15 Must-Do Experiences in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

If you've been following our blog, you know we published an article on 15 must-do experiences in Atlantic Canada. Swerving way over to the west (and more specifically, Alberta), we've decided to do the same for one of our most popular destinations: the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Home to the small alpine towns of Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise and surrounded by the magnificent scenery of towering peaks, turquoise lakes, endless forests and unique wildlife, this is a landscape suited to a lot of different activities. Here we outline the 15 must-do experiences in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, as suggested by our Canada travel specialists.

Psst, did you know most of our Canadian Rocky Mountain packages include your choice of tours so you can personalize your trip without affecting the overall cost? Start browsing our packages here and watch for 'Freedom of Choice' options listed within the itinerary.

Walking in Maligne Canyon, Jasper. Image courtesy of Travel Alberta and Tourism Jasper

1. Explore Maligne Canyon

The deepest canyon in the Rockies with a depth of more than 165 feet at certain points, Jasper National Park's Maligne Canyon offers endless exploration. Hikers of all ages and abilities can follow a series of pathways and six bridges built to offer astounding views of the canyon's walls, floor and even waterfalls. In the winter, visitors have another totally unique experience by strapping on special shoes and taking an ice walk along the canyon floor to explore ice caves, fossils and towering frozen waterfalls stretching 100 feet above. If you found you've worked up an appetite, stop by Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen for a snack, hot beverage or full-fledged meal.

The Peak-Nic food tour in the Canadian Rockies. Image courtesy of Jasper Food Tours

2. Take a Food Tour

A favorite for our team whenever they visit the Jasper area, Jasper Food Tours offers four plates and four drinks in one awesome storytelling walking tour. On the Downtown Foodie Tour, an approximate one-mile walk takes you to local restaurants while listening to Jasper's top tales as you go, whereas on the Peak-Nic tour, you can combine a 2.5-mile hike, a meal and a backcountry cooking lesson at the top of a stunning peak. Other tour options and combinations are also available, such as a combined wildlife watching and foodie tour, Icewak and foodie tour, Gastrodisiac Valentine's Day tour or Dinner in the Dark, a Dark Sky Festival event.

The Ice Explorer on the Athabasca Glacier. Image courtesy of Pursuit

3. Ride Out to a Glacier

The Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in North America's Rocky Mountains, covering some 89 square miles to a depth of 1,200 feet and stretching some 17 miles long. What's even cooler than that, is you can take a ride out to visit it. With Pursuit, you'll travel aboard a massive all-terrain vehicle called an Ice Explorer to reach the Athabasca Glacier, a 10,000 year-old sheet of ice. Walk on the glacier, feel the ice and even drink some of its pure, melted water before continuing to experience the Glacier Skywalk (read on).

The Glacier Skywalk experience in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Image courtesy of Pursuit

4. Experience the Glacier Skywalk

Protruding from the cliffs of the Sunwapta Valley and hanging 918 feet above the valley floor, the Columbia Icefield Skywalk experience features fossils, waterfall views and incredible glacier landscapes along an interpretive walkway. Gazing out from the transparent glass surface, you can spot the Northface Glacier, Mount Athabasca, AA Glacier, Mount Andromedia and the Andromedia Glacier in one direction, and Mount Kitchener, the Columbia Icefield, Mount Woolley, Diadem Peak and Mushroom Peak in the other.

A grizzly bear in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Image courtesy of Travel Alberta and Tourism Jasper

5. Take a Wildlife Tour

On the Discover Banff & Its Wildlife tour, uncover the secrets of a historic mountain haven with a local guide leading the way. Gaze at stunning views like Bow Falls, Surprise Corner Lookout, Hoodoos Viewpoint and Lake Minnewanka, plus visit Banff's key landmarks like the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Along the way, keep an eye out for local wildlife like elk, bighorn sheep, deer, bear, coyotes, wolves and moose. Our team has been lucky enough to see nearly all of the aforementioned animals, and with Banff National Park home to over 311 species of birds and 53 species of mammals, chances are you will be too!

The Banff Gondola. Image courtesy of Pursuit

6. Ride the Banff Gondola

Maximize your views of Banff National Park with minimal exertion on a round-trip gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. At the peak, you'll find sweeping views of six mountain ranges, the Bow Valley and the town of Banff, plus have access to the discovery center and Sky Bistro, a restaurant with fresh and locally-sourced menus that can fuel you up for a hike or help you wind down as you watch the sun set behind the Rockies. In October, Nightrise also returns to the Banff Gondola showcasing four digital art installations. Vibrant lighting, multimedia effects, video projections and music bring the summit to life in a new and unexpected way.

A wagon heading to the cowboy cookout. Image courtesy of Discover Banff Tours

7. Attend a Cowboy Cookout

Either riding by horseback or in a wagon (you pick!), watch for wildlife and enjoy spectacular scenery as you travel along the base of Sulphur Mountain and the beautiful Bow River. At the midway point you'll arrive at 3 Mile Cabin where you'll have a chance to enjoy genuine western hospitality and either a lunch or dinner of delicious BBQ. Enjoy western-style games like lassoing and horseshoes, plus chat with your guides and spend time getting to know the horses. A basic horseback riding instruction is included as part of the tour, but those who aren't comfortable can easily take the relaxing wagon ride and rejoin the group for the meal.

