With peaks of 13,000 feet above sea level, the Canadian Rockies form one of the most dramatic and picturesque landscapes on the planet. Home to five national parks, four of which make up the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, the series of mountain ranges that form the Canadian Rockies are an ideal destination for those who want to feel close to nature.
This vast wilderness of forests, lakes, canyons and picturesque mountain views provides the perfect environment for a wide range of outdoor activities for every season. With trekking, water sports, caving, fishing and cycling available, visitors are spoiled for choice in the way they experience and explore the wilderness during the summer months. The winter season is also not to be outdone with activities, such as skiing, snowboarding and ice walking available for the more adventurous traveler.
With a variety of tour companies operating throughout the Rockies, tourists have the option of taking a guided tour either on foot or by air. Trips like these will enable visitors to observe Canada’s wildlife in its natural habitat, including both the grizzly and the black bear, moose, elk and array of bird species.
No matter which of the following ways you choose to experience the Canadian Rockies, you are sure to find an activity that’s both thrilling and memorable.
Hiking and Trekking
[Also see our travel article “Conquering Banff’s Sulphur Mountain the Hard Way“]
Immerse yourself in the Canadian wild with a leisurely hike or lengthy trek into the depths one of the several national parks that make up this mountainous region. Choose from a wide variety of trails, some of which can be completed within a single day whereas others will take several days to a week to finish. There are a range of hikes available for different skill levels in the Canadian Rockies, so whether you are an inexperienced leisurely stroller or an expert mountaineer you can rest assured that this region has a hiking trail with your name on it. If it’s climbing the uppermost mountain peaks that excites you, remember that you will need an expert guide and relevant climbing equipment to practice this safely.
For this activity you have the option of joining a guided hike or trek if you visit either the Banff or Jasper National Parks. These parks also provide visitors with more amenities in the way of accommodation and evening entertainment. A professional guide who is familiar with the area will also lead you to the most picturesque viewpoints that are located along your chosen route. Expect a breath-taking landscape of striking green lakes and snow-capped mountains that will stay with you long after you leave the area.
You can also find numerous trails running through the more remote national parks of Yoho, Kootenay and Waterton Lakes, where guided walks are uncommon. Hiking trails throughout the Rockies are generally well defined to help walkers to avoid getting lost. It is therefore vital that you stay on the trails while hiking. If you do intend to venture out without a guide, ensure that you are prepared by researching the area that you are choosing to hike. You should also acquire a map and compass to help you to navigate.
One of the most famous and perhaps the most striking attractions of the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise is located in the valleys of the Banff National Park, surrounded by some of the highest mountain peaks in the whole of North America. First referred to as “Ho-run-num-nay” or “Lake of the little Fishes” by the Stoney Indian tribe that once inhabited the area, Lake Louise has since become a favorite hiking destination for travelers. Trails that run around the lake enable tourists to appreciate the mountain reflections in the glassy waters. This location is also a favorite with photographers and artists, so bring a camera to capture this remarkable sight.
If you are planning on visiting the Canadian Rockies during the winter season, rest assured you can still enjoy a guided walk. In the Banff National Park the Johnston Canyon ice walk attracts countless visitors who come here specially to hike along the man-made steel walkways that line the inside of the picturesque canyon. Experienced guides take people around the canyon in small groups, providing an educational tour of the landscape. While on the tour you will also get the opportunity to observe the striking formations of lower and upper icefalls, or frozen waterfalls.
Also in the Banff National Park, the Grotto canyon ice walk takes tourists on a walk over the frozen terrain, while bringing them to view the ancient native rock art that can be found on the rock face.
Home to a vast array of remarkable wildlife, the Canadian Rockies are the perfect location for animal lovers who want to see animals in their natural habitat. There are a number of ways to observe the wildlife here and one of these is to sail safely over grizzly bear country by taking a ride on the gondola from Banff. While allowing you to view the grizzly bears from a safe distance, the gondola also allows you to watch without causing disturbance or stress to these fascinating animals. Also close to Banff, the grizzly bear rescue center is home to orphaned grizzly bears, which can be observed in their natural habitat.
Another way you can see the Canadian wildlife is to take a wildlife tour of one of the national parks. This involves a guided trip to a number of ideal sightseeing areas, where wildlife, such as grizzly and black bears, moose, elk, caribou, mountain goats, deer, wolves and a variety of colorful birds are likely to be seen. During these tours you will also learn about the animals you are seeing and how the national parks are acting to protect the species that live there. This activity is ideal for visitors who also would enjoy the opportunity to photograph wildlife. In Banff, visitors can even opt for an evening wildlife tour, which takes visitors to a variety of viewing areas where they can observe the nocturnal animals that become more active during the night.
