Uncharted Backpacker

How to Experience the Canadian Rockies Like a Local

Canadian Rockies, British Columbia and Alberta

Since I was a child, I have been exploring the lush wild valleys, emerald blue lakes and craggy peaks of the Canadian Rockies. More specifically the parks of Banff, Jasper, Kananaskis, and Yoho. After countless years bushwhacking through rough trails, camping and photographing wildlife I feel I might just be able to say “I know” a bit about these epic mountains and can call myself a local to the region. Although there is so much more to see outside of the words I write in this post, this can be a definitive guide for those who are new to the Canadian Rockies and want to experience as much as they can. So, get ready for one of my most favorite places on earth, my home, the Canadian Rockies!

Gateway to the Rockies, Calgary, Alberta

Calgary is my home, I have been living in, around and out of this city between trips my entire life. As a traveler coming to Calgary, I would highly recommend staying a few days before and after your trip into the Canadian Rockies as Calgary is home to some of the best restaurants, pubs, and hotels.

Calgary is also a fast-paced changing city with plenty of new up and coming architectural sights along with the scattered historical sights. If you time your trip near the Calgary Stampede you can witness the world’s largest rodeo and the city’s biggest celebrations.

Calgary is also a very ethnically diverse city, this means you can dine on anything from Indian, Thai, Sichuan, Brazilian or whatever you are feeling after hiking in the mountains!

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Banff – Gateway to the Canadian Rockies

Banff, Jasper, Yoho or Kananaskis?

Looking West from Calgary you will see the Rockies are divided into several different parks. All are connected and can be easily reached within even the same day if you have your own transport! Here is a quick description of each park to help you decide which is best for you.

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Banff Town

Banff – The oldest and most popular of the parks, Banff is the shining gem of the Canadian Rockies. During High Season (July, August), you can almost guarantee that all campsites and hotels will be fully booked. The parking lots to the main sights will also be full, I avoid Banff during these months.

Jasper – One of the larger parks, Jasper is spread out and can be busy as well. Due to most of the sights being spread out you can often find peace even during the busy season. Jasper is home to the ice field parkway and in my opinion, is the most scenic of the parks.

Yoho – Although Yoho is very close to Lake Louise in Banff it has a very “off the beaten track” feeling to it. It’s a tiny little park packed with some very impressive sights! Yoho has great hikes, waterfalls and quaint accommodation in Field!

Kananaskis – This is where Calgarian’s come to beat the crowds and enjoy the peace and quiet of unspoiled nature, Kananaskis Provincial Park. There is very little for hotels here, only camping and backcountry hiking trails. Come here for a more personal Canadian Rocky experience.

Top Experiences in the Canadian Rockies

Up Close with Boo the Grizzly Bear – Golden, BC

Searching for and ticking off the animals you have seen is a favorite pastime in the Rockies. Seeing a Grizzly bear is difficult not to mention dangerous. At Kicking Horse Resort it’s possible to join the rangers and witness a celebrity wild Grizzly Bear up close and personal!

Boo the Grizzly Bear was saved from poachers and now lives in the largest Grizzly Bear sanctuary in the worlds here in Kicking Horse. Although it’s an enclosure, Boo has often dug a whole and leaves only to return months later. This freedom has allowed Boo to keep his sense of being wild yet gives ample opportunity for the rangers to study him.

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Boo the Grizzly Bear!

Every day the Rangers allow a lucky few to visit Boo to learn about him and his habitat. It’s an amazing experience and quite possibly the only chance to get this close to a wild Grizzly Bear in the Canadian Rockies.

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Kicking Horse Gondola

Kicking Horse Resort also has a Gondola to whisk you up to the mountain tops where there are plenty of hiking trails and amazing views. Check out the Boo Grizzly Bear Tours HERE

Ice Trucks to Athabasca Glacier and Skywalk – Jasper, AB

There are not many places on earth where you can climb aboard the massive Ice trucks that explorers have used in places such as Antarctica! Halfway through the Ice fields parkway near Jasper tours in these behemoth Ice Trucks climb at gravity-defying angles up the Athabasca Glacier. Here you get your chance to walk out and explore this high altitude Glacier Falls surrounded by an amphitheater of White Mountain peaks.

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Athabasca Ice Trucks!

