If you want to sample a full gamut of spine-tingling outer activities in a well-equipped but refreshingly pure wilderness, you've come to the right place. Glacier excels in backcountry hiking, Banff and Jasper up the ante with ski resorts, while Canmore and Golden are two of Canada's adrenalin-sports capitals.

Hike Grades

For ease of use and to help you decide which one to take, we’ve graded our favourite hikes into three difficulty levels.

  • Easy

Mostly flat, simple walking on clearly defined trails, suitable for families and inexperienced hikers. Some may be paved and suitable for wheelchair users or people with reduced mobility.

  • Moderate

These hikes will feature significant elevation gain, and include steep sections and possibly some ungroomed areas of trail (such as rubble, stones or moraines). Suitable for any hiker with an average level of fitness.

  • Difficult

Expect very steep climbs, sections of exposed and unmaintained trail, challenging terrain and occasional route-finding. These hikes are for experienced hikers, and will entail long days and significant distances. Pack appropriate equipment.

Planning Your Trip

Experiencing the great outdoors is undoubtedly one of the top reasons to visit the Rockies. Whether it’s plummeting down the slopes on a mountain bike or climbing up them on a classic hike, the mountain parks present a wealth of ways to expend your energy and make the most of the spectacular scenery.

When to Go

When you choose to visit the mountain parks depends on what you want to do. Winter is long in the Rockies, with snow covering the landscape for up to six months of the year (from around November to May). Most summer activities take place between May and September, although the exact periods vary according to seasonal conditions.

Summer Activities

  • June–September This is the peak activity season and usually offers the most reliable weather. Most trails are open by late June or early July. It’s worth waiting to do longer overnight hikes for the warmer temperatures of late July and August.
  • July–August By far the busiest times on the trails, so if you prefer to walk in solitude, the shoulder months are a better bet.
  • September–October Both great months to visit, as fall brings autumnal colors and most trails are comparatively quiet.

Winter Activities

  • The ski season usually runs from late November until April, but can open early or late, depending on seasonal conditions.
  • Some hiking trails stay open in winter, but you’ll need to master the art of snowshoeing!

Outdoor Activities

Extreme Pursuits

Looking for extra adrenaline? No problem! The mountain parks have plenty of ways to get your blood pumping.

  • Live out your Jack London fantasies on a dogsledding expedition
  • Plumb the depths of the Rat’s Nest cave system
  • Challenge the rapids on the Kicking Horse and Kananaskis Rivers
  • Soar through the skies on a heli-hiking expedition
  • Clamber aboard a snowcat for some cat-skiing
  • Scramble around the peaks of Mt Edith Cavell or Canmore
  • Hurtle at over 50km/h (30mph) on a death-defying zip-line

Hiking & Backpacking

If there’s one activity that sums up the spirit of the Rockies, it’s hiking. No matter where you travel in the parks, there’s a trail nearby that’ll whisk you up spectacular mountains, into picturesque forests or down a dramatic gorge.

The Rockies are a destination par excellence for experienced hikers, but have plenty to offer novice walkers, too. Some trails have interpretive signs that are ideal for families, while others feature paved sections designed for people with limited mobility.

A good-quality topographical map of the area you’re hiking in is essential – the Gem Trek maps are the best for the Canadian parks.

Hiking in Banff National Park

Fenland Trail & Vermilion Lakes

Region

Banff Town

Description

Flat woodland trail leading to network of lakes where you’ll often spot grazing elk

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

30min

Round-trip distance

2.1km (1.3 miles)

Elevation change

Negligible

Features

Wildlife Watching; Great for Families

Facilities

Public Transport to Trailhead

Sundance Canyon

Region

Banff Town

Description

Wild canyon walk reached via paved riverside trail; easy bike ride from Banff

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

1hr

Round-trip distance

2km (1.2 miles)

Elevation change

145m (476ft)

Features

Great for Families; Waterfall

Facilities

Picnic Sites

Bow Falls & the Hoodoos

Region

Banff Town

Description

Riverside walk to Banff’s most famous waterfalls and a landscape of weird rock towers

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

3hr

Round-trip distance

10.2km (6.4 miles)

Elevation change

60m (197ft)

Features

Great for Families; Waterfall

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Public Transport to Trailhead; Picnic Sites

Sulphur Mountain

Region

Banff Town

Description

Steep hike up flank of Sulphur Mountain with wrap-around views

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

4hr

Round-trip distance

11km (6.8 miles)

