By Becky Lomax
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- Multiple Routes: Choose a portion of the road trip that covers the Rockies in the US and Canada, or embark on the ultimate three-week route between Calgary and Denver, including Jasper, Banff, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Zion
- Unbeatable outdoor adventures along the way: Hike through alpine wildflowers, beneath waterfalls, and past snowy peaks and glaciers. Spot wild elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, marvel at Yoho’s thundering Takkakaw Falls, or paddle over a crystal-clear lake. Soak up views of the Tetons, drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, or go whitewater rafting. Soak in a natural hot spring, hike to your campsite, and spot the Milky Way before you drift to sleep under the stars
- Eat, sleep, stop and explore with lists of the best views, restaurants, unique activities, and more: Ride the International over the Alberta-Montana border or stay overnight in the elegant Chateau Lake Louise. Catch the annual Stampede in Calgary, Sundance in Salt Lake City, or the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Chow down on poutine, Alberta beef, and wild huckleberries, or explore the international food scene in Denver
- Covers 9 national parks: Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain National Park
- Maps and driving tools: Easy-to-use maps keep you oriented on and off the highway, along with site-to-site mileage, driving times, detailed directions, and full-color photos throughout
- Expert advice from former national park guide and author of Moon USA National Parks Becky Lomax
- Helpful resources on COVID-19 and road-tripping the U.S. and Canadian Rockies
- Planning your trip: Find when and where to get gas, how to avoid traffic, tips for driving in different road and weather conditions, safety tips, and suggestions for LBGTQ+ travelers, seniors, and road trippers with kids
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DISCOVER the Rockies
14 TOP EXPERIENCES
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Conscientious Travel Tips
HIT THE ROAD
Hiking and Biking the Continental Divide
The Rocky Mountains dominate this continent. Shifting tectonic plates collided here, shoving the landscape up, up, and up again, creating huge, rugged mountains that sweep from high summits down into deep gorges. Glaciers scoured the peaks into fantastical spines and spires cut by long valleys, scooped-out cirques, and lake-strewn basins.
This is the Continental Divide, the backbone of North America. Here year-round snow and glaciers feed cloudy turquoise lakes, their waters flowing into clear blue rivers that make their way to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay. But our changing climate is rapidly altering the Rockies. Many glaciers from just a century ago have already melted into oblivion. Traveling to the Rockies now is to see these icy wonders before they are gone.
This environment harbors diverse wildlife. Herds of bison graze in meadows, bighorn sheep butt heads, bull elk bugle, moose plod through lakes, and mountain goats trot on cliffs. Meanwhile, the chirps of pikas resound through high-elevation rockfalls and short-tailed weasels skitter after mice. This is also the home of top-of-the-food-chain predators: grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, and bald eagles.
A drive through the Rockies takes you across the continent, crosses international borders, and brings nine national parks in reach. As your car snakes through valleys, craggy mountains tower overhead. Some of the best moments are on high-elevation passes, when you find yourself surrounded by a sea of summits in all directions.
The Rocky Mountains are indeed a place that kindles awe. It’s time to hit the road to see them.
14 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Drive the Icefields Parkway: This scenic road runs through Banff and Jasper National Parks, boasting some of the largest glaciers and icefields remaining in the Rocky Mountains.
2 Set your watch by Old Faithful: The famous geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts on a predictable schedule.
3 Reach new heights on Trail Ridge Road: Rocky Mountain National Park is bisected by this scenic road that climbs to over 12,000 feet in elevation.
4 Paddle glacier-fed lakes: Hop in a kayak to absorb the turquoise waters of Moraine Lake (pictured;) in Banff and Maligne Lake in Jasper.
5 Hike to Grinnell Glacier: Walk up to the edge of a glacier—while you still can—in Glacier National Park.
6 Gape at Takakkaw Falls: The second highest waterfall in Canada spills from the upper elevations of Yoho National Park.
7 Watch wildlife: Feast your eyes on bison, bears, and wolves in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley and spot moose, elk, and bighorn sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park.
8 Tour Going-to-the-Sun Road: This engineering marvel crosses stunning Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. Drive it yourself or hop on a tour bus.
