Don’t miss your opportunity to visit 3 of Canada’s stunning national parks, with a couple of insider tips you won’t find elsewhere, itinerary included.
Only have 7 days… Here are 3 of Canada’s extremely stunning national parks you can visit in a week
Canada has more than 40 national park destinations to visit. Although they are all beautiful in their own right, some of my favorite national parks are located in Canada’s western 2 provinces. They also happen to be 3 of Canada’s most popular national parks.
Having spent three years living and working in Banff National Park I have a slight fondness for the beautiful Rocky Mountains. If you’re planning a trip into the Rockies and you want to take advantage of the free entry, offered in 2017, read on to learn more about 3 of Canada’s most popular and gorgeous rocky mountain parks.
1. Banff National Park, Alberta - Canada’s first national park and one of the most visited, is a perfect gateway into Canada’s Rocky Mountains. It is regarded as a premier destination and has hosted many celebrities both during the winter months and during the summer.
Although the Town of Banff is small, it packs a big punch. You are surrounded by mountain vistas and entertainment everywhere you turn. There are over 120 great places to eat, the night life is hopping and there are many accommodation choices to satisfy every travel style. This is all in addition to the world famous Banff Hot Springs and Cave and Basin National Historic Site that should be on your list of must see landmarks.
The tiny village of Lake Louise located 57 km (about 40 min. drive) is definitely worth a side trip. If you are able to, staying the night would be ideal. The mountain views in Lake Louise are as equally stunning as those found in the town site of Banff. The hiking is spectacular and many trails are suitable for all levels. If you can, go in mid-June, just as the lake is thawing you will be rewarded with a spectacular hue of blue. The minerals wash down the mountains from the spring melt. They settle into the bottom of the lake and reflect colors of turquoise so intense your jaw drops.
It once adorned the back of the Canadian $20 bill, Moraine Lake is another beautiful, glacier fed lake found 14 kilometers (2o min. drive) outside the village of Lake Louise, in Banff National Park. The road to Moraine Lake is only open during the milder summer months as the road can become very treacherous in winter. This lake is situated over 6,000 ft above sea level and is surrounded by mountains. In fact, the valley that the lake sits in is known as the Valley of the Ten Peaks. There are many hiking opportunities around Moraine Lake however it is often mandatory to hike in groups of 5 or more for safety reasons. There are many black bears and grizzly bears that call this area home.
*Insider tip – Traveling along the old highway 1A known as the Bow Valley Parkway will get you up close to the natural beauty of Banff National Park. Often you will encounter wildlife and you’ll be able to access Johnston Canyon and Castle Junction. You may come across locals biking along this road and in the summer months you just might find winter-sport athletes rolling down the highway, training on their roller skis! During the months of March 1 to around June 25th the parkway is closed from 8:00p.m to 8:00a.m. to allow the wildlife to graze and wander.
2. Kootenay National Park, British Columbia - Located to the west of Banff National park, in the province of British Columbia this area is also well known for its hot springs and scenic hiking trails. This park is very popular and reserving accommodations prior to your planned arrival is strongly recommended. If you’re driving along the Trans-Canada highway, take exit AB-93 S. You will be rewarded with a beautiful scenic drive. If you drive during the early hours of the morning or a little closer to dusk you may get lucky and spot some wildlife.
Going along highway 93 you will notice a unique contrast in the landscape. Several forest fires, started by lightening, devastated the area in 2003, burning over 17,000 hectares. As you drive through the park you will have the opportunity to stop and enjoy the surrounding canyons. Two of the most popular stops are Marble Canyon and Sinclair Canyon. If time allows there are many great hikes located at these stops and are suitable for a people of different hiking abilities.
Unlike Banff National Park, Kootenay National Park does not house a hipster small town. The closest town is just outside the park gates, known as Radium Hot Springs. It’s a great place to enjoy a soak in the hot springs or grab a bite to eat at a local eatery. One of the most popular campgrounds in the area is Redstreak Campground. It is located upon a ridge, overlooking the small town of Radium and the Columbia River. It’s a popular site, booking up months in advance, but well worth it.
