With the Escape Campervans rental sites now open in Calgary, it has never been easier to explore the magnificent Canadian Rockies. From towering mountains to turquoise lakes, there is no shortage of incredible scenery around every corner of this Canadian paradise. Nature dominates the landscape as rivers carve canyons and valleys into the mountain ranges and wildlife roams freely within close proximity to mountain towns.
We took a Big Sur campervan from Vancouver to Calgary at the end of April for six days filled with breathtaking scenery, epic camping spots, and recreational opportunities galore. Intermittent cellphone service gave us the opportunity to recharge and reconnect with nature and ourselves as we embarked on a 1,390 km (863 mi) journey across an entire province and into the most revered national parks in Canada.
Distance: 1,390 km (863 mi)
Time: 6 Days + (13 hrs driving)
Vancouver to Wells Gray Provincial Park
7.5 hours | 612 km (380 mi)
After a thorough briefing of the Big Sur’s functionality and amenities, we loaded up the van and hit the road towards our first destination – Wells Gray Provincial Park. Our first day was to be our longest driving day, made even longer by taking the scenic route through the Fraser Canyon (Highway 1). The highway travels alongside the mighty Fraser River that has through time carved through the Coast Mountains on its way to the ocean. It is an area steeped in history with a boom and bust of a gold rush in the late 1800s and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Where to camp near Wells Gray Provincial Park
Once at Cache Creek, we continued east following the Thompson River motoring through Kamloops to our destination – Pyramid Campground in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The campground is open in the off-season for no fee and has outhouses and well-water. Best of all, it’s minutes away from the spectacular Helmcken Falls – the fourth-highest waterfall in Canada. We spent the evening viewing the falls in solitude before falling asleep in the van to the sound of hail hitting the roof.
Wells Gray Provincial Park to Mount Robson
3.5 hours | 275 km (170 mi)
We woke up to a fresh layer of sleet on the ground after a restful first night in the van. We stayed surprisingly warm with the bedding provided though we did layer up in thermals, warm socks, and sweaters before getting into bed. After whipping up a quick breakfast hash and coffee we began our journey out of the park, first stopping to view Spahats Creek Falls and Dawson Falls, and onwards towards Mount Robson.
The drive from Wells Gray Provincial Park to Mount Robson had us wedged between the Cariboo Mountains, heli-ski bases, and small towns before the colossal mountain appeared in the distance standing up to its nickname “The Great White Fright.” Mount Robson is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies and is included within the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural beauty, geological and ecological significance, and diverse wildlife.
Where to camp near Mount Robson
After taking way too many photos, our attempt to find a campsite was futile as all were closed during the off-season, however, driving up an old dirt road we found the perfect spot to park for the night – no campground needed thanks to the van.
Mount Robson to Jasper
1 hour | 87 km (54 mi)
With Mount Robson in all its glory greeting us to a new day, we embarked on the next leg of our trip – Mount Robson to Jasper. It’s a short drive between the two which was great since there were many sights to see that day in and around Jasper. The town itself is quite small and surrounded by mountains and free-range elk. We enjoyed a meal and beers at Canada’s first national park brewery, Jasper Brewing Company, right off the main drag (try the Jasper the Bear Ale!). We poked around, gathered more supplies, and headed out towards Maligne Lake.
Be Sure To Get A Park Pass!
Visitors entering and traveling through Jasper and Banff National Parks will need to purchase a park pass. We opted for the yearly pass since we were going to be within the park for several days. The pass is mandatory, and you will be fined if you do not have one.
The drive from Jasper to Maligne Lake takes one hour, but not without many stops along the way. We were on the prowl for wildlife and we hoped to get lucky along this stretch of road – and we were! We spotted a moose from a distance walking on the frozen Medicine Lake, a nesting bald eagle, and many tracks in the snow indicating that there was life here. Maligne Lake was frozen solid and we were able to walk on it and capture some photos, and we stopped at Maligne Canyon on the way out for a short hike to view the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park.
Where to camp near Jasper National Park
We camped that night at the Wapiti Campground just south of Jasper which offers serviced and unserviced spots, running water, a heated washroom with sink and flush toilets, and free firewood (in April at least!). It was a bit chilly but we warmed up next to the campfire and fell asleep to the sound of the nearby Athabasca River.
