One of the concerns many visitors have is that they are unfamiliar with driving in the mountains. Even people who live in Calgary and visit the mountains routinely may feel a little bit anxious when faced with a trip through the Rockies to B.C.  Here are some tips:

  •  If you are not used to driving through areas with a low population density, be warned: Fuel is not always conveniently available. Some parts of the Trans-Canada in the mountains west of Lake Louise have 100 km (60 mi) or more between fuel stops. You should either plan your fuel stops, or make it a practice to refuel whenever your gas gauge reaches the half-full mark.
  • Alberta drivers consistently exceed the speed limit by 20 km/h or more, even when driving through the mountains.
  • The drive to Banff from Calgary is fairly easy; the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) is four lane divided all the way to the Banff townsite (and beyond); within the national park, tall fences keep deer and other wildlife off the road. This part of the road does not have any really steep climbs or sections where it clings next to a steep drop-off. The only major risk is other drivers, especially sleepy drivers on their way to ski in Banff early in the morning (6 a.m. to 8 a.m.) or on the way home to Calgary after a long day of skiing. (This time-lapse video shows the drive from Calgary to Banff.)
  • In winter, copy prudent Canadian drivers and make sure you have a winter survival kit and cell phone in your car, just in case you end up in the ditch and need to wait until you're extracted. A winter survival kit should include extra warm clothing including gloves and a hat, a blanket, battery booster cables, flashlight and batteries, an emergency candle (for warmth), waterproof matches, snow shovel, window scraper, snow brush, a rope, traction aids (like kitty litter), non-perishable food items, bottled water, and road flares. The drive from Calgary to Banff and Lake Louise is very well-travelled and well-maintained in winter, and so is quite safe, as long as you are not driving during or immediately after a heavy snowfall. Driving through the Rockies between Lake Louise and Golden B.C. in the wintertime is not recommended unless you are already experienced at winter driving or mountain driving, and preferably both. Winter driving along this section of the Trans-Canada Highway (or along the Hwy 93 from Lake Louise to Jasper) is considered by professional drivers to be the most difficult driving in Canada.
  • Do not take Hwy 1A between Calgary and Canmore as an alternate to Hwy 1 (the Trans-Canada) unless you have a destination (e.g. Ghost Lake) which requires you to take that route. This road is only two lanes, is not divided, has poor visibility, and there are ongoing problems here with impaired drivers after dark. Pedestrians often walk along the narrow shoulder. This route's fatality rate is truly appalling.
  • The drive from Banff to Lake Louise and beyond is undergoing a slow upgrade, changing from two lanes to four lane divided. Pass with extreme care when you are using the passing lanes in the two lane sections, as there simply are not enough passing lanes to satisfy many drivers. The two lane section creates a bottleneck which can slow traffic significantly on the four lane section. Again, the Banff-Lake Louise section has few steep hills or sharp drop-offs. The Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A) also connects Banff to Lake Louise; this is a scenic route with a much slower speed limit than the Trans-Canada Highway, and can be a good alternative to the sometimes slow traffic on the main route.
  • When you reach the Lake Louise area, watch for the signs telling you to slow down for bears! There is an ongoing problem in this region with vehicle-bear collisions. If you want to meet a Mountie as part of your Canadian vacation, drive through here at 110 km/hr. Unfortunately, the RCMP wear their regular blue uniforms when on traffic duty, so you won't get much of a photo-op, just an expensive speeding ticket. In Alberta, the law calls for a mandatory court appearance for drivers caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 50 km/h.
  • From Lake Louise to Revelstoke, B.C. (or Jasper, via Hwy 93-Icefields Parkway) you will find that you need some mountain driving skills, as the highway becomes more narrow, more steep, more winding, and with more steep drop-offs at the side. This is accompanied by fabulous scenery and more abundant wildlife (the wildlife fence ends between Banff and Lake Louise), which can cause dangerous distractions. As a driver, you need to put all your attention on the road; pull over into a viewpoint to admire the view. Do not pull over onto the shoulder to admire wildlife along the roadside; this is dangerous both for you and for the wildlife, since animals will lose their shyness of vehicles and/or people, with tragic results. Don't feel that you need to keep up with traffic; many people drive this route routinely, and know every hill and curve intimately.
  • Anticipate major hills by accelerating before you start a long climb; shift to a lower gear to decelerate when going down long  hills, especially if they are marked with a sign indicating the grade (some sections have a grade of up to 10%). The sooner you shift down, the better. You will feel a lot safer if you're using your engine to brake; in certain stretches of the Rockies, you may note the distinctive odour of overheating brake pads. If you're not familiar with downshifting to decelerate, practice the technique before you leave home until you're comfortable with it.
  • The section of the  Kicking Horse Pass between Field, B.C. and the Alberta-B.C. border is the first truly challenging section of the Trans-Canada Highway for the new mountain driver. It is fairly narrow and somewhat winding, with steep hills and some drop-offs.
