Western Canada’s mountain National Parks has some gorgeous scenery, with stunning peaks, glaciers, lakes and rivers. Within a couple hours drive of the Rockies, Calgary is the perfect jumping-off point to access the amazing scenery and activities that can be found along this circular route. There is much to discover as you head off to explore areas in both Alberta and British Columbia. Plan for a week, or a month, depending on how much you would like to experience as you travel.
Total Distance: ~1710 kms
Drive Time without stops: ~23 hours
- If you are planning to camp, be aware of fire bans. Depending on the type of ban, open fires like campfires and charcoal barbeques may not be allowed in all-day use areas, picnic sites, and backcountry campgrounds. Alberta Fire Bans; British Columbia Fire Bans
- Check Parks Canada Bulletins & Road Closures (links given under each park).
- Road Conditions – B.C. & Alberta
- Get Parks Canada Discovery Pass ($139.40 for up to 7 people in a vehicle, valid for a year with unlimited admission) for your trip instead of a day pass/admission (~$20 per day).
You may like: Saskatchewan National Parks Road Trip: Grasslands National Park to Prince Albert National Park
If you are flying into Calgary or driving in from another area, you will want to take a day to explore the city before getting into a rental car, or rental RV to head off on your adventure. Calgary is home to a lot of fun activities and sights, so if you only have one day, you might have a hard time choosing what to do. With more than a million people residing in the city, it is the largest in the province of Alberta and has a plethora of places to stay – both hotels and nearby campgrounds – as well as an incredible variety of places to eat.
Raft the Elbow or Bow Rivers – A fantastic way to pass a full day or part of a summer day. If you don’t have your own equipment or need a ride, it’s easy to rent through Lazy Day Raft Rentals, Rapid Rent Outlaw Sports, or the Paddle Station.
The Calgary Zoo – Located right near the downtown core, this zoo is by far one of the best things to see in the city. The Zoo is home to nearly 1,000 creatures across 119 species, and their mission is to become Canada’s leader in wildlife conservation. 210 St. George’s Drive NE, Calgary
The Calgary Tower – Another one of the top sites in the city, the Tower is the perfect place to get a bird’s eye view of the city and the distant mountains. This 190.8-meter free standing observation tower offers a chance to grab a bite to eat in the Sky 360 Restaurant and Lounge, or stand on the Observation Deck to see a panoramic view. 101 9 Ave SW, Calgary
Heritage Park – This is another all-day activity, just fifteen minutes outside of downtown. For history buffs, this is a perfect place to learn all about the history of Calgary and Western Canada. Enjoy the fully operational steam engine train, horse-drawn wagon rides, different daily activities and the Gasoline Alley Museum featuring some vintage cars. 1900 Heritage Dr SW, Calgary
Hike Nosehill Park – An excellent way to stretch your legs right in the city, Nosehill Park gives you views of not only the city skyscrapers but also the mountains in the distance. With about 11 square kilometers to explore, there are plenty of trails (60 kilometres worth) to discover here.
Calgary to Waterton Lakes National Park
Once you have had your fill of the city, it will be time to hit the highway.
Travelling south on Highway 2, there are nice little prairie towns to pass through as your drive. Just (approximately) 45 minutes outside of the city (depending on where you are starting from), you will come across the charming town of High River. This little town is famous for being used for many movie and television sets, and is a great first stop for a walk around. Take a self-guided historic walking tour to get an idea of how the town started.
The next potential stop heading south is the small town of Nanton. Even though this town is home to only about 2,000 residents, there are two important sites here that you may want to check out, not to mention the interesting shops.