9 Spend the night at a grand park lodge: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (pictured;) in Banff has a classic storybook appeal. In Glacier, enjoy a historic Swiss chalet vibe at the Many Glacier Hotel.
10 Cruise across an international border: Ride a tour boat over the U.S.-Canada border in Waterton Lakes National Park.
11 Motor down Teton Park Road: There’s no better way to see the Teton Mountains than on this scenic drive.
12 Go backpacking: Head into the backcountry for a few days by hiking Kootenay’s Rockwall or the Teton Crest Trail (pictured;) in Grand Teton National Park.
13 Go stargazing: Watch the Milky Way spread out across the night sky from Jasper or Glacier.
14 Marvel at Grand Prismatic Spring: Absorb the radiance of the largest and most colorful hot spring in Yellowstone.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Where to Go
Tucked along the Bow River, Calgary is western Canada’s interior hub of and the third largest city in the country. This one-time cowboy town turned oil kingdom hosts the Calgary Stampede, one of the largest rodeos and outdoor shows on the continent.
Jasper National Park
From glaciers spilling off the Columbia Icefield to Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park is filled with raw beauty. Here you can hike to high mountain passes or enjoy easy adventures via trams and snow coaches. Then relax with a soak in Miette Hot Springs.
Banff National Park
The crown of the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is filled with icy summits, wildflower meadows, and mesmerizing turquoise lakes. Historic hotels, ski resorts, and backcountry lodges offer base camps for once-in-a-lifetime escapades.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is tiny compared to the neighboring Canadian parks, but it holds dramatic water features: Emerald Lake sparkles a vivid blue-green, remote Lake O’Hara is tucked into a sculpted basin, and immense Takakkaw Falls tumble 1,250 feet (373 m).
Kootenay National Park
Often ignored in favor of the larger parks, Kootenay is a place to escape the crowds. Hiking trails climb to stunning glaciers that tumble from alpine bowls. Cap any day with the soothing waters of Radium Hot Springs.
Waterton Lakes National Park
The tiniest park in the Canadian Rockies, Waterton Lakes is where glacier-carved peaks meet the prairie. It shares an international boundary with Glacier National Park; together they form the world’s first International Peace Park.
Glacier National Park
Alpine meadows, tiny melting glaciers, and turquoise lakes flank the serrated peaks of Glacier National Park, a main draw for hikers and backpackers. The engineering marvel that is Going-to-the-Sun Road climbs through cliffs to reach the Continental Divide.
Flathead Valley to Bozeman
Flathead Valley serves as the gateway to Glacier. To the southwest, Bozeman and Big Sky provide the gateways to Yellowstone. These year-round recreation hubs provide bases for hiking, skiing, bicycling, and paddling.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is known for outstanding wildlife watching. Bighorn sheep, bison, wolves, bears, and eagles number among its many residents. But because it’s located on North America’s largest supervolcano, Yellowstone’s biggest attractions are geysers, mud pots, and hot springs.
Grand Teton National Park
The peaks of Grand Teton National Park rise like jagged teeth, dominating the landscape around Jackson Hole. They can be admired from lake hikes, scenic drives, and boat tours.
Salt Lake City and Central Utah
Squeezed between Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City derives much of its identity from its Mormon heritage. But the sprawling metropolis has evolved into an outdoor center with year-round recreation: hiking, boating, mountain biking, and world-class skiing.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Sporting some of the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains, this national park offers prime scenic drives, scads of hiking trails, and the ambitious climb of towering Longs Peak. In fall, bull elk bugle as they fight for dominance against a backdrop of autumnal color.
Sprawling Denver is a vibrant city in the foothills of the Rockies. Lively downtown contains pedestrian zones perfect for shopping, dining, theater-going, and museum-hopping. Nearby Boulder is a funky, recreation-loving city nestled below the Flatirons.
When to Go
Summer (early June-mid-Sept.) is high season in the Rockies, with the warmest weather, highest prices, and biggest crowds. That’s when the most hiking trails and visitor services are accessible, tours run most frequently, and seasonal roads and hotels are open. Daytime temps range 65-85°F (18-29°C) and nights range 35-50°F (2-10°C).
