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A Beginner’s Guide to the Rocky Mountain Road Trip

By AMA Staff

There’s something magical about a summer road trip to the Rocky Mountains. No matter how many times you’ve driven from the Prairies to the peaks, the journey never gets old. But if you’re travelling to the mountains for the first time, consider these tips to ensure your excursion is as safe and stress-free as possible. And if you’re a teen is heading off on a road trip with friends, make sure they’re protected in anyone’s vehicle—anytime, anywhere in Alberta—by adding Kids Go Free coverage to your AMA Plus or Premier membership.

There’s much to see and do in the mountain parks, so you don’t want to waste time getting lost on unfamiliar roads. Plan your route with, but also pack a traditional paper map (free at any AMA centre). Cellular coverage can be inconsistent outside of the Banff, Canmore and Jasper town sites, so you’ll want a reliable backup in case you can’t get a signal with your smartphone.

Weather in the Rockies is also quite changeable, so bring warm clothing—hats, gloves, jackets and boots—even if it’s sunny when you leave home. And be aware that once you’re in the mountains, service stations are few and far between: Keep your gas tank full and travel with plenty of water and snacks (and an emergency kit) if you plan on venturing away from the main towns.

The major highways leading to and running through the Rockies are modern and well maintained, but they also have narrow shoulders as well as the occasional steep hill and uneven surface. Use a lower gear when driving down steep grades and avoid running air conditioning when climbing hills, as it drains power from your vehicle.

Exercise particular caution when it comes to passing other vehicles, whether you’re on a divided two-lane highway or a single-lane road. Passing is restricted on many roads, so watch for signs and only pass slower vehicles when there is a dotted line and clear traffic. (Note too that the speed limit on primary routes in national parks is 90 kilometres per hour—and 60 km/h on secondary roads. Driving significantly faster than that, even to pass another car, is dangerous and can net you a serious fine.)

In addition to other road trippers, you’ll also be sharing the road with larger transport trucks, RVs and vehicles pulling trailers. Avoid driving in their blind spots. And don’t cut corners or drive too close to the centre line. Sudden wind gusts can push your vehicle around unexpectedly.

You may come across bears, mountain goats, big horn sheep and moose during your drive. While it’s exciting to see them, by no means should you do anything but that. Rule number one: Never approach or feed any animal—not even a squirrel. This is dangerous for both you and the animals, and you could be fined up to $1,000.

Neither is it advisable to stop and leave your vehicle to view or take photos of wildlife. If you encounter wildlife on the road, slow down, activate your hazard lights and honk your horn in short bursts to clear the way. And be on the lookout for cars that have pulled over on the road: Excited visitors may not be paying full attention to passing highway traffic.

Remember, there is a fee to enter the parks, which you’ll have to pay at their respective gates. If you plan on spending more than a few days a year visiting a national park, consider purchasing an annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which offers unlimited access, and can be purchased at a discount from AMA centres.

AMA members can take advantage of significant Rockies-related deals, including savings on car rentals, discounts at restaurants and attractions, and low-price guarantees on hotel rooms. The options are particularly plentiful in Jasper—try everything from a glacier tour to an afternoon at the hot springs. And for even more exclusive savings, free resources and expert trip-planning advice, visit

High life: See the mountains like never before on the Jasper SkyTram. AMA members save 15% on adult and youth tickets.

Spa day: Wind down after all your hiking, biking and sightseeing by spending some time—and saving 15% on regular admission—at Canadian Rockies Hot Springs locations, including the Banff Upper Hot Springs and the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park.