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The Rocky Mountains – Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks
and Whistler (which is in the Fitzsimmons Ranges, not the Rockies)

Most people refer to the Rocky Mountains by calling it "the Rockies", more like a term of endearment than the name of the mountains. People come to the "Rockies" and fall in love with the scenery that surrounds them.

Most scenery is something that you look at in one direction, but here in the Rockies you are surrounded by it, with mountains, snow, lakes, forests, clouds and sky everywhere you look. You just have to look at the faces of people here to see how big their smiles are, to recognize the sense a wonderment that people experience when they see what nature has created here.

There is also Whistler – one of the best known and most popular Ski Resort cities around 127 kilometres (79 miles) north of Vancouver with Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain next ti the city – with these mountains being part of the Fitzsimmons Ranges, not the Rockies.

It may be cold, it may even be wet, but there is no denying that you are in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

WELCOME TO THE ROCKIES!

If you are coming to ski – then you will want to be here over Christmas, with the ski fields opening most years in late November and closing around April, depending on the season and when the snow falls, followed by Spring in May.

Whistler opens its Ski season in November and it runs until July.

While much of Canada may be covered in snow or freezing cold in winter, that doesn't mean that the Canadians can't enjoy winter and they make the most of it with ski resorts, snowboarding, ice-skating, ice-fishing and Ice Hockey games that are fast and great fun to watch.

If you are looking to just see the scenery or to hike, then peak season is in June, July and August, with Fall (Autumn) following on from this in September and October.

People come to the Rockies, just to see it, stay over, work, relax, chill out, mountain ski, cross-ski, snowshoe, snowboard, dog-sled, walk, hike, rock climb, mountain climb, kayak, canoe, raft, fish, bird watch, bear watch, ride horses, and all of these are possible here in Rockies.

Getting your bearings

There are a number of National Parks here –

  1. Glacier National Park (est. 1910) south just over the border in Montana in the United States, with Waterton Lakes National Park on the Canadian side;
  2. Banff National Park (founded 1875), Yoho National Park, Kootenay National Park
  3. Jasper National Park in the north.
  4. Glacier National Park (not to be confused with the one over the USA Border) and Revelstoke National Park.

All are great Parks, and when you consider that Banff National Park was first opened in 1875, ten years before the Trans Pacific Railway was built crossing over the Rockies, then you get the idea that even then people really understood that the whole of the Rockies was something very special that a lot of people would want to see if they could.

The head of the Pacific Railway Company William Van Horne (1843-1915) also recognized how special the area was, and soon after the Railway was completed he built the Chateau Lake Louise Hotel, the hotel opening for guests in 1888. The hotel has been considerably extended from that time, and it is now called the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
William Van Horne was born in Illinois and was instrumental in using the Railway to build both a freight and passenger business, alongside a telegraph business and even a sea connection for Canadian freight to be transported across from the east to Vancouver and onwards to Hong Kong. His company also built the Railway in Cuba in 1888.

William Van Horne is however best known for some of his wisdom and some of his best known quoted words are –
"Nothing is too small to know and nothing too big to attempt"
"The Biggest things are always the easiest to achieve, as there is no competition"

Both quotes could well apply to the building of the Railway across Canada and the building of the remarkable Fairmont hotel.

Remember – that summer and winter it is best to book your accommodation early so that you know where you are staying. It can get very cold too, so be prepared with the right clothing, gloves, scarf and headgear just in case you need it.

Glacier National Park (USA) covers a wilderness area of over 4000 square miles of rugged mountains and valleys with the highest mountain peak being Mt Cleveland which is over 10,000 feet or just short of 4000 metres, and the second biggest peak is Medicine Peak, which is over 8000 feet or just over 2500 metres high. The park is used a lot by campers during the summer months (May to September) and Grizzly Bears are also here too, so you need to understand the rules of camping in 'Grizzly bear Territory' and be prepared for both the isolation of the park and rapid weather changes too.

