Hugging the boundaries of British Columbia and Alberta, the Canadian Rockies are one of the most enticing vacation destinations in the country. Their dramatic peaks soar overhead and provide an alpine playground for those who crave adventure and admire the beauty that only mountain scenes can bring. These fantastic peaks plunge into valleys, where brilliantly-hued lakes, waterfalls, evergreen forests, and expansive glaciers beckon your discovery.
A four-day Canadian Rockies itinerary may seem brief, but it is plenty of time to experience the best of this world-class destination. Here is where 96 hours can take you.
Day 1: Get Acquainted with Banff
Expect to spend your first full day in the Canadian Rockies in awe. Panoramic views of the surrounding mountains open up a world of possibilities for your explorations. Start your adventure in Banff - the village within the national park. This charming resort town has much to offer, including cafés where you can grab breakfast and coffee houses for your morning java. As the day progresses, more restaurants open their doors and serve an array of cuisine, ranging from Canadian favorites to international fare.
You can peruse the shops along Banff Avenue - the main thoroughfare - or on Bear Street. Within walking distance of these commercial offerings is the Whyte Museum of the Rockies, where visitors can connect with the beauty and culture of the mountains through art, preserved artifacts, and fascinating exhibits. Alternatively, you can connect with the mountains through the visual journey that takes place as you climb to the summit of Sulphur Mountain aboard the Banff Gondola. Eight incredibly scenic minutes is all it takes to reach the peak.
Plenty of trailheads are accessible from the town site, including Tunnel Mountain. This day hike takes only an hour or two to complete, depending on how quickly you navigate the 2.6-mile course. The reward at the summit is all-encompassing views of the town and Bow Valley, with a gorgeous backdrop of the mountains and endless skies.
If hiking is not your thing, consider heading to Banff Upper Hot Springs for a soak in the natural mineral waters that made Banff famous. While the pools are manufactured, the 98 to 104-degree Fahrenheit water within them naturally occurs.
Day 2: Sightsee in Banff National Park
Encompassing more than 2,500 square miles, Banff National Park is filled with scenic delights - more than you could ever discover in four days or even four weeks. Famous lakes, waterfalls, canyons, and national historic sites are just a taste of the beauty you can uncover when you embark on guided excursions that showcase highlights of the region. However, you are also welcome to forge your own path and discover Banff's natural wonders at leisure.
Can't-miss sites throughout Banff National Park include:
- Cave and Basin National Historic Site
- Surprise Corner
- Bow River Valley
- Bow Falls
- Tunnel Mountain Drive
- Johnson Canyon
- Moraine Lake
- Lake Minnewanka
- Fairmont Banff Springs
You might also like the perspective that a boat tour on Lake Minnewanka affords. The second-largest lake in the Canadian Rockies, this body of water boasts a gorgeous blue coloration and some of the most impressive vistas in the park. Look over granite mountain peaks that lead into colorful valleys brimming with wildlife. Eagles soar overhead, and large mammals like bears, elk, and big-horn sheep wander near the shore.
Should your sightseeing adventures not fill the day, Yoho National Park is located less than an hour from Banff National Park and houses even more Rocky Mountain glories. Places like Takakkaw Falls, Emerald Lake, Kicking Horse Pass National Historic Site, and the Spiral Tunnels are just a sampling of what this small piece of protected land has to offer.
Day 3: Banff to Lake Louise
Lake Louise, a beautiful turquoise lake within Banff National Park and a hamlet by the same name, is the perfect place to spend the third day of your Canadian Rockies itinerary. Whether your tour includes a group transfer aboard a motorcoach or you are driving to Lake Louise in a rental car, the journey is nearly as scenic as the destination itself. Both the Trans-Canada Highway and Bow Valley Parkway showcase the immense landscapes and alpine wonders of Banff National Park, just in different ways.
Traveling along the Trans-Canada Highway means sweeping views over the landscape from a well-traveled byway. Much of the surrounding tree cover was cleared during the highway's construction, so the vistas span far across the terrain. This road is also the quickest way to get to Lake Louise if you are more interested in the destination than the journey.
Choosing the Bow Valley Parkway offers a much more natural look at Banff National Park. This single-lane road is ideal if you hope to spot wildlife, as its course was built into the land rather than altering it to fit the road, and much of the forest remains.
On arrival in Lake Louise, views of the brilliant cerulean water greet you. This lake is gorgeous year-round and is nestled at the cusp of the Victoria Glacier and several tall mountains. Enjoy the contrast of nature and the historic chateau on the lake's shores. In the summer, enjoy Lake Louise while canoeing or kayaking on its glacier-fed waters or while hiking on one of the area's hiking trails. The winter brings skiing on the surrounding mountains and ice skating on the lake's surface. No matter the time of year, riding the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola is the best way to see the scenery from above.
Day 4: Jasper National Park
From Canada's first national park to the largest national park in Canada's Rocky Mountains, your final day in the UNESCO World Heritage Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site takes you to Jasper National Park. Jasper National Park encompasses over 4,300 square miles of wilderness and is home to breathtaking sites. Getting there, though, is half the fun.
Follow along Icefield Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper, stopping at the Columbia Icefields. Here, board an Ice Explorer to venture onto an ancient sheet of ice known as Athabasca Glacier. Your visit here can also include the Glacier Skywalk, a glass walkway that hangs nearly 920 feet above the Sunwapta Valley.
Dramatic scenery, including that of Sunwapta Falls, paves the course for the rest of the journey to Jasper, and on arrival, touring the highlights of the park is the best way to continue the momentum of the trip. Informative guided tours, ranger-led expeditions, and even independent sightseeing are lovely ways to immerse yourself in Jasper National Park. Notable sights that your excursion may touch on include:
- Maligne Lake and Spirit Island
- Maligne Canyon
- Spirit Lake
- Miette Hot Springs
- Jasper SkyTram
All of this is complemented by some of the lushest scenery you could imagine. The contrasts of land and water, mountains and sky leave you wishing for your camera at all times.
While there are many ways to get to and from Canada's Rocky Mountains, a train journey perfectly complements their timeless appearance and outdoor escapades. Vacations By Rail offers several vacation packages whose cornerstone is the Rockies. Choose from adventures like:
- Canadian Rockies by Rail takes travelers from Vancouver to Jasper National Park aboard VIA Rail's premier overnight train, the Canadian. After three days in the mountains, the tour concludes with a transfer to Calgary.
- Canadian Rockies featuring Banff & Lake Louise is a journey that begins wrapped in modern luxury and amenities aboard the fabulous Rocky Mountaineer. This journey from Vancouver to Lake Louise takes place by daylight only, offering travelers the unique opportunity to see the most scenic stretches of Western Canada's remote landscapes. On arrival, three days of sightseeing open their eyes to the beauty of Banff National Park.
- Beautiful Banff Rail & Drive's draws come from the locations it visits and the freedom it provides. While guests are escorted from Vancouver to Banff National Park aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, they are free to explore at their own pace once they pick up their rental car.
- Best of the Canadian Rockies invites travelers to sightsee and tour Banff and Jasper National Parks between two memorable train journeys. The journey begins on the daylight-only Rocky Mountaineer and wraps up aboard VIA Rail's Canadian, which takes passengers back to Vancouver on its overnight course.
For more inspiration or to book your tour of these awe-inspiring mountains and their surrounding wonders, contact Vacations By Rail today.