Alberta Rocky Mountains
With impressive mountain peaks, lush alpine meadows, turquoise lakes, huge forests and an abundance of wildlife, the Alberta Rocky Mountains have it all. Explore Jasper, Banff and Waterton Lakes national parks. Then head out to Kananaskis Country, the less-known wilderness heaven in the Alberta Rockies. Come and feel the mountain magic.
Banff National Park
Banff was the first National Park established in Canada in 1885 and is part of UNESCO’s Rocky Mountain World Heritage site, located 129 km from Calgary. Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies the park includes Banff and Lake Louise, several national historic sites, the largest cave system in Canada, over a thousand glaciers, plus glacier-fed lakes. You also find plenty of hotels, restaurants, and shops, plus a 27-hole golf course.
When to go
Banff National Park is open year-round. In winter, three major downhill ski resorts operate within the park; Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, and Mount Norquay. Banff offers amazing wildlife viewing and sightseeing, at any time of year. Summer it’s the time for hiking, paddling, mountain biking, cycling, and climbing. In winter, it’s a paradise for downhill and cross-country skiers with three major downhill ski resorts operating in the park, Lake Louise Ski Area, Sunshine Village, and Mount Norquay.
How to visit
The Hop-On Hop-Off shuttle goes between the town of Banff, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Samson Mall, and the Lake Louise gondola. It’s an excellent way to visit places without a car. Choose where to visit and when. Get your ticket in advance to make sure you will get a spot.
Town of Banff and around
Banff is a tourist town in the Alberta Rocky Mountains with souvenir shops, nightclubs and fancy restaurants for the ones who like that. The town also has four museums, and there are a few things you shouldn’t miss while you’re there.
- Visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and pick up a leaflet for a self-guided Banff Culture walk.
- Take the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. and from there hike the 5.6 km trail up to Sanson Peak. Get the ticket in advance and you won’t need to wait in line.
- No trip to Banff is complete without a soak in the waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
- Visit Cave and Basin National Historic Site, where the hot springs were discovered first and where the Canadian National Park system was born. Walk the 2.5 km Marsh Loop Trail across the park’s only natural river marsh.
- Drive to beautiful Lake Minnewanka, the park’s largest lake, 13 km east of town. Take a walk around the lake or go on a lake cruise.
Hiking near Banff
Check with the visitor centre before heading out on longer hikes and get brochures and maps.
- Bow River Falls and the hoodoos Trail, starts by the Bow River Bridge and is a 10.2 km return hike.
- Alymer Lookout, at the north shore of Lake Minnewanka, is roughly 10 km one way.
- Stewart Canyon is a 5.6 km return hike, where you get to scramble across rocks and boulders to the Cascade River.
- For multi-day hikes, check out Healy Pass down to Egypt Lake, or the famous Sawback Trail that travels from Banff to Lake Louise, a 74 km trek across three mountain passes.
- If you’re a lonely traveller, there are many great guided hiking tours for you to join and get the best of Alberta Rocky Mountain hiking.
Download AllTrails App for Free and find the best trails.
Banff National Park is the place to get into the pioneering spirit on a guided horseback ride into the Alberta Rocky Mountains. You can choose between hourly Horseback rides up to full-day rides, or book a multi-day ranch adventure for a cowboying experience. Check out the offers below as well as Best Horseback Riding in Alberta Rockies.
Budget accommodations in Banff
- HI Banff International Hostel – Located in Banff centre, free WiFi in all rooms.
- Samesun Banff – This hostel is just 5 minute walk from Banff’s shops and bars.
- Choose other accommodations in Banff
Lake Louise and around
Lake Louise, the place with the turquoise-tinted lake, surrounded by majestic mountains like out of a painting. It’s also a place with huge tourist crowds which I try to miss whenever I return to the area after my first trip through the park.
Lake Louise, the best-known place in the Alberta Rockies is world-famous for its teahouses, grizzly bears, grand hotel and skiing as well as for its glaciers, hiking trails and lakes. Still, the surrounding area is spectacular with plenty to see and do.
