Rocky Mountains – Canada

Rocky’s, Banff and Jasper!

by The Globetrotting Teacher

The Rocky Mountains in Canada stand strong and sparkle with their snow-capped peaks. The mountains, along with glacier fed, turquoise lakes and evergreen alpine forests, compete for your senses while swiftly stealing your heart. My trip to the Canadian Rockies was sudden, and without the usual time I spend researching a new destination, I was astonished at the pristine natural beauty surrounding me.

How long?

It’s difficult to state a perfect length of time for a trip to the Canadian Rockies. It all depends on what you like to do. If you’re hoping to take in the sights and casually enjoy the National Parks, you should be comfortable spending 7-8 days. If you’re more active and adventurous, you’ll want to plan at least a week, paying careful attention to the time needed to do the hikes and activities on your must-do list.

Getting there

Plan to fly into Calgary International Airport. You’ll need to rent a car to get from the airport to Banff, the launching off point for exploring the area. A car is also necessary to travel in the region. The drive from Calgary to Banff is an hour and half, mostly along the Trans Canada Highway heading west. The drive is straightforward. If you’re comfortable driving day or night, plan to drive off directly from the airport.

Banff

The town of Banff sits within Banff National Park. The main street is lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants. It is clean, chic, and pedestrian-friendly. If you prefer a cozy bed to camping out, Banff’s your town. An alternative and somewhat more budget-friendly option is the nearby town of Canmore.

Spend at least 3 days in Banff and the surrounding areas to visit the top spots.

Head into Banff National Park proper. Gorgeous Lake Minnewanka awaits. Take the boat ride on the lake to get a sense of its size and learn more about the lake’s history. Drive the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. Stop at the pull-off points to take photos. Just try to put your camera down! Better yet, just wear it around your neck until you fly home! Johnson Lake and Two Jacks Lake are popular spots along the scenic drive that offer areas to picnic, relax and gaze at the scenery, as well as hike.

IMG_Lake Minnewanka

Wildlife Spotting

Do some wildlife spotting! Banff National Park boasts hundreds of species living within its borders. Bighorn Sheep are plentiful and a common sight in the Lake Minnewanka area. The best times to spot wildlife are during the first hours of daylight and just before dusk. Always follow any warnings posted about Bear activity. Remember you are in their territory, not the other way around.

IMG_Big Horn Sheep

Ride Banff’s gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain for sweeping views of the mountains, town, and National Park. The ticket is pricey but worth it when you see the 360 degree mountain views!

IMG_Banff Gondola view

Drive along the Bow River Parkway, stopping at the scenic pull offs. Hike into Johnston Canyon and to see its lower and upper waterfalls. The Bow River Parkway offers plenty of opportunity to spot wildlife, as well.

You’ll want to dedicate 1 of your 3 days in Banff to the Lake Louise area. Again, use the Bow River Parkway to reach Lake Louise village and then follow all signs to the lake. The turquoise waters of Lake Louise shimmer from the sun’s rays. Hike up to the tea house or walk the loop around the lake. Canoe or relax from the terrace at Fairmont Lake Louise as you have a bite to eat. Horseback riding tours can also be booked.

IMG_Lake Louise

Before returning to Banff, absolutely don’t miss Moraine Lake. Perhaps the most brilliant turquoise of the 3 lakes mentioned so far. Hiking trails begin directly off the lake. Bears are active in the Lake Louise area so pay attention to hiking trail closures. Also, have your camera ready just in case you spot a grizzly or black bear from the safety of your car!

IMG_Moraine Lake

Before moving on from Banff National Park, save a few hours to stroll along Banff’s streets. Shop, have dinner, and treat yourself to an ice cream. If you’re hotel is in downtown Banff, leave your car parked at your hotel. Parking is scarce and Banff is best explored by foot.

Jasper

This top North American scenic drive connects Banff National Park with Jasper National Park to the northwest. Quite frankly, the Icefields Parkway is stunning! Mountains, glaciers, and lakes abound. You’ll be pulling off the road every few minutes to take photos and take in the sweeping landscapes. Peyto Lake, hiking the Parker Ridge Trail, the Saskatchewan River Crossing, visiting the Athabasca Glacier, and seeing the Athabasca Falls should be at the top of your Icefields Parkway list of musts!

IMG_Saskatchewan River Crossing Icefields Parkway

Don’t rush the Icefields Parkway and do continue on to Jasper National Park. The Glacier View Inn is across from the Athabasca Glacier. It’s a perfect stopping point for one night, allowing you to take your time and not feel hurried to get back to Banff or arrive in Jasper. Campgrounds are also available but definitely book ahead during the summer months. If you choose to stay at the Inn, take sandwiches with you from Banff. Food options at the Inn are limited and on the expensive side. Also, make sure to have a full tank of gas before leaving the Lake Louise area to enter the Icefields Parkway. There is only 1 gas station along the route.

IMG_Icefields Parkway

Spend at least the next 2 days in Jasper National Park. Like Banff, Jasper is a town located within the National Park. Jasper feels rugged and less polished than Banff. Elk roam freely around the town. Huge freight trains pull through town on their way to the Pacific freighters awaiting their cargo. Wilderness abounds in every direction, ready to swallow the tiny town at any moment.

