Planning Guide for Traveling in the Canadian Rockies
A planning budget travel guide to the Canadian Rockies with tips and advice on best things to do, top attractions, must-visit places, when to go, where to stay, how to get around and how much things cost in Canada.
Do you plan a trip to the Canadian Rockies but don't know where to start?
We bring you the ultimate guide which will make your travels in the Canadian Rocky Mountains much easier.
Canada is a country where we spent a year of our life doing our Working Holiday Visas and as for the whole time we lived in Calgary, a gateway to the Canadian Rockies, we gained some knowledge and experience about traveling in for us two most beautiful parts of Canada - Alberta and British Columbia.
HOW TO PLAN TRAVELING IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
One of the hardest parts when planning a perfect trip to the Canadian Rockies can be narrowing down your itinerary because Canada is a vast country and unfortunately it is impossible to visit all places during one visit, but creating an itinerary goes hand in hand with other questions which will surely arise.
We hope to give you answers to all the questions you might have before hitting the road.
We also created this super useful post on Perfect 3 Weeks Canadian Rockies Itinerary which will help you decide what places you should visit.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
Well, this is a hard one as the weather in the mountains is always unpredictable and can change within a second.
You always have to make a compromise between the supposed-to-be-best-season and the number of people you want to share this incredible place during your travels as this number is exponentially increasing closer to summer time.
We have a feeling that the Canadian Rockies are on the top of its visitors capacity especially during summer months, July and August, this is how popular this destination nowadays is.
Every time of the year has its pros and cons, so decide carefully.
In a nutshell, July and August are the busiest months because of long days, the highest temperatures and most likely stable weather. Hiking trails should be open and snow melted.
The only drawback can be the ridiculous number of tourists (but if you make an effort and walk a little bit further to the mountains, you'll still enjoy almost deserted places and amazing nature) and also haze because there are wildfires, especially closer to the end of summer when the land is dry.
Accommodation in July and August is really expensive and hard to secure so make sure to make all your reservations way in advance.
September and October are also popular and maybe even more crowded (those months are usually booked by tours because accommodation is slightly cheaper) but offer beautifully colored trees and autumn-like landscape. It can snow closer to October, and some roads can close, but it is less likely.
Our travel tip: Remember, it can snow any time of the year, we experienced a short snowstorm at the beginning of July.
It is stunning to travel in the Canadian Rockies in the winter, approximately from November to April as everything is hidden under the snow. Come well-prepared not only with warm clothes but also with a backup plan as some roads can be closed because of snowfall.
Hotels near ski resort can be expensive and fully booked.
May and June can be a good time for traveling, there will be considerably fewer people, but the weather can be still cold and some trails closed because of the snow.
It differs from year to year (for example the 2018 and 2019 winter were incredibly cold, and the snow was in the mountains until the beginning of July).
We also created a guide on Calgary: Best Things to Do in Winter, if you arrive during wintertime and start your journey from there.
FOR HOW LONG IS THE BEST TO PLAN TRAVELING IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
When planning your trip to the Canadian Rockies, do not forget that Canada is a vast country and distances are large, so always make sure you have time to get from one place to another.
From our experience, we think that anything between ten days and three weeks is perfect as you will have plenty of time to soak in all the beauty.
In ten days, you'll have time to see most of the places along the route leading generally from Lake Louise to Jasper, in three weeks, you will be able to do also some incredible hikes.
WHAT TO PACK
Weather in the Canadian Rockies changes a lot.
If visiting from October to April, we would pack proper winter clothes, lots of layers and insulated boots. During the rest of the year, temperatures might vary, but there is a better chance to enjoy warm days and sunshine.
Having experienced a snowstorm in July, we would always take warm clothes with us although visiting during the summer season. We also keep our weather app up to date.
Things to pack also depend on activities you are planning to do. One thing is for sure, always carry a bear spray when hiking.
Sturdy shoes, rainproof and windproof jacket (and light down jacket), fleece jacket, leggings and rain trousers are clothes we never leave our home without.
Bear Spray | You are in a Bear Country, make sure you carry a bear spray. You can buy it in outdoor shops around Canadian Rockies, just don't be surprised to pay double the price.
Headtorch | You need to have at least one headlamp when camping.
Cooking Set | Backcountry cooking can be a fun experience with right tools.
Stove & Gas Cans | The only way how to prepare your food and tea in the campsite is by using a portable camping stove with gas cans.
Foldable Knife | Situations will pop up that require a foldable knife, and you just cannot go camping without a one.
Tent | Backcountry camping in the Canadian Rockies is an unforgettable experience, make sure you have proper gear and equipment.