  • The Rogers Pass (between Golden, B.C. and Revelstoke, B.C., in Glacier National Park) is somewhat narrow and winding; it passes through five or six short "tunnels" which are actually snow sheds; in the winter time, these sections of roadway are under avalanche pathways, so the concrete "sheds" have been constructed to keep the massive flow of snow off the roadway.  At about 20 locations alongside the road, you will see large circular concrete "tables" measuring about 5 meters (15 feet) across; these are the permanent sites for the mobile artillery guns which are used to intentionally trigger avalanches in the Rogers Pass during the winter avalanche season (October 1 to May 31). The Rogers Pass has the world's largest mobile avalanche control program. During the summer months, avalanches are not a hazard; more dangerous is the startling beauty of the Rogers Pass mountains and glaciers, which can be a substantial distraction for drivers. Fortunately, there are many viewpoints where you can pull off the road safely, and take your time to admire the view.
  • The most dangerous section of the Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Revelstoke, B.C. is the Kicking Horse Canyon located 16 km (10 mi) directly east of Golden, B.C. This stretch was formerly fairly narrow and winding, with many steep drop-offs below and falling rock hazards above. However, to increase the safety, this section has been twinned and relocated about 100 meters higher up the valley sides, and a new bridge has been built over the Kicking Horse River. It may still be somewhat daunting. Don't be afraid to slow down to drive at the speed at which you feel comfortable. If you drive through here when it is raining, keep alert for the increased risk of rockfalls onto the road. Remember, it's not just the falling rocks you need to be concerned about, it's also the ones which have already fallen and are in your path. BC Highways is very vigilant on this stretch, and truckers use their CB radios to contact the highway maintenance crews to inform them of any fallen rocks which need attention. For up-to-date information on the road construction here, check out Highway 1 on DriveBC. The BC government has detailed information available on the Kicking Horse Canyon Project.
  • Between Kamloops, B.C. and Hope, B.C., you have two route choices: the Trans-Canada Highway or the Coquihalla Highway. The Trans-Canada Highway is narrow, winding, and scenic, with steep drop-offs to the Fraser River below. The Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) is a 4-lane divided road (5 or 6 lanes wide in some sections), and is both safer and reduces your driving time by over an hour compared to the Trans-Canada. The scenery through the high mountain Coquihalla Pass (near the west end of the Coquihalla HIghway) is pretty, and you will also see some of the same avalanche control measures in place there which are in the Rogers Pass. The long-standing toll on the Coquihalla Hwy was eliminated in the fall of 2008. 
  • If you must drive at night in the mountains (this is not recommended), the safest way to do this is with a passenger, who should be tasked with watching either side of the road for wildlife, as far ahead of the car as practical. The first sign you will get of a deer, elk, or moose at night will probably be their eyes, shining in your headlights like a cat's eyes. SLOW DOWN immediately, even if the animal is not on the road; where you can see one animal, there are likely others out of sight, including on the roadway ahead of you, who may be looking the other way, since deer, elk, and moose generally move in groups. In the national parks, the roadway crossings most heavily used by deer and elk are marked by signs--but animals can't read, they can and will cross anywhere that's convenient.
  • If you are driving in the winter, note that sections of the highway between Lake Louise and Revelstoke may be blocked by heavy snowfall or avalanche, possibly delaying your trip by 24 hours or more. The Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93, Lake Louise-Jasper) is open in the winter, but it should be driven only by people experienced in mountain driving and in winter driving, owing to the comparatively light traffic, the much smaller number of settlements along the route (basically just one stop, near the halfway point), the challenging mountain route, and the higher risk of avalanches compared to the Trans-Canada; the road can be closed for as much as three days.
  • To get current road conditions for Alberta, go to the official Alberta Highways road report or the Alberta Motor Association's Road Report. In winter, this will give you road conditions; in summer, it will show where construction is taking place. Go to DriveBC for BC road conditions.
  • Drinking and driving : It is a criminal offence to operate, or be in care or control of, a motor vehicle while your ability is impaired by alcohol or drugs.  If the police determine your ability to operate a vehicle has been impaired by alcohol or drugs, even if your blood alcohol reading is below the 80 mg limit, you can be charged with impaired driving.  You can use this Blood Alcohol Content Calculator to help you figure out roughly how many drinks it would take to get you to the limit. 
  • In Alberta motorists must slow to 60 km/h (38 MPH) when passing emergency vehicles or tow trucks stopped with their lights flashing.  Fines for speeding in these areas are doubled.  Travelers have reported receiving fines in the C$400 range for this offence.
  • In construction zones, motorists must observe the posted speed limit.  Alberta law states that, when workers are present, fines for speeding in these areas will be doubled.
  • There are very few traffic lights in the Canadian Rockies.  Nevertheless, drivers from most countries outside of North America often are not aware that -- except in the rare instance that a sign prohibits it -- a motorist is allowed to turn right at a red traffic light, provided he/she has first stopped and checked that there is no traffic approaching from the left.  
  • When two vehicles approach a 4-way stop sign from different directions, the first vehicle to arrive at the stop sign has the right of way.  If two vehicles arrive at a 4-way stop sign simultaneously, the vehicle on the right has the right of way.  If there are several vehicles lined up at a 4-way stop sign, they take it in turns to let each other through the intersection.  An example of a 4-way stop sign in the Canadian Rockies is the one in Lake Louise Village.
  • When you are driving in the mountain towns, you will want to remember that it is not only a legal requirement, but also common courtesy, to stop for pedestrians, even if they are jaywalking, stepping out without looking, or any of the other things that people do in small tourist towns.  Be especially careful when the sun is in your eyes or your windshield is frosty!
  • You may want to do further reading regarding Alberta's Rules of the Road .