If you have friends or relatives who have already visited the Canadian Rockies, you probably know all about its jaw-dropping, raw natural beauty. Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, the Canadian Rockies are an other-worldly sight that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
To make sure you don’t miss out on any of its epic grandeur, I have compiled the ultimate Canadian Rockies itinerary. So let’s get started.
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Canadian Rockies itinerary
This post was written by Kyle Kroeger, a travel blogger for his site ViaTravelers.com. Via Travelers is a modern travel blog providing the best tips, hacks, and itineraries to ensure you have an amazing adventure.
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The ultimate guide to the Canadian Rockies
When to visit the Canadian Rockies Mountain Range
While the Canadian Rockies are mesmerizingly beautiful year-round, the best time to visit is during the late spring. Roughly between May and June, the weather is moderate, the hiking trails are open, and you’ll have time to travel around before the summer crowd arrives.
Please note that if you want to travel the Canadian Rockies during summer (July and August), you’ll have to conduct some planning and reservations in advance. Canadian Rockies chalets and other accommodation, car rentals, and tours get booked up quickly so make sure to plan ahead.
Fall is a wonderful time to admire the brightly colored trees. The Canadian Rockies weather in September can be very pleasant and because the summer crowds have left, you’ll have the trails mostly to yourself.
If you want to experience the Canadian Rockies covered in a white blanket, visiting Canada during winter is also a great idea. Start your trip in Calgary before you travel to Banff to enjoy winter sports like skiing and get the scenic locations to yourself. Additionally, you can get great deals on Canadian Rockies hotels, transportation, and tour bookings when visiting the Canadian Rockies in winter.
Getting around the Canadian Rockies
The best way to get around in the Canadian Rockies is to rent a car and drive it yourself. Getting a car rental is relatively easy and accessible in Canada, so you’ll have a hassle-free experience getting the right vehicle for your family.
Moreover, you can take add in as many stops as you like and adjust your itinerary for the Canadian Rockies as you go, depending on your experiences. Take my word for it, a Canadian Rockies road trip will be an unforgettable experience.
You could also rent a campervan, thereby arrange transportation and accommodation all at once. Note that you’ll need to stay at the official Canadian Rockies campgrounds in Banff and Jasper National Park. Wild camping is not allowed (and rightly so) to preserve the magnificent nature of the Canadian Rockies.
While I highly recommend traveling around by car, you can use public transport if you prefer. I’ll be honest though: it makes getting to most sites more complex. You can use the connecting buses between Lake Louise and Jasper. Once you get there, you’ll have to figure out how to get to the nearby attractions.
There are shuttle buses (or this Hop-On and Hop-Off bus) that take you to must-visit tourist spots, but you will only get limited time to spend at every location. Also, most of these buses run only during summertime, so make sure to make the necessary inquiries before planning your trip.
Where to stay in the Canadian Rockies
Another essential aspect to consider while planning a Canadian Rockies holiday is to find suitable accommodation at every location. Accommodation options range from luxury Canadian Rockies Mountain Resorts to modest B&Bs, budget hostels, and well-maintained camping grounds.
No matter which option you go for, you should plan your bookings based on your time of travel. For example, you will find it (very) challenging to get your preferred lodgings upon arrival if you’re traveling between July and September. For those months I strongly recommend booking ahead. Here are some recommendations for every budget.
Campgrounds in the Canadian Rockies
If you’re looking for some Canadian Rockies camping options, Parks Canada runs 14 different campsites in Banff National Park. Some are open year-round, while others are only open during the summer.
You can reserve campsites online, which is a must for the busy summer months.
There are RV campsites, serviced campsites with electricity and bathrooms, as well as backcountry campsites where you can get off the grid. Camping is a suitable activity for families as well as adventurous travelers, as you can choose a campground that meets your needs.
There are plenty of beautiful campgrounds found around Jasper as well, you can find more information here.
Canadian Rockies budget hotels
Canadian Rockies medium-range hotels
Canadian Rockies luxury hotels
Things to keep in mind for a Canadian Rockies trip
Here are some things you should consider while planning your trip.
- Be prepared for unpredictable weather conditions. Even if you’re traveling during summer, make sure to carry some warm and waterproof clothes as well as a reliable travel backpack so you can store hiking or camping accessories without being completely bogged down.
- Apart from accommodation bookings, you will also have to pre-book tickets to National Parks and other attractions. However, you can get an affordable Annual Discovery Pass to avoid paying individually at every location.