Sleeping Bag | Warm and cozy in your down sleeping bag, it's light and easily foldable.
You can read a more detailed all season packing list we've created for the Canadian Rockies.
HOW TO GET TO THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
Two closest international airports are in Calgary (don't miss a visit to Calgary Tower) and Edmonton.
If you have more time, you can fly to Vancouver and make your way to the Canadian Rockies via Garibaldi Lake Provincial Park featuring amazing Garibaldi and Panorama Ridge hike, Wells Gray Provincial Park, the land of waterfalls, and Mount Robson Provincial Park.
When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.
ACCOMMODATION IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
There's a wide range of accommodation options in the Canadian Rockies, but during times of peak demand (especially July to October and then winter months in ski resorts), it must be booked well in advance.
Towns, where is the most difficult to find accommodation are Lake Louise, Banff, and Jasper, but be ready that during peak season prices are skyrocketing.
For those traveling on a budget, the cheapest option is to stay in campgrounds (in a tent, car or RV). There is no shortage of campgrounds in the Canadian Rockies, but they also tend to fill quickly when the booking site opens, and nowadays we would not travel to the Rockies without a booking.
WHERE TO STAY IN CANADIAN ROCKIES
We can recommend five hotels below, one hotel for each destination.
These are our overall favorite picks:
Calgary | Are you tired after a long flight and don't want to drive? Stay at the Wingate by Wyndham Calgary Airport.
Banff | Banff Park Lodge is an environmentally friendly hotel located in the town center surrounded by stunning scenery.
Lake Louise | Stunning views of Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier from Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will blow you away.
Jasper | Are you looking for a hotel with an excellent location, cozy rooms, sauna, and steam room? Stay in Jasper Inn & Suites.
Golden | Soak in the Golden's history tied to the Canadian Pacific Railway and the logging industry. We recommend you to stay in Best Western Mountainview Inn.
Most of those camps are managed by Parks of Canada and usually cost from CAD 15 to 38 per site, depending on the location and facilities. Some sites operate on a first come first served basis, but if you are coming for a holiday, it is probably better to have the spot reserved.
Couchsurfing is not that common in the Canadian Rockies and Airbnb is usually more expensive than a hotel. You can find here all types of accommodation from cheaper hostels, bed & breakfast types to high-end resorts.
HOW TO TRAVEL AROUND IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
The most common way how to travel in the Canadian Rockies is to rent or buy a car, however we would recommend buying a car only if you are coming for a longer period of time.
You can rent a car and sleep in hotels, rent a vehicle converted to a van or the most expensive option is to rent a motorhome.
Other ways how to travel in the Canadian Rockies are by bus or hitchhike, but unfortunately, both those ways of travel are neither frequent or flexible, and we don't recommend it in case you need to stick with your tight schedule.
MUST VISIT PLACES IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
It is not easy to choose the best places in such a beautiful area like the Rockies, as wherever you go, you won't be disappointed.
But just to name few highlights, you definitely shouldn't miss Lake Louise and our favorite Plain of Six Glaciers hike, Lake Moraine, which we consider one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies.
Scenic Icefields Parkway drive is a must, impressive Maligne Canyon or stunning Mount Edith Cavell should be on every visitor's bucketlist too.
Or you can drive a little bit outside the Rockies and explore Garibaldi Lake area in British Columbia.
WHAT IS THE BUDGET FOR THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
It is always a hard one.
Every visitors travel differently and require a different level of comfort.
Although Canada overall is not a cheap country for traveling, you can always find an option which will suit (or be at least close) your budget. For example, we rented a car, slept in campgrounds and cooked our food. And, by doing it in that way, we saved a lot of money for traveling more.
You can read our comprehensive budget guide.
ENTRANCE FEE TO NATIONAL PARKS IN CANADA
To enter National Parks in the Canadian Rockies, you must buy Discovery Pass.
The good news is that you can use this pass to visit all the parks in Canada, another good news is that the pass is valid for one year. You can by group pass up to 7 people (one car) for CAD 136.40 or if you are only driving through, you can by only one day pass.
It is possible to buy the pass at the park's gate or in visitor centers.
In general, Canada is one of the safest countries in the world.
You should be mainly worried about safety on the road, car break-ins, and wildlife encounters. Although the scenery along the road is breathtaking, do not forget that driving safely should be your number one concern behind the wheel.
Also approaching and feeding wildlife is strictly prohibited, and the idea of a selfie with a bear is just stupid. And don't get fooled by the mild look of deer and elks, they can be equally dangerous as bears.
Always carry a bear spray when hiking, and also make sure you read our useful post How to Stay Safe in a Bear Country.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
We never leave our home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials.
Travel smarter and safer!