There are a ton of resources online about road trips from Calgary to Vancouver or Toronto to Vancouver. The prairies receive little to no mention, hence the need for this write-up about our summer road trip itinerary from Winnipeg to Vancouver (West Coast) and back.
Earlier in February, I had put together a bare-bones plan for our planned summer road trip across Western Canada in August. Basically, at the time, I had checked Google maps to get an idea of how long the trip was going to take and used Hotels.com to book hotel rooms in advance.
Even in February, you’d be surprised at how limited and expensive hotel accommodation was in British Columbia, especially in the Vancouver area. I like Hotels.com since the site makes it easy to book rooms way ahead into the future with the option to pay when you actually show up. Also, most bookings can be cancelled (without penalty) up to 24 hours before your stay.
Following this, we made no other preparations until August came knocking.
Read on to see our 10-day Canada road trip itinerary for two adults and two kids (ages 5 and 3), and some of the places you should definitely visit when driving across the prairies and British Columbia.
Total distance covered: 5,560 km
The vehicle used: 2014 Toyota Sienna
Length of trip: 10 days
Total trip cost: $3,760.30
Cost of gas: $702.52
Cost of accommodation: $1,757.61
Day One: Winnipeg To Calgary Road Trip
We started out from Winnipeg at 6:52 a.m. on Saturday, August 17, 2019. Our plan for today is to split the drive to Vancouver into two by reaching Calgary and staying the night. We are driving a 2014 Toyota Sienna and I will be tracking our fuel usage and gas prices along the way.
Winnipeg To Saskatchewan
Traffic was light leaving Winnipeg as is usual around the early hours on a weekend. Once you hit the Trans-Canada highway, it’s pretty much a straightforward drive.
Winnipeg is the biggest city in Manitoba and has over 700,000 inhabitants. First established in 1738 as Fort Rouge, the City of Winnipeg was incorporated in 1873.
Some of the tourist attractions you must check out during a visit to Winnipeg include the:
- Assiniboine Park and Zoo
- Canadian Museum for Human Rights
- Winnipeg Art Gallery
- Manitoba Children’s Museum
- Royal Canadian Mint, to name a few.
The drive from Winnipeg to Saskatchewan was largely uneventful. We drove past the sleepy towns of Virden, Elkhorn, Moosomin, Wapella, Whitewood, Grenfell, Wolseley and Qu’Appelle on our way to Regina.
The never-ending flats of the prairies do not cease to amaze me as I did not grow up on terrain where you can see as far as the eyes can see!
Distance from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Regina, Saskatchewan: 605 km (~ 6 hours drive).
Saskatchewan to Calgary
This part of the journey was a straight drive-through. The kids were surprisingly great. Other than the one-hour of screen time their mum allowed for games, they spent the rest of the time taunting each other, singing-along, staring into the horizon, eating treats and sleeping.
Saskatchewan looks very much like Manitoba. The flat prairie farmlands morphed into a mix of flats and undulating landscapes as we approached Alberta.
We did not stop for any sightseeing on this leg of our journey. The plan is that we will spend a night in Saskatoon or Regina on our way back and visit where we can. I have not yet booked a room for our last night because I plan to redeem my free room (after 10 stays) through Hotels.com.
Potential sights I have penned down for Regina are the Wascana Centre Park and Royal Saskatchewan Museum. And, if we return via Saskatoon, the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo.
After two bathroom breaks and a stop for Nandos peri-peri chicken (yummy!), we arrived at our hotel in Calgary – Hampton Inn and Suites.
The drive to Calgary took longer than expected due to delays from multiple road construction sites. It’s Canada after all and summers are for road construction!
For day one of our trip, gas prices ranged from $1.149/litre (Medicine Hat, AB) to $1.199/litre (Morse, SK).
Day Two: Calgary To Vancouver Road Trip
We started out early with a 6:55 a.m. complimentary breakfast and by 8:15 a.m. fueled up at the nearest Esso gas station and headed for Banff National Park.
This is my second visit to Banff in four years. We had previously spent 3 days in Banff in 2015. At the time, there was a massive forest fire in British Columbia and with all the smoke coming in, the visibility was really poor.
The beauty of this location is unmistakable. Looking at the beautiful mountain ranges and ridges of the Rockies is an excellent reminder of why we must preserve this land for future generations.
Bummer! For the second time in a row, I took the wrong lane into the park and will have to find an information centre to buy a Park pass. There’s no way we are going to pass on seeing Lake Louise for a second time.
We bought a day pass that expires on August 19th at 4 p.m. for $19.60 (kids enter free).
