The 25 Most Breathtaking Places in the U.S. and Canada to Visit in your Lifetime

These are 25 of the most breathtaking for RV travel

What is the most breathtaking place in America? To compile the most breathtaking places in the U.S. and Canada is an inherently subjective and impossible task but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the continent has to offer.

Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, my list is sure to inspire your next RV road trip. Join me for a journey to some of the most breathtaking places that you can visit in an RV from mountains that rival the Alps to red rock wonder with colorful layers to glorious underground caverns.

There are so many amazing places to see, I couldn’t possibly include them all in just one list. But, these breathtaking destinations are worth bumping to the top of your travel bucket list—whether you’re looking to relax on a beach, get off the grid, or explore a charming town—these are the most beautiful locations to consider.

Bryce Canyon National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon’s name is rather deceiving. Instead of containing a canyon what it does have are stone pinnacles that were formed naturally over time due to erosion from the stream and weathering during winter’s frost. Multiple points throughout this park offer a stupendous view, but your best bet is Bryce Point in the southern region. From here, you’ll have a prime viewing of all the amazing stone formations known as hoodoos scattered about the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Jasper National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Jasper National Park, Alberta

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of wild and scenic. It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff. Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, making it a popular tourist destination for travelers to explore.

Organ Pipe National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the forests of Saguaro.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Tulip fields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington

These farmlands are must-sees in the spring—namely in April which is the absolute best time to take a trip to this Pacific Northwest locale. That’s when all the bright, vibrant tulips are in full bloom and when you can enjoy the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. If you visit at the right time you’ll get to see not just tulips in all sorts of pretty, warm colors but also countless other flowers that add to the gorgeousness of the fields. During the festival, you can taste wine, enjoy strolling through gardens, sample barbecues, and feast your eyes on art exhibits.

Caverns of Senora  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Caverns of Senora

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. Five levels of the cave vary in depth from 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

>> Get more tips for visiting The Caverns of Sonora

Joshua Tree National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Step into Joshua Tree National Park and you won’t just feel like you’re in another country, you’ll feel as if you’re walking onto another planet. Filled with bizarrely-shaped plants indigenous to the region like the Joshua tree as well as ginormous boulders that rise hundreds of feet into the sky, the landscape has the appearance of a scene from a sci-fi flick. Joshua Tree National Park is a photographer’s, hiker’s, and climber’s dream while the village of Joshua Tree has a unique charm as an artists’ enclave home to an eclectic mix of nature lovers, artists, and hipsters.

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Bernheim Forest  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bernheim Forest

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with a desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.

>> Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Canadian Rockies

One of the most spectacular and beautiful places you will find anywhere, the Canadian Rockies are huge, pristine wilderness with local gems such as Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks. All five parks combined with three British Columbia provincial parks have been name as a single UNESCO World Heritage site for the unique mountainscapes found here. Not to mention the world-famous lakes in the region. You’ll have plenty to explore with Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Maligne Lake, all stunning and fed by the glaciers in the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Canadian Rockies

Cumberland Island National Seashore  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Botany Bay  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine-hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.

>> Get more tips for visiting Botany Bay

Mesa Verde National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. This park preserves the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites that are hundreds of years old. Short hikes, scenic drives, and viewpoints make the to-do list but the best way to experience this park is to get up close to the cliff dwellings on a tour.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompasses 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego State Park

Shenandoah National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking trails traverse the park.

 >> Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Enchanted Rock in Texas Hill Country  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Texas Hill Country, Texas

The Texas Hill Country boasts scenic landscapes replete with rolling hills, grasslands, rivers, lakes, charming small towns, and fields covered in numerous varieties of wildflowers such as bluebonnets, buttercups, and Indian paintbrushes. There are also over 50 wineries to explore, each with its own terroir and unique approach to winemaking.

 >> Get more tips for visiting the Texas Hill Country

Okanagan Valley  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The region receives less than 12 inches of rain and two inches of snow annually and is the hottest and driest place in Canada. On the horizon are mountains of green foliage, aqua-blue lakes, and, in the distance, rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. With its mild, dry climate, the region is also popular with golfers, hikers, and bikers.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Okanagan Valley

Painted Churches  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas, they established a cluster of small communities that had one thing in common: their painted churches. The term painted comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork.

