A Guide to Road Tripping in Canada. Routes, Packing, Planning & More!

Emerging through deep canyons onto vast, soaring plains, a lone tumbleweed blew across the road stretching out ahead of us in the soft late afternoon light.

Have you ever seen a view so beautiful it makes you laugh because it’s almost unbelievable? We’d been continuously driving through that kind of scenery for hours, and were still amazed.

“I know it sounds ridiculously cheesy, but I’ll never forget… this…” Jackson trailed off, not quite figuring out how to end the sentence. It’s not the kind of comment he’d usually come out with, but I didn’t say anything. I was thinking exactly the same thing.

I totally agree with the cliche that it’s not just the destination that counts, but the journey. So many of my all-time favourite trips have been all about the journey, from backpacking to hiking and of course, road-tripping! A two week trip from Vegas across California with one of my best friends sealed the deal for me. Road trips are the ticket to a spontaneous, beautifully paced travel experience.

A guide to road tripping in Canada

If you’re looking for a great place to go on a road trip, Canada has to be up there as one of the best.

Canada is made up of ten provinces and three territories which span out to the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. It’s the world’s second-largest country but with a relatively small population, especially compared to the UK. With less pesky people around, there’s still a lot of wild, unspoiled terrains to explore.

Canada is perfectly set up for road trippers if you prefer the well-beaten path.  lookout points, picnic areas, campsites and toilets are all dotted along the roads and highways. All front country campsites usually have their own spacious-enough pitch, firepit, picnic bench, toilets and firewood. Many have bathrooms with showers (unless it’s a campsite you can’t book) but even if it’s basic, or you’re in the backcountry, there’s usually a long drop loo somewhere.

When to go

The locations you want to visit might be better at certain times of the year, so think about this when planning. Also, figure out what you want from the trip. If you want to do some backcountry hiking, summer may be best Snow and ice is around into the end of June and early July at higher elevations. It can also snow at any time of the year in the mountains!

We were flying to Vancouver, so for us, mid to late June seemed like the best time to explore. The lakes wouldn’t be frozen, and most of the trails would be open thanks to snow clearing up.

July or August would have meant more open backcountry hiking trails, but everything gets busier and more expensive at this time. We also weren’t going to have enough time to do multi-day hikes and see all the places we wanted. We sacrificed the longer hikes to cover more miles.

Our Canadian road trip route & itinerary

When we were in Pamana we luckily met a Scottish girl who’d lived and worked in Banff. She was an avid hiker and had made it her goal to hike as many trails in Canada as possible. She’d also just finished a road trip there with her family, so gave us the perfect route to take – in this order…

  • Vancouver
  • Vancouver Island (keep reading for which ferry’s and ports to use!)
  • Whistler
  • Joffrey Lakes
  • Jasper National Park via Kamloops
  • Banff National Park via the Icefields Parkway
  • Kootenays National Park
  • Okanagan Valley
  • Back to Vancouver! 

We’d have prefered to plan our itinerary with as much flexibility as possible but were warned many campsites book up months ahead for June. We wanted to fit in as many destinations as possible, so decided to be a bit more concise with planning than usual.

After ordering and poring over some maps, reading campsite reviews and blogs – we decided on our itinerary. I’ll share my uncharacteristically organised itinerary with you below in case you’re interested!

  • 12th June: Arrive 22:10 – stay in an Airbnb
  • 13th June – pick up the camper van and drive to Tsawwassen to Nanaimo. Find a campsite and hang out for the day.
  • 14th June – Drive to Tofino and check into Bella Pacifica campground for a couple of nights and explore the island.
  • 16th June – Ferry back from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay & drive to Whistler
  • 17th June – See friends in Whistler
  • 18th June – Drive to Joffre Lakes & continue to Kamloops. Find camping somewhere.
  • 19th June – Get to Jasper National Park, stay in Wapiti/Wabasso campsite for a couple of nights
  • 21St June – Drive the Icefields Parkway & find a campsite
  • 22nd – Arrive in Banff & HIKE!
  • 23rd – Hike & stay/leave
  • 24th -Drive to Okanagan Valley late & stay over
  • 25th – Chill and find somewhere to camp on the way back to Vancouver
  • 26th – Give the camper van back & fly home

Packing list

In Canada, no matter what time of year you go, the temperature can vary wildly depending on region or altitude. It can rain, like the UK, at any time of the year. It can also be very warm at the bottom of a valley whilst snowing and cold at the top. Nights can often dip down to freezing temperatures even in June, so keep this in mind when you’re packing. I recommend:

  • Long sleeve hiking trousers or hiking leggings for hiking
  • Running shorts
  • Hiking boots/sturdy trail runners
  • Hiking socks
  • Sports bra
  • Vest tops
  • Merino base layer
  • Thicker jumper
  • Insulated jacket (it’s cold in them there mountains)
  • Waterproof jacket (it can rain, a lot)
  • Comfy sandals you can walk in
  • Flip flops or similar (for showers)
  • Swimming costume/bikini
  • Something comfy to sleep in and hang around the campsite
  • Mosquito spray (if not going in winter)
  • Suncream
  • Usual cosmetic items
  • Backpack/daypack for hiking

Optional

  • Jean shorts
  • Jeans
  • Summer dress
  • Cute tops or T-shirts for the city/when you’re not hiking
  • Trainers
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Sewing kit (what, I take mine everywhere!)
  • Washing powder (in a small ziplock for laundry days)
  • Umbrella

Hiring a camper van in Canada

Hiring a camper van isn’t as easy as you’d think. When you get a quote, check out what it includes. You may need to pay extra for insurance cover, milage, bedding, kitchen equipment etc… every little extra often has a charge. I recommend emailing hire companies directly before booking to check this.

We rented our camper van with Escape Campervans. As well as giving us the cheapest quote, they’re super friendly and helpful (even when, like me, you completely bugger up the dates of your booking). The van we hired was plenty big enough for the two of us and absolutely fine for the trip.

The only thing we would have done if we’d had a bigger budget is go for something that had an inside kitchen for those rainy days, or if you need to get away from mosquitos. Those bastards.

Our makeshift umbrella awning that kept blowing off and rolling down the car park with every other gust of wind

But apart from the rare wet days we had, this snazzy kitchen in the back of the van had everything we needed.

For more details on each leg of our trip, they’re coming! We drove pretty far in just two weeks so I’m splitting the blog posts into “best of” each location and route. I’ll include specific hikes we did, places we camped and our best campfire recipes!

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