4/12/2023     by Dayna Engberg

The Mountain State of Mind

If you’re traveling to experience some of the world’s most historic monuments, your first instinct might be to visit the museums of Europe, the temples of Asia or the treasures of the Middle East — to marvel at the age-worn art and architecture of humanity’s most influential civilizations. But there’s another type of historical landmark — bigger, older and more breathtaking than anything manmade: the Canadian Rockies. From brilliant blue lakes to serene hanging valleys, craggy peaks, alpine meadows and ancient glaciers, the Canadian Rockies are packed with awe-inspiring places to experience the immense scale of natural history by foot, boat, bike and rail. Keep reading to discover three of our favorite destinations and the best ways to experience them.
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Banff National Park

Banff National Park

Established in 1885, Canada’s first national park began as a small, 16-square-mile hot springs reserve. Today, it encompasses over 4,126 square miles of magnificent mountainous terrain. Many of the park’s most popular sites can be accessed from the scenic Bow Valley Parkway, the winding alternate route to the Trans-Canada Highway.

Opt for a hike at Johnston Canyon, see the striking terraced face of Castle Mountain at the Castle Cliffs viewpoint or bring a lunch to enjoy at the Muleshoe picnic area, overlooking a peaceful lake encircled with towering aspen trees. Along the way, keep watch for a lone pair of red Adirondack chairs. A staple of Canada’s national park system, these iconic red landmarks aren’t just a great photo opportunity, they also overlook some of the most stunning views in the park.

If you want to see the area’s six monumental mountain ranges without attempting the excruciating climb, take the Banff Gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. Arriving at its peak elevation of over 7,400 feet, you can stroll along a ridgetop boardwalk with views that rival some of the area’s most challenging hikes.

It’s not often that you find a mountain chalet styled after a Scottish baronial castle. Nestled between soaring mountain peaks and the turquoise Bow River, the unique architecture of The Fairmont Banff Springs just minutes from the charming streets of downtown Banff has been a symbol of the Canadian Rockies for over a century. Fairmont Banff Springs is a member of our SELECT Hotels & Resorts program. Enjoy special rates and exclusive amenities when you book through our travel agency.

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Lake Agnes

Lake Louise

Although technically part of Banff National Park, Lake Louise stands alone as a landmark within landmarks. Its brilliant blue waters are caused by glacial wash, a phenomenon that occurs when glaciers grind away at mountain bedrock, depositing rock flour into the glacial melt that feeds nearby lakes and rivers. The result creates milky waters of an otherworldly blue, making for a truly magical canoe or kayak experience. But boating isn’t the only way to appreciate this diverse terrain.

At over 5,000 feet above sea level, Lake Louise is Canada’s highest town by elevation, which means the surrounding mountain summits are that much closer — consider it a handicap for hikers. Choose from over 240 trailheads in the area, ranging from leisurely strolls to strenuous overnight hikes. Lake Louise is also the first American stop in the Alpine Skiing World Cup; visit during the late fall to enjoy one of the earliest opening ski days in the northern hemisphere.

For a hike with a payoff, ascend the 2.2 miles up to Lake Agnes. After the 1,300-foot climb, you’ll find a rustic tea house surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and spectacular lakefront views. Every morning, the staff hikes in the ingredients needed for the daily menu of soups, baked goods and lunch items, all of which are prepared without electricity or running water.

Opt for a lakefront room at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Originally built as a base for alpinists, this stunning luxury hotel couldn’t be any closer to the action. In fact, many of the area’s popular hikes — including the Lake Agnes Tea House Trail — begin just steps from the resort patio. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a member of our SELECT Hotels & Resorts program. Enjoy special rates and exclusive amenities when you book through our travel agency.

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Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park

Although it’s the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper is much quieter and less busy than neighboring Banff. Its landscapes, however, are equally stunning. With so much to see and do, a typical day’s adventures can easily stretch from dawn to dusk.

Perched upon the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park is especially beautiful in the morning. Wake up early to watch the rising sun cast a rosy alpenglow upon each of the park’s highest peaks, one by one. Spend the afternoon seeing the powerful Athabasca Falls, crossing the scenic bridges over Maligne Canyon or stepping onto a glacier at Columbia Icefield. Jasper National Park is one of Canada’s dark-sky preserves, so stay up late to watch the Milky Way rise over the mountain silhouette. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis.

Connecting Canada from east to west, Rocky Mountaineer rail journeys offer a glimpse of the wild terrain of the Canadian Rockies still untouched by roads and highways. Upgrade to GoldLeaf Service not only for access to the formal dining room and outdoor viewing platform but also for the unparalleled panoramic views from luxurious, glass-domed coaches as you wind around dramatic mountain passes, through spiral tunnels and over the Continental Divide. 

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