Ascend to the Top of the World in Banff National Park

Dizzying views in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

It’s easy to see why Banff National Park was once advertised as 50 Switzerlands in one. The mountain range—comprising bizarrely jagged peaks many exceeding 12,000 feet—goes on for thousands of miles. And so many valleys between are filled with pools of water—each a different shade of glowing, ethereal teal.

Banff is renowned for skiing in winter though some heights have enough snow to backcountry ski all year long, even in July while the valleys offer perfectly crisp hikes in spring and fall. Come summer, the balmy 70-degree weather keeps you from sweating too much as you ascend peaks or enjoy sparkling pools in the valleys.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting here is a real two-for-one deal since immediately next to Banff is Jasper National Park located in such proximity that it’s difficult to tell where one park ends and the other begins. Plus, if you somehow tire of gondolas soaring above a sea of trees, incredibly scenic drives, glacier hikes, tasteful lodge towns, or tea houses serving steaming treats and drinks directly on the trail, the nearby cities of Edmonton and Calgary offer innovative restaurants, bars, and art. No matter how much time you have, here’s what to cram into your trip to Banff.

Start and end in a buzzing city

To get to Banff, drive your car or RV from Calgary to the national park. But, instead of doubling back to the Stampede City an ideal option would be to continue onward through the park and onto Jasper and onto Edmonton to hit up both cities. Both are newer cities with sky-scraper-filled downtowns; Calgary is on the more polished side while Edmonton feels artsy and green.

Edmonton City Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Edmonton, you’ll notice a chain of parks running through the center of the city thanks to protected land on both sides of the North Saskatchewan River. Locals bike, walk, or scooter around the 40 miles of pathways weaving through pine trees and descending down to glacier-blue water. You’ll find art scattered through the park and the city some of which is created by indigenous artists and celebrates Métis First Nations or the Cree language. Whether you hike, kayak, or sign on for a dinner or party on a river boat on the North Saskatchewan, no worries about trekking all the way back uphill at the end of the day—you can ride the funicular instead.

Whyte Avenue is the street to check out while you’re in town with its restaurants, indie theater, beer gardens, farmer’s markets, and street art. Here you’ll find a bar in an old train station, board game cafes, arcade bars, and restaurants dishing ramen, ice cream, vegan eats, curries, Cajun food, and more.

Rogers Place in the Ice District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Across town there’s some newer development in the ICE District, a 25-acre mixed-use development project located in the heart of downtown Edmonton. ICE District is a modern, urban destination and gathering space and ranks as the largest mixed-use sports and entertainment district in Canada and the 2nd largest in North America after Hudson Yards in New York. ICE District is home to a mix of premium office space, high-end residences, a luxury hotel, boutique shops and restaurants, all anchored by Rogers Place, a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facility that is home to the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.

The other option is Calgary. Also known as Cowtown to the rest of Canada, this cosmopolitan city is rooted in its wild Western heritage. It’s also Canada’s energy centre—both economically and culturally. You’ll never find yourself bored in Calgary.

Calgary’s downtown has everything you’d expect from a big city: shopping, fine dining, museums and endless entertainment options. The surrounding neighbourhoods each have a unique identity, with boutiques, breweries and a bevy of public art. Two large rivers wind throughout it all, forever nourishing its parks and people.

You’ll also find gentle rafting and kayaking on the Bow River, a haunted ghost tour around the city, and chuck wagon races at the Calgary Stampede (July 7-16, 2023) where old wooden food carts go neck and neck. Check out the cool neighborhood of Kensington for nightlife.

Located in the heart of the city, the Calgary Tower offers a spectacular 360-degree view. Enjoy a one-of-a-kind view of Calgary on the incredible glass floor and see the bustling streets below. An informative and inspiring multi-media tour is available for free and accessible from your mobile device.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take in the drive

Getting anywhere in or around Banff and Jasper means you’re doing a scenic drive so I won’t even bother recommending specific routes—though you’ll probably take the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) and the Trans Canada Highway.

