Canadian Travel Guide: The BEST Places to Visit in Western Canada
If you have followed me for awhile you may have discovered that I am slightly obsessed with Canada. (Like REAL hooked, as in TAKE ME CANADA…I’M YOURS!) I have visited a handful of times in the past two years and I have no plans to stop anytime soon. Usually during a visit (within the first few days of my stay) I am already booking my next trip to come back. (I TOLD y’all!)
I have had countless people ask me about the best places to go from my Canadian explorations, so I thought I’d dedicate a blog post to making this a bit easier for all those who were wondering! (Plus visuals also make words a lot easier to take in… am I right?)
This guide will only go over certain places in Alberta & British Columbia so if you are looking for other Provinces you may want to keep on digging elsewhere. Sorry! West Canada just has me so hooked; I keep coming back.
A note to all my American friends:
First things first. Canadians are the nicest people EVER. Coming from the States, we are not necessarily known to be overly open and inviting, I was not used the warmth and friendliness I felt from Canadians I would encounter. And it’s rarely fake like it is in the States. (I’m guilty of the fake kindness not gonna lie there) Canadians genuinely are so peaceful and caring. I LOVE IT SO MUCH!
Canada does not have states - it have provinces. (like I mentioned above) So you will hear things like Provincial Parks instead of State Parks. It’s pretty freaking sweet.
Also, as it’s stood for the past couples years, we are winning in terms of currency exchange. This means that things are usually a little cheaper for us after conversion. (which makes me feel much better cause Canada like to be pricy with her stuff…they have some of the most expensive gas prices - especially near Vancouver. Keep that in mind!) Provinces
Also their money is SO pretty and I want every bill. NO JOKE It’s colorful and partially transparent and so influenced by nature. They don’t have pennies or $1/$2 dollar bills. They have…wait for it…
LOONIES & TOONIES. I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP.
Loonies ae their $1 coin and Toonies…yep you guessed it - $2 coin. HOW ADORABLE ARE THEY?!
Yes. They drive on the right side of the road. (the same as us)
It differs where you are flying from of course, but for me Seattle, WA has been my favorite layover spot when flying into Vancouver. It’s a smaller airport, (compared to Atlanta which is my home base) absolutely beautiful inside and out, and it’s only about a 30 minute flight from Seattle to Vancouver! I’ve flown through Toronto and it wasn’t that enjoyable for me. It’s so much bigger and crazier, (like Atlanta) and I enjoy much more the cozy feeling of Sea-Tac. Plus Seeing Mt. Rainer from outside your plane window is pretty incredible.
And now, let’s get to the good stuff…
Who’s ready to see all the goodies?! YEEEES…ME TOO!!
I will be breaking down this post into both providences I’ve visited as well as all the fun and adventurous things I did within them. Keep in mind there are still SO MANY things I did not get to do and see, however these were the highlights of my trip. Plus I think we did them in a pretty amazing order, and I absolutely encourage you to do the same. (more so with Banff + Jasper)
LET’S DO THIS!!
Places Covered: Banff + Jasper
Alberta is the inner western Providence and is home to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, glaciers, and insane turquoise-watered lakes. There is so much beauty to see here that it is almost over whelming! But Banff is a great place to start.
The best times to visit Banff are between June - September. (early June even more so to get ahead of the bulk of tourists) Anytime before or after that, you’ll most likely find that most of the best spots are closed because of winter weather. July-August are the best times to guarantee most of the trails to be open. ALSO, the sun doesn’t set till about 10pm (yes. it blew my mind too.) so you have plenty of daylight to explore. (seriously the sun rises at around 5am. So you have 12+ hours to soak it in) SO GET YO SELF IN THERE!
Airport: Calgary International Airport
This is where I flew into for staying in Banff. It was a little less then 2 hours away from Banff and a very easy drive.
Where to Stay: CAMP THE HECK OUT!
