Best time to visit: Summer
Recommended Hikes: Iceline Trail, Wilcox Peak, Helen Lake, Parker Ridge, Sentinel Pass, Johnston Canyon, many more listed in the hiking section below
Ideal For: Hiking, Mountain-Climbing/Scrambling, Auto-Touring, Biking, Wildlife Viewing
Where to stay: Numerous options near Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper
The Canadian Rockies are beautiful - a place where you can spend the entire summer. There are six national parks throughout the mountain range, four of which share borders. The region gets a lot of snow, so summer offers the best weather and open hiking routes. Other seasons offer fewer crowds and winter sports.
Must See Attractions:
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (Banff) - Two of the prettiest lakes in all the Rockies are right next to each other in Banff, near the town of “Lake Louise”. Both lakes have lodges, canoe rentals, and hiking trails. Parking is limited - there is a shuttle service during summer months but it’s better to arrive early and beat the crowds.
Johnston Canyon (Banff) - a famous photography spot which is far more impressive than photos reveal. The box canyon is miles long and features seven major waterfalls. The hike continues on to the “ink pots” which are small pools of deep blue water. Expect crowds throughout Johnston Canyon.
Emerald Lake (Yoho) - Yoho’s answer to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, with a lodge and canoe rentals. There is a hiking trail that runs around Emerald Lake and more difficult routes that climb high above it for sweeping views.
Spirit Island (Jasper) - A spectacular vista on one of the Rockies largest lakes - Spirit Island is halfway down the 14-mile long Maligne Lake. Getting here requires an $80 ferry ride which I believe is worth it. Maligne Canyon really cool as well and it’s worth seeing when driving to or from Maligne Lake.
Edith Cavell (Jasper) - An impressive mountain wall with a hanging glacier and an iceberg-filled, turquoise lake. You need a permit to drive here which can be obtained at the Jasper visitor center. The permits are free but they do sometimes run out, so plan ahead.
Takakkaw Falls (Yoho) - The 2nd tallest waterfall in Canada. Takakkaw Falls can be enjoyed at its base with an easy walk, but it’s best appreciated from across the valley on the Iceline Trail hike, which climbs high above the valley floor.
Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls (Jasper) - The Athabasca River runs through two impressive waterfall systems at Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. Both are made up of slot canyons with foot bridges above that allow visitors to look down on the rushing water.
Icefields Parkway (Banff/Jasper) - There is a long stretch of road the connects Banff and Jasper, called the Icefields Parkway. There are many lakes worth seeing on this road, including Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, and Waterfowl Lakes. Mistaya Canyon and the Athabasca Glacier are worth stopping at as well.
Lake O'Hara (Yoho) - I wasn't able to make it here, but I have heard it is awesome. Cars are not allowed in this area, so you have to either hike in or get one of a few coveted spots on the shuttle bus, which fills up almost immediately when the reservation window opens. Read about Lake O'Hara on the Park’s website here.
Other places to research: Kootenay National Park, Canmore, Mt Robson Provincial Park
Ski resorts are scattered throughout the region, and many of them have chairs or gondolas that run during summer. This a good opportunity to spot bears from above and reach higher elevations without having to hike.
Fire season can render the mountain peaks nearly invisible. Late summer offers the best weather and least amount of snow, but be prepared for possible smokey conditions.
The Canadian Rockies are home to both black bears and grizzly bears - proper food storage is required at all times. Read more about bear safety here.
The drive between the towns of Jasper and Banff will take about three and half hours, one-way. There is one, very expensive gas station half-way between Lake Louise and Jasper - fill up in town to avoid the extra cost.
Carry tire chains if you are driving through in fall, winter, or spring.
Where to Stay:
There are many hotel options in the developed areas, and multiple hostels at more remote locations along the Icefields Parkway. AirBNB is also a good option.
All camping reservations can be made online here. Most of the campgrounds have shower facilities and some of them have electric fencing to keep wildlife at bay.
Hiking in the Canadian Rockies:
I wont pretend to know what I am talking about here. I was lucky to meet a Canadian who showed me a book called "Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies" - if you are serious about researching the Canadian Rockies, I recommend buying the book.
I will mention the top four hikes they recommend, since they are all well-known. To see their other recommended hikes - please consider buying the book!
Valley of the Ten Peaks/Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass (Banff)
Wiwaxy Gap/Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit (Yoho)
Iceline Trail (Yoho),
Mount Wilcox (Jasper)
Below are my recommendations based on the hikes that I personally did. There are many more great routes in addition to what is discussed below.
Mount Wilcox (Jasper) - Mount Wilcox is a steeply sloped mountain with a reachable summit for the average, fit hiker. The peak offers stunning views in every direction. You have to cross a section of unmarked, rocky terrain to reach the final trail that leads to the peak. Read more about the hike here.
Iceline Trail (Yoho) - The Iceline Trail is awesome and offers outstanding views of Takakkaw Falls. The hike can be done as an out-and-back, or a longer loop hike. A large section of the hike is high above the treeline on an ancient glacier bed. The loop hike leads to a second impressive waterfall - Twin Falls. Read more about it here.
Helen Lake (Banff) - This hike initially ascends across the valley from Bow Lake, providing a great view of it from above. The trail eventually breaks above the treeline and then crosses open tundra to Helen Lake. Beyond Helen, the trail ascends further to a very steep ascent of Cirque Peak. Read more about the hike here.
Parker Ridge (Banff) - Parker Ridge is a little shorter than the hikes mentioned above, but it still offers outstanding views in every direction. The trail goes much further up the ridge than it initially appears - there is an unmarked area of tundra that you have to cross to continue climbing. Read more about the hike here.
Wapta Falls (Yoho) - Wapta Falls is the most impressive waterfall I saw in the Canadian rockies. It is 90 feet high and 500 feet wide, and the power of the water flow is mind-blowing. The hike is mostly flat but entirely below the treeline, so there aren’t any viewpoints. Read more about it here.
Valley of the 5 Lakes (Jasper) - This is a short hike which is mostly flat and below the treeline. The 5 Lakes are quite pretty and worth the hike if you are looking for something to see in Jasper. Read more about the hike here.
Valley of the Ten Peaks/Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass (Banff) - I didn’t attempt this hike - This trail has seasonal closures and group hiking requirements because it’s a high frequency bear area. Read more about the hike here. Read more about the bear restrictions on the park’s website here.
Wiwaxy Gap/Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit (Yoho) - This hike requires advanced reservations as there is no parking at Lake O-Hara. Visitors can walk or take the shuttle, which fills up months in advance. Read more about it here.