Destination: The Canadian Rockies

The Canadian Rockies are simply spectacular. No picture really does justice to the emotion one experiences in front of towering mountains, seemingly endless canyons, glittering old glaciers, or in front of a turquoise lake so pure and so perfect that it seems unreal.

The natural wonders of the Canadian Rockies are protected by a series of incredible parks along Alberta’s western border, including Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Kananaskis, and Lakes National Park.

Banff National Park, one of UNESCO World Heritage sites, was Canada’s first national park to be created in 1885. Today it continues to attract visitors from around the world. In summer, discover the natural beauty of this mountain paradise furrowed by more than 1,600 kilometres of maintained trails, to walk, bike or ride horseback. And come back in the winter to ski in an abundant and exhilarating powder.

Here are some places not to be missed.

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

Lake Louise with the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the foreground

The Canadian Rockies contain some of the most beautiful lakes in the world. What distinguishes these alpine jewels? Their breathtaking turquoise colour, a characteristic they owe to ‘rock flour’ – fine silt suspended in their glacial waters. At the foot of beautiful snow-capped peaks, they form a scenic setting.

The most photogenic in Banff National Park is Lake Louise, bordered at one end by the Victoria Glacier and at the other end by the majestic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Another turquoise beauty is Moraine Lake, located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Whether you decide to rent a canoe or browse the shore on foot, do not forget your camera, given the breathtaking scenery that awaits you.

Lake Louise is less than two hours drive west of Calgary, and Moraine Lake is approximately one hour and twenty minutes from Lake Louise. These are ideal destinations for day trips in the park. But it is certain that you will want to stay longer, as the attractions and activities are many along your way.

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

Located near the village of Banff, Lake Minnewanka, 21 kilometres long, is the longest in the Canadian Rockies. You can walk or bike trails north of the lake, or take a one-hour boat tour to discover the incredible beauty of the waterhole from all angles and discover its fascinating history.

You will learn for example that only divers can visit the summer village of Minnewanka Landing because it is now completely submerged. You will also discover that the First Nations who hunted and lived for 10,000 years along the shores of the lake have dubbed it minn-waki (the Lake of Spirits).

Elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears and black bears that fed these populations still populate the region today.

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Cave and Basin Historic Park

Commemorating the discovery in 1883 of a natural hot spring that led to the creation of Canada’s first national park, the Cave and Basin National Historic Site traces the history of the hot springs that First Nations have used for millennia before that three railway workers do not fall on it by chance. In the evening, lantern in hand, visit the rock tunnel leading to the original pool.

Jasper National Park (as seen in the lead photo) is not only the northernmost of the Rocky Mountains but also the largest, with an area of nearly 10,900 square kilometres. There is so much to explore in this vast territory, starting with the magnificent Athabasca Falls. The 23-meter drop is perhaps not the tallest in the world, but it captures imaginations by its sheer power. Another highlight is the Maligne Canyon, dug up to 50 meters deep by the bubbling water, where you will find fascinating fossils, a roaring fall and a flora and fauna of the most diverse.

National Park Waterton Lakes

National Park Waterton Lakes

This is located just north of the Montana border. Nowhere else will you find an international peace park, a biosphere reserve, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The titanic mountains that emerge from the meadows are home to unusual vegetation and wildlife. You are likely to see black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, golden eagles, ground squirrels, but also to discover countless species of orchids. Here you will find exceptional hikes and superb scenic drives. Here are some places not to be missed.

Upper Waterton Lake

Upper Waterton Lake is the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies. Take the Waterton Shoreline Cruise cruise to learn about the history and geology of the region and to make an incursion into US territory, to Goat Haunt, Montana.

The Red Rock Canyon

The Red Rock Canyon

The Red Rock Canyon is only a few minutes from the village road of  Waterton through the Blakiston Valley. During the journey, keep your eyes open as you may see wild animals. Once you’ve reached your destination, follow the loop trail around the canyon and through it, and discover stunning views of the rock whose exceptional colour has created the name of ‘Red Rock Canyon’. After going around, you can go down near the creek – the perfect place for a picnic.

Cameron Falls

Located directly in Waterton, Cameron Falls is one of the park’s most accessible natural attractions. Climb to the top of the falls following the short path and admire the sensational view.

Akamina Drive and Cameron Lake

Take another short trip from Waterton to reach, through a winding mountain road along the Cameron Valley, the tranquil Cameron Lake. This is the perfect place to have a picnic, before going for a ride on the lake by canoe, boat or paddle boat or take a short walk on the shore.