In any case, just follow your maps app and be ready to look up a lot. Even the driver will be wowed—while still focusing intently on the road and keeping hands on the wheel at exactly the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, of course. Don’t be surprised if a massive elk stands majestically by the road allowing puny humans to snap their little photos. And yes, there are bears here, but whether you see them from a car or on the trail they’re not particularly interested in humans but you’ll still need to use caution.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit up tea houses and gondolas while hiking in Banff

Whenever you decide to stop the car, it’s time for open-air adventure. The most popular destination for hikers and non-hikers alike is Lake Louise, or Ho-Run-Num-Nay, meaning the lake of little fish. This is where you’ll find the most Instagram posts as well as kayak trips on the turquoise water. One excellent hike in this area is the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail which is a moderate 6-mile roundtrip walk from Lake Louise up about 1,000 feet to a lovely tea house serving cakes, warm entrees, hot cocoa, and—of course—tea. The hike to Lake Agnes Tea House also starts from Lake Louise and is easier to reach at only 4.7 miles roundtrip though the less crowded Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is more rustic and rewarding.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just across from Ho-Run-Num-Nay is the Lake Louise Summer Gondola that runs through early October. From the top dropoff point you can hike one of the many trails on the summit or dine at the ski lodge that’s open year round.

For an easy but stunning hike in Banff, try Johnston Canyon Lower Falls which is a flat 1-mile walk on boardwalks suspended over a river in a narrow canyon. You’ll feel like you’re levitating above the river until you get to a small cave and waterfall at the end where teal blue water gushes into shimmering pools. You can continue onwards from there to Upper Falls for higher vistas. And close to town, Stoney Squaw is another short 2-mile hike that’s steeper and more secluded with few people and many tree roots along the trail. You’ll mostly be surrounded by pines the entire time except for some quick views at the top so this is one for the forest bathers out there.

Columbia Icefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climb up glaciers and into hot springs in Jasper

Walking on top of a glacier is a rare experience—and one that’s getting even rarer since many of them are melting away. Going on a trek with a responsible tourism group allows visitors the chance of a lifetime. The glaciers from the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park are shrinking but they’re still hypnotic to gaze upon as they sit like eerie, silent giants. 

On this incredible experience you’ll travel on a massive Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle to the Athabasca Glacier, a 10,000-year-old sheet of ice where you can walk on, feel, and drink from the glacier.

Whether or not you opt to walk on the icefield—for which a guide is required, lest you fall into one of the deep cracks—you can also hike a short trail that takes you to the edge of the glacier. The hikes start at the Glacier View Lodge which is an elegant place to stay and see the bluish ice from the hotel’s huge floor-to-ceiling windows. From here, you can also purchase tickets for the Skywalk where visitors walk out onto a glass platform suspended 900 feet above the rugged glacial landscape.

Glacial Skywal© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If even the thought of a glacier hike is chilling, there’s also plenty of heat to be had in Jasper. The Sulphur Skyline Trail is a jaw-dropping hike that ends in hot springs. About 5 miles roundtrip and with around a 2,000-foot elevation gain this hike climbs gradually up inclines and switchbacks until you’re suddenly beholding the world from its crown. You’ll want to be extra careful with your footing at the very top since it’s somewhat gravely. Or just skip the whole thing and sit in the natural Miette Hot Springs at the foot of the trail surrounded by all the peaks you can admire regardless of whether you decide to climb them.

The Bald Hills trail is another iconic hike in Jasper with huge views at the top. The majority of the 8-mile route goes through forests, either steeply to the left or on an easier fire road to the right until emerging for the ridgeline view. The trail starts and stops by Maligne Lake where you can opt to go on a boat cruise.

Elk grazing in Jasper Townsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Relax each evening in a lodge town

A couple of towns located within the national parks exemplify the best version of lodge towns. While there are certainly many tourists, the villages don’t feel plasticky; there’s an authenticity to the wood and fireplaces that perhaps comes with weathering many long winters. The main towns are eponymously named Banff and Jasper. You’ll find numerous shops and restaurants all within wooden mountain houses. Tour operators pick guests up directly from the hotels in town and make it easy to get around the national park without having to drive or fight for parking at trailheads.

