With towering mountain peaks, vibrant lakes, immerse glaciers and all the wilderness you could ever want, the Canadian Rockies are truly a wonder of the world. Taking a road trip through the Canadian Rockies allows real freedom to enjoy and appreciate all nature has to offer plus the opportunity to get off the beaten track in one of the world’s most popular destinations.

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Make sure to put aside at least three days to explore Banff, Jasper and everything in between. The best time to visit the Canadian Rockies (to enjoy as suggested in this article) would be late June to early September. Use the map below to plan your perfect Canadian Rockies itinerary.

The town of Banff

A great starting point for a visit to the Canadian Rockies, Banff has all the amenities of a resort town with a looming backdrop of stunning snow-capped mountains. With a wide choice of restaurants and shops as well as waterfalls, lakes, museums and hot springs, there is plenty to see and do here. The Sulphur Mountain gondola offers fantastic panoramas of six mountain ranges as well as the pretty Banff townsite below.

Beyond the beaten path in the Canadian Rockies:

Instead of riding the eight-minute long gondola, hike the 5.6km trail to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. It’s a steep challenge, but a more rewarding experience for sure! Want to get further beyond the beaten path? Consider purchasing a copy of the Canadian Rockies Backroad Mapbook. It shows attractions, trails and roads not featured on regular tourist maps.

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff Upper Hot Springs

Drive the Banff Parkway

After leaving Banff, look for the 1A turnoff on Highway 1. This secondary road is the less travelled route to Lake Louise and is well worth the extra 20-30 minutes to drive. Away from the main highway, wildlife such as bears, elk, cougars and wolves are more likely to be spotted.

One of the must-see places on the Parkway is Johnston Canyon, home to spectacular waterfalls at the end of a winding gorge. The elevated walkway and bridges above the rushing turquoise water provide great viewpoints for both falls and rugged canyon. Just beyond Johnston Canyon is the Castle Mountain lookout. This distinctive castle-like peak is a result of erosive processes on the various types of rock that make up the mountain.

Read next: Understanding National Park Fees in Canada

Beyond the beaten track in the Canadian Rockies:

A lot of visitors do not continue walking past the Lower Falls (50 minutes return) despite the Upper Falls being only another 25 minutes away. Continue on to the Ink Pots for even more elbow room.

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip - Johnstone Canyon in winter

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff Parkway

Spectacular Louise and Moraine Lakes

The Banff Parkway ends at Lake Louise, a tiny service town a short drive away from its namesake. An essential stop, Lake Louise offers the ultimate Rockies view of shimmering emerald-blue waters surrounded by an amphitheatre of rugged mountains. The colour is caused by rock flour carried into the lake from melting glaciers. While this may be considered one of the best views in the world by many, it is challenged by another lake just 14km south.

Moraine Lake is another glacial turquoise coloured lake which some argue is even better looking than Lake Louise. Half of the size of its more popular neighbour, Moraine is crowned by ten stunning peaks. Hiking the quick but steep Rockpile Trail provides access to the best views.

Beyond the beaten track in the Canadian Rockies:

While both lakes are extremely popular, the vast majority of visitors do not travel beyond the main viewpoints close to the parking areas. Walk further along the lakeshore trails or rent a canoe to have the view all to yourself. Do note that the parking lots for each lake close when full. Alternatively, visit at sunrise or sunset for epic views and some quiet time.

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Mountain views from the highwayUnmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip - Lake Louise

The Icefields Parkway

Highway 93, also known as the Icefields Parkway, offers one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Put aside a whole day to explore this 233km route that is punctuated by incredible sub-alpine valleys, waterfalls, canyons, rivers, glaciers and mountains.

The first essential stop is breathtaking Peyto Lake, a half hour drive north of Lake Louise. With its dazzling aquamarine coloured waters, Peyto Lake can look almost surreal in the middle of the summer when the silt appears the brightest. Located in a valley of the Waputik range, Peyto is reached by a short 15-minute hike from the highway. The main viewpoint offers incredible views across the length of the lake.

Halfway along the Icefields Parkway is the magnificent Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield to which the highway owes its name. Receding by approximately 5m a year, the glacier is in danger of disappearing within a generation. For now, though, it is still possible to get up close and personal with the thousand-year-old ice via the Ice Explorers, giant 6 wheeled all-terrain vehicles that bring visitors directly onto the glacier. Buses run four times an hour in peak season, so there is usually no need to book ahead.

Beyond the beaten track in the Canadian Rockies:

Continue up the hill from the main Peyto Lake viewpoint to the Bow Summit Lookout for quieter and higher views. Want to avoid the Ice Explorer bus crowds? Follow the easy hiking trail from the car park all the way to the face of the Athabasca Glacier. Keep in mind that walking on the ice is not recommended without an experienced guide due to dangerous crevasses.

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Approaching Moraine Lake

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip - Moraine Lake

Jasper and around

Smaller than Banff but still with mountain ambience and attitude, Jasper is the perfect place to relax after a day on the Icefields Parkway. Pyramid and Patricia Lakes just north of town offer peaceful surroundings away from the tour buses. Travel to the top of Whistlers Mountain on the Jasper SkyTram to see views of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

When ready for more adventure, take a drive on the Scenic Maligne Lake Drive. The 84km return route first passes the impressive Maligne Canyon. Next up, the intriguing Medicine Lake before finishing at the main destination, Maligne Lake. This lake carries all the hallmarks of the other famed Canadian Rockies lakes – bright glacial water, a mountain backdrop, huge glaciers – but is also home to Spirit Island, one of the most photographed sights in Canada. It is only reachable by tours or private, non-motorised boats. A picture perfect ending to Canadian Rockies road trip.

Beyond the beaten track in the Canadian Rockies:

Rent a canoe and paddle to Spirit Island as an overnight trip (backcountry gear required). Enjoy the view of this famous sight at sunrise and sunset with no one else around.

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Mountain goats near Radium

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Mountain views from highway

Side adventures on a Canadian Rockies road trip

If you still have time, venture away from the main highway to see some of the Rockies lesser-visited sights. Takakkaw and Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park are within a 50-minute drive of Lake Louise. Both offer excellent slightly-off-the-beaten-path experiences, especially in late spring when water flow from the snowmelt is at its peak.

To the south, scenic Highway 93 to Radium Hot Springs is well worth a drive for a break away from tour buses and traffic. The road trip through Kootenay National Park offers excellent opportunities for wildlife sightings. A short stretch near the end is actually a designated ‘no stopping’ zone in spring due to the amount of bear activity. Celebrate the end of the drive with a visit to Radium’s famous hot springs.

Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Radium Hot SpringsUnmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip: View of Radium

Beyond the beaten track:

Heading to Vancouver after your Canadian Rockies road trip? Don’t just stay on Highway 1 the whole journey; there are plenty of interesting places to see just beyond the main road.

Read next: Vancouver to Calgary Road Trip – Alternatives to Highway 1Unmissable Stops on a Canadian Rockies Road Trip - With towering peaks, vibrant lakes, immerse glaciers and all the wilderness you could ever want, the Canadian Rockies are truly a wonder of the world. Taking a road trip through the Canadian Rockies allows real freedom to enjoy and appreciate all nature has to offer. Here's a guide to the essential stops and some tips to get you off the beaten path. - offtracktravel.caLike this post? PIN or save it for future reference with the above photo!

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently based in New Brunswick, Canada. Gemma is happiest with a kayak/canoe paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

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