You’re a traveller, not a tourist. But just because you’re used to finding local secrets and exploring the road less travelled, doesn’t mean you don’t also want to experience the scenic, natural beauty Canada is revered for. And of course, the Canadian Rockies in Alberta are one of the most-coveted locales when it comes to quintessential scenery.
From the unbelievably blue waters of Lake Louise to the bighorn sheep of Jasper, the Canadian Rockies are full of parks and sights to see. These sights are so good, in fact, that over 5 million people visit them each year. Five. Million. People. That’s a lot of competition for the best photo op.
While the Rockies are amazing year round, most people opt for the summer, when there’s snow in the mountains but not on the ground. If you do choose to visit in the hot season, the crowds, RVs, and tour busses are unavoidable. So when you’re planning your trip to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, you’ll want to consider these tips.
Early bird gets the selfie
If you don’t snap a picture, how will anyone believe you ever visited this breathtaking place? Most people like to sleep in on their holidays or take a tour, meaning that early morning hours are often the best for avoiding the bulk of the crowds. If you’re not an early riser, consider going later in the day as an alternative. During the summer, the sun doesn’t set until almost 10 pm, meaning that there are lots of hours to explore the wilderness while others are chowing down on dinner or tucking into bed. Just make sure you’re prepared for an early morning or late night with flashlights and warm layers; nature can be unpredictable after all.
Another bonus of off-peak hour explorations? Wildlife is often out and about feeding, so keep your eyes peeled for elk, squirrels, chipmunks, and bears.
Explore a new trail
Instead of sticking to the viewpoint closest to the parking lot, find a trail that wraps around one of the area’s stunning lakes. They’re mostly flat and they’ll take you away from the majority of the crowds who hop off their bus, snap a photo, and carry on their merry way. For example, the Moraine Lake Shoreline trail is a round trip of just about 3 kilometres and offers awesome views of the mountains that surround you.
Actually take a hike
If you’ve conquered the lakeside trails and are looking for more adventure and to remove yourself even further from the crowds, try a more involved hike. Vigorous trails attract less tourists, meaning travellers like you can triumph over the sometimes steep hills and take in views that are even more breathtaking. Try out Johnston Canyon or Sunshine Meadows for a different perspective on Canadian nature.
Set out on the water
Looking for a smoother ride? Rent a canoe! Exploring by canoe, you’ll be able to push off from the lakeshore (read: where all the people are) and discover hidden nooks and crannies around Lake Louise or Lake Moraine. The experience of gliding across the fluid blue water isn't one you'll soon forget.
Go beyond the gondola
Sure, the Banff Gondola provides stunning views, a great mountain-top deck, and access to trails from the summit of Sulphur Mountain, but there are other places to take in sky-high vistas. Drive up to Mt. Norquay instead of battling crowds to grab a gondola spot. A ski resort during the winter, during the summer months, Mt. Norquay is a great spot to take in a private view of the beautiful valley below. Plus, there are some summer activities (like taking a chairlift, climbing over ladders and suspensions bridges, or enjoying a relaxing meal) to keep you occupied.
Earn your tea
The Fairmont Hotels in Banff and Jasper are undoubtedly breathtaking — both in their architecture and their popularity. Instead of indulging in afternoon tea at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, hike to Lake Agnes Tea House. Travel just over three kilometres by foot through beautiful forest to Lake Agnes, where you’ll find a quaint cabin-like building that offers tea with a view. Grab a pot of your favourite tea and know that you’ve earned the treat you’ll inevitably buy to accompany it.
Skip the holidays
We don’t mean your holidays, we mean major Canadian holidays. Long weekends over the summer means more people escape to nature-filled parks for a getaway. In Canada, major summer long weekends are the May long weekend (the Monday preceding May 25), Canada Day (July 1), August long weekend (the first Monday in August), and Labour Day (the first weekend in September). Avoiding these times will generally mean less competition for prime parking and photo spots. Even better, visit the parks midweek to beat the weekend adventurers.
Check out shoulder season
If you’re up for rethinking your typical summer getaway, explore spring and fall in these popular parks. Though it might be a little chillier (you’ll likely need a jacket, not a parka), you’ll have much more space to yourself. You may even witness the last bits of snow on the ground in spring or the first dusting in late fall, making for a more unique experience.
The tourist spots are popular for a reason, but these tricks will make your Canadian Rockies experience all the more special.