Every country has its own signature, globally recognizable landmark: the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Great Wall in China, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the colorful slums in Havana. Canada’s calling card is the Rocky Mountains. A whole region of sharp mountain peaks, snow-white ice fields, iridescent waterfalls, turquoise lakes, fragrant alpine meadows and picturesque canyons…
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are right on the border of British Columbia and Alberta. Most people arrive by plane in Edmonton or Calgary, then travel through the Rockies in a rental car.
Which parks are located here?
The Canadian Rockies include: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks, as well as Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber Provincial Parks.
When to go to the Rocky Mountains?
Tourist season is late June to mid-September: high prices in hotels, a lot of cars and people. All activities are available (rafting, tours, etc.), great weather, camping, hikes and water activities. The mountain lakes have already melted and acquired their famous turquoise color. In July and August it sometimes brings smoke from fires.
Off-season is late September – October and early June: few people, slightly lower prices, hikes, many attractions are already closed for the season, cool weather (especially at night), fewer mosquitoes.
December – March: winter activities, ski season
March-May: very few tourists, cold, suitable for wildlife watching and hiking
The best time to visit the Rocky Mountains is in the second half of June and the first half of September. A little less people, good weather, and all the entertainment is already (or still) available.
Maps, restaurants, activities, time for each location and other helpful travel tips
How much time do you need for the trip to Rocky Mountains?
Visiting Banff and Jasper – starting from 3 full days. In three days, you’ll have time to run through the basics in Jasper, Banff, and drive from one town to the next with stops and a tour of Athabaska Glacier. If you are planning hiking or rafting, consider to spend another day or two.
To drive through Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay – plan your vacation for 5 full days. Including hikes to Mt Robson, Lake Ohara, etc. – 7 full days or more.
The best time duration to see the Rocky Mountains with no rush, especially if traveling with children, is 9 days or more.
Interesting facts about the Canadian Rocky Mountains
- The Rocky Mountains were originally inhabited by Indigenous Peoples. The region became a tourist destination in the late 19th century, when the Canadian Pacific Railway has been built over the Kicking Horse Pass and hot springs have been found nearby.
- The Rocky Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The protected area is more than 23 thousand km².
- About 50 peaks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains exceed 3,350 meters height. The region’s highest point is Mount Robson, 3,954 meters
- Kootenay is Canada’s only park with both glaciers and cacti
- There are more than 1,600 kilometers of hiking trails in Banff National Park
- Burgess Shale in Yoho Park is one of the world‘s richest and best-preserved collections of Cambrian fossils (over 500 million years old!)
- Snow Dome Mountain in Jasper is the hydrological apex of North America (one of two, the other being in Montana). Meltwater from its summit flows in streams into the Pacific, Arctic Ocean, and Hudson Bay.
Что посмотреть в Rockies
The Rocky Mountains are beautiful to infinity and it requires about the same amount of time to see them all properly. Here are just a few of the most famous and absolute must-visit places:
Moraine Lake, Banff
Moraine is that iconic turquoise lake from the postcards and brochures about the Rockies. For ten years it adorned the $20 Canadian banknote. Just to get there travelers get up in the middle of the night and rush to the parking lot to get there by 5 am, and spend half of the day in endless traffic jams to enter. Moraine Lake is visited by millions of tourists a year. And believe me, it’s worth it!
The small blue lake is surrounded by snowy peaks. The panorama is so beautiful and majestic that the heart starts to beat faster, it takes your breath away and it is impossible to take your eyes off of it. Lake Moraine is an image that will stay with you forever…
Most of the year, from October to June, Lake Moraine is covered with ice, as it is located at an altitude of 1,885 meters. Because of the avalanche risk around the same months, the road to it is closed. Up-to-date information can be found here.
From July to September there are a lot of tourists. Parking is small, it is quite difficult to get into Moraine. One of the options is to arrive before dawn, at 5-5:30 a.m.
In 2023, Lake Moraine will not be accessible by private transport, only by shuttle!
A huge traffic jam gathers during the day, with cars driving in circles and waiting for a parking slot. This is how I unsuccessfully tried to break through to Moraine two years in a row.
An inexpensive and convenient way to get to Moraine Lake is to take a shuttle. A large shuttle bus leaves from the Lake Louise Park and Ride parking lot every 20 minutes. Make your reservation on the Parks Canada website (30 minutes before departure at the latest). I strongly recommend it!
In the morning the bus is almost empty (we took the 8:30 a.m. bus in July, and there were just 6 people). There may be waiting lines during the day. A free connector runs from Moraine to Lake Louise and back to the start parking lot. You can easily see both lakes in one visit.
