The Best of the Canadian Rockies
Here are seven great ways to experience
the wild beauty of western Canada
By Katie SolanThe Canadian Rockies stand like a chain of stately giants, rugged mountains running north-south along the border of two provinces, British Columbia and Alberta. The area in and around this million-year-old landscape is home to some of North America's best-loved treasures and natural wonders -- glacier-fed lakes, massive icefields, soaring peaks, various wildlife and unspoiled wilderness, plus towns that mix an Old West spirit with modern sophistication.
The best way to see all that western Canada and the Rockies have to offer is with a money-saving tour, where you can sit back, relax and be guided to the sights. In addition to having knowledgeable guides lead the way, escorted trips offer great value, combining accommodations, some meals and sightseeing in one price paid upfront.
We highlight some of the best things to see or do in western Canada below, all of which are offered as activities or destinations on escorted tours. To learn more about vacations in the Canadian Rockies, visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858.
The Old West Flavor of Calgary
In the foothills of Canada's Rocky Mountains lies Calgary, Alberta, known as "the heart of the New West" -- a city of almost 1 million people where an urban energy coexists with Old West flavor and wide-open spaces.
The annual Calgary Stampede is the city's banner tribute to all things Western. Each July this mega-rodeo draws 1.2 million visitors for 10 days of roping and riding events, concerts, livestock exhibits and a carnival midway. You also can step back in time at the Heritage Park Historical Village, a 66-acre site that re-creates the sights and sounds of turn-of-the-century Alberta. Or, pick up some authentic cowboy gear at Riley & McCormick, Calgary's original Western-wear outfitter, established in 1901.
To see the city's cosmopolitan side, travel to the top of the 626-foot Calgary Tower for a bird's-eye view of downtown. Then, stroll Stephen Avenue Walk and take your pick of more than 1,000 shops, fine restaurants and cozy pubs. Last, stop by the Art Gallery of Calgary to check out the latest in contemporary art.
Baronial Splendor in Banff
Fairmont Banff Springs, a 778-room, five-star resort, offers a medieval getaway within Banff National Park. Styled after a Scottish castle, the secluded stone enclave lies on the banks of the Bow River and offers sweeping views of the surrounding peaks. Escorted tours that spend a night here include "Best of the Canadian Rockies" with Tauck World Discovery, "Canadian Rockies Gold" with Rocky Mountaineer Vacations, "Resorts of the Rockies" with Collette Vacations, and "Canadian Rockies and Vancouver Island" with Insight Vacations.
"You feel like you're in a castle," says Troy Bringle, vice president of the tours and resorts division of Vacations To Go. He vacationed there for three nights last spring. Bringle cites the hotel's ornate details and grand scale, adding that "there are awesome views anywhere you look -- everywhere around you are mountains."
A hotel staff of 1,200 assures the "royal treatment," and guests can indulge in services at the 38,000-square-foot spa for an extra fee. Among restaurant options, the Bow Valley Grill features a 50-foot open kitchen that encourages interaction with the chefs, and Castello Ristorante serves fine Italian fare such as pesto-crusted swordfish and osso buco.
Alpine Beauty in Lake Louise
Located in Alberta's Banff National Park and surrounded by towering mountain peaks, unspoiled Lake Louise is one of the most beloved and photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies. Fed by the Victoria Glacier, the lake boasts an emerald green hue and surprisingly still waters. Tours often overnight at this scenic spot, giving visitors ample time to explore the nearby glacier, paddle across the lake on a canoe, fly-fish, or hike, mountain bike or horseback ride along trails.
On some tour itineraries, travelers stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, one of the area's premier properties perched on the lake's shore, among them "Spirit of the Rockies" with Brennan Vacations.
Scenic Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is one of the world's great scenic highways, a 142-mile route between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta. This two-lane highway parallels the main ranges of the Canadian Rockies, offering travelers a panorama of magnificent peaks, ancient glaciers, pristine lakes and sweeping valleys. The route is interspersed with wildflower-dotted meadows and treeless alpine tundra, 11,000-foot mountains and glacial remnants from the last ice age.
Several tours offer a scenic motor coach ride along this route, where, in addition to mountains and glaciers, visitors might also spy native wildlife such as bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bears, elk and moose.
Jasper National Park
At the north end of the Icefields Parkway lies Jasper National Park, a 4,200-square-mile protected ecosystem in western Alberta. It's home to the Columbia Icefield, where water flows to three different oceans from its apex on the Continental Divide. The park also boasts Alberta's tallest mountain, 12,294-foot Mount Columbia, and Maligne Lake, the largest glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies. Visitors will find plenty to see and do with more than 660 miles of hiking trails, 100-degree hot springs and abundant wildlife.
The park celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and will host a number of commemorative events, such as this summer's Centennial Exhibit in the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives and semiweekly interpretive theater performances.
Experience the Rockies by Rail
Where can you look down on 200 million gallons of water rushing through a 100-foot-wide pass on the Fraser River, travel for more than a mile inside mountains, and look up at the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies? A rail trip on the Rocky Mountaineer offers all these experiences and more, and it is a unique way to see the sights of western Canada.
Rocky Mountaineer trips range from four-day jaunts to 16-day trans-Canada adventures. Travel takes place during daylight hours only (so that passengers don't miss any sightings of glacier-fed lakes or native wildlife) and guests overnight in comfortable hotels along the route.
You can choose from two types of onboard service. GoldLeaf Service features passage in a two-story, glass-domed coach, with panoramic views on the upper level and meals served in an elegant dining room on the main level. Guests who choose RedLeaf Service will enjoy large picture windows and at-your-seat meal service. Both service classes feature onboard attendants who offer colorful, interpretive commentary on the passing sights and area history.
Adventure on Ice
The most visited glacier in North America, the Athabasca Glacier is a 4-mile-long, 1,000-foot-thick river of ice that stretches from the Columbia Icefield toward the Icefields Parkway. Travelers can get an up-close look at the ancient giant with a ride on the Ice Explorer, an all-terrain bus equipped with large, low-pressure tires that are able to maneuver safely on the glacier's icy slopes. Extra-large side and top windows allow for 180-degree views of the frozen landscape. The Explorer takes guests to the middle of the glacier, where they can step out onto ice formed 400 years ago.
Tour itineraries that include a spin in the Ice Explorer include "Canada's Rockies" with Trafalgar and "Best of Canada's West" with Brendan Vacations.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in May/June 2007 . Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.