As is usual for around this time in August, Banff National Park was teeming with visitors. The Lake Louise parking was full and after going around in circles for a bit looking for a parking spot, we finally settled for parking about 2 km away and walked to Lake Louise.
Some of the highlights of any visit to Banff are:
- Banff Gondola
- Lake Louise
- Columbia Icefields
- Banff Hot Springs
- Banff Park Museum
- Moraine Lake, and several other spots.
We have not yet tried out the many rafting, skiing, or mountain climbing opportunities available here. They will have to wait until the kids get older.
Time and distance from Calgary to Banff: 1.5 hours (130 km).
Banff to Burnaby Drive
The drive to British Columbia was fun and a bit scary in some spots. There was one moment during the severe descents just before the Rural Municipality of Hope when the wife was driving and became undecided as to how to manage the van’s speed as it hurtled down the slope and nearly into oblivion.
The second scary point on this leg of the trip was when we forgot to fuel up at below quarter tank and the next gas station was about 125 km away!
The sun was disappearing over the horizon when we finally arrived in Burnaby where we will be staying at the Best Western Plus Burnaby Hotel for 4 nights. This will be our launching pad as we begin our tour of some of the sights and sounds of British Columbia starting tomorrow.
Gas prices for day two varied from 99.9 cents/litre (Calgary, AB) to $1.359/litre (Golden, BC).
Day Three: Harbour Cruises and Britannia Mine Museum
After taking a complimentary breakfast, we set out to see the city and some of its attractions.
Location: 501 Denman Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 2W9
The one-hour narrated Vancouver Harbour Tour is great for seeing many of Vancouver’s landmarks from afar. The cruise runs at 11 a.m., 12:15 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. daily.
There was lots of parking available and a 2.5-hour stay will cost you around $13 in parking fees. I had purchased tickets for Britannia Mine Museum, Sea to Sky Gondola, Capilano Mine Museum and Harbour Cruises since March at a 30% discounted bundled rate.
The posted rates at the time of our visit for the Vancouver harbour cruise tour were: adult: $38.95, youth (12-17): $32.95, child (5-11): $12, and child (4 and under): Free.
Britannia Mine Museum
Location: 1 Forbes Way, Britannia Beach, BC V0N 1J0
A scenic drive on the Sea-to-Sky Highway takes you to this national historic site. In its heydays, the 20-storey mine was one of the largest in the world.
The tour consisted of a short underground train drive through the mine, a demonstration of the different kinds of drills, real-life gold panning, a 15-minute feature film about Britannia’s history, a gift shop and many other exhibits.
The guided tour takes about 45 minutes.
Free parking was available and the admission rates were: adults: $34.95, youth (13-17): $28.95, child (5-12): $19.95, and child (4 and under): Free.
The price of gas on day three was $1.359 per litre (Vancouver, BC).
Day Four: Capilano Suspension Bridge, Granville Island Water Park, and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Location: 3735 Capilano Rd, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4J1
The suspension bridge is 450 feet (137 metres) across and 230 feet (70m) above the Capilano River. The attraction also includes several totems and an elevated winding walk through the forest.
The name Capilano was derived from the Squamish Nation and means “beautiful river” – Kia’palano. Their gift store is a nice place to spend some dollars and go over budget, which is exactly what I did.
Parking can be difficult around this park, so consider coming with the free shuttle service from Downtown Vancouver or take public transit if you plan on visiting during the peak hours.
Admission rates at the time of our visit were: adult: $53.95, students: $39.95, youth (13-16): $29.95, child (6-12): $16.95, and child (6 and under): Free
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden/Park
Location: 578 Carrall St, Vancouver, BC V6B 5K2
Built in 1986, the garden is named after Dr. Sun Yat-Sen who is considered to be the father of modern China. We stopped briefly to visit the park which is free.
The buildings are designed with a distinctly Chinese style and the pond has lots of koi and turtles. The garden section has the following admission fees: adult ($14), student ($10), senior ($11) and family ($28).
There are no dedicated parking areas for the Chinese garden, however, you can easily park in the parkade across the street at 180 Keefer Street.
Granville Island Water Park
Location: 1318 Cartwright St, Vancouver, BC V6H 3R8
Our boys really needed to expend some energy and so we headed for the Granville Island Water Park for 2 hours of fun.
This water park has a fun slide and multiple sprays and fountains for kids. There is a height requirement of 3 ft. and 6 inches (106 cm) for the slide and some 3-year olds may not be able to go on it. However, there are lots of other sprays and fountains suitable for all ages.
