Fodor's National Park Road Trips:
The 15 Most Magical Outdoor Stairways in the World
A few hundred miles from the U.S. border, the national parks of Jasper and Banff offer spectacular scenery like glaciers, hot springs, and snowcapped peaks, along with the incomparable blue waters of Lake Louise. A few hundred miles from the U.S. border, the national parks of Jasper and Banff offer spectacular scenery like glaciers, hot springs, and snowcapped peaks, along with the incomparable blue waters of Lake Louise.
At a Glance:
Miles Traveled: 592
Suggested Duration: 8 Days
Start & End Point: Edmonton, AB, Canada
Parks Visited: Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park, Banff National Park
Best Time To Go: Jan - Dec
Day 1: Welcome to the Canadian Rockies
Stop Locations: Edmonton, AB, Canada
Most visitors will arrive at Edmonton International Airport. You can spend your first night in a hotel close to the airport or make the 4-hour drive to Jasper right away.
Days 2-3: Jasper National Park
Stop Locations: Jasper National Park, AB, Canada
Begin your trip to Jasper National Park with a tour of the historic Jasper Townsite; be sure to stop at the Jasper Information Centre to get trail maps and information about free park interpretive programs. Then take a drive to Disaster Point, about 40 km (24 miles) east of Jasper on Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway), while keeping an eye out for bighorn sheep and other wildlife. Stop at nearby Miette Hot Springs, 61 km (37 miles) east of Jasper, to enjoy a swim in the hot mineral pools. Book a room in Jasper for the next two nights.
Spend the next morning exploring Mount Edith Cavell, located off Highway 93 (the Icefields Parkway) and Cavell Road about 28 km (17 miles) south of Jasper. The 1-km (0.6-mile) trail from the parking lot leads to the base of an imposing cliff, where you can see Angel Glacier. A steep 3-km (2-mile) trail climbs up the valley to Cavell Meadows, which are carpeted with wildflowers from mid-July to mid-August. There are many options for the afternoon: hiking in nearby Maligne Canyon, kayaking in Maligne Lake, horseback riding, or mountain biking.
Day 4: Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise
Stop Locations: Columbia Icefield, AB, Canada
From Jasper, head south 31 km (19 miles) on Highway 93, otherwise known as the Icefields Parkway, to Athabasca Falls. The 75-foot falls are some of the most powerful in the Canadian national parks. Continue along the Parkway until you reach the Athabasca Glacier, one of the eight major glaciers making up the Columbia Icefield. This incredible ice field is one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle.
Enjoy lunch at the Icefield Centre, and then experience an ice explorer bus tour or a guided hike of the Athabasca Glacier. For safety reasons, do not venture onto the glacier without a guide. Continue driving along the Icefields Parkway and into Banff National Park, passing the Weeping Wall and stopping to stretch your legs at the Saskatchewan River Crossing and scenic Bow Lake, before stopping for the night at Lake Louise.
Day 5: Lake Louise
Stop Locations: Lake Louise, AB, Canada
Spend the morning enjoying the scenery at beautiful Lake Louise, snapping a few pictures of the impressive Victoria Glacier flowing off the mountain at the lake’s end. You can enjoy afternoon tea at the classy Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel adjacent to the lake, then ride the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola to the Interpretive Centre at the top, where you can participate in a guided hike or presentation (or just have lunch) on an alpine plateau with a view of a dozen-plus glaciers. If time permits, take a drive 40 km (24 miles) west to Yoho National Park and Emerald Lake, where you can rent a canoe, have dinner, or just take a stroll. Afterward, head back to Lake Louise for the night.
Days 6-7: Banff National Park
Stop Locations: Banff National Park, AB, Canada
Spend the morning of Day 6 exploring the quaint shops and restaurants crammed together on Banff Avenue in the town of Banff. Stop at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, a National Historic Site, and stroll the grounds or take a guided horseback ride from the on-site stables. Finish your day with a late-night dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Spend the next two nights at the gorgeous Fairmont Banff Springs (or one of the more affordable lodgings in town) .
On your second day in Banff, hike around Vermilion Lakes, off Highway 1. Common wildlife sightings in this wetlands setting include elk, bighorn sheep, muskrats, and the occasional moose. Then hop on the Banff Gondola to enjoy the view from the 7,500-foot summit of Sulfur Mountain. Later on, you can hike the 3-km (1-mile) trail around Johnson Lake or hit the water in a canoe or kayak.
Day 8: Heading Home
Stop Locations: Edmonton, AB, Canada
It’s 355 km (221 miles), about 3½ hours of driving, from Banff back to Edmonton International Airport.