Canada’s stretch of the Rocky Mountains is an outdoor paradise with something for everyone: upscale resorts surrounded by jagged mountains, isolated hikes offering an escape from urban life and crystal-blue water that dares you to feel the chill.
The mountains straddle the border of British Columbia and Alberta, with two of its best-known destinations, Banff National Park and Lake Louise, in Alberta.
My family and I flew into Calgary, rented cars and spent a week exploring the wonders around Banff, setting up base camp in Canmore, about 97km west of Calgary. Our accommodations were at the midway point between luxury and roughing it. Cabins at Banff Gate Mountain Resort have a full kitchen and electricity, but no air conditioning. That worked fine on summer nights when temperatures dipped into the 10-15 C. Late afternoon sun beating in got the cabins toasty.
That’s not a problem, though, in a place where there’s plenty to do besides sit indoors.
Here are some highlights:
JOIN THE THRONGS AT LAKE LOUISE
Banff is the most popular of the area’s cluster of national parks — which also includes Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay — and Banff’s crown jewel is the glacial-fed Lake Louise. The lake is exquisite, as evidenced by selfies snapped along its shoreline walking paths, capturing smiling families with snow-covered mountains in the background. If being on the water is your preferred way to experience the lake, canoe rentals are available through Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a decidedly more chic hotel than where we stayed.
If crowds aren’t your thing, plan to get to Lake Louise as early as possible. We didn’t venture that way until noon, and parking lots were packed.
Crowds are likely to be bigger than usual this year, because admission to Canada’s national parks is free in observance of the nation’s 150th birthday.
HEAR THE ROAR OF TAKAKKAW FALLS
For a more rugged experience, we left the masses of Banff behind, bound for Takakkaw Falls in Yoho. Heading west into British Columbia (and the Pacific time zone) you pick up an hour, so that may have helped us beat the crowd a bit, too.
Even before we got out of the parking lot — 0.8 km from the falls — we could hear their mighty roar. Tumbling from 380 meters, the 15.5 C air took on a chill as mist filled the air.
A refreshing start to the day preceded what eventually became a 19 km round-trip hike. From Takakkaw we took the Iceline Trail, which included views of the Yoho and Little Yoho rivers and Laughing Falls.
TAKE IN THE SIGHTS FROM THE BOW RIVER
Not everyone in our crew enjoys a hike, but we do all like the water.
Sections of the Canadian Rockies include whitewater, but we decided to go for a smoother ride with Canmore River Adventures. The six of us joined another family of three on a wide raft paddled by a guide.
At one point we stopped and were told to touch a finger or toe to the water if we dared. I did, but I didn’t stay keep my hand in for long — the guide said the river’s temperature was about 40 degrees F (4.4 C) and wouldn’t get any warmer.
Our one-hour float down the beautiful Bow River included sightings of an elk that had swum to an island to munch on grass and — just before we exited the boat— a bald eagle that dove into the water and came up clasping a fish. It was a fitting end to a spectacular trip.
If you can’t get there this summer, the weather remains relatively mild into September, when larch and aspen trees turn gold as fall arrives. And there’s always winter skiing: The slopes typically open in November.