Elevation change

655m (2149ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Public Transport to Trailhead; Picnic Sites; Grocery Store Nearby; Restaurant Nearby

Cascade Amphitheatre

Region

Banff Town

Description

High-level trail across ski fields to classic glacial cirque hidden among mountains

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

6hr

Round-trip distance

15.4km (9.6 miles)

Elevation change

640m (2100ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Castle Lookout

Region

Bow Valley Parkway

Description

Mountainside path to abandoned fire lookout overlooking Bow Valley

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

3-4hr

Round-trip distance

7.6km (4.7 miles)

Elevation change

520m (1706ft)

Features

Rock Climbing

Facilities

Grocery Store Nearby

Johnston Canyon & the Inkpots

Region

Bow Valley Parkway

Description

Visits Bow Valley’s best-known waterfalls and continues to colorful mountain tarns

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

4hr

Round-trip distance

10.8km (6.7 miles)

Elevation change

215m (705ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Waterfall

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Restaurant Nearby

Parker Ridge

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

Switchbacking climb to stunning knife-edge ridge above Saskatchewan Glacier

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

2hr

Round-trip distance

4km (2.5 miles)

Elevation change

250m (820ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms

Peyto Lake & Bow Summit Lookout

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

Busy trail to lookout above Peyto Lake, leading to quieter climb to old fire lookout

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

2hr

Round-trip distance

6.2km (3.8 miles)

Elevation change

245m (803ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms

Bow Glacier Falls

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

Start at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge and walk across boulders and moraines to impressive glacial cascade

Difficulty

Easy-moderate

Duration

3hr

Round-trip distance

7.2km (4.4 miles)

Elevation change

155m (509ft)

Features

Great for Families; Waterfall

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Restaurant Nearby

Sunset Lookout

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

Little-used trail to superb fire lookout with views of rivers, glaciers and peaks

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

3hr

Round-trip distance

9.4km (5.8 miles)

Elevation change

250m (820ft)

Features

Facilities

Helen Lake

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

Often-overlooked route up to lake-filled mountain meadow with vistas of Icefields Parkway

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

4hr

Round-trip distance

12km (7.6 miles)

Elevation change

455m (1493ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Rest-rooms

Plain of Six Glaciers

Region

Lake Louise

Description

Superb walk to glacier viewpoint, with option to stop at historic teahouse

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

4-5hr

Round-trip distance

13.5km (8.4 miles)

Elevation change

365m (1198ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Restaurant Nearby

Lake Agnes & the Beehives

Region

Lake Louise

Description

Steep walk to Lake Louise’s most famous teahouse and lofty summit high above

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

4hr

Round-trip distance

10.8km (6.6 miles)

Elevation change

495m (1624ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Picnic Sites; Restaurant Nearby

Saddleback & Fairview

Region

Lake Louise

Description

Double summit trail from shores of Lake Louise to above-the-clouds viewpoint at top of Fairview

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

5-6hr

Round-trip distance

10.2km (6.4 miles)

Elevation change

1013m (3323ft)

Features

Rock Climbing

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Restaurant Nearby

Skoki Valley

Region

Lake Louise

Description

True classic of the Rockies, exploring one of the most beautiful backcountry valleys near Lake Louise

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

4 days

Round-trip distance

50.6km (31.4 miles)

Elevation change

Up to 1136m (3727ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Backcountry Campsite

Paradise Valley & the Giant’s Steps

Region

Lake Louise

Description

Difficult Lake Louise trail, hiking through wild valley frequented by goats, marmots and grizzly bears

Difficulty

Difficult

Duration

6-7hr

Round-trip distance

20.3km (12.6 miles)

Elevation change

385m (1263ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Rock Climbing

Facilities

Stewart Canyon

Region

Lake Minnewanka

Description

Flat lakeshore trail to hidden forest canyon; canoeing possible

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

2hr

Round-trip distance

5.6km (3.5 miles)

Elevation change

Negligible

Features

Great for Families; Fishing

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Picnic Sites; Restaurant Nearby

C-Level Cirque

Region

Lake Minnewanka

Description

Hike past old mine-workings to ice amphitheater high above Lake Minnewanka

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

4hr

Round-trip distance

8.8km (5.4 miles)

Elevation change

455m (1493ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms

Consolation Lakes Trail

Region

Moraine Lake

Description

Escape Moraine Lake crowds into wild mountains past glassy lakes

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

2hr

Round-trip distance

6km (3.8 miles)