The terrain between the churches is winding and rolling and contains some of the best country views in the state. The Painted Churches are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European-styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Painted Churches

Columbia Icefield  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Icefields Parkway, Alberta

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145-mile stretch of highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests. Glacier Sky Walk is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Galveston, Texas

With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year but the summer months are the most enjoyable bringing more visitors than any other time. Galveston Island is home to Moody Gardens as well as Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. Galveston also offers numerous unique museums including The Bryan Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, and Galveston Railroad Museum.

>> Get more tips for visiting Galveston

Mount Robson Provincial Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system is truly one of Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Museum of Appalachia  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, Tennessee

The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts assembled for over a half-century. The Museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village with some three dozen historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts, multiple gardens, and free-range farm animals, all set in a picturesque venue and surrounded by split-rail fences. Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine you’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear cutting firewood, tending livestock, mending a quilt, or simply rocking on the porch, enjoying the glorious views.

>> Get more tips for visiting Museum of Appalachia

Natural Bridges National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Formed by the power of water in a place where water is all but absent, three stone bridges in the Utah desert have been protected as a national monument since 1908. Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. A nine-mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

La Connor  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in and around La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, an artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, and browse through unique shops and art galleries.

>> Get more tips for visiting La Conner

Elk Island National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Elk Island National Park, Alberta

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This island of conservation is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Capitol Reef National Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

With beautiful scenic drives, thrilling hikes, historical sites, backcountry roads, slot canyons, and unique desert landscapes, Capitol Reef National Park is an unexpectedly amazing national park to visit. If you love the idea of leaving the crowds behind and exploring a vast, remote area, you have several options. Cathedral Valley with its sandstone monoliths and sweeping desert vistas is a beautiful, unique way to spend one day in Capitol Reef. Or you can Loop the Fold, another remote driving day along the waterpocket fold. There are also slot canyons to explore, low-traffic hiking trails in remote areas of the park, and some of the most dramatic landscapes in Utah which you can see right from your car.

>> Get more tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Worth Pondering…

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”

—Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

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

Summer 2022: 11 Best Things to Do in Western Canada

Your Canada bucket list just got (a lot) longer…

We could all use a break this summer. The last two summer travel seasons have been especially challenging for everyone—travelers, destinations, and small businesses alike. But 2022’s summer could be the biggest one yet for travel within Canada and I’m here to help you experience the absolute best of it.

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

The best things to do this summer in Western Canada include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-true staples too. But, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this summer!

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Hit all seven of the Rocky Mountain Parks

Renowned for their scenic splendor, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta, Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia, and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks in British Columbia. The seven parks of the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape. With rugged mountain peaks, icefields and glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes, waterfalls, extensive karst cave systems, and deeply carved canyons, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks possess an exceptional natural beauty that attracts millions of visitors annually.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Snap postcard-worthy photos of Banff National Park

Explore pine forests, glacier-carved valleys, and snow-capped peaks in Alberta’s Banff National Park. 

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you Google “Canada nature,” you’ll see pictures of Banff National Park in the Rockies—and for good reason. Canada’s oldest and most popular national park is Mother Nature’s best. Anywhere you look, there are jagged peaks sprinkled with fluffy powder, bluer than blue glacial lakes, and majestic wildlife including bears (black and grizzly), elk, wolves, big horn sheep, and foxes.

Related: Doctors Can Prescribe Year-Long Pass to Canada’s National Parks

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite being busy year-round, Banff is big enough that you can find something to do without being shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists (well, except perhaps if you’re waiting for that photo of Lake Louise).

Banff National Park is a hiker’s playground with more than 1,000 miles of trails. Following these trails up ridges leads to impressive viewpoints of craggy peaks, surprise waterfalls, and massive glaciers. The higher you go, the more you’ll see of the 1.6 million acres that make up the park.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Immerse yourself in nature at Jasper National Park

Jasper has been named one of the 30 best national parks across the globe. Outside, an online publication has included the picturesque spot on its list of must-see destinations. Jasper is the only Canadian entry.