If you get back to town and still have the stamina to take in more mountain views, bike trails are the best way to explore the immediate area—which can be done via e-bike for those who want to see the sights but whose legs have called it quits. At Snowtips-Bactrax in Banff, workers will outfit you with either a mountain or electric bike and offer maps and suggestions of which routes to take from the center of town depending on how long you want to ride. One nearby option with a glorious vista is Lake Minnewanka Loop which goes up and down some hills in a 15-mile route along protected bike lanes and a low-traffic road.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Jasper has plenty to offer as well, Banff is the perfect home base to return to after a long day of excursions. The Three Bears Brewery is a highlight where the food is as inventive as the beer. Order the lamb rib with pomegranate glaze and a hint of chili oil which is an outrageous dish you’ll keep dreaming about on the trails. And though the beer menu is extensive with hoppy trail brews and local pine pilsners, the restaurant’s signature drinks are infused beers. Using teas like rooibos and fruit such as blueberries or peaches, brewers experiment with flavors that come out fresh from the on-site infusion chamber. Look for fruity combos in warmer months and a peppermint stout as the seasons get colder.

For a final dose of relaxation, one highly suggested activity is to soak in a steam room full of eucalyptus. Steam rooms might seem like they’re the same all over the world but the humble mini-spa that’s free (I repeat, free) for guests of Peaks Hotel & Suites must have a rejuvenating secret beyond just a lovely smell.

RVs in the national parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The new hotel in Banff is beautifully designed with rustic-chic vibes, small private balconies, and free hot cocoa by the gas fireplace—but their indoor pool and plunge pools are transformative after mountain climbing. The potent eucalyptus in all that steam seems to penetrate both your muscles and lungs for a deep hiking recovery that’ll have you ready to get back at it in no time.

Worth Pondering…

The mountains are calling and I must go.

—John Muir

10 Must-See Spots in Jasper National Park

What to do in Jasper National Park in summer

When it comes to the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park has it all. From the soaring limestone walls of Maligne Canyon to the breathtaking views of Athabasca Falls and crystal clear Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park is filled with sensational activities for the hiker, kayaker, and all-around outdoors enjoyer could ever want. But with over 745 miles of natural hiking trails to explore, it can be hard to know where to start.

That’s why I put together this list of must-experience spots, the kinds of places you have to visit to say you’ve truly seen Jasper. So tour the world’s most accessible glacier, get front-row seats to a diverse range of wildlife including elk, bears, bighorn sheep, and rocky mountain goats, and dive into massive mountain peaks, vast valleys, and forests filled with extraordinary evergreens.

Columbia Icefields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Maligne Canyon

Just a 10-minute drive from the town of Jasper, Maligne Canyon has one of the most impressive ravines in the Canadian Rockies. Sheer limestone walls drop to depths of over 150 feet making it the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park and one that’s magnificent to visit any time of year.

Maligne Canyon is a beautiful place to hike in the summer months. This popular Jasper attraction has six bridges built throughout different points of the canyon. If you’re looking for a simple walk, venture over to the First and Second bridges. If you want an extended hike, continue to the Sixth Bridge for more great views of the waterfalls and rapids. You’ll also be able to grab a bite at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen before or after your hike.

Tip: Get there early to grab a parking spot as it fills quickly in the summer. In the winter, Maligne Canyon is nothing short of magical. Wander through the canyon to marvel at the frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and surreal ice formations. You can explore the area on your own or take a guided tour to learn more about the canyon. Want even more thrill? Try ice climbing with a certified mountain guide!

Rocky mountain goat © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Athabasca Falls

While the falls are only around 75 feet high, it’s their power that makes Athabasca Falls rather astonishing. Located about 20 miles south of Jasper, Athabasca Falls offers exquisite views and water that changes color every season.