The Granville Island Water Park is free and opens from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. all week from July to September. Finding parking can be super-difficult and costs $3 per hour. Our vehicle got sandwiched in between other cars and it took some creativity to get out of the area.
While you are on Granville Island, be sure to visit the Kids Market located at 1496 Cartwright St, Vancouver, BC V6H 3Y5.
Day Five: Vancouver Aquarium and Grouse Mountain
The forecast for today (August 21st) was for rain all day and so we planned to focus our morning on an indoor activity.
Location: 845 Avison Way, Vancouver, BC V6G 3E2
The Vancouver aquarium was founded in 1951 and is Canada’s largest aquarium. It houses thousands of different aquatic animals and you should set aside at least 3 hours or more if you plan to see all the amazing animals here.
We paid for 3 hours parking and still had to scramble to get to our vehicle because the 3 hours ran out really quick.
Don’t miss out on the 4-D movies – the kids loved the Reef Reborn 4-D experience.
The Vancouver Aquarium is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer and the rates at the time of our visit were adults ($38), youth ($30), child (age 4 to 12: $21) and child age 4 and under (free). It was worth every penny!
Grouse Mountain Skyride
Location: 6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4K9
This is one of the most visited attractions in Vancouver with over 1.3 million visitors every year. This attraction is also somewhat expensive.
Unfortunately, the fog was so dense due to the rain that we could not really get the most out of our trip up the mountain in the Skyride. However, the kids really liked the grizzly bear habitat, world-famous lumberjack show and birds in motion demonstration.
Basic day entry tickets cost: adult: $59, child (5-16): $32, and child (0-4): Free.
You can add other activities for an extra fee, such as the Skyride surf adventure ($25), zipline tour ($89), mountain ropes adventure ($39), Heli-tour coastal scenic ($199), and kids tree canopy adventure ($10) for ages 3-8 (closed during our visit).
Free Things To Do in Vancouver
Here are a few activities and things you should try out in Vancouver:
- Lynn Canyon Park: has a suspension bridge that’s a free alternative if you don’t want to pay for the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
- Stanley Park: walk along the seawall, play by the beach, bike the dirt trails, bird watch and more.
- Canada Place
- Burnaby Village Museum
- Lion’s Gate Bridge: opened in 1938 and measures over 5,000 ft.
- University of British Columbia
- Lonsdale Quay Market
Sea To Sky Gondola
We had paid for the Sea to Sky Gondola ride since March, however, the cables were vandalized about 2 weeks before our vacation and this resulted in the closure of the gondola until spring 2020. This fee was later refunded after I called TicketOps.
Day Six: Vancouver To Jasper Drive
We left British Columbia on August 22, 2019, with plans to reach Jasper and stopover for two days. Our drive eastward was mostly on highway #5 (Yellowhead) until we hit highway #16 at around Mt. Robson into Jasper.
With hills, valleys, and mountains covered in aspen, fir, pine and spruce, this ride was no less scenic than our inbound drive into British Columbia.
A brief detour took us to the Clearwater River where we spent a few minutes before resuming what ended up as an 890 km drive to our hotel in Hinton, Alberta.
Gas prices on this leg of the journey ranged from $1.259/litre to $1.199/litre.
Day 7: Jasper National Park
The Jasper National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies.
This park has it all…mountain peaks, canyons, waterfalls, hiking trails, wildlife sightings and more. The daily park entry fee to Jasper is $9.80 per adult. We paid the $19.60 family/group fee.
Here are some of the attractions we enjoyed during this trip.
Maligne Lake Classic Cruise
Our day started with a 2-hour drive from Hinton to Maligne Lake for the 14 km 1.5-hour guided cruise to Spirit Island and back.
Maligne Lake is over 1,600 metres above sea level and its waters are a beautiful turquoise or emerald green colour. I looked it up and the unique colour is due to the rock powder that accompanies the glacial melt and stays suspended in the lake water.
The interpretive cruise takes you past multiple jagged mountain peaks and several glaciers.
The boat docks at Spirit Island for about 15 minutes before returning. A quick shout out to the captain (Nick) and tour guide (August) for a great cruise!
The Maligne Lake Classic Cruise cost us:
- Adult: $79
- Child: $40
- Child (5 and under): free
This is the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park and a must-see. It is also a gateway to many easy trails you can do with small kids.
Hold a jacket as it may be a bit cool here even in summer. Generally, the weather conditions in the park can change without warning, so best to dress in layers.
The rapid flow of water down the canyon was music to my ears.
In between Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake, we pulled over to view Medicine Lake. Watch out for bald eagles, they seem to be plentiful in this area.