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Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre – No visit to the town would be complete without some time spent learning the importance and significance of grain elevators in the province. 2119 19 Avenue, Nanton
Bomber Command Museum of Canada – This museum all started with a Lancaster bomber that was used during the Second World War. It is one of only a few Lancasters in the world with a working engine. Along with the Lancaster, you’ll also find other aviation artifacts, art and souvenirs in this interesting museum. 1659 21 Ave., Nanton
The Candy Store – No stop in Nanton would be complete without stocking up on candy for your road trip and this store has it all, including ice cream in freshly made waffle cones. Calgary locals will already know about this sweet spot, as it is famous in this area. Go through to the back and discover the attached antiques store. 2131 20 St., Nanton
Sentimental Journey Antiques – Nanton is well known for being a great place to shop for antiques, so if this is your thing, then take some time to check out this shop (just one of many). This shop is a cornerstone of Nanton’s Antique Walk. The Keeley Building, which was built in 1909 as a hardware store and meeting space is now a place to find interesting antiques on the main floo,r in the basement, through the maze of rooms upstairs and out back in a storage shed. 1901 20 Ave., Nanton
It seems as if the drives are short between destinations, and it’s true, the next town to take a break in is Fort Macleod, less than an hour down the road. Originally named Macleod, this town was founded as a North-West Mounted Police barracks, and is named in honour of Colonel James Macleod. The best reason to stop here is for a visit to The Fort Museum. It tells the history and story of why the NWMP were stationed here – to protect Canadian sovereignty in the West and squelch the illegal American whisky trade. The Fort offers interesting historic displays as well as live performances during the tourism season. 219 25 St, Macleod.
FYI: Since this article concentrates on mountain National Parks, we have not added most of the in-between places to the road trip. See 15 Day Alberta Road Trip for more details.
Waterton Lakes National Park
From here you will travel an hour and fifteen minutes to the incredible Waterton Lakes National Park, located along the very southern border of Alberta. Bordering Montana, this National Park is a place where you can easily lose yourself. Hiking, boating, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping and more is all to be found here. Travel the highways and byways in the Park to discover the beauty of the area and the abundant flora and fauna. There are hotels and campgrounds to stay a night or two, and interesting places to eat and shop in the town of Waterton, located within the Park. Don’t forget to purchase your Park Pass, and if you are planning on fishing, stop by and get a Park fishing license.
Waterton Lakes – Parks Canada – Bulletins & Notices; Road Closures
Akamina Parkway – This lovely drive takes you from the townsite of Waterton to the shores of Cameron Lake. Plenty of photo ops wait for you along the route, as well as historic stops and lots of trailheads if you feel inclined to walk awhile. Cameron Lake has an interpretive exhibit, along with a pretty trail that follows the western shore. From the town, follow signs for the Parkway.
Cameron Falls – This is one of the easiest waterfalls to visit as it is right beside the road. This is probably the most photographed place in the entire park, so be prepared to see a lot of other visitors around. There are interesting information panels to explain the topography and history of the area, as this is the oldest rock found in the entire Rockies. The falls are lit up at night, so this also makes a great place for an evening stroll.
Waterton Scenic Cruise – The scenic cruises are approximately one hour and fifteen minutes long and depart at various times of the day. There is usually a 10 am photography cruise, a couple of afternoon departures, and a 6 pm wildlife cruise. It is a good idea to book ahead as there are limited spaces.
Red Rock Trail to Blakiston Falls – Travel the Red Rock Parkway and take a bit of time to enjoy the site at the end – the Red Rock Canyon. This gorgeous red walled canyon is a unique area to explore. There is a loop trail that is just under 3-kilometers long and will take you to Blakiston Falls if you want to explore further than the canyon. Otherwise, take some time to stick your feet in the water and enjoy the sunshine while you explore the canyon area.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea – In the traditional British style, the Prince of Wales Hotel offers up an excellent way to spend the afternoon with stunning views of Waterton Lake, along with yummy pastries, sandwiches and a selection of teas. The hotel itself is a historic property built in 1927 and well worth a visit.
Waterton Lakes to Pincher Creek
A short half hour driving north of Waterton National Park brings you to the small town of Pincher Creek. This is where the prairies meet the mountains, and is a beautiful setting for your day’s activities. There are a couple of interesting sites here, if you are interested in the history of the area. Check out the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, where you can experience a fun pioneer village with a great collection of churches, commercial buildings and homes from the late 1800’s. This gives you a chance to see what life was like when the southwest was transitioning into cattle ranches and industrial areas. This site is located at 1037 Bev McLachlin Drive. It’s right in town, so convenient to visit as you travel this route.
You might also want to visit the Lebel Mansion, also located right in town at 696 Kettles Street. Originally a home, then a hospital, this fantastic historical building now hosts the Allied Arts Council of Pincher Creek. It is dedicated to cultivating creativity in southwest Alberta, and is home to an art gallery and gift shop featuring local artists and artisans. The crown jewel here may be the gardens though, as the phenomenal rose garden here has an incredible 55 varieties of roses!
Another half hour heading west towards Crowsnest Pass will take you to the breathtaking Lundbreck Falls. Located right off the Crowsnest Highway, this waterfall is an easy access for those who would like a beautiful view without much effort, or if you don’t want to take too much time at this stop.