Banff is a VERY touristy town, and with tourism comes higher prices unfortunately. While Banff offers SO many nice resorts and hotels to stay at, we found a little loophole in the tourist trap. We tent camped! And it was freaking awesome! As mentioned above, we went the second week of June, so temperates got pretty close to freezing at night, however it was SO refreshing and made me really soak in the Canadian Wilderness. (My friend, Lizzy, also had super nice/warm gear so that also helped me “experience” the wilderness hehe)
We stayed at the Tunnel Mountain Village I Campground. It was sooo cozy, and had many bath houses - some with showers. It was sooo much cheaper then staying at a hotel.
Don’t have any gear? I personalty cannot recommend a a source to rent since we already had gear, however I did find Banff Camping Rentals in research and they seem to have very fair prices to get you all set up!
Sincerely tent camping made the trip all the more epic for me. I cannot recommend doing it enough.
Top Photo Places:
Mount Norquay Viewpoint // The Green Spot
This spot was UNREAL and a must do! It was only a short drive from the town of Banff. You pull off on the side of the road and walk out to the above view. (Which is overlooking Banff itself) We went up here many times and it was glorious.
You can see big horn sheep up there occasionally as well as these little Columbian Ground Squirrels that popped up and filled the air with their musical chirps.
The sun sets just about on the opposite side of the overlook, so it’s not the best spot to see the direct sunset, however you can still catch some incredible skies no matter what part of the day!
Lake Minnewanka + Two Jack Lake
These lakes were very close to one another and oh so beautiful! I would love to see them at Sunset/sunrise, but we never got the chance too. Still worth a stop - and dog friendly! (as with most places in Banff)
I also saw my first Big Horned Sheep riding between the lakes and I was a little too excited about that fact…
Whether hiking around the edge of the waters, swimming, kayaking, or fishing, these lakes are truly a sweet spot to soak in the fresh Canadian air!
So let me just say, if you have never heard of Moraine Lake… you have been living under a rock. (don’t worry I was there once - consider me now bring you out from that rock) This is one of the most popular photo locations..because LOOK can you see why?! I was absolutely BLOWN away by the incredible beauty here - even the drive up to the parking lot was glorious.
Moraine is about a 45 minute drive from Banff and is straight highway through the Rockies. (aka heaven) One of my favorite aspects of the drive: the forests on the sides were fenced off in natural looking fencing; every now and then there would be lovely stone bridges above the road that joined the opposite sides of the forest together. They were ANIMAL BRIDGES. There had been so much wildlife killed from cars in the past, so the Canadian Road and Forest people invested in fencing off the forest from the highway and constructed the bridges for animals to cross and mingle on both side. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? That absolutely warmed my heart. Only Canadians…
Usually you can see a good bit of wildlife within the fences - bears especially - however we seemed to just miss them and never actually saw any. (But don’t worry we made up for it later in the trip)
The road Moraine has JUST opened that 2nd week of June because winter conditions lingered in 2018. So we just made it! This place gets PACKED because the lake is literally a two minute walk from the parking lot. In fact, when the parking lot is full they will close the road until more slots open up. I think the best times to go are closer to sunrise & sunset. We went about 7pm and had 3 hours there, and though it was quite crowded, we were still able to get a parking spot.
There are main spots to walk to and see the lake..but everyone and their mother will be at those spots as well. So I HIGHLY encourage you to explore the rocks and venture to the places that are not tourist hot spots. We walked around back and descended down some of the loose rocks for a good bit until we found a spot we had to ourselves for the entire evening. It was amazing and we didn’t have any problems lingering there! (view from our spot pictured above with my happy self soaking it in)
The sun sets on the very far right side of the lake - so you don’t get a direct view of the sun setting behind The Valley of the Ten Peaks peaks, but it can still light up the sky nicely.
Seriously even my iPhone shots looked magazine worthy. (the lake is just that jaw dropping and gorgeous on it’s own) I kept soaking in the view, turning away, turning back and being just as awe-struck, if not more so, every single time. This is definitely one of the most intensely beautiful places I’ve yet to venture too.
So obviously, this is a MUST!
Though Lake Louise falls a little under Moraine’s shadow, it is still a MUST do. There are tons of cute little shops and restaurants in the area, as well as a beautiful, paved walking path along the lake. It is all flat, so it is very easy to enjoy the turquoise lake and the mountains beyond it without involving a hike.
