The Rockies are an iconic Canadian destination for many reasons, but number one in our books has to be the scenery. Whether you’re seeing them for the first time or the 50th, those mountain vistas never fail to take your breath away. But what if you’re travelling with young children, or simply aren’t up for long days of hiking up and down steep slopes? Can you still enjoy views from the top of the world? Short answer: yes!
Here, we’ve rounded up some of the top attractions and most accessible vantage points to help you make the most of your mountain time — and capture magazine-worthy memories.
Base in Banff
If a relaxed getaway that’s big on the “wow” factor sounds just your speed, base in Banff, Alta. and plan day trips. The bustling townsite offers a great variety of hotel and restaurant options surrounded by postcard views.
Probably the best vantage point in Banff is the Banff Gondola, which whisks you to the 2,281-metre summit of Sulphur Mountain while offering panoramic views of six mountain ranges. After strolling along the mountain-top boardwalk, pull up a seat at the Sky Bistro, which offers great, locally-sourced food and one-of-a-kind views right from your table.
Interprovincial day trip
Craving an adrenaline rush? Make the 90-minute trip from Banff across the provincial border to Golden, B.C. and brave the new Golden Skybridge — one of Canada’s highest suspension bridges, slung almost 130 metres above a canyon overlooking the Columbia Valley. There’s plenty more to do onsite, including walking trails for the young and old, a treetop play park, and ziplines, so plan to make a day of it. On the way back to Banff, take a short 15-minute detour to admire the turquoise waters of Emerald Lake.
Of course, no trip to the Rockies would be complete without driving the 232-kilometre Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper, Alta. — undoubtedly one of the most scenic drives in the world. When you’re ready to stretch your legs, there are several stops along the way that offer great photo opportunities. Some are lookouts right beside the highway, while others require a short walk. Our most highly recommended stops include Herbert Lake, Bow Lake, Saskatchewan River Crossing and the Athabasca Glacier.
Walk on a glacier
At the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park, you can enjoy a truly unique experience: walking on the glacier itself! Get your heart pumping with a short self-guided hike up to the glacier, or climb aboard a massive Ice Explorer and let someone else do the driving. Following your guided glacier experience, step out onto the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, a glass-floored lookout offering spectacular views of the Sunwapta Valley. If you’re lucky, you might spot mountain goats walking on the almost vertical cliffs. Complete your glacier experience with a relaxing overnight stay at the Glacier View Lodge before heading back to Banff in the morning.
The iconic lakes
On your way back to Banff, plan to stop at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, located only a few minutes’ drive from each other. Arrive early if you can; parking lots fill up extremely fast, and for good reason: these stunning ice-blue glacial lakes ringed by mountains are quite literally world-famous. A better option is to take the hop-on hop-off shuttle operated by Parks Canada, which travels on a loop between the lakes and a highway-side Park and Ride, or leave your car in Banff and catch Roam Transit.
Golden hour views
There’s nothing like that golden hour light in the mountains. For incredible sunrise and sunset photographs, drive or cycle the Vermilion Lakes Road from Banff, which takes you past numerous lakes and views of Mount Rundle. Also located a few minutes drive from the Banff town centre is Lake Minnewanka, one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park, where you can enjoy a one-hour cruise (Lake Minnewanka is the only lake in the park to allow limited use of power boats). Finally, Two Jack Lake is a great spot to enjoy a picnic as the sun sets on another amazing day in the Rockies.