Kananaskis Country
Kananaskis Country

This area is located in the front links of the Canadian Rockies, less than an hour west of Calgary. Get ready for 10,800 square kilometres of provincial parks, recreation and wilderness, and outdoor adventures. In the heart of the region lies the mountain town of Canmore where you can find lively bars and restaurants, shops, accommodations of all kinds and a host of seasonal festivals. A network of trails connects the city to what locals call “K-Country”. The hinterland also promises hiking and cycling at will! Test yourself on SUP or rafting on the Kananaskis River. Oh, and come back in the winter for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding.

TO DO

The Canadian Rockies are full of heavenly places and various adventures that will delight you and make you experience strong emotions, whatever the season. Here is an overview of what is available to you.

Hiking

Thousands of kilometres of maintained hiking trails crisscross the Canadian Rockies. Whether it’s for a leisurely walk around a turquoise lake or for a multi-day backcountry excursion, there are trails that suit your level of experience.

In Banff National Park, the Sunshine Meadows has some of the most beautiful hikes in Canada. On the way to the splendid Grizzli Lake, you can see tiny picas (small round creatures with a characteristic call, similar to mice) while inhaling the scent of wildflowers. The Valley of Ten Peaks, around Moraine Lake, and the Stanley Glacier offer popular trails for mid-level walkers. But if you want a challenge, head to the Lake Agnes Tea Room before tackling the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. From the shores of Lake Louise, this loop will take you through the mountain forest by a trail offering spectacular views of glaciers and will take you to another historic teahouse (open season only, only accepts cash ).

In Jasper, the Skyline Trail offers you a hike of several days: 43 kilometres in the heart of beautiful mountain scenery. For a less strenuous walk, choose one of the trails that descend into the Athabasca Valley from Jasper.

Do you want to live the experience of a lifetime? There is nothing better than a panoramic helicopter flight. Admire the high peaks, before landing in a wild valley for a walk among the flowers. In winter, try the heli-fly or heliskiing.

Cycling and Mountain Biking

Many of our alpine slopes are perfect for summer cycling and mountain biking. The Provincial Park Canmore Nordic Center has over 100 kilometres of tracks and trails that you can explore as you please. For a long-term challenge, embark on a four-day bike ride on the Icefields Parkway.

Rafting

The rushing rivers of the Canadian Rockies offer excellent whitewater rafting, whether it’s quiet descents or bustling class 5 rapids. The Kananaskis, Athabasca and Kicking Horse Rivers are some of the most popular rivers. In Jasper, Banff, and Canmore, professionals will be able to design an experience tailored to your level and your thrill needs.

Ski and Snowboard

When the mercury drops and the snow begins to fall, hikers and cyclists give way to skiers and snowboarders who flock to our ski resorts to enjoy the famous powder snow so famous in the Canadian Rockies.

Banff National Park offers the Big 3 Mount Norquay (28 trails and 503 vertical meters), Sunshine Village (over 145 trails and 1,072 vertical meters) and, not far from here, Lake Ski Resort Louise (over 145 trails and 990 meters of elevation). Located in Jasper National Park, Marmot Basin Station which has the highest base of stations in Canada (1,698 meters), offers 86 trails and a vertical drop of 914 meters. In the Kananaskis area, you will find Nakiska Station, venue of competition at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, which offers 71 tracks and 735 meters of elevation gain. You can also go off-piste to Fortress Mountain with a tracked vehicle that takes you into the virgin powder – no need for a cable car! Further south, Castle Mountain Resort is one of our best-kept secrets.

Of course, skiers and snowboarders are not required to go through a ski resort to measure themselves against the mountain: the Rockies are a real paradise for off-piste or “backcountry” skiing. Whether you reach the summit on foot, by helicopter or from an isolated lodge, you will spend your days in pristine powder!

Climbing and Ice Hiking

In winter, the cold freezes the waterfalls up and down in the Canadian Rockies, transforming the gorge into sublime palaces of turquoise and blue hues. Then it’s time to put on your crampons and go on a guided canyon ice ride or to introduce you to ice climbing with a professional guide. Highlights include Maligne Canyon in Jasper Park, Johnston Canyon in Banff Park and Grotto Canyon in the Kananaskis area.

Adventures by Train

Take the train adventure to admire the beauty of the Canadian Rockies in the comfort of chic Rocky Mountaineer. You’ll drive through inaccessible places like the legendary spiral tunnels that pass through two mountains at Kicking Horse Pass, or you’ll skirt the banks of the mighty Fraser River that rises and crosses the Hell’s Gate Gorge. You will cross high bridges and skirt alpine lakes of brilliant blue. You will hear the roar of water falling from a granite escarpment and poking its way into a narrow canyon. You will be surprised by a grizzly bear eating quietly on a slope and a golden eagle that lets itself be carried by the updraft. You will sleep in hostels and mountain hotels of great renown. Onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, the adventure awaits you every kilometre!

Article Courtesy of Keep Exploring Canada

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