Lake Agnes // Tea House Hike
THIS HIKE IS A MUST!
This was one of my favorite experiences while I was in Banff. Not only was the hike beautiful, but also you are rewarded at the end for all your hiking efforts by being able to grab incredible refreshments at the tea house at the top! It was a cold, rainy day when we did the hike, so nothing made me more happy then getting warm soup and hot chocolate in me after our trek up. And let me tell you the food they have there is SO good. It was some of the best I had during my stay.
We started our hike right at the base at Lake Louise. From there it is a about a 2 mile /3.5km hike up one way. Some of you may be like…”Geez, that’s nothing..” Let me tell you, I can handle hikes fairly well, and this one kicked my butt quite a bit!
It is straight uphill most of the way, and you gain about 1,300ft to a final elevation of 7,005ft.
They also offer horse rides up if you are not feeling the walk.
On your way up the hike you also encounter Mirror Lake, which brings your lake count up to 3 on this hike! Know as “The Lakes in the Clouds” these 3 beauties are a glorious site to encounter on any day. (but I was definitely partial to the moody fog vibe we got!)
NOTE: The teahouse ONLY accepts cash (Canadian) so be sure you got some with you!
Also, because you are up on top of a mountain and the tea house is quite tiny, the owners have to bring in food daily by foot. So there is only a small amounts of fresh baked bread, homemade soup & sandwiches, and tea offered before they sell out. We went early morning, (as in started our hike) around 8am, and they still had all the options for us to chose from. (THANK GOODNESS. I needed that bread after that hike. Carb-obsessed over here)
The Road To Jasper
If you are planning a trip to Banff I STRONGLY encourage and basically am forcing you to add Jasper in there as well. Mainly because of the drive TO Jasper from Banff. It was 3 hours of jaw dropping views of the Rockies towering above you as you weave between them. I am sitting here trying to put into words exactly how incredible it was, however I just can’t encompass the joy and awe we experienced in the entire 3 hour drive. It is by far the prettiest drive of my life. Plus there are SO many must-do stops along the way on the Icefields Parkway! Here are a few we did during our stay in Jasper:
Emerald Lake is located in Yoho National Park and it is home to views of the mountains from the President Range, as well as Mount Burgess and Wapta Mountain. However, unfortunately for us it was a VERY foggy day so we couldn’t see much of the mountains. It was still a beautiful place for a little walk on the trail around the lake, and breathing in that cold, mountain air always makes me so happy.
Bow Lake is a beautiful little pit spot along the way. At only a couple minutes walk from the car, it is a great place to stretch your legs from the drive. We took a nice walk along the outer edges of the lake, frolicked through the trees on some of the trails, and actually felt our first snowfall of the day. It was a pretty lovely moment not gonna lie.
I was SO excited to go to this lake because of it’s shape - you notice anything at first? If you saw a wolf head you got it! I LOVED how unique this lake was! However sadly, once again, the fog got the best of us and covered the lake not long after we got there. On a clear day this is a STUNNING view!
Also, there is a designated lookout spot only a short hike from the car, but it was SO crowded. I highly recommend taking a small trail to the left which will take you down below the viewing deck to some lovely rocks to climb out on. We had the spot to ourselves the entire time!
Parker Ridge Trail
This trial was a happy accident in that the only reason we did it was because we had pulled over to the parking lot to use bathhouse, and noticed the trail sign. It is only about 3 miles / 5km so we were like HECK YES. Let’s do this!
…only we didn’t realize how deep the snow would be as we climbed. It is definitely a tougher hike because it does escalate quickly, however, especially for us, we were dredging through knee deep snow without snow shoes. (Oops) We just about made it to the top before we realized we couldn’t find where the actual summit was because the snow had covered everything, hah! I can only imagine how incredible this hike is in the Spring + Summer!
This waterfall was amazing and MASSIVE! The roar of the water combined with the view was a killer combination. Plus it was amazing to look down to see hundreds years worth of work the river has carved out within the deep canyons below.
It’s only a couple minutes walk from the car!
