The Canadian Rockies are one of the world’s most sought-after travel destinations. Whether you like mountain top hikes, turquoise alpine lakes, breathtaking glacier views, watching wildlife or road-tripping, the Rockies have it all.

Spreading across British Columbia and Alberta, this adventure playground will leave you in awe. After living near the Rockies for more than a decade, I’m still amazed by the views and activities they offer. 

This travel guide covers the best things to do in the Canadian Rockies in the most popular national parks – Banff, Yoho and Jasper. Of course, there are also less crowded places than parks, so I’m sharing a few of my local secrets, including fun things to do in Canmore and Kananaskis Country.

While summer is the busiest and warmest season, visiting in June or September might be better if you do not like crowds. If you’re planning your first visit to the Rockies, I recommend at least a week, but ideally, ten days, so you can experience the best activities spread out without feeling rushed.

Best things to do in the Canadian Rockies

Grassi Lakes Hike, Canmore

Grassi Lakes Hike, Canmore

Visit the mountain town of Canmore

Canmore is in the Bow Valley of the Canadian Rockies, neighbouring the famous mountain town of Banff. It has everything you might be looking for minus the infamous Banff’s crowds – mountain views, lakes, hikes, and more.

There are many reasons why visitors prefer Canmore over Banff (which is only 25 km away). Crowds are usually the biggest deterrent, but Canmore is just outside the national park, so you don’t have to pay the entrance fee, the accommodation is cheaper, and the charming main street sells homemade products instead of souvenirs made in China. 

There are a lot of activities in Canmore, but these are my top recommendations:

  • Hiking to Grassi Lakes – it’s the most popular hike in the area. After an easy uphill walk through a forest, you arrive at a turquoise and emerald lake where you can chill out and enjoy the view of Canmore from above. The 4 km round trip hike is suitable for all levels.
  • Stand-up paddleboarding at Rundle Forebay Reservoir is locals’ favourite for SUP and kayaking because the reservoir thaws much sooner than alpine lakes and provides stunning views of the mountain peaks.
  • Mountain biking at Canmore Nordic Centre – with over 100km of trails, there’s something for everyone. You can speed on flowy single tracks through the forest, go easy on wide dirt roads, or rest at the day lodge. In winter, trails are used for fat biking or cross-country skiing. 
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Hike to the alpine lakes of Kananaskis CountryGalatea Lakes, Kananaskis

When driving from Calgary, Kananaskis Country is the first part of the Rockies you see. It’s often overlooked because most travellers don’t even know about it and rush to visit Banff.

But Kananaskis Country is a vast area with plenty of provincial parks, amazing hiking trails, and alpine lakes. You can choose a hike depending on what you’d like to see – a waterfall, a lake, or enjoying the views from a mountaintop. 

One of the most popular hikes in the area is Ha Ling Peak. The trail was recently upgraded with more rock and wooden stairs, making it easier to gain the elevation. The 6 km round trip is even suitable for beginners. With lots of breaks, hikers at different levels can reach the mountaintop with views of the Bow Valley and Canmore.

Another popular hike to three gorgeous alpine lakes is Galatea Lakes. It’s locals’ favourite in summer as it offers an opportunity for a refreshing dip. Located in Spray Valley Provincial Park, the trailhead is about 65 km from Canmore. 

The well-trodden trail, leading mostly through the forest, is 6 km to the first Lilian Lake. After another 1.5 km, there’s Lower Galatea Lake, and 1.5 km later, there’s Upper Galatea Lake. Plan a full day of hiking if you’d like to see Galatea Lakes, but I promise you the effort is worth it.

See Banff from aboveSulphur Mountain, Banff National Park

Banff National Park is the oldest and most visited national park in Canada. One of the top activities I recommend when visiting Banff is hiking to the top of Sulphur Mountain or taking the easier route and the gondola. 

The trailhead is located at the Upper Hot Springs, and gradual switchbacks take you up the mountain. In 5.5 km (around 2 hours), you can enjoy a view of Banff and the valley. You can also spend several hours on top. There’s a viewing platform, interactive indoor displays, a restaurant, a gift shop at the upper gondola terminal, and a short 1 km boardwalk leading to the nearby Sanson’s Peak, an old weather station.