This 12-foot drop waterfall is gorgeous at any time of year, but of course as the summer wanes on you may find that it gushes a little less. You can easily view the falls from the observation platform, or if you are a bit more adventurous, head down on the hike to the bottom to get an up close and personal look at the rushing waters. There is also a small campground in the Provincial Recreation Area if you want to spend the night.
There are two interesting stops just down the road from here, in fact within a ten-minute drive. The first is the strange tree that garners a lot of attention from passersby – The Burmis Tree. This now dead, but still famous tree, is about 700 years old. Stop for a moment and read the information panel, the history here is quite interesting.
Your second potential stop is the Leitch Colleries Provincial Historic Site. This site was an ambitious, entrepreneurial venture which never worked out. Due to the long stretching effects of a massive strike, the loss of major customers and the start of World War I, the mining company that built the beautiful structures and community here ended in financial ruin. There are interpretive guides to take you around the site and answer any questions you may have.
The Bellevue Underground Coal Mine is the next stop that we recommend as a must visit in this area. A short 15-minute highway drive will take you into the town of Bellevue, where the mine is located at 2531 213 Street. In 1961, this coal mine took its last load out, after being open since 1903.
There is an interesting history here that you may not be aware of – the history of a communist community in Alberta, along with the mean business of mining. Now, you can visit with a local miner as a guide, to hear the stories and background of this dark place. Beware, the mine is reputed to be haunted!
There are so many places to see in Crowsnest Pass that it is only a short distance from one place to another. We suggest staying at least one night in the Pass to get the most out of your experience here.
The next destination along this beautiful highway is the important Frank Slide Historic Site. On April 29th, 1903, a horrific event happened which devastated the Crowsnest Pass area and killed 90 people. This historic site will give you the opportunity to learn all about the slide, how and why it happened, and the people and mining community that were affected. Spend some time at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre viewing their new multimedia exhibits before taking a walk through the debris field to appreciate the scale of the boulders that tumbled across the valley.
If you have time, and the energy, to hike Turtle Mountain, you will end up with phenomenal views from the top of the slide area. The hike itself is just over 6 kilometers return, with an elevation gain of 900 meters but will reward you with incredible views of the slide and the surrounding area. The parking for Turtle Mountain is located at the end of a gravel road near 134 Street and 15 Avenue in Blairmore, just 5 minutes down the road from the Frank Slide Historic Site.
To get there, turn left onto 129 Street from Highway 3. Take a left at 19th Avenue, then right on 132nd Street; 132nd will turn into 15 Ave. At the T-intersection, turn right. 1 block later, take a right onto the dirt road across from the cul-de-sac. Follow it for about half a kilometre to the parking area at the top of a rise. Yellow markers painted at the base of the cliffs just past the parking area indicate the trailhead.
Blairmore is also a great place to spend a night camping. Check out the Lost Lemon Campground, named after Frank Lemon, who killed his partner, Blackjack, shortly after they struck gold. The local legend says that Lemon spent the rest of his life slightly crazy after murdering his friend. Enjoy the beauty of the area from this campground, which even has an outdoor pool to enjoy during the summer months.
Crowsnest Pass to Coleman
Otherwise, continue travelling west on the highway to Coleman and the Crowsnest Museum.
The Crowsnest Museum, located in downtown Coleman, is a great place to learn the story of Crowsnest Pass. Their exhibit spaces are set up as rooms, so you can enjoy a Mining Room, a General Store and Blacksmith Shop, a Pioneer Room, a Military/Police Gallery, a Wildlife Room and one more room with changing exhibits.
If you don’t want to stop at the museum, the town of Coleman itself is almost living history. Take a self-guided tour of downtown – a National Historic Site lined with miners’ cottages and the original buildings that once housed a hotel, mercantile store, grocers, theatre and boarding house. Since you are in Coleman anyway, stop for a snack at the Cinnamon Bear Café and Bakery, located at 8342 20 Avenue.
If you are into hiking, check out the nearby Star Creek Falls hike. It’s only 1.6 kilometers, so you should be able to complete it in about half an hour. As well, there is only an elevation gain of about 110 meters. The trail will take you to a lovely view of the falls and an incredible canyon. Check the hike link for driving directions to the starting point.
