This classic one week Canadian Rocky Mountains itinerary takes in most of the high-profile sights in four national parks, provides the chance to do quite a few short hikes, and includes a day for another outdoor activity like rafting or mountain biking. The itinerary’s best done from Calgary to reduce travel time, but can be adapted to work from Edmonton.
From Calgary head to the town of Banff, park downtown and wander Banff Avenue, its main shopping street, before walking the Bow Falls loop and treating yourself to drink at the grandiose Banff Springs Hotel. Stop in at the Banff Park Museum on the way back and you’ll have acquired a good insight into Victorian-era Banff.
There’s a good selection of places for dinner in Banff, after which it’s worth driving north to accommodation around Lake Louise Village to save time the next day.
Explore Moraine Lake and Lake Louise early, before the crowds arrive, to see them at their best. There’s plenty of hiking around both and the lakeshore trails very pleasant; but save your legs for later on.
Pickup picnic goodies at Laggan’s Bakery, then make tracks north to the most spectacular portion of the Icefields Parkway. The best half-day hike along this stretch is Wilcox Pass, or head directly to the nearby Athabasca Glacier to explore that in a choice of activities that include exhibitions in the Icefield Centre; a bus with oversized wheels; guided hikes (that require a very early start from Lake Louise); and a spectacular glass-platform dubbed the Glacier Sky Walk.
Afterward push on north to the town of Jasper. Earmark one or more of the above activities for your return trip on Day 5.
Head up to Maligne Lake for one of a number of outdoor activities (boating, hiking, fishing, lake cruising); plan for a stop at Maligne Canyon on your way back when it’s less busy. Drop in at Jasper’s Visitor Centre to get help organizing an outdoor activity for the following day.
Get a heads-up at the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre, then go for a hike – you might be able to get lucky with a reservation for Lake O’Hara, but otherwise pick from hikes around Emerald Lake or up the Yoho Valley. Afterward drive via Golden to Radium and soak in its hot springs.
Visit the Kootenay and Radium Visitor Centre and plan your stops through Kootenay National Park on your way back to Banff. The Kindersley-Sinclair Col is the most spectacular hike, but there are easy trails along Marble Canyon; to the Paint Pots; and just beyond the park at Sunshine Meadows.