Today I am sharing my first travel blogpost! And I am highly excited to do so as it’s about one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to: The Canadian Rocky Mountains. My father and I visited the Rocky Mountains last year as part of our Western Canada Road Trip. After the Rockies, we drove to Vancouver and Vancouver Island which I will cover in a separate blogpost soon!
I already had the chance to visit the Canadian Rockies three years ago and even though it was only a short trip, it was long enough for me to absolutely fall in love with them. Turquoise glacier lakes, snowcapped mountains and magical waterfalls.. I had never seen such beautiful landscapes in my life before! So when I got accepted to spend a semester abroad in Canada, I started planning my second trip to the Rockies right away.
In this post, I am going to be sharing with you all my tips and recommendations in regards to what to do, where to stay, when to go, where to eat and more!
What to see and do
Lake Louise and Plain of Six Glaciers Hike (Banff National Park)
Let’s start with our first day: Lake Louise and the Plain of Six Glaciers Hike. Lake Louise is a beautiful glacier lake and must-visit for everyone visiting the Rocky Mountains. Unfortunately, my photos don’t show its real beauty since the air was very smoky and foggy due to wildfires. There are a few different hiking trails starting at the lake. We did the beautiful Plain of Six Glaciers Hike which is about a 11km return hike with almost 400m metres of elevation. Again, due to the smoke we did not get the spectacular views you are supposed to get, but it was still an amazing hike! After about 2/3 of the hike we reached a tea house (Lake Agnes Tea House) where we stopped for coffee and a really yummy PB&J with homemade bread before taking on the last (and most challenging) part of the hike. On our way down we took a detour through the forest which was beautiful as well!
Moraine Lake is seriously one of my favourite views in the entire world! Turquoise water surrounded by majestic mountains – it looks almost surreal! Possible activities here include canoeing, hiking or just enjoying the amazing view. There is a great hike starting at the lake (Sentinel Pass), but unfortunately my dad got injured on our hike the day before so we only walked around the lake to get more views of it. As with any other attraction in the Rockies, I strongly recommend to come here early in the morning. The lake is an extremely calm and peaceful place when you don’t have to share it with hundreds of people.
Banff is a really small town. It’s very touristy but still cute. Ideally, you will stay here during your visit since the main attractions are only a short drive a way. It is great to come back to for dinner after a day exploring or hiking, and you can do some shopping here, too.
Sulphur Mountain is a mountain just ouside of Banff offering a great view over the town and surroundings. There is a gondola that takes you up and down the mountain, but we decided to hike up instead and only ride the gondola down to get a different perspective. The trail is 5.5 km long with 655m of elevation so it is challenging in that it is very steep from start to finish. Again, we did not get to enjoy the amazing view because of the smoke in the air. I would not put this on my must-see or must-do list but it is great if you have time to spare.
The Icefields Parkway is the beautiful drive that connects Banff and Jasper National Parks. It is only 230km long but you should expect to spend a full day doing the drive since there are multiple must-see stops along the way. They include Bow Lake (we only took a photo here), Peyto Lake, Columbia Icefields, Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls.
Nope, the colour of this lake is NOT edited. Hard to believe, right? After Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake is my second favourite view ever! It doesn’t really offer any other activities than enjoying the magnificent view and going for a short walk behind the viewing platform. But just coming here for the view is 100% worth it and a must-do! Unfortunately, Peyto lake gets EXTREMELY crowded, too. There is a way to escape the crowds, though: Apparently, 99% of tourists only come here to take a photo from the viewpoint and then go straight back to their car. However, said short loop in the woods behind the common viewing platform can take you to another lookout. My father and I shared that spot with only four other People while there were at least 50 at the first viewing platform. It’s hard to explain how to get there, but basically follow the paved loop as directed on the signs and then at about the furthest point away from the viewing platform turn onto a trail and follow that one for a few more minutes. It’s just a short walk and so so worth it!
Just as the name implies Columbia Icefields is the largest ice field south of the Arctic Circle. During the summer, you can travel onto the glacier in the comfort of large ice rovers. Alternatively, you can walk from the parking lot to the bottom end of the glacier. One of the interesting – and disturbing – things you’ll see while walking from your car to the glacier is the retraction of the glacier: There are signs every couple hundred metres demonstrating how far the glacier had reached in the past. You will see that in the last century, the glacier has receded over half a kilometre and shrunk by half its size. Proof that climate change is freaking real and serious..
Maligne Lake (Jasper National Park)
Maligne Lake offers a variety of activities such as hiking, going on a boat trip to Spirit Island, renting a canoe and possibly even taking a dip in the lake. We found the boat trip to be too expensive, so we only rented a canoe and went on a little hike – the ‘Moose Loop Trail’. And the name did not disappoint: We saw two moose along the way. One of them was taking a bath in the lake and the other one was hiding in the bushes on our left – literally only 2 metres away!
Maligne Canyon (Jasper National Park)
On our drive back from Maligne Lake we stopped at Maligne Canyon, the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park. There are six bridges built across various points of the canyon, each with its own spectacular view of waterfalls, potholes, fossils and more. We hiked to all six bridges and I was constantly amazed at how beautiful this place was. It’s crazy to think that water has worn this gorge over thousands of years. Nature is simply amazing!!