This is also an excellent area to spend some time fly fishing. If you don’t have your own gear, or are new at the sport, you can book a guided experience with a local company – Crowsnest Café & Fly Shop – located right in Coleman.
Coleman to Sparwood
Continuing on, you are going to make your way into the province of British Columbia and the next stop, which is Sparwood.
You will probably want to take at least a minute or two to stop in Sparwood for a picture with the Terex Titan. This immense truck was built by General Motors of Canada in 1974, and weighs a mind-boggling 350 tonnes, which makes it a great roadside attraction.
If you happen to be passing through on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday through July or August, you can also partake of a mine tour here. You do need to book ahead of time though, so call the number listed to make your reservation. Pop into the Visitor’s Center to get all the information on a self-guided or guided walking tour of the town as well, as there are many murals and tons of mining equipment located throughout.
Sparwood to Fernie
A short twenty-minute drive will take you to the lovely town of Fernie. Fernie is famous for its skiing and powder conditions during the winter, but is also a fantastic summer destination. The stunning scenery that surrounds the town makes it a perfect place to hang out for a couple of days and experience the outdoor activities. The following is only a short list of what can be found to do in and around town.
Discover the Town History – Start off by exploring the historic downtown area, with a self-guided walk, and stops at all the interesting boutique stores and yummy restaurants.
Go Fishing – Discover your love of fishing with day trips or multiday outings on lakes or rivers with professional guides that know all the best places and secret spots to catch! Enjoy the whir of the reel, the challenge of the catch, and the peace of the mountains.
Go Hiking at Island Lake – The pristine wilderness of the area beckons those who are craving the quiet of the outdoors. Grab your hiking boots to enjoy one of the many trails in the Island Lake area, there is 7,000 acres of wilderness to explore here.
Go Whitewater Rafting – The Elk River provides the perfect opportunity to get wet and wild! With more than 25 years of experience, this company can give you the once in a lifetime experience that you are looking for.
Take a Scenic Chairlift Ride – Fernie Alpine Resort offers up the chance to ride up their chairlift during the summer months, in order to get a bird’s eye view of the area. Don’t miss the chance to sit back and soak in the scenery as the chair lifts you up and away. Once you get to the top there are several trails to enjoy before heading back down. 5339 Fernie Ski Hill Road
Fernie to Fairmont Hot Springs
Elko: The next place that you will come across is the junction town of Elko. Located at the junction of two major scenic highways (Highway 93 and Crowsnest Highway 3), the town sits in the valley of the gorgeous surrounding mountains. The Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park to the southeast of Elko, together with Waterton Lakes National Park, which you have already visited, and Glacier National Park in Montana, form the Crown of the Continent, a combination of biological, geological, and climatic factors that occurs nowhere else in North America.
This is where you will start heading northwest along Highway 3, towards Fort Steele.
Fort Steele: You will definitely want to plan to spend some time in Fort Steele, as the Heritage Park is the perfect place to step back in time to experience what life was like here in times previous. This living history museum is run by a not-for-profit and has 98 incredible structures that have been preserved, maintained or renovated to their original splendor for your enjoyment.
For an outdoor experience not too far up the road, you can head next to Wasa Lake Provincial Park, which has the warmest waters to swim in the Kootenays. There is camping, fishing, hiking, cycling and boating opportunities to experience here, so if you are no hurry, you can spend a night or two and soak up some sunshine and fresh air.
Shortly up the road, you will come across another lovely warm lake that is popular with windsurfers and paddlers. Columbia Lake Provincial Park offers visitors three kilometers of undeveloped beach area, or for those who want a little more activity, there is excellent fishing here for mountain whitefish, burbot, kokanee, rainbow trout, bull trout and cutthroat trout. There is no camping available at this park, but it’s close enough to Fairmont Hot Springs that there are other accommodations available nearby.
Fairmont Hot Springs
Tucked into the valley between the Purcell Mountain Range and the Rockies, Fairmont Hot Springs has a plethora of outdoor activities to keep you busy while visiting. Of course, the highlight of any stop here is a soak in the hot springs themselves. There are plenty of choices for accommodations and campgrounds here as well, so you can spend a night or two exploring the area.
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort – Home to the largest natural hot springs in Canada, soak away your worries and stresses while you gaze through the steam at stunning panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. The Resort includes the hotel, a ski hill, three golf courses, a spa, seven restaurants, a campground, RV resort and the two hot-springs pools, so there is pretty much everything you need.
