Nothing in Canada matches the Rockies for sheer beauty. And I do mean sheer. Approaching from the east, the Rocky Mountains meet the Prairies like a massive wall of granite almost at right angles to the vast plains that make up the rest of Alberta. The Canadian Rockies have been drawing tourists for a hundred years with their stark beauty and opportunity for adventure, sport and leisure. The best way to experience the Rockies is to start in Banff and drive the scenic Icefields Parkway north to Jasper; this itinerary will guide you to all the hotspots.
Banff National Park is Alberta’s most famous tourist attraction, welcoming more than three million people annually. Consequently, the tiny town centre can sometimes have the feeling of a crowded high-end mall or resort, but you don’t have to go far to enjoy the spectacular beauty and isolation of one of Mother Nature’s crown jewels. A visit to the hot springs is a must — the whole town was founded around them. In peak season, the springs can be crowded, so if you have time, consider visiting Radium Hot Springs, a short drive to the southwest, or the quieter Miette Hot Springs in Jasper.
Get your ropes, boots and paddles
For climbing, hiking and canoeing, of course. Any place you stay in the Rockies will have information on hiking paths and tour operators who can guide you through the region’s most breathtaking adventures. You can also arrange horseback riding, white-water rafting and, of course, skiing. In Banff, you can take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain, a 670-metre climb that gives you a view over the entire valley and the closest look at the Rockies’ peaks you’re likely to find. The more daring can hike up the mountain, which will give you a better vantage for plants and wildlife.
Lake Louise is one of the region’s most famous luxury resorts, and when you see the crystal blue lake you’ll understand why. It’s worth the long hike up the Plain of Six Glaciers trail to the teahouse for a view over the lake. Don’t skip a visit to Moraine Lake, a 10-minute drive away. This picturesque lake is less touristy and is so beautiful it once graced the $20 bill — the old monochrome picture doesn’t do justice to the opaque turquoise waters walled by a chain of rough-hewn slate peaks.
Midway to Jasper, you’ll find the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, which arranges tours up to the ice in a bus with wheels the size of a large truck. It’s a unique experience — and if you’ve ever wanted to taste pure, glacial water at the source, this is your chance.
Much quieter than Banff, some say Jasper is more beautiful for it. The area’s nature hikes may test your physical fitness with their frequently steep climbs, but they reward you with views you won’t find anywhere else. Some highlights are Maligne Canyon (start from inside the canyon for the best views), Stanley Falls and the Sulphur Skyline.