In spring (Apr.-early June), lower-elevation trails are accessible, though snow lingers in the high country through June. Seasonal scenic roads often open in late May, but some take longer for snow removal, even into July. Temperatures during the day run 30-65°F (0-18°C), while nights are much cooler, ranging -4°F to 23°F (-20°C to 5°C) nights.
In fall (mid-Sept.-early Nov.), the weather often yo-yos between warm days and wintry storms. High mountain elevations can see snow, which may turn trails and roads icy, sometimes requiring temporary closures. Daytime and nighttime temperatures run about the same as they do in spring.
Winter (early Nov.-Mar.) sees fewer crowds and lower prices—except for ski resort areas, which are usually open early November-April. Visitor services mostly close down, except for year-round park regions and towns. Seasonal roads are closed; plowing is only maintained on major roadways. Closed roads often permit cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Temperatures range 0-28°F (-18°C to -2°C) during the day. Nightly temperatures run -5°F to 10°F (-21°C to -12°C).
Before You Go
The popularity of the Canadian and U.S. national parks has skyrocketed in recent years, resulting in increased visitation. Reservations are mandatory for inside-park lodging in the Rockies. Lodging outside the national parks also fills up quickly in summer. While it’s possible find a room at the last minute due to cancellations, it’s better to book one year ahead to ensure you get your top choice.
CANADIAN NATIONAL PARKS
Inside the Canadian national parks, hotels, cabins, and lodges are run by independent operators. For reservations, contact the individual lodging. Most accept reservations a year in advance.
Camping reservations (877/737-3783, 519/826-5391 from outside North America, https://reservation.pc.gc.ca) inside the park open in early January for the year ahead. Some campsites are first come, first served and don’t accept reservations.
U.S. NATIONAL PARKS
Many of the U.S. parks have designated concessionaires that operate the in-park lodges. Contact these operators 12-13 months in advance for reservations:
• Glacier: Xanterra (855/733-4522, 303/265-7010 outside U.S., www.glaciernationalparklodges.com) or Pursuit Collection (844/868-7474, www.glacierparkcollection.com)
• Yellowstone: Xanterra (307/344-7311, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com)
• Grand Teton: Grand Teton Lodging Company (307/543-3100, www.gtlc.com) or Signal Mountain Lodge (307/543-2831, www.signalmountainlodge.com)
For camping in Glacier, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and four of Yellowstone’s campgrounds, make reservations (877/444-6777, www.recreation.gov) six months in advance. Book campsites for Yellowstone’s five other campgrounds 12-13 months in advance through Xanterra (307/344-7311, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com).
You’ll need advance reservations to enter Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road and timed entry reservations for Rocky Mountain National Park. Check the parks’ websites for specific ticketing policies several months before your trip.
Fees and Passes
Daily entry fees in Canadian national parks cost C$10 for adults, C$9 for seniors, or C$20 per family or vehicle. Kids 17 and younger are free. Annual Discovery Passes to all of the parks and historic sites in the Canadian Rockies cost C$70 for adults, C$60 for seniors, or C$140 per family or vehicle. Entry is free on Canada Day (July 1).
Entry fees to U.S. national parks in the Rocky Mountains cost $35 per vehicle for seven days (motorcycles $30, individuals $20). Rocky Mountain National Park also sells a one-day pass for $25 per vehicle. Winter fees are lower at Glacier ($25 per vehicle, $20 motorcycle, $15 individual) and Grand Teton ($15 per vehicle, motorcycle, or individual).
Annual passes for Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, or Rocky Mountain cost $70. Annual America the Beautiful Passes, which give admittance to all U.S. national parks, cost $80. (The pass is free for U.S. military personnel, veterans, gold star families, and U.S. fourth graders.) For U.S. citizens and permanent residents over 62, a lifetime pass costs $80. The annual Senior Pass is $20 per year. U.S. citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities can also get a free lifetime pass.
The U.S. national parks have several fee-free days: January 21 (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday); the first day of National Park Week in April; August 25 (National Park Service’s birthday); September 28 (Public Lands Day); and November 11 (Veterans Day).
