Using a selection of simple wilderness hostels and some well-located campsites, this overland adventure is a low cost way to explore all the stunning national parks that Canada has to offer, combining the temperate rainforest found on Vancouver Island with the lofty peaks and glacial lakes of the Rockies.
Banff National Park - Canada's most beautiful national park, including the picture-postcard lakes Louise and Moraine
Jasper National Park - Visit the mindblowing landscapes up the Icefields Parkway, and search for wildlife including moose and elk
Pacific Rim National Park - Incredible rainforest, rugged beaches and a chance to go bear spotting or whale watching
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive into Calgary and check into our centrally-located hostel. This dynamic city is a rich fusion of modern architecture and traditional heritage, where the pioneering history of the Canadian west is woven into everyday life. Due to the number of evening flights into Calgary, your Tour Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning on Day 2, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you'll need for the day. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Calgary International Airport (airport code: YYC), which is a 20 minute drive from the hostel. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, you may have time to explore the city and soak up the friendly ambience. Filled with museums, shops and cafes, the centre of the city is a great place to just wander and take in its majestic setting against the backdrop of the ever present mountains.
This morning we will have a short orientation tour of Calgary, discovering some of the impressive architecture that stands below the mighty Rockies, which rear in the background like a distant tidal wave. These rugged mountains, interspersed with moments of serenity in the form of turquoise lakes and cascading falls, beg for further exploration and we waste no time in heading west up into the hills. We will be visiting Banff National Park today, and have various options to spend our afternoon. We highly recommend taking an optional excursion by aerial tram to the top of Sulphur Mountain - if the weather is clear, the views across the Rockies are breathtaking. You may also want to spend time in the town of Banff itself. A bustling and lively place, it is easy to get infused with the energy that surrounds you. Banff is also famous for its hot springs. In fact, it was the discovery of the hot springs in 1883 that led to the building of the settlement here. Relaxing in these geothermal waters is a wonderful way to while away a few hours one afternoon. There are also numerous optional excursions, from canoeing on the Bow River to taking a scenic helicopter flight over various of the surrounding mountains, which can all be organised locally. Our base for the next two nights is a wilderness hostel in Kananaskis Country, an amazing location to explore this mountain playground in the foothills of the Rockies. With hot showers and electricity, this hostel is 'wilderness lite' - but surrounded by nature we'll have a real getaway from the city. A note on our hostels: all of the hostels that we use throughout the trip are multi-share. You'll be sleeping in dorms with shared bathrooms. Read our accommodation notes for more details.
We will have day of walks in Kananaskis country today. This underrated gem just on the outskirts of Banff is a hikers dream, with plenty of wildlife to spot, pristine alpine meadows and mountain views aplenty. We will discover the views and wildlife on foot today, with some easy walks. A note on walking: although this part of Canada is made for the outdoors, this trip isn't specifically a walking holiday. As such the Tour Leader will judge walks based on the entire group's fitness and capabilities, which will be easy or moderate trails. If you want more challenging walks and these are available on site, your tour leader will give you the information to do it by yourself. Some trails require a minimum number of hikers per group.
Today we will be discovering more of Banff National Park, with a visit to the picture postcard lakes, Louise and Moraine. Tom Wilson, the first white Canadian to see Lake Louise, when he was led there by a local indigenous person in 1882, wrote 'I never, in all my explorations of these five chains of mountains throughout western Canada, saw such a matchless scene... I felt puny in body, but glorified in spirit and soul'. Despite the increasing number of visitors to the lake, it is still so vast that you can feel quite alone there, experiencing the same feelings of awe that Tom Wilson had the first time he saw it. The brilliant blue-green waters of both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are guaranteed to give us the quintessential Canadian feeling, surrounded as they are by pine forest and glacier-topped mountains. We have our first night of camping this evening in Lake Louise. A note on our campsites: all sites used throughout the trip have toilet and shower blocks, and are in beautiful natural locations. You'll help to set up and break camp, as well as loading and unloading the trailer. Meanwhile, your local guide will cook you up some tasty food in the evenings. Some campsites include kitchen areas, and others have space for barbecues and fire pits.
