Not every trip needs to involve a long flight, a troublesome time change and taxi drivers who can take advantage of you in a language you don’t speak. No, as it turns out, there are plenty of world-class destinations right on our doorstep, arguably none more impressive than the Rockies. No more than a long day’s drive from home for most Saskatchewan residents, exploring all they have to offer could easily occupy a lifetime. In addition to the most well-known and heavily-trafficked areas around Banff and Jasper, here are several more incredible mountain destinations worthy of your next summer trip.
Waterton National Park – Perched right on the U.S. border, Waterton features similarly amazing hiking, stunning lake views and photogenic heritage hotels to Banff, but with a fraction of the people. From easy lakeside strolls to steep viewpoint climbs to epic undertakings like the Carthew-Alderson trail, Waterton is ideal for outdoorsy types. For a truly epic adventure, try your luck on the Crypt Lake trail, rated one of the best day hikes in the country and involving a boat trip, tunnels, ladders and even a cable line across a gorge. Best leave the flip flops at home.
Glacier National Park – Not to be confused with the much smaller Glacier National Park in B.C., this American park lies in Montana just across the border from Waterton and is possibly my favourite of all the terrific North American parks. Everyone should drive the spectacular Going-To-The-Sun Road at least once. There is dazzling scenery the entire way, and the road is lined with extraordinary viewpoints, easy hikes, and trailheads to more intense adventures. The Highline Trail is a classic alpine traverse, Grinnell Glacier is wall-to-wall natural beauty, Iceberg Lake gets rave reviews and Siyeh Pass might be my favourite of them all, combining easy access with tremendous views and only a fraction of the crowds.
Kananaskis Country – Often overlooked by tourists in favour of its more famous neighbours, active Calgarians swear by the wonderful landscapes and untrammelled trails of the Kananaskis area. Whether you’re looking for a short lakeside jaunt, a challenging viewpoint climb or an immersive backcountry adventure, Kananaskis offers a wealth of beautiful and convenient choices. And golf aficionados won’t want to miss out on their two world-class courses, among the best values to be found anywhere in the Rockies.
Yoho National Park – Located just west of Lake Louise, and accessible on the same park pass as Banff, it has somehow escaped the inundation of summer crowds and bustling tour groups that plague these other areas. More importantly, it may just be the best hiking area in all of Canada. Along with easily-achieved scenic highlights such as Takkakaw Falls and Emerald Lake, it also features Lake O’Hara, one of the country’s most exclusive and celebrated outdoor destinations. Only accessible by shuttle bus (or a 22 km round-trip hike), the total number of visitors is limited to less than 300 including lodge guests, campers and day-trippers. Of course, this exclusivity comes with a price, either literally, as in $730/night at the lodge, or metaphorically, as it can be almost impossible to obtain bus tickets or campground reservations. However, if you don’t mind spending a few hours hitting redial exactly three months in advance of your preferred date, stranger things have happened, or you can hope to take advantage of a last-minute cancellation. Even if none of that works out, however, there is always Iceline Trail, which I will boldly call the best day hike I’ve ever done in Canada. Over 20 kilometres long, with 700 metres of total elevation gain, it features stunning alpine scenery, picturesque river crossings, bleak glacier-strewn ridges, breathtaking waterfalls, placid lakes surrounded by towering pines and hours of panoramic mountain views. Altogether, it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend a day (and every last shred of the energy in your legs).
1. When planning your trip, keep in mind that at higher elevations snow can last into early July, unlike your resolve to get in shape this summer.
2. In case you’re thinking of doing something really stupid for your Instagram feed, let’s make one thing clear: bears are not “just as afraid of you as you are of them”.
3. Tour bus encounters should be treated the same as bear encounters – back away slowly and never offer them food.
4. Visitor centres are terrific sources of both current trail information and large displays of carefully preserved animal dung.
5. Peeing in the bushes is about as Canadian a thing as you will ever do. Embrace it.
Dean Johnston is the author of three travel books, including Roam: The 9 Greatest Trips on Earth. He doesn’t really see the point of grasshoppers but to each their own. Read about all his travels at routinelynomadic.com.