An Adventurer’s Guide to Exploring the Canadian Rockies

If glaciers and mountains, milky blue lakes, and alpine meadows sound like your kind of thing, exploring the Canadian Rockies might be the best decision you'll ever make. From biking and hiking to backcountry camping and chilling in local hot springs, Ailsa gives us a rundown of the best adventures.

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The best of the Canadian Rockies is split into four contiguous national parks that straddle the Continental Divide. Banff and Jasper dominate the Alberta side of mountains, Yoho and Kootenay are the spots to explore in British Columbia to the west.

Here’s a guide to getting your dose of adventure in each spot.

Banff National Park

Established in 1885, Canada’s first and most famous national park saw a record-breaking 3.6 million visitors in 2016. Still, beating the crowds is easy if you go beyond the main trails.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise absolutely deserves the hype, but those in-the-know don’t stop at the lake’s head by the chateau. Follow the well-marked trail to Lake Agnes Tea House (4.3mi or 7km return) in the late afternoon for stunning views across the valley and to see pikas “eep!” among the rocks.

Ride the Lake Minnewanka Loop

One of the best bike rides in the area is just outside the town of Banff. The Lake Minnewanka Loop road (13.1km/8.13mi) runs through classic Rockies scenery — mountains, lakes, meadows home to bugling elk through fall, and boulders where it’s hard not to say hello to the resident bighorn sheep. When you reach Lake Minnewanka, veer off the road and along the shore for excellent singletrack.

As you cycle this loop, you’ll spot one of the park’s prettiest campgrounds hidden among the woods at Two Jack Lake. Accessible by car, it’ll make a great base for your Banff adventure.

Chill Out in Banff Upper Hot Springs

When you’re ready to chill, head to Banff Upper Hot Springs. The views out to Mount Rundle and beyond while you bathe are unreal. Go in the evening to watch those famous mountain faces turn pink under the setting sun.

Getting to Banff National Park

About an hour’s drive west of Calgary International Airport, Banff is the easiest of the four national park to get to. Various bus operators can also take you to the park, with Greyhound buses also stopping at Lake Louise.

Mountain biking the Rockies in winter isn't for the feint-hearted. Photo credit: iStock

Jasper National Park

The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper covers an epic 10,878 km2. Which means there are a lot of backcountry trails, peaks, and lakes to explore.

Hike the Skyline Trail

Crossing three mountain passes, the Skyline Trail (27.34mi/44 km) is recognized as one of the best multi-day hikes in the country. Give yourself three days to complete the trip, and head to the Parks Canada website to secure your backcountry camping spots.

Hiking the Tonquin Valley is another brilliant backcountry experience.

Bike the Overlander Trail

Jasper’s well known for its mountain biking opportunities. Check out the Overlander Trail (9.94mi/16kmone-way), where twisting single-track follows the gorgeous Athabasca River valley. In summer, also look out for weekly group bike rides run by the local bike stores.

Backcountry Camping in Jasper National Park

If it’s hidden backcountry camping spots you’re looking for, you might want to borrow or rent a canoe or kayak to reach river spots, like Athabasca Island, or perfect hangouts on Maligne Lake, like Hidden Cove. Kayak 8.7mi (14km) along the lake to reach iconic Spirit Island… Or just join one of the cruises heading there!

Be sure to check out Spirit Island in Jasper National Park. Photo credit: iStock

Soak in the Miette Hot Springs

Miette Hot Springs pool is the spot to soak your muscles. (Tip: You can rent a fun vintage swimsuit here).

Hike the Sulphur Skyline

Miette is also the starting point for one of the best day hikes in the park.  Sulphur Skyline (4.9mi/8km round-trip) is a stiff climb, but the views from the top are so worth it.

Just don’t follow the bad behavior of others by feeding the golden-mantled squirrels at the top. Wildlife should stay wild.

Getting to Jasper National Park

Edmonton International Airport is a four-hour drive from the park (shuttle buses can take you between the two). Calgary’s airport is more than five hours away, but the drive up the Rockies’ spine — through Banff and along the Icefields Parkway — is one of the best road trips there is.

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Yoho National Park

Yoho is Cree for “awe,” and it’s easy to see how this slice of the Rockies got its name. Home to giant waterfalls, 61 lakes, excellent day hikes, and a stunning scenic road that hits all the park highlights, you’ll find this little gem of a park a 20-minute drive west of Lake Louise.

Takakkaw Falls

Roaring for 991ft to the valley floor below, Takakkaw Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the province. Get to the trailhead by car, or take on the scenic switchbacks of Yoho Valley Road by bicycle – 8.51mi (13.7km) to complete the whole road, one way.

Not bad, Takakkaw Falls. Not bad at all. Photo credit: iStock

Complete Yoho’s Iceline Trail

Yoho’s Iceline Trail (13.35mi/21.5 km) follows the edge of incredible 12,000-year-old glaciers. Give yourself a couple of days to complete the loop, staying overnight at Little Yoho Campground or Stanley Mitchell Hut.

Bathe in Emerald Lake and Lake O’Hara 

There are no bathable hot springs in Yoho, so you’ll just have to brave a dip in one of its turquoise lakes. Called out for their ridiculous beauty are Emerald Lake and Lake O’Hara.  

Getting to Yoho National Park

Yoho National Park is about 2.5 hours’ drive from Calgary International Airport. The easiest way to get there is by car.

Kootenay National Park

This is the skinniest of the Rockies parks, measuring only 4.9mi (8km) on either side of Highway 93. It takes about an hour to drive through the park from Banff, but you’ll definitely want to stop off for some adventuring on your way to the town of Radium and its famous hot springs pools.

Hike to Floe Lake

Floe Lake is a 6.64mi (10.7km) hike through woods and wildflower meadows to a perfect alpine lake. This one makes for a magic day hike, but you can also stay in a backcountry camp site on the lake’s shore if you want to extend the trip.

Walk to Marble Canyon

For a more chilled experience in Kootenay National Park, check out the short walk to Marble Canyon then head on to the Point Pots — a series of spring-fed pools that run from bright orange to lurid green. 

The views in Kootenay National Park could bring a tear to your eye. Photo credit: iStock

Our Top 3 Tips

Be bear aware. Bring bear spray with you on any trail, and figure out how to use it. Avoid encounters by making noise while you’re hiking or bike.

Leave no trace and pack out all your garbage.

Parks visitor centers are a great place to get your bearings. Visit to get the scoop on local trail conditions, and info about any wildlife corridors in the park that might be closed.

Want to know more about Canada? Check out our podcast. We discuss when a traveler becomes a snack; the perils of wilderness adventure, a culinary tour of the provinces for foodies, and we speak to World Nomads photography scholarship mentor Richard I'Anson.

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