Jasper to Saskatchewan River Crossing
2 hours | 153 km (95 mi)
It was another short driving day today which was fine by us as there were many sightseeing options along the way. Still frozen but flowing, Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls provided a brief sightseeing stop before encroaching on visiting a bucket list location – the Columbia Icefields. Part of the Icefields Parkway runs between Jasper and Banff and runs parallel to the Continental Divide. The Columbia Ice Field is the largest ice field in the Rockies and feeds six major glaciers, many visible from the highway. Some of the highest mountains in the Canadian Rockies are located around the edges of the Columbia Icefield – this is a road not to be missed (or driven at night!).
Where to camp near Icefields Parkway
Initially, we wanted to camp somewhere near the Columbia Icefields though decided against it due to the cold and inability to find an open campsite. Debating whether or not we wanted to drive straight to Lake Louise, we ended up turning east at the Saskatchewan River Crossing and we’re sure glad we did. We combed the David Thompson Highway for rec sites before coming across the most perfect spot right next to the Saskatchewan River and all to ourselves.
Saskatchewan River Crossing to Lake Louise
1 hour | 78 km (48 mi) Lake Louise to Banff: 1 hour | 60 km (37 mi)
The distance was not long for the next stage of our journey but there are many stops along the way we did not want to rush. The drive from Saskatchewan River Crossing to Lake Louise was sunny but cold and we even encountered fresh powder! Many of the famously turquoise lakes were still frozen solid but beautiful, such as Bow Lake and Peyto Lake, and many parking lots inaccessible due to the snow. We didn’t mind – there were no crowds and the views were still epic.
Lake Louise was definitely where the crowds started to pick up and the big tour buses took over. We grabbed a hearty lunch from Laggan’s and drove to the glacier-fed yet still fully frozen Lake Louise. It was snowing, cold, and busy, so we snapped a few photos and hit the road to Banff via the Bow Valley Parkway. As soon as we turned onto the parkway, the crowds dissipated as we searched for wildlife and drove towards Johnston’s Canyon. We enjoyed the hike within the canyon to view frozen waterfalls, tunnels, and pools and appreciated the rise in temperature as we defrosted from our visit to Lake Louise.
Where to camp near Banff
From Johnston’s Canyon where we spent a couple of hours exploring, we weren’t far from Banff – the first municipality to incorporate within a Canadian national park. Many of the campsites were again closed, but Tunnel Mountain Campground a short eight kilometers from town had a few serviced campsites open. Finally, a chance to try out our electric heater for the night (it was great)! The campground overlooked the mighty Mount Rundle, was a short walk to a liquor store, and if you’re feeling fancy – a resort with waterslides, pools, and hot tubs that allow the public in for $12. Soaking in a hot tub while surrounded by mountains is a pretty great way to end the day.
Banff to Calgary
1.5 hours | 125 km (77 mi)
Banff is a resort town and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada for good reason. The number of recreational activities you can do from hiking, skiing, biking, and scrambling make it the perfect place to visit for those looking for a bit of adventure, but it’s also a great place to relax and recoup from a long road trip. Within Banff, you can visit hot springs, ride (or hike to the top of) the gondola to Sulphur Mountain, shop, wine & dine and visit museums and historical landmarks. We drove out to Lake Minnewanka (again, frozen), saw a herd of bighorn sheep, and had some fantastic viewpoints along the way.
We said goodbye to the mountains as we drove towards our final destination – Calgary. If we had one more day, Kananaskis Country would be on the list for exceptional hiking and scenery, but onward we went. The drive from Banff to Calgary leaves you watching longingly as the mountains disappear into the rearview mirror as you approach the biggest city in Alberta to return your campervan. The Calgary camper van rental site is about fifteen minutes out of town so we painstakingly gave back the van, used Uber to get a ride, and headed back to reality at the Calgary International Airport.
Driving a Big Sur campervan across the province to explore the Canadian Rockies should be on everyone’s bucket list. The van makes it so incredibly easy and comfortable to travel through and camp in the national parks. We were so happy we traveled this route in April – even though the weather could be unpredictable we had mainly sunny days, no crowds, and no problems finding camping spots. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone looking to get off the beaten path to discover and explore all that the Canadian Rockies have to offer – we had the best time and can’t wait to travel in an Escape campervan again!
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