We have just returned from an incredible adventure into the Canadian Rockies, and we wanted to share our some of our best experiences. We traveled here in early-October, and winter had arrived early, so we went from autumn to winter overnight. Some days this meant clouds and fog, which meant a lot of our mountain views were blocked. On other days, the sun was shining and the scenery indescribable. The views of Lake Louise during these first days of winter was especially beautiful, with snow-capped trees and mountains surrounding the famous glacial lake.
We had more good weather than bad; the first snowfall made the scenery extra beautiful most days, especially our drive along the Icefields Parkway, where we were rewarded with beautiful blue skies and snow-capped mountains. Mother Nature also impacted some of the places we could visit, as there were many places we were unable to explore – like Moraine Lake or the meadows at the top of Revelstoke National park – because the mountain roads had been closed for the season.
Sometimes nature has different plans for adventure, and it’s a humbling experience to be reminded how quickly winter can regain it hold on the mountain landscape.
We were still very lucky and got to see an incredible list of places and created countless unforgettable memories. We quickly ran out of superlatives to describe our surroundings, especially while driving the Icefields Parkway, where around every twist and turn of the winding highway another spectacular view of a mountain peak was revealed.
Today, we wanted to share some of the highlights from our adventures in the Canadian Rockies and were able to narrow it down to 8. Everyone will have a different list of their favourite destinations in this incredible protected area, especially since some of the “highlights” were closed for the season. While there were many things we didn’t see, it allowed us to experience other things that we maybe would not have been able to do.
Our adventures in the Rockies went through 3 of the 4 National Parks in the Canadian Rockies, which collected together became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. We did not have time to make it into Kootney’s National Park to the south-west, but we will obviously be planning a return trip to this incredible place in the near future. We hope you enjoy our selections!
8 Incredible things we did in the Canadian Rockies
1 Lake Louise (Banff National Park)
Lake Louise is one of the most popular destinations for good reason, the views of the lake are incredible. The famous Fairmont Lake Louise Hotel sits on the edge of this beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains, glaciers and untouched wilderness. It is one of the highlights of Banff National Park.
This is an easy place to visit, as it is only a short walk from the parking lot to the edge of the lake and there are crowds of people everywhere jostling for position to take a picture. We saw visitors of all types, from experienced hikers to a small group of Japanese businessmen in suits.
To escape the crowds, keep walking along the lake, where you can discover an even better view of the mountains and glaciers. The further you walk from the parking lot and the hotel, the fewer people you see and the closer to nature you feel. As we reached the end of the lake, we noticed the trail kept going, and so we continued upwards.
We hadn’t really planned to go “hiking” but that is just what ended up happening. Our short walk around the lake turned into an over 2-hour hike along the trails leading into the mountains, and we kept pushing each other to go “just a little bit further” to see if the next viewpoint was better.
When we got to our final viewpoint, we knew we had made it. Surrounded by towering peaks and glaciers, the valley in front of us was spectacular. Known as the Plain of the 6 Glaciers, this was one of the most stunning scenes either of us had ever seen and was one of the best 360-degree views imaginable.
Pictures just don’t do it justice.
2 Athabasca Falls (Jasper National Park)
One of the first stops along the Icefields Parkway after leaving Jasper is the Athabasca Pass and the beautiful Athabasca falls, located on the upper Athabasca River. While not a huge vertical drop (it’s only 24 meters / 80 feet tall) what makes it special was the incredible backdrop and power produced by the falling water.
The Athabasca River packs a lot of power and sends that energy crashing over the edge of the falls. In the spring, when the snow begins to melt is the best time to see the falls in its full glory, but I think it’s difficult to argue with seeing the falls in the first snowfall.
There are many easy viewing platforms that you can walk along to find spectacular places to observe the falls. We visited in late October and the falls were partially frozen due to the temperatures. We could see massive icicles where the water once flowed. The trees and mountains were covered with snow, making for an unforgettable experience.
3 Emerald Lake (Yoho National Park)
There are 4 National Parks (and many other provincial parks) that protect the Canadian Rockies; Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho. While the two Alberta parks receive the most attention, there are some hidden gems in British Columbia that are equally beautiful. One of these places is Emerald Lake.
Emerald Lake is one of the most beautiful places in Yoho National Park, especially in July when powered limestone from the mountain meltwater turns the lake turquoise. On a really calm day, the lake looks like glass, and you can go for a hike or take a canoe around the lake while being surrounded by the silence of nature.
It is the largest of the 61 lakes located in Yoho National Park. We visited in October, and the mountains were already blanketed in the first layer of snow. There was a little bit of a breeze when we visited, so we didn’t get the mirror effect that some visitors boast of, but the mountains and the lake were glorious, especially with the thin layer of clouds that wrapped around the mountain peaks like a scarf. Even the landscape gets cold when winter arrives.
To sit on the edge of the lake here, and take in the peaceful beauty of nature, is an unforgettable and humbling experience. Nature is amazing.
4 Icefields Parkway (Jasper and Banff National Parks)
The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93a) travels from Jasper to just north of Lake Louise, winding through the incredible mountains of the Canadian Rockies. The route gets its name for it’s proximity to the Columbia Icefield, a massive collection of glaciers which includes the Athabasca Glacier.
You can see the Athabasca Glacier from a distance as you drive along the highway and it only gets more impressive the closer you get. It is one of 6 major arms of the Columbia Icefield, the largest Icefield in the Rocky Mountains.
