Icefield parkway, Banff Tourism

The Ultimate Guide To Planning Your Canadian Rockies Road Trip

There is no telling that Canadian Rockies road trip is a dream holiday that should be on everyone’s bucket list. With alpine lakes and glacial melts, this place is a dream come true – the kind that you fantasize over where you are dropped into a frame with gorgeous landscapes, pristine pine forests and stunning blue lakes. It is no secret that the Icefields Parkway is one of the top 10 scenic roads in the world – a bucket list item ? Definitely!

While planning for your adventure road trip through the Canadian Rockies, planning your trip in advance is necessary to bring down the costs. So here is everything that we learnt during our travel to the Rockies – A complete guide to planning your Canadian Rockies road trip.

How To Reach Canadian Rockies

Lake Louise Banff National Park
Lake Louise in Banff National Park attracts herds of visitors once the snow begins to melt and the lake starts turning into its mesmerizing color of glacial blue.

Unless you live within a 5-7 hour drive from the Rockies, your best bet to reach the Rockies without losing much time in travelling to get here is to use the most reliable mode of transport – by Air. Your nearest airport would be Calgary, Alberta. This airport is well connected with the rest of Canada and you will be welcomed with warm “Bonjour” wishes as your arrive. Beyond this point, all travel will need to be done via road. Rent your cars at your favorite car rentals from here and proceed to exploring the Rockies.

 

GPS is optional while travelling the Rockies. Some areas may not even have network coverage. However, it is not hard to get about the place because the roads are well marked and there are minimal diversions. The main stretch of Icefield Parkway is one single long stretch of road with scenic stops all through its length connecting Banff to Jasper. Every scenic area is marked with instructions in detail that it should not ever be difficult for any tourist.

How To See Canadian Rockies in 6 Days – The Itinerary

Lake Peyton Banff National Park
Stop by the Bow Summit area to take the detour to Lake Peyton. With its stunning colors, this is one of the bluest lakes in the area.

Day 1 – Calgary to Banff : Reach Calgary via flight and take the rental car. The drive to Canmore is very scenic with the Rockies beginning to tower on both sides of your road after an hours drive from Calgary. We chose to stay at Paint box Lodge(more details in the sections below) in Canmore for the night.

Places of interest : Banff downtown, Lake Louise, Lake Moraine

Travel Tip : We would highly recommend getting a Canadian National Park Annual Pass which costs roughly about ~100 dollars. This should allow you to enter and exit all parks in the area freely without having to wait and pay at park entry tolls.

Day 2 – Banff to Golden : Since we had Icefield Parkway in the itinerary for the later part of the journey we decided to travel to Yoho National Park and stay in Golden. The drive is very scenic and takes roughly 6 hours. We stayed at Kicking horse Canyon B&B.

Major attractions – Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge over Kicking Horse River, Takkakkaw falls. Golden is also the most famous spot for white water rafting in Canada. Reserve your slots in advance because they fill fast!

Travel Tip : Finding time to have a quick snack or dinner at “Cilantro by the Lake” at Lake Emerald will be rewarded with stunning views of the lake, rolling hills and the mist – thank us later for the suggestion!

Lake Peyton Banff National Park
The multiple glacial lakes fed by the melting snow is a sight unique to the canadian rockies. The lakes vary from shades of blue to deep green from Banff to Jasper National Parks.

Day 3 : Golden to Jasper : The most awaited day – driving on Icefields Parkway. This is a stunning stretch of road with scenic stops every few kilometers apart. We had a foot high snow in the Bow Summit(in July, mind you!). We saw few of the major spots on the way and kept the rest for the return journey from Jasper. We reached Jasper by night fall and stayed at the Overlander Mountain Lodge.

Travel tip : High chances of spotting bears and wildlife in and around Jasper! Keep looking out and stay alert!

Places of interest : Sunwapta Falls, Tangle Creek, Bow Summit, Athabasca Glacier and Skywalk

Day 4 : Jasper National Park :  We reserved this day for going around Jasper and visiting the Spirit Island. Book a cruise to the Spirit Island because the money is worth the stunning ride and beautiful island. Jasper downtown is a quaint beautiful downtown with a railway station of its own. Walk around the souvenir shops and eat at the many small food places around.