Elevation change

65m (213ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Great for Families; Fishing

Facilities

Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass

Region

Moraine Lake

Description

Wildflowers and native larches in mountain meadow overlooking Ten Peaks, with add-on to high-level pass

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

4-5hr

Round-trip distance

11.6km (7.2 miles)

Elevation change

725m (2379ft)

Features

Facilities

Garden Path Trail & Twin Cairns Meadow

Region

Sunshine Meadows

Description

Wonderful walk through high mountain meadows and past lakes

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

3½hr

Round-trip distance

8.3km (5.1 miles)

Elevation change

Negligible

Features

Great for Families

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Public Transport to Trailhead; Restaurant Nearby

Healy Pass

Region

Sunshine Meadows

Description

Rewarding walk that affords fantastic glimpses over Continental Divide

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

6-7hr

Round-trip distance

18.4km (11.4 miles)

Elevation change

650m (2132ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Public Transport to Trailhead; Restaurant Nearby

Egypt Lake

Region

Sunshine Meadows

Description

Great option for first-timers in backcountry, taking in lakes and moderately demanding mountains

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

3 days

Round-trip distance

24.8km (15.4 miles)

Elevation change

Up to 655m (2149ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Great for Families; Fishing

Facilities

Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station; Backcountry Campsite; Picnic Sites

Mt Assiniboine

Region

Sunshine Meadows

Description

Unforgettable journey into wild backcountry around shining pinnacle of Mt Assiniboine

Difficulty

Difficult

Duration

4-5 days

Round-trip distance

53.3km (33.1 miles)

Elevation change

Up to 695m (2280ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station; Backcountry Campsite

Hiking in Jasper National Park

Beauty Creek & Stanley Falls

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

Popular waterfall off the Icefields Parkway reached on a surprisingly straightforward and rewarding hike

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

1hr

Round-trip distance

3.2km (2 miles)

Elevation change

Negligible

Features

Great for Families; Waterfall

Facilities

Restaurant Nearby

Path of the Glacier & Cavell Meadows Trails

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

See Angel Glacier resting atop a lake with icebergs while the meadows offer amazing views

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

3hr

Round-trip distance

9.1km (5.6 miles)

Elevation change

400m (1300ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Picnic Sites

Geraldine Lakes

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

A rocky scramble through staircaselike valley replete with lakes and waterfalls

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

3-4hr

Round-trip distance

10km (6.3 miles)

Elevation change

407m (1335ft)

Features

Fishing

Facilities

Backcountry Campsite

Tonquin Valley

Region

Icefields Parkway

Description

Wildlife, lush meadows and sparkling lakes, all in the shadow of the Ramparts

Difficulty

Difficult

Duration

2-3 days

Round-trip distance

53.2km (33 miles)

Elevation change

710m (2329ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Backcountry Campsite

Mina & Riley Lakes Loop

Region

Jasper Town & Around

Description

Takes you into the woods to remote lakes

Difficulty

Easy-moderate

Duration

3hr

Round-trip distance

9km (5.6 miles)

Elevation change

160m (525ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Great for Families

Facilities

Grocery Store Nearby; Restaurant Nearby

Whistlers Summit

Region

Jasper Town & Around

Description

A long walk up a steep hill through three different life zones

Difficulty

Difficult

Duration

3½hr

Round-trip distance

7.9km (4.9 miles)

Elevation change

1280m (4125ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Restaurant Nearby

Mary Schäffer Loop

Region

Maligne Lake Area

Description

Holds the famous view first seen by Mary Schäffer

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

45min

Round-trip distance

3.2km (2 miles)

Elevation change

Negligible

Features

Great for Families

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Restaurant Nearby

Moose Lake Loop

Region

Maligne Lake Area

Description

Offers a peaceful, verdant forest and the chance to spot a moose

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

45min

Round-trip distance

2.6km (1.6 miles)

Elevation change

Negligible

Features

Wildlife Watching; Great for Families

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Restaurant Nearby

Beaver, Summit & Jacques Lakes

Region

Maligne Lake Area

Description

One of the park’s simplest ‘long’ hikes with wide paths and peek-a-boo mountain views

Difficulty

Easy-moderate

Duration

6-7hr

Round-trip distance

24km (15 miles)

Elevation change

90m (300ft)

Features

Great for Families; Fishing

Facilities

Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station; Backcountry Campsite; Picnic Sites