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

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of “wild and scenic.” It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff.

Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, making it a popular tourist destination for travellers to explore.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. A scenic drive of a lifetime

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145 mile stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys

Columbia Icefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests.

Related: RV To Canada This Summer

Just as the name implies these glaciers or “fields of ice” is the largest south of the Arctic Circle. They are 90,000 acres in area and 100 to 360 feet in depth and receive up to 7 feet of snowfall per year.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier Sky Walk, opened in May 2014, is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley. The entire experience starts with a walk along the Discovery Trail. If you are not into heights, you can still view the Sunwapta Valley from a look-out point nearby.

Mount Robson Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Reach new peaks at Mount Robson Provincial Park

“On every side the snowy heads of mighty hills crowded round, whilst, immediately behind us, a giant among giants, and immeasurably supreme, rose Robson’s Peak.”

—Milton and Cheadle, 1865

Mount Robson Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system, is truly one of the Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Mount Robson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Alberta’s Jasper National Park as its easterly neighbor, Mount Robson Provincial Park comprises a portion of one of the world’s largest blocks of protected areas. Designated as a part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990, Mount Robson provides everything from developed, vehicle-accessible camping to remote valleys that seldom see a human footprint. Mount Robson Provincial Park also protects the headwaters of the Fraser River.

First attempted in 1907, it was not until 1913 that humans finally stood on the summit of Mount Robson. On that clear, cold day guide Conrad Kain, W.W. Foster and A.H. McCarthy beheld a view no person had ever seen before.

Fort Langley National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Stand in the spot where BC began

Experience the excitement of the early West Coast fur trade at Fort Langley and stand in the spot where British Columbia was proclaimed a British colony in 1858. Explore the scenic fort—built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1827—where fur traders once exchanged furs, salmon, and cranberries with Indigenous communities.

Fort Langley Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Langley National Historic Site offers interactive displays and activities. Watch blacksmithing, barrel-making, or historic weapons demonstrations, take a guided tour and pan for gold. Additional experiences include overnight stays in a furnished oTENTik, audio tours available in seven languages, and Sxwimelə Boutique and Gifts. There is also free parking on-site for visitors.

Fort Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Special events take place throughout the year such as Grave Tales walking tours, Brigade Days, Canada Day, the Cranberry Festival, Christmas events, and Vive les Voyageurs Winter Festival in January.

The Fort Langley National Historic Site is within walking distance of the Fort Langley Village where you can explore locally-owned shops, cafes, restaurants, museums, and beautiful walking trails along the Fraser River.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Drink in the wine and sunshine in the Okanagan

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 120-mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars, and rattlesnakes, rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Related: What you should know about Wine and Canada

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley Steam Railway and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Lesser Slave Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Travel off the beaten path in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park

As you dig your toes into warm, soft sand and watch the setting sun reflect off the glassy surface of the lake, you may feel like you are far away in some tropical locale. At nearly 450 sq mi, it isn’t hard to mistake Lesser Slave Lake for an ocean. Its white sand beaches are some of the finest in Alberta and when the west wind blows across the vast waters, you can get wave action big enough to surf on—though most people choose to ride the big breakers in kayaks.

Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique microclimate that encompasses the lake and rich habitat of the surrounding boreal forest has created a haven for nesting and migratory birds—particularly songbirds—which is why the area has been dubbed the continent’s bird nursery. Built to study them, the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory and Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation are fascinating to visit. You’ll learn that nearly half of all North American bird species nest and raise their young here and billions of birds pass through during the spring and fall migrations. Tour the Boreal Centre and take a walk along the Songbird Trail pausing in the middle to stand quietly and listen to the natural symphony created by songbirds in the towering aspen-poplar forest.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos, Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors, or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes, but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park, but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Explore the natural wonders at Elk Island National Park

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This “island of conservation” is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk Island has several trails of varying lengths winding through the different habitats found within the park. Since the park is not mountainous, the trails have very few steep inclines. Each trail contains many wildlife viewing opportunities from two different subspecies of bison to a multitude of songbirds. Whether you’re out for a leisurely hike or a longer adventure, make your trip a safe one by checking the latest conditions.

Read Next: Plan Your Travels around a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs