Does anybody else get as excited about a road trip other than me? It is one of my favourite things to do and boy did I just complete my best one yet!
The Canadian Rocky Mountains has always been near the top of my bucketlist, and I had recently booked an Alaskan cruise out of Vancouver, British Columbia. For weeks I debated whether or not to combine Alaska and the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and cross two top destinations off my bucketlist. After much debating, I decided what the hell, let’s do this! Keeping in mind that I had never done a solo road trip of this magnitude before, I soon began to panic. I kept asking myself, what the hell are you doing??? It turned out that my desire to see the Rocky Mountains far surpassed my fears, so the research began. After all, it is the fear of the unknown that gets us everytime.
I didn’t arrive into Vancouver until early evening, so I decided to book a hotel, spend the night and start off towards Banff, Alberta first thing in the morning. Afterall, I had a 10 hour road trip ahead of me through mountains which I had never driven, so I needed lots of rest. I picked up my rental car from the airport, which I had booked well in advance, and hit the road. It is true what you read. It can be difficult getting out of the airport onto Highway 1 where I wanted to be. I would love to tell you how I did it, but I can’t. I relied on the GPS that I had rented. I highly recommend having a GPS when driving through the mountains, as cellphone service is spotty at best.
After extensive research, I chose Highway 1 as the route to take to Banff. As I was driving solo, I decided to take 2 days to make the drive to Banff, so that I wasn’t rushed. I didn’t prebook hotels for this trip, as I didn’t know exactly when I was going to stop. This is very unlike me to fly by the seat of my pants lol. I grabbed a hotel not far from the airport. It wasn’t the best, but it was good enough since I was just there to sleep for the night.
First thing in the morning, I was up and raring to go. I grabbed my Timmies coffee and off I went. The drive along Highway 1 between Vancouver, British Columbia and Merritt, British Columbia, was easy and not too mountainous. Once I reached Merritt, the white knuckles began and panic set in. Highway 1 became Highway 5, known as the Coquihalla Highway, which has an elevation of up to 1200 meters, or just under 4,000 feet. I have hiked this elevation plenty of times, but have never driven it in a car…until now. Much of the 1 hour drive on this highway was spent gripping the steering wheel and desperately trying not to look over the edge of the mountains. The drop was steep and there were many areas that didn’t have anything more than a small guardrail, if it even had that. There were many bends and a continuous rise and fall in the elevation, not to mention the speed limit remained at 120 km per hour. I am a girl from Ontario where the only “mountains” are ski hills, so I did find this part of the drive extremely intimidating, but I made a through. It is definitely not for the faint of heart.
There are no stops through this area of the drive, so I highly recommend that you gas up either in Merritt or Kamloops, depending on which way you are going. I would also stock up on water and snacks before merging onto the highway, as the weather is known to change drastically throughout this area. For this reason, I would also advise having a car charger for your phone, so that it is charged at all times.
Once through this area, I found Highway 1 again and continued on to Revelstoke. While the entire drive was mountainous, I didn’t find it too intimidating after the initial shock of the Coquihalla Highway. I suggest taking your time, as the scenery is magnificent.
I arrived in Revelstoke around 4:00 p.m., which is approximately the half way point between Vancouver. This gave me plenty of time to rest up for the second half of my journey. Again, I hadn’t reserved a hotel, but I had no problem finding one, as it was a Monday night. I checked into the Sandman Hotel. The Sandman Hotel isn’t a fancy hotel, but it had everything I needed. The location was right off the highway. A Tim Horton’s was block away, a gas station right across the street and a Denny’s restaurant right on premises. Everything I needed was right there and made for a quick getaway the next day. To make it even better, I got the Seniors Discount for being over 50…yippee!
I wasn’t scheduled to check into my hotel in Banff until 4:00, which allowed me to take my time driving the second leg of my journey. I left Revelstoke around 10:00 a.m. and arrived in Banff at 4:30. Since I was driving alone, I took my time driving through the mountains and stopped frequently for coffee and pictures. I also have to say that there were frequent stops for construction as well, so be prepared if driving in the Spring, Summer or Fall.
As my brother lives in Vancouver, I planned on spending a day with him before heading back to Ontario. I booked my flight out of Vancouver and took the same route back to Vancouver as I took going to Banff. This time I stopped in Kamloops for the night. Again, I hadn’t prebooked a hotel and since it a Friday night, I did have more difficulty in finding a room. Kamloops didn’t appear to have any attractions that I was interested in, so I left fairly early with the intention of arriving in Vancouver by early afternoon. Unfortunately, I ran into a fatal accident and all traffic was turned back. Highway 1 is the main highway into Vancouver, which made it extremely difficult time finding an alternate route, even with the GPS which kept wanting to take me back to Highway 1. Normally I would have become extremely frustrated with driving in circles for two hours trying to find an alternate route, but I kept an open mind and looked on the entire experience as if I was exploring the area. Eventually I made it to Vancouver late afternoon.
There are many routes to take driving between Vancouver and Banff, but Highway 1 is the quickest and most direct, taking about 10 hours to drive if driving non-stop. There were many tourist attractions to stop at along the way and the scenery was spectacular. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any wildlife, although I have been told that there is usually wildlife to see. I was never bored during the entire drive. In fact, I eventually relaxed and enjoyed every minute of it.
If I was to do this road trip again, there would be a couple of things that I would do differently. One week is not enough when driving round trip from Vancouver. Ten days would be perfect. If you don’t have any reason to return to Vancouver, then I recommend that you continue straight through and fly out of Calgary. This would give you the extra time needed to explore Banff or Jasper. I also wish that I had known beautiful Revelstoke is. If at all possible, I would highly recommend spending at least one day in Revelstoke to explore the area and its beautiful scenery. The Sandman Hotel is perfectly located to enjoy the entire area.
No matter what route you decide to take, or what towns you decide to visit, you won’t be disappointed. I have never seen beauty like the beauty found in Canada’s West Coast, and I’m not sure that I ever will again. Keep in mind and remember that you are driving through the Rocky Mountains, so always be prepared for the unexpected. The beauty is endless!
Happy Road Trippin!