This one was a little more unique because of how the waters split and came back together into the falls. This had a bit steeper of a drop than Athabasca - it stretches down an impressive 60ft. There is an upper and lower falls so be sure to take time to explore the area!
This is also another couple minute walk from the car. (they really make it easy for us in Jasper!)
This guy is easy to miss just because it is quite literally on the side of the highway. We passed it the first time just because we weren’t expecting it to pop up!
The falls descend 114 feet in as many as a half a dozen braids down the cliff side. There is a parking lot directly across the street, so you walk across the road to access the falls. You can climb up to different levels of the falls, but beware the rocks are slippery. (it’s worth it though)
Bundle up when you hike up the Athabasca Glacier cause THE WIND IS REAL Y’ALL. (at least when we went) We would get hit with gusts that actually made us fall forward and stumble. Plus it so freaking cold. (way below freezing) but it was SO cool to stand up on the glacier! You can walk up just to the base of where the glacier begins free of charge, or pay to have a tour which allows you to go up to the top. When you are here you can also see the effects that climate change has cause upon the glacier - sadly how much it has retreated in recent years.
As much as I loved Banff, I think I loved Jasper even more. Banff was breathtaking, but definitely suited more towards tourists. Jasper is pure, raw Canadian back country. Remember how we had trouble seeing wildlife in Banff? Well that was quickly changed as we entered the town of Jasper. (There was literally a back bear scratching it’s back on a tree right near the city sign. It was the cutest, most hilarious thing) Jasper is one of Canada’s town that holds the largest black and grizzly bear population. We saw them left and right when we were driving! So make sure you are prepared with bear spray and are not stupid with your food!
Where to Stay: Can you guess? CAMP OUT!
Like I mentioned above, you can’t experience the Canadian Wilderness to it’s full effect without tent camping in it. Plus it is SO much cheaper! We stayed at Whistlers Campground, and from what I hear it is the BEST to stay at in Jasper. Very close to town, but it does fill up quickly so be sure to get your spot! I won’t lie, it was thrilling and slightly terrifying knowing we were in major bear country as I zipped up my tent at night to sleep. Plus those nightly walks to the bathroom to shower (of course our camp site was a long walk to the building) definitely had me on edge. But of course nothing ever happened! (it was my first time in this environment, cut me SOME slack. ;) )
We didn’t actually do too much in Jasper itself - mostly used it to sleep at night and eat in the cute restaurants during the day. We focused more on the Icefields Parkway Drive this go around. (all the spots mentioned above) However something about the air in Jasper - just knowing it was more of a wild terrain and had less people around. It really just filled my heart so quickly.
Places Covered: Vancouver, Maple ridge, + Tofino
British Columbia is the westernmost providence in Canada. It is defined by its unique mountainous coastlines, rain forest-like climate, and major ski resorts. It’s a beautiful place to visit to get a mixture of everything!
I am not a city person at all, however Vancouver definitely captures my heart because it is a slightly smaller city, but also, once again, Canadians have been intentional to infuse so much nature around them - even through manmade environments. I LOVE that about Canada. Vancouver is towered by mountains behind the city, then it stretches out to reach the Pacific ocean. It is Canada’s most ethically diverse city which is pretty freaking awesome. Plus you can usually find some sort of movie or show being filmed there as it’s a production hotspot.
When you think Canada you think snow right?? Well Vancouver only gets snow a few times a year actually! The climate stays pretty mild, so they actually get more frost & ice rather than snow. But fear not, it still can get cold and snow can happen! BUT if you wanted to experience a slightly warmer, less extreme version of Canada, Vancouver may be your spot.
I have not explored a TON of Vancouver, but I do have a few must see places for you!
Airport: Vancouver International Airport
I LOVE this airport because - again because I am obsessed with nature - the inside is so influenced by Canada’s wilderness. Plus it is a littler smaller and just easy to maneuver.
Where to Stay: ….umm you may be on your own there.