With the combined Skywalk ticket, you get to walk across a completely transparent arch that pultrudes from the mountain top. It’s not uncommon to see wild mountain goats and sheep clinging to the cliff sides.

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The tours are run by Pursuit, Check them out HERE

Attending a Pow Wow for Indigenous Culture

This is easily one of the most important experiences and photography stops in Western Canada that you can do. Alberta and British Colombia Indigenous culture is outstanding and if you are lucky enough to be in the area during a Pow wow you will be treated to one of the most jaw-dropping and powerful shows on earth. This is the real Canada!

Boats Ride to Spirit Island – Maligne Lake, Jasper, AB

Easily one of my most favorite places in the entire Canadian Rockies is Maligne Lake and the highlight of this lake itself is Spirit Island. The Stony Nakota Tribe revere this island saying it has certain powers to it. The island was also the destination in a huge photo contest that led it to be on the walls of JFK airport!

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Spirit Island, Maligne Lake

There are two ways to get here, the true Canadian way by taking a Canoe which will require a 10-hour paddle and most likely staying overnight. The second which is much easier is to board one of the Pursuit boats which provide an interpretive tour and plenty of photography time at Spirit Island. 

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Maligne Lake Amphitheater

See Pursuit’s Spirit Island Tour HERE

Driving the Ice fields Parkway – Jasper, AB

Voted one of the world’s best drives is the stretch between Lake Louise and Jasper known as the Icefields Parkway. Apart from the dozen or so well-known sights and photo stops there are countless possibilities to keep you in the area. This is where the true adventure begins, I recommend spending a few days camping along the way, but if you’re strapped for time do not fret, simply driving it is equally impressive! Great chances here for spotting wildlife as well!

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Ice field Parkway

Camping in Kananaskis Provincial Park

This is where most Canadians who live here come to beat the crowds. The park features stunning blue lakes, amazing campgrounds that are not overbooked and equally impressive nature as the other parks. Hiking and camping are perfect here for those looking to explore something outside the norm. My favorite spot is Upper Kananaskis Lake and the Sarrail Ridge Hike!

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Sarrail Ridge Lookout

My Favourite Photography Spots in the Canadian Rockies

Peyto Lake – Banff, AB

Along the Icefield Parkway is a very underrated lake. Peyto Lake has some of the best views in the Rockies! But there is a secret to getting these views. Most follow the path to the lookout, which is swamped with tourists, but at the lookout, if you turn left and hike for ten minutes you will find one of the most amazing views of the lake!

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Peyto Lake

Takakkaw Falls – Yoho, AB

This is one of Canada’s tallest free-falling waterfalls. Coming here at different times of day really changes the mood of the waterfall and you can always be surprised with unique angles. Plenty of hiking trails in the area as well to get amazing shots!

Canmore – AB

Most skip by Canmore on their way to Banff, but those that stop and linger will find out that Canmore is home to amazing hiking trails and views that are basically tourist-free. Try summiting Ha ling Peak or following the dog park trail to the Three Sisters lookout at sunrise! Canmore is truly a hidden wonder!

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Three Sisters, Canmore

Moraine Lake – Banff, AB

Now, I know what your thinking, anyone who looks up the Canadian Rockies is surely going to see Moraine Lake. This is true! But its for a good reason. Living here for so long I am still in shock and awe every time I come to this lake, there is nowhere on earth quite like it.

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Moraine Lake

The area also has incredible hikes like the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass! You will definitely have to fight the crowds and show up at 4 am if you’d like to see the sunrise, but seriously I am telling you, it is worth it.

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Moraine Lake at Sunrise

Canoeing on Emerald Lake – Yoho, BC

Another one of the high altitude emerald blue lakes, adequately named “Emerald Lake”. Emerald is perfect for those who want to spend an afternoon paddling the waters. It’s small enough that you won’t need to put too much effort in which will allow you to spend more time taking in the raw beauty, but it’s also big enough that you won’t be surrounded by tourists! It makes a great spot for photography.

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Paddling Emerald Lake

Around Jasper – AB

Jasper area is littered with extremely photogenic locations. The vast majority of them are very spread out, so if you would like to properly photograph them you will need to spend a few days in Jasper itself. My favorite spots are Sunwapta Falls, Pyramid Lake, Maligne Lake, and Mount Edith Cavell.

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Stephen Gollan

Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

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