Banff to Waterton road trip itinerary via British Columbia

Off-the-beaten-path gems and stunning stops

The iconic Banff-Waterton drives, with towering peaks and shimmering lakes, is one of the most spectacular road trips out there. Beyond the postcard views, it also has a wealth of cultural and foodie experiences, offering something for every type of adventurer.

Looking for a comprehensive guide on the Banff to Waterton road trip (or Waterton to Banff) via British Columbia? We’ve curated a list of must-visit spots and adventures, all of which we’ve personally experienced and highly recommend.

3 ways to drive from Banff to Waterton (or vice versa)

There are three popular ways to make the drive from Banff to Waterton or Waterton to Banff. In this post, we’ll be covering Itinerary 3 going west from Banff and through British Columbia, but you can view our tips for Itinerary 1 and 2 if you’re interested going East and South along the Cowboy Trail.

Itinerary 1:

From Banff National Park, follow Highway 1 east until you meet the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) and south to Bragg Creek. Take a few easy turns through to Diamond Valley and Longview. Keep driving south and once you hit Highway 3, veer east for a quick hop to Pincher Creek. Head south on Highway 6, making a quick stop in Twin Butte before reaching Waterton Lakes National Park.

Itinerary 2:

Enjoy on a journey through the heart of Kananaskis Country by heading east on Highway 1 from Banff National Park, then south on Highway 40 after Canmore. Note that Highway 40 is usually closed from Dec. 1 to June 14 – always check official sources for accurate dates. Take in the beauty of Spray Valley Provincial Park and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park before merging with the Itinerary 1 route at Longview and Highway 22. Continue south to Highway 3, east towards Pincher Creek, and finally south via Highway 6, reaching Waterton Lakes National Park.

Love epic views? Choose Itinerary 2 – but be mindful of the seasonal closure. Short on time? Opt for Itinerary 1 – it’s quicker and still charming.

Enjoying the views along Itinerary 3.

Itinerary 3:

This itinerary takes you through British Columbia and the stunning Kootenay National Park. It requires more time than Itineraries 1 and 2, and you will likely want to break up the drive over several days.

On this route, you head west on the Trans-Canada (Highway 1) before going south at Castle Junction onto Highway 93. This highway takes you right through Kootenay Park. You’ll eventually hit Highway 95 and the town of Radium Hot Springs. Just before Radium, you can take a short detour to visit two of our favourite gems for accommodations.

From Radium, continue south, passing Invermere and Fairmont Hot Springs, before you hit Highway 93 again. You’ll eventually reach Cranbrook (a short detour) and begin heading east. Just past Jaffray, you’ll get off Highway 93 onto Highway 3, with Fernie on the horizon. Cross the B.C./Alberta border and head into Crowsnest Pass. Keep driving east until you reach Pincher Creek, then head south towards Twin Butte and, ultimately, Waterton Lakes National Park.

For a more visual representation of your road trip, you can see the directions here.

Exploring the South Canadian Rockies: East Kootenays and Southern Alberta

With all the stops and sightseeing along the way, you can easily stretch this trip into a multi-day adventure – in our opinion, that’s the best way to experience it, allowing plenty of time for exploration and discovery.

Fossil finds at Kootenay National Park

Shortly after you turn south at Castle Junction and head on Highway 93, you’ll reach B.C.’s Kootenay National Park. It’s a beautiful park with lots of little lookout spots and short hikes you can do along the way. A favourite of ours is the Stanley Glacier hike – it’s a relatively easy trail, but with a really cool feature: you can see fossils on the trail! Just remember to leave what you find in the park.

Hiking Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park, BC.

Settler’s Road detour: Cross River & Nipika

If time allows, instead of continuing on Highway 93 to Radium, keep going straight on Settler’s Road to hit the Cross River Wilderness Centre and Nipika Mountain Resort.

Cross River is an off-the-beaten path destination featuring off-the-grid recreation, outdoor education, and cabin accommodations – we highly recommend a stop here. Nearby, Nipika Mountain Resort is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts offering stunning hikes, serene lakes, and cozy cabins.

Although this detour adds extra time to your journey, it’s a trade-off worth considering!

Mineral magic at Radium

Radium is famous for its hot springs. The naturally heated waters, boasting unique minerals, have lured travellers for decades. Treat yourself to a relaxing dip in this historic setting.

Invermere, a mecca for outdoor adventure

With adventure on the water, on the mountain trails, and in the town square, Invermere more than deserves a pause on your journey.