Parking is close to the falls and the hike itself is quite easy. Once there, walk along the interpretive trail to admire the falls from various vantage points. Make sure to cross the bridge and head down the stairs to the bottom of the falls for close-ups of the canyon. Caused by earlier erosion, it continues to be whittled away a bit each year from the flowing water.

Do yourself a favor and stay on the right side of the viewing fence. The mist makes the stones slippery and people have drowned trying to get the perfect photo.

Tip: If you’d like to see Athabasca Falls from a different perspective, consider a rafting tour along the Athabasca River. Beginner tours offer just enough rapids to give you a bit of a thrill, all while your guides share information about the surrounding area.

Jasper townsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Maligne Lake

Spanning over 13 miles in length, Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake in the Rockies and the second-largest glacially-fed lake in the world. Walk along the Mary Schaffer loop to enjoy views of vivid turquoise waters and gorgeous horizons.

This area is also great for getting on the water and offers canoe, kayak, and rowboat rentals as well as guided fishing tours. For a truly incredible experience, take a Maligne Lake boat cruise to Spirit Island, an amazing spot from which to see the stars, as Jasper is the world’s second-largest dark sky reserve. On the cruise, you’ll learn about the history of the lake and get some stunning views of the peaks, glaciers, and wildlife around the lake. I enjoyed the boat tour one summer and left convinced it might be the most beautiful spot on the planet.

Tip: Maligne Lake is about 30 miles from downtown Jasper, so make sure to schedule in driving time when planning your day.

Elk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Jasper Skytram

As Canada’s longest and highest guided aerial tramway, the Jasper SkyTram is a ride unlike any other. This seven-minute ride takes you nearly 7,500 feet up Whistler Mountain giving you 360-degree views of Jasper, its mountain ranges, and the many waterways that make up the park.

Once you’ve arrived at the top, you can hike up to the summit for more stellar sights of Jasper or enjoy the vistas while grabbing a bite at the full-service Summit Restaurant. Either way, you’re in for a real treat.

Pyramid Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Pyramid Lake

Located at the foot of Pyramid Mountain, Pyramid Lake is one of the most picturesque places to see in Jasper. This kidney-shaped lake is the perfect spot to relax on the beach or picnic at the log frame pavilion.

Walk along the lakeshore trail to a wooden bridge to get to a tiny island in the middle of the lake. Once there, the peaceful mountains set behind the beauty of the lake will likely take your breath away and make for some lovely photos.

Rocky mountain sheep © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mount Edith Cavell

Mount Edith Cavell is one of Jasper’s most famous mountains. And with its signature diagonal rock patterns, renowned alpine wildflower trails, and fascinating history, it’s no wonder why.

A long, winding drive off Highway 93A leads visitors to a newly expanded parking area where a short, paved path leads to jaw-dropping views of the Angel Glacier, the mint-green lake below, and the iconic, sparkling peak above. For extra adventure, hikers can opt for a longer, non-paved walk up into an alpine meadow with even more panoramic views (note that dogs aren’t permitted on the upper trail).

Edith Cavell saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers during World War I before she was executed by a German firing squad. Before the mountain got its current name, it was called White Ghost by Native Americans, la Montagne de la Grande Traverse by French mountaineers, and Mount Fitzhugh until the war.

Jasper Park Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Sunwapta Falls

Meaning turbulent river in Nakoda, Sunwapta Falls is located on the Icefields Parkway. This pair of waterfalls were created by hanging valleys that divide them into the Upper and Lower Falls.

The upper falls are close to the road making them readily accessible. Hike along the trail until you reach the lower falls and make sure to take the footbridge so you can observe the river in an uproar before calming down as it streams into the wider part of the gorge.

The Sunwapta white water rafting river tour is sure to get your blood pumping. Unlike the Athabasca tours, this expedition includes Class 3 rapids and is the most challenging white water in Jasper National Park. During the ride, you’ll hit large waves while taking in the spectacular scenery.

Elk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Miette Hot Springs

Miette Hot Springs features the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies. The natural hot springs water flows from the mountain at 129 degrees Fahrenheit, the water is then cooled to a comfortable temperature of 104 degrees as it enters the hot springs pool.

