We are always searching out hikes we can do as a family to add adventure to our road trips. We’ve been wanting to travel to the famed national parks of Canada for years and this summer we finally made the long drive to Yoho and Glacier, the iconic Banff and Jasper, and Kootenay national parks. All five national parks are incredible and were worth the drive. Here’s the lowdown on how to plan a road trip to all these places and which the best family-friendly hikes are to do on your road trip.
Canada National Park Road Trip Stop 1: Glacier National Park
The first stop when heading into the National Park region from the east is Glacier National Park. This is often confused with America’s Glacier National Park but they are quite different. Glacier is a very, very small park as far as what’s accessible.
The hikes you can do are gorgeous. Our favorite was Great Glacier, a perfect hike for the whole family at only 4 miles round trip. The hike takes you to an open viewpoint of a magnificent pouring waterfall, enormous peaks, and great glaciers (hence the name) where you can sit on open, granite rock formations, have a snack, and enjoy the view.
Canada National Park Road Trip Stop 2: Yoho National Park
We’d barely even heard of this national park, being hidden by its popular neighbor of Banff. It wasn’t until we looked at the Yoho national park brochure we received upon entering the national park that we decided to stop for a hike. Yoho national park lies directly east of and shares a border with Banff National Park.
The short hike we stopped for was one of our all-time favorite family-friendly hikes, Wapta Falls. The hike to the falls goes through an unchanging forest and opens up to a fenced viewpoint. Here you’ll see a glimpse of the massive waterfall, whose mist creates glorious rainbows and pools. Hike all the way to the bottom and enjoy the full beauty of the waterfall and amazing surroundings. Skip rocks on the river and if you’re brave, take a polar plunge in the river.
Related blog: 7 Family Friendly Hikes You Need To Add to Your Bucket List (Hint: Wapta Falls is one of them)
As you drive onward toward Banff you’ll see a sign for Emerald Lake to the left. There is a great family hike here that goes around the circumference of the stunning emerald green lake. You’ll soon realize why it’s called Emerald Lake! This is an amazing sunset hike. When you finish, there’s a picturesque lodge restaurant across the bridge that overlooks the lake. Hiking Emerald Lake in the winter? Click here. If you have the gear, backpack the famed Iceline trail which is one of the most breathtaking backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies (we wanted to do this hike really bad but we didn’t have the gear for it)! What’s great about it is that you can choose to sleep at a backcountry hut.
Canada National Park Road Trip Stop 3: Icefields Parkway
Don’t skip Icefield Parkway, even if you can’t make it all the way to Jasper.
I highly recommend hiking to Helen Lake. It’s not one of the most kid-friendly hikes, but our 6-year-old pulled it off with lots of snacks. The hike goes into an upper layer of mountain peaks, traverses through a European-esque plateau and ends at a small and pretty lake–with the option to go further to Dolomite Peak. Note: don’t forget bug repellent.
After your hike, drive a little further north, stop for lunch with a view at Bow Glacier Lake and if your legs aren’t exhausted, hike to Bow Glacier Falls–though you can see a glimpse of them from the highway.
Next, stop at Peyto Lake overlook and instead of taking in the gorgeous renowned overlook from the fenced area, hike 5-10 minutes further uphill to an open area of rocks where you will likely have the view to yourself.
Canada National Park Road Trip Stop 4: Jasper National Park
Unfortunately, we were so crunched for time on our 3-month road trip that we didn’t have enough time to drive the whole way to Jasper. However, our friend at RockiesFamilyAdventures.com has tons of great info about visiting Jasper and the ten best things to do.
Canada National Park Road Trip Stop 5: Lake Louise Area
Lake Louise was likely our favorite spot in the whole national park region. The colors, the glaciers, the mountains, and the lakes—they’re just so jaw-droppingly beautiful. Lake Louise contains more hikes than you’ll be able to fit in so here were the favorites.
1) Lake Agnes and Lake Louise. This is seriously a must! Whatever you or your kids’ skill level, you’ll be able to find a gorgeous route to enjoy.
Related blog: Adventurers Guide to Day Hiking Lake Louise
2) Consolation Lakes. This easy stroll is perfect if you have little kids. The view at the end is breathtaking but be prepared for lots of mosquitos. Take bear spray, this supposedly has the highest amount of bear sightings in Banff (though we didn’t see one). Hike Consolation early in the morning because the hike starts from Moraine Lake, perhaps the most beautiful lake in the world, and it gets crowded fast. Plus, both lakes will have better lighting for photos in the morning.
3) Though we did not get the chance to hike it, we really wanted to hike theValley of the Ten Peaks to Eiffel Lakewhich is 7 miles round trip and has 1200 feet of elevation gain!
On the way: Take the scenic Bow Valley Parkway the runs parallel to the major Highway 1. This is where the Johnston Canyon hike is, containing the famous Johnston Cave photo opportunity that lies just off the main trail.
Canada National Park Road Trip Stop 6: Banff Town
We didn’t spend much time in the town of Banff–way too touristy for us. However, we did stop at Widflower Bakery twice to get their amazingly delicious bread (and wifi). It was a great resource for us that Lake Louise visitor center offers a free shuttle to and from the visitor center and Banff every hour.
Canada National Park Road Trip Stop 7: Kootenay National Park
Due to wildfires, we were only able to make one stop at Olive Lake to do the very short hike to find a geocache when driving through Kootenay. While still a beautiful forest, I wouldn’t dedicate too much time here since it pales in comparison with the other national parks. Click here to read RockiesFamilyAdventures reasons to visit Kootenay
Free Camping/Camping Info:
To save money we are always looking for places to camp for free. If you want to know the best campgrounds in the Canadian Rockies, click here.
In Glacier National Park we camped at Illecillewaet Campground, which was a very enjoyable campground since a lot of the trails started from here anyway.
Along Icefield Parkway it was pretty easy to find pullouts to sleep at.**
Lake Louise has three options 1) You can reserve a campsite at Lake Louise campground 6 months in advance on the dot (it fills up super fast). I wouldn’t recommend this though because the campground was mediocre. You still had to walk/bike into Lake Louise village and take a shuttle if you wanted to go hike anywhere. 2) There is an overflow lot that charges $15 for people to camp there. 3) There are decent pullouts on the highway between Lake Louise and Banff that we slept at a few times. This is really the best way to go since we’d always get up early anyway to get a parking spot at trailheads**
Kootenay has lots of pullouts you could sleep at**
**You are not technically allowed to overnight park or camp at any of the National Park pullouts however we pulled up very late at night and left very early in the morning and did not have any issues.
Related blog: Sea to Sky Road Trip: Vancouver To Whistler
Have you been to Canada’s national parks? What are your favorite stops? Let us know in the comments!
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