Every time I travel to Vancouver I stay with my friend Lizzy at her home in Maple Ridge. So Sadly I have never had to find a place to stay. So for this I am a bit useless for you! (so sorry)
Top Places to See
Home to the great sea wall, Stanley Park is Vancouver’s first and largest park. It is seriously HUGE and lures the most tourist in Van City. It is a great place to walk your dog, run, or just spend some time enjoying the nature Vancouver has to offer!
Prospect Point is actually IN Stanley Park, but it’s too cool a view not to get a separate mention. From the viewing deck you can watch ships pass in and out of the city. Plus it has a pretty sweet view of Lions Gate Bridge.
This place had SUCH a fun feel to it! There is a great market there to buy food and trinkets, and I loved seeing more of Vancouver’s architecture near the sea!
I’ve only hiked Mt. Seymour to climb the peak, however it is a MAJOR ski place too. It has a great view of the greater Vancouver area and the hike up is a pretty decent workout too. This is one of my favorite places to go!
As I mentioned earlier, Maple Ridge is where I reside when I travel to the Vancouver area! This place is AMAZING - especially because it is home to Golden Ears Provincial Park, which when you see pictures, it will absolutely blow your mind. It is about an hour from Vancouver, and a nice pull away from city life.
Pitt Lake Meadows
This was the first place I explored when I visited Maple for the first time. It is such a beautiful, cozy spot to spend anytime of the day! You can explore the grassy meadows that are backdropped but cloud coated mountains, or watch the tidal waters rise or fall before your eyes.
The road leading to the meadows is long and flat so it is a great spot for running, walking, or even picture taking. There isn’t much traffic on this road which is great.
Golden Ears Provincial Park
Right now you are probably wondering where the heck this park got it’s name. Wellllll, that is a good question because people still don’t quite know the origin. Some suspect it was a “lost in translation” sorta occurrence from the First Nations. Some of the mountains ranges there are pointy like cat ears - so people guess it may be along those lines…or it could just be what sounds good. Either way! This park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve yet to venture upon, and not matter when or how many times I go it ALWAYS looks different.
This lake never ceases to amaze me because no matter how many time I go to it, it always reflects back SUCH a different view.
There is nothing more beautiful than looking across the waters and seeing mountains and their reflections staring back at you. Sometimes the water is still as glass, until you watch the wind brush across the surface and cast endless ripples in its wake.
Most of the time this is a pretty quiet place. (Aside from the geese there - they like to make a lot of racket unfortunately.) There is a long, rocky beach for you to explore, as well as rocks in the water that you are able to venture upon. The water is usually pretty cold, but still always lures me into it.
The Mossy Forests of Golden Ears
You think you’ve seen moss? Just wait till you get to Golden Ears. The forest floors, trees, ceiling, EVERYTHING is coated with layer upon layer of vibrant green moss. The ground almost feels like a giant trampoline because it’s slightly springy from the coatings of moss upon it. It’s craaaazy.
The best place to park your car for some good exploring is Spirea Nature Trail. (at least we think so!)
But wait there’s more to it…
What you are about to see is not some magic trick, it’s not fake, I didn’t photoshop A THING. It literally is Mother Nature doing her thing and showing off at what she can do. And BOY can she do this well!
Fall time in Golden Ears will sometimes yield these INCREDIBLE light rays. (October - December // Sometimes even into March but it’s more rare for them to appear that far into winter) Overnight fog will develop over Alouette Lake. In the morning it retreats from the waters, climbs over the forest walls, until reaching the forest where it will be ignited by sunlight. I have been wanting to see this phenomenon for YEARS, and finally this past year I was blessed to witness it.
Watching the fog roll through the trees - rays peaking out one by one, well it was absolutely indescribable. And they shifted by the second! You would see this HUGE ray form and within seconds it would change. It was almost like I was watching a time-lapse of the forest.
It is absolutely an experience I would wish for anyone to have.
North Shore Beach
North Shore Beach is one of my favorite spots. I love the split between the forest and mountains that run into the water - especially when you look out.
There is a bit of a hike to get there - it’s not terribly long. Maybe about 15 minutes at most and flat. It is a peaceful little walk with a rewarding view. We usually have this place mostly to ourselves!
