6 Top Tips to Make the Most of the Canadian Rockies
When it comes to natural wonders of the world, the Canadian Rockies are really up there with the best!
The stunning Icefields Parkway, wiggling its way through the Rockies, often graces the Top 10 Drives in the World list boasting some of the most spectacular vistas you’ll ever see. It meanders through valleys of lilac snow-capped mountains, numerous turquoise lakes, awe-inspiring glaciers, blankets of fir trees, and sparkling rivers. Almost every turn presents a new photo opportunity.
Comprised of five National Parks (Yoho, Jasper, Kootenay, Banff, and Waterton), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with literally hundreds of lakes, and covering 180,000 sq kms, it’s difficult to know how to make the most of the Rockies. So here are the 5 W’s of Wonder (and a H)!
1. Why choose the Canadian Rockies?
Of all the possible travel destinations, why choose the Rockies? To put it simply—few places in the world offer such breathtaking scenery, such vast opportunities for adventure and activity, and the chance to glimpse some wonderful wildlife. It’s indescribably beautiful—one of the most picture-perfect places you’ll ever set your eyes on, and there’s an abundance of things to do and see along the way.
2. When to go?
Canada is beautiful year-round, but the volume of snowfall can make it difficult to travel and access parts of the Canadian Rockies in winter and spring. From Oct-May, the Icefields Parkway is not maintained, there is no petrol available, many campsites are closed, and snow tires are a must. Moraine Lake is only accessible by ski lift from Oct-June, biking paths are open May-Oct and most of the animals in the parks hibernate. So June-September is the best time to visit to see the most.
In the Rockies, you might encounter snow during any month of the year—so always pack for warmth just in case, especially if you’re mountain climbing as the weather is known to change quickly.
3. Who to book with?
The nearest airports are Calgary (an hour and a half to Banff), Edmonton (4 hours drive to Jasper), or Vancouver (8 hours to either) with KLM, Delta, Air Canada, and Lufthansa—check out SkyScanner for the lowest prices.
From there, you can book four-day and up bus tours with Brewster or MooseBus, with overnight travel and plenty of stops en route. Or you can splurge on the Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver to Banff.
You can also hire a campervan—Canadream and Fraserway are two of the biggies, but Wicked also offer smaller rentals. You can pay extra to drop the campervan off a different location, or do the route backwards to appreciate the beauty of the Rockies from every angle!
4. How to do it?
Although you can technically cover the entire Icefields Parkway in one day, it would mean missing out on so much! Three days would be sufficient to scratch the surface, but you could spend at least a week or two here if you want to see everything! The best way to see the most of the Rockies is to hire a campervan—it’s fun, offers freedom to explore, and provides extra warmth on those cold nights compared to a tent.
If you camp, be bear aware and don’t leave food outside. Whatever method of travel you chose, there are plenty of campsites, hostels, and hotels in the towns of Jasper and Banff and campsites along the Icefields Parkway.
5. Where to see?
Depending on where you fly to, most people start at either Banff (Calgary-side) or Jasper (Edmonton-side) and work their way along the Icefields Parkway. There’s so much to choose from, but some must sees are:
- Moraine Lake and the valley of the ten peaks—the famous “20 dollar bill view”. Probably the most beautiful site in the entire Rockies. Walk up the big pile of rocks to appreciate the bright blue lake—its color drawn from the glaciers.
- Another famous wonder—Lake Louise—renowned for its Chateau Fairmont hotel. Walk the length of the lake to see the swirling glacier sands.
- The Saskatchewan River crossing—postcard-perfect.
- Impressive lakes Peyto and Bow.
- Athabasca Falls and Mistaya Canyon. Simply epic.
- The Colombia Icefield. This stunning glacier is as deep as the Eiffel Tower is tall.
6. What to do?
With so much to do, which activities should you choose? Depending on your interests, there are countless things to do:
- Get out on the water! Bring your own canoe, buy a basic dinghy from Canadian Tire, or hire a canoe on some lakes. You can also book white water rafting or tubing from Canmore.
- Walk on a glacier! You can book a Colombia Icefield tour where a specially-designed mammoth truck will take you out onto the ice, including full moon tours.
- Go animal spotting. Take a slow drive down the Bow Valley Parkway to look out for renowned local wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might spot bears, deer, moose, or elk. Remember to stay in your vehicle.
- Explore Banff town. Banff is the second-highest town in Canadian and one of the most popular. Nestled in a valley of tall peaks, with its cute log-cabin buildings, and wildlife migration paths, it’s a hotspot for activities and animal spotting including wolves, coyotes, and beavers.
- Take to the hills. Enjoy a horse trek around Lake Louise with Brewsters Stables, or hike to the famous English Tea House.
- Put on your walking boots—Banff National Park has 1600km of hiking trails. Remember to carry bear spray on any hikes. Hike the Berg Lake Trail at the back of Mount Robson—the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (3,954m).
- See the sites from above. You can take a gondola ride up the ski lift at Lake Louise (with opportunities to see a grizzly bear) or in Jasper town.
- Go mountain biking. With 190km of biking trails in Banff National Park, you’re spoilt for choice.
- Relax. With natural hot springs at Banff, Miette, and Radium, you can soothe those muscles.
- Go wild! For the adventurous, go mountaineering, climb an ice waterfall, try snowshoeing or ice diving, or but ensure you seek guidance from professionals first!
- Eat a Beaver Tail. Suitable for vegetarians, this Canadian sweet treat is not to be missed!
The Canadian Rockies are a must-visit destination for anyone who loves the outdoors, nature, and wildlife—and will undoubtedly provide countless unforgettable memories.