Skyline Trail

Region

Maligne Lake Area

Description

The Rockies’ premier backcountry trail, offering infinite views across the mountains

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

2 days

Round-trip distance

45.8km (28.7 miles)

Elevation change

1400m (4526ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station; Backcountry Campsite

Opal Hills Loop

Region

Maligne Lake Area

Description

A steep grunt up to the flower-filled meadows above Maligne Lake

Difficulty

Difficult

Duration

3hr

Round-trip distance

8.2km (5.1 miles)

Elevation change

460m (1509ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Picnic Sites; Restaurant Nearby

Sulphur Skyline

Region

North of Jasper Town

Description

A short sharp hike up to a lofty ridge with spectacular views

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

3hr

Round-trip distance

8km (5 miles)

Elevation change

700m (2297ft)

Features

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Picnic Sites; Restaurant Nearby

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Sun Point to Virginia Falls

Region

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Sun-dappled valley trail to a trio of beautiful waterfalls

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

4hr

Round-trip distance

11.5km (7 miles)

Elevation change

90m (300ft)

Features

Great for Families; Waterfall

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Public Transport to Trailhead; Picnic Sites

Hidden Lake Overlook Trail

Region

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Quick scamper to a spectacular lookout

Difficulty

Easy-moderate

Duration

2hr

Round-trip distance

5km (3.2 miles)

Elevation change

150m (494ft)

Features

Great for Families

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station

Avalanche Lake Trail

Region

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Very popular forested walk to a stunning lake

Difficulty

Easy-moderate

Duration

2½hr

Round-trip distance

6.4km (4 miles)

Elevation change

145m (475ft)

Features

Great for Families

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Picnic Sites

Highline Trail

Region

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Phenomenal alpine scenery all the way to the Granite Park Chalet

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

7½hr

Round-trip distance

18.7km (11.6 miles)

Elevation change

255m (830ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Great for Families

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station

Piegan Pass

Region

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

A forest, a meadow, a glacier, a pass and a descent through a wildlife corridor

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

6hr

Round-trip distance

20.5km (12.8 miles)

Elevation change

509m (1670ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Waterfall

Facilities

Public Transport to Trailhead; Backcountry Campsite

Gunsight Pass Trail

Region

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

See snowfields, glaciers, lakes and more over two riveting days

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

2 days

Round-trip distance

32km (20 miles)

Elevation change

930m (3000ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Public Transport to Trailhead; Backcountry Campsite

Northern Highline-Waterton Valley

Region

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Continuation of Highline Trail along the Continental Divide toward the Canadian border

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

2-3 days

Round-trip distance

46km (28.8 miles)

Elevation change

1280m (4200ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station; Backcountry Campsite

Mt Brown Lookout

Region

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Glacier’s steepest day hike to a lofty historic lookout on Mt Brown

Difficulty

Difficult

Duration

6hr

Round-trip distance

17.3km (10.8 miles)

Elevation change

1318m (4325ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Grocery Store Nearby; Restaurant Nearby

Swiftcurrent Lake Nature Trail

Region

North of Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

From civilization to bear-infested wilderness in less than 60 seconds

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

1hr

Round-trip distance

4km (2.5 miles)

Elevation change

Negligible

Features

Wildlife Watching; Great for Families

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Picnic Sites; Restaurant Nearby

Iceberg Lake Trail

Region

North of Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Leads to one of the most impressive glacial lakes in the Rockies

Difficulty

Easy-moderate

Duration

5½hr

Round-trip distance

14.5km (9 miles)

Elevation change

370m (1190ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Great for Families

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Picnic Sites

Quartz Lakes Loop

Region

North of Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Rare North Fork loop trail in one of Glacier’s most remote corners

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

7hr

Round-trip distance

20.5km (12.8 miles)

Elevation change

765m (2470ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Drinking Water; Ranger Station; Backcountry Campsite; Picnic Sites

Swiftcurrent Pass Trail

Region

North of Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Description

Pleasant valley ramble followed by sharp climb to the Continental Divide

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

6hr

Round-trip distance

12km (7.6 miles)

Elevation change

650m (2100ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station

Dawson-Pitamakin Loop

Region

South of Going-to-the-sun Rd

Description

A lengthy but rewarding hike around the true ‘Crown of the Continent’

Difficulty

Difficult

Duration

8hr

Round-trip distance

30km (18.8 miles)