Places of interest : Lake Talbot, Spirit Island, Lake Medicine, Lake Malign, Jasper Downtown and train station.

Day 5 :  Jasper to Kananaskis : We covered every spot that we missed on the Icefield Parkway during this drive back to Kananaskis. The goal was to arrive at Sundance Lodges where we had booked a small tipi tent for the stay overnight.

Places of interest : Lake Peyton, Bow and Waterfowl lakes, Athabasca falls

walk in the woods sunwapta falls icefield parkway
The beautiful pine forests in the Canadian Rockies is a treasure trove of biodiversity and wildlife. There are well marked hiking trails all along the scenic spots for safely exploring the beauty of ice field parkway.

Day 6 : Kananaskis and Banff Downtown :  The last day of our journey was spent exploring Kananskis and Banff downtown areas. We also opted to try our hands at white water rafting. There are multiple other adventure/leisure activities in and around Banff downtown like horse back riding or gondola rides. We have heard that the gondola rides are a great way of spotting Grizzly bears. We chose to skip it since we had our own grizzly bear visiting us behind our tent at Sundance (read all about it in the last section about our stay at the small tipi).

We drove back to Calgary at sundown and stayed there overnight and took the morning flight out to Toronto.

Banff National Park
The Banff National Park is all about discovering the beauty of nature and wildlife. It has something for everyone – tourists, leisure/luxury travellers and adventure seekers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Also Read15 Reasons Why A Road Trip To Canadian Rockies Should Be on your Bucket list

Weather in the Canadian Rockies

Talk about unpredictable weather conditions, and the Rockies has it for you. The weather forecast maps are general guidelines and may not be the actuals because the mountains have a way of conjuring up a weather of its own. You could see bright sunshine on you on the road and after a curve around the mountains be pounded by rain or hail. We spent 6 days in July in the Rockies and experienced rain, snow and sun all during that brief window – yes, that’s what makes Rockies special. It surprises you in mysterious ways.

 

Takkakkawa falls Yoho National Park
It is fairly easy to cover a bit of Yoho National Park of British Columbia when you are in Banff. A day worth of ride can take you to some amazing lakes and waterfalls further south of Alberta.

January – March : The coldest time on the mountains with average temperatures between -5C to -15.C and in colder winters that can go anywhere upto -30C. February and March may be warmer, but it is not until early April that temperatures will climb above freezing.

April – May : Winter is officially over and spring is creeping in. Snow exists in most parts of the rockies and Lake Louise does not clear of snow at least until early June. Watch out for some isolated snow storms as well. It is at this time the bears begin waking up from their months long hibernation from their dens high up on the mountains and start descending in search of food.

June – August : Possibly the best time to tour the Rockies. June can still not be optimal due to the occasional short spells of rains and snow still melting away. July and August is when the weather clears and sun shines on the glacial lakes and mountains. The days can be warm, but nights turn cooler. Hiking trails leading up to the mountains may still see isolated snow falls.

September – October : Whatever warmer temperatures happened in July and August is forgotten while the mountains welcome the crisp autumn mornings and temperatures. The temperatures progressively drop through October and the place can see snow as early as in September. Mind the bears during this time because they are busy stocking up fat reserves for the long winters.

November – December : Winter is officially here and larger dumps of snow happen kicking off the winter activities in the snow capital. Banff and Jasper areas are popular year round due to the winter adventures that are plenty available for those who can bare the temperatures. The bears have almost all gone into hibernation and await the end of winter for spring to kiss the mountains caps.

What to pack when you travel to the Canadian Rockies

hiking in Banff National Park
In the Canadian Rockies, it is best to carry sports/active wear and sturdy shoes to get around the places. We swear by Columbia and Under Armour gear when it comes to adventure travel. Also, always remember to carry warm weather clothing because the weather is unpredictable.

For the Winter : If you are visiting anywhere in the peak winter time, do not think twice – pack everything that can keep you warm. The key is dressing in layers to keep yourself warm. Carry bottles that can hold the warmth of your liquids and wear winter boots, socks and gloves that can keep you safe from frost bites. Stock your car with windshield de-icer to prepare for snow dumps because your car would most likely be parked outdoors.