- Check your passport and visa validity to avoid any inconvenience at the airport. There are different requirements for every nationality, so conduct a double check if needed.
- Buy a robust travel insurance plan. Accidents and delays are expected at natural destinations, so make sure you’re prepared for any unpleasant occurrence.
Canadian Rockies 7 day itinerary
Now that you know everything about planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies, it is time for my ultimate Canadian Rockies Itinerary. Read along to find out how to spend a momentous week in the breathtaking location.
The Canadian Rockies map
I’ve created a map with all the spots included in this post so you can easily plan your trip.
Canadian Rockies tours and activities: my top 5 suggestions
- Banff Gondola: Maximize your views of Banff National Park with minimal exertion during this round-trip gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Click here to book.
- Glacier Skywalk: feel the adrenaline rush of stepping out onto the glass-bottomed, 1,312-foot long (400-meter) walkway, perched 1,000 feet (304 meters) above the floor of the Sunwapta Valley, offering unobstructed vistas of the snow-capped mountains and valleys beyond. Click here to book.
- Discover Grizzly Bears: head out for a gondola ride up to 7,700 feet for a mountain-top lunch at Canada’s highest restaurant, and then take a chairlift ride up to the world’s largest enclosed and protected grizzly bear habitat to see Boo the resident bear rescued as a cub. This 10-hour excursion through Banff and Yoho National Parks is perfect for animal- and nature-lovers. Click here to book.
- Banff Historical Walking Tour: this fun historical walking tour brings you to local landmarks and trails around Banff. Enjoy wonderful stories about the areas famous legends and natural history. Click here to book.
- Athabasca River Raft Trip: this small group float trip takes you down several miles on the Class II rapids. That means you can expect a few splashes along the way, but nothing too scary so it’s the perfect introduction to Canadian Rockies rafting. Click here to book.
Day 1 – Calgary To Banff
Considering you land in Calgary (which is a great destination on its own) from your home destination, the best way to start is by driving to Banff. The drive takes around 2 hours, so it will be afternoon when you reach if you start in the morning.
But before checking into your accommodation in Banff, there is a whole day of sightseeing ahead!
Taking a soul-cleansing walk (click here for more detailed information about this trail) across the blue river through the majestic canyon walls is a great way to start your Rockies vacation. The trail is well-paved, so you can take your kids along and fascinate them with the gorgeous waterfall at the end.
Similarly, if you’re a hiking enthusiast, you can continue hiking all the way to the green and blue waterholes to enjoy the scenic Canadian Rockies landscapes and expansive views of the surrounding mountains. Known as ‘The Ink Pots,’ these waterholes make up one of the most mesmerizing Canadian Rockies hiking spots.
Sulphur Mountain Gondola
Another spectacular place to visit from Banff Town is The Sulphur Mountain Gondola. Here, you can hop on a gondola to take you up to the top of Sulphur Mountain to enjoy the majestic views from above. Click here to buy your Banff Gondola tickets.
The best time to head over to Sulphur Mountain is later in the afternoon. This way, you can also enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants atop the mountain and eat alongside the exquisite views.
Day 2 – Visit The Majestic Lakes
On the next day, you can drive from Banff to some of the most spectacular lakes in the region. The must-visit locations you can cover within the day include.
Only an hour’s drive from Banff, Moraine Lake is beautiful enough to sweep you off your feet. The tranquil waters surrounded by the snow-capped Ten Peak mountains allow you to experience nature at its best. While there are many beautiful lakes in Canada, Lake Moraine might be the prettiest one…
For the best experience, make sure to arrive before sunrise at around 5:30 am. Then you can head over to Lake Agnes.
At a 20-minute drive away from Lake Moraine lies Lake Agnes. Along with the breathtaking view, you can enjoy breakfast at the historic teahouse in the vicinity. Built back in 1905, the teahouse still operates without electricity and is famous for its tea and scones.
Lake Louise is easily the most famous lake in Banff. Its milky blue waters are surrounded by great glaciers that make for Instagram-worthy vacation photographs.
Here, you can indulge in multiple activities like canoeing, fishing, and even swimming. Later, you can end your day by having lunch at Fairmont Chateau with its amazing views and delicious cuisine.
Day 3 – Experience The Icefields Parkway
If your family loves road trips, you’re in for a treat when visiting the Icefields Parkway. It is one of the most beautiful roads globally with mountains on both sides and plenty of spots to stop for fun.
You can also spot Canadian Rockies wildlife while driving through the parkway so remember to keep your eyes and cameras out. Read about some of the best stops along the Icefields Parkway below.
