Exploring the Canadian Rockies
Canada is such a large country with so many things to see, and the Rocky Mountain range, which stretches over 4,800 kilometres through Western Canada and the United States is, justifiably, one of the most popular tourist destinations. There are activities to see and do for everyone at all times of the year: in winter, the area is a skier and snowboarder’s dream and summer provides ample opportunities for hiking, camping, paddling and mountain biking. The best way to access the mountains is via Calgary or Vancouver, two main transportation hubs which are easily accessible by air from all other North American and international cities.
If you’re heading west from Calgary, Banff is a great place to start your Rocky Mountain adventure. This small town in Banff National Park is a busy tourist hub and is the perfect place to base yourself for a few days. There are numerous restaurants, spas and shopping spots in town where you can relax and soak in the scenery surrounding this community. A visit to the historic Banff Springs Hotel is a great way to pass an afternoon. The springs themselves are often very busy, resulting in long line ups and a sociable bathing experience, but can be a fun way to warm up in the cooler months.
In the winter a visit to nearby Sunshine Village resort for skiing and snowboarding is an excellent way to get up-close and personal with the hills if you are a fan of snow sports. If you prefer to stay out of the cold Canadian weather, take the enclosed Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, which provides panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Nearby, Lake Louise has another ski resort and it is worth a visit to both in the winter, as this area has various microclimates which can make for very different conditions at each. The Lake and surrounding trails are worth the easy 45 drive away from Banff. You can also make a stop at the beautiful, oft-photographed nearby glacier-fed Moraine lake.
Heading west from Banff, don’t miss the magnificent Columbia Icefield in Glacier National Park. Numerous tour outfitters in the area can also provide more involved experiences with the glacier. Spend a couple of nights in Jasper, which is more off the beaten tourist trail than Banff. With local café’s, bakeries, and wildlife abounding in this small mountain town, it’s a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Mt. Robson Provincial Park is yet another park in the area, and provides excellent views of the highest peak of the Rockies on the Canadian side of the border. This park begins at the west side of Jasper National Park, and is about an hour away from the town on the Yellowhead Highway.
Crossing the border into British Colombia, Yoho National Park is renowned for its hiking trails, particularly in the Lake O’Hara area. There are also a number of waterfalls in the park which are worth a visit. There are many ski resorts worthy of note on the B.C. side as well, including Revelstoke, Fernie, and Panorama, to name a few. The lowland areas of Kelowna and the Okanagen Valley, with its excellent vineyards and fresh produce have some excellent dining options.
Kelowna also has its own airport, so you can opt to fly out of there. The drive from Kelowna to Vancouver, if you’re continuing West, is an adventure in and of itself. Be prepared to encounter some breathtaking views, mountain goats, and some of the most harrowing twists and turns of any highway in North America. If you’re making the drive in the winter, be prepared with a safety kit and chains for your tires.