Sunnier Days : In the summer or warmer months, you still need to pack at least one thick jacket that can keep you warm in case of sudden temperature drops. Like I mentioned, we had a thick dumping of snow when we visited the Rockies even in July. The mountain weather is unpredictable and be prepared for anything. During the sunnier days, choose to wear active wear with long sleeves because the high altitude sun can cause serious sunburns without us realizing that it has happened. Same goes with sunglasses and sunscreen – use them because most sightseeing requires at least a short walk.

Jasper Downtown Jasper National Park
The small train station in Jasper downtown is worth visiting when you stop by this quaint little town for a quick meal or shopping for souvenirs.

Rain Showers : Rain is unpredictable in the Rockies. The showers may be short but they can bring in substantial dip in temperatures. So if you have a rain proof winter jacket, that should have you covered. Also using a water proof hiking shoe throughout your journey to the Rockies should have you covered for most of the terrains and weather conditions.

Everything You Need To Know About Being In The Bear Country

Bear Country Banff National Park
The spring to summer time sees momma bears with their little cubs. While it is safe to watch them from the car, it is highly advised to not get too close or even leave the safety of the car because the mother bears can attack if they sense danger to the cubs

Rain or shine, summer or winter – there is one thing you always need to carry with you while you are in Bear Country – a bear spray. If someone asks me if I had one, no – I did not carry one – and that was a silly decision to make. In the 6 days we toured the Rockies, we saw 4 full grown black bears and 4 cubs all from the safety of the car. On the final day, a grizzly showed up 20 feet away from us next to the place where we camped at Sundance Lodges – and that, when we were sitting outside with absolutely nothing to defend us – the only thing I could have probably thrown at it was my mobile phone – luckily, the bear was in no mood for an attack and walked away – fortunately for us we lived to tell the tale.

The bear guidelines throughout this area is exceptionally strict. Even leaving food items out in the open can be considered a criminal offense. You can run into a bear practically anywhere while you are here. It is highly advised to not wander off the trails if you are alone. Even when you are in a group it is suggested to make loud noises or perhaps sing and whistle and create enough noise that reaches the bears who are normally people shy and would move away. Always remember – the worst happens when a bear is with a cub(mostly the spring summer months) or is surprised by your sudden appearance.

Beary Country Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies is home to a large population of the black bears and the grizzlies. It is highly recommended to carry bear spray when you are travelling around the back country.

June-August is the time bears are foraging for food with their cubs and are exceptionally protective of them and hence, most aggressive if they sense danger. It is mandatory to carry a bear spray with you when you are out anywhere near the woods – and if you are camping, have it somewhere readily accessible at all times. Bear spray cannot be transported via flight even in your checked in luggage because it is considered to be a weapon. You can buy one at any retail store throughout Alberta and BC.

Kananaskis Country Alberta
Kananaskis country has a high densite of bear population. You can opt for the gondola ride which has high possibilities of grizzly sighting or wait until you are lucky to spot one yourself!

Here is one excellent article on everything you need to know about bear safety – a must read for anyone travelling to this area : Bear Safety Guidelines

Places To Visit and Things To Do in the Canadian Rockies

Spirit Island, Jasper National Park
A ride on the boat to the Spirit Island on a clear day promises stunning emerald waters and views of mountains reflecting off the lake.

While every turn in Canadian Rockies area is a place worthy of visiting, we decided to help you shortlist the top places that should be a part of your itinerary. In the 6 days that we were in the Rockies, we covered the Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Park areas. The attractions listed below are what we consider the best out of the ones we covered. We have already compiled a detailed blog on these destinations and you can find it here.

1. Icefield Parkway
2. Lake Maligne
3. Spirit island
4. Lake Louise and Lake Moraine
5. Lake Peyton and Bow Summit
6. Bow and waterfowl lakes
7. Athabasca Glacier and glacier skywalk
8. Sunwapta falls
9. Tannery Creek
10. Athabasca falls
11. Lake Talbot
12. Banff downtown
13. Jasper downtown
14. Lake Emerald and Kicking horse natural river bridge
15. Takkakaw waterfalls

Kicking Horse River Natural Bridge Yoho National Park
The weather in the rockies can be quite unpredictable. It can go from raining on one side of the mountains to bright sunlight on the other or snow in the higher altitudes.

