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The Canadian Rockies are one of those destinations that just has to be seen to prove that somewhere so beautiful can exist in this world. It is possible to do the ultimate 9-day trip. And, I am excited to tell you how. A few years ago, I had a break from medical school, so one of my best friends; Seth, and I set out on an epic adventure in the Canadian Rockies. We found a great deal on our flights through Skiplagged. Which is one of my favorite flight deal websites. Just like that, we were off to the Great White North. I tell you what, that John Denver was not full of sh*t man, The Rockies are as rocky as they can get.
After an early departure from the airport in Richmond, Virginia we arrived at our first destination, Dallas, Texas. The layover was 10 hours long, so we hopped on the train and did what any tourist must do in Dallas, TX.
Dallas, Texas Layover
- Try on cowboy hats Wild Bill’s Western Wear.
- Eat some delicious barbecue.
- Visit Dealey Plaza (where JFK was shot).
- Watch the greatest movie of all time; Forrest Gump in the USO lounge. Shout out to all former and current Military. We are grateful for your service.
After our layover, we departed for Calgary International Airport, the closest airport to Banff National Park. Unfortunately, we arrived after dark so our excitement to witness the majestic Canadian Rockies had to be staved off for the next day. We hopped in our rental car from the airport and eagerly made the 1.5-hour drive to the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge in Canmore.
After resting from a long day of travel, we opened the shade to a majestic view of the Canadian Rockies.
Immediately, we both knew we had to climb a mountain, any mountain, today. We took off to the town of Banff, surprised by the number of wildlife corridors arching overtop the highway along the way. On the way to the town, we saw a large wedge-shaped mountain called Mount Rundle, a large mountain overlooking the town. Without acknowledgment or any knowledge, we knew we were climbing that mountain. After picking up the essential groceries at IGA Banff, we departed to begin our ascent.
Hike Mount Rundle
First, we quickly learned that hiking Mount Rundle is not for the faint of heart. The summit trail is an 11.2 mile out and back trail with an elevation gain of 5,685 feet that traverses through the forest, then steeply over sections of rock. As we approached the most dangerous portion of the trail, a narrow, sloping spine of rock known as, the “Dragon’s Back,” it started to rain. We cautiously traversed the loose rock and continued upward. After repeated slips and falls, our morale was bleak. However, we continued. Moments later, we made a discovery. Three unopened, cold Kokanee beers were sitting on the trail begging for our consumption. We stopped, pounded some brewskis, and sat in awe gazing at the incredible views of The Banff Springs Hotel and Sulfur Mountain.
Once an appropriate and much-needed buzz set in, we continued the dangerous rock scramble to the summit. The rock provided numerous foot and arm holds but was sharp and not forgiving. We expected a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains; however, due to the weather, that view did not exist.
Even so, we accomplished our goal. We climbed a mountain that day. After an arduous descent to the valley, we hobbled over to Bow Falls to watch the sunset. While at Bow Falls, we were treated with a glorious rainbow that arched over the river. It was breathtaking with Mt Rundle in the background. After, we drove to our lodging for the next 3 nights; Banff International Hostel. The hostel was clean, affordable, and in a great location, just a short walk to downtown.
Fish Upper Bow River
After breakfast and coffee, we set out to the Upper Bow River to try our luck fishing. We brought two travel poles from home and were hoping to catch some delicious trout. Luckily, the view was breathtaking, because, besides a few bites, no fish were caught. We then set out on the 35-minute drive to complete the Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots Trail.
Hike Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots
The Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots Trail is a 7.3 mile, out and back trail that traverses along the canyon up to the falls. The trail is an easy trek to the Lower Falls and onward to the Upper Falls where you can walk out on catwalks for better views. From Upper Falls, you continue to meet the trail to the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots are small pools that are shades of vibrant blues and greens due to minerals in the water. They remain 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit year-round so, I wouldn’t recommend skinny dipping.
Watch the Sunset at Two Jack Lake
The alarm went off at 4 a.m., and after sleepily staggering to the bathroom and almost colliding with a half-nude German girl (first time in a co-ed hostel), another perk of staying at Banff International Hostel, we departed to watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake.
The lake sits in the beautiful Valley of The Ten Peaks in Banff National Park. The lake is glacier-fed and is the most beautiful shade of turquoise blue. Nearly freezing to death while watching the sunrise strike the sharp, rugged, majestic peaks will forever be one of my favorite memories. You can rent a canoe, or wander along multiple trails around the lake. However, you should visit the lake at either sunrise or sunset to beat the crowds. Also, it will be a view of a lifetime.
Our next stop, Lake Louise Gondola and Breakfast Buffet was fantastic. We legitimately consumed as much food as a grizzly bear which ironically, mere moments later, we would see from the gondola. The 14-minute gondola view offered incredible views of Lake Louise, wildflowers, a grizzly bear, and natural springs as we ascended to the viewpoint at an elevation of 6893 ft. After the gondola ride, we consumed a second breakfast and ended up napping in the car for an hour.