The Icefields Parkway is one of the world's greatest scenic drives, and we have the luxury of spending an entire day covering this route on our journey towards Jasper National Park. We leave Kananaskis and Banff behind us, travelling along the Icefields Parkway which cuts its way through a mountain wilderness filled with rivers and stunning glacial lakes. Every kilometre of the Parkway is witness to spectacular scenery and we are likely to encounter wildlife along the road itself such as deer or even bear. We continue northwards and pass alongside the Columbia icefields where we will stop at the Athabasca Glacier and falls. Mount Edith Cavell's wilderness hostel lies at the end of today's journey - this is true wilderness, with no electricity or running water (log burning fires heat the place in the cool evenings). However, what it lacks in amenities it more than makes up for in the location - the views out to Angel Glacier and Cavell Meadows are breathtaking. This is truly the Canadian wilds.
We start today with a walk in Cavell Meadows, with spectacular mountain views throughout. We then have the full day ahead of us to explore the various highlights of the area around Jasper. Keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife that roams freely here - wapiti, elk, moose and bear. Aside from hikes in the park, you may wish to take the Jasper Tramway to the high alpine terrain of Whistler Mountain (named for the whistling sounds of the marmots that live there), try one of the many biking trails in the area or go rafting on class 2 or 3 rapids - suitable for beginners.
Heading northwest this morning we drive towards Mount Robson Provincial Park. We will see Mount Robson itself, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (3,954m). It is tall enough to create its own weather patterns, and if we're lucky we'll be able to view this photogenic monolith from top to bottom. Time permitting we will take the two hour hike to Kinney Lake, before leaving the mountain behind and continuing onto Clearwater, and our campsite for the evening. After setting up camp, this afternoon we head the short distance to Spahats Creek Provincial Park from where we can take an easy walk to the 61m high Spahats Falls. These impressive falls cascade down through layers of pinky-red volcanic rock, and from the observation point we should also have a great view down the Clearwater Valley.
Wells Gray Provincial Park is an underrated beauty, the numerous glacial rivers and lakes fuelling 39 waterfalls in the wild forests, among which Helmcken Falls, at 141m, stands tall as one of the highest waterfalls in Canada. There are spectacular views from all along the park entrance road and great opportunities for wildlife spotting. The entrance to the short trail to Helmcken Falls is just off the road, and after viewing the roaring torrent we are then free for the rest of the day. The park offers an array of outdoor activities, including hiking and canoeing on amazingly clear lakes (all optional). You can hire a canoe here and feel as if you are really paddling off into the wilderness.
Today we drive southwest to Whistler, pausing en route at various places to soak up the wonderful views. We will travel through the mountains of interior British Columbia, through different environments and climates, stopping at several viewpoints such as Savona or Seton Lake, where we can do some short walks. Our hostel for the evening is about a 10 minute local bus ride from Whistler town centre, and those who wish can head into town for a drink.
We have a free day in Whistler to enjoy the variety of activities on offer here, including a ride on the Peak2Peak gondola with spectacular views across the Rockies. There will also be the chance to walk on different trails around Whistler, either up on the mountains or around the peaceful shores of Lake Cheakamus. Trails vary from 30 minutes to several hours, and we can choose with the help of our local guide.
This morning we follow Route 99, more famously known as the Sea to Sky Highway, towards the Pacific Coast city of Vancouver. We continue to Horseshoe Bay, from where we will catch the early ferry across to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Although the island stretches almost 500km from north to south, it only has a population of 500,000 and with its numerous provincial parks it is easy to escape into the wilderness. On our arrival to the ferry terminal, we set off on our 3.5 hour drive to Pacific Rim National Park, which will undoubtedly be the highlight of our time on the island. The 130 km long park encompasses mountains, coastal rainforest, wild beaches and unkempt marine landscapes - all as diverse as they are beautiful. Our campground this evening has walking access to a beach on the Pacific Coast, well maintained bathroom facilities, and a firepit for warming up in the evening.
Today we are free to choose from a variety of different activities. The two most popular excursions are both out to sea. The more energetic may wish to take to kayaks and explore this wild coastline of hidden coves and rocky inlets. Alternatively, there is the chance to go whale watching from one of the coastal villages in the park. There is also the opportunity to go black bear watching today from a zodiac boat, or take an optional walk along one of the park's many trails. Our local guide will be on hand to organise these trips and accompany those wishing to choose one of the optional walks.