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Hike Hoodoo Trail – You need about an hour to complete this lovely, scenic hike. Take the time to walk to the top of the legendary sandstone cliffs that are a striking landmark along the highway south of Fairmont Hot Springs.
Fairmont Float – Spend a lazy afternoon floating down the Columbia River on a self-guided experience. If you bring your own tube, it’s free. Otherwise, you can rent one at the local gas station. It’ll take anywhere from two to three hours to complete. The river typically flows at a sedate pace, so it’s safe for the whole family. Just make sure to bring life jackets for the young ones. Ask at the gas station or at the Resort for directions to the start point, and don’t forget you will need two vehicles for this activity.
Mineral Mountain Ziplines – Prepare to take flight on the joyride of a lifetime as you glide effortlessly through forest canopies and across Fairmont Creek. The six zipline course provides a thrilling combination of speed, height, and distance—all while capturing the sights of the Hoodoos, Columbia Lake, and the valley below.
Fairmont Hot Springs to Invermere
About twenty minutes down the road from Fairmont, you will find the beautiful little town of Invermere. Even though this stunning area is one of the best places to visit, you will find fewer tourists here than in other places, as it hasn’t quite been discovered yet. Take the opportunity to explore and enjoy.
James Chabot Provincial Park – With a large sandy beach, this provincial park is located on Windermere Lake, a lovely place to spend a warm day. Just remember that on hot days you should get there early to get a parking place.
Swansea Mountain Recreation Site – Bikers will find a wide variety of intermediate to advanced downhill trails to enjoy in this recreation site.
Copper Point Golf Club – One of the newest championship courses in the area, this is a natural, lay-of-the-land route with numerous ‘classic’ elements, such as roughly hewn bunkers and excellent use of existing hills and ravines. The pristine setting, new on-site luxury resort, beautiful conditions, unparalleled service, impressive clubhouse and complete amenities – not to mention the spectacular views of the Kootenay Rockies from nearly every hole, will make you want to stay all day.
Invermere to Radium Hot Springs
Around every corner you will find a place to explore, and Dry Gulch Provincial Park is the next one down the road. This little cozy campground is great for those who want to stay a night or two in the area, as it is in the perfect position for a base. As well you can find Valley Zipline Adventures across the highway, and Radium Hot Springs just down the road.
Radium Hot Springs is just one of the many gems found in the Kootenay Rockies, and there is plenty for outdoor lovers to enjoy here. Of course, the Radium Hot Springs Pools are the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere as you enjoy the naturally heated mineral waters. Stop in at the Visitor’s Center to get some information on the area from their great interpretive displays, or ask one of the staff about the nearby hiking or biking trails, such as Olive Lake or Sinclair Canyon Trails.
If you are looking for an incredible place to stay that will allow you to experience all sorts of adventure activities, such as hiking, biking, or rafting, along with beautiful accommodations in a peaceful wilderness setting, you will find the eco-friendly Nipika Mountain Resort just 32 kilometers away from Radium.
Kootenay National Park
Parks Canada – Bulletins & Notices
When you are ready to continue on your journey, make sure to stop at the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint, which is a jaw-dropping stop on your way through Kootenay National Park. Here, if you want, just grab some pictures of the breathtaking views of the Mitchell and Vermilion Mountain ranges, or, if you are feeling more adventurous, head out on the Cobb Lake Trail, which should take you about an hour round trip.
You are now travelling in Kootenay National Park, which boasts some of the finest wilderness in the mountains, along with a plethora of hiking, biking and wildlife viewing opportunities. There are many day use areas throughout the National Park, as well as a multitude of trails to explore. Just remember, there are no hotels available in Kootenay National Park, so plan to stay in Radium Hot Springs or in Lake Louise or Banff, if you are not camping.
Banff National Park
You are going to bypass the town and glacier lake of Lake Louise for the moment – don’t worry, you will be coming back this way – and instead head to the town of Banff, to explore and discover this famous mountain town and the lovely surrounding area. The peaks of Mt. Rundle and Mt. Cascade dominate the skyline here and the quaint main throughfare provides you with plenty of choices for shops and restaurants. There are campgrounds in town, and an incredible number of hotels to choose from, but you will probably want to book in advance, as summer months can be very busy.
- A Concise Guide for Planning a Trip to Banff National Park, Alberta
- Parks Canada – Bulletins & Notices
Banff Upper Hot Springs –This popular spot offers a large pool to soak in, with fantastic views and is open year-round. This is the chance to soak your travel weary bones for awhile.