Rocky Mountains

Jasper National Park

Jasper’s wildlife is much more visible than Banff’s. Take a wildlife tour with an expert to learn more about the animals and capture sightings with your camera. While in Jasper, make time to hike, bike, cycle, boat, climb, and stargaze. Jasper is a dark sky preserve with some of the best stargazing in the area. Maligne Lake deserves some of your time, as does the hike to see Mount Edith Cavell up close. Do take time to relax and enjoy the peace and slower pace of life in Jasper.

IMG_Wooly Mountain Goat Jasper

From Jasper back to Calgary, expect a 5 hour drive. If you begin in the morning, you can make it to Banff for a quick bite and continue on to catch a late afternoon or evening flight from Calgary. Remember to gas up in Jasper before heading back. Even though your trip is coming to end, relish in the fact you have experienced one of Canada’s, and even North America’s, most beautiful and iconic places.


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Christine Leger is the founder of Tapped Out Travellers, a Family Travel Blog About Travel with Kids. We explore travelling on a budget, splurging on bucket-list travel opportunities along the way. Although Canadian, she currently lives in Germany.

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25 Responses

  1. Kat says:

    These are amazing. The photos seem straight out of commercial wallpaper galleries or postcards. Before, I’d thought there’s nothing to Canada but snow and recently all these travel posts I’ve been reading made me change my mind. I’d love to visit the country for a few weeks in the future.

    • Depending on where you are visiting and how you plan on getting around, a few weeks isn’t even enough to cross the country, let alone visit. Fortunately and unfortunately, Canada is massive; one province is the size of an average European nation. I appreciate your enthusiasm though, when you are ready to make the trip, head back here and ask me whatever you would like.

  2. Jen Morrow says:

    Banff is my favorite Canadian town! Another don’t miss item is the natural hot springs. They are so relaxing after walking around town and the gondola ride! We combined the lake visit with horse riding for a spectacular day.

    • World Adventurists covered the Harrison Hotsprings in their article “Adventures with Kids in Beautiful British Columbia” – because of course we can’t forget the hotsprings

  3. Sheri says:

    So stunning and beautiful – I have never been to Canada but I always hear great things about different locations there. Those big horn sheep are so cute! I would be so happy to finally see Canada one day.

  4. Marije says:

    Sounds like great fun. Canada is on the list, so who knows. Maybe I will see this with my own eyes someday!

  5. Jennifer says:

    I. Can. Not. WAIT. to be able to visit Canada when we move to Washington next year. I have heard it is absolutely beautiful!

  6. Lance says:

    Stunning landscapes! I really wanna go there! I’ve heard so many nice things about Canada in terms of nature. A friend of mine recently visited the Banf Nat Park and that is something I want to visit someday.

  7. Inka says:

    What can I say, except HOME! I was one of the few lucky people to have grown up just outside of Banff. Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you had/ have until your no longer there. Although I don’t want to live there anymore, pictures like yours always will bring back memories. For anyone new to the Area this is a great writeup.

  8. Tae says:

    WOW! I love the wildlife shot and the scenic pictures of the lake. This is such a helpful guide – definitely saving it to Pinterest for future planning 🙂

  9. Blair Villanueva says:

    beautiful photos! May I ask, it is okay to swim in Bow River? (my apology, this river is so inviting!)

  10. Christina says:

    The Rockys, Banff and Jasper are all so gorgeous. It was really like being in a dream when we visited them. Would love to go back and do more of the hikes.

  11. Karen says:

    I had to comment on this Christine, as I was in the Rockies last year and I loved it! I travelled from Toronto to Vancouver on The Canadian Train, stopping in Winnipeg and Jasper, before arriving in cool Vancouver! Your photos which are stunning has just taken me back to last year, and reminded me of what a fab time I had! Karen

  12. Vyjay says:

    Nature at its best, great hikes, mesmerizing mountains, wondrous wildlife, lakes,great panoramic views. Definitely my kinda place, Would love to head out there!

  13. I’ve read similar articles about Banff before but yours is the best one I’ve come across so far. The photos you have here of the scenery and animals is great and unique. Never seen those with others. Jasper is a new place to me entirely and you’ve managed to give me many wonderful insights into the place.

  14. Canada’s stunning landscape diversity always manages to amaze me.
    The scenery you captured through some of your photographs really reminds me of a place I love to go to on holiday, which is Lake Molveno here in Italy. I would love to spend a weekend at the Rocky Mountains and especially to see some of their wildlife. 🙂

  15. Those photos are really beautiful! There are so many natural wonders in Canada. I am dying to explore the Rockies the way you did, but I’m not sure how to do it without a car. I hope I can figure it out!

  16. Komang Ayu says:

    really beautiful sights on your picture. rocky mountains is fabulous. I probably could comfortably live around there, a place far away from urban areas. life would be quiet with beautiful scenery around us.

  17. Wildlife spotting seems really interesting. It might seem that actually you are doing nothing but sitting patiently to spot an animal but actually you are doing something important, relaxing, enjoyable and fun. 🙂

  18. Miriam Ernst says:

    The pictures are awesome. I do love visiting places where I can relax while appreciating nature and all its wonders!

  19. Anne-Sophie says:

    Banff and Jasper look so beautiful! I would love to stay somewhere really remote by a lake and go for short hikes 🙂

  20. Tamshuk says:

    Absolutely beautiful pictures of this stunning place. Canada itself is so scenic with the natural charm of its amazing landscapes.

  21. We spent a month road tripping through Canada and we LOVED Banff & Jasper, I think we were on the side of the road taking pictures more than we were driving on the road!

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