After taking a soak, head on over to one of the two colder pools to cool down as you watch the sunset over the mountains. If you feel like walking a bit more, there are a few easy hiking trails near the springs including the site of the old Aqua court. Just make sure to keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep near the parking lot—it’s a favorite hangout spot for them and a great photo op for you.

Note: At time of writing Miette Hot Springs was closed due to a road washout resulting in the closure of Miette Road. Check with Parks Canada for an update on the reopening of Miette Road.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Icefields Parkway

Stretching from Jasper to Banff, this 140-mile highway packs the best of the Rockies into one epic road trip. Seriously, driving the parkway might be the most sublime experience you can have. Lake Louise (you know, that photo) is on the itinerary. So are more than 100 ancient glaciers, surreal hikes with unobscured mountain views, and wildlife like deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. Be sure to give yourself at least a full day to travel the parkway one way.

Those afraid of heights should probably skip this one. For the rest of us, the Glacier Skywalk is a horizontal ark that juts out over the edge of the Sunwapta Valley, 918 feet in the air. Built in 2014, the thing has glass floors so if you can handle looking down you’ll get unreal views of the valley below. Get here by stopping along the Icefields Parkway 60 miles south of Jasper. As a heads up, this one closes for winter and most of the spring due to weather.

Worth Pondering…

The mountains are calling and I must go.

—John Muir

The Canadian Rockies Are a Wonderland of Glacial Lakes and Scenic Drives

As expected, Canada continues to be gorgeous

I grew up in the shadow of the most gorgeous mountains in the Northern Hemisphere: the Canadian Rockies.

Spanning some 3,000 miles between Alaska and New Mexico, the Rocky Mountain chain began forming 80 million years ago. Their youth (relative to mountains, of course) shows in their sharper edges and rough faces which contrast beautifully with the curves of the glacial lakes they hold. These can take on downright surreal colors thanks to rock flour, the microscopic bits of ground-up mountain that slide off a glacier when it melts.

Since more than 1.5 million people travel to the mountain park between June and September, Parks Canada says to “be prepared for crowds and line-ups, remember to pack your patience, and be respectful to the people and wildlife you encounter.”

Don’t come to Banff or Jasper without a hotel or camping reservation (and remember that camping in a non-designated campsite or in the towns of Banff and Jasper is illegal). During most long weekends and summer months, the park is at capacity. If there is no availability in Banff or Jasper, look into accommodations in a neighboring community.

The scenery is gob-smacking any time of year with summer the ideal time for swimming and fishing while winter calls for soaking in hot springs and zipping down the mountainside on a pair of skis. Enticed to plan a trip? Here are the most beautiful views to chase.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway, Alberta

Stretching from Banff to Jasper, this 140-mile highway packs the best of the Rockies into one epic road trip. Seriously, driving the parkway might be the most sublime experience you can have. Lake Louise (you know, that photo), is on the itinerary. So are more than 100 ancient glaciers, surreal hikes with unobscured mountain views, and wildlife like deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. Be sure to give yourself at least a full day to travel the parkway one way.

Icefields Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Columbia Icefield Skywalk, Alberta

Those afraid of heights should probably skip this one. For the rest of us, the Glacier Skywalk is a horizontal ark that juts out over the edge of the Sunwapta Valley, 918 feet in the air. Built in 2014, the thing has glass floors so if you can handle looking down you’ll get unreal views of the valley below. Get here by stopping along the Icefields Parkway 60 miles south of Jasper or 125 miles north of Banff. As a heads up, this one closes for winter and most of spring due to weather.

Athabasca Glacier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Athabasca Glacier, Alberta

We always hear about melting glaciers but have you ever actually seen one up close? See it while you still can as the four-mile Athabasca Glacier is steadily thawing; over the last 125 years it’s lost half its volume and retreated more than a mile. While it’s too dangerous to hike into the glacier on your own, some tours offer excursions through ice caves and crevasses.

