Canadian Rockies Experience
The following is a generalized itinerary for a full 14 day experience meant to simply give you an idea of the possibilities, and further customizable based on each guests’ priorities:
Day 1 (Waterton Lake/Spray Lakes):
We will start our Canadian Rockies Experience heading south from Calgary, as Waterton Lake is the corresponding park on the Canadian side of the boarder. Crossing back over at Chief Mountain, we will explore Waterton and take an approximate 20-mile bike ride to areas closed by fire damage. Rented bikes can be traditional or motorized. Driving back to Calgary, we will stop for any gear we realized we forgot, then head west for an hour into the Canadian Rockies.
Just up the dirt road is the Spray Lakes Provincial Park, another hidden gem used by the locals. We can run into town (Canmore) for any supplies that may be needed, and the day can be spent on the shore, on the water, or hiking in the mountains, all walking distance from our campsite. Also, depending on weather, this area provides tremendous astrophotography opportunities.
Day 2 (Peter Lougheed):
Even though it’s technically a “Provincial Park” (think “State Park” in the United States), don’t sleep on Peter Lougheed, as it’s an absolute hidden gem in the Canadian Rockies. Just south of Banff/Canmore, is where the locals go when they don’t want to deal with tourists. There is a high chance of seeing bears in this area, and we can pick from numerous hikes with stellar pay-off views, including King’s Creek Ridge, Sarrail Ridge via Rawson Lake, and/or Mt. Indefatigable. Proper shoes are a must, and hiking must be done with intention and respect. There are also numerous other less strenuous hiking options around Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes.
Day 3-5 (Banff):
Banff is absolutely the most well known of the national parks in the Canadian Rockies, but you’re not exactly “roughing it”. Fine dining and shopping options abound in the downtown area, alongside the world famous “Fairmont Banff Springs” chateau, but don’t let this fool you: there are still numerous ways to get in touch with nature. Just a few miles from the downtown area, we can climb (or take a skylift) up Sulfur Mountain in the middle of the town.
Similarly, we can take a ski lift up Mr. Norquay just outside of town, getting stunning views of the city itself. Numerous easily accessible sites are available, from Johnston Canyon to Lake Louise to Bow Lake, though depending on the time of year we may need an early start to beat the crowds (particularly with Lake Louise and Moraine Lake).
On a night with idea sunset conditions, I’ll take you to “Ryan’s Sunset Spot”, simply a place on the side of the road that I have found to have some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. And as it’s unmarked, it’s usually just us there.
Day 6 (Icefield Parkway):
Without a bit of exaggeration, Icefield Parkway is easily considered one of the most stunning drives in the world and a highlight of the Canadian Rockies. Connecting Banff and Jasper, we will drive this road in both directions, though driving north is when we will have the opportunity to take our time and stop at famous sites along the way.
Highlights include Bow Lake, Peyto Lake (currently closed for renovations), Icefield Center, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls, and the Valley of Five Lakes. Each of these are 1-3 mile hikes typically on paved roads. We will also break up the day one of my all-time favorite hikes that, while still requiring effort, has an incredibly high effort to payoff ratio, even for the Canadian Rockies.
Day 7-8 (Jasper):
Most people describe Jasper, the northernmost park in the Canadian Rockies, as “Banff without the crowds”, but I personally feel like Jasper seems a little more wild and little more serious than what we’ve seen up to this point. Jasper is home to the world-famous Malign Lake/Spirit Island, which we will visit on the first day on a boat tour. The remaining day will be spent doing local hikes and checking out reasonable local landmarks such as Pyramid Lake and the Sky Tram to Whistler’s Peak.
Depending on the groups desire/ability/reservations to hike Mt. Robson, we may leave Jasper and camp at Mt. Robson for an early start the next morning.
Day 9-10 (Mt. Robson):
Mt. Robson is technically just a Provincial Park, but it’s also the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will have been the peak from a distance from the Jasper Sky Tram, but in person is a different thing. The heart of the park is at Berg Lake, which is a minimum of 13.1 miles. From here Mt. Robson, Berg Lake, and multiple glaciers are all within a stone’s throw. An additional 8 miles (4 out and 4 back) lead us around the mountain and right up to the massive Robson Glacier.
Robson does present some logistical issues: without a camping space, this turns into a 26.2 (marathon) hike in a single day, which is do-able but relatively unpleasant. Mt. Robson is operated through BC Parks’ Reservation System, separately from every other park up to this point. Camping sites are made available 6 months ahead of time and often sell out within minutes.
However, a lot can change in 6 months and as the reservation system literally charges to cancel, most people who can’t make it simply don’t show up, rather than canceling the spot. All that is to say there is a strong change we will be able to get a backcountry campsite through patience at the Backcountry Office in the morning, but there is no way this is a guarantee.
Day 11-12 (Revelstoke/Glacier):
Today will involve a good but of driving, but rarely are the views better. We will traverse south, back down the Icefield Parkway towards Banff. When we reconnect with Highway 1, we will continue west and visit Revelstoke and Glacier (not to be confused with the Glacier we already visited in Montana), the westernmost parks in the Canadian Rockies.
At this point, everyone should know what “switchbacks” are. What you may not know is that these can be done for cars as well. Mt. Revelstoke is a unqiue park in the Canadian Rockies, offering non-stop climb of switchbacks to the top, and a very popular training spot for bikers. Once at the top, there is a loop of no more than 2 miles providing stunning views of the surrounding valleys, particularly following Hwy 1 along the west side of the Columbia river. Driving back east on Hwy 1, Glacier (Canada) offers numerous pull outs with 1-2 mile hikes through giant rock gardens, Roger’s Pass, and lush forests.
Day 13-14 (Yoho/Kootenay/Calgary):
Our final days in the Canadian Rockies will feature two parks that pack a punch. Yoho is the smallest park we visit, but Emerald Lake and Takakkaw Falls are some of the most stunning sites we will see. Emerald Lake offers a relatively flat loop around the lake, while Takakkaw falls is impressive from both the viewing platform or by scrambling up rocks to where the waterfall makes impact with the ground.
Kootenay, much like Glacier yesterday, offers numerous, easily accessible pull outs featuring the Kootenay River, natural springs, canyons, boardwalks over a lush forest floor, and “hidden lakes” to discover.
When we wrap up with Kootenay, we will head back to Calgary, completing our loop with one more drive through Banff/Canmore. If we move through Kootenay quickly, we can check into a hotel, clean up, and cap the Canadian Rockies portion of the trip with a nice group dinner. At that point, we will head back to Calgary for a little rest before everyone departs.