We'll drive south today, away from the wilderness of the Pacific Rim National Park and towards the much gentler scenery of Victoria. On the way we will make stops to view the totem poles carved by the First Nations of the Northwest Coast. In 1884 the Federal Government outlawed 'pot latching' and this unique art form nearly died out. Fortunately, in recent times there has been a revived interest in this proud tradition and the totems that can be found along this stretch of coast are strong reminders of the island's native people. Time permitting this afternoon we may have some time to explore Victoria before driving to our campsite near Goldstream Provincial Park. Here, massive trees and majestic waterfalls are found just 16km away from Victoria City.
Vancouver is easily one of the most cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse cities in Canada, with a lively art, theatre and music scene as well as a sporty population who spend their weekends heading into the mountains year-round. Catching the ferry back across from the island this morning, we'll be thrust back into civilisation again. Despite this, the city's setting on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean, and the mountainous backdrop, will remind you that nature is never far away. During the afternoon, we have a brief orientation tour before exploring the city for ourselves. Stanley Park is worth a visit - an enormous public park that borders the downtown area, offering beaches, trails, a scenic seawall and plenty more. This evening, Gastown may be on the agenda, an attractive area offering many restaurants and bars.
Our trip ends this morning in Vancouver. This trip is very intense for our Tour Leader, as they will be driving, guiding, cooking and assisting in the camp set-up all week. Usually they go straight into another trip beginning the next day (tomorrow), so with that in mind our Tour Leader will end his trip with us at the end of Day 14, and you will not see them today. Breakfast is not included this morning at the hostel, but there are plenty of great cafes and bakeries nearby in downtown Vancouver. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Vancouver at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at the hostel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Vancouver International Airport (airport code: YVR), which is approximately a 40 minute drive away from the hostel.
May-Sep is the best time to visit, when the weather is usually warm, dry and pleasant. Temperatures can be a little cooler on the coast and in the mountains; rain can be expected at any time. Early in the season, there can be snow in some areas which may limit walking possibilities.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against tetanus, typhoid, infectious hepatitis and polio. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
There are a number of exciting optional excursions you can do on your trip. These activities are booked and paid for direct with the supplier and do not form part of your Explore holiday contract. Part of the joy of Canada is in exploring the parks on foot, for free - so you can do as many or as few of these optional excursions as you wish and have a fantastic experience either way.
Banff - Gondola CAD$ 65; Hot Springs CAD$ 7.30; Canoeing on the Bow River CAD$ 45 (1hr) CAD$ 70 (2 hrs); Three Sisters Peaks Helicopter tour CAD$ 129 (15mins); Royal Canadian Helicopter tour CAD$ 259 (25mins); Mt. Assiniboine Helicopter tour CAD$ 314 (30mins)
Lake Louise - Canoe rental CAD$115 per half hour, CAD$126 per hour
Jasper - Skytram CAN$ 69; Maligne boat tour CAD$ 72; Rafting trip CAD$ 69-102 (Athabasca River - class 2 rapids or Sunwapta River - class 3 rapids); Bike hire from CAD$55 (for 5 hrs including helmet)
Wells Gray - Canoeing CAD$ 110 (including lunch)
Whistler - Tree Trek - CAD$ 59; Rafting CAD$ 109 ($ 65 for under 16yr olds) (option of class 1 to 2; class 2&3; or class 3&4 rapids); Zip line CAD$ 129; Gondola CAD$ 69
Vancouver Island - Whale Watching (3 hours) CAD$ 109; Wildlife and hot spring (6 hours) CAD$ 139 + tax (food & drink not included); Sea Kayaking CAD$ 90 (4 hours); Bear Viewing CAD$109
All prices are per person.
When travelling to Canada, you will need the following:
ETA - Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ETA here - http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp - other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office.
ESTA - only if transiting via the USA
Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA here - https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov - you must have an electronic passport with a digital chip containing biometric information. If you have visited Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since March 2011, or dual national of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA. In this case you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US embassy or consulate.
I94 - The I94 is a history of entries and exits to the US. You can get this online here for $6
- https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home - as each i94 accessed is only valid for border crossings for 7 days, it is best to apply for this when in country - your Explore Leader will assist you with this.
All holidays are subject to availability and prices are subject to change.