From world-class cities to quaint alpine towns—a drive in western Canada covers it all. Join in for a road trip of a lifetime! By Rahul Jagtiani
A double espresso and a side of Vancouver Sun was just the booster I needed to power my blurry-eyed self back to life. I inhaled the sports stories, ﬂipping through the pages backwards while I waited for my SUV at Avis car rental inside Vancouver International Airport on a busy Monday morning.
I had just touched down at Vancouver and hadn’t slept a wink on the second leg of my journey, chatting away with the ﬂight attendants as they sportingly offered tips on all the worthy places in this easy-on-the-eye West Coast city of Canada.
“I’ve driven on the other side of the road before. I can do this!” was my private self-afﬁrmation as I tensely got behind the wheel. Jeez! Perhaps I needed another round of caffeine!
Stanley Park was the recommendation that ﬁrst popped out of my notes folder. I could do with some fresh air and open space, and the 1,000-acre park offered these two things in abundance. Swapping my loafers for a pair of running shoes, I set out on a jog along the 8.8-kilometre-long sea wall, which forms a portion of the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path—the 28-kilometre Seaside Greenway— and is one of the top recreation spots in the city. “No wonder Vancouverites love the outdoors!” I thought, as scores of cyclists, joggers, and skaters whizzed by, taking in the crisp evening air.
A bit further into the park, young couples took selﬁes against the backdrop of the gorgeous rose gardens, families enjoyed leisurely picnics, and stately horse-drawn carriages ferried beaming tourists. Watching the world go about its life in this iconic park seemed to be the only acceptable way to end the day.
My next morning began early at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, not long before it was thronged by eager tourists. The bridge stretches 130 metres across and hovers 70 metres above the Capilano River, and offers a perfectly Instagrammable view, but it takes some serious skill to click a sharp photo while walking on the wobbly bridge. Within the park is Treetops Adventure, a walk across seven suspension bridges that are attached to eight Douglas ﬁ rs, over two centuries old, in a way that accommodates the continuous growth of the trees. The canopy adventure was evidently a big hit with kids. And that was my cue to exit!
I drove further up north for a few minutes to Grouse Mountain and hopped into a gondola sky ride to the top for what was the best view of Vancouver. The Grouse Grind, a 2.9-kilometre hike up the face of the mountain also known as ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’, piqued my curiosity, but the aromas wafting from a nearby pretzel stand and a teeming crowd watching an entertaining bird show drew me into easier experiences.
My next stop was Granville Island, a well-known cultural district with theatres, dining, craft studios, and a top-class pier. Located just south of Downtown, it is a favourite among locals and tourists alike. From its pier, I boarded the Prince of Whales, a semi-covered express cruiser, for a half-day tour to witness orcas. Whale-watching is a hit or miss activity, but the knowledgeable guides on the boat kept the audience intrigued with trivia, as we kept one eye ﬁrmly focussed on the water for any sign of movement.
After a brief foray into the sea, the open road beckoned once more. The Sea to Sky Highway made for a two-hour-long scenic drive from Vancouver to Whistler; I drove past rugged forests, serene blue lakes, and dancing waterfalls. My destination was home to Whistler Blackcomb, one of the largest ski resorts in North America that are equally popular for its summer activities. At the base of the mountain is the pedestrian-only Whistler Village—a vibrant square with musicians stringing their guitars, streets lined with alfresco restaurants and bars, and some of the best boutiques for shopping.
My default setting on a holiday dictates that I seek out an adventure sport, and this one was staring me in the face. A huge sign outside Carleton Lodge in the heart of Whistler Village offered a buffet of some of my favourite escapades: river rafting, ziplining, and mountain biking tours, starting just minutes away from my plush hotel. Kick-starting the day by navigating Grade 3 rapids on the Green Lake set the tone for a happy day ahead. In the afternoon, a thrilling Bear Tour by Ziptrek Ecotours took me through ﬁr and cedar forests, with awe-inspiring views of the verdant valley. For a while, I was the oldest teenager in Canada!
I can’t claim to be a free-spirited wanderer, but what’s a road trip without a detour? So, I punched in ‘Kelowna’ on my GPS on instinct. A small town on the shore of the Lake Okanagan and a popular wine-growing region about ﬁve-and-a-half hours away from me, Kelowna is the Napa Valley of Canada. Comparisons with the Northern Californian wine region are inevitable, but with two hours of additional daylight compared to Napa, Kelowna has an advantage of the fruit ripening a bit slower to ensure high-quality wine. Downtown Kelowna was a revelation—bustling with energy and far removed from the sleepy town I’d imagined it to be. With crowds ambling along the lively pier of the marina, I decided to take a stroll too and stretch my tired limbs. Before I knew it, I was pulled into a community salsa lesson led by Alicia, a voluntary dance instructor who seemed to have a natural ﬂ air while I moved my hips awkwardly to the music.
My plans for a bike ride along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, an abandoned railway line through the back roads of British Columbia, were thwarted by morning showers the next day. This made way for a visit to Okanagan Crush Pad Winery, where a smiling Julian gave me an insightful tour of the craft of wine-making. I’m not too fastidious about my wines, but Julian had me sample an unﬁltered Sauvignon Blanc with a distinct orange colour and a ﬂavour unique to the Okanagan region.
I traded a bit of my morning sleep for an early start to get to Banff National Park in Alberta. It was the longest stretch of my road trip so far, but I didn’t mind it too much as I drove through the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. The town of Banff is located inside the national park and is ﬂanked on all sides by towering mountains. I eased into the day with a climb to the top of Mount Norquay through a via Ferrata, an assisted climbing route with a harness secured to the mountain’s steel cable. The peak gave me another stunning bird’s-eye view of the Canadian landscape.
But I’d saved the best for last. A 45-minute drive away is Lake Louise, a charming town with an astonishingly turquoise glacier-fed lake. An hour-long canoe session in the sparkling waters against the backdrop of the Rockies and the pine forests in the country’s oldest national park made me feel like I was a part of a giant Monet canvas. Nursing a Negroni with fellow revellers at the Fairview Bar later that evening, I knowingly glanced at the shimmering lake through giant windows. “Great memories,” I toasted with the buoyant crowd as the lights dimmed. It was time to hit the open road again.
Related: Our Cover Girl Diipa Khosla Tells Us Why Road Trips Are Her Absolute Favourite!