The Canadian Rockies are the easternmost part of the Canadian Cordillera, the collective name for the mountains of Western Canada. there are five national parks within the Canadian Rockies, four of which make up the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. These four parks are Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho. The fifth national park, Waterton, combined with three British Columbia (BC) provincial parks, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 for their unique mountain landscapes.
There is wide variability of atmosphere throughout the Canadian Rockies. Banff and Lake Louise are likely the most developed towns, while the villages of Field and Elkford attract more through their natural splendour than by any attractions within the communities themselves. The region is probably one of the most scenic in the world between the spectacular mountains, widespread forests and glacier fed lakes. The weather in the summer tends to be hot (30°C) and sunny. In winter it is colder at around -15°C and fantastic for skiing at the area's many resorts.
The history of the Canadian Rockies, like that of so much else of Canada, is based on the fur trade and railroad. The human record in this area is less than 4000 years old. KOOTENAY and Secwepemc peoples long travelled the southern passes to hunt on the Prairies. The first Europeans to view the Rockies were a collection of pioneers who ventured there on behalf of fur trading companies. Alexander MACKENZIE was the first to cross the Rockies in 1793 using the Peace River. On the same route, Simon Fraser established the first Rocky Mountain trading post at Hudson's Hope in 1805. David Thompson ventured through Howse Pass on behalf of the North West Company in 1804, establishing Kootenay House, near what is now Invermere. In 1871, Sir John A MacDonald convinced British Columbia to join Canada with the promise of a national railway that would connect it to the rest of Canada. Kicking Horse Pass was chosen in 1882 for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) link between the Prairies and coastal BC. The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed on November 7, 1885, and the last spike was driven in Craigellachie, BC.
There are lots of activities to do in the Canadian Rockies, here are some of the highlights:
Skiing and Snowboarding:The Rockies offer some of the best ski and snowboarding terrain in the world. Banff National Park is home to the "Big 3" resorts: Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Area and Mt. Norquay. At Lake Louise alone, you'll find 4200 skiable acres, with beginner, intermediate and expert runs from every chair.
Banff Hot Springs: Canada's Native people were the first to enjoy the sacred waters of Banff Upper Hot Springs, believed to be a place to cure illnesses and maintain health. Canadian Pacific Railway workers discovered the springs in 1882, which eventually lead to the creation of Canada's first national park. Open year-round, this historic bathhouse gives you the chance to enjoy the alpine scenery while relaxing in the natural springs.
Horseback Riding: You are in the cowboy country! So this is one of the best ways to take in the Rockies. In fact, one third of all the horses in Canada live in Alberta. You can ride to a beautiful alpine lake, traipse through wildflower meadows or take a more daring trip along a high mountain ridge. Trail riding offers a unique way to experience some of the Rockies' history, traveling on horseback the way folks used to do it!
Banff Gondola: For the best views of Banff National Park, take a trip up the Banff Gondola. Located five minutes from the town site, Banff Gondola sits on the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain. After a short ride to the top of the mountain, you'll come upon a panoramic view of six mountain ranges. Check out the scenic trails stemming from the upper gondola terminal. One of the most popular is the self-guided interpretive walkway to Sanson's Peak or try the more challenging South East Ridge Trail.
Fly Fishing: Alberta is known for its sweet fly-fishing spots. The combination of spectacular scenery, fresh mountain air, and pristine lakes, rivers and streams provide an ideal backdrop for fishermen of all ages and abilities to land themselves prize catches. You can always find advice through a guided tour, where they'll take you out on a drift boat or a walk-and-wade excursion.
Fairmont Chateau, Lake Louise: For the ultimate luxurious Rockies vacation, a stay at the Fairmont Chateau, Lake Louise is a must. This historic hotel offers the finest in guest rooms, dining and spa, not to mention a killer view of the stunning turquoise Lake Louise. A highlight of your stay is taking an interpretive hike with one of the hotel's Mountain Heritage Guides. You'll get an entirely new outlook on the area, plus all kinds of insider info on one of Canada's oldest and grandest sites
Snowshoeing: Some of the most scenic, yet secluded snowshoeing exists in the Rockies. Of course, there are any number of marked trails to explore, but snowshoeing also offers an accessible way to enter the pristine backcountry. In the space of an hour, you can find yourself hiking alongside a tranquil alpine lake or teetering on a steep mountain ridge.
Rafting: Rafting in the Rockies provides a fish-eye's view of Banff. Take a relaxing float tour down the Bow River to watch for wildlife including coyotes, elk, and bald eagles. You can also drift along the hoodoos and Mount Rundle, and see these remarkable giants of nature up close and personal. For white-water action, take a ride down the Kicking Horse River for big waves and continuous rapids.
Dog Sledding: Dog sledding is a ridiculously fun way to explore off the beaten path in the Rockies. Several operators in the area offer a number of tour options ranging from short rides to overnighters, complete with campfire meals and the chance to unleash your inner musher.
Icefield Helicopter Tours: For the ultimate sightseeing experience of the Rockies, take a chopper ride over the Columbia Icefield. You'll soar to an astonishing altitude of 4000 metres over the massive 200 square kilometres of crystal blue ice and snow that make up the Columbia Icefield. It is the largest reservoir of snow and ice in the Rockies and feeds three of the continent's major river systems. You'll also see glaciers, aqua green alpine lakes and waterfalls, all from a vantage point you never thought possible.