This blog covers the section of our road trip through Canada’s National Parks including Canada’s Glacier National Park, Yoho National Park, Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, and Kootenay National Park.
In the summer of 2017, we set off on a 5,000 mile, summer-long adventure road trip through the Western U.S. and Canada. Our goal was to lose ourselves in the mountains, connect as a family, and find incredible hikes and rock climbing destinations along the way.
Canada’s National Parks have some of the most amazing mountain ranges in the world. You’ll be amazed by all the waterfalls, teal colored alpine lakes, and density of snow-capped mountains.
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 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 . 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.
Canada’s Glacier National Park is gorgeous and has a ton of options for hiking. 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.
We enjoyed camping inside Glacier National Park at Illecillewaet Campground.
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.
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.
We combined all three hikes around Lake Louise– Lake Agnus Tea House, Devil’s Thumb, and Plain of Six Glaciers. It was awesome and Jiraiya even did it with us! Read Adventurers Guide to Day Hiking Lake Louise to determine the best route for you. Two must do hikes here are:
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.
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 the Valley of the Ten Peaks to Eiffel Lake,which is 7 miles round trip and has 1200 feet of elevation gain!
Plain of Six Glaciers
Lake Louise has three options for camping
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**
On the way to Banff: 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.
We did however hike The East End of Rundle and let me just say, this is a massive leg burner! But the views are rad! Check here first to see if it open.
Hiking up The East End of Rundle
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.