*Insider tip – If you decide to book a campsite at Redstreak, study the site layout and choose one of the sites at the far end, section H sites H1-18 for example. They are a little quieter as they are the farthest from the entrance gates. In addition there’s a 2.5 km trail that will lead you down near the entrance for the hot springs aqua court. One of the best experiences we had at this park was participating in the interpretive programs that are offered during the summer months. We took a great family friendly hike into the Secret Canyon learning about the First Nations People of the area. The second hike took place before dusk. It took us up to a lookout area offering a bird’s eye view of the Columbia River and the town below. We also learned how to find edible buffalo berries and how forest fires are an important part of the natural ecosystem.
3. Yoho National Park, British Columbia - is located adjacent to Banff National Park and north of Kootenay National Park. Yoho National Park offers a plethora of outdoor hiking opportunities for everyone. Avid backpackers will have a hard time choosing which trail to hike. The park trail system offers simple hikes for all levels to extreme multi-day hikes that require back country permits and experience. Families can enjoy several viewpoints set up along the highway which give access to viewpoints like the Spiral Tunnels, Kicking Horse Pass National Historic Site or stop in the quaint town of Field for coffee and ice-cream. If you want to experience something a little more unique, book a guided hike to Burgess Shale, said to be one of the most significant fossil finds on earth. The Burgess Shale area is protected and only accessible by guided hike. Booking well in advance through the Parks Canada website is advisable to avoid disappointment.
*Insider tip – the parking lot to the Takakkaw Falls trailhead is extremely busy as are many of the day use facilities around the town of field. Plan on enjoying these areas early in the day, to secure your spot and save time to enjoy the park, rather than looking for parking.
Keep in mind that the most expensive time to visit these national parks is during the summer months. If you are able to visit outside of the high season you will see a considerable fluctuation in rates. During the summer months, the budget traveler can find affordable hostels or motels that can cost anywhere between $60-150CAN per person, per night. The luxury traveler can find several high end hotels that cater to those looking to pamper themselves during their Rocky Mountain visit. Typically 4 or 5 star hotels will start at about $600CAN per night and go up from there. If you’re looking for something in the middle there are several motels that run about $275 – 350CAN per night. Traveling during June or September will drastically reduce accommodation rates and the local eateries and pubs will be a little less crowded. Another option, consider touring the mountain parks with a camper. It is more affordable and gets you up close to nature.
- Travel to the Rocky Mountains during the shoulder season to experience unparalleled beauty at a reduced rate.
- Banff National Park must see; Town of Banff, Johnston Canyon the hamlet of Lake Louise, Moraine Lake.
- Kootenay National Park must see; Redstreak Mountain hike for beautiful vistas, Radium Hot Springs soak for RnR.
- Travel the highways during the quieter hours of the morning to get a glimpse of wildlife and for some great photo opportunities.
- Take advantage of the interpretive programs that will be offered throughout the summer at many of Canada’s National Parks. The programs are free and add a depth to your experience that you won’t find anywhere else.
- If you only have 7 days to experience the Rockies, here’s a round trip driving route and itinerary that is do-able and gives you enough time to spend a few days in each of the parks listed above. If you have more time definitely head north of Banff National Park into Jasper National Park.
- The weather in the Rocky Mountains can be unpredictable, even in the middle of the summer. I have witnessed snow in July on more than one occasion. Wearing layers and a good pair of shoes will ensure you have an enjoyable time.
- Flying into Calgary is a great entry point to the Canadian Rockies. Calgary is a big city with small town charm. The people are friendly and the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies makes for some beautiful scenery.
- Car rental or camper rentals are available for rent in Calgary, but booking ahead is a must. 2017 will be busy as locals and tourists celebrate Canada’s 150th.
- In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation, all of Canada’s national parks and historic sites will have free entry for 2017. To get your free park pass, visit the Parks Canada website and place your order. It may take up to 8 weeks to receive it by mail. If you’re short on time, you can simply pick up a pass at one of the many national partners or visitors centres.
If you’re thinking about a visit to any one of Canada’s National Parks, this is definitely the year to do it. Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary of confederation. There will be a lot more festivities in and around the national parks as well as almost every city! Canada is having a party, come on over and create an adventure that you will not soon forget! If you have any questions about any of the parks listed above or want some advice, please leave a comment and I will respond. I spent 3 years living in Lake Louise and Banff, and 6 years living in Calgary, Alberta. I’ve hiked and camped in each of the parks mentioned above, in addition to many others around the area! I have also had the pleasure of staying in luxury accommodations both in Banff and Lake Louise. You will not regret any time spent in these beautiful parks. I am sure that you too will look back fondly at your time spent in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, as I so often do.