The Canadian Rockies are Huge!!!! It encompasses 4 Natinoal Parks: Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper, and Banff. This area is home to jagged peaks, numerous wildlife, alpine lakes, and most likely bad weather. But you get through it. Bring your rain jacket! There is a lot you can do in this area with hiking trails, hot springs, gondola rides, glacier tours, bike-riding, fishing, you name it.
This park can get a little overwhelming because there is so much to do. Now I haven’t done everything in every park so I am not an expert on this, but I believe I seen enough of the park to at least have a fair understanding on it all.
All these parks are adjacent. So you are not driving all over the place to get to all these places. Canada is a huge country! All of these parks are in two provinces, Beautiful British Columbia and Wild Rose
Alberta! (Didn’t even have to look these up, it was on everyone’s license plate). But that is not to say these parks aren’t big so expect a fair amount of driving. Or if you are on a tour bus, same thing.
I feel like on average people come to the Rockies for a week which I believe it a fair time to be here. You won’t get to everything, but you can see a lot in a week. If you have a shorter length of time, I will share you my favorites. Things that you shouldn’t miss!!!
Top Hikes/ Things to do That You Can Not Miss!
- Driving on the Icefields Parkway! This parkway connects Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, the two biggest National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. When driving on this road, you pass so many attractions that are super easily accessible right off the road. Just driving on this road and making some stops is amazing!
- Moraine Lake. This lake is the most photographed lake in this park. It is very accessible and in my eyes, it is the most beautiful lake I have ever seen.
I was literally in awe. You can stop at this lake and just admire it, you can take out a canoe (there is a canoe rental shop right there,) or you can go hiking. The easiest hike there is, is a 1/4 mile hike to this rock-pile. This just takes you up on this rock-pile so you can get a good look of this lake and the surrounding mountains. If you have the time- go on a six mile round-trip hike to Sentinel Pass. Gorgeous View! Note- The rock-pile hike starts to the left of the lake (next to the restrooms in the parking lot). Sentinel pass starts to the right of the lake. Walk towards the canoes and you will see the sign.
- Peyto Lake- Peyto Lake is North of Lake Moraine, up the Icefields Parkway, heading to Jasper.
They are not far apart from each other. Maybe an hour. This is another easy lake to see. You will have a small hike up this paved hill that can be a little grueling but it’s very short.Make sure you take your time here. Head up towards this wooden balcony. You can get some great shots here!!!!
- Hot Springs- Check out one of the hot springs when you are there. There is Banff Upper Hot Springs that is held at an historic bathhouse, located in Banff National Park. There is Radium Hot Springs which is a canyon setting, located in Kootenay National Park, and there is Miette Hot Springs which is located in Jasper National Park. Miette has the hottest mineral water in the Rockies. Note- all of these hot springs are in man-made pools but are naturally fed hot springs. So even though modernized, you will still get the natural minerals from the water.
There are a lot of cool things to do here, but it all takes time. If you have the time…
Kootenay National Park
If you are heading to the Kootenay Hot Springs, then you’ll be right by Marble Canyon. It’s a half hour round-trip hike which takes you up and over this canyon, multiple times actually. It’s a pretty hike with steep walls and bright blue water.
Banff National Park
Town on Banff- There is a lot of attractions in the town on Banff. Yes, Banff National Park has it’s very own town with hotels and restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, bars, you name it. The town of Banff sits 1,383 meters/4,537 feet, making it the highest town in Canada.
There are plenty of attractions; Whyte museum, cave and basin site (free with annual National Park pass), white-water rafting, gondola ride (Sulpher mountain), hot springs (banff upper hot springs), and in the winter, snow sports.
Hiking has the notorious Tunnel Mountain which is 4.3 kilometers or 2.6 miles one-way.
There is also Bow Falls right in town. Not much for falls, but a good view and right at the parking lot.