Elevation change

910m (2935ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station

Hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Carthew-Alderson Trail

Region

Cameron Lake

Description

Memorable hike offers beautiful scenery and sweeping views

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

6hr

Round-trip distance

19km (11.8 miles)

Elevation change

610m (1968ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching; Fishing

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water; Public Transport to Trailhead; Ranger Station

Rowe Lakes

Region

Waterton townsite

Description

A foray to the cusp of Waterton’s backcountry that’ll have you returning for more

Difficulty

Easy-moderate

Duration

3hr

Round-trip distance

8km (5 miles)

Elevation change

250m (820ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Public Transport to Trailhead

Tamarack Trail

Region

Waterton townsite

Description

Waterton’s big backcountry adventure through glacial moraines and kaleidoscopic wildflower displays

Difficulty

Moderate-difficult

Duration

2 days

Round-trip distance

31.6km (19.6 miles)

Elevation change

1460m (4700ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Backcountry Campsite

Crypt Lake Trail

Region

Waterton townsite

Description

Involves tunnel crawling and a cable-assisted walk along sheer cliffs

Difficulty

Difficult

Duration

6hr

Round-trip distance

17.2km (10.3 miles)

Elevation change

710m (2329ft)

Features

Wildlife Watching

Facilities

Rest-rooms; Drinking Water

Day Hikes

The term ‘day hike’ covers everything from an hour-long woodland stroll to an eight-hour haul to a mountain pass. Any route that takes less than eight hours to complete, or covers a round-trip of less than 24km (15 miles), is generally practical for a day hike.

You might not quite reach the edge of the true wilderness in a single day, but you can still experience an astonishing variety of terrain and enjoy plenty of wonderful views.

It’s always worth reading up on your chosen route before you set out to make sure it suits your ability level and that you know what to expect from your day on the mountain. Latest trail reports and wildlife warnings are available from park visitor centers or online from the national park websites.

Overnight Hikes

For a true wilderness experience you have to spend a few nights out in the wild. There are hundreds of backcountry routes scattered around the parks. Some string together a few day hikes with a night in a backcountry campground, while others are multiday epics that venture into distant and little-visited corners of the national parks.

  • Trips can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
  • Overnight hikes require a wilderness pass and backcountry campground reservations.
  • The majority of overnight hikes are within the capabilities of most hikers, as long as you’re properly equipped and reasonably fit.
  • You’ll need to pack in food, a tent and sleeping bag, first-aid supplies and all other equipment, and pack out all your rubbish.
Top Areas for Overnight Hikes
  • Skoki Valley, Banff
  • Egypt Lake, Banff
  • Mt Assiniboine, Banff
  • Kananaskis Country
  • Tonquin Valley, Jasper
  • Skyline Trail, Jasper
  • Gunsight Pass, Glacier
  • Lake O’Hara, Yoho
  • Northern Highline-Waterton Valley

Responsible Backcountry Hiking

The general rule in the backcountry is to leave everything as you find it – the Leave No Trace (www.leavenotrace.ca) website has some excellent advice on ways to reduce your impact on the environment.

  • Pitch on sites previously used by other campers to avoid unnecessary damage to the landscape.
  • Keep your campsite clean to avoid attracting animals.
  • Store food, toiletries and cooking equipment in bear-proof lockers if available, or suspend them between two trees at least 4m (13ft) above the ground and 1.3m (4ft) from each trunk.
  • Use biodegradable soap and wash dishes well away from rivers and streams.
  • A portable stove is more eco-friendly than a campfire, as it prevents unnecessary scorching of the ground.
  • If you do have a fire, don’t cut anything down to burn as fuel – dead wood is OK, green wood certainly isn’t.
  • Heed any fire restrictions that may be in place.
  • If you get caught short on the trail, move well away from the path and at least 70m (230ft) from any water source, dig a hole, do the deed and cover it with dirt. Pack out toilet paper in a sealed bag.

Rules & Permits

No matter where you’re hiking, you’ll need a valid park pass and, if you’re exploring the backcountry, backcountry campground reservations and a wilderness permit for each night of your stay. All these can be arranged through visitor centers.

It’s also a good idea to leave a full trip itinerary with park staff if you’re traveling in remote country or doing any hazardous activities (such as mountaineering or rock climbing). Remember to sign in once you’re back, otherwise you will be listed as missing and a search party will be sent out to find you.

It’s extremely important to stay on the trails – cutting across switchbacks, avoiding muddy patches and tramping trail fringes causes unnecessary ‘braiding’ of the path and damages the fragile alpine environment.

