This blog post is sponsored by Air Canada Vacations. All thoughts and opinions expressed are our own.
One of the most common questions we’re asked is “What should I do on my trip to Banff?”
Many people become overwhelmed while planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies because there’s just so much to see and do. The scenery in Alberta is world-renowned for its beauty… and tourism over the past 3 years has increased significantly – everyone wants that iconic shot in front of Lake Louise or Moraine Lake for the ‘gram. As a born and raised Banff local, there are still things I haven’t managed to do. After more than 25 years of adventures in the mountains, I’m still overwhelmed by the number of activities to choose from in any season. The list of hikes and attractions are seemingly endless and knowing where to start can be pretty daunting. So while it may be one of the most common questions asked of us, it’s also the hardest question to answer.
Keep in mind that once you’ve chosen what you want to do, getting around the Rockies is another challenge in itself. Banff National Park itself is enormous, but take into account that it’s surrounded by 3 other huge parks: Kootenay, Yoho and Jasper and you’ll be covering a LOT of ground if you want to experience the best the Rockies has to offer. You’ll want your own car or at the very least or arrange transportation, because public transport once you’re inside the parks is limited (read: nonexistent).
When Air Canada Vacations introduced us to the concept of their Canadian Rockies vacation packages, we got a glimpse into how seamless and easy they’ve made it for potential mountain lovers who are looking for adventure. Not only do you get flights and hotels arranged for you, but you also get your activities and hikes included too (I had to double take when I saw that guided hikes were included). Everything, including your rental car, is pre-arranged for your arrival.
I have to be honest here, I’ve never seen camping package developed by a leading tour operator like this before, let alone one that includes a tent and camping gear too! The Best of Banff and Jasper Package is the ultimate ‘Canadian experience’, as you get 6 nights of camping included (and 2 hotel nights) included.
Camping really is the best way to see the Rockies, as you get to truly experience nature up close and personal: the stars in the night sky, the wildlife, the epic sunrises and most likely a few Canadian delicacies (mmm – S’mores!) along the way too. Actually having someone give you all the gear and book your campsite makes it infinitely less stressful. It’s taken us years to accumulate all the right camping gear and if I could just have someone hand it to me before every trip, I would choose that option every single time.
The actual itinerary itself is pretty spectacular and if you were only going to spend 8 days in the Rockies, this sounds like the right way to do it.
The first stop on the tour is Banff: the iconic little mountain village full of hidden gems, great food and incredible nightlife. Banff is where you’ll get to experience your first guided day hike on the tour and where you’ll get to experience a variety of Alberta’s best cuisines. We usually recommend checking out Park Distillery, the Tavern (for their pizza) or Barpa Bill’s to first timers.
Next it’s off to Yoho National Park and the Lake Louise area for a couple of days where you’ll experience Canada’s second highest free flowing waterfall (Takakkaw), a hike with spectacular views of Lake Louise (probably the Big Beehive Hike or Devil’s Thumb) and the other beautiful sights in the area – like Emerald Lake and Natural Bridge (read about 7 of our favourite things to do in Yoho), and white-water rafting along the famous Kicking Horse River.
After Yoho, you’ll drive the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper, stopping at the stunning Columbia Icefields and many of the eye popping sights along the way. This drive is really about the journey, so it’s a good idea to take your time and stop whenever you see the opportunity (the highway is dotted with the “person with binoculars” sign so you know when a good viewpoint is coming up).
The next two days are spent camping in Jasper, and this is where you can really find dozens of great outdoor activities to enjoy (Find out about 35 things to do in Jasper). Jasper is a little like Banff’s little brother – it’s smaller, quieter and way more wild & rugged. You’ll often feel like the only one on the trail and your chances of spotting wildlife while you’re out and about is extremely high. It’s a great place to try mountain biking, climbing, canoeing or rock climbing for the first time.
It’s also the place where you’ll get to experience another great hike up into the mountains around the famous Maligne Lake – you’ve definitely seen photos of this place all over Instagram.
Finally, on your last day back, you’ll head back down the Icefields Parkway and will do your last day hike up Wilcox Pass (one of the best hikes in the park as you’ll get stunning views within 15 minutes of hiking – I am a huge fan of this hike and I was so surprised to see it on the itinerary as it’s a bit of a hidden gem).
It’s an epic itinerary that we’ve done many times ourselves and would honestly would happily recommend to our friends and family.
To find out more about this epic vacation package click here.
For those of you that prefer to do things at your own pace and on your own terms this is another great alternative. A 12 day (11 night), self-drive package where you’re in control of when and where you stop in your rental car.
The Hiking Escapes through the Rockies package includes your flights and accommodation, of course, but it also includes your car rental, 3 guided hikes and a rafting trip too! With this tour you can design your own itinerary and see everything from the tour above, as well as the following…
With this tour, you get to go where the buses don’t usually go; into Spray Lakes Provincial Park and Kananaskis Country. In Kananaskis, you’ll take on some of the most epic hikes we’ve ever seen (like Highwood Pass). Kananaskis is one of the Rockies’ best kept secrets. Don’t believe us? Check out the Pocaterra Ridge Hike or Sarrail Ridge.
You’ll then head off up the Icefield’s Parkway and along the way, you’ll be spending a night in a rustic cabin in Saskatchewan Crossing. This is something that’s been on our bucket list for a long time and if you want a truly Canadian experience then staying in a log cabin is the way to go. Again, stopping along the drive to Jasper is the absolute best part of the trip, so make sure you spend plenty of time exploring!
Once you get to Jasper, you’ll take a guided tour through Maligne Canyon, one of Banff’s most popular sights. You’ll also get to float through Jasper on an Athabasca Float Trip and take a day to explore Jasper by yourself. I really recommend taking a Harley Davidson sidecar tour for a completely unique experience, but there are dozens of things to do there (check out 35 Things To Do in Jasper here).
You can find out more about the ‘Hiking Escapes through the Rockies – Fly and Drive’ vacation here.
Whatever pace and level of independence you need for your trip to the Rockies, these two tours are about as good as they come and we can definitely stand behind the amazing itineraries they’ve put together.
Booking/researching/planning travel is something I actively avoid because it’s so time-consuming and frustrating. Air Canada Vacations has really nailed it with these itineraries and you can have your entire vacation booked with the click of a button. Without a doubt, these are the itineraries I’ll be referring others to when the question inevitably pops up again.