If you have the money…
There is a gondola ride in Banff up Sulpher Mountain. But…. it is expensive and I personally do not think it is worth the money. The view is nice, I just don’t think it is worth what you pay. There are so many gorgeous views here for free so it really is just a money scandal.
But… if you have the extra money, the views aren’t bad. I don’t think you can get a bad view in the Canadian Rockies. You get an overlook of the town of Banff. So if you are into overlooking towns surrounded by mountains, it is pretty. Plus you have a whole other mountain range on your backside.
Buy the annual pass! You literally have to pay by the day to stay in the Rockies. Where in the US, when you pay a fee, it’s good for the week. In the Rockies it is daily and it’s ten dollars daily, so if your staying a week, you are looking at 70 dollars. The annual pass is 64 dollars and it’s good for two years. Even if you don’t plan on coming back, that pass is good for two years for any National Park in Canada. A lot can happen in two years, you never know. And, that pass allows you to get into some attractions in the park for free. For instance, there is a cave in Banff. You get in it for free if you have the annual pass. So it pretty much pays for itself.
Outside of town but in Banff National Park
Vermillion Lakes Drive- This short drive brings you through the Vermillion Lakes, with a gorgeous mountain scenery. You’ll see runners here, bike-riders and hikers going up and down the road. It’s also right outside of town so if you are staying in Banff it is really easily accessible!
Johnston Canyon- This canyon is a short drive from Banff and has Lower Falls, Upper Falls and Ink Pots featured.
Expect crowds if going in the busy season. I literally had to wait in line to see the falls. It was intense. I felt that I was at Disney Land or something.
But this canyon has gorgeous views. Depending on how far you want to hike, the lower falls is the first attraction (1.1 km), followed by upper falls (2.7 km), and the ink pots (5.8 km). If you see all three attractions prepare for about a half-day. Bring water and preferably a lunch.
If you’re like me and from the US, and know nothing about kilometers you will learn when you are up here. Most of every sign you see it is in kilometers and there is no sign telling you how many miles. Don’t take my exact word for it, but what works for me in a rough estimate, is when you see a number in kilometers, like say it’s 60 kilometers. I divide that in half (30) and add 10 (40). And that GENERALLY gives you the estimate on how many miles that is.
So if a sign says 6 kilometers, it is roughly 4 miles. Were only talking one digit here so were not going to be adding 10. 6 divided by half is 3 and add one which is 4.
This is just what works for me and it is just a rough estimate. I don’t know the formula and this is just a quick in my head calculation.
Okay moving on….
Moraine Lake-already talked about this lake at the beginning, but what I did not talk about was Lake Louise. Moraine Lake and Lake Louise are both in the same area. Both lakes beautiful, and both have hiking/canoeing. In the Winter, Lake Louise makes for a great ski resort.
Lake Louise has a town, not as big as Banff but a descent size town.
After you pass Lake Moraine, you aren’t in Banff National Park anymore. Now you are primarily in Alberta/Lake Louise Territory. To get to Lake Moraine/Lake Louise, from Banff, you take the Icefields Parkway. Use this same road to drive up North towards Jasper National Park.
North of Lake Louise, you get to Bow Glacier Falls, another great hike to do.
This trail starts at Bow Lake which is well marked off the Icefields Highway, can’t miss it. You can either just marvel at this lake, or you can continue on this hike to the falls, which you can just see when you are at this lake. This hike is 4.8 km one way so it’s about a 6 mile round-trip hike. The hike is fun, and you really feel that you are in the middle of nowhere on this hike. I loved it!
Something I did not know before this trip
The Canadian Rockies are huge and you may think before you go, that it is going to be huge and vast and possibly scary. Most of the trails are short. Glacier National Park in the United States, most of all the trails are about ten miles. You basically do one trail a day. Here in the Canadian Rockies most of them are short. So you can do several hikes a day. If you really want to.