Trail Guides

A standalone hiking guide can be a useful purchase, as they have extra space to detail precise trail distances, marker points, full elevations and compass bearings for specific routes. There are lots of different guides to choose from.

Standard hiking textbook The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson, first published in 1971, is still many people’s preferred guide. Simple layout, no-nonsense text and trail descriptions for 229 hikes are all user-friendly, although the black-and-white format looks dated.

The full-color Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies by Graeme Pole is more useful if you’re after some context on your hike, with glossy photos of views, sights, wildflowers, and flora and fauna. The book is handily divided into color-coded sections for each national park.

The opinionated Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies by Kathy and Craig Copeland rates hikes into four categories (Premier, Outstanding, Worthwhile and Don’t Do). Some of the choices are controversial, but it certainly helps you narrow your selection.

Going Solo

For many people it’s the chance for solitude that makes the idea of hiking in the mountains so irresistible, but it’s worth thinking carefully if you’re heading out solo. If you’d prefer not to go alone, ask around at local hostels and visitor centers to see if you can find some like-minded hikers or an organized walk to tag along with.

Walking alone (especially in the backcountry) is inherently more risky – your chance of encountering wildlife is greater, there’s no one to go for help if you get into trouble or sprain an ankle, and no one to blame if you get lost due to bad navigation skills! If you do decide to hike alone, take the following precautions:

  • Pack a compass and a good trail map, and make sure you’re familiar with basic navigation techniques.
  • Look out for recent wildlife warnings at trailheads, which will also be posted in park visitor centers.
  • Pay attention to group access restrictions and seasonal trail closures around Lake Louise in summer.
  • Let someone know where you’re planning on hiking and what time you expect to be back.
  • Sing loudly on the trail, shout and clap your hands to warn animals of your approach.
  • Be particularly wary about wildlife around noisy streams or dense forest.
  • Carry bear spray in an easily accessible place, and make sure you know how to use it. Also check expiry dates on the canister.

Cycling

While parks authorities have cracked down on a number of unauthorized bike trails in recent years, there are still plenty of routes open to mountain bikers in Banff, Lake Louise, Kananaskis and Jasper. Waterton Lakes also has a small selection of routes, but mountain biking is banned on all trails in Glacier.

There are also dedicated bike parks at the Canmore Nordic Centre and the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, which has its own cyclist-friendly gondola and a huge network of mountain trails.

Road riding is most popular along the Bow Valley Parkway, Minnewanka Loop and the Icefields Parkway, but you won’t get away without tackling a few hills.

Preparation, Equipment & Safety

  • Rent bikes and equipment in Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Kananaskis, Canmore and Golden.
  • Always wear a helmet, take a puncture repair kit and/or spare inner tubes, and a basic trail tool kit including hex keys, screwdrivers and chain tool.
  • Many rental companies offer shuttle services to trailheads or guided trips along classic routes in the parks.
  • Trail conditions vary widely, from flat, paved trails to technical singletracks with hazards such as branches, rocks and knotted roots. Do your research before you set out.
  • Cyclists are particularly prone to surprise bear encounters due to the speed and silence with which they travel. Make plenty of noise, slow down in dense forests, and take extra care near rivers and on windy days.

Fishing

With hundreds of waterways and lakes open for angling, the mountain parks are, unsurprisingly, a paradise for aspiring anglers. Arctic grayling, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, lake trout, northern pike, mountain whitefish and lake whitefish are all abundant, although some species (such as bull trout, cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon) have suffered a major decline in recent years and are protected by law.

The most popular angling areas include the Bow River and Lake Minnewanka in Banff; Maligne Lake, Pyramid Lake and Princess Lakes in Jasper; and Lake McDonald and St Mary Lake in Glacier.

Rules, Regulations & Seasons

To fish anywhere in Banff and Jasper, you will need to buy a fishing permit, available from park visitor centers. The free Fishing Regulations Summary will be included with your permit, detailing angling seasons, catch limits and other useful information. There’s also a handy pictorial key for helping to identify your fish: it’s important to be sure about your catch, as you’ll be fined if you’re caught in possession of one of the protected species by park authorities. If in doubt, catch-and-release is the way to go.

No fishing permit is required across the border in Glacier. Casting on the park’s boundaries may require a Montana state fishing license, and waters on Blackfeet Indian Reservation land (such as part of Lower Two Medicine Lake) require permits from the reservation.

