Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors
Things to Do in the Canadian Rockies
The Rockies are one of Canada's most popular tourist destinations, with millions of visitors flocking every year to the Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, which are world-renowned for their natural beauty and the outdoor activities they offer. A trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains can be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday - as long as you're well-prepared. So what should you know before you go?
Decide when to go and what to do.
First, think carefully about which season you want to visit. If you want to go skiing, snowboarding or on sleigh rides, it's best to go from November to March.
For those seeking some peace and quiet while hiking through stunning scenery, consider a holiday in May or September - outside of the main tourist season. Anyone keen to spot a bear or two shouldn't visit earlier than April, as many bears, particularly mothers with their cubs, may still be in hibernation.
Every season has something to offer, so be sure to plan the timing of your holiday around what you want to see and do.
During your trip, you'll fly into Calgary, Alberta then drive the 1.5 hours to Banff. You can also choose to stay in Canmore, which is just outside the park and considerably less crowded, but most of the action is in Banff itself.
Things to do driving the Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise (there's a Fairmont with excellent views right on the lake) and Moraine Lake about 40 minutes outside of Banff, then continuing past Yoho National Park before stopping by Peyto Lake, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls, and the Athabasca Glacier / Columbia Icefield on your way up to Jasper.
While in Jasper, check out Mount Robson (the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies), Spirit Island (a small, highly-photographed island in Maligne Lake), and Maligne Canyon before heading back down to Banff. You might run into several grizzly bears along the way, so be alert along the drive there and back.
Alternatively, you can choose to keep going after Jasper and drive through western Canada all the way to Vancouver, British Columbia on the Pacific Ocean. The drive will take several days, so you'll be making it a full road trip, but you'll see some of the best scenery in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps North America.
Along the way, you could stop in Waterton for a boat cruise and quick visit to Glacier National Park along the border with Montana. Then continue west and hit Whistler on your way to Vancouver. Once in Vancouver, hop on over to Victoria on Vancouver Island for a truly unique experience.
Whenever you decide to go, pack carefully. Weather can change quickly in the mountains, so take clothing that consist of layers that can be added or removed as needed. A good pair of trail running shoes and a jacket that is both waterproof and windproof are advisable. For those who wear contact lenses, be sure to take enough eye drops with you. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and insect repellent should also be on your packing list.
Be open-minded about the weather.
As you pack, remember that you are going to a wild environment, and Mother Nature really doesn't care what your guidebook says - so even if you decide to go in April because you read that by then the trees are starting to sprout fresh, green leaves and spring is well on its way, you might arrive to find a world of snow and ice, with not a new leaf in sight. You can't control nature, and visitors who go with this in mind are less likely to be disappointed if the weather conditions are not exactly as their guidebook suggested. Be open-minded to what you find and you'll enjoy it much more.
Rent a car.
No matter the weather, driving in the Rockies can be an exciting experience. Renting your own car offers maximum flexibility, and adding a second driver to the package is probably worth the extra dough - halfway through an eight-hour drive, you might be extremely appreciative of being able to switch. Aside from the sheer distances that can be involved, rock falls and avalanches can close roads through the Rockies at the drop of a hat, so it's best to go prepared for all eventualities. Always have water and food supplies in the car with you, just in case you get caught somewhere with no shop or restaurant, and plan your route carefully. A detour in the Rockies can easily add five, six or even 15 hours on to your journey.
Respect the wildlife.
Finally, do some research on the local wildlife and know what to do should you see something. Sing or talk loudly as you walk to alert bears to your presence. In the unlikely event that you see a mountain lion, know that you need to make yourself look as big as possible and maintain eye contact. With any animal you come across, remember that you are invading its habitat, not the other way around. The wildlife can be one of the most exciting parts of your trip - just make sure you respect it and know what to expect!
Final Thought: Things to Do in the Canadian Rockies
A holiday in the Rockies is a wild and exciting experience - so go well-prepared and you're sure to have a fantastic time!
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“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
— John Muir