Guest post by Kate Korte
As a Canadian, I’m biased when I say I think Banff and Jasper are two of the most naturally beautiful places in the world. It’s no surprise to me that these places are becoming increasingly popular for tourists. There’s something in the mountain air that will leave you feeling immediately refreshed and relaxed. My beginner’s guide to the rockies is designed to give you everything you need to know as a first time visitor, and offer you some guidelines for where to go and what to do from a local perspective.
So, grab a cup of the classically Canadian Tim Hortons Coffee and a Maple Dipped Donut. Now let’s get you ready for your first trip to the gorgeous Rocky Mountains.
If you’re going to the Rockies, your experience is going to change dramatically depending on the time of year. What clothes you pack will depend on the weather in Jasper and what weather your body is typically used to.
Alberta is warmest in July and August but the temperature will drop overnight so if you’re camping make sure to bring some warm pajamas. Typically, Alberta has snow from mid-October to March. In these winter months, pack full winter gear with multiple layers including goggles and a face mask if you’re skiing.
When I went to Jasper with my Australian friend Brooke in June, she was freezing basically the entire time and I was wearing shorts. That being said, I also just talked to a Brazilian girl that went skiing and she said it was cold but with layers, she was fine.
You cannot fly into Banff or Jasper, unless you take a helicopter. Typically, people fly into Edmonton to go to Jasper and Calgary to go to Banff. Both drives are about 3 hours and in the winter, a bus service operates from Edmonton to the Marmot Basin ski hill in Jasper. The drives are incredibly scenic, especially once you’ve entered the parks. Look out for wildlife on the sides of the roads, I saw a family of moose when I went to Banff!
The two main national parks for the Rockies in Alberta are Banff and Jasper, with the smaller Waterton park on the United States Border. Because they are parks, visitors typically have to pay a daily fee. It changes and last year there was no fee because of Canada’s 150th birthday, so check the Parks Canada website. The national park status means the land is protected, it’s requested that visitors respect the land and wildlife by following park signs and not littering.
On most trips to Banff and Jasper, I see elk and a few squirrels. I’ve hardly ever seen bears, coyotes, and never cougars, but it is possible. The typical visitor to Jasper should bring or rent bear spray and an air horn just in case. Make lots of noise on the trail to avoid surprising these creatures!
If you plan on doing hikes off the beaten path then I would recommend also getting to know the different prints of the rocky mountain animals so you can tell whether your path has been recently crossed by another less friendly animal.
The best way to feel the natural beauty of the Rockies is to camp. It’s an experience like no other to wake up to dense forests, birds chirping, and mountain air. But if camping isn’t your style, you can either stay in a hotel, resort, or hostel. Banff has a bigger townsite so there are more hotels there with more restaurants and services nearby.
Hike – this is what the Rockies are famous for, the incredible hiking paths. Beginners in should do Tunnel mountain (Banff), Johnston Canyon (Banff), or Maligne Canyon (Jasper). Again, when your hiking be mindful to respect the park and be aware of the animals you’re sharing the space with.
Canoe – there are a few great lakes and locations to canoe at in the national parks, with my favourite being Lake Louise. Because the canoe rental service is owned by the Fairmont hotel nearby, it’s ridiculously expensive in Lake Louise. Another good spot to try your hand at Canadian canoeing is in the Banff townsite, alongside the Bow River. In Jasper, canoes can be rented at Pyramid Lake.
Winter Skiing – if you’re travelling to Banff or Jasper in the winter, you have to go skiing. It’s unlike anything else, up on the chairlift you can see miles of mountain peaks. Even if you are a beginner skier, there are ski lessons and easy routes even at high altitudes.
Relax – although the mountains typically cater to adventurous travellers, there is a lot of options for those who just want to enjoy the views and relax. The Banff Springs, Jasper Park Lodge, and Fairmont Lake Louise are the most renowned resorts in the Rockies, each with their own spas, pools, and restaurants. Anyone can enjoy a tea or dinner at the restaurants and admire these amazing resort buildings with great views of the Rockies. Banff’s townsite is larger than Jaspers but both have a handful of local shops and restaurants.
The Rocky Mountains in Banff and Jasper are so incredibly beautiful. So, don’t let the bears or the cold weather scare you from visiting this amazing place. I always leave with a greater feeling of peace and an appreciation for the world’s natural beauty.
About the Writer
Have you had the chance to visit Banff and Jasper before? What else would you like to know about visiting the Rocky Mountains for the first time? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.