My friend Lizzy had to go to Tofino for a photoshoot, and because I was staying with her at the time, I had to come with. It was the best destination I ever had forced upon me. Literally I teared up when I first saw it in day light. We arrived at night so I had no idea what to expect; when I woke up to mountains in the ocean and blues and greens mingling to create what was purely nature’s masterpiece…THE TEARS WERE WARRANTED.
I am not much of a beach person just because I am a sucker for mountains. (and I am a red head so my skin does NOT like the sunshine beach-y weather) But this place, where mountains were happily resting upon the beaches, well I am now a Tofino beach person to say the least.
How to Get There: Car + Ferry
Tofino is located on the west side of Vancouver island, and is about 5 hours from Vancouver. This is mainly because of a 2 hour Ferry boat ride you have to take to get to the island. From there it’s about a 3 hour drive on the island. And let me tell you…the drive is so freaking beautiful! Think Lord of the Rings - especially on the foggy day we drove in.
Where to Stay: Hotel it out for this one!
We stayed at Meares Vista Inn and it was so quaint and comfy! I would absolutely recommend this one to anyone. They allow dogs too!
Spots to see:
This is SUCH an easy stop on the way to Tofino. Cathedral Grove is a rare and endangered preservation of an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem on Vancouver Island. The largest tress are about 800 years old and measure 250 ft in height and 29 ft in circumference. It was a beautiful thing it see and I could feel the rich history within the trees there.
Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera with me this day because I wanted to soak in the places we went with my eyes and not worry about taking pictures. So my friend Fernando took the non-phone shots for this location. It was absolutely beautiful here! When the tide was low we were able to walk out to a rocky island and watch the waves come in and crash against the rocks below us. It was my favorite beach we went to!
We spent a ton of time at this beach just because it was so lovely! It was just as its name suggest… LONG.
Definitely a recommend to see.
Photos of me in the red dress by Fernando.
So….we decided to give surfing a try during winter…when it was below freezing out…AND snowing. Yeah we thought we were crazy too. HOWEVER it was actually not cold AT all and SO MUCH FUN. Seriously it was a highlight to the trip and I am SO glad we did it. Book a session with Jo over at Surf Sister - she is the best!
Photos of us by Fernando.
Cox Bay Lookout Hike
This is one of those hikes that is a hike..but it’s also not. It’s not really listed anywhere major but a local told us about it. It was an INCREDIBLE way to watch the sunrise, however it was a bit of a challenge to hike up! It’s SUPER muddy. I don’t mean like “eww the bottom my feet are dirty now…” Like “SHOOT I thought that was ground but it was actually knee deep mud!” It was sharply up hill and some parts you have to use a rope to help you climb up. So definitely more for experienced hikers, but still worth checking out!
This is a great place to watch the sunset! We had a bit of a crazy phenomenon happen while we were there - it started snowing, HARD, as we were on the beach watching the sunset. It was SUCH a joy in that moment! Even though you may not get snow, it’s still a great spot to check out.
The end…for now.
Putting this guide together made me realize how incredibly blessed I am to have gotten to experience as much of Canada as I am. Truly it is a place of beauty and where I feel most at home.
I am especially grateful to my friend Lizzy, who has allowed me tag along side her on all these trips. She has basically been my Canadian tour guide, but also turned into SUCH a good friend. LIZZY YOU ARE THE BEST!
Be sure to check out her work, because she is an incredible photographer and such an inspiring person!
I cannot wait to see what other Canadian adventures lie ahead!
I’m an adventure photographer based in the North Georgia Mountains and I LOVE getting lost in nature and seeking light everywhere I go. When I am not out frolicking in nature you can find me bing watching The Office, eating Chick-Fil-a, or planning my next travel adventure - probably to Canada because I think I’d be Canadian in another life..eh? I am not a JUST a photographer – someone who takes pictures because I have the ability. NOPE. I am Shelby: a woman who thrives to share light with others through the outlets God has blessed me in. Photography happens to be an amazing role I am able to do that through. No matter what stage of life I am passing through, I will always be a light seeker - moving to grow, wandering this pathway so that I can bring to other what God has given to me.