Shuttle prices (2023, round trip)
- Adult (18 to 64 years old): $8
- Adult (65+): $4
- Kids (6 to 17): $2
- Children (under 6 years) – free of charge
- Reservation fee: $3
On the lake you can rent a canoe. They also allow you to paddle your own. Of course, they won’t let you in the shuttle with a wooden boat, but an inflatable paddleboard in your backpack will easily do the trick. For Canada’s national parks’ boating requirements and permits, check out this link.
There are several hiking trails of different difficulty levels around the lake. Top rated:
- Moraine Lake Shore Trail – 3 km along the shore (round trip), about 45 minutes, easy
- Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass – 11.6 km, elevation gain 725 m, 4-5 hours, medium difficulty
- Mount Temple – 15 km, elevation gain 1.700 m, about 7 hours, hard
Lake Louise, Banff
Louise is another legendary Rocky Mountain blue lake. It is almost twice the size of Moraine and easier to get to. It also freezes from November to June, but the road is open all year round. There’s even an option to stay at the Fairmont Chateau on the shore. There is a big parking, from May to October 2023, the approximate cost is $12.25/day/car. Direct shuttles depart from the same parking lot as Lake Moraine.Book on the Parks Canada website
Louise (just as Moraine) takes on its signature blue color in the summer because of the stone dust in the water, which reflects the light. Stone dust gets washed into the lake from the rocks by melting glaciers.
I recommend admiring the turquoise Lake Louise from the Fairview lookout. Hike is quite easy: 1 km one way, about 45 minutes, an elevation gain of 100m.
Other popular trails at Lake Louise:
- Lake Louise Lakeshore – 4 km along the shore (round trip), 1 hour, easy
- Lake Agnes Trail – 7.4 km, elevation gain 435 m, 2 hours, medium difficulty
- Devils Thumb Via Lake Agnes Trail – 13 km, elevation gain 883 m, 4-4.5 hours, hard
- Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail – 14.6 km, 588 m elevation gain, 5 hours, hard
Peyto Lake is a must-visit along the Icefields Parkway. The deep turquoise color of this glacial lake is amazing! One of the few that can be admired from the heights is the excellent observation deck that opened here in 2022. From the large parking lot to the panorama there is a short walk about 10-15 minutes up through the woods.
Peyto Lake is named after Bill Peyto, one of the first explorers of these places.
Popular trails at Lake Peyto:
- Bow Summit Viewpoint – 6.8 km, 300 m elevation gain, 2-2.5 hours, medium difficulty
- Caldron Lake Trail – 14 km, elevation gain 1037 m, >6 hours, hard
- Caldron Peak Trail – 20 km, elevation gain 1600 m, >9 hours, hard
Takakkaw Falls, Yoho
The second highest waterfall in Canada and one of the most beautiful! Takakkaw means “wonderful” or “amazing” in the language of the local tribes, and the name is well deserved. You can walk along the paved road from the parking lot straight to the base of the waterfall, but be prepared to get soaked to the skin. Water falls at incredible speed from a height of 384 meters and creates a giant cloud of spray.
Getting to this wonder is easy – 13.5 km from Trans Canada Highway along Yoho Valley Road (be careful, the turns are quite steep), about an hour car drive from Banff. The trail to the waterfall is easy, suitable for children and sore knees. On average, it’s common to spend 1-2 hours here.
Athabaska Falls, Jasper
Athabasca Falls is considered one of the most powerful waterfalls in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The Athabasca River, fed by the Columbia Icefield glaciers, plummets 23 meters down the canyon here.
Parking and a lookout are 500 meters from Icefields Pkwy, a 30-minute drive from Jasper.
There are several trails nearby; plan to spend at least half an hour here. It’s a bit cold at the waterfall in the early morning. For rainbows and the best light for photos, plan your visit closer to the evening time.
READ MORE: Jasper National Park: The Complete Guide
Emerald Lake, Yoho
Theres’s not only 50 shades of blue among the Rocky Mountains’ lakes, there’s also the Emerald Lake. It is located in Yoho Park, an hour’s drive from the town of Banff. There are slightly fewer tourists, a large free parking, lots of picnic tables along the shore, hotel, cafe and more adequately priced canoe rental (you can also bring your own).
The views are (as expected) incredible! Take an easy trail around the lake and view the location of the richest collection of Cambrian-era fossils with free binoculars.
On the way to Emerald Lake don’t miss another interesting place – Natural Bridge. Here the Kicking Horse River has washed its way over the rocks in the form of a bridge. Scientists predict that this beauty will eventually collapse.
Natural Bridge has several lookouts, a small trail, and picnic tables.
Berg Lake Trail, Mt Robson
Mount Robson Park is not far from Jasper. It is the second oldest park in British Columbia. Mount Robson, after which it is named, is the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies (3954m).
