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Vancouver is often used as an entry and/or exit point for the Canadian Rockies. So, although the Canadian Rockies are nearly 800 km (500 miles) from Vancouver, it seems appropriate to provide an information page on getting to the Rockies here in the Vancouver section of TripAdvisor's Inside Pages.
In the summer and fall, driving provides maximum flexibility for choosing your route and for stopping when and where you want. In addition, if two or more people are sharing a car, driving is one of the most affordable ways to travel to and through the Canadian Rockies.
Be aware that if you pick up a car in one city (say Vancouver) and drop it off in another city (say Calgary), you are likely to incur a one-way drop off fee that may add considerably to the cost of renting a car. Find out, and obtain in writing, the terms that apply to your rental. Ask if the daily rate includes unlimited kilometres. Ask if you have to pay more for a second driver. If you are paying in advance, ask what charges -- such as the 5% GST perhaps -- will be payable at your destination.
Also be aware that if you are undertaking the trip in the summer or fall, there is no need to rent a 4x4 vehicle. The roads are paved, and a regular vehicle can handle them perfectly well.
Driving from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies is not recommended during the winter months -- from the beginning of November to the end of April. The transitional months of October and May are somewhat risky too. From November through April it is highly recommended that you fly from Vancouver to Calgary or Edmonton and then access the Canadian Rockies by road from there.
Before driving to the mountains and most certainly before attempting winter driving, it is recommended that the traveler consult the TripAdvisor page entitled Inside Canadian Rockies : Driving in the Mountains .
If you are travelling at your own pace, but like the idea of a guided tour, consider renting a GyPSy Guide - a small device that runs on GPS technology and plugs into the car stereo. It will automatically trigger commentary about history, geology, directions and quirky Canadian stories. and has over 4000 points between Vancouver, Victoria up to the Canadian Rockies.
Greyhound offers a scheduled bus service.
Note that Greyhound's scheduled buses travel from one downtown core to another. They do not take passengers to scenic lookout points located on side roads .
Two trains serve the Canadian Rockies.
The first is the VIARail train that travels from Vancouver to Jasper three times a week from May through October and twice a week the rest of the year. ViaRail leaves Vancouver on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 8:30 PM and arrives in Jasper National Park, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the following afternoon at 4:00 PM.
Traveling in the opposite direction, the train leaves Jasper at 2:30 PM each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday and arrives in Vancouver the following morning at 9:43 AM.
The price of this trip depends on what month you travel and whether you choose coach (no bed and no food), upper berth, lower berth or a private bedroom for one, two or three.There are very few three person bedrooms, they sell out early and they are never discounted.
It's a good idea to book ViaRail trains early because discounted tickets are available until they sell out, and there's no predicting when that will happen. Once it does, fares go up about $300 per ticket.
After the ViaRail train leaves Jasper, it continues to Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Toronto. You can then, after a few hours delay, continue on to Montreal, to Quebec City and, finally, to Halifax.
The other train to the Canadian Rockies is the luxurious but expensive Rocky Mountaineer , which runs from the last week of April to the first week of October. This train travels only during daylight hours, so passengers can enjoy all of the scenery along the journey. Passengers on the First Passage to the West Route overnight in Kamloops, and then continue the following day to Banff and, less often, to Calgary.
Those traveling the Journey to the Clouds Route spend the night at a hotel in Kamloops, and then carry on to Jasper. The Rainforest to Gold Rush Route connects Whistler and Jasper, with an overnight stop in Quesnel. A trip on the Rainforest to Gold Rush Route can be added to a trip from Vancouver to Whistler.
The Rocky Mountaineer offers three levels of service on the train: RedLeaf, SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf.
RedLeaf Service includes reserved seating in comfortable, traditional passenger cars with picture windows, breakfast and lunch served at your seat each day, complimentary nonalcoholic beverages and overnight accommodations in Kamloops.
SilverLeaf Service includes reserved seating in a custom built single level car with 67% more viewing area than RedLeaf, hot breakfast and lunch served at your seat, complimentary wine or beer with lunch, complimentary nonalcoholic beverages during the day and overnight accommodations in Kamloops.
GoldLeaf Service includes reserved seating in the elevated GoldLeaf dome car, breakfast and lunch in the GoldLeaf dining car and access to the GoldLeaf outdoor viewing platform. Complimentary alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages are included on the train and overnight accommodations are included in Kamloops.
Rocky Mountaineer train packages range from two day / one night journeys between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies to the 11 day Golden Circle.
Some of the most interesting packages include journeys on both trains. The Rockies, Rails and Glaciers includes both the Rocky Mountaineer and the ViaRail train.