The main entrance to the National Park is from Apgar and West Glacier in the USA western side, with the 53 miles long (85Km) Going to the Sun Road crossing from Apgar through the park to the Eastern Gate at St Mary. This road is said to be one of the most scenic roads in North America, passing by Lakes, waterfalls, melting snows, glaciers, mountain peaks, rivers and deep valleys on all sides, over Logan Pass and through tunnels, over bridges with great drops from the side of the road and even sometimes landslides of snow covering the road. This is not a road for nervous drivers! There is also a Shuttle Bus service that runs between the two park entrances, and also many trails in the Park too with varied distances and levels of difficulty. Also you can hire boats on some of the lakes – see www.riverwild.com and www.glacierraftco.com (Rafting) and www.glacierparkboats.com (Kayaking), and guided tours of the Park see www.glacierguides.com , www.glacierparkinc.com and www.glaciersuntours.com There is also an Amtrak train service that crosses over the Park from East Glacier to West Glacier (See Rail on this website to book). The Amtrak trains also cross from Chicago to Seattle stopping at these two stations.

Waterton National Park – is a Unesco World Heritage site and covers an area of just 328 square miles and is almost just the Canadian side of the border with Glacier National Park. Being less known and smaller also means that there are far less people, but it also has just as much scenery and wildlife to see with Waterton Lake next to Waterton village and Anderson Peak, Lone Mountain and Mt Blakiston all over 8000 feet (2500 metres) within the Park.

Most people coming to the Park will come from Calgary or head up from Glacier National Park, and inside the Park there are a small number of short roads and lots of walking trails in and around the lakes and mountain areas. Waterton is pretty much the main Village or town, with camping, golf club, Prince of Wales Hotel and a number of other places to stay (see Hotels section on this website). There is also a cruise company to take you out on Upper Waterton Lake – see www.watertoncruise.com and horse riding – see www.alpinestables.com

Banff National Park – is just outside the town of Banff, which is very much a Tourist town with lots of facilities, accommodation, restaurants, activities and night life too. A lot of people come here as day-trippers, while others come here looking for fun, to get married, play golf, to ski or snowboard or to stay in town, but spend their days trekking or heading to the mountains, or to Lake Louise. These are some of the places to look for –

In Banff itself – just wander Banff Avenue Caribou Street and Bear Avenue and see what you see; drop into the Visitor Information Centre on Banff Avenue

to book tours; see the Banff Park Museum next to Bow River at 93 Banff Avenue; Other museums the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum at 1 Birch Avenue and the Whyte Museum at 111 Bear Street; head to the Cascade Plaza Shopping Mall near corner of Banff Avenue and Wolf Street; take a canoe ride on the Bow River, or just take a walk to see the river itself.

  • Roam Bus – this bus service will take you around Banff and get you to the start of the Banff Gondola and other places in town.
  • Train station and Bus Station are almost next to each other and many people come to Banff using the bus and train services.
  • Ski Shuttle (in season) will take you to Lake Louise, Mt Norquay and Sunshine Village ski fields.
  • Banff Gondola – this is the easiest way to get the top of Sulphur Mountain (next to Banff) riding in a 4 seater glass gondola as you glide over the trees and valley below you. It is just a few minutes from Banff so easy to get to and at the top there are great views and even a Starbucks.
  • Banff Skywalk – a great walkway in Banff that is just over 1 kilometre long and takes you up Sulphur Mountain past the old weather station (Sanson's Peak) and the Cosmic Ray Station are located.
  • Banff Upper Hot Springs - Don't forget to bring your swimming attire when you come to Banff! It may sound strange to be in the mountains and go to a swimming pool, but this is where the natural hot mineral spa springs are juts out of Banff at 1 Mountain Avenue, near the Gondola.
  • Cave and Basin Springs – 311 Cave Road. These springs were first discovered in 1883 and here you can see the spring water can be seen flowing through the caves. The site was first seen by 3 miners and the amazing sight led to the first National Park being started here in Canada.
  • Hiking – there are lots of hiking trails around Banff to explore and get close to nature, some longer and more difficult than others. Some of these trails are Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon, Boom Lake, Stanley Glacier, Twin Falls, Vermilion Lakes, Marsh Loop and there are others too. Make sure that you are prepared with warm clothing and food when you hike, or be aware that weather can change quickly. It is also worth checking with the Visitor Centre on which hiking trail would suit you best, and if you want to see animals in the wild, where is the best place to see them.
  • Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel – While you might stay elsewhere, you are sure to have seen this Hotel on postcards given its fame. If you can stay here, great, but if not, at least visit and soak up the atmosphere of what must be one of the world's best loved hotels. You can book to stay here on this website.
  • Canmore – this is a small mountain village about 24 kilometres (15 miles) from Banff, so if you are looking for accommodation and a smaller place to stay, this is a good option, with restaurants and lots of activities and walking trails nearby too. Also look for the 'Rat's nest' Caves - an underground cave in Grotto Mountain. See www.canmorecavetours.com
  • Great Drives – while Banff is in itself a beautiful place to come, it is the road drive to and from Banff and other parts of the Rockies that are equally a big part of the enjoyment of being here. The Trans Canadian Highway leads to Calgary on the east about 125 kilometres distance and up to Lake Louise which is about 57 kilometres (36 miles) northwards and then on to Victoria on the west coast next to Vancouver. The distance from Banff to Vancouver is around 850 kilometres, so a long way too. From Lake Louise, you can also head northwards to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway – and this has some of the best views in the whole of the Rockies, so drive slowly and stop as many times as you can to just take in the fresh mountain air and the views. There's a lot to see and a number of camping grounds along the way too. See www.icefieldsparkway.ca Also short and some longer trails that lead off from the Parkway too.

Lake Louise is the famous lake with its very blue water with the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel here too. Here you can –

  • Hire a canoe to go out on the Lake in summer
  • Spend time in the Lake Louise Village
  • Check out the Visitor Centre
  • Camp in summer
  • Bird watch and Grizzly Bear watch. (Buy grizzly bear spray as a precaution)
  • Visit or stay in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel
  • Shop in Samson Mall in the village
  • Walk along the lakeside trail
  • Trek to see Victoria Glacier and Lefroy Glacier
  • Hike on one or more of the many trails near Lake Louise
  • Climb Fairview Mountain and/or Saddleback
  • Skate on the Lake if it is frozen over in winter
  • Take a shuttle bus to Lake Louis Gondola - see www.lakelouisegondola.com and go up Whitehorn Mountain over the treetops with maybe catching sight of a bear or other wildlife on the way.

Yoho National Park – this is smaller than Banff National Park and equally beautiful too. Here you will also find Lakes and waterfalls, and if you like finding some of the 'secret gems' in traveling to less known places, this Park is worth exploring. Being more isolated also means being better prepared with food, drinks and good walking shoes and clothing to wear, but there are places to stay along Yoho Valley Road and in the small village of Field.

Kootenay National Park – is also a smaller park near the small village of Radium, where you will also find the Radium Hot Springs. There is also a golf club and the Panorama Ski Resort here and of course lots of good hikes that you can do in the Park. Also look for the small village of Golden with a number of places to stay including the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (See www.kckkinghorseresort.com ) as well as the Kicking Horse River and the high wooden Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge that crosses over it. Golden is a centre for white water rafting. Also here too you will find two interesting Wildlife places where you can see wolves and Buffalo up close – See www.northernlightswildlife.com and www.rockymountainbuffaloranch.com

Jasper National Park and Jasper

Jasper National Park is further north than Banff National Park, but equally a great place to see and experience this part of the Rocky Mountains.

The Park first opened in 1907 and it covers 10878 square kilometres of mountains, forest, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers and is the biggest National Park in Canada.

People come to Jasper and the surrounding area by car, bus, bike and especially by train from Vancouver or Prince Rupert in British Columbia or from Edmonton. A train journey here can be both more relaxing than driving or sitting on a bus, and trains take different travel routes to the roads, so that you see countryside that you could well miss if travelling by road. Check out the Rail section of this website to learn more.

There is a lot to do in and around Jasper and these are some of the best things to see –

  • Travel the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) and take your time to stop at as many places as possible rather than rush. There is a lot to see from the roadway, but even more if you stop or take some of the small roads and trails that lead off it.
  • Hikes and Trails – there are lots of trails and hiking paths with various lengths and levels of steepness and difficulty. Be prepared for weather changes, possibility of rain and animals like Moose, caribou, bears, big horn sheep and Wolves in the wilderness areas. Take enough food and water with you too.
  • Jasper Town – is like Banff with lots of places to stay, camp, eat, have a drink, party and take tours to go rafting, ice climbing, golf, fishing, go horse riding, mountain biking, canoeing, dog-sledding, skiing and snowboarding in winter and other activities. There is also what they call the Discovery Trail that runs around the town, and this is a good way to get a feel for Jasper.
  • Jasper Tramway Cablecar – is located on Whistlers Road and takes you up to the close to the top of Whistlers Mountain, and then if you want, you can climb higher.
  • Angel Glacier – this is just south of Jasper about 6 kilometres (3 ½ miles or so) off the road that leads to the top of Mt Edith Cavell which towers over Jasper. The Mountain is over 11,000 feet high (over 3000 metres) with great views on a clear day over the surrounding land.
  • Columbia Icefield and Glaciers – This could well be the highlight of your trip here, seeing this vast icefield and the glaciers. The biggest glacier here is the Athabasca Glacier (See www.icewalks.com ) which is off the Icefields Parkway and covers an area of over 6 square kilometres but there are 8 glaciers here spread out over 325 square kilometres of ground. The Columbia ice Field Discovery Centre is of the Icefields Parkway road, about 125 Kilometres (78 Miles) north of Lake Louise and 108 Kilometres (67 miles) south from Jasper Village, and from here there is specially equipped bus, The 'Ice Explorer' that can take you right to the glacier. Remember can be very slippery too, so be careful where you walk, and wear shoes that have some amount of grip on the soles.

The Ice Age is over, but it still feels like you are in the middle of something truly spectacular.

  • Athabasco Waterfalls – the Falls are around 28 kilometres (17 miles) south of Jasper just off the Icefields Parkway. They make a tremendous roar as the massive volume of water drops over the falls.
  • Chabu Icefield, Clemenceau Icefield, Hooker Icefield, Brazeau Icefield – these are all here too, but you need to trek further in order to see them. Many serious climbers, adventurers and hikers come here to do just that, hiking for days into the wilderness, over mountains, through freezing mountain streams and camping in remote locations and you can certainly do this, but you also need to know what you are doing and plan carefully too.
  • Maligne Lake Road and Lake – If you enjoyed travelling along the Icefields Parkway and are staying in Jasper, then make sure to go a little way north to Maligne Canyon (worth seeing too), and then travel southeast along the Maligne Lake Road that follows beside the Maligne River the Maligne Lake. From Jasper to the Lake is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) with great scenery as you pass by mountains, lakes and possibly animals in the wild too, so you need to keep a watch out.
  • Miette Hot Springs – this is also north of Jasper on Miette Hot Springs Road off the Yellowhead Highway in the small town of Pocahontas. There are a number of hotels in Pocahontas where you could stay, but again, best to book early.

Glacier National Park and Mount Revelstoke National Park

Glacier National Park (British Columbia) is often confused with Glacier National Park just over the border in the USA (see details above), but it also a great National Park to visit, as is the nearby Revelstoke National Park. Both Parks are close to the town of Revelstoke in British Columbia, which is the best place to base yourself if you are coming here to ski in the winter or trek in the summer months. There are a number of hotels to stay at here and all the amenities of a town of around 7500 people. The Canadian Pacific Railway and also the Trans-Canada Highway both pass through Revelstoke.

Glacier National Park covers an area of 521 square miles whereas Revelstoke covers an area of 100 square miles, so much smaller.