We suggest signing up with a paddling company that also offers shuttles, like Columbia River Paddle. That way, you can rent a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, canoe, or hydrobike and go down part of Columbia River from Invermere to Radium (as long as it’s late spring or summer – always check conditions). It’s a calm flat-water paddle and you can spot many species of birds and other wildlife. A shuttle picks you up at Radium to bring you back to your starting point in Invermere.

Paddling the Columbia River, BC.

For land-lubbers, there are lots of hiking trails around the community. With the Canadian Rockies on one side and the Columbia Mountains on other, Invermere boasts epic trails that cut through stunning valleys and awesome opportunities to see granite walls and sedimentary bed forms.

Winter is also a great time to visit Invermere. Lake Windermere Whiteway boasts the longest skating trail in the world, or there’s cross-country skiing and downhill skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort.

Peppi’s Pizza is a great place to fuel up in Invermere. The owners and staff are always welcoming and friendly, not mention that their pizzas are drool-worthy delicious and service is impeccable. Back Alley Thai Food, open in the summer, is another standout spot, serving authentic Thai meals, and Birchwood is the place to go if you’re looking for something fancier.

Hoodoos and hot springs at Fairmont

Just after the town of Fairmont Hot Springs, you can make a quick stop to hike Hoodoo Trail, one of our favourite treks in the area and awesome opportunity to hike and see the hoodoos.

Hiking the Hoodoo Trail near Fairmont, BC.

You can also stop in for a soak at the hot springs, which we find tend to be a bit less busy than those at Radium.

Get in gear in Cranbrook

In Cranbrook, you’ll find some awesome mountain biking trails that cater to anyone’s preferences – single-track, road and gravel routes, and groomed winter trails.

And if you prefer a more cultural visit, a stop at the Cranbrook History Centre will open your eyes to the region’s fascinating past.

Jaffray’s First Perk

Between Cranbrook and Fernie, you’ll pass a small town called Jaffray with a hugely awesome café that’s worth a stop and bite. First Perk Coffee & Collectibles is a cozy spot serving caffeinated beverage, baked goods, soups, salads, and sandwiches, and also sells products from local vendors that make great souvenirs.

Fernie beyond the slopes

Fernie is bursting with opportunities for outdoor adventure, from incredible hiking trails to spectacular fishing spots. During winter, snow sports enthusiasts can hit the slopes at the Fernie Alpine Resort for world-class skiing and snowboarding.

For hiking, the trails around Island Lake Lodge are spectacular. For a challenge, conquer Mount Proctor’s panoramic summit (a challenging hike that should only be attempted by experienced hikers and in proper weather conditions) or hike to the Fairy Creek Waterfall. Our friends at Hike Fernie are the local guiding company if you want to learn more about the area or find those hidden gems.

Hiking in Fernie, BC.

Afterward, refuel with local craft beers at the The Fernie Taphouse (aka “The Fernie”, or “da Fernie Hotel”, if you know what’s up). Himalayan Spice Bistro is a really nice spot for South Asian cuisine and for sushi lovers, Yamagoya is definitely a highlight.

Crowsnest Pass: Welcome to our backyard

Now, you’ve officially reached our neck of the woods. If you’re able, plan a few days to spend in Crowsnest Pass to experience everything it has to offer. We’d love to see you out on an Uplift hike with us – whether you book a private trip or join one of our group hikes, you’ll get insider knowledge about the area and a personalized experience on the trails.

Hiking near Crowsnest Pass in the Castle Provincial Parks.

Visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre to learn about Canada’s deadliest rockslide in 1903, which you can see on either side of Highway 3. There are also many little shops and restaurants that offer charming surprises and tasty treats to complete your Crowsnest Pass experience.

Looking for places to eat, things to do, or where to stay in Crowsnest Pass? Our visitor guide has it all covered, and we offer multi-day backpacking, outdoor courses, outdoor rock climbing, day hikes, and winter tours to complete your stay.

Find southern hospitality at Twin Butte

As you’re driving south along Highway 6, you’ll pass through the small town of Twin Butte – don’t just drive by its quirky Twin Butte Country General Store! Browse unique souvenirs and handcrafted goods, grab a delicious bite from their restaurant, or stock up on picnic essentials. Fuel up with friendly service and soak in the vibrant atmosphere – it’s a taste of authentic Alberta hospitality that adds a special touch to your journey.

Welcome to Waterton

Before diving into Waterton activities, check out our Waterton visitor guide on what to do, where to stay, and where to eat in the national park.

Hiking to some beautiful scenic spots in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Wrapping up in the Rockies

This journey packs in a variety of our favourite and most unforgettable experiences. To truly appreciate the gems along the route, consider spreading the trip over multiple days, allowing ample time for discoveries and relaxation. Hit play on that epic road trip playlist and enjoy one of the most spectacular drives out there!

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