Bow Falls – This is a must-see while in the area. A short trail will take you to some nice lookout areas, but if you can’t walk, or don’t want to, you can still get some great pics from the banks of the river itself.
Banff Gondola – Head up to the top of Sulphur Mountain on the Gondola to get the best views of the area. There is an interpretive center, a restaurant on site, and boardwalk areas outside to complete the experience.
Banff Springs Golf Course – Amateurs and professionals alike are constantly amazed by the challenging course here. From hole design to optical illusions created by the surrounding mountains, this is a delightful way to spend some time on the links.
You have already experienced the short drive between Banff and Lake Louise, but you can take the old highway and have a chance to see a lot more. There is an amazing spot to visit here – Johnston’s Canyon. Instead of heading down the faster-divided highway, travel on Highway 1A, which cuts off from the main highway just a short while after you have left the town of Banff. Watch for the signs.
Highway 1A gives you an opportunity to see a lot more wildlife and scenic views which are easy to pull over and take pictures of. The canyon is a popular site for both locals and travellers, so the earlier you can get there in the day the better. To really see anything here you do need to hike up the well-worn trail to the lower falls. The incredible views of the canyon and the rushing waters, not to mention the lovely trail through the trees, will provide you with some beautiful pictures and fantastic memories. If you are looking for a longer, less travelled path, you can continue up to the upper falls, which are gorgeous, but the trail is a bit steeper. There is also a small restaurant and gift shop here that are open during the summer season. The trail is open year-round but slippery during the spring and fall months.
Of course, the iconic Lake Louise is the next major stop along this route (although we are sure you have found many places to stop and have fun along the highway). The town has accommodations such as hotels and motels, along with campgrounds throughout the area, or splurge and stay a night at the famous, historic Chateau Lake Louise, located right on the stunningly blue green glacier lake. It would be impossible for us to list everything to do in the area here, so these suggestions are just some of the highlights.
Hike the Teahouse – This tea house takes a bit of effort to get to, as it is a hike, or a horse ride up the side of a mountain next to the Chateau Lake Louise. This is a very popular route, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should do it. There are multiple places along the route to stop to catch your breath and take in the views of the surrounding mountains and the stunning, famous Lake, which appears below you as you climb. The journey is worth it, as you get to sip your tea (100 varieties available) and have a snack at a tea house that has been in place since 1905.
Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola – The incredible views from the gondola allow you to relax as you travel up to the top – keep your eyes out for grizzly bears and other animals, this is a good area to see them in, and all from the safety of your gondola! There is a Wildlife Interpretive Center to learn more about the local wildlife, a variety of hiking trails, great food options and even a gift shop to explore.
Moraine Lake – One of the most popular glacier lakes in Banff National Park, this lake is in the gorgeous Valley of the 10 Peaks. The alpine lake is a wild turquoise blue fed by glacier melt and once graced Canada’s twenty-dollar bill. Hike one of the many trails, paddle on the lake or enjoy a meal. There is limited parking here, so we recommend parking at the overflow lot and taking the shuttle.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea – If you are not interested in walking, or horseback riding up to one of the other Tea Houses, you can partake of this English tradition right inside the Fairmont Chateau. This is the most stunning place to enjoy an afternoon tea service as the dining room looks out onto the iconic Lake. https://www.fairmont.com/lake-louise/dining/afternoon-tea/
Yoho National Park
You will want to spend a night or two in the Lake Louise area, because you can use it as a jumping off point to also explore the nearby Yoho National Park. This area is stunningly beautiful and well worth a day or two of exploring if you want to experience more of the wilderness. The Park boasts towering rock walls, spectacular waterfalls and twenty-eight peaks over 3,000 metres in height. The word “Yoho” is a Cree expression of awe and wonder and you won’t have to ask why the Park is named that. Hike, canoe, climb, fish, take a guided tour to see some fossils (some of the oldest and most complex in the world, by the way), view wildlife, or simply sit in one of the iconic Parks Canada red chairs and soak up the views.
- Parks Canada – Bulletins & Notices
There are four campgrounds to stay in if you want, otherwise stay overnight in Lake Louise, as it is only a short drive back and forth.
