The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site combines Jasper, Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, as well as three adjacent provincial parks. The Rocky Mountains of Canada are a vast land – filled with inspiring scenery, wildlife, a multitude of recreational activities for all ages and a lot of unique opportunities to experience and enjoy the beauty of nature.
How to get there?
One of your quickest options for getting here is the Calgary International Airport, located just an hour and a half from Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies. Once your in the area you can rent a car and drive through the Canadian Rockies. You can also take an airport shuttle to Banff. Driving from Vancouver is a pretty good option if you have lots of time on your hands. Edmonton International Airport is the closest major airport to Jasper National Park.
Our highlight in the Canadian Rockies definitely was the world-class scenic drive along the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 N). In fact, we did like it so much that we decided to drive it twice. Once from south to north and then vice versa. Traveling the Icefields Parkway means experiencing one of Canada’s national treasures and most rewarding destinations. The road stretches 232km through the heart of the Rockies, and connects the towns of Jasper and Lake Louise. It also offers access to a vast wilderness of pristine mountain lakes, ancient glaciers and broad sweeping valleys. On top you get to enjoy some unique and irreplaceable landscape rich in history and natural beauty.
How long to stay?
A drive along the Icefields Parkway and through the Canadian Rockies can theoretically be completed in around 3 to 3.5 hours. However there are so many places to stop your car and take in the magnificent scenery that it is best to allow most of the day to soak in the natural beauty of the dazzling glaciers, mountain peaks, and pristine lakes and rivers – and break up your journey to stay somewhere along the road for at least one night. On top you should think about adding at least 1-2 days each to explore what Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper have to offer.
Where to stay?
A quick glance at either the Lake Louise, Banff or Jasper hotel map will show you that there are several places to stay in the area. From hotels, to motels or hostels and campgrounds there are plenty of options to choose from. And the options will sure fit any budget. We did not try any of the hotel accommodation, as we were traveling with a camper, but we can highly recommend this option. As we were traveling off-season (May) we did not have to book any of the campgrounds in advance and we can recommend the following spots: Icefields Center RV Park (located about half way along the Icefields Parkway close to the Athabasca Glacier, not the prettiest spot, but everything else was still closed due to the snow), and the Wapiti Campground (close to Jasper at the beginning of the Icefields Parkway). Note: If you are traveling in May, make sure to check when the campgrounds open after winter or if they are open already.
The Icefields Parkway (also known as Highway 93) winds 232 glorious kilometres through the heart of Jasper and Banff national parks. This road has been called (and voted) one of the most scenic drives in the world. And we definitely can agree. Glaciers, viewpoints, waterfalls, picnic spots and hikes galore can be found along this spectacular parkway. Whether traveling by car, bus, bike, or on foot, this road trip of a lifetime offers the opportunity to see diverse wildlife, stop at majestic viewpoints and view interpretive displays.
Wildlife: Look for wildlife along the way. On a good day in May and June (while there is still a lot of snow high on the mountains), you can often spot every large mammal that the Rockies has to offer — right next to the road. During the rest of the summer, your chances are still good to see animals, especially early and late in the day. Drive carefully. A number of good, pocket-sized books are available about the mammals of the Canadian Rockies.
Highlights: Athabasca Falls, drive HWY 93 A, Sunwapta Falls, Icefield Centre, Athabasca Glacier, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Columbia Icefield, Glacier Skywalk
Trails: Wilcox Pass, Bow Summit and Peyto Lake, Parker Ridge Trail, Mistaya Canyon, Glacier Lake trail
Roadmap: For more information on the Icefields Parkway make sure to visit pc.gc.ca – for a detailed map click here (a PDF will download automatically)
Note: The Icefields Parkway is open year round, however during the winter months the road is usually covered with snow and ice and winter driving experience is recommended. After periods of heavy snow, the road may be closed, sometimes for several days, so it is always best to check the road conditions before leaving Jasper. Services are limited on Highway 93 and it is recommended to have a full tank of gas before starting your trip! Especially in winter, be sure to have a full tank of gas, food and water when you take this trip. All services are closed.
Jasper National Park
The charming mountain town of Jasper offers easy access to majestic peaks, endless outdoor adventure, pristine wilderness and abundant wildlife. It also is home to the world’s second largest dark sky preserve.
