spot where Canada came together. Craigellachie is home to the last spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway, and there are all sorts of displays devoted to this piece of Canadian history at a comfortable rest stop area to get refreshments and have a picnic. (There are also a few Pokemon Go Pokestops scattered around the grounds).
14. Crazy Creek
The Crazy Creek Resort is an RV, camping, and resort area featuring hot springs, water falls, and a suspension bridge. It’s a fine spot to break for an hour, or crash for the night or even use as a base to explore the region.
15. D Dutchmen Dairy – Kelly’s Go Karts
When we pull in to D-Dutchmen Dairy for some ice cream after a long day exploring on the road, the boys know the first leg of the trip is nearing an end. Next door to the dairy is Kelly’s Go Karts if that’s your thing, plus it is one of your first chances to get Okanagan fruit and veg at a stand across the street.
Sicamous is the houseboat capital of Canada, and many people make this their home base for a wild summer on the water. We prefer to just check in to the Best Western in town and then hit the road the next morning.
The drive from Calgary to Vancouver is mostly downhill, do it in reverse and it’s .. mostly uphill. Our 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL has a powerful, effortless engine that cruised through the mountains with ease.
SICAMOUS – KELOWNA
You could choose to go through Salmon Arm and Kamloops to get to the coast, it is a little bit quicker, but we’ve found more fun things to do along the way through the Okanagan.
If you can’t decide which way to go, take the quick hike up to the Sicamous Lookout a platform used by local hang gliders, and survey the expanse of the Shuswap Valley.
16. Mara Lake
If you feel the need to get your feet wet, take a few early morning casts, or have a picnic, Mara Lake Provincial Park has a popular Day Use area where you could even launch a boat if you’re hauling.
17. Grindrod – Armstrong
In Grindrod you can find a collection of hubcaps to explore at Gordon’s – if that’s your thing. It’s just up the road from The Log Barn 1912 (below right), a wild potpourri of completely random things. There are goats on a bridge, antique farm equipment, chainsaw carvings, statues of dragons, bears, dinosaurs, and more. Oh, and inside you’ll find the famous Log Barn 1912 Mennonite pies. Get one.
If you didn’t get enough dairy goodness up in Sicamous, pull over in Armstrong and get some of their famous cheese.
18. Around Vernon
Now we’re getting in to lake country. You could hit the beach in Coldstream and wander next door to Alexander’s for some cold drinks and snacks on the patio. We chose to take a break at the skate park at Polson Park in Vernon (above) and then went out to Okanagan Landing for some beach time.
19. Oyama Zipline
The road from Vernon to Kelowna is filled with places to pull over and enjoy the view, or provincial parks to get some water access. If you don’t want to get wet, head down to Oyama Zipline featuring an aerial park, zip course, and free fall drop.
20. Kangaroo Creek Farm
Kangaroos?! In Kelowna?! Yes, they are here. And so are some fun birds, capybaras, emus, and wallabies.
The Kangaroo Creek Farm has odd hours, so be sure to look it up before you head out. They are open in the morning, and evening, taking a break in the mid afternoon to give their animals a rest from the attention. It’s also a cash only place, and parking can be tough to find around the farm.
If you work it out in advance, you’ll have a wonderful break cuddling all the cuties at this stop in Lake Country just north of Kelowna.
KELOWNA – VANCOUVER
Kelowna is a worthy destination on its own, but if you want to make it a pit stop, there’s a ton to explore. Head right to the center of town and Kelowna City Park to find Ogopogo playgrounds, a water obstacle course in the lake, and a friendly beach to relax.
If you’ve got more time to kill in the area, and you have your bikes, head south for the Kettle Valley Railway that has been turned into a long bike trail.
22. West Kelowna
Once you cross the floating bridge, you can pull over at the top of the hill to hit a quick round at the 19 Greens Mini Golf Course. They have longer holes with real grass, or you can play the fun mini-putt on carpet. It took Charlie and I just half an hour to whip around, and was a fun break.
As you head further into West Kelowna towards the Coquihala, one of your last chances to get some fresh Okanagan fruit is at Paynter’s Market. They have a huge array to pick from, or you can pick them yourself. Peaches, pears, and apricots scatter the orchards behind the property and we always have a fun time picking fruit to bring to our friends on the coast.
Once you get out of Kelowna and onto the Coquihalla highway, places to get out and explore dry up. Once you emerge on the other side, in Merritt, there’s plenty to occupy some time. It’s a great place to fill up the tank, there’s a big rest stop off the highway with an info booth, picnic area, and food trucks. Merritt has a legacy in country music and a Walk of Stars downtown celebrates their history.
24. Falls Lake/Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area
The next stretch between Merritt and Hope again doesn’t have much worth doing, but the Coquihalla Summit does have a picnic area with some food trucks and facilities. There’s also the popular Falls Lake Trail, just one kilometre west from the Coquihalla Highway on the Falls Lake turn off. Stretching across 1.5 kilometres, this trail offers some impressive views of an alpine lake. The park is pet-friendly (with leashes), and includes pit and flush toilets.
25. Othello tunnels
My absolute favourite stop of the entire journey, however, happens right at the end, before you exit the mountains and plunge into the Fraser Valley. Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, is just outside Hope and home to the incredible Othello Tunnels. Built in 1914, these paths were part of the Kettle Valley Railway and have been converted into scenic walking and biking trails.
Flashlights are recommended while walking through the tunnel trails for about a 3.5 kilometres roundtrip. It’s pet friendly, there’s picnic tables, and it’s also home to the cliffs where Rambo fought that helicopter in First Blood.
Once you get into the Fraser Valley, the finishing stretch into Vancouver is just about 90 minutes away. If you still want more places to stop, pick up some Chilliwack corn if it’s in season. Pull up to Harrison Hot Springs to enjoy a dip and the view. Maybe you could swing down to splash at Cultus Lake Waterpark, or go sturgeon fishing on the Fraaser.
Really, though, you’ll just want to get to the finish line, cause you’ll be that close.
That’s how we do it. I guarantee this itinerary will take you longer than necessary to get from Calgary to Vancouver, but if getting there is half the fun, instead of a chore, stopping at 3, 5, or 9 of these places along the way will make it that much better.
And it will also tire the back seat out, greatly reducing boredom complaints.
This post is sponsored by Hyundai Canada