There are places you can go that is off the beaten path. Lesser known areas. Skyline trail at Maligne Lake for example. I was hiking alone, so in my case, I stayed to what was more traveled on. I just felt safer.
Basically this drive (Icefields Parkway) you get to do a lot of easy pull offs with great photo opportunities. This park, you don’t need to hike a crazy amount to see a lot of great things!
You pass Peyto Lake, the lake mentioned at the beginning of the article and North of Peyto Lake (heading to Jasper National Park), you run into Upper and Lower Waterfowl Lake. Very easy short hikes. This is a nice place to just kick back and relax. There is fishing here, still water, tall mountains and it’s quiet. Not a lot of people come here. These lakes beat the crowds. When I went here, I saw a family just hanging by the lake in their chairs just drinking beers. They were having a great time!
These lakes also connect you with hiking trails to Cephron Lake and Cirque Lake. These are about three mile round trip hikes, each one. I met a mountain climber on the hike to Cephron Lake that hiked up Cephron Mountain. Totally awesome!
North of here, off Icefields Parkway, there is Mistaya Canyon with a good amount of hiking here.
There is just the one main road Icefields Parkway, so all these trails are off this one main road.
One major junction on this highway is the Columbia Icefields. This is primarily in between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park. This stop has a resort and hiking. The major attraction here is there are glaciers with the opportunity to either hike up to it on your own, or you can get on a tour group and hike up it with their equipment, or you can even take a snow cat and snowmobile up it. But it is not cheap!
There is also that glass overlook thing, just like the one in the Grand Canyon where the glass takes you out farther to have I guess more of a glamorous shot. I honestly don’t think it’s worth it and it is just another way for them to make money off of you, but I won’t deny it would be an experience.
There is a waterfall by here too (Tangle Creek). It is right off the road, you can’t miss it.
Just North of here there is Sunwapta Falls (which is a very cool site.) I very much enjoyed these falls and if you continue hiking, you can get to Big Bend and it is a 6.3 kilometer trip. I believe it was about an 8 mile round-trip hike. But it was completely flat so you could get there in two hours or less. Big Bend was worth the hike in my eyes. And it literally pops up out of nowhere. The hike itself is probably the most displeasing hike I have ever done. Literally no scenery, but then it just pops up out of no where. There is also camping here at the lake. I bet it would make a killer campsite.
Jasper National Park
A major attraction here is Malign Lake. This lake is very beautiful with the option of canoeing here. There is an outfitters here if you do not have your own canoe. You can take the canoe for a long, I believe eight mile ride, all the way up to spirit island. You can do it in one day, just get here early or you can possibly even sleep on the island and do an overnight. Moose are common here. I saw two of them swim right across the lake.
If you want to do Spirit island and don’t want to canoe/kayak to it, you can take a boat ride. Both costs money. A lot of the extras in this park cost money. It really is a tourist area!
This area also offers backpacking! There is a long trail, Skyline trail, that would probably take 3 to 4 days to do. It is a one-way trail so you would need to figure out how to get back to your car.
Around Malign Lake there is Pyramid Lake and Patricia Lake. Also two more Lakes that are cool to check out.
Driving up to Malign Lake, you will pass Malign Canyon which has an Upper Canyon Loop hike.
Jasper National Park is a lot like Banff. There is the town of Jasper right in Jasper National Park with lots of attractions like the hottest hotspring, Jasper Skytram and great hiking.
There is just so much you can do in the Canadian Rockies that it can get a little overwhelming, but with a good amount of planning you can see a lot in a short period of time. Make sure you bring your hiking shoes!!!! I use trail runners and can do most hikes with them.
Yoho National Park has a 1,250 foot drop waterfall called Takakkaw Falls. That is a nice hike, and in this area, there is a lot more options with a fair amount of hiking.
I made a video of the Canadian Rockies so you can see it more live if you would like 🙂
Hope you enjoy your time in the Canadian Rockies and if you and see something worth mentioning, let me know. Hope this article helps!