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

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Banff National Park

En route to Calgary in our Chevy Traverse, we headed south through Banff National Park. Canada’s oldest and flagship national park was established in 1885 and its alpine landscapes, coniferous forests and ice fields live up to the hype. Be warned: In the summertime, the Banff townsite and popular destinations are swarming with tourists. Get off the beaten path and you will be swallowed by Banff’s 2,564-square miles of wilderness, while the town of Canmore, Kootenay National Park and Kananaskis Country boast provincial parks, wildland reserves, emerald green waterways and unspoiled wilderness near the southeast boundary of the Park. 

Banff Springs Hotel

For first-timers visiting Banff, a must-do activity is to ride the Banff Gondola or hike up Sulphur Mountain’s jagged mountain ridge for 360-degree views of six mountain ranges, the Bow Valley and the town of Banff. Soak in the Banff Hot Springs’ large pool and tour the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. Though no longer open for swimming, it features an artificial tunnel to natural grotto, a replica of the original 1887 bathhouse, restored 1916 swimming pool, as well as interpretive displays and hiking trails. 

If you have little ones, drive directly to Bow Falls or follow the 1.2 km paved trail from the Bow River Bridge to this gorgeous area which is great for picnicking. Tour the adjacent historic Fairmont Banff  Springs Hotel and treat yourself to their famous Sunday brunch! Stroll Banff Avenue and make sure to indulge in Canadian candy at the over-priced yet delicious Banff Sweet Shoppe (blue whales and Wunderbars are my favorites).

(Moraine Lake)

You could spend an entire day exploring Banff Townsite’s charming shops and restaurants but why would you with a backcountry like this?! Lake Louise with its teal waters and European-style Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise are must-visits. You’ll find historic Tea Houses perched by the lake that are well worth the hikes–Lake Agnes Tea House is a moderate 3.4 km climb where you’re rewarded with a delicious snack. 

Moraine Lake is the arguably the most photographed destination in the Park and the 1 km hike along the Rock Pile Trail has some of the best views of the lake’s glacier-fed, dazzling blue-green color. Insider tip: Moraine Lake’s Valley of Ten Peaks – Sentinel Pass is a strenuous 7-mile hike with some of the most gorgeous backcountry on the planet.  Just be warned that the road to Moraine Lake closes frequently when it reaches capacity so don’t be surprised if you have to take Parks Canada’s paid shuttle from the Lake Louise Shore parking lot. 

(Johnston Canyon; Photo: Banff.ca)

One of my favorite family-friendly hikes is Johnston Canyon, an easy 4.8 km. round-trip interpretive walkway along the dazzling, cascading waters of the Lower and Upper Falls. For the ultra-adventurous family with teens, climb Mt. Norquay’s Via Ferrata’s series of cables and ladders.

But if you want a real stunner, Sunshine Meadows was rated the No. 1 hike in Canada by Lonely Planet. I grew up skiing this resort and in the summer, the blanket of snow transforms into carpets of alpine wildflowers. The only access to the area is via the Sunshine Village gondola and Standish sightseeing lift which run Friday- Sunday and on all long weekends in the summer; shuttle busses are available on all other days. 

Whether you spend a week or an entire childhood here, a visit to the Canadian Rockies and the Okanagan Valley will give you a glimpse about Canadians’ love affair with one of the most spectacular regions on earth. Eh. 

Interested in visiting visiting in the winter? Don’t miss my article, Three Perfect Days in Banff National Park

The Chevy Traverse was rated as the Best 3rd Row SUV in U.S. News & World Report. To learn more about the Chevy Traverse and the adventures that await you and your family on your next adventure, visit here.

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