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The Great Canadian Rockies Road Trip: An Insider’s Guide

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Yoho National Park

(Photo: Emerald Lake, Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts)

As we pointed our Chevy Traverse east along the Trans-Canada Highway, we journeyed through different microclimates as the sprawling, verdant orchards transformed to the soaring spires of Yoho National Park in eastern British Columbia. 

Be sure to spend at least an afternoon in this park that is equally as glorious as adjacent Banff National Park but is much less populated. Hike to Wapta Falls, on the Kicking Horse River, and towering Takakkaw Falls.  Rent a canoe or walk around turquoise-colored Emerald Lake, the largest of Yoho’s 61 lakes and ponds and one of the park’s most popular tourist attractions. 

If you’re looking for longer adventures, the Lake O’Hara area contains alpine lakes, cliffs and wooded trails. Every time I pass through Yoho, I vow to return for longer explorations; pass through it just once and you’ll see why.

Jasper National Park

Much of my childhood was spent camping in the Canadian Rockies and my most vivid flashbacks are of touring the Columbia Icefields with my family in Jasper National Park (JNP). 

(Bow Lake)

Extending over 4,335-square miles, it’s the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies brimming with steep mountainsides studded with crisp evergreens, crystalline lakes, majestic waterfalls and some of the best nightlight you’ll ever see…of the constellation variety (it is the second darkest Dark Sky Preserve in the world). Take the Jasper Skytram for a flat-out stunner-of-a journey, tour Jasper’s cool brewpubs, devour a bison burger and then hit the backcountry, pronto!

Ice, Ice, Baby

I’ve never taken my kids to Jasper so I vowed to change that on our latest trip. Shortly after we entered Banff National Park in Alberta, we veered north in our Chevy Traverse. Destination: The Columbia Icefield Skywalk.

(Columbia Icefield Skywalk. Photo: Travel Alberta)

The Columbia Icefield is just one of the many attractions along the Icefields Parkway and home to one of the most accessible glaciers in the world–the Athabasca Glacier. As one of the “six toes” of the Columbia Icefields, this massive glacier is 6 km long and 1 km wide and flows to within walking distance of the Icefields Parkway. My childhood memories are of taking a 90-minute tour on the Ice Explorer Glacier Tour, a giant 6-wheeled ATV bus that looks like something out of Back to the Future Past: Ice Age Edition. 

New-to-me (built in 2014) is the Glacier Skywalk, a gravity-defying, glass-floored observation walkway that extends 35 meters out the side of a cliff which gives you a clear view of what the 918-foot drop deep into Sunwapta Canyon would look like. Disclaimer: Getting there was not half the fun. We followed our Traverse’s GPS which led us to what we suspected was the Skywalk but we kept driving because 1) there was no signage and 2) there was no parking so we couldn’t have stopped anyway. We eventually learned we were supposed to park at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre and take a shuttle to the Skywalk, which would have been helpful information to impart when we bought our online tickets. 

Despite the wild goose chase (of the Canadian variety), the sheer spectacle of overlooking a towering wall of snow and ice, fractured into a thousand glassy shards, was worth it. As my selfie-obsessed teen boldly sailed across the sea of glass, my dad, Bode and I followed the Skywalk’s Discovery Trail for interpretive storytelling, and  multi-sensory interactive experiences centered around the glaciology, biology and ecology of Canada’s Columbia Icefield region.  In our fast-paced world, we marveled that time here is measured in millennia and yet somehow the powerful, dynamic forces are glacially slow.

Banff National Park

En route to Calgary in our Chevy Traverse, we headed south through Banff National Park. KEEP READING

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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