  • The season in Canada generally runs from June to September, with a slightly longer season in Glacier.
  • It’s illegal to fish with natural bait, chemical attractants or lead tackle.
  • You cannot have more than one line at a time in the water and may not fish from two hours after sunset to one hour before sunrise.
  • Some waters are catch-and-release zones only, while most others have catch limits for particular species.
  • Consider employing a local guide, who can provide gear and tackle, help you find the choicest waters and make sure you stay within the rules.

Horseback Riding

People have been taking pack trips around these parts since the days of the earliest settlers, and the horseback tradition remains strong to this day. Many trails in Banff, Jasper and Glacier are open to horseback riders as well as hikers, and horses are also welcome at many backcountry campgrounds and lodges, so there’s plenty of opportunity for day trips, as well as more adventurous backcountry expeditions.

Most people choose to saddle up with a local guiding company, but it’s possible to bring along your own steed. If you’re trotting off into the Canadian backcountry, you’ll need a grazing permit in addition to your wilderness pass. Comprehensive listings of pack-trip companies and outfitters are available from Alberta Outfitters Association and Montana Outfitters & Guides Association.

White-Water Rafting & Float Trips

The Rockies have some of the best white water in Canada. Rapids systems are graded into six degrees of difficulty, ranging from I (easy) to VI (near-impossible): most local activity companies tackle rapids rated between I and III. Equipment, safety gear and trained guides are all supplied, and though it can be pretty white-knuckle at times, in general white-water rafting is safe – although you’ll obviously need to be able to swim, and be prepared to get very wet.

More sedate float trips on rivers are ideal for families and often provide a good way of spotting water birds and wildlife. The rafting season is May through September, with highest river levels (and therefore the most rapids) in spring.

The best areas for rafting are along the Kicking Horse and Kananaskis Rivers; Canmore and Golden both have plenty of operators who run trips. Jasper also has its own network of white-water rivers, while in Glacier, the Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River offer the best stretches of white water for rafting.

Canoeing & Kayaking

The region's Aboriginal people have been using canoes for thousands of years (an example followed by the early European settlers and ‘voyageurs’), and canoeing and kayaking are still the best ways to get out on the water.

Nonmotorized boats (including canoes, dinghies and kayaks) are allowed on nearly all waterways in the Canadian parks, but motorboats are banned, except on Lake Minnewanka. The rules are less strict in Glacier, with most waterways open to boats.

  • Canoes and kayaks are readily available for hire at many lakes; expect to pay around C$30 to C$55 per hour, including life jackets, paddles and boat hire.
  • Banff’s best places for canoeing are Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Bow River and Vermilion Lakes. Cruises are offered on Lake Minnewanka. You can also paddle on Emerald Lake in Yoho.
  • In Jasper, Maligne Lake offers superb canoeing and commentated cruises to Spirit Island. Pyramid Lake is another good spot.
  • In Glacier, hire boats and cruises are offered on Lake McDonald, St Mary, Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake.
  • In Waterton, Cameron Lake is the best lake for sailing, with rowboats, kayaks and canoes for rent.

Wildlife Watching

With a rich and varied animal population ranging from bighorn sheep to wolverines, elk and grizzly bears, you should have plenty of opportunities to glimpse the parks’ wilder residents. As always, the best times for wildlife watching are dawn and dusk. You’ll have more luck away from major roads, especially around the more remote areas of Jasper and Glacier, but even in Banff you’re bound to cross paths with at least a few wild animals.

In general, wildlife tends to go wherever humans don’t, so the quieter areas of Kananaskis and Kootenay are excellent places for wildlife seekers. Kananaskis is also famous for the annual migration of around 6000 golden eagles, which takes place through the valley every fall.

Wild animals can be highly unpredictable and often perceive humans as a threat, so be careful not to get too close (even seemingly harmless animals such as elk can be dangerous, especially during calving season). A good pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens will help you see the show from a distance.