Although observing animals in their natural environment can be an extremely memorable and rewarding experience it is also important to remember that these are wild animals that must be respected. Be vigilant when passing through bear country on foot and ensure that you are prepared by taking bear spray, which you should wear on your belt for easy access. This can be used to deter a bear at close range in an emergency, however its effectiveness relies solely on your ability to have it ready to use as soon as it is needed. Ideally you should avoid getting within close range of a bear by making noise as you walk. This will alert the bear as to your whereabouts, which will generally cause the animal to leave the area in order to avoid you. A bear that does not have time to move away is more likely to attack. Make noise by talking loudly or alternatively carry a jar or tin filled with a few pebbles to shake as you walk.
Be extra vigilant when traveling through bear country by bike. As a cyclist you are likely to make less noise and possibly travel into a bear’s territory at a fast pace, therefore giving it less warning, which can be dangerous. Traveling in groups of six or more can increase your safety as you are likely to make more communal noise and this will also appear more intimidating to a bear, making it more inclined to want to avoid you.
Skiing and Snowboarding
A far cry from the bustling ski resorts of Europe, the Canadian Rockies offer tourists a range of excellent resort areas with terrain to suit skiers and snowboarders of any ability level. Either of these active winter sports will provide you with the opportunity to experience the wilderness in a fantastic way, as you conquer and explore the mountain trails and slopes, while also taking in the brilliant landscape around you.
Tourists can find rental equipment, ski and snowboarding lessons and trail guides for the more experienced sports enthusiast at any of the established resorts located throughout the Canadian Rockies. When planning your ski or snowboarding trip, ensure that your travel insurance package covers your winter sports activities, to give you peace of mind in the event of an accident.
The Sunshine Village resort, located only a 15 minute drive away from Banff is one of the more popular resorts in Canada, although with over 100 ski trails covering three mountains there is room for everyone in this winter playground, and the resort manages to avoid ski traffic in the form of pesky queues, due to the number of fast-moving gondolas and lifts that are available to skiers.
Tourists have the option of choosing accommodation in the city of Banff, which will allow them to make the most of the area’s brilliant après ski activities during the evenings. There is a bus ticket available, which will allow skiers to travel from the city to Sunshine Village, as well as the neighboring resorts of Lake Louise and Mount Norquay for the duration of their stay.
Located on the outskirts of Revelstoke in British Colombia, the resort of Revelstoke is definitely a resort that’s worth considering when deciding on a ski holiday in the Canadian wilderness. Covering the face of Mount Mackenzie, this resort is currently being expanded to form a 10,000 acre resort, which when completed will take over Whistler-Blackcomb as the largest ski vicinity in North America. Due to the resort’s higher location it also has a higher annual snowfall and a better quality of snow than many of its competitors. The mountain is well known for having thick powder, which is good news for beginner skiers and snowboarders as the thicker snow makes for easier maneuverability and is softer to fall on.
Delve into the calm waters of Banff’s beautiful Bow Valley, where you can rent canoes and kayaks by the hour. This activity is ideal for families looking for an enjoyable and entertaining sport during the summer months. Before kayaking you will receive a lesson in how to maneuver your kayak to ensure your safety. For a more adrenaline filled experience in the water, you can also join a kayaking tour of Banff’s white water rapids.
Home to the aptly named kicking Horse River, the Yoho National Park is the perfect place to visit if you want to have a go at white water rafting. This activity promises to be an exhilarating experience, and you can expect to be accompanied by a professional guide who is capable of instructing and bringing you safely through the high currents and roaring rapids. Although Yoho a favorite spot for this activity, you can also experience rafting in both Banff and Jasper National Parks.
Alternatively, enjoy being out on the water while keeping your feet dry by taking a cruise through the heart of the Rockies. The picturesque Lake Minnewanka, situated just 15 minutes out of the center of Banff is an ideal destination where tourists can experience a leisurely hour and a half long jaunt around the lake from the comfort of the boat’s viewing deck.
A popular and relaxing pastime in the Canadian wilderness, fly fishing is another option for those who enjoy spending time by the lake. Fishing enthusiasts will benefit from an afternoon spent with an experienced fishing guide, who will show you the best places to catch the blue ribbon trout that inhabits the Canadian waters. Enquire with tour operators, located within Banff to get in touch with a local expert.
For a completely different way of exploring the natural landscape of the Canadian Rockies, why not try a caving tour. This activity is best suited to active tourists with a good level of physical fitness, such as hikers and skiers. Tours go from Canmore, and you will be taken on a tour of the winding naturally-formed passageway, walking a distance of 4km underground. The caves here were formed over hundreds of thousands of years and were caused by water slowly wearing away the rock. The erosion has created the spectacular rock formations that can be seen here today. If you plan on joining a caving tour ensure you are prepared by taking water and a packed lunch for the journey. You will also need a camera with a good flash if you wish to capture images of the underground rock formations.