There are many popular multi-day trails here, but the Berg Lake Trail is considered one of the most beautiful in Canada. In my personal top, it takes a solid first place. Waterfalls, valleys, rivers, suspension bridges, lakes, glaciers and fantastic panoramas are what people from all over the country and abroad come here for…
The Berg Lake Trail is normally hiked with one or more camping overnights, but it’s also possible to cover 40 kilometers within a day.
Maligne Lake & Maligne Canyon, Jasper
Famous for the small picturesque island – Spirit Island, which many times appeared in large companies commercials. You can take a 90-minute guided tour to the island or take a kayak with an overnight stay in a campsite. It is better to book in advance.
Maligne Canyon is a 10-minute drive from town. In some places it is two meters wide and goes down as much as fifty meters! Maligne is the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park.
At the entrance to the canyon, there is a huge parking lot, toilets and a restaurant. There are lookouts and trails with stairs and climbs through the park. A map of all the trails is here.
Athabaska Glacier, Jasper
Halfway between Jasper and Banff, you’ll find one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world, Columbia Icefield. Its size is about 325 square kilometres (a little more than the total area of Malta), and its depth varies from 100 to 365 meters! Columbia Icefield is about 10,000 years old, it includes 6 glaciers and is surrounded by some of the highest peaks of the local Rocky Mountains.
Be sure to stop at Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint.
And check out the Columbia Skywalk, a platform with a glass floor at the edge of a cliff. The views from here are spectacular, overlooking the glaciers and the Sunwapta Valley. The height of the platform is 280 meters.
Book your tickets in advance online, the skywalk bus starts from Columbia Icefield Discovery Center.
Athabasca is the most visited glacier in North America. Its ice is in constant motion. Because of global warming, Athabasca has halved in size over the past 125 years. You can walk to the tongue of the glacier and trace its path of retreat (more than 1.5 km).
It is not safe to walk on the ice by yourself, it is better to take a hike or bus-truck Ice Explorer.
The glacier has a Columbia Icefield Discovery Center with cafes/toilets/souvenirs and a giant parking lot.
Johnston Canyon, Banff
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular one-day hikes in Banff National Park. Beautiful views and waterfalls are included. An easy trail is open all year round. It’s ideal for families and people of all fitness levels.
There are so many admirers of the canyon that during the pandemic the authorities decided to limit the flow of people and closed part of the highway. Information is here. In 2023, the east side of the road will be closed from May through June and all of September for cars.
How to get to Johnston Canyon if the road is closed:
- Walk from Castle Junction parking lot (6.4 km one way)
- Cycling from the Castle Junction parking lot
- Book a hotel at Johnston Canyon
- Book a table at Blackswift Bistro Cafe on tableagent. Show your reservation at the checkpoint at Castle Junction.
Hot Springs in the Canadian Rockies
The Rocky Mountains are a paradise for active travelers. You can climb the mountains all day long and soak in the hot springs in the evening! There are several of them throughout the region, from private luxury pools to wild forest thermal puddles.
Here are some of the most popular hot springs in the Rockies:
- Banff Upper Hot Springs in Banff Park are the oldest hot springs in the Rocky Mountains. Europeans discovered them back in 1884! Water gets heated to 37-40°C, it is rich in sulfates, magnesium, calcium, bicarbonate and sodium. You can’t book online, it’s strictly first-come-first-serve. The cost and opening hours can be found on the official website.
- Miette Hot Springs in Jasper are the hottest pools in the Rockies. The natural temperature of the water reaches 54°C, then cools to 39°C. Prices and schedules can be found here.
- Radium Hot Springs are located in Kootenay. They consist of two pools: hot – up to 39°C and cold – 27°C There is a very nice touristy town nearby. Information is here.
- Fairmont Hot Springs Resort – is located 25 minutes south of the Radium. They are the largest thermal springs in Canada. There’s a 30°C diving pool, a 32°C swimming pool and hot water pool with a temperature of 39 ° C. In 2021 the springs were open to hotel guests.
- Lussier Hot Springs are wild springs in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park. There are five pools on the bank of the river, with the lower ones completely submerged when the river level is high. Water temperature varies from 34°C to 43°C
Jasper is a tiny alpine town in the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. There are many hotels, restaurants and cafes. In the evenings, travelers and adventurers come here from all around. After grueling hikes, conquering peaks and canyons, many stay for overnight accommodations and delicious food.
There is no public transportation in the town, but you can entertain yourself by going to a museum or planetarium, buying souvenirs, watching sunset from the top of the mountain (Jasper SkyTram) or having a picnic on one of the many lakes.