In Glacier National Park you will find a number of trails that you can take to explore the Park and see beautiful alpine forests, glaciers, snow-capped mountains and there are also huts and some campgrounds here too. The most famous Glacier in the Park is Illecillewaet Glacier, with a number of rivers here too. There is also a large cave system, called the Nakimu Caves, but these are not usually open for the public. Inside the Park during the summer months you may come across Black bears and Grizzly Bears in the wild, caribou, elks and certainly lots of birds too.

The Meadows-in-the-sky Parkway is a road that leads through the forests in Revelstoke National Park which is a mix of lush meadow lands sweeping upwards to the alpine forests and snowline of the mountains. One of the best things to see here in summer is the Giant Cedars Boardwalk that takes you through forests of ancient 800 year old Western Red Cedar and Hemlock trees. There is also the Skunk-Cabbage Boardwalk where you might come across beavers and bears, and also see the skunk-cabbage plants in the wetlands with their large green leaves and pungent smell designed to attract insects.

Revelstoke in the winter is a great place for skiing, with 3121 acres of fall line skiing, heli-skiing, cat-skiing, lifts, 65 named runs and slopes for both beginners and expert skiers. There is the Turtle Creek beginner area and ski schools, but also the most vertical drop in North America – a jaw dropping 1713 metres (5620 Feet). Here you will find the Revelstoke Mountain Resort open year round for skiing in winter and also events during the summer months and also golf and all the walking trails you could want. (You can book the Resort here on the website, or other hotels and accommodation in Revelstoke).

Whistler –
Whistler is one of Canada's most popular ski resort cities, with a permanent population of around 9500 people with even more Canadians and Americans having a second home here too. The town is built on tourism and skiing, with the ski season lasting from November to July, longer than most other resort areas.

The City of Whistler is located 127km (79 miles) north of Vancouver along the coast on Highway 99, often called the "Sea to Sky Highway" due to the beauty of the landscape as you travel north by car, bus or train. Whistler is where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held, and much of the infrastructure that was built for the Olympics still remain here.

There are around 8000 acres of ski fields and 38 ski lifts, and while at other ski resorts you need to get to them by a Shuttle, here in Whistler you are right next to the ski fields, so you can almost ski out from your front door, depending on where you are staying. In winter you are spoiled by choice as to where to ski, with both downhill slopes, with both easy and difficult levels of skill needed as well as miles of cross country skiing areas too – Whistler Olympic Park has 56 Kilometres (35 miles) of cross country trails; Callahan County 42 kilometres (26 miles) and Lost Lake Park 32 kilometres (20 miles) of trails – so lots of choices.

The Peak-2-peak Gondola also travels across between Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain and with 38 lifts running there are again lots of choices as to where to ski. There is also an Ice Rink for skating at Olympic Plaza.

In Whistler itself there are lots of places to stay, over 90 restaurants and 200 shops, so the city has all the amenities and Aprés-ski activities to enjoy.

During the summer months you can paddle out in a canoe on the River of Golden Dreams, or paddle board on one of the lakes, or do some white-water rafting. There are also hundreds of bike paths and walking trails, and activities like Bungee Jumping, ziplines, tree-top adventures, horse riding, golf, wind surfing, dog sledding and wildlife watching.

Whistler is also the home of Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations, and in Whistler you can also learn about their culture and see galleries and craftwork too.

The Rocky Mountains, as you can see from the information above has a lot to offer both general tourists as well as adventurer travellers, hikers and skiers, and your camera will no doubt be working overtime.

There are lots of great places to stay, mostly good food, fresh air, mountains and snow. If you are really looking for an outdoor adventure with like-minded people you should also consider joining the Alpine Club of Canada. They have back country huts in many places across Canada and also adventure programs and guided tour adventures too. Their website is www.alpineclubofcanada.ca

Certainly there is a lot to see and do in Canada, and I am sure that the Rockies will live up to your every expectation as a great and memorable place to holiday, ski or visit.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

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