Icefields Parkway – Jasper National Park
To continue on your journey, you will need to either start from your accommodations in Lake Louise, or return from Yoho to travel north. From Lake Louise you will be travelling the phenomenal Icefields Parkway up to the town of Jasper.
Passing through both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, there are many pullouts along the way where you can stop and take some photos, especially of the many lakes, glaciers, waterfalls and mountain peaks. This is considered one of the top drives in the world, so take your time.
The highway tends to be busy during the summer months, and with the slightly lower speed limit and windy roads, along with all the stops you will want to make, plan to take a full day to travel this route. There are hostels, hotels and campsites if you are looking for somewhere to spend the night.
The first is the pull out for Bow Summit and Peyto Lake. The glacier fed lake offers a photo op that you won’t want to miss out on. There is a short, paved trail that you will need to walk to get to the summit where the best views are from.
About a half hour farther up the highway you will come across Saskatchewan Crossing, which is your last opportunity to get gas along the highway. This was a historic place used by fur traders and explorers since 1807. You will also find a gift shop, restaurant and accommodations here.
Just up the highway from Saskatchewan crossing you will want to keep your eyes open for the Weeping Wall, on the right-hand side of the highway. This is a series of waterfalls that fall more than 100 meters off Cirrus Mountain. Farther up the road you should be able to glimpse Bridal Veil Falls across the valley.
The biggest attraction along the highway is the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center and Glacier Skywalk. These are accessible by tours from the Discovery Center. Not only can you walk on a glacier, you will also be able to feel as if you are flying as you venture out onto the glass bottomed skywalk.
Heading north, you will see Tangle Falls come up on the right-hand side of the road but look for the parking lot on the opposite side and be careful when crossing. About 45 kilometers from the Columbia Icefields, you will find the access road to Sunwapta Falls on the left. This is worth a stop as they have an impressive drop off of about 18 meters. There is a path that takes you to the viewpoint of the upper falls and then continues to the lower falls. There is a lodge and restaurant nearby if you are looking for a unique place to stay.
About fifteen minutes north of Sunwapta you will come across the Kerkeslin Goat Lick. Watch for slow to 50-kilometer signs with an image of a goat. Mountain goats come to this area to lick the salty mineral deposits and they are often along the roadside or on the road itself. You will find a small parking area on the left side of the road if you would like to stop for a short hike. Follow the trail up to the lookout area that offers views across the Athabasca River to the impressive surrounding mountains.
Just before you arrive to the town of Jasper you will find an impressively powerful waterfall – Athabasca Falls. While not high, the sheer amount of water flowing over the class five waterfall will impressive you. A short walk takes you to the best viewpoints, or you can choose to do a slightly longer hike around the area.
Once you arrive into the town of Jasper, you will find plenty of hotels, shops, restaurants, activities and campgrounds.
Maligne Canyon – This amazing canyon is over 50 feet deep and is considered one of the most interesting canyons in the parks. Interpretive signs will take you along the well-worn trail and bridges, past waterfalls and beautiful scenery. To do the entire hike you will need about three hours in total.
Maligne Lake – Not to be confused with the canyon of the same name, Maligne Lake is another must see while in the area. You can canoe, kayak, and even swim in the cool waters here, or take a boat tour to see Spirit Island, one of most beautiful places you will set your eyes on.
Mount Edith Cavell – An excellent place to get close up to a glacier, Mount Edith Cavell is the most prominent peak in the area. Take the short hike on a well marked trail to see Angel Glacier and Cavell Glacier.
Jasper Skytram – Just like the other skytrams in the Rockies, this one offers amazing views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, along with trails along the top to allow you to explore on your own.
Planetarium at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – Jasper has one of the largest dark sky reserves in the world, so it makes sense to visit the planetarium here to get a good look at the heavens. There is a dome theater and telescope here and you don’t need to be a guest at the lodge to enjoy them.
- Parks Canada – Bulletins & Notices
Jasper National Park to Nordegg to Calgary
If you want to extend the trip and see British Columbia — Road Trip — Calgary – Jasper – Vancouver – Tofino – Okanagan – Calgary
If you want to add Edmonton — Jasper & Edmonton Road Trip
To complete the circle tour back to the city of Calgary, you will need to retrace part of your drive on the Icefields Parkway (take Highway 93A for part of the way for more fabulous scenery), just back to the Saskatchewan River Crossing. From here you will be heading into David Thompson Country. Make sure to stop at the spectacular Crescent Falls on your way. Accessed by a very short walk, this is actually a series of two waterfalls, which dazzle in the sunlight as they cascade down the rocks as part of the Bighorn River. For those who don’t want to walk at all, there is an observation platform at the brink of the waterfall.
