Canadian Rockies Road Trip
Arrive in Banff for a two-night stay. Explore the town and start your mountain journey with an easy walk—maybe along the Bow River or to Vermilion Lakes, where birdlife such as Canada geese is prevalent.
Expand your exploration of the town to include Lake Minnewanka and the Bow Valley Parkway, which passes through a corridor filled with wildlife. Depending on your interests, take an afternoon gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain or book a tee time at the hallowed Banff Springs Golf Course.
If you leave Kananaskis Village early, you should arrive in Waterton Lakes National Park (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/waterton/index.aspx) for a late lunch, even with a one-hour stop at Highwood Pass. Choose between a hike to Bertha Lake, a strenuous outing to a scenic alpine body of water, or afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Take a border-crossing tour boat to Goat Haunt, Montana, which is at the far south end of Upper Waterton Lake and surrounded in steep mountains that drop precipitously into the water. Keen hikers will want to give the boat trip a miss and instead visit Crypt Lake, which is reached along a strenuous trail that includes a rope ladder and natural tunnel. Spend another night in Waterton. You may see deer, elk, and bears on an evening drive to Cameron Lake.
This is the longest day on the road, around six hours to the recreational haven of Invermere, where the best beach is within walking distance of downtown. The trip can be broken up with a chairlift ride at Fernie Alpine Resort and a detour to Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park, where hot springs have been left in their natural state.
It’s a two-hour drive between Radium Hot Springs and Golden, but there’s no hurry as the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort gondola doesn’t begin running until 11 a.m. Arrive at your Yoho National Park accommodation in the early afternoon and take an easy hike around Emerald Lake, where the water is an impossibly rich turquoise color.
If you’ve done your planning thoroughly, you’ll be booked on the shuttle bus to Lake O’Hara in the morning. This is the premier hiking region in all of the Canadian Rockies, and it’s possible to hit the highlights (Lake Oesa, Opabin Plateau, and Lake McArthur) in a single day. Spend the night along the Bow Valley Parkway.
Rise early for the short drive to Moraine Lake; climb onto the rock pile beyond the parking lot for the most magnificent lake-and-mountain view you could possibly imagine. The rest of the day is yours to spend in the village of Lake Louise.
The earlier you hit the road for Jasper, the better your chances of spotting wildlife along the Icefields Parkway. Stop at Bow Lake and Peyto Lake to take a selection of classic Canadian Rockies photographs, and then allow three hours at the Columbia Icefield to take in the displays and ride a bus out onto the glacier.
Hike through steep-sided Maligne Canyon and drive out to Maligne Lake for more magical mountain views. Make the Mt. Edith Cavell Road your main detour on the leisurely southbound journey back through Banff National Park to Canmore.
Depart Canmore for Calgary and your flight home.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition