Canada. It’s not just the people, the smile that greets you everywhere you go, or the locally crafted lagers. Neither is it the oversized food portions, a “double double" coffee every morning, or the fresh air so good china imports it. It’s not just about the mountains, the turquoise lakes, the epic wildlife, the hikes leading to secret paradises, mountain biking through spectacular scenery or rafting down rivers that have carved their way through the land since the last Ice Age. On top of all this, they have cowboys too!
Canada is a destination that offers up a pretty tough choice: winter or summer? I’m lucky enough to have travelled through the Canadian Rockies in both seasons, but my recent western Canada road trip was during the summer. In winter, you can ski or snowboard, dog sled tours and snow mobile touring, whereas in summer you can camp, hike, swim and cycle. A tough choice!
We planned an awesome 12 day road trip in July, staying in Banff, Jasper and Yoho national Parks, rounded off with a visit to the Calgary Stampede.
We flew into Calgary and collected the car from here - the drive from Calgary to Banff takes under 1.5 hours. Banff National Park is the first-established and most visited park in Canada, and for good reason. With campsites in the middle of the forests, mountains all arounds and beautiful lakes in all directions, there is truly something for everyone.
The jewel of the park is the famous Lake Louise. On a cloudy day, you can sit by the front of the Lake and watch as the sun peaks out giving brilliance to the lake in sweeping movements. Of course the best way to take in the Lake Louise is at the famous Tea House on the Six Glacier trail. If you’re travelling on your own or don’t want to worry about driving, we include this on our group tour National Parks of the Canadian Rockies.
This is one of the most stunning routes in the country (my colleague Chris has cycled the route!), so be prepared to make a lot of pit stops; you can drive this in about 2.5 hours, but we took a leisurely 7!
I’d personally recommend the Athabasca Glacier where we can arrange for you to take a glacier hike and skywalk tour - we made sure to book this in advance to avoid disappointment. This one glacier alone provides streams that run throughout the continent into the Atlantic, Pacific and Artic Oceans.
The Athabasca Glacier has been receding exponentially over the last few decades, so it can be dangerous to go exploring without an experienced guide. For those that are brave, you can also to the Skywalk, where you walk across a glass platform overlooking a stunning Canyon. (We include a trip out on the Athabasca glacier in our Discover Whistler & the Rockies tour).
Further to the north, I recommend a visit to the Athabasca falls; a stunning river that has cut its path over thousands of years. You’ll see a dozen whirlwinds in this river – it’s likely to give you a slight fear of water slides in the future!
With almost 300km of pure beauty along the Icefields parkway, there will be plenty for you to discover. Each spot is uniquely beautiful - my favourite was Peyto Lake.
If you’re a keen walker, there are trails here for all levels and they are all easily navigated and well signposted with difficulties clearly advised. We went for a scenic, three hour walk around the Valley of Five Lakes before driving back into Jasper to sample some of the craft beer from the only brewery in the Rockies.
We also paid a visit to Miette Hot Springs which overlook the mountains and are less busy then Banff Hot Springs. The springs are an ideal option to heal your aches and pains after a long hike, but if you’re not totally out of steam, you could follow the trail that takes you to the source of the springs.
The wildlife in this region is magnificent and it feels so remote here; you may even get tired of seeing Elk on the side of the roads because it’s such a common occurrence. The landscape around Jasper is beautiful and tops the list for my favourite region on the trip.
If you’re looking for more trekking, we offer a Banff & Jasper hiking adventure which gives you plenty of opportunity to explore this whole are in the company of like-minded companions.
Yoho is just across the border from Alberta into British Columbia. We stayed at the Emerald Lake Lodge where we reaped the benefits of staying in a lodge. The biggest advantage here is that although during the day many tourists come to see the lake, by 5pm everyone is gone. If you’re staying in a lodge, you get the lake views to yourself, which is immersive. If you’re considering camping through the Rockies but you have some extra budget, I really recommend asking us to help you find the best lodge to suit you, just for a few nights. It’s a fantastic way to end your trip in the Rockies.
You’ll be spoilt for hiking options here too! We took plenty of spectacular walks and also went canoeing on Emerald Lake. Having worked up an appetite, we made the most of the local dining options too. The food here was amazing;and the game meat of the Rockies is diverse, and I can say that Caribou is one of my all-time favourite game flavours.
I had mixed feelings about returning to Calgary and to civilisation. Days had gone by in the wilderness and I was worried I would miss seeing elk, bears, mountain goats and other wildlife, all to be replaced by cars.
That was until 4 cowboys launched into a stadium with fireworks popping and 30 horses charging through the stadium - just the start of the Calgary Stampede!
Calgary Stampede takes place every year for 10 days in July and it’s basically an enormous outdoor festival and rodeo event, with gigs, exhibitions and over a million visitors! With bucking horse competitions, an inspirational Grandma winning the barrel challenge and racks of ribs that could turn a vegetarian, an experience of the Calgary Stampede is an absolute must-do.
Calgary comes to life during the Stampede. You can book in one day to see an afternoon Rodeo, but you’ll find exciting things to do all around the city. We found they were handing out free bacon pancakes throughout the morning! And In true Canadian fashion, you’ won’t find a piece of litter on the ground through it all.
My tip if you’re lucky enough to visit, is to try and track down the official sponsor for cowboy hats. You can often pick up a cowboy hat for a really good price ($28); they’re really well made and much better value than street vendors of other cowboy hats - and trust me, you need the cowboy hat!
If you like the sound of my trip to Canada, we can arrange something similar to suit you! Whether you want to camp in the wilderness, or plan stays in lodges, hotels or B&Bs, we’ll find something that suits you and help you find the best car too.
To start planning a trip, contact our Canada tailor-made specialists on +44 1273 320580 or request a quote by email.