Note that, as is the case with scheduled buses, trains do not take their passengers to scenic lookout points that are located on side roads. In addition to that, there is no rail services along the Icefields Parkway, the highly scenic route that connects Jasper and Lake Louise. Because of this limitation, rail -- on its own -- is a less than ideal way of traveling to the Rockies. However, a train journey can be an enjoyable way of reaching the Rockies if it is combined with sight seeing by car or coach once the passenger reaches Jasper or Banff.
There are a number of companies that offer guided coach tours through the Canadian Rockies. Some tours rely on buses for the entire trip. Other tours transport their passengers from Vancouver to Jasper on the Rocky Mountaineer, and then transfer them onto coaches for sight seeing in the mountains.
Discover Canada Tours and West Trek Tours offers budget-friendly, four day guided trips to the Rockies. The tours have been designed to include stops like Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Athabasca Falls, Jasper, Banff, the Columbia Icefields and more. All passengers stay in hotels, as well as mountain cabins on certain tours. In addition to Rockies trips, West Trek offers day trips to Victoria, Whistler, and Seattle.
Although coach tours lack the flexibility of a self-drive trip, they do visit popular scenic lookout points that are off the main highways. But the offerings of coach tours do vary. Some of them include visits to more sites than others. One way to find out if a tour is a comprehensive one is to ask if it includes a visit to Maligne Canyon (outside of Jasper townsite), Peyto Lake (along the Icefields Parkway) and Moraine Lake (9 miles from Lake Louise).
Moose Travel Network offers a flexible bus adventure bus tour that is aimed at young and young-at-heart travelers. Many of Moose Travel Network's passengers stay in hostels, but you can travel on the company's buses even if you do not stay in hostels. Moose Travel Network's buses do take detours to scenic attractions that are off the main roads. In addition to that, Moose Travel Network offers a myriad of optional activities, such as whitewater rafting.
Some folks travel by motorhome or campervan and stay in campgrounds along their route. This form of travel brings great enjoyment to many people. It enables them to experience the Rockies in a different way. However, the overseas traveler who needs to rent an RV in Canada should be under no illusion that RVing is cheaper than renting a car and staying in hotels. RVs consume much more gasoline than regular cars do. The RV rental fee, the cost of gasoline, and campground fees add up to a vacation that is in the same league —from a cost point of view — as a conventional trip. Also, if you are unfamiliar with camping and RV operations (e.g. propane systems, sewage dumping), you may find that you've added an extra layer of complexity and potential problems to your holiday time.
To find out about the logistics of RVing, read Travelling in Western Canada (along with all of the subsidiary pages related to RVing) and Inside Canada : RVing the Trans-Canada Highway . A forum that is dedicated to RVing is the Open Roads Forum . The posters who regularly participate in the discussions there are experienced RVers. They are very familiar with different types of RVs, routes, campgrounds, etc. Another website which may be of use to you is Camping_Girl's travel page about RVing - RV rental information . If you read through the albums towards the bottom of the page you will find information about what to consider when renting a RV as well as useful info about wildlife and meal preparation on the road.
If you want to access the Canadian Rockies in winter, it is best to fly to Calgary or Edmonton and then to make your way to Banff / Lake Louise or Jasper by road. Highway travel through the mountains of British Columbia requires extensive preparations and precautions, it can be frightening for the inexperienced winter driver, and it can be subject to delays of 24 hours or more when roads are closed because of blizzards and rock slides. So flying is an attractive option from November through April.
Both AirCanada and WestJet offer frequent daily flights between Vancouver and Calgary. Flights take less than 90 minutes and since Calgary is an hour ahead of Vancouver, the flight from Calgary to Vancouver appears to take almost no time at all.
Once you reach Calgary, you are just 86 miles from Banff. You can rent a car at the Calgary airport and drive - the drive takes less than 2 hours, or you can take a Brewster airport shuttle from Calgary airport to Banff for $50. Buses leave Calgary airport for Banff at 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 15:30 , 17:00, 18:30, 20:30.
Airport Shuttles also leave Banff hotels for Calgary airport at 5:45, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 15:45, 19:00.
Many people who take the train to the Canadian Rockies go one way by train, Vancouver to Banff, for example, and then carry on to Calgary airport and catch a flight home, or back to Vancouver.
For a step-by-step guide to planning a summer or autumn trip from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies (or vice versa), see Inside Banff National Park : Planning a Summer Trip . The page discusses the best times at which to travel, provides a link to sample itineraries , and addresses many other logistical aspects of such a trip. For help and information planning a train trip to the Canadian Rockies, see Canadian Rockies Trains: Planning your Canadian Rockies Train Trip