The group flight usually arrives in the evening. Land Only clients should make their own way to the start hotel.
Once a sleepy, rural backwater, Calgary is famous for its Wild West roots but in recent years it has become one of Canada's most dynamic cities, with a booming economy. The annual Stampede is still one of the biggest events on the calendar, but there's much more to the city besides. After some time to get to know the main sights of Calgary, we transfer around one and a half hours to the Canadian Rockies and the resort town of Banff. Canada's first national park is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Banff town can easily be explored on foot; visit the iconic Banff Springs Hotel where tourism in the Rockies first began, take a short trail to the tumbling Bow Falls, or visit some of the many souvenir shops in town. There are also some optional excursions to choose from: take a gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, the reward being breathtaking panoramic views of the Rockies, or relax in the heated, natural pools of the Banff Hot Springs. We will stay overnight in nearby Canmore.
Banff National Park in Alberta is one of the highlights of any visit to western Canada, with its magnificent mountains, lakes and forests. Today we drive to Moraine Lake located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the highest of which is Deltaform Mountain (3424m). We then take a walk on one of the many trails at nearby Lake Louise. The lake and province were named after Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. Both of these lakes are famous for their striking blue colour, caused by rock flour carried into the lakes by melt-water from the surrounding glaciers.
After breakfast we take one of the most famous drives in the world along the Icefields Parkway. This spectacular road traverses the Rockies, running parallel to the Continental Divide. Mountain passes, glaciers and high peaks are some of the many scenic highlights and there are opportunities to see elk, caribou, bears, bighorn sheep and goats, who often graze on the vegetation found in roadside verges. We can stop at all of the 'must see' sights, including Bow Summit and Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier. There is also the option of a guided glacier ice-walk along the way. Our journey time today is around 4.5 hours and our overnight location will be in Jasper National Park, around 40 minutes out of town.
Jasper is much quieter and less developed than Banff, which means it is easy to escape the crowds here. We'll spend the day getting to know Jasper National Park and its environs. One option is to take the Jasper Tram and walk to the summit, which provides fantastic views over the Canadian Rockies. Alternatively there are various hikes at Mt Edith Cavell, including a short trek in the alpine meadows which will provide us with spectacular views of the Angel Wing Hanging Glacier and chances to view caribou. There is also the opportunity to join a rafting trip on the Athabasca River today, if you'd like to try this.
Our journey continues west, leaving the state of Alberta and entering British Columbia where we visit Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. At 3954m this is one of the most impressive sights in western Canada, it's peak usually tipped with snow. There is an optional hike at Kinney Lake, located in the Mount Robson Provincial Park, or, depending on the groups wishes, it is possible to join a wildlife river safari instead, with the chance of seeing bear, moose, eagle and osprey from Blue River. We drive to the historic gold rush city of Williams Lake today, with a journey time of around 6.5 hours in total.
We drive for about 4 hours through authentic Canadian wilderness as we head completely off the beaten track towards Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. Our overnight location is close to the shore of Anahim Lake, a popular lake for fly fishing that supports plenty of wildlife. There's an optional canoeing excursion on the lake this afternoon, in the evening we recommend relaxing by the fireplace!
Tweedsmuir Provincial Park is completely off the radar of most tour groups, and yet it has been described as British Columbia's most beautiful. Visiting this total wilderness area requires some advanced planning as groups must be self sufficient. We'll spend time in the southern area of the park this morning, joining a hiking trail through an area of the thick forest. A healthy population of Grizzly and Black bears exists throughout the park, as well as elk, deer, moose and coyote; it is possible to see any of these whilst visiting Tweedsmuir. Wildlife aside, the colours of the mountains, combined with the solitude and flora will ensure that Tweedsmuir is a park that you'll remember. After our hike we drive over 'the Hill' with views towards Bella Coola, a journey time of approximately 2 hours.
Bella Coola is located at the point where the Bella Coola River joins with the salt water of the Pacific Ocean. Here amongst the lush valley bottoms and snow-capped peaks reside some of the largest Grizzly bears in the world and this little community is gaining a reputation as one of the best places to spot them in BC. The best time of year to view Grizzly bears is from the middle of August to the end of September as this is when they descend from the mountains to catch salmon in the rivers. In season, it's possible to join an optional excursion in search of Grizzly bears. Outside of the bear season there are great hikes to be had or plenty of optional activities, such as scenic float plane flights and wildlife rafting tours.
We board a ferry at Bella Coola that takes us towards Vancouver Island along the Inside Passage. This journey of approx. 12-14 hours is likely to be a real highlight of the trip as the scenery is simply spectacular: towering, forest-clad peaks surround the deep fjords. Those with keen eyes can often spot Bald eagles and bears. The Inside Passage also supports one of the world's richest marine environments and it may be possible to see Grey, Orca and occasionally Humpback whales. The remoteness of the Inside Passage is its most stunning feature; this area is largely inaccessible by road and the tiny communities spread along it rely on boats for transportation.
We drive from northern Vancouver Island to the area of Tofino today, around a 6-hour drive that takes us through some beautiful scenic areas. We'll stop at Cathedral Grove, one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees in the province. There are many trails which meander through the Douglas-fir, Western Hemlock, Grand fir and Western Red Cedar trees. Our overnight location is in nearby Ucluelet.
Tofino is one of British Columbia's most popular destinations. This small town has a laid-back atmosphere, perhaps as a result of its Pacific location and the resulting popularity with surfers. Located on the border of Clayquot Sound, the region surrounding Tofino retains one of the largest areas of temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island. There's a huge choice of optional activities possible today: hiking, whale watching, bear watching, sea kayaking or a hot springs tour.
We travel to Victoria, Vancouver Island's main town and the capital of British Columbia. It's a remarkable mix of English Edwardian, First Nations and even some Chinese building styles and was home to the first Chinatown in Canada. After around a 4 hour journey to reach Victoria, we will take a tour of the city's highlights. The rest of the day is free to relax. You may want to visit the Provincial Museum, which gives an introduction to the First Nations people and the natural history of the region. Alternatively there are plenty of optional excursions that you can organise locally.
This morning we'll board a ferry across the Strait of Georgia, admiring the small islands and breathtaking panorama of the city of Vancouver as it comes into view. This cosmopolitan and diverse metropolis is in stark contrast to the rest of British Columbia, but always proves to be a highlight. In the late afternoon there will be some free time to explore Vancouver at your own pace, perhaps visiting Stanley Park or China Town.
Those on the group flight will return to the airport for their flight home today.