The Canadian Rockies is one of the best destinations Canada has to offer in terms of stunning nature. It’s a gem you should not miss (at least once in a lifetime)!
Beautiful turquoise lakes are the number one reason why people from all over the world are coming to the Rockies (with glaciers and wildlife next to it). Add near a dozen of dramatic waterfalls, canyons, and gorges, and you’ll get the whole picture. But that’s not all. As parents with small children (8 y/o, almost 3 y/o, and 6 w/o at the time of travel), we discovered that most top-rated places are easily accessible and close to each other.
There are tons of cool things to do, and as nearly as many people. We had to plan our trip to skip the crowds as much as possible.
Since we only had 5 days to explore Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks and knew we were not coming back in the nearest future, we decided to see as much as possible. But I do recommend choosing less and exploring at a slower pace, especially if you have youngsters with you. If you have the time (and budget), then definitely spend week or two in these parks. (We spent an additional 4 days to get there and back from Seattle).
As for accommodation, we split the nights between the town of Jasper (first two nights) and the town of Banff (last three nights).
Enjoy your time in the parks. They are truly magnificent!
Day 1. Jasper National Park
- Medicine Lake: cool story and view, recommend for a brief visit.
- Maligne Lake: recommend. We only did a hike for 1.5 hours, but most people visit it for an iconic picture of the Spirit Island (you have to take a cruise or puddle 14 km one way to see it).
- Maligne Canyon: 3 hours, highly recommend.
- A short stroll in the Jasper town.
Day 2. Icefields Parkway
Icefields Parkway is often considered a separate destination. Connecting Jasper and Lake Louise, Highway 93 travels mostly through the Jasper National Park and part of the Banff National Park, along one of the biggest natural marvels of Canada. No wonder it is named one of the top scenic roads and deserves full attention! One full day wasn’t even close enough for a one way travel for us.
- Pyramid Lake. A brief visit: very nice, peaceful place, good for a picnic.
- Athabasca Falls. We spent more than 2 hours there, highly recommend.
- Mountain goats lookout (52.6166,-117.8451361). Highly recommend.
- Sunwapta Falls. Half an hour, recommend.
- Stutfield Glacier viewpoint (52.2772306,-117.3121889). Good for a quick glance, recommend.
- Hike to toe of the Athabasca Glacier. Around an hour, recommend.
- Icefields Parkway panoramic overlook (52.1767694,-117.055225). Good for a brief stop, highly recommend.
- Weeping Wall. Cool place, good for a quick glance.
- Saskatchewan Crossings. The only place with a gas station on the entire Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Lake Louise village.
Other destinations and activities along the Icefields Parkway
You are guessing right: you’ll need additional days to do even some of these, but they are more than worth checking out! We didn’t dare to experience them with a 6 weeks old baby.
- Mount Edith Cavell trail. Highly recommend.
- Tangle Creek falls. Stop for a quick glance.
- Glacier Skywalk. A paid excursion. I’d personally skip.
- Snow-coach tour. A paid excursion that I’d skip too, although it’s very popular.
- Athabasca Glacier Icewalks. A paid excursion, highly recommend.
- Columbia Icefields Discovery Center. More like a rest stop and place to book your excursions.
- Wilcox Pass trailhead. Highly recommend.
- Parker Ridge trailhead. Highly recommend.
- Panther Falls. Good for a brief visit.
- Mistaya Canyon. Recommend.
Day 3. Banff National Park
Banff is like a king: many visitors come to pay tribute and touch its greatness. Banff is the top destinations among the Canadian Rockies National Parks. Be prepared for crowds and plan well ahead.
- Peyto Lake. Highly recommend, about an hour and a half.
- Bow Lake. We spent 2 or more hours there, highly recommend.
- Crowfoot Glacier (51.6628056,-116.4385306). Highly recommend for a quick glance.
- Herbert Lake. Very nice spot for a picnic lunch.
- Lake Moraine. 2 hours, highly recommend.
- Overpass/underpass exhibition (51.2266167,-115.8257889). Brief visit, recommend.
Day 4. Banff National Park
- Bow Valley Parkway. Recommend for wildlife spotting (early in the morning or late in the evening)
- Johnston Canyon. 3 hours. I would trade it for Marble Canyon instead because of dense crowds here.
- Lake Louise. 2 or more hours, highly recommend
- Short stroll at the Banff town.
Day 5. Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is like a little gem. Being the smallest among all National Parks in the Canadian Rockies, it has a lot to offer. First of all, fewer crowds. For us, it was a perfect, serene spot to spend the last day before the long trip back to Seattle.
Emerald Lake is a gorgeous place, also one of our favorites in the Canadian Rockies. If you have enough time, try Lake O’Hara and Takakkaw Falls, they are lovely too. We were short on time and did not see them.
- Vermillion Lake (Banff NP). We did just a drive along the lake, but liked it so much that it jumped straight into our kayak bucket list! Vermillion Lake is secluded, serene, full of wildlife, yet so close to the town of Banff that you can easily ride a canoe/kayak straight from the rental shop to the lake.
- The Spiral Tunnel. Good for a quick stop, recommend. Watching 3 parts of a train going in different directions is worth a stop! 15 min approximate wait time for a train in summer.
- Emerald Lake. Good for 2 or more hours, highly recommend.
- Natural Bridge. Great place for a quick stop on the way to/from Emerald Lake.
- Lake O’Hara (must reserve shuttle bus to get there or hike 11 km) and Takakkaw Falls (short 1-mile hike) are also great to visit in the Yoho National Park.
Weather is unpredictable in the Rockies. Early mornings and late evenings tend to be chilly even if it’s hot during the day.
You can experience sun, wind, clouds, unmelted snow and heat all on the same summer day!
Respect wildlife, give them plenty of space and don’t try to feed. We witnessed multiple times how tourists were literally casing wild beasts to take a perfect pic. It’s tempting but dangerous for both – visitors and animals.
Have a wonderful time in the Canadian Rockies!