Charming blue lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains and evergreen fir forests — is what most people think of when they imagine the Canadian Rockies. However, there’s much more!
Favored by travelers from all over the world, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks offer heaps of activities, so get ready to hone your skills or try something new!
The Canadian Rockies contain some of the most famous national parks in Canada, including Banff, the oldest national park in Canada. The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, due to their outstanding features. Glaciers, mesmerizing blue lakes, mighty waterfalls, and snow-capped mountain peaks offer an unparalleled number of activities. The mountains attract hikers, climbers, skiers, and water sports enthusiasts from across the globe.
The diversity of the wildlife and vegetation in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is striking. Here you can find everything from desert cactus to an ice field! The most common sights are alpine meadows, luscious woodlands, dense coniferous forests, and rolling grasslands. These green fields are home to a wide selection of wild animals. Grizzly bears, elk, moose, mule deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and Wolverine are among the many amazing animals you can spot. The Canadian Rockies attract millions of visitors and can accommodate everyone's needs. Dotted with cozy winter lodges, summer camps, and many hotels in beautiful little towns, the Canadian Rocky Mountains are the perfect holiday combination of unique natural sights and comfort.
The Rocky Mountains are located in western North America and stretch more than 3,000 mi (4,800 km) from the northernmost part of British Columbia through Idaho, Montana Wyoming, Colorado, and down to New Mexico in the United States.
The Canadian Rockies are a segment of the Rocky Mountains. They extend towards the southeast for about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) in northern British Columbia, Canada, and form nearly half of the 900-mile (1,500-km) border between British Columbia and Alberta.
Some of the largest towns near the Canadian Rockies are Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta, along with Vancouver in British Columbia.
Calgary International Airport (YYC) is the nearest airport to Banff. Major airlines service YYC, such as Air Canada, British Airways, KLM, Delta, United, and WestJet.
A shuttle bus, as well as a train operated by the Rocky Mountaineer, runs from Calgary Airport to Banff. You can also rent a car at the airport or in Calgary. Banff is 87 mi (140 km) away from the airport and it takes about 1,5 hours to reach by car.
A smaller airport is located in Cranbrook. The Canadian Rockies International Airport (YXC) is serviced by Air Canada, West Jet, and Pacific Coastal Airlines. Most flights from this airport are domestic.
Cranbrook Airport is around 180 mi (290 km) away from Banff and takes around 4,5 hours to reach by car. A shuttle bus takes about 9,5 hours. A direct flight from Cranbrook to Calgary takes 50 minutes.
Vancouver International Airport is 530 mi (850 km) away from Banff. It’s the perfect choice if you’re looking for a scenic road trip to the Canadian Rockies!
The Rocky Mountains formed 80 million to 55 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny when a number of tectonic plates began sliding underneath the North American plate. The Pacific plate subducted beneath the North American Plate, thus forming the Rocky Mountains. The angle of subduction was shallow, resulting in a broad belt of mountains running down western North America. Over many centuries, erosion and glaciers sculpted the mountains into dramatic valleys and peaks.
Geographers define three main groups of the Canadian Rockies: the Hart Range, the Continental Range, and the Muskwa Range. However, most people separate the Rockies into two groups: The Canadian Rockies and the American Rockies.
These two groups differ in their geology and appearance. The Canadian Rocky Mountains consist of layered sedimentary rocks such as limestone and shale. The American Rockies are mostly composed of metamorphic and igneous rocks such as gneiss and granite. The Canadian Rockies are more jagged as they’ve been more heavily glaciated. Therefore, these mountains are sharply pointed and separated by wide, U-shaped valleys, whereas the American Rockies are more rounded, with V-shaped river valleys running between them. The weather in Canada is cooler and more humid, giving the Canadian Rocky Mountains larger rivers and more glaciers. The Canadian Rockies are the source of several major river systems, including the Finlay, Liard, Fraser, Columbia, Saskatchewan, Peace, and Athabasca Rivers.
The Rocky Mountains contain some of the highest summits in central North America. The range's highest peak is Mount Elbert in Colorado at 4,401 meters (14,440 ft) above sea level. The highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies is Mount Robson at 3,954 m (12,972 ft).
The outstanding physical features of the Canadian Rocky Mountains have been acknowledged by UNESCO. Seven parks in the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape and make up Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. Since 1984, these parks have been a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Canadian Rocky Mountain Park contains four adjacent national parks: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho; and three provincial parks: Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber.
Together, these parks represent the outstanding physical features of the Rocky Mountain Biogeographical Province. Here you can find classic illustrations of glacial geological processes, such as remnant valley glaciers, icefields, canyons, and extraordinary examples of erosion. The mountain range also contains significant fossil areas. Burgess Shale fossil sites in Yoho and Kootenay National Parks have bequeathed priceless information about the earth’s evolution.
Each of the parks has outstanding features that make it a unique site to visit.
Banff is the oldest national park in Canada and the third oldest in the world. The park was opened in 1883. One of its highlights is Lake Louise — the turquoise glacial lake that looks like it is out of this world! Another famous attraction is Banff itself, a cozy mountain village that offers the opportunity to soak in relaxing hot spring pools and take advantage of great shopping opportunities. Banff National Park combines some of the most photographed sites in the country. Explore them while enjoying the great hiking trails throughout the park!
The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies is best known for its unique Icefields Parkway. It’s a 140 mi (230 km) scenic mountain road that takes you through the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies. Bow Lake with massive snow-capped mountains right behind it flanks the highway, and Bow Glacier and its falls are just a short hike away. The main icecap in the Columbia Icefields is Athabasca Glacier. Its ice never stops moving! Right by the side of the glacier are the Athabasca falls. Although not too high, these falls are the mightiest ones in the Rockies. Their impressive cascade shakes the ground like thunder as it rushes over the edge!
Jasper National Park’s hanging valleys, mighty rivers, and lush forests are favored not just by tourists from all over the world, but also by local animals. Bears are a common sight along the road, so be ready to spot black bears and grizzlies.
The mesmerizing turquoise waters of Emerald Lake together with a nearby natural stone bridge are Yoho National Park’s flagship attractions.
Meandering rivers, snow-capped mountain peaks, and verdant valleys form Yoho National Park’s unique landscape. The park offers great canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting opportunities on the Kicking Horse River.
The Canadian Rockies offer a wide range of activities throughout the year. Choose from hiking to see the most stunning lakes and canyons to adventurous canoeing tours, horseback riding, and ultimate road trips. We guarantee that the Rockies will find a way to your heart!
With so many outstanding sights it’s no surprise that the Rockies are one of the best spots for hiking in Canada. Pick from short hikes around the breathtaking blue Valley of Ten Peaks in Banff National Park to the challenging Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park. Choose from multi-day backpacking tours or stay in comfortable hotels. Whatever you prefer, hiking in the Rockies will not disappoint.
The Canadian Rocky Mountains have some of the most accessible peaks in the world, making it a great destination for climbing enthusiasts. Even if you’ve never tried mountaineering before, spend a long summer weekend in the Rockies and master new skills on some of the most picturesque peaks in the country!
When it comes to winter activities, the Rockies stand out from the crowd. Choose from some of the best skiing and snowboarding resorts in the world to ice climbing adventures and everything in between. Those looking to run away from a fast-paced modern life will especially appreciate what these mountains have to offer. A relaxing weekend in the Sundance winter lodge combined with cross country skiing might be just the perfect plan.
With many remarkable glacial lakes and mighty rivers, the Rockies are ideal for aquatic adventures. The lakes feature surreal blue shades thanks to the microscopic bits of ice that fall off a glacier when it melts. Discover the beauty of the parks by water, or combine canoeing with hiking and see the mountains and valleys from multiple perspectives!