Although you’ve already visited your share of lakes the previous day, this place is a must-visit. The turquoise-colored waters are a feast for the eyes, though you’ll have to take a steep hike to reach the ideal viewpoint.
Later, you can cruise through the nearby glaciers using an ice explorer vehicle and experience the thrill of your lifetime.
The Athabasca Glacier is a magnificent location near Peyto Lake, where you can walk across ice without any special equipment. However, it is still a good idea to take Yaktrax or similar traction devices to stay safe.
As you walk, you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery around you and take memorable photos with your family.
Day 4 / 5 – Spend some time hiking
On your fourth day, you can take a bus or drive yourself from the Icefield to Jasper. After reaching the famous town within an hour, you can visit the attractions nearby and enjoy some natural escapades.
Tackle the Sulphur Skyline trail
This trail is around 9kms long if you count the return trip and involves some uphill climbing. However, it doesn’t mean it isn’t suitable for non-professional hikers.
While going up, you might find the trail quite tedious. But, the fantastic views of the forest and the occasional mountain views make the trip worth it. Nevertheless, the best idea is when you reach the summit, you’ll want to document every moment of your stay there.
Miette Hot Springs
After the exhausting hike, you’re probably done with exploration for the day. Luckily, the Sulphur Skyline Trail has the Miette Hot Springs, where you can relax your tired muscles.
After enjoying the springs, you’d probably call it a day.
Beaver Boardwalk in Hinton
You can camp in the nearby campgrounds for the night and set out for the one-hour drive to Beaver Boardwalk the next day. Here, you can watch beavers in their natural habitat and enjoy feeding them and taking photographs.
Remember, the best time to watch beavers is late in the afternoon. So, spend some time in nearby coffee shops and restaurants in Hinton before heading off for the adventure.
Day 6 / 7 – Explore Jasper and Banff
For the next two days of the week, you can enjoy tourist locations in and around the most popular Canadian Rockies towns.
If your family loves wildlife, the best option is to head over to Moose Lake. Located at a 45-minutes drive from Jasper, Moose Lake lets you experience moose in the wild set against beautiful natural views. You’ll have to take a 3km hiking track and spot the moose along the way.
Bald Hills Track
After that, you can head over to the Bald Hills Track for a scenic hike. The trail is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and provides a magnificent view of Maligne Lake from above.
Although the hike itself won’t be enjoyable, the views and activities at the summit are worth the climb.
If you’re looking for adventurous activities and relaxing views, Maligne Lake is the ideal spot to head over next. You can hire kayaks and canoes for low prices and enjoy your day cruising the waters.
Jasper National Park
The next day, you can visit the Maligne Canyon at the Jasper National Park. Watching the stream of water surge through the narrow waters is nothing short of a fairy tale scene.
The park has multiple viewpoints where you can stop for photographs and refreshments. The best part is, you can walk as much as you like and withdraw from the trail when you’re done for the day.
Mount Edith Cavell
This spectacular mountain requires a 14-kilometer drive along Cavell Road, a twisting and turning road with equally spectacular views. From the parking lot, the short Path of the Glacier trail leads to the north face of Mt. Edith Cavell and offers beautiful views of the mountain, Cavell Pond, Cavell Glacier, and the Angel Glacier.
These powerful waterfalls are one of the most famous falls in Jasper National Park. Not because of their height, but because of the huge amount of water pressed through the gorge, creating potholes as the softer limestone rock slowly gives away under the pressure of the thundering water.
The Iceline Trail
Next, it is time to drive back towards Banff to end the final day of your 7-day Canadian Rockies itinerary. Finally, you can hike alongside the glaciers at the Iceline Trail while viewing the Takakkaw Falls from above.
After that, you can head over to the Ha Ling Peak for the grueling thigh-burning hike. Or, you can enjoy the rest of your day relaxing at the famous Grizzling House Fondue. The place offers delicious savory fondues of cheese and sweet fondues of chocolate against a cozy mountainous ambiance to give you the ultimate Rockies experience.
Itinerary Canadian Rockies: in conclusion
A trip to the Canadian Rockies is an experience of a lifetime. So make sure you meticulously plan your Canadian Rockies vacation and pack all the necessary gear for travel.
Start planning your trip a few months in advance to avoid any unpleasant situations during your getaway.
Most importantly, a Canadian Rockies itinerary is best suited for people with an active lifestyle. So prepare yourself beforehand to enjoy the destination to its full potential.
Also read my other Canada posts for more travel inspiration!