The Canadian Rockies are, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. If you are looking for an unforgettable summer road trip in North America with endless options for outdoor adventures, we highly recommend a Canadian Rockies vacation around the national parks!
Stunning mountain landscapes, massive glaciers, and turquoise lakes draw millions of visitors every year. The vast mountain range spans the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia and contains five national parks. Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay are adjacent to one another; however, Waterton Lakes National Park lies further south, bordering Montana’s Glacier National Park. Summer in the Canadian Rockies brings extended daylight hours, warm days, wildflowers and ample opportunities to spot wildlife. There is so much to see and do, an adventurous family could easily spend a couple of weeks on their Canadian Rockies itinerary visiting all the parks. Overwhelmed by the options? We’ve put together some suggestions for you when visiting the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks.
Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Banff National Park is the oldest and most visited national park in Canada. Banff, a bustling resort town, is part of Banff National Park and a popular spot when on a Canadian Rockies vacation. While visiting or staying in the town of Banff, be sure to explore the nearby Lake Minnewanka Loop. This stunning drive loops past Lake Minnewanka (the largest lake in Banff National Park), Two Jack Lake, and Johnson Lake.
When traveling between Banff and Lake Louise drive the scenic Bow Valley Parkway and stop at Johnston Canyon. This family-friendly hike is best early in the morning or late in the day due to its popularity. The trail winds through a narrow canyon and offers views of beautiful Johnston Creek and two waterfalls.
Banff National Park has over 1,000 miles of trails and some of the best are located in the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake areas. Lake Louise, a striking turquoise lake framed by an awe-inspiring mountainous backdrop, is an icon of the Canadian Rockies and one of the most photographed lakes in the world. Take a stroll on the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail or try one of the more challenging hikes to Lake Agnes or Plain of Six Glaciers to visit a mountain tea house. If hiking isn’t your thing, rent a red canoe and paddle across Lake Louise’s turquoise waters.
Nearby Moraine Lake sits in the stunning Valley of Ten Peaks and is surrounded by snowcapped mountains and pine forests. Parking is exceptionally hard to come by here; however, if you are an early riser or happen to get lucky, do not miss a stop at Moraine Lake!
The Icefields Parkway is known as one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the world and it takes you through some Canadian Rocky Mountain parks. The 144-mile drive winds its way from Banff National Park to Jasper National Park and the scenery will leave you speechless. Take your time driving the parkway, make sure to stop to explore roadside attractions and take plenty of photos! Popular stops along the way include Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Athabasca Glacier, and the Columbia Icefield, Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls.
JASPER NATIONAL PARK
Although located just hours north of popular Banff National Park, only a little over half of those visitors also travel to Jasper National Park. However, that is exactly why you need to visit on your Canadian Rockies vacation! Jasper, both the townsite and the national park, is far less crowded and has a more relaxed feel. It is the largest of the national parks in the Canadian Rockies and has a rugged, unspoiled wilderness unlike any of the other parks.
While visiting Jasper, take a scenic drive through Maligne Valley, explore Maligne Canyon and consider a scenic cruise on Maligne Lake–home to one of the most famous and photographed locations in Jasper, Spirit Island. Those up for a challenge can hike the Sulphur Skyline Trail and then take a relaxing soak afterward in the Miette Hot Springs. Popular options closer to Jasper townsite include visiting Pyramid Island, picnicking at Lake Annette, hiking the Old Fort Point Loop or taking the Jasper SkyTram up Whistlers Mountain. The Edith Cavell day-use area was closed during our visit, but it anticipated to reopen mid-June 2019. For experienced hikers, we hear the Cavell Meadows Trail is not to be missed!
YOHO NATIONAL PARK
Despite its close proximity to Banff National Park, Yoho National Park sees far fewer visitors. However, the highway running through Yoho is just north of Lake Louise; and, it is worth a day trip to see this beautiful park!
Yoho is one of Canada’s smaller parks, but there is still plenty to see and do. Yoho is home to breathtaking waterfalls including Takakkaw Falls (the second tallest in Canada) and Wapta Falls (the largest falls in Yoho by volume). Our favorite location in the park was Emerald Lake. Pack a picnic lunch, take a relaxing stroll around the lake or rent a canoe to glide across the stunning emerald green waters. If you can time it right, watching trains pass through the Spiral Tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass is a sight to see!
KOOTENAY NATIONAL PARK
Kootenay National Park is bordered by Banff National Park to the east and Yoho National Park to the north. This long, narrow park isn’t the biggest national park in the Canadian Rockies, but its diverse landscapes make this park unique. Kootenay offers glacier-capped peaks, hot springs, semi-arid grasslands, and stunning aqua-blue rivers!
Highway 93 cuts through the center of the park, and pretty much everything you would want to see in a day can be accessed from that main road. Despite past wildfires, the Vermillion Pass area shows the beauty of regeneration and offers stunning geologic wonders that include the Paint Pots and Marble Canyon. The hike to Stanley Glacier is regarded as one of the best in the park! Further south, enjoy a picnic along the Kootenay River or a quiet hike to Dog Lake. Be sure to stop at Kootenay Valley Viewpoint which offers panoramic views of the Kootenay River Valley and the Mitchell and Vermillion mountain ranges. The southern end of the park closest to Radium Hot Springs has a variety of offerings including the scenic Olive Lake, world-famous mineral pools and the towering cliffs of Sinclair Canyon.
WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK
While the previous four national parks are situated adjacent to one another, Waterton Lakes National Park is located in the southern tip of Alberta. Connected with Glacier National Park in the United States, Waterton Lakes draws over 500,000 visitors each year.
While the Kenow Wildfire of 2017 burned over 47,000 acres of land in Waterton Lakes National Park, it still is a beautiful place to visit. The townsite of Waterton and the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel were unharmed. Restoration of both manmade and natural lands is in progress and while it will take many years to bring the park back to the state that it was in prior to the fire, there is plenty to see and do.
The Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes are the most popular places to spend the day. In addition to relaxing on the beach, there are fantastic hikes, including Bertha Falls and Bertha Lake and the easy Prince of Wales and Townsite Loops. For those wanting to take a trip to Glacier National Park, the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company can take you on a tour down to the Goat Haunt area. Or, if you are up for the challenge, the 16-mile hike along the Upper Waterton Lakeshore goes all the way to Goat Haunt!
Canadian National Parks Map
Check out this Canadian National Parks map if you’re planning a Canadian Rockies vacation. The Canadian Rocky Mountain parks offer some gorgeous scenery and plenty of outdoor fun for all. A Canadian Rockies itinerary would be helpful in seeing all 5 parks.
Visiting national parks are a great way to spend time as a couple or with your family. Our family has visited Acadia National Park, Smoky Mountains National Park, Glacier National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and have done a Grand Teton to Yellowstone road trip. Check out some other great ideas for the best national park vacations for families.
Thank you again to Amy from Just Go Travel Studios for writing about the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks and what to do on a Canadian Rockies vacation. If you’re headed to Canada, be sure to check out some of the top Canadian landmarks. If you enjoyed this post, Pin for later!
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