Top Spots for Wildlife

  • Vermilion Lakes, Banff Elk
  • Lake Minnewanka, Banff Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pika, ground squirrels
  • Bow Valley Parkway, Banff Elk, moose, occasionally black bears
  • Smith–Dorrien/Spray Trail Rd Mountain goats, bighorn sheep
  • Lake Louise Gondola, Banff Grizzly bears on the avalanche slopes
  • Emerald Lake Area, Yoho Moose, black and grizzly bears
  • Icefields Parkway, Jasper Elk, moose, marmots, bighorn sheep
  • Maligne Lake Road, Jasper Moose, mountain goats, occasionally wolves
  • Tonquin Valley, Jasper Moose, bighorn sheep, marmots, some bears
  • Many Glacier, Glacier Mountain goats, black and grizzly bears
  • Two Medicine Valley, Glacier Grizzly bears

Rock Climbing & Mountaineering

With so many peaks and rock faces to tackle, Banff and Jasper are both well-known destinations for rock climbers, but the mountainous terrain is generally challenging and technical and mostly more suited to experienced alpinists, rather than novices.

An exception is the new Via Ferratas (fixed-protection climbing routes) in Banff's Mt Norquay and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort that offer a safe, guided climbing experience on some truly incredible crags.

The Alpine Club of Canada (www.alpineclubofcanada.ca) and the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (www.acmg.ca), both based in Canmore, provide general advice on climbing in the Rockies and can help put you in touch with local mountain guides.

Skiing & Snowboarding

While perhaps not quite on a par with Whistler, Banff and Jasper have a growing reputation for winter sports – and with more than five months of snow every year, and, of course, no shortage of mountains, it’s hardly surprising.

Banff & Jasper

The three main resorts in Banff are Mt Norquay, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, collectively known as the Big Three (www.skibig3.com). Lift passes covering all three resorts are available, or you can buy individual resort passes if you only have a limited time in the mountains.

In Jasper, the main skiing center is Marmot Basin (www.skimarmot.com), along the Icefields Parkway. The slopes and facilities are generally a little quieter than in Banff, so Marmot makes a good destination if this is your first time on the snow.

The facilities at all four resorts are excellent, with ski and snowboarding schools, childcare facilities, terrain parks and half-pipes for snowboarders, as well as public transportation to the slopes and lots of groomed and powder runs.

The bars and restaurants in the townsites of Banff and Jasper are also within easy reach, so you’ll have plenty to keep you busy once your day on the snow is over.

Other Resorts

Though less well known than Banff and Jasper, there are a couple of other resorts a short drive away. Nakiska (www.skinakiska.com) in Kananaskis Country, about an hour’s drive south of Canmore, was originally developed for the 1988 Winter Olympics, and still has a good reputation among skiers and snowboarders. It’s usually a lot quieter than Banff, but has fewer runs and simpler facilities. Shuttle buses run throughout the ski season from Banff and Canmore.

The Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, near Golden, is the Rocky Mountains’ newest ski resort (and one of the only ones to be granted development permission in the last 20 years). With more than 1120 skiable hectares, over 120 runs and a vertical drop of 1260m (4133ft), it’s also fast becoming one of the best.

Whitefish Mountain Resort, 11km (7 miles) south of Whitefish, is another prime ski destination, with the excellent Fishbowl Terrain Parks, a vertical drop of 717m (2353ft) and 93 marked trails spread over a massive 1215 hectares (3000 acres). Look out for the annual Furniture Race (April) down the slopes of Big Mountain, which has to be seen to be believed.

Cross-Country Skiing

While most skiers choose to bomb down the mountainside, an increasing number of people are taking to cross-country skiing as a way of experiencing the parks in their wintry glory.

Cross-country skiers have the chance to explore the empty backcountry deep into midwinter; many trails around Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper are specifically kept open for use by cross-country skiers from December through March, with a more limited range of trails also open in Glacier, Waterton, Kananaskis and Yoho.

  • Park authorities supply trail maps of open routes, and you’ll find lessons and equipment rental from most outdoor activity operators and some ski schools.
  • Trails aren’t always signposted and can be difficult to make out under heavy snow cover. Check trail conditions before you set out.
  • Cross-country skiers need to be alert to the dangers of avalanches, especially in remote areas.
  • Carry emergency supplies, an avalanche beacon, a full repair kit, a compass and a detailed topographical map with you on any cross-country skiing trip.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing has been practiced by Aboriginal people in the Rockies for hundreds of years, and it’s one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to explore the winter wilderness.

Many of the trails kept open for cross-country skiers also have parallel tracks for snowshoers, and there are other routes to explore around the townsites in Jasper, Banff and Glacier. As always, parks staff can help with route maps and condition reports for current trails.

Snowshoes can be hired from outdoor equipment stores and activity providers in Banff, Jasper and Glacier.