I just returned from a trip exploring Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks with my mom. There is so much to do and see in the parks that I had a hard time figuring out which sights to see and how long to spend in each park. Now, having learned, I know the Canadian Rockies driving itinerary that I would recommend for the parks in the summer.
My trip was 10 days long in total including two travel days. Short of wanting to pick up and move to the breath-taking Canadian Rockies permanently, ten days seemed the perfect amount of time to see the highlights of all three parks. I've also put 7 and 12 day itinerary option in this post.
Day 1: Fly into Calgary and drive to Banff or Yoho to stay for the next 5 nights, it is approximately a 3.5 hour drive from the Calgary airport to Field in Yoho. We stayed in the little town of Field, which was the perfect place to access both parks and stay away from the mass of tourists in Banff NP. It is close to all the sights in Yoho and only about 20 minutes drive to Lake Louise in Banff.
*I watched our weather everyday because the weather in the Rockies changes so much minute to minute. If you are interested in trying my next suggestions scramble the days based on the weather.
Day 2: Go to Lake Louise and hike to Lake Agnus and Little Beehive. This hike is definitely worth it even though it is popular and busy for my taste. This short hike is only 2.2 miles to Lake Agnus and another .6 miles to the Little Beehive, however the constant uphill climb, 1700 ft. in elevation, made me huff and puff. The Lake Agnus Tea House is open from early June to early October. Hiking and tea... two of my favorite things. However, when I arrived at the Tea House around 11:30 it was jammers, to the point I couldn't physically get inside. All this being said I'd start this hike by 8 AM at the latest. If you are an avid hiker you can add a loop to the Plain of Six Glaciers (which also has a tea house) into the hike to make it a day-long affair. Afterwards enjoy Lake Louise. To get away from the selfie-crazed tourists (I take the occasional selfie, but one really does not need to do every single duck-faced pose in front of each view) around the lake we went into the Fairmont Chateau to rest our throbbing legs and wolf down appetizers at the casual restaurant overlooking the lake. For an extra-long day add an evening visit to Moraine Lake.
Day 3: There are two other sights I would make sure to see in Banff National Park, Johnston Canyon and Moraine Lake. I'd do one in the early morning and one in the evening to avoid the mobs at midday. The parking lot to Moraine Lake is closed when it is full, so midday during the peak season is pretty much not an option, but we went in the evening and it was absolutely lovely. If you have time, hike to Consolation Lakes from Moraine Lake. Johnston Canyon, while gorgeous, was the busiest hike we did, feeling more like walking through Disneyland than hiking, but the drive down highway 1A and stopping to marvel at Castle Mountain was a definite favorite of mine.
Day 4: Explore Yoho National Park! Walking the loop around Emerald Lake and the hike to Wapta Falls are definitely doable in a day. On the way to Emerald Lake definitely pull off to see the Natural Bridge. We hiked the whole loop around Emerald Lake. (There were a few other hikes from there that seemed interesting, too). I would not hike the south part of the Emerald lake loop again as it was marshy, buggy, and the views from the south side were not as spectacular as the north side. The Wapta Falls hike all the way down to the bottom of the falls is definitely worth it, especially if you can time it with the evening sun to see the rainbow over the falls.
Day 5: This is my dream day because these two sights were on my wish list and we were too early in the season to do either of them. Lake O'Hara has a bus that runs from mid-June through September (it must be booked in advance through the park hotline or a 22 km hike when the bus isn't running). No private cars are allowed. Takakkaw Falls, a tall waterfall worth hiking to, is closed until mid- June due to snow.
Day 6: Leave Field and head up the Icefield Parkway to Jasper. Along the Icefields Parkway definitely stop at Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Bridal Falls, Columbia Icefield Center, Tangle Falls, Sunwapta Falls, Kerkeslin Goat Lick (a salty area by the road that mountain goats are drawn to), and Athabasca Falls. Then stay in Jasper. I would do the sights north of the Icefield Center a day later when exploring Jasper. That gives you more time in the lower part of the Icefield parkway to add a hike to Chephren Lake and/or Mistaya Canyon. THIS IS A LONG DAY OF DRIVING, but worth it for the the jaw-dropping beauty. We saw bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and ten bears along the Icefield Parkway right by the side of the road, so ask passengers in the car to be on the lookout for wildlife.
12 DAY ITINERARY OPTION: Take a detour at Saskatchewan Crossing to stay 2 nights at Aurum Lodge, a fabulous eco-tourism lodge on Abraham Lake, and on your day there go to and hike around Crescent Falls.
Day 7: Explore sights around Jasper: Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls (if you didn't have a chance while driving up), Pyramid Lake, and Maligne Canyon.
7 DAY ITINERARY OPTION: If you only have the time to do a 7 day trip, checkout Pyramid Lake once in Jasper and then head to Edmonton to fly out. We flew into Calgary and out of Edmonton and it happened to be cheaper than flying round trip to Calgary.
Day 8: Drive down to Maligne Lake and ride the boat to the famous, picturesque island. I did not do this because apparently the lake fills slowly through the summer as the ice and snow melt and, therefore, in early summer it looks dry and empty.
Day 9: I wanted to revisit several sights that were my favorites on our last day. So use day 9 to pick your favorite sight to revisit or another hike you want to add close to Jasper and then head to Edmonton to fly out, OR for a very long day of driving, go back down the Icefields parkway to fly out of Calgary.
Day 10: If you have not decided to live here permanently, fly out.
Time of year to go? We went the first week of June hoping to avoid some of the tourist crowds that are there mid-June through mid-September. It was quite crowded in Banff National Park, but not yet very crowded in Yoho or Jasper. However, several hikes and roads were not open yet due to ice and snow at the higher elevations.
Hiking: I could easily have stayed in these parks a month to hike a different hike everyday. While there are beautiful sights from the side of the road, I highly recommend being able to hike 3-6 kilometers so that you can add some amazing hikes to your trip. Also, considering we saw 17 bears, I recommend having bear spray with you at all times.
Parks Pass: Guests to the parks need a pass, so look into the most economical parks pass option for you. We were there 10 days, so the Discovery Pass was best for us.
Did this post inspire your Canadian Rockies Driving itinerary? Let me know!