In the middle of all the beauty along this drive, you will also come across instances of devastation such as the one caused by forest fires during the last few years.
Off-Highway 93A, the Athabasca Falls was an amazing sight and a great spot for picture-perfect photo ops. We arrived at around 5 p.m. and parking was tight. However, people are always trooping in and out, so patience pays off.
The Athabasca Falls has a drop of 80 ft. and a width of 60 ft. The force of the waterfall as it flowed and disappeared into the canyons beneath. Simply. Amazing.
The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93N) runs for 232 km between Jasper and Lake Louise. While we only drove part of the way, this stretch of road provides breathtaking views of numerous glaciers.
There is no cellular coverage when you are travelling through the Icefields Parkway and be sure to gas up!
For a more immersive experience, consider jumping on one of the tours in the area, such as the Columbia Icefields Tour by Sun Dog Tours.
The Skytram climbs to an altitude of over 2,260 metres and is the longest and highest aerial tramway in Canada. It provides views like no other and you can view the entire town of Jasper, six mountain ranges (including Mt. Robson), glaciers and more.
The ticket rate was: adults ($49.30), child age 6-15 years ($26.20), child age 6 and under (free).
Amazing activities we could not try out during our Jasper trip:
- Jasper Food Tour
- Glacier Sky Walk
- Pyramid Lake
- Miette Hot Springs, and several others.
If you are staying at one of the hotels in Hinton, be sure to check out the Beaver Boardwalk.
Day Eight: Sherwood Park, Alberta
On August 24th, we spent the day with family in Sherwood Park, Alberta.
Day Nine: Drumheller
The ninth day of our road trip took us down to Drumheller, the dinosaur capital of the world.
As we approached the town, it was easy to see the change in terrain as the popular Badlands came into view (similar to the Badlands of South Dakota).
The kids loved the 86 ft. tall World’s Largest Dinosaur which is about 4.5 times bigger than a real Tyrannosaurus rex. I sure think they made their way up the 106 stairs inside the model dinosaur to reach the viewing area in its mouth in record time.
Admission into the world’s largest dinosaur is $4 for adults and for kids under 6, entry is free.
Drumheller is full of engaging attractions and you should definitely plan to spend 2-3 days here to fully enjoy all it has to offer.
Some of the must-visit places in Drumheller are:
- The Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology. The dinosaur hall with more than 30 mounted dinosaur skeletons is absolutely awe-inspiring. You will also be able to view thousands of other fossils. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer and the admission fees are adults ($19), youth ages 7-17 ($10), children under 6 years (free), family rate ($48).
- Atlas Coal Mine
- Fossil World Dinosaur Discovery Center: lots of activities to engage kids.
- Drumheller’s Little Church
- Rosedale Suspension Bridge, and more.
Our day ended with a 7-hour return drive to Regina, Saskatchewan, where we stayed the night. The price of gas ranged from $1.029/litre to $1.149/litre.
Day Ten: Regina To Winnipeg Drive
Today is the last day of our Western Canada road trip vacation.
Soaked! Waterpark Travelodge Hotel & Conference Centre, Regina
The Travelodge hotel we were staying at in Regina (4177 Albert Street) is attached to a really neat water park with two water slides, a swimming pool, spray pad, hot tub and toddler area.
After breakfast, our kids spent the morning getting soaked. The water park is free if you are staying at the hotel.
I highly recommend this hotel and their complimentary buffet breakfast is also very good (lots of food options to choose from).
Royal Saskatchewan Museum
The Royal Saskatchewan Museum is located in the beautiful Wascana Park and is a national history museum with attractions ranging from dinosaurs to earth sciences and First Nations history.
It was established in 1906 and is home to “Scotty,” the largest T Rex fossil ever found.
Our kids love dinosaurs, so this was a great experience for them, including the animatronic dinosaur. It is truly incredible how big dinosaurs were!
Personally, I enjoyed the walk down history lane with regards to the Indigenous peoples, their culture and the signing of Treaty 4.
Admission into the Royal Saskatchewan Museum is free, however, a donation of at least $5 per person is recommended. Make sure to hold some cash.
We did not have enough time to fully tour Wascana Park which is one of the largest urban parks in North America and is home to popular attractions in Saskatchewan like the:
- University of Regina
- Royal Saskatchewan Science Centre
- Mackenzie Art Gallery
- Saskatchewan Legislative Building
There you have it – our 10-day trip from Winnipeg to Vancouver and back.
After 5,560 km of driving, we arrived back in Winnipeg already looking forward to when we can make a long road trip of this kind again. Maybe we will attempt to reach the East Coast next time around!