Park Size: 11,228 sq km
Highest Peak: Mount Columbia 3,747 m
Highlights: Athabasca Falls, Maligne Canyon, Maligne Lake, Patricia Lake, Medicine Lake, Icefields Parkway, Columbia Icefield, Miette Hotsprings, Whistlers Mountain, Mount Edith Cavell, Valley of the Five Lakes, Old Fort Point, Pyramid Lake and Island, Lake Edith and Lake Annette, Bald Hills, Snaring River Campground (we recommend place B8)
Trails: Sulphur Skyline Track, Pyramid Lake Trails, Skyline Trail, Easy Trail system (for more information visit pc.gc.ca) – an overview of the Jasper trails can be found here
Stargazing: Jasper’s dark ski invites astronomers at eery level to gaze upon the night sky. October is the ideal time to celebrate the sky with the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival, but every other time of the year most probably will reward you with great views of the stars as well. Popular places to watch the stars are Medicine Lake, Pyramid Lake Island or right in town.
Website: For more information visit jasper.travel/information
Banff National Park and Lake Louise
In 1885, the Banff region was declared Canada’s first national park. Today the park offers mountains of possibilities and therefore draws millions of people each year to experience the staggering natural beauty of Banff and Lake Louise. For visiting Lake Louise make sure to arrive at the lake before 9am or after 7 pm to avoid large crowds. If you cannot make it in the early morning or late in the evening, we highly recommend to park your car somewhere in town or at the overflow carpark and then take the free shuttle to the lake. Parking up there is limited and fills up quickly.
Park Size: 6,641 sq km
Highest Peak: Mount Forbes 3,612 m
Highlights: Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Icefields Parkway, Parker Ridge Trail, Bow Valley Parkway, Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, Sulphur Mountain, Sunshie Meadows, Lake Minnewanka, Lake Agnes, Tunnel Mountain Drive, Vermilion Lakes and Vermillion Lakes Drive, Town of Banff, Banff Upper Hot Springs
Trails: Johnston Canyon hike, Castle Lookout Trail, Rockbound Lake Trail, Lake Minnewanka Loop, Banff Legacy Trail, also hike around Lake Louise + Mirror Lake + Lake Agnes to the Big Beehive
Website: For more information visit banfflakelouise.com
Yoho National Park
With fossils designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 36 peaks soaring above 3000 m, the rambunctious Kicking Horse River and numerous breathtaking waterfalls, it is no surprise that Yoho National Park was named after a Cree expression meaning “awe and wonder”.
Park Size: 1,313.1 sq km
Highest Peak: Mount Goodsir 3,567 m
Highlights: The Spiral Tunnels, Yoho Valley, Emerald Lake, Burgess Shale, Takakkaw Falls, Field, Wapta Falls, Natural Bridge, Kicking Horse Campground
Trails: Lace up your hiking boots for an epic backcountry adventure. See Yoho from the perspective of the park’s first wardens on the Paget or Mount Hunter fire lookout trails or take an afternoon stroll to Hamilton Falls. For more hikes visit parkscanada.gc.ca/Yohotrails
Website: For more information visit pc.gc.ca/yoho
Kootenay National Park
Established in 1920 as part of an agreement to build a new road across the Rockies, Kootenay National Park is a place of unique contrasts, from icy mountain rivers to steamy hot springs. Take a 60-minute scenic drive and discover a new surprise around every bend. Spend the day exploring deep canyons and tumbling waterfalls just a short stroll from the road. Or, plan a vacation traversing the park’s backcountry trails.
Park Size: 1406.4 sq km
Highest Peak: Deltaform Mountain 3,424 m
Highlights: Burgess Shale, Radium Hot Springs, The Rockwall Trail, Redstreak Campground, Floe Lake, Stanley Glacier Trail, The Paint Pots, Marble Canyon
Road Trip: HWY 93S: It once took a whole day in a Model T Ford to drive from Banff to Radium Hot Springs when Kootenay National Park’s road opened for touring and transporting goods. Today, you can make the return trip in a day and stop at some terrific places along the road:
Stand on the Continental Divide, the point from which water flows to two different oceans. Stroll the 0.5 km Fireweed Trail and dicover how fire renews forests. Hike the amazing trail of fire and ice to Stanley Glacier (3 hours, 8.4 km round trip). View Marble Canyon‘s deep carved chasms and gorgeous turquoise waters from seven different bridges. Stroll along a 2 km trail to the Paint Pots, an Indigenous cultural site. Enjoy these three iron-rich mineral springs that stain the earth red. Admire breathtaking views of the Mitchell and Vermilion ranges from the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint. Look up at the towering red cliffs of the Redwall Fault in Sinclair Canyon. And last but not least get your swimsuits ready and relax at the Radium Hot Springs pools. By the way: Along the route you may see deer, bears, goats, wolves and bighorn sheep.
Website: For more information visit pc.gc.ca/kootenay