Just wait until you see Lake Louise. It is one of those destinations that you see on the stock computer backgrounds. The beautiful turquoise is a result of the rock flour that is carried into the lake from the glaciers that surround it. Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise is a 109-year-old 5-star hotel situated on the eastern shore.
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House Hike
The trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House begins along the Lakeshore trail in front of the Fairmont Chateau. It is a challenging 6.8 mile out and back hike taking you up close to Victoria Glacier, Mount Victoria, and Mount Lefroy. You traverse through rocky, barren terrain, pine tree forests, and hike along a narrow edge leading to Victoria Glacier, Plain of Six Glaciers, and the teahouse. Breathtaking views are everywhere. But, pay attention because you may witness an avalanche. The teahouse was rustic and charming, yet only accessible via helicopter, hiking, or horseback riding. There is no running water or electricity.
We departed the Banff International Hostel with no more nearly nude run-ins with foreign internationals and set out to drive the Icefields Parkway.
The Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is a 144-mile scenic highway from Banff to Jasper. Early into the drive, a near head-on collision with an elk sparked some anxiety and panic. After the near-collision, the panic quickly washed away while gazing at the breathtaking landscape. The scenery and stops along the way are what make this drive one of the most beautiful drives on Earth.
Peyto Lake: the most breathtaking and arguably most popular destination on the parkway. The lake’s unique, bright, turquoise color is from large amounts of rock flour that flows into the lake from a nearby glacier. The best views of the lake are from Bow Summit, the highest point on the Icefields Parkway at 6,791 feet
2. Parker Ridge Trail Hike
3. Columbia Icefields Athabasca Glacier
Places we wish we stopped if we had more time:
- Athabasca Falls
- Sunwapta Falls
- Glacier Skywalk
Camping at Whistler’s Campground was an excellent staging point. Unfortunately, the campground is currently closed until 2021 for renovations.
Days 6 and 7
Our next adventure on the trip was the world-renowned Berg Lake Trail located in Mount Robson Provincial Park. This backcountry trail was voted as one of the best hikes in the world by Explore Magazine. Trust me, it’s true. The trail takes you through some of the best scenery not only in the Canadian Rockies, but the world.
Hike the Berg Lake Trail
The first stop on the 26 mile out and back trek is Kinney Lake, a perfect place to stop for a delicious snack. After departing the lake you will arrive at the magical Valley of a Thousand Falls. We took some time to sit on the bank of the river, fill our water bottles with glacier water filtered through a Sawyer Products Mini Filtration System, my favorite water filtration method used on multiple trips. Seriously, this thing is awesome and drinking glacier-fed water in a valley surrounded by waterfalls is as amazing as it sounds.
Next, was the challenging uphill stretch to Emperor Falls. The falls stand about 150 feet high at an elevation of 5,300 feet. I was awestruck by the power of the falls and grateful for the cool mist striking my face after the rigorous climb.
Camp at Emperor Falls Campground
Months prior to the trip, we reserved a campsite at the Emperor Falls Campground. The campsites book far in advance, so keep that in mind. That night’s dinner was cooked using a mess kit and ultralight camping stove while watching a beautiful sunset with Mount Robson. Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (12,972ft), and it looked majestic towering in the distance.
After a solid night’s sleep, we watched another beautiful Canadian sunrise and geared up for the hike along the shores of the Berg Lake. The turquoise water of the lake with Robson Glacier and Mount Robson in the background is one of those views that I will never forget. You could easily spend many more days on the trail, and I recommend spending much more than the two days that we had. There are numerous additional day trips from the Berg Lake Campground that go further into the mountains or to the Glacier. If we had more time, Snowbird Pass Route would have been the hike for us.
Days 8 and 9
Unfortunately, after the trek when we returned to Whistler’s Campground, we were greeted with torrential downpours. So, instead of setting up camp, we decided to sleep in our VW Jetta. This is something I don’t recommend. It was without a doubt, one of the worst nights I have slept in my life. We departed early in the morning to head back to Calgary, however, we made two pit stops along the way.
Rope Swing into Johnson Lake
Our last adventure in the Canadian Rockies was the coolest. Cold pun intended. We decided to end the trip by doing a rope swing into the freezing cold Johnson Lake. The swing is located at the far south side of the lake past the bridge and is absolutely worth it.
After swinging into the lake, we completed the drive to the hotel in Calgary. We were saddened at the thought of our departure back to Virginia in the morning but we were completely exhausted after hiking over 60 miles on the trip. Seth and I both fell asleep before 8 pm and after 12 hrs of sleep, almost missed our flight back due to a computer malfunction at the airport. We would have been happy to have missed the flight because the Canadian Rockies are one of the best destinations on Earth. If you want the adventure of a lifetime filled with beautiful glacier-fed lakes, thunderous waterfalls, and exhilarating rope swings then the Canadian Rockies are the place for you.