Canadian Rockies vacations
The Canadian Rockies don’t have a modest bone in their body. These might not be the biggest peaks in Canada – the Yukon beat them to that – but they pack in glaciers, meadows, mountains, forests and rivers over a 1,600km stretch that ploughs from northern British Columbia to the southern Alberta border. They also hold amazing sway over Canada, forming the source of many of the major rivers in the country.
The Canadian Rockies have a mind-altering beauty that, as naturalist John Muir put it, is enough to “wash your spirit clean”.
The Canadian Rockies aren’t a ‘look, don’t touch’ kind of place (apart from the wildlife. Touching grizzlies is a no-no, funnily enough). One day you might explore the subterranean springs of Banff National Park; the next, you could be stepping off a tundra vehicle and onto the creaking Athabasca Glacier. You’ll road-trip along the grand Icefields Parkway and raft downriver through moose forests.
A city sits pretty at either end. Most Canadian Rockies vacations start in Vancouver, with its rainforest and beach parks, or Calgary, where frontier thinking is still a way of life. Read on to find out why the Canadian Rockies should be your first stop in Canada.
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Things to do in the Canadian Rockies
You want to hike, kayak, see bears, climb glaciers, camp… But the Canadian Rockies are vast – how do you go about the logistics? The easiest answer is to travel with a seasoned vacation company. Hiking routes, accommodation and transfers will be arranged for you. Organised camping vacations provide most of the gear, while hiking guides will be loaded with info of how (and how not) to hike the mountainous terrain and bear-riddled forests. Meanwhile, tailor made trips are great for families who are catering for a range of abilities.
We were not pioneers ourselves, but we journeyed over old trails that were new to us, and with hearts open. Who shall distinguish?
– J. Monroe Thorington, Canadian Rockies mountaineer
The hikes around Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park range from easy (Meadow Loop) to tricky (Peak to Peak). Some walking vacations tackle the Parker Ridge trail to the Saskatchewan Glacier, where you’ll set up camp under the peaks.
You don’t have to be a crampon-clad climber to go on a guided glacier walk at the Columbia Icefield. Your guide will book you on a tundra bus that bumps hikers from the visitor center to the ice-blue Athabasca Glacier.
A series of easy to moderate trails loop out from Banff town. Climb up to Tunnel Mountain for views over town or to the fast-flowing Bow River and Bow Falls.
Yoho National Park is one of the most underrated national parks in the Canadian Rockies – and the best walking vacations will squeeze in a couple of days there. This is the realm of the second highest waterfall in Canada, Takakkaw Falls, plus the Daly Glacier and Yoho River.
There’s no question that Lake Louise is a stunner – it’s just weighted down with visitors in the summer. A great guide will show you the escape route through old-growth forest onto the Lake Agnes trail for views of Victoria Glacier and a cuppa at the 100-year-old tea house.
You’ll quickly become used to seeing elk and deer. Elk can grow over 1.5 metres at the shoulder and weigh over 500kg, and travel in herds of over 200. Moose, on the other hand, shy away from people. You might spy them in spring and autumn, when they can’t resist the salt on the roads.
If you want good photographs when bear watching then you need a SLR camera… I would say lenses that are at least 300mm for the best photographs.
- Tom Brown, from our Canadian bear watching specialists Natural World Safaris
Only 200 grizzly bears roam the Canadian Rockies and they have huge territories. You’re most likely to spot one in Jasper, where they snuffle around the clover meadows. Black bears are much more common. Take an early morning drive, and it’s not uncommon to spot a mother and her cubs taking a shortcut across the forest.
To get the most out of wildlife watching, sign up to an organised vacation that matches you up with a knowledgeable guide. They’ll know which rivers beavers prefer and where the moose mooch, and also teach you valuable life lessons – like how not to startle a bear when hiking.
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Kayaking & rafting
Moraine Lake in Valley of the Ten Peaks is one of the most scenic spots in the Canadian Rockies. It sinks into a canyon, surrounded by mountains that First Nation lore says are the representations of the ancestors. The best vacations turn their backs on the puttering tourist boats and get you kayaking into the mysterious reaches of this luminous glacier lake. Better still, a quiet paddle won’t scare away the elk, porcupine and bears that rustle around the water’s edge.
Fancy a little more speed? Sign up to a rafting trip of the Athabasca River, keeping your peepers peeled for black bears, curly-horned bighorn sheep and bald eagles. Or step it up again and go whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River, which shoves rushing glacier water through Yoho National Park.
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