Banff Tunnel Mountain Road wildlife

Why Visit Alberta’s Rockies?

Close to international airports, but rugged in the extreme. Everything from stunning peaks to pretty lakes to huge icefields. Enjoy hiking, horseback riding, rafting, skiing, and snowboarding. And check out the wildlife!

Banff's Bow Rive boat docks on the west edge of town

The Rockies are most likely the most beautiful part of the Trans-Canada Highway. The mountains are unique for a number of reasons. They managed to evade the flattening effect of the past several ice ages that covered most of the rest of North America. This makes the peaks very sharp and rugged, and they rise over a mile above the valley floor. The northerly position of the Banff also means that the snowcover stays on the mountain tops and the glaciers through the summer (its not snowy in the valleys!). The stunning beauty of the mountains here, the glaciers and the aqua blue-green lakes are the reason the Canadian Pacific Railway guilt a series of castle-like mountain hotels around the turn of the century.

Banff is the magnet of the Canadian Rockies and is the largest mountain community in the stunningly beautiful Rockies. To its north is the smaller town of Lake Louise (gateway to the Icefields Parkway), and to its east, just outside the national Park gates, is the town of Canmore. These three form the heart of tourism in the Alberta Rockies.

Crowsnest Pass

This area is named for the pass that lies below a mountain peak that resembles a giant crow’s nest. The pass crosses the Continental Divide and is the southern-most rail and road route from the prairies to the Pacific. The Crowsnest Pass area encompasses a number of communities along Highway 3 on both sides of the Alberta – BC boundary. The towns in this area began their existence about a century ago as coal mining towns moving from Bellevue to Coleman, Frank, Hillcrest and in BC, Fernie.

This region has been settled by the First Nations and their ancestors for over 10,000 years. A 1973 survey of the area identified 250 prehistoric sites. One 8500 year old summer camp was identified on the shores of Crowsnest Lake.This area is named for the pass that lies below a mountain peak that resembles a giant crow’s nest. The pass crosses the Continental Divide and is the southern-most rail and road route from the prairies to the Pacific.

This region has been settled by the First Nations and their ancestors for over 10,000 years. A 1973 survey of the area identified 250 prehistoric sites. One 8500 year old summer camp was identified on the shores of Crowsnest Lake.

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Bragg Creek

Bragg Creek Steak Pit
Bragg Creek is 40 kilometres west of Calgary on Highway 22. Head west on Highway 8 (Richmond Road) from where Sarcee Trail meets Glenmore Trail. This rustic little village is nestled between the edge the foothills and the T’suu T’ina Nation (Sarcee) Indian reserve, which extends from the city of Calgary. The hamlet of Bragg Creek sits on the banks of the crystal clear Elbow River, and surrounded by lush pine forests. The unspoiled natural surroundings and wildlife attract city folk on weekends and holidays. Just west of town is Bragg Creek Provincial Park, with miles of trails ideal for hiking, mountain biking and cross country skiing.

Bragg Creek has a small collection of antique and craft shops and charming restaurants, all decorated with an old-west theme. The Frontier Candy Ice Cream Company (with 40 flavors) in the Bragg Creek Shopping Centre, will justify your trip.  Bragg Creek as home to the Wintergreen Golf & Country Club. In the winter, you can cross-country ski and snowshoe at the Bragg Creek Wilderness area to the west of town. The Bragg Creek Steak Pit hosts the Mountain Song Native Dinner Theatre, performed by the area’s first nations people, on the first Thursday each month. The town has a number of other fine restaurants, offering a variety of fine and ethnic cuisines.

Bragg Creek is jumping off point for the Kananaskis Country, approaching from the east, for summer time hiking, and winter-time skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

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Canmore

The first hole at Canmore's Stewart Creek golf course, built around an abandoned coal mine
Coming from the East, you approach Canmore first, just 5 kilometres east of the Banff National Park Gates, as the highway winds its way through the first range of mountains. Canmore is best known for the Canmore Nordic Centre, the host of the cross country and biathlon events in the 1988 Winter Olympic games. The town is also on the northern entrance to Kananaskis Country, a large mountainous provincial park. It is also known for the cheapest gas between Calgary and Vancouver (no BC sales taxes, no National Parks rents) and lots of hotels close to the Trans-Canada Highway and close to Banff’s natural beauty. Canmore is a very relaxed town with many fine restaurants, small non-touristy shops,and lots to see and do in and around

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Banff

Take a carriage ride around town
The town of Banff was established in 1883 when the trans-continental railway was built through the Bow River valley. The town is the centre of recreation, tourism, and dining in the Canadian Rockies and has an elevation of 1,395 m (4,580 ft), but is cradled by mountains that tower a mile above. Tourists are always surprised by the variety and proximity of wild animals around town: you’ll often find elk, mountain goats, moose, and sometimes bears foraging on lawns and gardens around the town site. Many visitors stop and swim in the natural hot springs above the town, or take a ride up the Sulphur Mountain Gondola for an aerial view of the area.

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Lake Louise

View of Trans-Canada at Lake Louise
Lake Louise is just a 40 minute drive northwest of Banff, and is much cozier and less commercial than Banff. It feels like the doorway to the ruggedness of the Rockies on both sides of the Alberta-British Columbia border (including Yoho National Park to the west), as well as the Icefields Parkway to the north which winds past several stunning glaciers. Lake Louise itself has two parts: the town site in the Bow River Valley, and the famous Lake itself on a plateau up the road. Be sure to enjoy both parts of Lake Louise.

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Jasper, Hinton

Hinton is close to the Jasper Park Gates

Jasper National Park is 10,878 square kilometre (4,200 square mile) park, Canada’s largest in the Rocky Mountains. The park contains rugged mountain peaks, year-round glaciers, crystal clear lakes, thundering waterfalls, deep canyons, evergreen forests and abundant wildlife. This scenery makes Jasper an international year-round destination with first-class facilities and services.

Take a hike out to the Pyramid Lakes north of town, or drive over the thundering Athabasca River to Maligne Canyon just north of town. You can also golf at the nearby Jasper Park Lodge. For a longer drive, keep driving, up to scenic Maligne Lake, the largest lake in the Rockies.

Drive a half hour south of town, to see the thundering Athabasca Falls. Keep driving south (another half hour) to see the Columbia Icefield, the continent’s largest glacier with a mile-deep icecap.  West of town is the Yellowhead Pass (named for  a blonde-haired Iroquois guide for the Hudson’s Bay Company), which was the original planned route for the Canadian trans-continental railroad  as the most gentle crossing of the Continental Divide, before the southerly Kicking Horse Pass was discovered between Lake Louise and Golden.

Hinton has a population of 10,000 and lies 10 kilometres east of Jasper (just outside the park boundary), and 270 km. west of Edmonton. The town was established following the construction of a pulp mill in the 1950’s and several modern coal mines in the 70’s and 80’s. Hinton has developed in two separate areas, about 5 km. apart, known to residents as the “Hill” and the “Valley,” with the pulp mill in between.

More about Jasper…

More about Hinton…

Other Links

Alberta & BC Rockies Communities Map