The best thing about Sulphur Mountain is that the gondola and hiking trail are open year-round. 

Visit Moraine LakeMoraine Lake, Banff National Park

Canadian Rockies itinerary is never complete without visiting Moraine Lake, the most beautiful lake in Banff National Park. The turquoise lake with ten mountain peaks in the backdrop is breathtaking. To visit 

You can rent a canoe on shore, bring your stand-up paddleboard or kayak, or choose one of the hikes in the area.

Because Moraine Lake is at an elevation of 1,885m, it starts to thaw in late May. The lake is glacier-fed, taking some time until it fills up in late spring. It gets the gorgeous turquoise colour by the end of June.

The Moraine Lake road, the only access point, is open from mid-May until mid-October. You can no longer drive by yourself but need to book a shuttle. While there are now a lot of shuttle companies, the bus tickets are in high demand and are often sold out weeks in advance. 

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A little-known option is to visit Moraine Lake by biking the 11 km road. Before it opens for vehicle traffic in May or after it closes for the season in October, you can even have this beauty all to yourself. 

See Takakkaw Falls Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park

Banff’s small neighbour is Yoho National Park. While it might be tiny, it packs a lot of beauty. One of the most popular attractions is the Takakkaw Falls, the 2nd highest waterfall in Canada. It’s easily accessible for all, including wheelchairs and strollers. 

Yoho Valley Road, leading to Takakkaw Falls, is open from mid-June to mid-October. It takes you to the parking lot; from there, it’s about a 5-minute walk to the falls. I recommend visiting Takakkaw Falls in June or July, when the surrounding glaciers melt the most, and Takakkaw Falls have the strongest flow. The spray from the falls offers a great cool-down in the summer. 

If you’d like to see the glaciers that feed Takakkaw Falls, you can hike the 18 km Iceline Trail. It’s one of the most beautiful hikes in the Canadian Rockies as the trail passes different climates with glaciers, waterfalls, and lake views.

 

Go wildlife watchingCinnamon Bear in Jasper National Park

Wildlife is often the highlight of travellers visiting the Rockies. While there are a lot of wildlife-watching tours, you can also drive yourself. You need to be at the right place at the right time, and it’s easier than you think. 

Black bears are the most popular, and you have the biggest chance of seeing them without exiting your car in June. They usually hang out by the road in late spring, looking for food before the snow in valleys and higher elevation melt, where they move later on. Another bonus is that spring is when bear cubs are born, and you can see them playing with their mama.

Popular locations for bears are in Kananaskis, along Icefields Parkway or the Maligne Lake Road in Jasper National Park. But of course, you can see them anywhere else. I recommend driving at dawn or dusk to see the wildlife. Just remember that they’re wild animals. It’s illegal to feed or approach them, and Parks Canada officers are often called for bear sightings to ensure there’s no such behaviour from visitors.

Apart from black bears, you can see elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, chipmunks, foxes, coyotes, and bald eagles.

Drive the Icefields Parkway Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the world, stretching for 230 km from Lake Louise in Banff National Park to Jasper in Jasper National Park. 

Get ready to be in constant awe of endless glacier views, scenic hikes, waterfalls, and remarkably blue lakes. 

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Whether you like quick lookouts or longer hikes, this road trip offers it all along the Icefields Parkway. I recommend stopping at Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Waterfowl Lakes, Mistaya Canyon, Panther Falls, Columbia Icefield, and Athabasca Falls. If you drive the Icefields Parkway over two days, hike to Glacier Lake, Parker Ridge, or Wilcox Pass with a view of Athabasca Glacier.

Once you reach Jasper, swim at Horseshoe Lake, hike the Valley of the Five Lakes and Mount Edith Cavell, take a boat cruise on Maligne Lake to see the iconic Spirit Island, and visit Pyramid Lake for a scenic picnic. 


 This travel guide covers the best of the best in the Canadian Rockies, and I hope it will make your planning easier. No matter how much time you spend in the Rockies, you will want to return; it’s amazing!

Guest Bio: Maya is an adventure athlete and world traveller. She shares her travel stories and comprehensive adventure travel guides on her blog: Travel with the Smile.

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Best things to do in the Canadian Rockies
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