We arrived a few days after the first snowfall, so the lower parking lot was closed, but normally its very easy to get close to the glacier from the highway. We had to walk a bit further, and aside from having to be a little extra cautious with the icy packed snow, it didn’t take us very long.
With a fresh layer of snow, it was hard to see where the Glacier ended and the snow began. Sadly, as you walk up towards the glacier there are signs along the way indicating how much the glacier had receded over the years. If you have a guide or experience hiking on glaciers (there are many hidden dangers that glaciers pose to hikers) it’s possible to walk even further up the glacier for even more incredible views.
There are so many great places to stop along the Icefields Parkway, as there are many places to pull over to the side of the road to stop and admire your surroundings. We loved our visit to the Athabasca Glacier, as it was a reminder of how incredible nature can be, and how important it is to keep it that way.
5 Lake Minnewanka (Banff National Park)
Lake Minnewanka is only a short drive from the town of Banff, which makes it an easy and worthwhile place to visit. This crystal blue lake is surrounded by mountains and incredible scenery; towering mountains, trees, and calm water.
There are many beautiful glacial lakes located in the Canadian Rockies (some of which are featured on this list) but there was something special about Minnewanka. There are many hikes and trails that travel around the 21-km long lake, and a few viewpoints that are worth hiking to when the weather is nice. If you are lucky, there is an abundance of wildlife (including bears, elk and mountain goats) that can be found here as well.
The day we visited we were treated to amazing weather and blue skies which made the lake sparkle and shine, but due to the recent snow, we couldn’t do any of the hikes we had originally planned. The paths were covered with snow and ice so we only did the easy trail along Stewart Canyon, along the Cascade River that empties its water into the lake.
This lake has a long history, as there have been spearheads found from as far back as the Clovis people, and a more recent history of hunter-gathers and aboriginal people, who know the lake as “Water of the Spirits”. It’s close proximity to Banff makes this one of the best places to visit in the Canadian Rockies.
6 Peyto Lake (Banff National Park)
The views of Peyto Lake from above are iconic. Alongside Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (which we didn’t get to see because the road was closed), it is one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies.
When the sun is shining, this lake glows in a blue that looks more like the Caribbean than the Canadian Rockies. This is caused by the rock flour that the mountain streams feed into it, the suspended particles giving it the intense blue colour. In the summer months is when the lake is still being fed by the mountain run off is when it has the best colour, but as you can see from our photograph, it is beautiful no matter what time of year you visit.
It is a short walk uphill to the Bow Summit, and even with the trail completely covered in packed snow, there were still many other tourists visiting. We were here in early October, the trees and mountain were covered in snow and the edges of the lake were just beginning to freeze over. It was a little bit cloudy and a bit later in the day, so the lake had a different dark blue-green tint to it, which was still an incredible sight.
7 Maligne Lake / Canyon (Jasper National Park)
We will never know the full glory of Maligne Lake, as the day we visited was the day after the first major snowfall and the low cloud level made it impossible to see any of the surrounding mountains. Even without the mountains, the trip from Jasper along the Maligne River to the Canyon and Lake were one of the best experiences of our trip.
The lake is fed and drained by the Maligne River, and along the drive up to the lake, you can stop at Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake.
During the drive up from Jasper, we got to see some amazing wildlife, as a large herd of Big-Horned Sheep was casually walking down the paved road. We were amazed before we even reached the lake.
There are many amazing day hikes in the area, and had the weather been nicer, we would have tried one of these out. There is also a world-famous multi-day trek called the Skyline Trail, which travels 44-km along the Maligne River and ends nearby Jasper.
From the day lodge at the north end of the lake, it is normally possible to see the towering peaks surrounding the lake. We were not treated to any of these views, as the clouds and fog made it impossible to see anything.
One of the most popular attractions once arriving at Maligne Lake is to take a boat tour halfway up the lake to visit spirit island, which is another one of those “most photographed places in the Rockies”.
While visiting Maligne Lake, we went for an hour-long hike along the shore, and loved it, as the beautiful winter wonderland was just as exciting as the mountains we could not see. When we go back someday, we will make sure to plan for August instead of October.
8 Natural Land Bridge (Yoho National Park)
Located on the road to Emerald Lake, this small waterfall/land bridge is a really neat reminder of the art that nature can create on its own. Located along the Kicking Horse River, this small waterfall and natural rock archway was a beautiful stopover on our way out of the mountains.
The land bridge is located on the Kicking Horse River and is easy to access from the Emerald Lake Road. It is very close to the Trans Canada Highway, so you really have no excuse not to visit.
We almost didn’t stop here, as we had originally planned on visiting Takakkaw Falls instead, but the access road to the falls was closed, so after visiting Emerald Lake we had some time to make a stopover. We were so glad we did, as it was unlike anything else we had seen so far.
here are many trails and hikes that leave from this area, but to see the land bridge is quite easy, as there are great viewing platforms set up to see the beautiful surroundings. The power of the river is on full display here, as the water has gradually eroded the rocks to find a flow through the small opening. It must have once been a pretty great waterfall. T
I think what we enjoyed most about this was how isolated we felt while visiting, as there were only a few other cars in the parking lot when we visited. We found a great spot to sit along the flats of the river before it dropped, where the peaceful sound of the running water made for a great way to enjoy nature.