Hiking the Canadian Rockies in Alberta

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The Canadian Rockies  span the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. With jagged ice-capped peaks, including the towering Mt. Robson, it’s a region of alpine lakes, diverse wildlife and outdoor recreation sites. Every hiker dreams about Jasper National Park with the famously accessible Athabasca Glacier, and of Banff National Park, site of the glacier-fed Lake Louise. The Canadian Rockies are quite different in appearance and geologically from the American Rockies to the south. The Canadian Rockies are composed of layered sedimentary rock such as limestone and shale, while the American Rockies are mostly of metamorphic and igneous rock, like granite. Because the Canadian Rockies have been more glaciated than their American cousins, their summits are sharper and the mountains are separated by wide valleys shaped by glaciers.  The climate in the Canadian Rockies are cooler and wetter, which means bigger rivers and more glaciers.

Five national parks are located within the Canadian Rockies, four of which are adjacent and make up the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. These four parks are Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho. The fifth national park, Waterton, is not adjacent to the others. Waterton lies on the Canada–US border as the Canadian half of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. All five of these parks, combined with three British Columbia provincial parks, were declared a single UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 for the unique mountain landscapes found there.

You can spend as much time as you want in these parks doing just about anything. There are tons of accessible camp sites and easy trails, longer backpacking trails including the most famous one in Jasper – Skyline trail. Both Banff and Jasper parks beg for exploration, these wild places offer some of the best hiking in the world.

We spent 10 days  camping and day hiking all over these parks. We were not able to get permits for Skyline which only means that we will be back. Here is a list with some of the hikes and locations that we visited:

1. Moraine Lake

Distance: 1 mile RT to the overlook

Easy walk up to the overlook or walk around the lake that you can find outside of busy parking lot nearby Lake Louise.

 

2. Plain of Six Glaciers

Distance: 14 miles RT

Starting at the busy Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, follow the emerald shoreline to the far end (where the crowds thin) to begin your climb. Switchbacks treat to monumental views over the lake, glaciers and pyramidal peaks. You may even spot a shaggy mountain goat. Reward yourself with a hot drink at Lady Agnes Tea House at the top, and continue for an additional 1.5 km to the worthy Victoria Glacier viewpoint.

 

3. Edith Cavell Glacier and Meadows

Distance: 3 miles loop

This popular route starts at the end of Cavell Road and leads sharply upslope into the alpine environment. You will be able to see Mount Edith Cavell and Angel and Cavell glaciers up close.

 

4. Peyto Lake

Distance: 1 mile RT to the overlook

Easy walk up to the lake overlook from parking lot for Peyto Lake trail.

 

5. Johnston Canyon

Distance: 8 miles RT

From the Bow Valley Parkway, this partially catwalked trail winds through a surreal limestone canyon to a cascading falls.

6. Parker Ridge

Distance: 3 miles RT

Just before the Glacier center at the Banff/Jasper National Park border, you can park your car at the Parker Ridge trail. 1.5 mile up to the overlook of the glacier.

 

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