Things you don’t want to miss while you’re there:
- Drive out to Moraine Lake, the deep-teal-coloured lake set in the valley of Ten Peaks.
- Rent a boat at the Moraine Lake Boathouse and paddle through the glacier-fed waters.
- Take the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola to the top of Mt. Whitehorn for amazing views of the lake and Victoria Glacier and go on a guided hike.
- Join a tour: Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway – Full-Day Tour
Hiking near Lake Louise
Stop in at one of the Alberta Rocky Mountain visitor centres before heading out on longer hikes and pick up brochures and maps.
- Consolation Lakes Trail is a 6 km out-and-back trail.
- The popular Lake Agnes Trail (2.5-3 hr return) takes you past Mirror Lake up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse on top. Continue for another 1.6 km to Little Beehive for stunning views of the lake.
- From Moraine Lake take the Rockpile Trail. The view of the lake from the top of the rock pile is a famous sight in Canada. The 3.2 Consolation Lake Trail starts along the same trailhead.
Budget Accommodations Lake Louise
- HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre Hostel – Great place to stay. within 8 minute drive from Lake Louise.
- Find other accommodation in Lake Louise
Banff Park Information
- Banff Information Centre, Banff Ave
- Lake Louise Visitors Centre, Samson Mall, Lake Louise village
- Campgrounds Banff National Park
Jasper National Park
Jasper is the largest of the Canadian Rockies national parks and is mostly an untouched alpine wilderness. It is also the world’s second-largest dark sky preserve.
When to go
Jasper National Park is a year-round playground. In summer it calls for camping, hiking, paddling and watching for an abundance of wildlife. In winter the park offers frozen splendour in a landscape perfect for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or skating across an outdoor pond.
How to visit
Most people enter Jasper Town from the south via the magnificent Icefields Parkway that comes up from Lake Louise. This drive will keep you in awe all the way with sights of breathtaking waterfalls and glacier-sculpted mountains, including Mt Edith Cavell, easily visible from town.
Another option is to take a legendary VIA train from either Edmonton, Alberta or British Columbia through the foothills.
- 90 minutes south of Jasper, explore the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield.
- Board the Jasper Skytram, 7 km south of Jasper town for breathtaking views. From the top of the tram go on the 1.5 km hike to the summit of Whistlers Peak.
- Maligne Canyon, 10 minutes south of Jasper, is one of the most spectacular gorges. In winter come for the famed canyon ice walk.
- Ski or snowboard the Marmot Basin, Canada’s highest base elevation.
- Soak at Miette Hot springs in the wild Fiddle Valley, about an hour northeast of Jasper in the hottest mineral springs in the Rocky Mountains.
- Take a trip to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, one of the most photographed spots on the planet.
Jasper town and around
Jasper is a larger, less touristy, more wildlife-rich version of the other Rocky Mountains parks. The rugged backcountry with its river canyons and amazing mountain bike trails attracts outdoor folks and adventure seekers. Jasper has a large trail network with fewer people on it than the parks to the south. Here you have a better chance of seeing wildlife and fewer people.
- Discovery Trail is an 8 km easy hike that encircles the town and shows off the historical railway heritage.
- The 3.2 km Mary Schaeffer Loop by Maligne Lake, or the Old Fort Loop, 3.5 km to the site of an old fur-trading post.
- Mina and Riley Lakes Loop, a 0.9 km walk that leads out directly from town.
- Slightly harder but famous is the 9.1 km Path of the Glacier Trail below the impressive face of Mt. Edith Cavell, which takes you to the foot of the Angel Glacier (my favourite trail in Jasper).
- Skyline Trail is a multiday 44 km trek starting at Maligne Lake.
Download AllTrails App for Free and find the best trails.
Jasper is one of the best places in Canada for single-track mountain biking, and definitely the best in the Alberta Rocky Mountains. Many routes are within a short distance of the town. The on-road option includes the long-distance ride along the Icefields Parkway. The Valley of the Five Lakes is a top choice for experienced off-road bikers.
For more information on biking, get a copy of the Mountain Biking Guide, Jasper National Park from the Jasper Information Centre.
