Canada has so much to offer, and despite being Canadian, I can honestly say I hadn’t done a ton of traveling in my own country before. In the last couple of years with COVID and travel restrictions, traveling within my own country has not only become more affordable but also safer in comparison to international travel. That’s why this past September I planned a trip to Western Canada to a) help with the travel itch I’ve had through the whole pandemic, but b) finally get myself out west for the first time. It was long overdue!
I traveled with my boyfriend for 8 days through British Columbia and Alberta. Although this was only enough time to scratch the surface, I’m thankful that I know this isn’t going to be the last time I travel within my own country so I can always come back to check more places off my ever-growing bucket list.
To help you plan your trip out west, I’ve put together a sample 8 day itinerary below.
Day One: Fly to Vancouver
Fly into Vancouver and hop on the Skytrain. It’s an inexpensive way to get yourself to the city centre since, like most cities, the airport isn’t that close to the main downtown area. You can purchase tickets right at the station at one of their self-serve kiosks.
Check into your hotel (I stayed at St. Regis) and head out for whatever you have left in your day. When we arrived, we arrived in time to be able to fit in a little brewery crawl in the city. There are a ton of breweries in Vancouver so you can seriously plan a visit in so many areas of the city. You can read about my recommended breweries to visit here.
For dinner, opt to grab a bite at one of the breweries, or indulge in some seafood since, of course, you are right on the ocean. Some recommended spots for seafood or sushi are:
Day Two: Vancouver
For your first full day in Vancouver, start your day early with breakfast/brunch at one of these recommended brunch spots:
- OEB (Yaletown with new locations coming)
- Belgard Kitchen (East Vancouver)
- The Whip (Mt Pleasant)
- Fable Diner (East Vancouver)
- Jam Cafe (Beatty & Kitsalano)
After brunch, head onward to Stanley Park to bike the infamous Seawall. This is a must-do activity in Vancouver when visiting. The bike ride is easy/flat, and you can rent bikes at several places right by the park entrance. I rented at Spokes Bicycle Rentals. You can also pack a picnic, or make some stops within the park at places like Stanley Park Brewery or the Vancouver Aquarium.
After your bike ride, head to Granville Island. This was definitely one of the highlights from my time in Vancouver and you’ll want to go hungry! Granville Island is a peninsula and district in the city and if there’s anything you want to go here for it’s the market! It’s open 7-days a week and is lined with endless food options and vendors. We picked up some baked goods from one of the bakeries, and some pickles from Hobb’s Pickles which were next level. Outside of the market, there are several cute shops in this area to explore as well as a local brewery, Granville Island Brewing. You may also want to stop for a cocktail at the adorable Liberty Distillery.
Catch lunch and/or dinner at Granville Island, or head to one of the below recommended restaurants:
- Meet (Vegan in Gastown or Yaletown)
- Pizza Coming Soon (Japanese in Chinatown)
- Belgard Kitchen (Small Plates & Pizza in East Vancouver)
- Beach House (Seafood in North Vancouver)
- Heirloom (Vegetarian in South Granville)
- Gringos (Mexican in Gastown)
Day Three: Vancouver
On your last day in Vancouver, I actually recommend you don’t stay in Vancouver but instead explore just outside the city for a day trip to do some activities like hiking or kayaking.
One option you can go for on your second day in Vancouver is to head to Deep Cove. Deep Cove is a community in North Vancouver and refers to a small bay beside a town often referred to as “The Cove” by locals. Here you can shop along their main strip and enjoy the restaurants in the area, or you can soak up the sun on their small beach. You can also do a hike on Baden Powell Trail, and/or opt to do some water sports like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. This is a quaint, and adorable little town to spend an afternoon exploring in.
Lynn Canyon is also only a 20-minute drive from Deep Cove and is a great area to explore. They have a suspension bridge that is highly recommended, as well as several hiking trails.
Another option for your day is to head to the highly popular Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. This bridge is a bit of a tourist trap but is also really beautiful to see. Try to visit on weekdays to avoid the crowds if possible. They also run a shuttle bus from the city if you don’t have a car and want to just opt for seeing the bridge. After walking along the treetops of suspension bridges, head onward to Squamish which is about a 25-minute drive. This drive will be absolutely incredible. You’ll be trying hard not to drive off the road as you admire the mountain views.
Once you reach Squamish, take the Sea to Sky Gondola to the top for some hiking. There are trails of varying lengths and difficulties at the top. We did Al’s Habrich Trail which was very challenging for me. Definitely not for those that are not looking for a full workout, and don’t have proper hiking boots, however, the view was incredible and it was a lot of fun scrambling up the mountain! Pack a lunch to enjoy at the top.
Some other popular activities people like to include on their itinerary are:
- Day trip to Whistler
- Hiking the infamous Grouse Grind
Day Four: Kelowna
Wake up early and head to Kelowna, British Columbia. Kelowna is a 4.5-hour drive from Vancouver or a quick flight. We drove the whole time on our trip though. Once you arrive in Kelowna, your first stop has definitely got to be some wineries. In fact, your next couple of days are going to be filled with wineries. On our way into town we stopped at:
Once we checked into our Airbnb, by this point we were close to dinner time so we headed to The Curious Kitchen for dinner. Some other dinner options are:
Day Five: Kelowna
Get ready for a day of wine touring! If you have a DD, wine touring will be easy for you. However, if you don’t, have no fear. There are a ton of wine touring businesses in Kelowna. You can either hire a private driver for you and/or your group or join a group tour as I did. I went with Uncorked for my tour and you can read about my experience here.