- Jasper National Park: The Complete Guide
- 3 Days in the Canadian Rockies hiking Brazeau trail (Jasper National Park)
City of Banff
The town of Banff is crowded, noisy, lively and one of the most visited in Canada. The starting point for most Rocky Mountain explorers, it is the perfect tourist oasis in the middle of the wilderness. Here you will find hotels and restaurants for all tastes and wallets, city entertainment, tours, shuttles, hot springs and deer strolling through the streets.
In addition to mountains, lakes and bears, there are several museums (I advise Buffalo Nations Museum), gardens (Cascade of Time Garden) and parks, galleries, theater and the Fairmont Hotel in the form of a giant castle (with hot springs). Don’t miss Canada’s Cave and Basin National Historic Site, take a sunset gondola ride to the stunning observation deck (there’s also a restaurant).
Howse Pass Viewpoint, Banff
Howse Pass is recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada. In the 18th century it was used by the Ktunaxa tribes to hunt buffalo, and in the 19th century by Europeans during the fur trade. The Trail is considered one of the first mountain trails to the Columbia River from the Saskatchewan River Valley.
It is named for Joseph House, an employee of Hudson’s Bay Company, who first crossed the pass to the river in 1809.
Each year the Howse Pass Trail dissolves more and more into the surrounding landscape. Many hikers consider it “disappearing” and purposely walk the route, mark it, and write blogs.
You can’t see the trail from the observation deck, but the views are no less beautiful. Stop for a minute at this historic site and imagine Joseph House first conquering the local mountains more than 200 years ago.
Paint Pots, Kootenay
Paint Pots is one of the highlights of Kootenay Park. An easy trail leads to orange mud fields. This color is due to the minerals (mainly iron oxide) contained in the local springs. The color of the mud varies from bright yellow to brown, mixed with green grass and algae – a beautiful and very unusual sight!
In ancient times, indigenous peoples used ochre as a warpaint for the body and animals. In the early 1900s, seams of ochre were used by Europeans in industry and were actively dug up by hand. Mining ceased in 1920, when the area became part of Kootenay National Park.
Wear shoes that you are not going to miss. Ochre is very stubborn, so I never got my sneakers clean. From Paint Pots I also suggest a walk to Marble Canyon.
Lake O’hara, Yoho
The entire Rocky Mountain area is famous for its crystal lakes and beautiful scenery. But there are a few special places where the concentration of beauty (and tourists) is so over the top that special measures have to be imposed. For example, Lake O’Hara. The management of Yoho National Park has introduced a special system to restrict admission. It’s a real quest to get here! But the lucky ones can enjoy some of Canada’s most amazing scenery almost by themselves.
How to get to Lake O’Hara
- Walking. Bicycles are prohibited. The nearest parking lot is 11 kilometers from the lake.
- On the shuttle. Buses leave for the lake every day at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. Back – at 9:30; 11:30; 2:30; 4:30; 6:30 p.m. Shuttle seats are sold out for the entire season in minutes. Reservations are hard to get, but there’s a chance that someone cancels their booking. Information is here.
- Book your campsite (+ bus seats) on the Parks Canada Reservation Service website or by calling 1(877) 737-3783 The campsites get booked out as fast as the shuttle seats.
- Rent the Elizabeth Parker Cabin for the night or Lake O’Hara Lodge
In 2023. campground reservation opens March 28 at 8am MT; bus reservations open April 12 at 8am MT.
Mistaya Canyon, Banff
Mistaya Canyon consists of spectacular curves and turns polished by the river in a limestone gorge. The shape of the rocks echoes the flow of the river, as if the stone waves overhang the stream. The tiny bridge offers stunning views of the valley and mountains. There is a trail along the river. There is no railing, so step on the rocks very carefully!
There’s a short forest trail leading from the highway to the canyon (about 10 minutes on foot)
What place in the Canadian Rocky Mountains struck you the most or where do you dream of going? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
National Park Pass
A pass is required to enter Canada’s National Parks.
For one day (in CAD$, for 2023)
|Adult (18-64 years old)||$ 10.5|
|Adult (age 64 and older)||$ 9|
|Children (under 17 years old)||free|
|Family (up to 7 people in one car)||$ 21|
Valid until 4 p.m. the day after purchase. Covers entrance to Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Waterton Lakes, Elk Island
Unlimited for one year – Discovery Pass (in CAD$, for 2023)
|Adult (18-64 years old)||$ 72.25|
|Adult (age 64 and older)||$ 61.75|
|Family (up to 7 people in one car)||$ 145.25|
Covers admission to more than 80 national parks and historic sites for 12 months.
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With descriptions of places for each day, maps and recommendations of restaurants and activities!