- YHA Maligne Canyon – located along the Skyline Trail. A very basic hostel with dorms, outhouse toilets and regular visits to the water pump.
- HI Athabasca Falls Hostel – situated in Jasper, within 33 km of Jasper SkyTram and 34 km of Marmot Basin Ski Area. The hostel has family rooms.
- HI Jasper – a great place to stay with large dorms, a fair distance walk from town with friendly staff and pristine surroundings.
- Other accommodations near Jasper
Jasper Park Information
- Jasper Information Centre 500 Connaught Dr. Jasper, Phone: (780) 820-1006
- Campgrounds Jasper National Park
- Horseback Riding at Boundary Ranch
Most first-time visitors to Alberta race straight to Banff, missing out on Kananaskis Country, an impressive foothill area that spreads along the easter edge of Banff National Park. It is a first-class wilderness area without the glamour of Banff, mostly used by locals.
The scenery resembles that of the national parks with excellent terrain to enjoy all the outdoor activities. As part of the Canadian Rockies, it is a sprawling wilderness playground of wild lands waiting to be explored.
Kananaska Valley is part of Kananaskis Country you want to explore. There are plenty of places to stop in the Kananaskis Valley with a large network of hiking trails.
When to go
Part of Alberta Highway 40 from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Highwood House Junction is always closed for the winter from December to mid-June. The opening date is June 15. The road can be temporarily closed at any time of year due to wildlife sightings or certain weather conditions. Check with the Kananaskis Country advisory before heading out.
How to visit
Kananaskis Valley is just an hour west of Calgary and a short distance from Banff. The town of Canmore is the region’s base and has a few attractions that are accessible by foot or by bike. To properly enjoy the provincial park and the area you will need your own vehicle.
Try to spend at least a night in the Kananaskis Valley. Instead of returning to Canmore, you can follow Highway 40 across Highwood Pass all the way to the town of Longview.
Highway 40, which intersects with the Trans-Canada Highway 30 km east of Canmore, travels south along its length, through the high-mountain Kananaskis country. The road is linking its main provincial parks with trails, campgrounds and scattered service centers along the way. Highway 40 is mostly paved with some gravel sections.
At Barrier Lake wander the shoreline and if enthusiastic, head out on the Stoney Trail, located on the north side of the lake. Another option is to hike the Prairie View Trail to Jewell Pass.
My visit to Kanaskis Village was arriving and turning around. It’s the Kananaskis tourist center with lodges, a golf course, a helicopter pad, and hiking trails near the Nakiska Ski area.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
This is wilderness at its best, in mids of towering mountains, pristine lakes, beautiful green valleys and glacial streams. Campgrounds offer various amenities from rustic walk-in tent spots to pull-through trailer sites as well as backcountry camping.
The Smith Dorrien Trail, an adventure side trip
This road takes you from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Highway #40 in Kananaskis to the town of Canmore. The road is gravel all the way with the usual potholes. Be prepared for the driving conditions, drive slowly, look out for wildlife and enjoy the drive. The Smith Dorrien Trail is the gateway to hundreds of hikes and other adventures in Kananaskis’s backcountry. The driving distance is 60 km.
Sheep River Provincial Park
You access the park through Hwy 546/ Sheep River Road. The drive to the park is scenic with several cattle guards to cross. Watch out for wildlife on the road. The road is only open to vehicles between May 15 to November 30.
Hike to beautiful Sheep River Falls in this protected habitat for bighorn sheep. Camp, fish, and hike to remote Bluerock. In winter, ice skate at Sandy McNabb Campground.
Spray Valley Provincial Park
Spray lake Provincial Park is accessible via the Bighorn Highway 742 and is a destination for many outdoor seekers. In summer, the park offers plenty of hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing opportunities. In winter, this area is a great place to cross-country ski and ice fish. The park is open to campers all year round.