This highway takes you to Nordegg, and on to the lovely town of Rocky Mountain House. Taking you through spectacular scenery from the alpine vistas of the Rockies, and ending in the rolling prairie hills, as you travel along this route you will be following the steps of the explorer who the highway is named after.
Nordegg has plenty of campgrounds around in tiny Provincial Recreation Areas and Parks, not to mention the hotels and resorts that are available if you want to spend a night or two. There are plenty of activities and sights in the area as well, especially if you would like some outdoor time.
Nordegg Historical Golf Course – This historic golf course is perfect for golfers who enjoy being in gorgeous surroundings while hitting a ball off a tee. The nine-hole course has extremely reasonable fees and is a perfect morning or afternoon activity if you are in the area. Cart and club rentals are available here as well.
Siffleur Falls Hike – A stunning set of waterfalls, these cascades will take your breath away. The hike is considered moderate, with a return length of about 14 kilometers, with only an 80-meter elevation gain. Even the drive to the trailhead will offer up incredible views. Enjoy the canyon views and the quietness of the backcountry area.
Coliseum Mountain – This mountain was named after its amphitheatre bowl shape resembling the Colosseum of ancient Rome, and has a summit of 2,035 meters above sea level. This is one of the most popular hikes in the area, as the panoramic view from the top provides stunning vistas of the surrounding area.
Cline River Canyon and Falls – Cline River Canyon is a nice short trail that will take you to an incredible canyon. It should only take you about a half an hour to reach the canyon, if you don’t constantly stop to take pictures of the marvellous surroundings. There are several unmarked trails in the area and it can be confusing. Download a map, take a compass or some good directions with you to ensure to not get lost.
An hour down the road you will come to the historic Rocky Mountain House. The entire area is full of interesting historic places, little lakes to explore, and trails to wander. Spend a day or two here to really soak in the atmosphere.
Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site – One of the most interesting historical sites in the area, this National Site gives visitors the opportunity to see what life as a fur trader was like, and how fur trading helped shape our province. Containing the remains of several forts, this is still considered an archeological site.
Pine Hills Golf Club – This lovely 18-hole course nestled in by Rocky Mountain House offers players all the right things. With 397 acres of grounds, the area is sculpted from the natural dunes and a challenge for any level of golfer.
Rocky Mountain House Museum – This museum is a great place to get an understanding of how the pioneers in the area started off and lived. This is the chance to step into the past and see how the settlers worked their homesteads, the sawmills and lumber mills, and how children learned in the one room schoolhouses. 5406 48 St, Rocky Mountain House
Crimson Lake Provincial Park – This pretty Provincial Park provides a variety of opportunities for visitors to enjoy the outdoors. Along with a place to launch your watercraft, there is also a pier and a beach to hang out on. Mountain biking and hiking trails will give you the chance to get some action into your day. Take your fishing gear along with you to throw in a line. Spend some time viewing the abundant bird life. Camp overnight at the convenient campground. Keep your eyes out for wildlife. Whatever you do, this is a perfect place to spend some time.
Cutting almost straight east from Rocky Mountain House, your next destination is the summer hotspot of Sylvan Lake. This is a very popular place on hot days, so plan to go early if you want to hang out for the day. There are trails to explore, and four golf courses in the area, but most people come here for the lake itself. Rent a boat, kayak, SUP, canoe or even equipment such as tubes or wakeboards at the various businesses in town. If you are travelling with kids, they will absolutely love the chance to spend time at the Sylvan Lake Agua Splash – the ultimate aquatic playground sports park. Check out one of the many restaurants and patios in town, you won’t be sorry.
(Another option is to drive the scenic Cowboy Trail or Highway 22 to reach Calgary.)
You are on your way back to the city of Calgary, but if you still haven’t had your fill of places to stop, as you are travelling through Innisfail, take the chance to visit the Discovery Wildlife Park, which offers unique experiences with a variety of wildlife. The Innisfail & District Historical Village is also worth a visit as they are one of the largest such museums in central Alberta. The “Stopping House” at the museum is the only preserved stopping house from the days of stagecoach travel on the historic C & E Trail.
Arriving back in Calgary, you will have had an incredible journey through the National Parks, with memories to last a lifetime.