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WESTERN CANADA - Banff and Jasper National Parks

Click here for our Western Canada - Banff and Jasper Parks route map

9 fascinating days in Western Canada - Banff & Jasper National Parks.

The spectacular views of the US Northern States and Western Canada are a must-see for all enthusiastic adventure travelers. The route itself makes the whole thing so worthwhile - this trip definitely over-delivers on all things relating to nature and travel!

Starting and ending our tour at Calgary, the gateway to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, we allowed 8 days to explore the region. Our route took us along fantastic scenic highways, past glaciers and rocky mountain waterfalls. We caught glimpses of Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bear, elk, moose and bald eagles, which to us were the most spectacular of all. This almost beats my African safari. Closer to home, too.

Main places of interest on this trip are:

Bullet Calgary
Bullet Banff National Park
Bullet Jasper National Park
Bullet Lake Louise
Bullet Edmonton
Bullet Route map

Calgary - our starting point.

Nestled in the foothills of Canadian Rockies, Calgary is a great place to start and end your trip, with plenty to do in the city and surroundings.

Calgary is an attractive and dynamic city situated on the banks of the Bow River and close to Alberta's majestic Rocky Mountains. The Calgary Stampede is undoubtedly Calgary's best-known tourist attraction. Launched in 1912, this event, featuring a large parade and world-class rodeo, draws more than a million people each year.

The host city of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games takes pride in its sporting legacy. Canada Olympic Park is a multipurpose athletic facility designed for skiing, snowboarding, bobsleigh and luge during the winter and mountain biking during the summer. The Pengrowth Saddledome is the home of the NHL's Calgary Flames, as well as being the venue for countless events and concerts throughout the year.

Other Calgary attractions, including the Glenbow Museum, Calgary Tower and Eau Claire Market are great places to visit year-round.

We depart from Calgary, gateway to the Canadian Rockies, continuing our journey to the charming city of Banff, situated along the banks of the Bow River. This world-famous resort is the perfect base for outdoor adventures in the Rockies.

From Banff, take Highway 1A, a scenic route to Lake Louise. This 51 km (30.6 mi) route is a scenic alternative to the TransCanada Highway between Banff and Lake Louise. You can drive straight through on Highway 1 to Lake Louise, or turn off to the right shortly after Banff and drive the more winding, forested Bow Valley Parkway, which will take you past Johnston Canyon, one of Banff Park's most visited attractions.

The drive takes you through Lake Louise townsite, then through to the fork where the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) branches off toward Jasper. There are peaceful picnic areas along the way and also trails for short hikes. At Johnston Canyon, a self-guided tour takes you along Johnston Creek to two impressive waterfalls. It's a 5.6 km (3.5 mi) hike to the Ink Pots, which has six cool springs bubbling out of the ground.

Continuing North to Jasper, we drove through the wide valleys of the North Saskatchewan, Sunwapta and Athabasca Rivers, past the Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefields, gaping at the breathtaking vistas.

Practically defying description, highway 93 is internationally known as one of the most magnificent mountain drives to be found anywhere in the world. Both serene and grippingly beautiful, it is mountain grandeur at its best and closest.

Moose Lake - Jasper National Park
High moon rising over Moose Lake, Jasper National Park
Photo: Duane Coulan

Another must see on this route is the Columbia Icefield. This massive field of ancient ice covers 325 sq km (125 sq mi) and reaches depths estimated at 365 m (1299 ft). The Columbia Icefield is composed of a massive plateau of ice, and 6 major glaciers (and numerous smaller ones). Straddling the Continental Divide, the icefield feeds three of the continents major river systems: the Columbia, Mackenzie and Saskatchewan. Meltwaters from the icefield flow to three different oceans (the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic). Called a hydrological apex, it is one of only two in the world that feeds three oceans. Markers at the icefield indicate the rate at which the toe of the Athabasca Glacier has receded this century. For a charge, tours of the glacier are given on custom designed Brewster Ice Explorer from the spring and fall. Ice-walk tours are also available April 10th until October 20th. We spent a couple of days in Jasper, a fairytale mountain retreat boasting all the modern amenities of a city surrounded by scenery that is simply breathtaking.

We took the time to hike through Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park - an absolute must. We started our hike at the Maligne Canyon Tea House, and followed the canyon downstream. You can cross as many bridges along the trail as you fell you are up to - each one offers a different experience. When standing on the second bridge, looking down can be an experience in itself!

We went only up to the third bridge, but we were told that beyond the fourth bridge there is a spectacular, downhill hike to the fifth bridge. Sometimes right down to water level, at others, far above the Maligne River, this easy hike takes about twenty to thirty minutes. We were unable to continue because going beyond the third or fourth bridge requires a pickup, which we were unable to arrange. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful walk.

Jasper also offers many additional sporting and recreational activities such as kayaking, fishing, golfing, trail riding and more.

Leaving Jasper, we headed east towards Edmonton, stopping at the communities of Hinton and Edson - two towns that we found are ideal bases from which to explore nearby parks, lakes, canyons, sand dunes and caves.

At Stony Plain, the Multicultural Heritage Centre highlights the story of English, French, and German-speaking Central European immigrants who settled the area.

We stayed a couple of days at Edmonton, touring the sights of the provincial capital. Known as "Festival City", Edmonton hosts actors, folk and jazz musicians, ethnic dancers and, of course, all the color and fun of the famous Klondike Days, in a series of summer celebrations. If you enjoy shopping - it is also the site of West Edmonton Mall, the world's largest enclosed shopping center featuring more than 800 shops and services, a unique theme hotel, Galaxyland Amusement Park and the World Waterpark, among other cool attractions.

The highway south from Edmonton to Calgary follows an old wagon trail dotted with historic sights and interesting attractions. Wetaskiwin is the site of the Reynolds-Alberta Museum. Here you can view one of North America's largest collections of antique and classic cars, trucks, tractors, steam engines, fire engines and planes as well as Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame. Just 40 km (25 mi) east of Wetaskiwin is Camrose, famous for its Big Valley Country Music Jamboree. Red Deer is almost halfway between Calgary and Edmonton and has an elaborate parks system that connects many outdoor facilities.

Tour Distances

Total Distance: 1,080 km/675 mi
Day 1/2 - Calgary
Day 3 - Calgary to Banff - 129 km/81 mi
Day 4/5 - Banff to Jasper - 295 km/186 mi
Day 6 - Jasper to Edmonton - 362 km/226 mi
Day 7/8 - Edmonton to Calgary - 294 km/182 mi

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