Highwood Pass is the highest point of the highway and with an elevation of 2,206 m and it is the highest paved road in Canada. Highway 40 is mostly paved with some gravel sections. This amazing drive through scenic Highwood pass
This part of the road is closed to vehicles from the first of December to mid-June to allow for the migration of wildlife. Highwood Pass is not easily accessible for winter sports. Many cross-country skiers and snowshoers, however, enjoy trekking along the closed highway.
Boundary Ranch in Kananaskis is a popular place to go for an adventure horseback ride in the Alberta Rocky Mountains. They offer 1-hour, 1-1/2-hour and 2-hour horseback rides, as well as full-day rides during the summer season. Also, check out Best Horseback Adventures in the Alberta Rockies
Kananaskis Park Information
- A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required to park your Vehicle to travel in Kananaskis and the Bow Valley.
- Travel Alberta Information Centre, 2801 Bow Valley Trail, Canmore
- Kananaskis Information Centre, Highway 40, Kananaskis
- Alberta Parks Kananaskis where you can download maps and get a pass online if you prefer.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National park is located in the extreme southwestern corner of Alberta, sharing its borders with British Columbia and Montana in the United States. The park’s isolation far from urban centres and off the beaten track keeps the crowds small.
The deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies and the first oil well in western Canada (1902) are both found in Waterton. All three of the Waterton Lakes are along the entry road. There is easy access to all park highlights.
Despite its moderate size, the park’s trails are among the best and most scenic in the Canadian Rockies. Easily accessible from the town of Waterton, a charming alpine village with a winter population of about 40, the park is perfect for a day hike. Or check out the Tamarack Trail for multi-day backcountry options.
For those not interested in hiking, there are great drives along two wonderful scenic access roads, Akamina Parkway and Red Rock Parkway. Both take you west into the interior of Waterton. Enjoy the viewpoints and make use of picnic spots, campsites and boat rentals.
When to Go
Waterton is open year-round, but windy weather makes it not a good place to visit in winter. Not many services are available in the park between October and May when some toads are subject to closure and the townsite population drops to less than 40.
Spring arrives in early May. The park is busiest in July and August.
How to visit
You will need a full day to fully tour the park and therefore get an early start.
- Akamina Parkway – Drive or cycle the 15 km Akamina Parkway south of Waterton and wind through the valley to secluded Cameron Lake. Stop at the first Oil Well in Western Canada National Historic Site.
- Cameron Lake – Rent a canoe, rowboat or paddle boat or take an easy stroll along the lake.
- Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site – visit the park’s most recognized landmark,, constructed in 1926-27 and stop for tea.
- Upper Waterton Lake – Cruise the shoreline of the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies and cross the US/Canada border to Goat Haunt, Montana.
- Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park – Waterton Lakes National Park and Montana’s Glacier National Park, a World Heritage Site.
Waterton and around
The park’s only service center, is Waterton, a beautiful little town where deer graze on the lawns, and you can stroll around cute shops in the tiny centre. Stop in at a cafe or restaurant and also check out Cameron Falls, the town’s own little waterfall.
The lakefront promenade leads to Waterton trails. At its southern end, it becomes the Waterton Lakeshore Trail that leads to the Bertha Lake Trail. At its northern end boats cruise the lake and provide a shuttle to the Crypt Lake Trail.
Waterton’s great hikes
- Waterton Lakeshore Trail – An easy hike from town is the Waterton Lakeshore Trail. It takes you along the western shore of Upper Waterton Lake. Turn around at any time, or take a boat to the end across the US border to Goat Haunt and then walk back. Distance 13 km one way, hiking time is 4 hours.
- Bear’s Hump – The Bear’s Hump starts at the visitor centre and takes you up the slopes to a rocky outcrop with great views of the Waterton Valley, the town and its lakes; 1.2 km, 40 min one way. An easier option is the 2 km Prince of Wales loop, taking about 45 min.
- Bertha Lake – Half-day or day hike from Waterton to Bertha Lake Trail (12 km return, 4 hours 30 min) a steep hike to a beautiful mountain lake.
- Crypt Lake Trail – A challenging hike, often mentioned as one of the best hikes in Canada (8.6 km one way, 6-8 hours). It involves a boat trip across Upper Waterton Lake to the trailhead on the east side of the lake.
