We often find ourselves on a journey of exploration, fueled by a desire to see, experience, and learn something new daily. Most recently our drive for adventure took us to the Canadian Rockies, a breathtaking landscape of snow-capped mountain peaks, brilliant turquoise lakes, and behemoth glaciers that continue to carve out this ever-changing world of beauty. Our 6-day trip took us to the famous lakes of Banff National Park. We saw the towering waterfalls of Yoho National Park and drove the serene beauty of the Icefields Parkway. One could spend years here without scraping the surface of the incredible experiences that lay hidden in this alpine wilderness.
Canadian Rockies: Banff National Park
If you have never herd of the Canadian Rockies and Banff National Park, you have most certainly unwittingly seen pictures of this Alpine paradise. Located on the boarder of Canada’s British Columbia and Alberta provinces, Banff National Park’s 2,500 square miles of protected wilderness encompass some of the most terrific beauty on earth. In the heart of the park are the Canadian towns of Banff and Lake Louise, both resort towns that cater to their ski resort and hiking clientele during their respective months. Arriving in early September, we were able to experience the beginning of fall with crisp early snow and hypnotizing autumn colors.
Established in 1885 as Banff Hot Springs Reserve, the park is Canada’s oldest National Park. By 1911 a road connecting Banff and Calgary was complete, turning the park into an easily accessible tourist destination. Home to over 56 mammals, including grizzly bears and cougars, Banff’s unique landscape and vast wilderness inspire millions to visit every year. The park does require a Canadian National Park Annual Pass,
which will run you around $80 US. If you are planning on spending more than 4 days in a Canadian National Park over the course of the year, the annual pass is your cheapest option, however, daily passes can also be purchased at Ranger Stations.
C Level Cirque Trail and Lake Minnewanka
Our first hike in the Canadian Rockies took us southwest to Banff’s Lake Minnewanka via the C Level Cirque trail. Fed from the Cascade River, Lake Minnewanka is the second longest lake in the Canadian Rockies, spanning just over 13 miles. Offering amazing hikes from easy lakeside trails to more strenuous mountain side scrambles, this area in the park is a must see for anyone staying in the town. The C level Cirque Trail trailhead is located a quick 3.1 miles from the town of Banff yet remains relatively quiet compared to the large crowds in Lake Louise. This relatively difficult day hike offers amazing views of Lake Minnewanka while taking you up the side of her parallel mountains. The hike took us a little under 4 hours to complete, with a generous stop at the top for snacks and a beer. Be advised, this hike is difficult, so take your time and be sure to wear proper hiking shoes with good traction and support. For more info on this hike please check out our full review here.
After a fun day around Lake Minnewanka we headed into town for a quick bite followed by what would turn out to be an EPIC sunset hike. Just off the edge of town is a quick 3 mile hike up Tunnel Mountain. With 360 degree summit views of the town, the Tunnel Mountain trail is the perfect day hike for the novice explorer. With little elevation gain and an easily defined path, the Tunnel Mountain trail is suitable for all abilities. Our quick hike was well worth it, as we were able to sip a beer while enjoying breathtaking sunset views from the famous Summit Chairs (two red picnic chairs). Read more on the Tunnel Mountain trail here.
Canadian Rockies: Moraine Lake
The Canadian Rockies’ world-renowned Moraine Lake has beauty that surpasses the imagination. First gaining notoriety in 1960’s when it became the image of the back of the Canadian dollar bill, Moraine Lake is now recognized as one of the most photographed places in the world. The lake’s bright blue water accompanied with towering sharp peaks makes this a truly unique and unforgettable experience. The bright color of the water is formed by the sky’s reflection in the dense glacial silt in the water.
Without a doubt, Moraine Lake’s majestic beauty makes it our #1 adventure to date. For $40 USD per person, you can rent a canoe for an hour to explore the 120-acre lake and enjoy the beauty of the valley from new angles. The lake also serves as a trail head for numerous trails. There is also hotel lodging with a restaurant and gift shop. Due to the lake’s popularity, finding parking is very difficult. Your best chances is to arrive before 7am, or to park in the overflow parking lot (located 10km away) and ride the $2 shuttle in. Be aware that if you choose the shuttle option, the last shuttle leaves the lake around 5:30pm to the lot, so don’t miss it!
Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass
While visiting Moraine Lake be sure to take the strenuous trek up to Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley Trail. The 6.8 mile trail takes you through the tremendous alpine larch trees. During autumn the larch trees turn from green to a beautiful neon-yellow. There are many breathtaking views of these golden trees at Sentinel Pass. The hike is difficult, with around 2500 feet elevation gain, but well worth it as the exceptional views will not disappoint. This out-and-back hike will take between 3 and 4 hours. This estimate depends on your pace. The hike requires proper gear to include: hiking boots, water, and a jacket. For more information read our in-depth review here.
Canadian Rockies: Lake Louise
Equally as recognizable as Moraine Lake, this beautiful turquoise glacial lake sits at the base of a series of six tremendous glaciers. The beautiful Fairmont Hotel perches over the lake, offering an incredible overnight stay for guests, as well as dining options for daily guests. Like Moraine Lake parking can be difficult. Be sure to arrive as early as 6AM to avoid having to take the shuttle. Lake Louise also offers canoe and kayak rentals for guests during the summer months. Be sure to walk around the lake’s walking trail (rated easy) or explore one of the many amazing hikes nearby.
Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
If you are up for an amazing all-day adventure, brave the mountain pass for an unforgettable journey to the Plain of Six Glaciers. Starting with a flat hike around Lake Louise’s edge, this 8.6-mile trail will ultimately bring you through a glacial corridor where you can admire the vast size and beauty of these incredible glaciers. Along the way, stop at the Nepalese-style teahouse, located at the 3.7 mile mark. Cash only, this small electricity-free teahouse serves warm drinks and food daily from June until October. Be sure to remember though, any trash you accumulate you need to pack out with you. Continue on past the teahouse another mile to the base of the glaciers. Along the way we were able to admire the mighty power of multiple avalanches as the slowly melt. After speaking with the owner of the teahouse, she said she has noticed a significant increase in avalanches and glacial erosion over the course of the past 30 years. If interested in experiencing this hike in another form, be sure to check out the horseback tours, rented through the Fairmont Hotel. Read more about this incredible hike and its epic glaciers here.
Camping & Lodging in the Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies have more than 2400 camping sites spread over 13 campgrounds. Despite this fact, these spots sell out months in advance, so be sure to book your stay well in advance. Book your stay here.
With amazing bathrooms, showers and proximity to town, Tunnel Mountain campground affords guests an amazing stay. With sites for both RV’s and tents, this National Park campground is hands down the nicest campground we have had the luxury of staying at!
Perfect for anyone wanting to explore Lake Moraine and Lake Louise, this campground is located a mile from the small resort town. The campground is sectioned into RV and tent campsites, the latter being protected from bears by a large electric fence. There are no fires allowed at many of the sites, and no bear bins period, so be sure to lock all food and trash in your car at night.
The Fairmont Chateau
Complete with multiple restaurants and a shopping mall, this lakeside hotel is a modern marvel. It towers over the beauty of Lake Louise, giving guests either views of the lake, or the ski resort to its north. If you are feeling like treating yourself to an amazing swanky stay, book your room now here.
Connecting the sprawling mountain landscapes of Banff National Park and Jasper National Park is the magnificent Icefields Parkway. This 140-mile scenic corridor parallels the Continental Divide, snaking its way through the Canadian Rockies. This day trip drive is an incredible experience, with countless pull offs for lakeside views and backcountry hikes. Unfortunately, early autumn showers made for a gloomy day as we pressed north up the parkway, but even through the low clouds this magical landscape inspired us. Remember, to explore the parkway a Canadian National Park Pass is required .
Just a few miles into the Icefields Parkway lies Hector Lake. With multiple roadside viewpoints and a lodge complete with an authentic trading post, this beautiful alpine lake is perfect for a quick picnic. Walk along the rocky beach and enjoy lakeside views of a nearby glacier as you explore this quiet wilderness retreat.
Named after famous trapper Bill Peyto, this bright alpine lake spans the base of the Waputik Range. The lake’s roadside viewpoint, off the Icefields Parkway, brings admiring visitors from all over the world. Take the short .5-mile paved trail from the parking lot to the viewpoint. Although usually busy with flocking photographers and tourists, this viewpoint is a must stop for any passing traveler.
Canadian Rockies: Yoho National Park
After a fun day exploring the Icefields Parkway, we headed west to Yoho National Park. The park’s magnificent drive will snake you down 3,000 feet of elevation through tunnels of mountain peaks. “Yoho” is a Cree expression of awe, and it was created in 1886 becoming the country’s second National Park. Famous for its waterfalls, alpine lakes, and geological formations, Yoho National Park is another amazing journey into the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
Unlike Banff, this park is even more remote, requiring backcountry permits to explore her most amazing features. One of these remote destinations is Lake O’Hara, a remote lake 11 miles from the main road. A shuttle ticket is required to take this trek, and usually sells out months in advance. If willing, you can walk this steep dirt road to the lake in order to access the incredible alpine hikes whose trailheads begin there. We did not have a ticket or time to hike in, but this adventure is something that we cannot wait to accomplish soon.
The largest of Yoho’s 61 bodies of water, this tranquil emerald green lake sits at the base of the President Range. With kayak and canoe rentals as well as a high-end lodging, this lake is one of Yoho’s must-see stops. Great for lakeside hiking as well as cross-country skiing, this popular attraction remains busy year-round. Be sure to explore the natural bridge waterfall at the lakes entrance as well!
The second tallest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies, Takakkaw Falls, towers at 1,224 ft. Take the 15-minute drive past the Kicking Horse campground to reach the Takakkaw Falls viewpoint. Be cautious, as the road has a series of tight switchbacks which may not be navigable for longer vehicles such as buses or RV’s. Follow the .25 mile trail to the base of the falls, or adventure along the small glacial stream.
Hoodoo Creek Trail
Located on the west side of the park, this 3-mile trek will take you up to a cluster of incredible hoodoos. This short but steep hike takes you up a series of steep switchbacks that will leave your heart pounding. Be sure to bring water and snacks as, although rated moderate, this quick hike can be quite the leg burner. Like Bryce Canyon, these hoodoos are created by the thawing and refreezing of water in the landscape’s porous rock. These geological wonders tower off the mountainside like sprouting mushrooms and are a unique sight in this alpine landscape. Read our all-inclusive review of this hike here.
Kicking Horse Campground
Located a few miles north of the town of Field, this centrally located campground has amazing amenities. The bathrooms and showers are both clean and new, and for $5.00 you can purchase a fire permit, which includes unlimited firewood. Along the side of this campground is a beautiful glacial river. Remember this is grizzly country, and there are no bear bins, so be sure to safely lock up all food and trash in your car while camping. Plan your next camping excursion now by visiting the national park webpage here.
Emerald Lake Lodge
This beautiful lodge is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway. Although expensive in the summer, this lodge gives guests year-round access to the lake a various cross-country ski trails, as well as a restaurant and bar. Book your next stay here now!