The biggest thing you’ll need to determine is what area of Kelowna you’d like to tour around as there are several pockets and none are central to downtown. The good news is, almost all of Kelowna’s wineries and areas within the region are fantastic and you can’t really go wrong. The most recommended parts to a wine tour in for me were Summerland, Lake Country, and Naramata.
A wine tour will likely take you all day but enjoy it as this is what Kelowna is all about! When you are done for the day you can opt to go to one of the above restaurants for dinner, or if you’re feeling really ambitious and you still have some daylight left, you can hike Knox Mountain for a fantastic view of the city. You can also try and add this to your first day in Kelowna instead if you have the time!
Day Six: Drive to Banff
Wake up early to start your drive to Banff. This can take you about 7 hours but it becomes a very scenic drive. I do recommend filling up your gas tank, and packing a lunch, as there aren’t too many stops along the route to grab this stuff.
When we were about an hour away from Banff, we made a stop at Emerald Lake in Field, British Columbia. Emerald Lake is a gorgeous, turquoise lake that you can rent canoes on or hike around. This was a great stop to break up a long day of driving. Plus, if you want to canoe on one of the beautiful blue lakes in Western Canada, this is one of the cheaper spots to do it in the area. You can opt to wait for Lake Louise or Lake Moraine, but you will spend significantly more. The rate at Emerald Lake for a canoe is $70 CAD for 1 hour and is first-come, first-serve. More details here.
Since you’ll spend most of the day in the car when you do finally get to Banff, check in to your hotel and head out on your feet to do some exploring. I stayed at the High Country Inn on the main strip (Banff Avenue).
Depending on your arrival time and what you’re in the mood for, you can opt for an easy hike up Tunnel Mountain (4.5KM) that gives you great views of the city and beyond, or you can just choose to walk and explore the local shops, restaurants, and bars on Banff Avenue. For dinner, I highly recommend making a reservation (in advance) at the Grizzly House. It has been around since the ’60s and was once even a swingers bar, however, now it is a fondu spot where you can get all sorts of different fondus.
Day Seven: Banff
Wake up bright and early. No, seriously, I mean EARLY! The best way to start a day in Banff is early in the morning before the sunrises to get to where you are going to adventure and hike for the day to beat the crowds, enjoy the cooler time of the day (if you’re visiting in the hot summer), and just to get the most out of your day. We opted for day one to head towards Moraine Lake. It’s important to note that the parking options around the key tourist spots like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are VERY limited in the park, and you either need to wake up at an ungodly hour or book the shuttle that will take you right there so you don’t have to worry about parking. You can book shuttles through the Parks Canada website.
At Lake Moraine, we not only just took in the views at the main viewpoint of the lake, but we also did the walk/trail around the lake (5.1KM) which was extremely easy and family-friendly, AND before any of that we did the Sentinel Pass trail (11KM) which is much more advanced and difficult. However, if you are in decent shape, even if you’re not a pro hiker, you can do this hike with no problem. The first 2.4KM will be a struggle as it’s uphill but then it flattens out.
Another trail that is flagged as easier, and beautiful at Moraine Lake is the Consolation Lake Trail (6.1KM).
By the end of all our hiking, your feet will be sore so head back to the shuttle drop-off point and drive over to Canmore to explore. Stop for lunch at Grizzly Paw Brewery for lunch and beer, then walk and stop in some of the many cute, local shops.
For dinner, we went to High Rollers in Banff. It’s a super cute bowling alley with a bar and restaurant. They have a great local craft beer list to choose from and great pizza!
Since you were up before the sun, you’ll likely crash and go to bed early tonight.
Day Eight: Banff
Another day, another early rise to head out for more hiking. After all, that’s what you’re in Banff for right? There are so many trails to choose from and I did a lot of research and took a lot of recommendations from people on which to choose. So the second day we took the shuttle to Lake Louise and decided to go on the Little Beehive Hike via Lake Agnes (9KM). You can also opt for the Big Beehive (10.9KM) extension here too depending on how ambitious you are. Since we went on a super rainy and foggy day, we only made it to Lake Agnes to have a hot tea in the tea house and headed back down since visibility was limited but I can’t wait to return to do the full trek!
After our hike, and walking around Lake Louise, we went back to the shuttle drop-off point and drove to Johnston Canyon where you can do much easier, flatter hikes through the beautiful canyons to waterfalls. This is a family-friendly trail and you can opt for the 2.3KM trail to the lower falls, or the 5.1KM trail to the upper falls, or keep going to the Ink Pots (11.7KM).
If you are completely sick of walking you can opt for the Upper Hot Springs in Banff instead and spend your afternoon soaking instead.
Lastly, once you head back to downtown Banff, I recommend booking your dining experience at the Sky Bistro at the top of the Banff Gondola. They usually have a package that combines the dinner and ride to the top, and you’ll want to give yourself some time before dinner to walk around and enjoy the 360 views of Banff. I will flag though that when we went there was a random snowstorm that hit and there was 0 visibility at the top which was a bit of a bummer.
If you have time before or after dinner, go for a cocktail at one of the bars at the Fairmont Banff Springs. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and absolutely stunning. They have several restaurants, as well as even afternoon tea, so if you can work it into your day, I highly recommend it!
Day Nine: Fly home
Adios Banff. It’s time to head to Calgary to catch your flight back to wherever you came from! I hope you enjoyed your 8 days in Western Canada.
Do you have some more recommendations of where you should go in Vancouver, Kelowna, or Banff? Add them in the comments below. I already can’t wait to go on a trip back!