If you haven’t heard, the Canadian Rockies have been experiencing a moment of unprecedented popularity that is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Of all visitors to Canadian National Parks, 40% of are to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park alone! So for those who have not visited the Rockies yet, how do you plan your visit to maximize mountains and minimize crowds? To answer this question, I’ve asked Canadian Rockies expert Marta Kulesza for her recommendations on the best Rocky Mountain hikes and some tips for avoiding crowds.
So who is Marta and what makes her an expert? Marta is the professional blogger and photographer behind In A Faraway Land travel website. In 2016, she moved to Canmore, Alberta for 15 months with the sole intention of exploring the Rocky Mountains in every season. She is now, as she puts it, “location independent” and traveling her favourite destinations to build outdoor and photography guides.
Looking for the best Rocky Mountain hikes? Head to the parks
The majority of the best Rocky Mountain hikes are located in national or provincial parks. So before we get started, here is a really quick overview of all the national and provincial parks in the Rocky Mountains. There are a ton of them!
On the Canadian side of the Rocky Mountains, there are seven national parks. The most popular are Banff and Jasper. There’s also Yoho, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke, Waterton Lakes and Glacier.
Banff, Yoho and Kootenay are smooshed together with Jasper sitting on top, making it all one big super-park. Revelstoke and Glacier are a little more out of the way and Waterton is really out of the way. Most people concentrate their time on the big super-park.
There are also dozens of provincial parks in the Rockies, with the most popular being Mount Robson and Mount Assiniboine (both are must sees). There are tons and tons of others, but if this is your first time to the Rockies, just focus on the ones I’ve mentioned. Now that you’ve got an understanding of the area, let’s dive into what to do in the Rockies!
What are the best multi-day hikes in the Rockies?
The first multi-day hike Marta recommends is Berg Lake Trail, “for its access to fantastic views of Mount Robson – the highest peak in the Rockies.” The trail is located in Mount Robson Provincial Park, is 24 km each way and Marta recommends camping for two nights. You can read more in her Berg Lake hiking guide.
Next, Marta loves “the trek into the heart of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, because of the countless hiking possibilities and some of the best views in Canada.” There are a few routes for getting to the heart of the park, all between 25 and 30 km. You also have the option to take a helicopter in. Dedicate at least 3-4 nights to the park. You can read more in her Mount Assiniboine hiking guide.
Finally, Tonquin Valley Trail is a favourite of Marta’s for bringing her “some of the craziest memories I made whilst trekking in Canada and for pushing me to my limits.” It’s located in Jasper National Park and she recommends three nights. You can read more in her Tonquin Valley hiking guide.
Other amazing multi-day hikes include the Rockwall Trail (Kootenay National Park), the Skyline Trail (Jasper National Park) and Lake O’Hare Trail (Yoho National Park). You can read more about these adventures here.
What are the best day hikes in the Rockies?
I asked Marta for her three favourite day hikes, to which she responded “it’s really difficult to narrow it down to only three hikes. I have done so many I lost count!” Great to know that there’s so many incredible hikes in the Rockies that you can’t really go wrong.
Marta did offer this bit of advice: “my favourite area for hiking is the Kananaskis Country near Canmore, where I lived. The three hikes that really made a lasting impression on me are the Tent Ridge, Smutwood Peak and Piper Pass.”
For those not familiar, Kananaskis Country isn’t its own park but an “amalgamation of seven different provincial parks in the Rockies” and it’s very close to Calgary. Marta says “it’s much quieter than Banff and offers fantastic hiking and wildlife spotting opportunities.”
Beyond Rocky Mountain Hikes: Other Activities to Explore
Surprisingly, there are other outdoor activities to do besides hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Take the Iconic Moraine Lake Photo
There are some places in the Rockies that, despite the crazy crowds, are too incredible and too iconic to skip. Lake Moraine in Banff National Park is definitely one of them. Unfortunately for the night owls out there, Marta’s advice for avoiding the crowds is to “go as early as possible,” which I’m sure you’ve heard before, but is important advice to follow.
“Getting to Moraine Lake [the most iconic destination in Banff] can be frustrating and parking can fill up as early as 7 am!” If you aren’t an early riser, one piece of good news for getting there is that “you can take advantage of the shuttle bus.”
Later in the day you can visit some other incredible hikes in Banff.
Paddle to Spirit Island
Spirit Island is another iconic destination in the Rocky Mountains, but doesn’t get quite as busy as Moraine Lake. “Spirit Island in Jasper National Park is a lot more remote and you can only get there by boat. Make sure you pre-book your trip early [if you’re taking a boat tour]. If you are an outdoorsy person you can rent a kayak or canoe and paddle there yourself. You will need to stay at a nearby campsite, but being at Spirit Island once all the tourist traffic is gone is really an experience.” Marta has a guide for planning an overnight paddling trip to Spirit Island here.
Enjoy Winter Activities
While there may not be ample Rocky Mountain hikes you can do in the winter, there are a number of places for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the parks. “Lake Louise is my favorite winter spot” says Marta. “There are a lot of cross-country ski trails and the Lake Louise ski resort is World Class!”
I hope this provides a helpful starting point for planning your trip to the Rocky Mountains. Please let either me or Marta know if you have any questions or follow the advice – we’d love to hear about your experience in the mountains! And if you’ve been as mesmerized by Mart’a photos as I have, you can find more on her Instagram page. Happy travels!
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