Also Read15 Reasons Why A Road Trip To Canadian Rockies Should Be on your Bucket list

Canadian Rockies is a year round destination – in summer for the hikes and roads and when the snow layers for the winter activities. From rafting, trekking, hiking, gondola rides to horse riding there are a multitude of activities that the Rockies can offer. Head over to the visiting centers or contact your accommodation to know what best suits your needs as a tourist or adventure seeker.

 

Where To Stay in the Canadian Rockies

The peak season in the Rockies is undoubtedly the June – August time. Unless you have planned ahead, it is likely that you will be left with limited choices and end up paying a lot more for the stay than you have intended. Sometimes to get the best lodges, especially the ones in the downtown of Banff, you may need to reserve as early as 4-6 months ahead.

Rockies is not what we call a budget destination. The bulk of your cost will come from the accommodations and payments to various activities that you intend to do while you are here. Meanwhile, here are our favorite accommodations from our stay.

Paint Box Lodge, Canmore

This artistic lodge in Canmore was the most quaint place we stayed at. The entire lodge is filled with artworks up for sale. The bedrooms and bathrooms and artistically done in line with the theme of the place. The breakfast is made in house and offers a great collection of homemade breads, muffins and goodies. Canmore is at a drivable distance from Banff and can be used as a base for sightseeing around here.

Kicking Horse Canyon B&B, Golden

Golden is best known for the river rafting on the Kicking Horse Canyon river which is considered to be the best rafting experience in Canada. However, you need to make reservations in advance during the season to get your slots. The B&B we stayed at was run by a young couple with their adorable baby boy Siam. You will be welcomed with homemade goodies while Maestro, the golden retriever and the playful cat makes your stay memorable.

Overlander Mountain Lodge, Hinton

Icefield parkway takes more than one single day to cover. So we chose to drive from Banff to Jasper via this stretch and camp here for 2 days exploring the places around here. The Overlander Mountain Lodge is a classy vintage resort with an open restaurant that faces the Rockies. Jasper has more wildlife and bear sighting, so be advised to exercise caution while straying around here.

Sundance Lodges, Kananaskis

Sundance Lodge Kananaskis County
Camping in the small tipis in and around the rockies is quite an experience. Kananaskis also offers river rafting opportunities for the thrill seekers.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that we rewired our entire accommodation plan inorder to get one single days tented stay here for the only Thursday a tent was available. While we hooted happily at getting the small tipi for our camp, little did we know that this would turn out to be the most exciting place of our entire trip with the Grizzly showing up behind this very tent. At ~$70/night this was also the cheapest accommodation we had during the week long adventure. Not a bad return on investment, I say.

The place offers common washrooms and rest area which is near the reception. Campsites are well separated from each other and you would barely see your neighboring campsite from your own. There is a strict “No Noise” rule post 10:00 PM. There are hiking trails around the place but caution is advised against going wandering alone anywhere. Definitely carry a bear spray or bell while venturing around because the pine forests are dense. Food needs to be bought outside or cooked/grilled, following which the campsites will have to be cleaned thoroughly to ensure there are no bear attractants left around. All products with scent have to be locked in the car which can be parked in front of your tent. It is best said that you can only carry water bottles and bear spray while sleeping inside (I carried some battery powered fairy lights too!) They provide a lantern and heater for use inside – ensure that these work before the reception staff retire for the night – i.e around 8PM.

 

Wyndham Airport Hotel, Calgary

Highly recommended place if you need to stay while travelling in and out of Calgary. Great hospitality and modern building, brand new facilities. A total value for the money. Very close to airport and hassle free check in and check out. We totally loved this place.

Epilogue

Icefield parkway, Banff Tourism

The Rockies have something to offer you no matter which time of the year you visit. The Bear Country, true to its name offered us an opportunity to see almost every form of wildlife that lives in its dense jungles and mountain peaks. In 6 days, we saw 8 black bears big and small, a wolf, mountain goats, caribou, the wild horn sheep and most important of all a very rare grizzly bear sighting. The place is a mecca for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike. This is a slice of nature that has thankfully been conserved over decades – unspoiled and preserved for everyone who comes seeking its treasures. A place that we would recommend for every road trip and wildlife enthusiast to have visited once in their lifetime!

Also Read15 Reasons Why A Road Trip To Canadian Rockies Should Be on your Bucket list

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