Should I drive from Vancouver to Banff?

Icefields parkway meagan driving nissan
We don’t typically road trip. But when our plans to visit the Caribbean were pretty well trashed by one of the worst severe hurricane seasons on record, I had to scramble to set up something new while Luke scrambled to cancel all of our bookings. Luckily, I found some stupid cheap fares to Seattle on Frontier Airlines, and decided that we’d do a great – if brief – northwestern road trip. The bulk of this would be the drive from Vancouver to Banff.
So, should you do it? Short answer? Absolutely. Long answer? Know what you’re getting into!
Boyfriend Perspective: So much driving!!!

The drive from Vancouver to Banff and back: Our trip

 

 

Pros of road tripping through Alberta and British Columbia

  • The scenery. There is so much beauty in this part of the world, guys. And because we were there when the colors were starting to change, everything looked so vibrant and alive. Whether we were driving through agricultural areas chock-a-block full of hay and silos or through wooded preserves or along river banks, the world was full of color and character. Even when we went unexpectedly out of our way, I didn’t mind nearly as much as I thought I would, just because it was such a pleasant drive.
  • Set your own pace. Speed limits are pretty high on a lot of these highways and back roads, so – unless you’re passing through a bunch of towns or residential areas – you’ll find yourself able to cruise along pretty nicely.
  • Make it up as you go. This was the best part, as far as I’m concerned. There are SO MANY PLACES to stop along the way. If you’re a smarty, you’ll find places to stay overnight along the way so you can really experience some of these different stops. But, if you do it like we did, you have the option of adding things in on your 10 hour drive. Is it worth getting in an hour later to stop at [insert cool looking place here]? Some of the best adventures are spontaneous, so this is what can make a road trip like this one so much fun.
Boyfriend Perspective: Pack a bunch of snacks, get a full tank of gas, camera, and a passenger. The roads do have enough variation that, as a driver, you often can’t do much more than glance around.

Cons of the trip

  • It’s a hell of a distance. A 10-12 hour drive is a doozy. That means you’re getting up and getting your first meal at a decent hour, and committing to being on the road until well after dark that night. While it might be worthwhile, it’s also completely draining and exhausting, and something you should be prepared for before you make the choice.
  • When it gets dark, it gets DARK. Driving through AB and BC pretty much means driving through mountains and along back roads. And that means less in the way of nice, nighttime lighting. It can get a little hairy when it looks like you’re driving into a wall of pitch blackness, or when you know what a good chance there is of something 4-legged stepping out in front of your car without you knowing, or trying to navigate oddly-marked or congested construction zones in the dark.

Boyfriend Perspective: Did I mention it was a lot of driving. I would not recommend doing this by yourself without an over night stay along the way. Just too much.

 

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Should I road trip from Vancouver to Banff?


Also published on Medium.

20 Replies to “Should I drive from Vancouver to Banff?”

  1. Carolina Colborn says: Reply

    It’s good you had your boyfriend with you. But we love road trips and to us there are no cons!

  2. I am sure it must be a scenic drive because I have been in Banff and it was gorgeous so I am sure the drive from Vancouver must be breathtaking! Long also I know, but I guess you can always stopover in between for the night when it gets dark 🙂

    1. It’s definitely a good option – we just didn’t because we were trying not to lose any time in Banff. Next time, though, I think we might spread the drive out a little bit so we can enjoy it even more.

  3. I’ve never made this drive in particular, but I’ve done long drives in that area, and you’re right. It gets REALLY dark, and the yellow/white lines on the road can get rhythmic after a while and start putting you to sleep. Six hours is usually about my limit for road trips, but long ones like this one can definitely be worth it for the beautiful scenery!

    1. Happily, I don’t think either of us had any highway hypnosis issues on this drive. It only got sketchy when we hit some nasty weather in the mountains on our return trip. Fog and rain at night was pretty stressful, but the rest of the trip was unbeatable!

  4. WanderingCarol says: Reply

    I agree with your boyfriend, I’d break the trip up and stay somewhere overnight, but mainly to prolong the trip because I love the mountains so much. You’re right. The scenery is really unbeatable.

    1. That’s totally fair – we didn’t do that, mainly because we wanted to get as much time as possible in Banff. I think we’d definitely add a few more days to our itinerary if we were doing this again, so we could make more stops and see more things along the way. Now we know!

  5. We love road trips and have always wanted to do a road trip from Minnesota to Vancouver and stop in Banff along the way! It would definitely be quite the drive, but we have been to both Banff and Vancouver and loved them. Both are such beautiful areas, and it would be fun to drive between them to see all the more remote sights! We would definitely not do it all in a couple of days though, and you are right, road trips are great for setting your own pace. Thanks for pointing out the darkness—I forget how dark it can get it more remote spots sometimes!

  6. I’d definitely road trip here! I’ve made the drive from Toronto to Quebec City, which is a bit over 8 hours…and some of the scenery gets a little bit boring, too. I feel like it wouldn’t feel quite as long with beautiful mountains to look at! I think that I’d try to wake up early to make the most of the day, too.

    1. 100% 🙂 the early start is a must, and the mountains definitely help!

  7. We love road trips as they provide an opportunity to get really close to the places that you are traveling to. The trips go to a different level if you are traversing through exotic natural landscapes. Yes road trips do have their pros and cons as everything else. But the pros outweigh the cons and one needs to be prepared. From Vancouver to Banff looks like an enchanting and scenic journey.

    1. 100% agreed! We’ve never really been that into road trips, but despite how exhausting the drive was, we both really enjoyed it and might take that approach to future trips, too 🙂

  8. Brown Gal Trekker says: Reply

    I drove 10 hours plus stopovers from DC to Bentonville, Arkansas and thought that would be my limit. I’d do this drive but break it up midpoint thought – after all the scenery is gorgeous so I’d rather take my time.

    1. Jeez, that’s definitely a heck of a drive. Honestly, I think we were able to do it in a day because we had two pairs of eyes on the road. If we hadn’t been able to switch out, for whatever reason, we’d’ve been in the same boat, stopping in between. That said, whether you break it up or marathon it, it’s still absolutely gorgeous 🙂

  9. Awesome guide! I liked the boyfriend perspectives throughout. While it does sound like a very lengthy drive, those views throughout make it all worthwhile. The drive from Toronto to Quebec is around the same time length, but the views are nothing in comparison!

    1. Ha! That’s good to know! And thank you for the kind feedback 🙂

  10. This is on my road trips to do someday. Mostly when I plan to start exploring the Canadian National Parks. I really want to go hiking in Banff (and Jasper) then drive to Alaska.

    1. That sounds like an amazing trip! Alaska has some stunning landscapes that would definitely be a great compliment to Banff and Jasper. I hope you make it there soon!!

  11. Hello! My boyfriend and I plan on doing this roadtrip in July. Since we’ll be with a kid we don’t plan on doing the full 10+ hour trip in one day. Do you have any cheap suggestions on where to stay overnight along the way?

    1. Oh that’s awesome!! I think you could probably stop in Harrison Hot Springs (cute little lake resort town which is just shy of halfway between the two cities) or Kamloops, which IS about halfway and is very suburban. We stopped in both spots to stretch our legs, but they’d make good stopover points, too 🙂

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