Lake Louise, Alberta

Going to the Rockies and skipping Lake Louise is like going to Manhattan and not visiting Central Park. It’s crowded, but there’s a reason it’s crowded. An extensive network of hiking trails around the lake offers an easy escape from the tour groups. If you have a few hours, a hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House originally built in 1901 is a great way to savor everything the area has to offer. In the winter, the mountains around the lake become a skiing and snowboarding paradise with over 4,200 trails.

Lac Beauvert and Jasper Park Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lac Beauvert (near Jasper, Alberta)

Located at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge—Jasper’s answer to the Banff Springs—Lac Beauvert produces dazzling emerald colors on a sunny summer day. A 2.4-mile loop encircles the lake and should take just an hour to complete. Otherwise, there’s kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding on the lake itself.

Pyramid Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pyramid Lake (near Jasper, Alberta)

Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park is one of the best places to visit in Jasper. This lake is a wonderful kidney-shaped lake right at the foot of the iconic Pyramid Mountain. It’s one of the many small lakes left behind by retreating glaciers in the area. Unlike many of the Banff lakes which can seem like a trek to get to from town, Pyramid Lake is only 3 miles from town down Pyramid Lake Road. So even if you only have a half-hour to spare while visiting Jasper, you can easily make a trip to Pyramid Lake and see its beauty.

Mount Robson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Robson, British Columbia

You came to the Rockies for some big-ass mountains and Mount Robson is the biggest, climbing almost 13,000 feet into the sky. The British Columbia provincial park that surrounds the mountain stretches 868 square miles and has plenty of trails for some real alone time with nature—just you and the mountain goats, caribou, and 182 species of birds. An ultra-marathon in the area attracts the truly determined while a gift shop that sells ice cream caters to the rest of us throughout the summer.

Horseshoe Lake (near Jasper, Alberta)

This crisp, pristine lake 18 miles south of Jasper is no longer a secret, especially on hot days when it gets packed with brave swimmers (the water is always chilly!), scuba divers, and fishermen who reel in rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and channel catfish. But it’s still totally worth it, especially if you’ve got the cajones to jump off cliffs as high as 80 feet into the deep water. If that’s your kind of thing, for heaven’s sakes, be careful. Parks Canada has to rescue two or three people a year and a guy recently shattered his pelvis doing it.

Elk in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moraine Lake (near Lake Louise, Alberta)

Just 8.7 miles from the hamlet of Lake Louise along the Moraine Lake road, The Valley of the Ten Peaks provides the backdrop you came to the Rockies to see. Aside from jagged snow-dusted peaks, Moraine Lake itself has water so mind-bogglingly turquoise you’ll think you’re in The Little Mermaid, especially at its peak in late June. There are hikes aplenty around Moraine Lake and if you want to get out on the water you can rent a canoe to paddle on the lake. You don’t want to skip this one, trust me!

Athabasca Falls (near Jasper, Alberta)

The Athabasca River might not sit at a high elevation but it creates the most powerful waterfall in the Rockies. In the winter, the water turns into majestic ice crystals. Do yourself a favor and stay on the right side of the viewing fence. The mist makes the stones slippery and people have drowned trying to get the perfect photo. Get here along the Icefields Parkway, about 20 miles south from the town of Jasper.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Banff National Park

Banff National Park is famous for its vibrant lakes, majestic mountains, and easy access to outdoor adventures of all kinds. The park spans 2,564 square miles of striking mountainous terrain in the vast wilderness of the Canadian Rockies. Canada’s first national park and the world’s third, it has a rich heritage as one of the world’s most awe-inspiring mountain destinations. The bustling Banff townsite and village of Lake Louise are uniquely located in the national park. In this one of a kind place, there’s something for everyone to discover.

Maligne Lake, Alberta

Maligne is the second-biggest glacial lake in the world. I enjoyed a tour boat here one summer, and left convinced it might be the most beautiful spot on the planet. Maligne has many moods, each and every one of them exquisite. If a tour doesn’t float your boat, you can hike around the lake on a large trail network, hang out in the chalet, or even get hitched. On a scorching summer day, you can also dive in, but be warned that glacial lakes don’t warm up much even in the heart of summer’s heat. Unless you’re hankering for hypothermia, don’t hang out in the water too long.