- The Bison Paddock – Before you enter the park gates, drive 2 km north along Highway 6 to the Bison Paddock, where a few bison are a reminder of a lost past.
Download AllTrails App for Free and find the best trails.
Red Rock Parkway
The Red Rock Parkway (open from May to October) leads up Blakiston Creek for about 15 km to the mouth of Red Rock Canyon.
The road ends at Red Rock canyon from where you can walk the easy Red Rock canyon Loop (700 m) and Blackiston Falls Trail (1km). Both can be extended into day hikes to Goat Lake, Lost Lake and the spectacular Twin Lakes area. Each lake has its own backcountry campground.
Akamina Parkway to Cameron Lake
The 16 km drive starts where Hwy 5 enters the townsite. At 7.8 km you come to First Oil Well in Western Canada National Historic Site where they struck petroleum in 1902.
At Cameron Lake, you can wander along easy trails or rent canoes, rowing boats and paddleboats.
Most hiking trails on the Akamina Parkway are at the road’s end, near Cameron Lake. The Akamina Lake Trail (.5 km) and Cameron Lakeshore Trail (1.6 km) are both easy walks, while Forum and Walls Lakes are both moderately hard half-day hikes.
Row Lakes, Lineham Ridge and Tamarack Trail – Row Lakes Trail, 5.2 km one way, is the first leg of the Tamarack Trail. Another 1.3 km will take you to the Rowe Basin and the start of the trail to Upper Rowe Lakes (1.2 km) beyond. Fit hikers should continue another 3.4 km to Upper Rowe Lake. This is one of the most scenic trails in the Rockies.
If you continue from there you will be on the 36 km Tamarack Trail, which follows spectacular ridges among the Continental Divide before dropping down to the Red Rock Parkway. This is one of the Rocky Mountains greatest high mountain treks, with a maximum elevation of 2560 m. It is generally done in three days.
Pick up maps and directions at the visitor centre and check a hiking app for more details.
Chief Mountain Highway
The third named road in the park is the 32 km Chief Mountain Highway (open from mid-May to Oct). It runs along the park’s eastern border from the park entrance. After 7 km it reaches a great viewpoint over the mountain-backed Waterton Valley and then passes the Canadian border crossing. This is the place to sort visas you might need for hikes across the border. If the Chief Mountain crossing is closed, the nearest border crossing is at Carway, Alberta, a 140 km round-trip from the park gate.
- Cycling – There are a few great mountain trails in the park. A good option for the fit and experienced is to ride on the road up to the Crandell Campground (12 km), climb the rocky trail up to Crandell Lake and then follow the single-track trail back to town. The total route is about 20 km and will probably take around three hours – bear encounters are likely.
- Fishing – There is great fishing on the lakes, but make sure to pick up the compulsory national park permit from the visitor centre.
Waterton Lakes National Park Campgrounds
Free camping in the Canadian Rockies is not allowed. Campgrounds must be booked well in advance with Parks Canada
Belly River Campground – Chief Mountain Highway, 26 km from Waterton. A basic, park-run, overflow campground (bring your own water. Mid-May to mid-Sept.
Candell Campground – 8 km northwest of Waterton on Red Rock Parkway, off Hwy 5. This is the other campground in the main part of the park with first-served sites and limited facilities. Flush toilets, water (no showers), kitchen shelters, and some fire rings. firewood and food storage (Mid-May to early Sept).
Waterton Townsite Campground – Off Vimy Ave, on the southern side of Waterton village, this busy park-run campground is the only one that can be booked in advance. Facilities include hot showers, flush toilets, kitchen shelters, food storage and full RV hook-ups, no open fires allowed (April to mid-Oct).
Overnight Backpacking – Nine backcountry campsites. A wilderness Use Permit is required for backcountry camping.
Waterton Park Information
- Waterton Visitor Centre Visitor Centre – across the road from the Prince of Wales Hotel. It is the central stop for any information you need about the area.
- Entry fees: A National Park pass is required to enter Waterton Lakes.
- Waterton Parks Website
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