A river float tour in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Image courtesy of Jasper Raft Tours

8. Embark on a River Float

Enjoy a gentle rafting tour on the Athabasca River for a unique perspective of Jasper National Park. The Athabasca River is the same route that was used by the fur traders many years ago, and your National Park licensed guide will point out the natural and human history of Jasper as you float. Though there are small rapids in some sections, most of the river is calm, and the specially designed oar powered rafts provide a safe and comfortable ride so guests can relax while guides do all the paddling. Don't forget to keep your eyes open for wildlife along the shore—there are often sightings of elk, deer and eagles and sometimes even coyotes, moose, wolves and bears!

A boat approaching Spirit Island on Maligne Lake. Image courtesy of Pursuit

9. Take a Lake Cruise

Admire views of the Canadian Rockies by boat as you cruise across the turquoise-hued Lake Minnewanka or Maligne Lake. Feel the fresh mountain air, watch for wildlife and enjoy the incredible space and nature of Banff and Jasper National Parks. Running from May or June to October, you'll explore under the lead of a knowledgeable guide on a heated, covered boat and at Maligne Lake, have a chance to marvel at the magnificent shoreline and Spirit Island. Only accessible by boat, you'll recognize this island as the postcard-perfect image of the Canadian Rocky Mountains as it's one of the most photographed places in Canada.

A canoe tour in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Image courtesy of Banff Adventures

10. Head out for a Paddle

Enjoy the serenity of the Bow River and marvel at your surroundings as you journey upstream on a guided canoe tour. While you paddle, friendly and professional guides will entertain you with stories of the past, share the history of canoeing and provide interesting local facts. Perfect for the whole family, no previous paddling experience is necessary and it's a fun and interactive way to explore the beautiful waterways of Banff National Park. Of course, should you prefer to paddle at your own pace, canoe rentals are available at many lakes throughout the Rockies, including the iconic and incredibly photogenic Lake Louise!

Horseback riding in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Image courtesy of Discover Banff Tours

11. Go for a Horseback Ride

Home to sun-kissed peaks, rugged beauty and miles of winding trails just waiting to be explored, Banff National Park is the perfect outdoor playground to embrace your inner cowboy and saddle up for a horseback ride. Relax and unwind atop a trusted steed as your guides lead you through the gorgeous scenery of majestic mountains, emerald green lakes, lush forest and local wildlife. Designed to give you a taste of what the original settlers experienced more than 200 years ago, this option is ideal for riders of all ages and experience levels, as you don't need to have prior experience to enjoy it.

A signature hike in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Image courtesy of Discover Banff Tours

12. Enjoy a Nature Walk or Hike

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to take in the scenery of the Canadian Rocky Mountains is with a simple nature walk featuring a spectacular array of rolling hills, jagged peaks, forests, meadows, marshes, streams, and stunning glacial lakes. Guided walks are always available should you feel wary about navigating the wilderness on your own, and Discover Banff Tours also offers a number of signature hikes. Whether you want to see Stanley Glacier, Consolation Lakes, Plain of Six Glaciers or Larch Valley, hikes range from easy to moderate in difficulty rating and include an alpine picnic lunch.

A motorcycle sidecar tour in the Canadian Rockies. Image courtesy of Jasper Motorcycle Tours

13. Take a Motorcycle Tour

Jasper Motorcycle Tours offers sidecar tours in the great Canadian Rockies on legendary Harley Davidson motorcycles. Driven by professional riders, you can soak up the scenery from a comfortable sidecar for one, two or three hours and have the option to explore the Athabasca Valley and Athabasca Falls, Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake, Mount Edith Cavell and even Miette Hot Springs where you can take a dip in the springs. Rides are available daily from April to October and include the best riding apparel the company has to offer. Just be sure to wear long pants and sturdy footwear—the rest is taken care of!

A coach bus traveling through the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Image courtesy of Brewster Tours

14. Drive the Icefields Parkway

No matter the time of year, the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is an incredible sight to see. Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveller, the Icefield Parkway is a 144-mile stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide and featuring more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires and emerald lakes. We often recommend guests take their time along the highway as there is so much to see and so many points where you'll want to pull over and take photos of the surrounds. In the summer, feel at ease driving the parkway in your own vehicle or in winter, take a transfer and have a guide reveal the best sights.

A couple outside the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Image courtesy of Fairmont Banff Springs

15. Stay with Fairmont

An experience of their own, the Fairmont Hotels in the Canadian Rockies should be strongly considered when booking your trip. If not all, book one to treat yourself to the best accommodation in the mountains, be it the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise or the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. All properties boast incredible structures (in Jasper it's a village of heritage log cabins whereas in Banff it's considered Canada's 'Castle in the Rockies') plus gourmet restaurants, luxurious spas, knowledgeable staff and endless activities. In summer, try golfing at the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course, or in winter book a sleigh ride outside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. There's always something for everyone to enjoy by day, and comfortable, lavish rooms to return to by night.

Feeling inspired? Chat with one of our Travel Designers to create a custom trip or visit our Time to Travel page for summer trip ideas and License to Chill page for winter. Prefer to simply stay in touch? Subscribe to our newsletter for up-to-date deals, trip ideas and more!

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