Rocky mountain goats in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canmore, Alberta

The so-called Three Sisters are the calling card of Canmore, a cozy town just outside the boundary of Banff National Park. The peaks, whose names—Big Sister, Middle Sister, and Little Sister—refer to an ancient Stoney story are also called Faith, Hope, and Charity by some though not by anyone who has tried to climb them without adequate preparation. The summit of Big Sister is nearly 10,000 feet and can be reached in a day if you’re experienced enough.

Sunwapta Falls (near Jasper, Alberta)

Sunwapta, named after the Stoney word for turbulent river, is Athabasca Falls’ main rival and is as dramatic as its name suggests. Actually a pair of waterfalls separated by a short hike, Sunwapta sits 34 miles from the stretch of the Icefields Parkway near Jasper. Its power peaks in the spring when glacial runoff is at its height. In winter, the road is closed but you can still snowshoe or hike in to see the ice formations in the falls.

Elk in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta

Part of the string of Canadian hotels that includes Ottawa’s Château Laurier and Quebec City’s Château Frontenac, this is easily the most opulent building in the Rockies. Built in 1888 and modeled after a Scottish Baronial castle, Banff Springs Hotel has luxurious rooms, a spa, and its very own golf course. Even if you don’t have the moolah to stay here, it’s worth visiting just for amazing views.

Old Fort Point (near Jasper, Alberta)

Don’t let anyone tell you that awesome views of the Rockies require huge hiking expeditions. Old Fort Point is a five-minute drive from Jasper and this view of the Athabasca River greets you about a third of the way up.

Bighorn sheep in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Larch Valley (near Lake Louise, Alberta)

Larch trees lurk on every mountainside in the Rockies. They blend in with the evergreens for most of the year but in the fall their needles turn a brilliant gold. In Larch Valley, they reach a captivating concentration. The seven-mile hike from Moraine Lake takes about 5-6 hours round trip.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

While it doesn’t get as much publicity as Banff or Jasper, Yoho National Park is just as great. Emerald Lake (yes, it’s as vibrant as it sounds), Yoho’s largest of 61 lakes, has an easy 3-mile trail around the water. The Lake McArthur half-day hike is another good way to get oriented with serene views of the Rocky Mountains and the sapphire blue lake. It takes between three and five hours round trip to complete, every minute of which is totally worth it.

Icefields Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roger’s Pass, Glacier National Park, British Columbia

Yes, Canada has its own Glacier National Park and it is epic. With over 400 glaciers, 86 miles of trails, and great skiing on Kicking Horse and Revelstoke come winter, you won’t be short on activities nor on vistas. The best views might be from the top of the park’s summit, Rogers Pass, which sits at 4,534 feet.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton National Park, Alberta

Nestled near the US border, Waterton National Park is contiguous with Montana’s Glacier National Park. It offers all of the beauty of that park plus its famous cousins Banff and Jasper but with a fraction of the crowds. Its namesake lake is anchored by the Roaring ’20s-era Prince of Wales Hotel which sits not far from the Bear’s Hump, a short hike still steep enough to offer commanding views of the valley and Mount Cleveland.

Big horn sheep in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kootenay National Park, British Columbia

Are you a bath person? Yes? Now, imagine getting all relaxed and warm under breathtaking snowy mountains. Yeah, I know. Kootenay National Park in British Columbia has several hot springs from classy chalets to humble public sites. On the low-cost end, Parks Canada operates Radium Hot Springs, an odorless, sunken pool with soothing minerals like sulfate, calcium, bicarbonate, silica, and magnesium. Entry and a locker cost just a couple bucks. And if a pool warmed with natural springs sounds more like your thing, Ainsworth Hot Springs more than satisfies.

Worth Pondering…

The mountains are calling and I must go.

—John Muir