Calgary has historically been famous for its Wild West roots but in recent years it has become a dynamic city with a booming economy. This morning we leave the big city behind and transfer to the Canadian Rockies town of Banff, Canada's first national park and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Banff town can easily be explored on foot and with loads of optional activities there is enough to fill your time. 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. You can also take a gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for the rewarding panoramic views of the Rockies or simply relax in the heated, natural pools of the Banff Hot Springs. We 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). You may then take a walk on one of the many trails at nearby Lake Louise. Both of these lakes are famous for their striking blue glacial colour, caused by rock flour carried into the lakes by melt-water from the surrounding glaciers. Today we travel along Highway 1A, a different route to the norm but with increased chances of spotting wildlife.
Brace yourself as this morning we hit one of the most famous, and beautiful drives in the world; the Icefields Parkway where 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, which 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 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 and we spend the day getting to know Jasper National Park and its surroundings. 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. Included is a visit to Miette Hot Springs as this road offers regular sightings of big horned sheep and elk. Maligne Lake Rd is rife with wildlife (primarily big horned sheep, bears and elk) and we stop at the picnic area next to the river to see a colony of golden mantle ground squirrels.
Today we leave the province of Alberta and enter British Columbia as we travel west. En route we visit Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies; at 3954m this is one of the most impressive sights in western Canada and its peak usually capped 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, 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. With fewer visitors here your chances to see wildlife are increased as is the refreshing remoteness. Our overnight location is close to the shore of Anahim Lake, a popular lake for fly fishing that supports plenty of wildlife who come to drink. There's an optional canoeing excursion on the lake this afternoon, in the evening we recommend relaxing by the fireplace! Please note this area has very basic facilities but is extremely beautiful and off the tourist trail.
Tweedsmuir Provincial Park is completely off the radar of most tour groups, despite it being named as British Columbia's most beautiful. Our visit to this total wilderness area requires some advanced planning as our group should be completely 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 is a selection of excellent hikes on offer and plenty of optional activities.
Today we board a ferry at Bella Coola that takes us to 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. With a late evening arrival we overnight in Port Hardy and overnight in a hotel.
We drive from northern Vancouver Island to the area of Tofino today 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.
Tofino is one of British Columbia's most popular destinations. Located on the border of Clayquot Sound, the region surrounding Tofino retains one of the largest areas of temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island. This morning we have an included bear viewing boat tour where on previous trips whales have also been spotted. The afternoon is free for optional activities such as hiking, whale watching, sea kayaking and relaxing in the hot springs.
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.
In the morning we board a ferry across the Strait of Georgia, admiring the small islands and breath-taking 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. Upon arrival we enjoy a scenic drive through Stanley Park, a 4,000-hectare green wonderland. See the authentic totem poles erected in the 1920s and buy some moreish maple sugar candies. Stop by Prospect Point, a scenic lookout where you gaze out at spectacular views of Lion's Gate Bridge, North Vancouver and West Vancouver. The tour finishes back at the hotel at 17:00 where your tour ends upon arrival. If you wish to extend your stay please reserve additional accommodation at the time of booking. If you are flying tonight please do not book a flight before 21:00.