Passports and Visas
International travelers entering Canada must have passports. The one exception is travelers from the United States and Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative countries, who may use passport cards, enhanced driver’s licenses, or NEXUS cards instead. Visas are not required for visitors from about 50 countries, including the United States. All others must apply for visas. Find the list of visa-exempt countries and visa requirements at www.cic.gc.ca.
ENTERING THE UNITED STATES
International travelers entering the United States must have passports. One exception applies to travelers from Canada and countries in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, who may use a passport card, enhanced driver’s license, or NEXUS card instead. Visas may also be required for some countries; check https://travel.state.gov for countries with visa waivers and visa applications.
Weather and Safety
Because snowfall is possible any time of year in the Rocky Mountains, especially over high mountain passes, roads might be unexpectedly icy or wet. Luckily, ice often melts within a day or two. During hail and lightning storms, which are common in summer, pull over, turn your hazard lights on, and wait it out. Most mountain squalls move on in 20 minutes or so.
Winter driving requires snow tires or all-weather tires. Carry chains for traveling over high-elevation passes if you don’t have studded snow tires. Many back roads, dirt and gravel roads, and several scenic drives close in winter. These include Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier, Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain, most of Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone, and a portion of Teton Park Road in Grand Teton.
Cell Service and Internet Access
In the large cities of Calgary, Salt Lake City, and Denver, cell and internet service are ubiquitous. But in the other parts of the Rocky Mountains, cell service is spotty to nonexistent. Do not depend on cell service on mountain roads, hiking trails, and in the backcountry. You may need to handle emergencies on your own. If necessary, flag down a passing car to get help or, if possible, get to the nearest lodge to make a phone call.
Inside the national parks, you’ll find wireless internet in most lodges but only in a handful of visitors centers. Internet speeds are often slow and clogged with users. Plan to download park apps, maps, and media before you leave home.
Maps and GPS
Road maps are available for members through the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA, www.caa.ca) and American Automobile Association (AAA, www.aaa.com). They are also available through federal, provincial, and state tourism bureaus of British Columbia (www.helloBC.com), Alberta (www.travelalberta.com), Montana (www.visitmt.com), Wyoming (www.travelwyoming.com), Utah (www.visitutah.com), and Colorado (www.colorado.com), plus Destination Canada (www.canada.travel [URL inactive]). National parks also have road maps on their websites. U.S. national parks hand out maps at entrance stations. For hiking, plan on purchasing more detailed topographical maps from the U.S. Geological Survey (https://store.usgs.gov). For the Canadian national parks, Gem Trek Maps (www.gemtrek.com) publishes driving and hiking maps.
Don’t rely solely on GPS to reach destinations. Seasonal road closures, rugged dirt roads, and weather can affect routes, but not all GPS devices will have the most current data. Many drivers have gotten stranded on back roads following GPS instructions. Always use a road map in addition to GPS. Be sure to check for road status updates from national park websites before embarking on your adventure.
HIT THE ROAD
Best of the Rockies in 21 Days
This three-week adventure starts in Calgary and continues south to Denver, packing in the best of the Rocky Mountains along the way. The route takes in big scenery filled with turquoise lakes, plunging waterfalls, rushing rivers, frozen icefields, and rugged pinnacles across nine national parks. Wildlife sightings punctuate the thrills in between idyllic mountain towns where outdoor recreation is a way of life. This is a once-in-a-lifetime road trip that covers over 2,500 miles (4,000 km). If you prefer to drive south to north, you can start in Denver and follow this itinerary in reverse.
CALGARY TO JASPER
250 miles/400 km; 5 hours
Fly into the Calgary airport. From the city, it’s only about an hour’s drive to reach the mountains. Bypassing Banff and Lake Louise for a later day, head north on the stunning Icefields Parkway. At Bow Summit, walk to Peyto Lake Overlook. Tour Athabasca Falls before reaching the Jasper Townsite. Check into Jasper Park Lodge for two nights.
JASPER NATIONAL PARK
62 miles/100 km; 2 hours
Drive to Maligne Lake for a boat tour followed by lunch in the lodge. After returning to the Jasper Townsite, take in the scenery from the Jasper Sky Tram and hike to the summit of Whistlers Summit.
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- On Sale
- Apr 19, 2022
- Page Count
- 650 pages
- Moon Travel