Road tripping the Canadian Rocky Mountains is an experience that wanderlusters from around the world dream of checking off their bucket lists; however, during the pandemic, there is a unique opportunity for Canadians to explore this region without the usual crowds of international tourists. With a mix of world-renowned attractions and off-the-beaten-path gems, the Rockies are jam-packed with reasons to visit.
The setting consists of so-blue-they-look-fake glacier lakes, strikingly towering mountains, awe-inspiring glaciers, super-powered waterfalls, crystal-clear creeks and wildlife waiting to be spotted (look but don’t lure). Equip yourself with a vehicle packed with snacks, healthily worn-in hiking boots and bear spray at the ready, and you’re all set for an adventure of a lifetime.
For those who enjoy an authentically rustic Canadian experience that offers an opportunity to meet fellow adventurers, Hostelling International offers the perfect accommodation in which to stay throughout your journey. With private-room and dorm options in Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and along the Icefields Parkway, HI properties are reliable and central lodging options that have everything you need to rest and recharge along your road trip.
Start at the quaint mountain town of Banff, which during a normal year is elbow-to-elbow with international tourists, but even during COVID-19 attracts about 70 per cent of the visitors (mostly Canadians). Hiking enthusiasts can catch incredible views from Tunnel Mountain or Sulphur Mountain, and those wishing to find some lakeside serenity can visit Two Jack Lake or Vermillion Lakes—highly recommended at sunrise and sunset, respectively.
A trip to the Canadian Rockies wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the iconic Lake Louise, which shines in all its turquoise glory and is best viewed from its shores before the crowds arrive at 9 a.m.; dining at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise; or atop one of the surrounding mountains, such as the Big Beehive Trail. Don’t forget to stop for a cup of tea at the Lake Agnes Tea House on the way down!
The vivid blues don’t stop at Lake Louise, as a short drive away sits the Gatorade-blue Lake Moraine surrounded by the Valley of Ten Peaks, and just up the Icefields Parkway awaits Bow Lake or Peyto Lake for further proof that the colour of that water is indeed not Photoshopped. Once on the Parkway, continue on to take in the stunning roadside landscapes of mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and creeks. It’s not uncommon to spot wildlife on this road such as bears, deer, moose or wolves, so abide by the speed limit and keep your eyes peeled!
Sitting a few hours’ drive north of Lake Louise, Jasper is a calmer mountain town where wildflowers line the streets, trains run past the town, and establishments like Jasper Brewing Company and Jasper Pizza Place are the go-tos. Do not miss a visit to Maligne Lake, where it’s not uncommon to spot moose along the road in the wee hours of the morning or grazing at the adjacent Moose Lake. You can also take a boat to Spirit Island, which is one of the most-photographed spots in Canada—it’s not hard to see why.
If you’re not all hiked out yet, visit the iceberg-covered glacial pond of Edith Cavell and journey through its scenic Meadows Trail, and visit Maligne Canyon for incredible waterfalls and a nice easy trail. Finally, if you’re looking for a lake you can actually swim in, visit the Caribbean-esque blues of Lake Annette or Lake Edith, which are spring-fed instead of glacier-fed and definitely worthy of a dip in the warmer months.
You’ll find no shortage of spectacular views and things to do along your Rocky Mountain road trip, and there are few experiences that will make you feel more grateful to be Canadian. Now is the time to make the most of it! —Kellie Paxian