Best time to visit the Rocky Mountains
The peak season to visit the Rocky Mountains are the months between June and mid-September. That’s when the weather is the warmest and the hiking conditions are the best. However, it’s also the most crowded and most expensive time to visit the Rocky Mountains.
My first trip to the Rockies was at the end of September, which was rather cold and we didn’t get much sun, but none of the places we visited were crowded. This time around, we went in the middle of August. Most days were sunny and warm, however the crowds were insane and we had to visit many places like Lake Louise and Lake Moraine very early in the morning to get some quiet time. In both cases, I certainly had an incredible time, though.
How to get there and how to get around
The closest airport is in Calgary which is only about a 90 minute drive away from Banff. Another option would be Edmonton, but from there it is a four hour drive to the mountains. At the airport, you should rent a car because you will definitely need one to get around. We had booked ours in advance and picked it up when we arrived. It was around 40 CAD a day, gps and insurance excluded.
Where to stay
There are four national parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains: Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park. As you can see, Banff and Jasper are the largest ones, and they are connected by the beautiful Icefields Parkway which is about a three hour drive without stops, but you will want to stop along the way so it can take up to a whole day.
To access Banff National Park, you will want to stay in Banff Townsite or in Canmore. The latter is a short drive away from Banff and accommodations are a bit cheaper. While exploring Jasper National Park, Jasper will be your best option.
In any case, you should book your accommodation as early as possible. By that I mean at least four to six months prior. I didn’t book ours until late May/early June and I was very lucky to still have found something that wasn’t 1000 CAD a night. There are plenty of hotels, hostels, lodges, campsites and even some Airbnbs to choose from.
Hiking equipment and safety
My father and I aren’t experienced hikers. The only piece of proper equipment we have are hiking shoes/boots. And those + active wear and a backpack were enough for the kinds of hikes we did. The Rocky Mountains offer a ton more hiking routes though, some of them very challenging or even overnight hiking trips which obviously require more equipment. Note that there are bears in the area which is why some hikes are only allowed for groups of four people or more. A lot of hikers we met had bells attached to their backpacks to scare off bears too!
By the way: I had quite a hard time finding vegan hiking shoes! Eventually I was lucky to find the pair you see me wearing in the photo above. The brand is called Merrell, they feel amazing and I even got them for only about half the price off Amazon!
Eating vegan in the Rocky Mountains
… is incredibly easy! Our hotel did offer a continental breakfast with vegan options (fruit, oatmeal, toast, bagels, jam and peanut butter) but since we left very early every morning we usually stopped at a Tim Hortons. They offer two varieties of oatmeal (maple and berry, and you can ask for sugar free) and lots of vegan bagels that you can have toasted with peanut butter. It was kind of my highlight every morning!
As for lunch and dinner: Both in Banff and Jasper, every restaurant that I looked at had at least one vegan option on their menu such as curries, asian salad bowls or tofu tacos. In Banff, you need to eat at Nourish Bistro which is an all-vegetarian restaurant with countless vegan options. I had such a hard time deciding on what to get! Eventually I got a very tasty burrito and an incredible cheesecake for dessert. Other restaurants that I discovered had vegan options were Block Kitchen + Bar (Banff), Earls (Banff and Jasper), Coco’s Cafe (vegan breakfast food in Jasper) and Evil Dave’s Grill (Jasper).
How much money you should expect to spend during this trip depends on a lot of different factors. There are some things you should consider to keep the costs relatively low:
- Book your flights and accomodation as early as possible!
- If possible, be flexible with your exact travel dates. Sometimes you can save as much as a few hundred bucks simply by taking a flight one day later or earlier.
- Stay in an accommodation close to Banff instead of in Banff as prices outside are lower. Such as in Canmore which is only a short drive away.
- Book a lodge or rent an RV instead of staying in a hotel.
I hope I could spark your interest in visiting the Rocky Mountains! I know for sure that I want to visit them for a third time to go on more and longer hikes. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment down below or feel free to send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org – I will be glad to help!
Our full itinerary
Arrival on Saturday
Day 1 – Sunday:
- Morning: Lake Louise and Plains of Six Glaciers Hike
- Afternoon: Stroll in Banff, dinner at Nourish Bistro
Day 2 – Monday:
- Morning: Moraine Lake, short walk around the lake
- Mid-morning coffee at Good Earth Café
- Afternoon: Hike up Sulphur Mountain
- Dinner at Block Kitchen + Bar
Day 3 – Tuesday:
- Drive from Banff to Jasper on Icefield Parkway
- Stops at Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Columbia Icefield, Athabasca Falls, Sunawapta Falls
- Dinner at Earls Kitchen + Bar
Day 4 – Wednesday:
- Morning: Maligne Lake: Moose Loop Trail, canoeing on the lake
- Afternoon: Maligne Canyon
- Dinner: Evil Dave’s Grill
Day 5 – Thursday:
- Jasper – Vancouver