If you're nimble, you can get a taste of the must-sees -- urban and mountain -- in a week. You can do this itinerary in reverse if you prefer; Calgary's closest to the mountains and might be an easier final destination at the end of your trip if you're tired of driving. Edmonton is a fairly dull 3 1/2 hour drive from the mountains, maybe best gotten out of the way at the outset.
1. Exploring Calgary
Take a day to explore this bustling boom town, currently flush with the promise of oil prices staying sky-high. Start at one of the many excellent cafes in Kensington -- Good Earth is a great one -- north across the Bow River from downtown. Take the footbridge at Memorial Drive to Prince's Island Park, and stroll along the river's edge with your coffee to Eau Claire Market, on the downtown side.
A short stroll south will land you at the Stephen Avenue Mall, the city's historic downtown strip where you'll find plenty of restaurants as well as the entry points to several of Calgary's swanky downtown malls. Toward the eastern end of Stephen Avenue, you'll land at the Glenbow Museum, an excellent spot for natural history and one of the country's best museums.
If you've got the little ones in tow, you might like to stop in at the Telus World of Science for some fun sci-fi distractions. On the way out of town toward the mountains you'll also pass by Canada Olympic Park, where they would have a good time at the ski-jump simulator, or the year-round luge track (gulp).
2. & 3. Banff & Kananaskis
From Calgary, you'll take Highway 1 west through the foothills and into the mountains. In an hour, you'll have passed the entrance to Kananaskis Country, the bustling town of Canmore, and you'll have reached the Banff National Park gates. A short drive -- watch your speed in the park; they ticket without pity -- will land you on Banff Avenue, the main drag of this ritzy tourist town brimming with opportunities to separate you from your money. Here, you'll find everything from motels to grand hotels, fast food to haute cuisine. You could pass the day shopping -- Vuitton, anyone? -- but Banff, for all the glitz, is one of the most spectacular places on earth. So head to Lake Minnewanka, or look into float trips down the Bow River, or hike Johnston Canyon up to the Ink Pots. If it's all too active -- or too far -- you can take in some majestic scenery right in Banff Townsite by riding the Sulphur Mountain Gondola.
And try to fit in a dinner in lovely little Canmore, outside the park gates, too, if you can. Quarry won't disappoint.
4. Lake Louise
A stone's throw -- okay, 45 minutes -- west of Banff, Lake Louise has its own particular charms. Calm and low-key where Banff is wild and frantic, Louise boasts the same beauty with less of the tourist-culture hassle. Sip tea at the lovely Chateau Lake Louise, peel off to ultimate serenity at Moraine Lake, or ride the gondola at the Lake Louise ski resort to a high alpine meadow and take in the view. To cap things off, there's dinner at the Post Hotel if you can handle the sticker shock; a low-key culinary hotspot, it's routinely rated among the best in Canada.
5. The Icefields Parkway
You'll want a whole day to travel this spectacular route between Lake Louise and Jasper. As you travel through Sunwapta Pass past the mind-blowing views of the Columbia Icefields, you'll want to savor every moment. This is an ancient place, one that gives pause. Take your time, but be warned: gas up in Lake Louise. The only filling station along the way, at the North Saskatchewan River crossing, gives new meaning to the term "tourist trap." Fuel prices are 50 percent higher here than anywhere else.
Jasper's not quite so crassly commercial as its southern cousin Banff, so a stroll through town can be as relaxing as a trail hike. Then again, you could do both at one go -- trails start right in town. Maligne Lake is a half-hour drive away, where a spectacular cruise over icy blue waters in the heart of the Rockies awaits. You could also drink in the scenery from a more comfortable distance, on the patio of the Jasper Park Lodge, where a lovely lunch menu is served staring the majesty of Edith Cavell mountain in the face.
Take the Yellowhead Highway east from Jasper to Edmonton. You'll eat a good chunk of this day driving -- 3 1/2 hours or so -- but worry not: Edmonton's low-key enough you can get a good feel for it in an afternoon. Allow yourself a little self-indulgent shopping stroll along Whyte Avenue before heading over to the High Street district for a little culture among the art galleries. You'll find yourself conveniently within blocks of the Blue Pear, possibly Edmonton's finest restaurant, and one of the best anywhere.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.